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Munidasa Cumaratunga


Submitted By Vindya
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Palavinnege Munidasa Cumaratunga was born on July 25, 1887 at Dickhena in Dickwella of Matara District in Sri Lanka. His father was Palavinnege Don Abiyes Cumaratunga and mother Palavinnege
Donna Gimara Muthukumarana.

Abiyes and Gimara had nine sons and four daughters. Munidasa was the twelfth in the family.

Don Abiyes Cumaratunga was an illustrious and efficient native doctor of the Ruhunu region. He was associated with Colonel Henry Steele Olcotto`s Buddhist Educational organization and was its leader in the Dickwella area. He established the Moggali Putta Tissa Buddhist School and a new Buddhist temple in the village.

Munidasa was initiated into letters by his father at the auspicious moment. He had his initial education at the Dickwella Buddhist School and later at St. Thomas College, Matara. After some time he left St.Thomas to enter the Teacher Practicing School, Thurstan Road, now Munidasa Cumaratunga Mawatha. This school was attached to the Government Training College there. In 1907 Munidasa entered the Government Training College and obtained first place in all the examinations he faced.

After leaving the Training College he functioned as Principal of Kadugannawa Bilinual School from 1909 to1917. In 1917 he was appointed to the school inspectorate which position he held until 1922. From then on he devoted his entire time to literary activities. While engaged in writing he served as Principal of Nittambuve Teacher Training College and Siddhartha Training College in Balapitiya for short periods.

Munidasa Cumaratunga became the first Sri Lankan author to create a children`s literature. He wrote short poems and stories which children of his time appreciated very much. These poems and stories gripped the child mind to that extend as the material and background in them appeared so familiar to them. They touched their imagination, thinking and emotions. His Kumara Gee or Lyries For Children, a short collection of poems for children is still popular among children. These poems had titles, Sirimath or The Endearing, Welendee or Woman Vendor, Udaya or Morning, Kirillaka Ge Vilaapaya or The Wail Of The Mother Bird, Mee Messa, Malata Kala Tututiya or The Bee Thanka The Flower, Mal Bas or Flowers Talk, Naelaevilla or Lullaby, Lenaa or Squrirrel, Rosa Gasa or Rose Plant, Veri Vuu Meeyaa or Drunken Mouse, Higannaa or The Beggar, Daru suratal or Fondling children.

Of the short stories he has written for children the most popular are Hath Pana or Seven Lives, Mangul Kema or Wedding Feast and Heen Saeraya or Minute Might. They are hilarious tales that keep children rollicking in laughter and entertained. Munidasa himself has stated what poetry and prose for children ought to be. `Children should be able to understand them without much effort. They should awaken their minds. Make their bodies dance. They should induce them to discuss them with their friends and enjoy.

In addition to these poems and stories he wrote a series of readers titled Shiksha Margaya book 1 to 5 and later Kiyavana Nuwana book 1,6 and 7. They became the most popular readers and many schools used them until the Education Department started to publish readers and prescribed them for schools. Discerning parents ought compare Cumaratunga`s readers with the readers now published by the Education Department for schools.

In the Kiyavana Nuwana are short poems like Balalaa Ge Sellama or Cat`s Play, Ballaa Ge Sellama or Dog`s Play, Wehi Valaa Kula or The Rain Cloud, Paa Saa Venuma or The Work In School, Vavul Tohuva or The Praise To The Bat, Dorata Veduma or Aero Debut and Haavaa Ge Vaga or The Hare In Action. These are only some poems that entertain the children. Their popularity is a clear indication of their appreciation.

He wrote the Prabandhopadeshaya to offer instructions in the techniques of prose composition with discussions of a diversity of topics. The Prabandha Sangrahaya its companion work treats by example the art of writing compositions on diverse topics. Students should read these books to understand how useful they are in their effort to write Sinhala compositions.

Munidasa Cumaratunga`s contribution to the advancement of Sinhala language and literature is unparalleled. Whether the school students would be able to appreciate their value at the present moment is rather difficult to gauge. The day their love for the language and literature would develop, they certainly would assess his yeoman service.

When Munidasa started paying attention to the study of classical Sinhala literature it was in a state of confusion. Spelling in disarray, syntax ignored. The separation of words and chapters was unknown in the texts published at the time. Hence the readers found it hard to get a clear meaning of words and their contexts. The Sanns were least helpful in understanding classical literature. Hence the readers were rarely able to derive the real meaning of a stanza.Cumaratunga changed this situation completely through his Vivaranas and editions to classical works.

In his Vivaranas, he corrected the errors and distortions found in the texts and explained the necessary places effectively. A student could appreciate the position by perusing a short work like the Saela Lihini Sandesha Vivarana.

A significant contribution was his formulation of the true Sinhala grammar. Before that what was considered as Sinhala grammar was a hotchpotch of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil grammatical rules. He made a meticulous and critical study of the extant literary works up to his time and culled the genuine Sinhala usages to produce the only complete grammar of the Sinhala language named Vyakarana Vivaranaya. He also wrote a complete treatise on the Sinhala verb called the Kriya Vivaranaya, a unique achievement in profundity.

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