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Thoughts of Journalism

The Rise of the National Movement and Religious Newspapers

“On Poya days, they tell people to come to places of worship with flowers and lamps, and to hold religious ceremonies, processions and public gatherings. For that, they publish religious books and newspapers. What that book, the newspapers, and those meetings do is organize the masses against the English government, the Queen, under the guise of religious propaganda. So those businesses should be banned. Those newspapers should be stopped. Those authors, leaders should imprison and control them.”

This was part of a secret letter to the Colonial Secretary by Herbert Doubigin, an IGP during the most repressive colonial rule in Ceylon's history, based on the anti - imperialist national movement that was heating up in the early 20th century.

The colonial rulers who were observing this banned a number of newspapers based on the 1915 conflict which were educating and awakening the majority of the indigenous people of the country at that time and imprisoned the editors .Renowned journalists such as Piyadasa Sirisena, D.W Wickramarachchi, Hemapala Munidasa, H.S. Perera, Koggala Pandithuma and Batuwanthudawe Pandithuma were arrested. Sinhala Baudhaya, Sinhala Jathiya, Swadesha Mithraya, Lakmini Pahana, Dinamina, Sarasavi Sandarasa stood out among these banned newspapers.

Sinhala Baudhaya author Anagarika Dharmapala was not in Sri Lanka at the time and was placed under house arrest in India. They banned Sinhala Baudhaya and arrested Dharmapala's brother Edman Hewavitharana. When studying the history of newspapers and publishing in this country, it is noteworthy that the vast majority of all indigenous newspapers and publications started in this country were published in a religious style. The Colombo Journal, published in 1832, is considered to be the first newspaper published in the country.

Subsequently, several English language newspapers were published and the first Swabhasha newspaper was identified as 'Uyada Tharakai', a Tamil language newspaper published by a Christian missionary group that came to Sri Lanka with the blessings of colonial rule. Its purpose was to spread missionary religious ideas among the Tamil people and to persuade the people to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. It took the form of a general newspaper as contemporary basic information was also published in it.

All the printing presses started during the colonial period were aimed at spreading religious ideology. In 1840, the first magazine published in the Sinhala medium in Sri Lanka, Lanka Nidanaya, was published with the above objectives. Maasika Thaagga , the magazine, was also published for the same purpose. The emergence of religious newspapers in Sri Lanka became a more intense and competitive movement with the establishment of the Fund to Create a Printing Press among the majority Sinhala Buddhists in the country in the late 19th century. The Buddhist Press Fund was established under the leadership of Ven. Bulathgama Dhammalankara Thero, a militant monk who was a leader of the national movement. As an alternative to the missionary book, the Buddhist printing press movement was started based on this printing press. Lankalokaya was started by Lankopakaraya Press, the first Sinhala newspaper.

The Lakmini Pahana was started in 1872 under the leadership of Koggala Pandithuma in a religious and national style parallel to the Lankaloka. Lakmini Pahana, which creatively presented its ideas without clashing with the British rulers, highlighted Buddhist values and virtues. Ven. Walane Siddhartha Thero, Ven. Gunathilake Atapattu Mudali of Galle, Ven. Batuwanthudawe Pandithuma and Andriyal de Silva assisted for this. Lakrivi Kirana, which was started in 1866, is another newspaper that stands out in the early days of the national movement in this country. Gnanartha Pradeepa, founded in 1866, is a newspaper that preaches the value of Christianity in its exploration of religious values ​​and values. In addition, a newspaper called Sathya Winishchaya was published in 1867 representing these ideas. Sathya Margaya, Sathyawalokaya, is the Christian expression associated with it.

A distinctive feature of the study of Christian religious publications is that it presents facts in a more partisan manner than in conflict with British rule. The main point that emerges from the study of religious newspapers is the publication of newspapers in the Sinhala media, especially those identified as Buddhist newspapers, on the themes of the atrocities of imperial rule, epression, secularization and the independence of the country. Each of these newspapers specializes in communicating anti-imperialism. Here is an excerpt from an article written by a writer in a newspaper in 1832 called Surathura. 

"I want to stand up for the gallows, not the prison, for the sake of the nation, the Sinhala nation and the religion.

“Tears for the development of the country, nation, religion If it is released, it will be a heavenly blessing to me”
-Ganegama Seelananda Thero-

Numerous examples of this can be found in connection with these ancient sources. Indigenousness, nationality, pride and identity are the hallmarks of this era.

The role of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero, a pioneer in the study of the national movement and religious newspapers in this country, stands out. In addition to publishing the Rivirusa newspaper, he also made an active contribution to the Sarasavi Sandaresa, Arunodaya and Lakmini Pahana newspapers. While continuing to run Riviresa as his own newspaper, he creatively added his experience to maintaining Sarasavi Sandaresa in Parama Wingyanartha Society. He is said to have written this poem in the Sarasavi Sandaresa newspaper.

Saranata ena lesa nowa hakilena desa

Naragana wada nisa suwapathata nowana lesa

Pera padiyata basa kara asuru karu lesa

Sarasavi Sandaresa pala karamu mana thosa

The newspaper business is so influential that it contributes to the building of the Lakmini Pahana as another religious newspaper led by Don Philip de Silva Epa Appuhamy, a leading contributor to the Vidyodaya Mahapirivena to build the socio-political movement of Sri Lankan societies. Religious newspapers of the late 19th century could not be identified as merely spiritual newspapers. They can be seen in the influence of contemporary colonialism on the influence of Sri Lankan society on the thinking, intelligence, lifestyle of the common people and the socio-political ideology against Buddhism which was believed by the majority of the natives.

Rather than treating the rites and ceremonies of Buddhist temples of the late 19th century as insignificant, a network of religious publications was established to promote a theological understanding of them. Sudarshanaya by Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero (1862) Baudhdha Waaksaraya (1862) Sumathi Sangrahaya (1864) Sandhi Sangrahaya (1866) Kaawyashekaraya (1872) Sidath sangara Sannaya (1873) Sinhala wyakarana warna reethiya (1873) Paliwayana warana shilpaya (1875) Ummagga Jathaka Sannaya with Batuwanthudawe Pandithuma (1880) Sinhala Mahavamsa with Batuwanthudawe Pandithuma (1883) Seema Wibagaya (1885) Thotagamu parani wihara ithihasaya( 1889) Chandrabharatha Sannaya with Rajasundara (1889) Balavathara Tika (1892) Lagu Siddhantha Kaumadi (1908).

These are some of the published books in the publishing industry to respond to missionary criticism of theological issues. Launched by Anagarika Dharmapala as a religious publication, 'Bauddhaya' is one of the most influential of these newspapers.

The Sinhala Buddhist newspaper not only aroused nationalism among the common people against defeat, but also sought to build a guiding referendum on how Buddhist values ​​can be built in a modern civilized society. Anagarika Dharmapala's screenplay titled 'Things to Know' is particularly noteworthy. Its main theme is not only the backward social values ​​of the society, but also the building of a national productive economy and a diverse society based on Buddhist values. The Sinhala Buddhist, which was banned by the British government in 1915, seems to have had as much authority in shaping social opinion as the newspaper was banned. In the overall study of the Sinhala Buddhist newspaper, the following areas can be deduced from its overall essence.

Harassment of the people of this country by Western nations.

Isolation of Sinhala language and religion.

Emergence of different social classes.

Treating foreign languages ​​first and foremost.

Sinhalese convert to other religions.

Sinhala educated class coming forward.

Motivating people to read.

Industrial Development.

Market expansion.

When examining the religious newspapers and the national movement in this country, one should look at the work done by the Christian newspapers, the newspapers representing the Buddhist community as well as the Hindu and Islamic religious newspapers. A study of the newspapers in Northern Ceylon reveals the national revival of the Sinhala Buddhist community in the 19th century in Hindu society as well. The colonial invaders, with their blessings, created various religious publications in the Tamil media through missionary religious institutions in the north, the main purpose of which was to promote religious expansionism and allegiance to colonial rule. The Hindu-Tamil revival that began under the leadership of Arumugam Sri Navalar and the anti-imperialist ideology that was emerging parallel to the Buddhist revival in South Sri Lanka at that time can be seen in Arumugam Navalar's Udayabhanu and other newspaper and book publishing campaigns. The Udayabhanu newspaper emphasized the importance of Hindu religious education, the brutality of colonialism and the importance of Hindu-Tamil art traditions, as well as its commitment to socialize the anti-imperialist message as much as the Hindu religious revival in the North.

The resurgence of this anti-imperialist Tamil community is also reflected in the Tamil readership in the Central Highlands, with the emergence of a network of publications that signaled the awakening of the Tamil Hindu community, led by journalist Nadesha Iyer.

The revival of the Muslim, Islamic society, which presents itself as a minority group, is also particularly noteworthy when studying the religious expressions of this national revival. Siddhi Lebbe, artist from Kandy stands out as a pioneer journalist who spearheaded the Muslim religious revival and anti-imperialist or national revival against backwardness, as well as the Sinhala Buddhist Hindu Tamil community affected by colonialism.As an author, he started a newspaper, The Muslim Nation, which traces the work of socializing Islamic ideologies, concepts and traditions.He relentlessly criticizes the impact of missionary education on his identity.

Overall, the religious newspaper played a pioneering role in the national revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What was the Dominion status achieved in the middle of the 20th century and what role did it play in independent Sri Lanka? Let us look back at the modern era. We regularly find several religious publications in the current newspaper market such as Budusarana published by Lake House, Gnanartha Pradeepa a Catholic publication, Budumaga Publication published by Divaina Newspaper Company.In addition, from time to time we come across various religious publications with a very limited readership. What is the role of religious publications in modern independent Sri Lanka? is problematic.

Are the identities of the various ethnic and religious societies in the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led forward by newspapers earlier playing a role in the field of modern social values ​​in Sri Lanka? Continuing to be among the top five countries in the world in terms of suicides, we are constantly hearing about the breakdown of basic human values ​​of social values. Beyond religious communication newspapers, religious songs and prayers are heard not only on radio and television channels but also every morning and evening several times throughout the country are made to be heard. Has the social meaning of religious communication been fulfilled? This is a question that needs to be asked.

Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa,
Department of Mass Communication,
University of Kelaniya.



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