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The 19th Century Sri Lankan Sanskrit Renaissance and Legacy of the Sinhala RāmāyaṇA


· Justin Henry Georgia College & State University (Ga, United States of America)


07/27 | 13:30-13:50 UTC+2/CEST


This paper catalogs the reception of classical Sanskrit literary works by Sri Lankan authors in the late 19th century, with special attention given to the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa—its translation into Sinhala and enduring legacy in subsequent 20th and 21st century Sinhala novels, drama and music. I argue that the “neoclassical” style of Sinhala drama which emerged under the influence of continental Sanskrit literature was conceived under two competing impulses. The first was a cosmopolitan impulse to embed Sri Lanka within a broader Indic world of literary and creative arts, drawing in diverse musical influences from Hindustani theatre and Tamil nāḍagam. The second was a competative, indigenist, and parochializing tendency, exemplified by the eventual preference of the same poets and dramatists who first translated classical Sanskrit works into Sinhala for subject matter related to heroic Sinhala kings of the distant past, and by the valorization of Ravana at the expense of Rama in later re-tellings of the Rāmāyaṇa.