Monday, October 19, 2015

Misogyny in SriLankan Literature: Reading Lokopakaraya in 21st century

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ගෑනුන්ට බෑනේ බුදු වෙන්න
සම්මා සම්බුද්ධ වෙන්න 
කවදාවත්ම...
අපට පුලුවන්
එකම දේ
හාමුදුරුවන්ට
කන්න බොන්න දානේ
හදල දීල
කුස්සියට වෙලා,
ලබන ආත්මේ පිරිමියෙක් වෙලා
ඉපදිලා
ඊට පස්සෙ
බුදු වෙන්න 
ලැබෙන්න කියල ප්‍රාර්ථනා 
කර කර ඉන්න... ! *

-Jahooli Devi-




Is Lokopakaraya misogynistic?

Lokopakaraya is a Sinhala religious classical poetry book written in 18th century by a Buddhist monk called Ven. Ranasgalle Thero. 

Considered as one of the longest “Upadesha” poems, along with the other important advisory religious & literary texts in Sinhala literature: Loveda Sangarawa, Subashithaya & Sirith Maldama, this poetic literary genre was flourished in Asian Pali & Sanskrit Literature.

Upadesha  means advices, teachings & instructions  in Sanskrit language. The name Lokopokaraya coined as Loka + Upkaraya which means a guide  to live in the world which contains valuable advices for day today life.  These texts were directly influenced by Buddhists Jathaka stories & folk tales while it had been used as a primary education material in the early education system in Sri Lanka.  

Undoubtedly, Lokapakarya is a masterpiece with its undying value over the centuries, but the aim of this article is to outline the  underlying misogyny  of women  depicted in this literary piece of Art which needs to be questioned & re-examined in 21st century.

It has 28 poems shedding light on the nature of women & the author seems to manifest his misogyny in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, belittling of women and sexual objectification of women.

From a feminist critical point of view , rather a more humane perspective, it disturbs me a lot as this hatred, belittling thoughts on women which had led to sexism in present Sri Lankan society.

What is sexism in its definition?

    New Oxford American Dictionary (3 ed.). Oxford University Press, defines Sexism as "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex."

      Encyclopedia Britannica, Online Academic Edition. 2015.  notes that 
   "sexism in a society is most commonly applied against women and girls. It functions to maintain patriarchy, or male domination, through ideological and material practices of individuals, collectives, and institutions that oppress women and girls on the basis of sex or gender."

These poems were never pointed out as misogynistic carrying sexist attitudes mainly because these texts were penned by male authors, particularly Buddhists monks who lived celibate lives. As Buddhist texts were considered “sacred” depicting the “ultimate” truth & the philosophy, no one bothered or dared to question its sociological aspects.  

One purpose of Literature is to narrate the truth in an artistic way. As there is no such a “fixed” truth , when it comes to Reality or Art, we have to understand that a text reflects the personal opinion of a person , not an eternal truth. Once it has been read, critically analyzed & validated by many erudite readers, the idea establishes firmly in the respective society and becomes a practice in day today life. The real literature is a direct influence to the system, while it can have positive & negative impact according to what it narrates.

We can apply this idea to our text in question, it is written by a Man – a Single Man –  a Religious Man – Read by men ( as women did not have access to Literature)- analyzed by men ( critics were men) – validated only by men ( literary tradition continued by men , please note that Sri Lankan Literature is still male dominated & women were mostly viewed from male point of view ), therefore, sexist.






Let us now look at some examples.


Poem 56 

සග මොක් දෙකට යන මඟ
අකුලි මාවත නිරා යන
විස මුසු අමායුරු ලියෝ
මායම් පිරූ බදුනකි

(Meaning: Women are like pots of poisonous magic potion, they are the barriers to attain Nirvana; the enlightenment.)

Woman is the ultimate taboo, she is the one who blocks Men from attaining Nirvana the enlightenment! She had been the “headache” to many who wanted ultimate “freedom”. Therefore, she should be avoided at any cost.

Likewise Yashodara with a new born baby Rahula was a barrier to Great Siddartha Gauthama in his search for eternal Freedom. Thanha , Rathee, Ranga,  the  three vices were always portrayed as fatal women of desire who tempted Buddha just before enlightenment. Lord Buddha hesitated at first to offer priesthood to women.
Being a Buddhist , I don’t question his vast intellectual philosophy, we can justify his action to save humanity, his quest for an eternal truth , renouncing worldly matters “including” women.
But, it’s clear that Buddhism or the wrong interpretation of Buddhist Teaching too has its fundamentalist attitudes towards women which have directly influenced the condition of women in Sri Lankan society in general.  

May be this has led to the popular saying in Sinhala “Surawa ( Alcohol) , Sooduwa ( Casino), Sthriya (Woman)” are the three things you should avoid at any cost to live a healthy life. Growing up, I, myself never saw the value of being a woman, I also saw it as a barrier to achieve “ great” things in life such as Nirvana.  If I, as a woman being a barrier to myself, Nirvana seemed so far for me compared to my male colleagues who seemed to obtain it just by leaving their women! Thus, our “education” is always prejudiced against Women.  

Another misogynistic idea narrated on the poem is the infidelity of women. The poet has emphasized that women should not be trusted at any circumstance as they are naturally fickle minded & promiscuous.

Poem 46


රකුසෙක් තම ලියක
තැබී කරඩුවක ලා කුස තුල
එහි තුළ වන් සිදුට
තම හිමිට දියුණුව කළා පෙම්

(Meaning: A demon prisoned his wife inside a casket & kept inside his stomach to protect her from other men, but one day, he found her sleeping with another man inside his stomach)  


Poem 60


ලියෝ බොරු සෙනෙහස
පාප තම හිමි නසත් සොරු ගෙන
කොටකුට කළ  ලොබින්
ගලින් බෝ සත් හෙළූ ලිය මෙනි

(Meaning: In order to commit adultery, women show false love & affection to their husbands & kill them ultimately. It is like the woman who killed Bodhisathwa pushing him away from a cliff because she was in love with a short man.)  

Should woman need to be protected from the rest of the world in fear of a potential adultery? 
Why is the author not highlighting the male adultery?  

The examples have proved that women were incapable of keeping marital fidelity but the same literature hardly talks about the vices of men in the society. It is apparently the duty of women to love her husband and on the other hand husband is in general a good virtuous man. 

In Sri Lankan patriarchal society , even though on surface it looks matriarchal with a “sacred” place given to the virtuous “mother”, the desires of women are not really validated. Her struggle is to prove that she’s a good woman through out her life, even her husband cannot trust her. The role she has to play is forced upon her , the " sacred" woman she has to be through out her life.


Poem 63, objectifies women by comparing her to a "Baduwa". "Baduwa" means a commercial good, ironically in colloquial Sinhala, people call the same word to a young attractive female. If she's selling her body, there should be someone to buy her? Why cannot the author be poetic about the buyer?

Poem 63

උරණ නොව හැම කල
යෙහෙන් රකිතත් පණ සෙ නිතියෙන්
බඩුවක් මෙන් විකිණි
පහස දෙත් කාට වත් අඟනෝ

( Meaning: Even though, you try to love & care women like your life , they would give pleasure to anyone like a prostitute who sells her body)


The author continues to emphasize that woman is never worthy of appreciation, belittle, demean her value comparing her to animals such as cats, dogs, poisonous snakes, fox, crows etc.


Poem 67


දරු පෙම් ගුණ නුවණ
සමත් බැව් හැම කියති මළ කල
තම ලිය ගුණ ඇතත්
නොකිය වියතුනි මළත් උන්නත්

 ( Meaning : When someone is dead, everyone talks about his good deeds, his knowledge, service to society. But, dead or alive, you should never praise your wife)


Poem 68 

සිරිමත් කළත් ලිය
ලුහු දනටම ලොබ වඩත් මැයි
කිරෙන් බත් ලූවත්
සුනකයෝ කසලටම ලොබ වෙත්

( Meaning : Even though you try to feed dogs with luxury food such as milk, they prefer to eat garbage. Likewise women also prefer to associate immoral villains)


 Poem 53 

සලෙලුන් දැක ලියන්
සැඟවෙනු නොවේ බලව විළියෙන්
බළලුන් ගොදුර තම
පැමිණෙන තෙක් වැන්න සැඟවෙනු.

( Meaning: When women meet seducers, they are not actually shy or afraid of them, they are like cats who wait for their prey) 

These examples show clearly the misogynistic attitude of the author. It must have portrayed the actual truth of ancient Sri Lankan society & the consequences of these attitudes are still reflected in our culture.
  
While I leave the readers to read, analyse & judge further the above poems, I would like end my article with the following questions.  

Shouldn't we make an effort to separate Literature from religious fundamentalism in our society?

Is Woman still a threat to Man? Is she still the Second Sex?

In 21st century Sri Lankan context, should not we re-write literary & religious texts such as Lokopkaraya dismantling all sexist  themes in order to ensure gender equality?

Why Literature?


By Jahooli Devi

*Translation : Women can never attain the Buddhahood, they have to to be reborn as male to achieve it.
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