Who is Ananda Coomaraswamy?

Saturday, 14 February 2015 00:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

What a relief to find the name board of Nelum Pokuna Mawatha taken out and replaced by Dr Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha! A well-deserved change, indeed. What was originally Green Path was named Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha in memory of the wold-renowned authority on oriental art. The name change was most apt due to the steady increase of activities related to art and culture in and around the vicinity of the National Art Gallery situated in the then Green Path. The opening of the John de Silva theatre, and in more recent years the presence of a large number of painters along the road exhibiting and selling their creative products, fully justified the use of the name of this great individual. Amidst protests by organisations and individuals of repute, the name was changed to Nelum Pokuna Mawatha in December 2011 after the opening of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Theatre. The road covers from Horton Place roundabout to the Public Library roundabout. With the name change, it’s timely to look back and refresh our memories on Dr. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), who is best known for his scholarly treatise ‘Medieval Sinhalese Art’. “In 1900 a young man of 23 saw with a thrill his first paper on ‘Ceylon Rocks and Graphite’ in print in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society. But the time he died he had written more than 500 publications, some bulky monumental works like ‘Medieval Sinhalese Art’ and ‘A history of Indian and Indonesian Art’, other slimmer volumes of fair size and the rest pamphlets and papers in the best learned magazines of the world,” states authoritative writer D.B. Dhanapala. Dhanapala highlighted the fact that profuse writing itself is nothing very remarkable. What was astounding in Coomaraswamy was the quality that accompanied quantity. “Extraordinary profundity of study, originality in research and brilliant insight into the art of things combined to make anything written in his marvellously firm and flowing handwriting a deep influence on both scholars and laymen all over the world.” Coomaraswamy, the Doctor of Science from the London University, was a pure and simple scientist. At the beginning of the 20th century he was a geologist and did a mineralogical survey for the Ceylon Government in 1903. Dhanapala lamented that it had taken nearly 50 years “for thick skinned Ceylon to become conscious of what Coomaraswamy campaigned for in his twenties. “But the earnest young man with a pulsating heart for the pearls of a cultural heritage which the swing of those and even these days spurned was shown that he was not wanted in Ceylon. Thus it was from then onwards till his dying days the most famous Ceylonese in modern times, Ceylon’s only world personality, lived in exile from the land of his birth, away from the things he loved.” After a lengthy analysis of Coomaraswamy’s writings, Dhanapala summed up: “He made us open our eyes to the beauty, the grandeur, the glory around us. We who thought we were primitive he ennobled. He rescued us from poverty by digging deep and discovering treasures we never thought we had. From blindness to light, from poverty to riches, from darkness to sunshine Coomaraswamy delivered us.” I wonder how many of those who demanded that the name of such an erudite scholar be pulled down in order to highlight the location of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Nelum Pokuna even knew of the existence of such an illustrious personality. Ananda Coomaraswamy