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Sri Lanka: Essential Reading on History and Sociology

also see Free Books on Ceylon/Sri Lanka

I have listed below some books for individuals interested in the culture/sociology of Sri Lanka. Knox's "An historical relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies" written in 16th century is a must to get a historical perspective. It has been the translated into Japanese, and inspired some of Daniel Defoes, "Gullivers Travels" or was it Jonathan Swifts "Robinson Crusoe"?.

More modern studies include "Pfaffenberger, Bryan, Caste in Tamil culture" and "Yalman, Nur. Under the bo tree; studies" and are a must to compare and contrast sinhalese and tamil culture. Nur Yalman is somewhat heavy reading but "Bryce, Ryan 1955, Sinhalese Village" is easier to read but hard to lay hands on. For a good overall book "Sri Lanka : history and the roots of conflict, edited by Jonathan Spencer" is essential. Some of the conditions may no longer be directly applicable, specially to middle class urbanised individuals, but their thinking has definetely being indirectly influenced to some extent by these type of social conditions that prevail or have prevailed in villages. I found Hooles "Exile Returned" a fascinating book on current soical conditions, with lots of footnotes on the historical antecedents of social customs. It did become somewhat lopsided toward Christian Tamil mentality specially toward the end, but in all, still a good book. It is possible that Daya de Silvas "Memories of Rural Sri Lanka" might be a good complimentary book to compare Sinhalese tradition during the same time (I have not read it).

Also online is Codrington's "Short History of Lanka" which gives history from the Mahavamsa and Culavamsa in a more readable fashion and "an interpretation old enough to be unbiased by the unfortunate turmoil of the recent past".

*In Bold is what I would call essential Reading

Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish, 1877-1947. Mediaeval Sinhalese art, being a monograph on mediaeval Sinhalese arts and crafts, mainly as surviving in the eighteenth century, with an account of the structure of society and the status of the craftsmen. New York Pantheon Books,1956, N7305 .C6 1956

de Silva, Daya. Memories of Rural Sri Lanka, Published: Sarvodaya Vishvalekha, Ratmalana, Sri Lanka, 1997

Gunasekera, Tamara, Hierarchy and egalitarianism : caste, class, and power in Sinhalese peasant society Published: London ; Atlantic Highlands, NJ : Athlone Press, 1994 DS489.25.S5 G86

Hoole, S. Ratnajeevan H, The Exile Returned: A self-portrait of the Tamil Vellahlahs of Jaffna, Srilanka. Published Aruvi Publishers, Dehiwala, Sri Lanka. 1997 Review

Jayawardena, Kumari, (1995). The white woman's other burden : Western women and South Asia during British colonial rule. New York : Routledge, 1995 HQ1593.5 .J39 (Preview on Google) (on Amazon)

Jayawardena, Kumari, (2002). Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka. Zed Books (review) (on Amazon)

Jiggins, Janice. Caste and family in the politics of the Sinhalese, (1978)Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, (Review) (on Amazon)

Kemper, Steven, The presence of the past : chronicles, politics, and culture in Sinhala life Steven Kemper. Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1991 Wilder House series in politics, history, and culture DS489.15 .K46 1991 (on Amazon) (review)

Knox, Robert, 1640?-1720. An historical relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies Robert Knox ; with an introduction by H.A.I. Goonetileke. New Delhi : Navrang, 1983.

Bryce Ryan . 1955, Sinhalese Village, University of Miami Press, Coral Gables, Florida (on Amazon)

Leach, Edmund Ronald. Pul Eliya, a village in Ceylon; a study of land tenure and kinship. Cambridge, University Press, 1961. (Review) (on Amazon)

Pfaffenberger, Bryan, Caste in Tamil culture : the religious foundations of sudra domination in Tamil Sri Lanka Syracuse, N.Y. : Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1982. (on Amazon)

Risseeuw, Carla. The fish don't talk about the water : gender transformation, power, and resistance among women in Sri Lanka, New York : E.J. Brill, 1988. HQ1735.8 .R57 1988

Ryan, Bryce. Caste in modern Ceylon; the Sinhalese system in transition. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1953. (Available as pdf)

Singer, Marshall R. The emerging elite; a study of political leadership in Ceylon. Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press, c1964 HN690.C4 S5 (review) (on Amazon)

Skjonsberg, Else. A special caste? : Tamil women of Sri Lanka / Else Skjonsberg. London : Zed Press, 1982

Spencer, Jonathan, A Sinhala village in a time of trouble : politics and change in rural Sri Lanka (1990) New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1990. Oxford University South Asian studies series. DS489.8 .S64 1990

Sri Lanka : history and the roots of conflict, edited by Jonathan Spencer. London ; New York : Routledge, 1990.

Yalman, Nur. Under the bo tree; studies in caste, kinship, and marriage in the interior of Ceylon (1967). Berkeley, University of California Press, 1967. (on Amazon) (review) has been considered one of the best socio-anthropological books on Sri Lanka. It is mainly based on field studies conducted in a Kandyan Village, ‘Terutenne’, for his PhD at Cambridge under the supervision of Edmund Leach from 1954 to 1956. (review by Gnanath Obeysekere)

Mahavamsa, The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka.
       http://mahavamsa.org/mahavamsa/original-version/ (online html text)
       https://archive.org/details/mahavamsagreatch00geigrich/page/n6 (pdf)

Culavamsa, Geiger, W.,1929. being the more Recent Part of Mahavamsa.
      https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.277108 (volume 1)
      https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.447192 (volume 2)

Yalpanam Vaipava Malai, Translation by Brito 1879
Codrington, H. W.(1929) Short History of Lanka:
Macmillan and Co., London .

Oldenburg, H., eds. 1879. The Dipavamsa, an Ancient Buddhist Historical Record. (Lake House 429/=)

Each work represented, of course, their common subject in its own way, the Dipavamsa following step by step and almost word for word the traces of the original, the Mahavamsa proceeding with much greater independence and perfect literary mastership. The Dipavamsa, as regards its style and its grammatical peculiarities, betrays the characteristics of an age in which the Sinhalese first tried to write in the dialect of the sacred texts brought over from India; there are passages in the Dipavamsa which remind us of the first clumsy attempts of the ancient German tribes, to write Latin. The Mahvamsa is composed very differently; its author masters the Pali grammar and style with a perfect ease which cannot have been acquired but after many fruitless attempts, and which may be compared with the elegant mastership of Latin composition by which the Italian poets and scholars of the renaissance excelled.

De-Queyroz, F. F. The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon. (Set of 3 volumes, 995/= each)
      http://noolaham.org/wiki/index.php/The_Temporal_and_Spiritual_Conquest_of_Ceylon_-_Vol_I (vol 1)
      https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.38944/page/n5 (vol 3)

Rasanayagam, M. C. 1926. Ancient Jaffna.


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