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Two-way bilingual system
The use of several languages as medium of instruction was common in Buddhism based education in Sri Lanka during ancient times.
The model more or less used in ancient Sri Lanka in its multilingual educational context reflects characteristics of the model called two-way bilingual education: teaching the same content in both languages: first in the known language and then in the target language with the use of ample supplementary material.
From the time of the King Dutugemunu the formal method of teaching followed by the Religion Ministries established throughout the country was composed of three stages in its procedure in Dhamma Desana according to Manorathapurani, the commentary to Anguttara Nikaya.
At the first stage, a priest or an educated layman called Diva Katika Thera preached bana during the day time using mother tongue. Then the reciter of the words called ‘Padabhanaka’ explained the same, especially in relation to words/vocabulary: this situation might have created the opportunity to explain semantically important aspects related to the concepts depicted in lexemes (vocabulary). Finally the Chief Preacher preached the Doctrine in detail: this third stage might have been the core of the lesson with theories (doctrine) supported by the first two stages which reflects the possibilities of understanding through language transfer.
In addition to using mother tongue mixing it in various percentages in the three stages of Damma Desana, it is possible to find evidence for using various other measures to enrich religious education through practices related to bilingual or multilingual education. Commentarial literature consisting three types of Sihalatthakatha is one among many such used at the beginning.
There were numerous parallel passages available in Sinhala to Pali Canon, and at the outset, mainly available as oral exegetical material in early Prakrit tradition in Sri Lanka.
They can be interpreted as adaptations which are used nowadays in bilingual education when localizing and appropriating learning contexts written in another language. These commentaries were first developed to explain the intricacies of the Buddhist doctrine during the life time of Arhath Mahinda himself.
Samantapasadika mentions that there had been three types of Sihalaatthakata, Maha (Mula) Atthakatha, Maha Pacccari Atthakatha and Kurundi Atthakatha which are not physically available today since the time that Ven Buddhagosha had finalized his retranslations (subcommentaries) in Pali.
According to the senior lecturer of the Sinhala Department, Colombo University, Agalakada Sri Sumana Thera after retranslations of Sihala Atuwa by Buddhagosha Thera, palm leaf manuscripts high up to the height of five elephants, were destroyed. These commentaries developed first in Sinhala can be interpreted as explanations or first supplementary material to the content available in Pali.
The content of this supplementary material in Sinhala consisted of three components: explanations of difficult words and phrases of the Pali Canon, doctrinal interpretations and judgements on disputed points of ecclesiastical law.
Today these Sihalattakatha are no more there: Only records are available about them and retranslations by Buddhagosha Thera provided ample evidence about them to the world.
Later new Atuwa (commentaries) and, Tika and Tippani developed as sub-commentaries in Pali using Sihatthakatha have replaced the latter (commentaries): ‘atuwa’ developed as subcommentaries to Atthakatha had been introduced in Anuradhapura period, and ‘Tika’ tradition was introduced in the Polonnaruwa period. There are four major ‘Atuwas’ developed for Digha Nikaya, Majjima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, and Anguttara Nikaya. They were Sumangalavilasani, Papanncasudhani, Saratthadeepani and Manorathapurani respectively.
Kuddaka Nikaya consists of 15 Atuwas. Sihala Atuwas were the direct, original commentaries to what had been available in Pali. ‘Atuwas’ in Pali were subcommentaries developed from Buddhagosha Thera’s work onwards linking Sihalatthakatha with doctrines of Buddhism originally available in Pali.
The Atuwa written as commentaries in Pali and the ‘Tika’ and ‘Tippani’ developed in Pali as subcommentaries were bridges between the Sinhala Atuwa and doctrines originally available in Pali. When an ‘Atuwa’ was developed, three principles had been followed: relevancy of its content to religious doctrines, appropriation and localization and justification of the writer for his interpretations. These three principles read the modern principles in an adaptation, too.
‘Tikas’ were documents more or less similar to glossaries nowadays, but with paraphrasing. It is evident that the vocabulary had been given a prominent place in second or foreign language learning.
Low competency in vocabulary in studying Thripitakaya is similar to a blind elephant which walks step by step with doubt.
Classification of the supportive material (supplementary) of ancient literary works in Sinhala to the Pali and Sanskrit literature were found in seven types of texts: Vyakyana (explanatory texts to explain Pali literature), Gadya (prose texts), Padaya (Verse texts), Chandolankara (rhetorical texts), Waidya and Jotis (medical and astrological texts), Vyakarana (grammatical texts) and Kosa (lexicons).
These seven types of literary and language texts have been used for bridging the difficulty-gap between Sinhala and Pali and Sinhala and Sanskrit using the known language-support for understanding the content written in another foreign language (Pali and/or Sanskrit).
Agalakada Sumanasiri Thera mentions several types of vyakyanas: ‘getapda’ which provided meaning for difficult words, ‘Sanya’ which provided meaning for all the words in a text, ‘Parikatha’ that provides details for a selected number of words as a critique (the best ‘Parikatha’ is Dharmapradeepikawa composed by Gurulugomi with the nature of a literary work written by an eminent scholar of the 12th Century AD, and the first text on Sinhala literature with explanations for difficult words of the Dhammapada Atthathakatha available in Pali), ‘Winisa’ which is a complete critique to a text and, ‘Pitapoth’ which is an addition to a previously produced text by the same author.
He has identified that the ‘Sanya’ developed by the King, Pandith Parakramabahu II of Dambadeniya era who was awarded the title ‘Kalikala Sahitya Sarvangna Pandit for his erudition, is the most significant ‘Sanya’. These efforts indicate ancient Sri Lankans’ efforts of using their bilingual or multilingual capacities for expanding education using language and language related talents to promote cognition based on Buddhist doctrines.
Localization of Buddhism
Later with the development of communication in Sinhala in its use in secondary skills with the influence of its mother languages, Pali and Sanskrit, retranslations from Sinhala to Pali were introduced as both commentaries and sub-commentaries because of deviations found in religious aspects due to use of idiomatic expressions when appropriation and localization of Buddhism in Sri Lankan context.
In addition, few other linguistically important reasons also caused the need for retranslations (adaptations) in Pali: importance of Pali over Sinhala out of the country for popularity of Theravada Buddhism and the contemporary use of Pali as a world lingua franca.
Sararthadeepani and Rasavahini by Vedeha Thera in the 12th Century AD are some such sub commentaries rewritten in Pali to Sinhala and religious content.
Thus both commentaries in Sinhala and sub-commentaries in Pali had been available side by side for educational purposes up to the 12th Century AD. Yet absence of the Sihala Atuwa from the 5th Century AD to 10th Century AD in macro use in education in the country might have closed paths for Sinhala language to be developed in its literature and use of it among the erudite in the presence of using Pali as a lingua franca.
When studying this situation, it can be interpreted that Buddhism based and Buddhism related education in the ancient Sri Lanka had been in a model reflecting bilingual education which caused plurilingualism (individual capacity of using several languages) and biliteracy (capacity of using several languages for reading and writing) which in return reflect additive aspects of bilingual education.
Thus it is clear that bilingual or multilingual education and its various characteristics in pedagogy and androgogy are not something totally new for today’s Pirivena Education: it had been in the country since formal education under traditional authority was established with introduction of Buddhism and practices such as extensive use of rote learning, discussions and lecture method.
Use of Sinhala
Pali or Sanskrit which had been foreign languages by that time had not been used as the medium of instruction for learning Pali and Sanskrit or content of Buddhism.
Instead Sinhala had been used with its developments for using it in secondary skills, reading and writing with the emergence of Sinhala script in the Eighth Century AD as a result of undergoing a process of slow evolution. Consequently learners were able to shift from the known to the unknown, the unfamiliar to the familiar, the simple to complex and from the general to specific in education.
Thus there had been balanced bilingualism among the erudite or the learnt with positively addressing relevant cognitive demands. Yet equity of access to education was an issue in the past.
The writer is National Institute of Education Language Coordination Unit’s Head of the Languages, Humanities and Social Sciences
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