In the small Southern village of Koggala stands a unique Museum, a tribute to Martin Wickramasinghe, the venerated literary giant of the 20th Century in Sri Lanka. The Museum is a treasure trove for those who love traditional Sri Lankan Folk Culture. The cultural artefacts and models of the past would mesmerise and play on the imagination of visitors of all ages, making them travel back in time. There is something for everyone; be it art, culture, jewellery, furniture, lifestyle, technology, weaponry, pottery, costumes, masks, natural history, or the writer’s own life. It is a must-visit for those who want a glimpse into a bygone era, even if only for a few hours.
Martin Wickramasinghe, also known as ‘the Sage of Koggala’ was born in 1890. His life story describes a self-taught intellectual, independent thinker and social scientist ahead of his time. Forced to abandon formal education soon after the loss of his father at the age of 11, he began writing at an early age and thereafter penned many great works in both Sinhala and English until his death at the prime age of 86.
Although Martin Wickramasinghe is best known as one of the pioneers of modern literature in Sri Lanka, he can also be identified as the first public intellectual to introduce science and natural history to Sri Lankan society. Hitherto Sri Lankan writings largely consisted of those of a religious and moralistic nature set in an idealistic background. Martin Wickramasinghe was the first to break the tradition and write about culture, society and life in a secular sense, portraying people, places and incidents with their ‘perfect imperfections’ in a realistic background. He was not without a sense of humour in some cases, showing similarities to great English Language writers such as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. The transformations in the social landscape at that time played a major part in his novels, and it is well known that the biodiversity, and natural environment he grew up and lived in inspired his writing as well as his scholarly endeavours. Following the revolution of modern literature that began in the West in the 19th century, his own independent thinking must have have played a key part in spearheading a similar revolution in his own country. His many works included natural and social sciences, literature, linguistics, the arts, philosophy, education, Buddhism and comparative religion. He did not forget the younger generation, and his children writings are a testimony to this. His work has been translated to many languages including English, Russian, Tamil, Hindi, Dutch and German, French and Japanese.
The Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum is managed by the Martin Wickramasinghe Trust Fund which is a Government approved charitable Trust. Among other activities, the Trust overlooks the maintenance of the Museum with a collection of over 1000 artefacts and seven acres of charming unspoilt landscape on which it dwells. The only income generated is the nominal the entrance fee which is a mere fraction of the funds needed for upkeep.
An interesting fact is that the Museum sits in the very land that the writer grew up in, including the ancestral home that he was born in, now over 200 years old, a window into his erudite life. A solemn feeling creeps in when one walks through the old house. The entrance with his empty chair, the living room, the writing table he worked at, all stand frozen in time, as if awaiting expectantly. Many photographs from the past mark milestones and moments of the his life. The ashes of the great man lie buried nearby along with his beloved wife Prema, in the tranquil and lush environment that he so loved and wrote of.
The Pearl crew caught a few moments in the Museum when we visited it recently.
The Sekkuwa, a traditional tool for refining coconut oil.
Beautiful pieces of jewellery worn long ago.
Musical instruments and costumes of yesteryear.
A model furnace for extracting ‘wootz’ steel, that historians believe had been in existence since more then 600 BC ago. Steel was shipped from Sri Lanka to overseas, and was used in the production of the legendary Damascus steel. If one looks carefully, one can see that the concept of the Venturi Pipe was understood by ancient Sri Lankans.
Various costumes and attire of ancient Sri Lanka.
A wooden sculpture of the legendary god-king Ravana, featured in Sri Lankan and Indian folklore.
A model loom that produced fabric.
A model of a traditional kitchen in a village home.
The next generation – Appreciating the life and works of Martin Wickramasinghe.
The birthplace and ancestral home of the writer, made to traditional Dutch architecture.
The living room of the ancestral home with his writing table (left).
Martin Wickramasinghe’s life in pictures.
Some of the life works of Martin Wickramasinghe. The publications are available in the adjoining bookshop at nominal prices.
Story | Nilu Rajapakse
Photography | Danushka Senadheera (Feature Image, Sekkuwa, Musical instruments, Furnace, Costumes, Ravana, Loom, House & living room) and Nilu Rajapakse (Jewellery, Children, Photos & Literary works)