The history of “chithra katha” (picture stories) in Sri Lanka has a mere five decade of a period. When the famous artist late G.S.Fernando created the very first picture story book “Neela” it was warmly embraced by both young and adult, because people of those era had limited options of entertainment and media. The habit of reading was there in almost every member of the family. When G.S. created “Neela” it was a new concept, telling a story with illustrations that captured the hearts of the readers. On the other hand, Sri Lankans like to hear and narrate stories from beginning of their early childhood, grandparents love to narrate sweet stories to grand children and grand children cannot be put in to sleep without a story from their beloved parents or grandparents.
“Neela” was so popularized that artists like Susil Premaratne,Puravijaya Fonseka,W.A Karunaratne released their own series of picture story books. “Bili pujawa”,”Muthu Kumari”, “Hangi Muththan” are some of the stories I will never forget during my life time.
In 1972 the Lake House published “Sathuta”, the first picture story paper of Sri Lanka which revolutionized the reading habit of the generation which eventually makes both good and bad effects when considering the quality of the stories. Anura Wijewardane,Herbut Ranjith Pieris, Wickramanayake, Sarath Madu, Bandula Harischandra, Gunapala Herath, Daya Rajapaksha were some of the pioneer artists worked for “Sathuta”. Then papers like “Siththara”, “Madura”, “Chithra Mithra” and many more were published within a short span period of a decade.
I have no doubt that you, being a youngster or an adult had read the famous picture stories like “Batti”, “Ithin Eeta Passe”, “Unico”,”Spartacus”. The youth then try to imitate the hair styles of “Dedunu and Kelum”, the famos charactors in “Ithin Eeta Passe”. “Unico” and “Toga” were the super heroes of the children as there were no cartoons like Super Man,Spider Man or Bat Man.
When more and more papers published the quality of the stories diluted rapidly, so that parents and teachers compelled to refrain children from reading those papers. Having a picture story book in school became a punishable offense; gradually those who are reading such papers were treated as less educated people which lead to the downturn of the industry.
However understanding the potential of the picture stories as an educational and entertainment option a group of artists have get together to form the “National Picture Stories Foundation” a few years back. The habit of reading among the youth has decreased dramatically beginning from early 80’s and it adversely affects the knowledge of our own history among the youth. Picture stories can be used as a good option to educate children from their early childhood. They have organized an exhibition “Siththaru Andi Ru” with the participation of over fifty artists on December which was ceremonially opened by the President Mahinda Rajapaksha.
The Secretary of the Foundation, Duminda Sanjeewa Balasooriya requested the President to grant permission for artists to submit their drawings for school text books, he agreed, Artists of the calibre of TiddyAbeysuriya, who draw historical stories can make children appreciate what they read in books and also let a love to read more about history. “Yes, it is a good idea and it will also help to improve the quality of reading content.
I will consult the authorities”, the President told the president of the Foundation, famous artist Daya Rajapaksa.President Rajapaksa took time off and wished the artists. He recalled cartoon stories of a by-gone era like Hulawali well and Hathveni Dawasa which later turned into famous local films while Ithin Eeta Passe and Batti into tele dramas.
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