Locations of authenticity: S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka and the search for indigeneity

Harshana Rambukwella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visions of a grand hydraulic civilization and a pastoral ideal of paddy cultivation-based village life have shaped Sinhala nationalist discourse since the late nineteenth century. Derived from colonial sociology, the local political elite fashioned these ideas into a discourse of Sinhala authenticity that positioned themselves as legitimate representatives of the people while simultaneously placing them as custodians of national culture. However, this was a fraught dynamic given the elites' highly Anglicized nature and their inability to maintain control over this discourse in the face of wider participation in public culture in the first half of the twentieth century. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who became prime minister in 1956, eight years after Sri Lanka gained independence from British rule, is popularly seen as one of the few elite politicians of the late colonial period who sought to engage substantively in mass-based politics and is remembered as a heroic anti-colonial figure. This article explores the contradictions and ironies in Bandaranaike's turn to indigeneity and the political and cultural implications of this turn. It also briefly discusses authenticity's continued resonance in contemporary Sri Lanka.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-400
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Asian Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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