January 27, 2012

Dr Dayaratna Ranatunga & Prof Amara Ranatunga - They Sing, Compose, Write & Lecture

By Madhushala Senaratne

(By Courtesy of sundaytimes.lk, 07th December 2007)

For over five decades, veteran musicians Dr. Dayaratna Ranatunga and Professor Amara Ranatunga have made an immense contribution towards the music industry. Their reputation as super-grade singers, music directors, composers, research scholars, lecturers and authors has spread far beyond the shores of Sri Lanka.

A felicitation ceremony, ‘Maha Re Yame’ – Dayaratna – Amara Abhinandana, to pay tribute to them will be held at the BMICH on December 6, at 6.30 p.m.“Dr. Dayaratna and Profssor Amara Ranatunga have been involved in the music industry for nearly 53 years and their songs are still popular among Sri Lankans,” Dr. Andra Dhanapala, chairperson of the ceremony organizing committee said.

Dr. Dayaratna Ranatunga was the first Director of Music and Research of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corperation. He holds a PhD in Music Therapy and has served as a music scholar and lecturer at several foreign universities in Manila and Los Angeles.

In 1990 he represented Sri Lanka at the BBC in London and presented a programme titled ‘Sandesaya’. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Sri Lanka Performing Rights Society and an external examiner and visiting lecturer at the University of Visual Arts and Performing Arts.

Professor Amara Ranatunga began her career as a schoolteacher. Later she served as a senior lecturer and Dean at the Faculty of Music of the Institute of Aesthetics at the Kelaniya University. Currently she lectures at the University of Visual Arts and Performing Arts and is Director of the Sri Lanka Performing Rights Society. She holds a PhD in Vocal Music.

The duo also conducts lectures and demonstrations at other educational and cultural institutions across the country and has represented Sri Lanka at many overseas conferences. They have produced cassettes, CDs, directed music in films and plays and composed music for school songs. Some of their famous songs and albums include ‘Maha Re Yame’, ‘Kiri Kawadi’, ‘Upulee’ and ‘Udumbara’. In recognition of their service, the couple has been bestowed with many prestigious awards including the President’s Award and the Bharatha Mitra Award from India. They have published a range of books such as ‘Music Mind Therapy’, ‘Sangeetha Vimarshana’ and ‘Saundrya Avabodha’.

“What we aim to do through our work is to share our experiences and knowledge with others, especially the younger generation and help them excel in the field of music,” Dr. Dayaratna Ranatunga said. Through performances, publications and lectures, the duo continues to work towards this aim.

The felicitation ceremony will also feature performances by the couple and a dance item by Channa Wijewardhana Three books, ‘Sambhawya Geetha Rachana’ by Amara Ranatunga, ‘Jeewana Anubhoothiya’ by Dayaratna Ranatunga and ‘Translation of Music History’ will be launched at the event.

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"Maha Rae Yame" By Dr Dayaratna Ranatunga and Prof Amara Ranatunga

January 20, 2012

Drums of Sri Lanka and Their Form and Use in Rituals and Dances

By Piyasara Shilpadhipathi, Senior Lecturer (Retired), University of Visual and Performing Arts

(By courtesy of www.news.lk, 09th September 2011)

Sri Lanka has had many types of Drums in use from ancient times and reference to these is found in the classical literature, i.e. Pujawaliya, Thupawansaya and Dalada Siritha. Although around thirty three types of drums are mentioned, today one could find only about ten and the rest are confined only to names.

It is believed that some of those drums that are in use today i.e. Dawula, Udekki and Thammattama had their origin in other Asian countries. This may be true, but today as a result of these drums being in use for a very long time, they have acquired their own shapes and materials used for the construction are also indigenous. These drums are therefore unique to Sri Lanka and the rhythms played on them are also found only here.

A study of drums would reveal that there exists a very close relationship between the drums and the people. Beating drums have been very extensively used at different times of the lives of the people, i.e. at birth, death, healing ceremonies, rituals, religious festivals, in temples, war and even to dispel one’s loneliness. Drums have become a part of their lives.

Drums were used for purposes of communication. During the time of Singhala kings, all Royal proclamation was made to the people by the drummers. Even after Sri Lanka came under the British Rule, this practice was continued. It was normal to see in the village a drummer who came to a place where people normally converged, having a Dawula hung on his shoulder. He would beat the drum with a stick and then make the announcement.












There are special rhythms used for the purpose of communication. Anyone who is conversant with these could easily identify what was happening at the time. There was ANA BERA (Bera is the Singhala word for Drum) which is a proclamation or an announcement from the king, VADA BERA indicates the taking away of a criminal for beheading, MALA BERA played while a dead body is taken to the grave and RANA BERA, drums used by the armies when they went to war.

The main types of drums in use today are referred to by the following names:

1. Geta Bera
2. Yak Bera
3. Dawula
4. Thammattama
5. Udekkiya
6. Dekkiya
7. Bummadiya
8. Hand Rabana (Ath Rabana)
9. Bench Rabana (Banku Rabana)
10. Dandu Rabana

All Sri Lankan drums are turned out of wood and the sides on which they are played are covered with animal skins of many types depending on the drums. Even the wood they use for each drum is different. It was normal to have a sort of ceremony when starting work on the making of a drum, but it may be that at present due to the whole process taking a more commercial outlook, these little ceremonies are ignored. During the early days, the drums were made for special people, those who would use them during their life time and leave for their children. Even today one could find drums more than a hundred years old. Such people for whom these drums were made also earned their living by using the drums.

During the time of Sinhala kings, villages were offered as rewards for the drummers who played regularly in the Buddhist temples and the Royal Palace.

There are special trees from which the wood is taken for the making of a drum. Some of these trees are, EHELA, KOHOMBA and JAK. The latter produces fruit which could be eaten boiled, cooked, fried or as a fruit when it is ripe, juicy and sweet. In the JAK, there are two varieties, one referred to as WARAKA and the other as WELA, the difference being that the former when eaten raw as a fruit is thick and hard while the latter is all mild and soft. The taste of the fruit is also different. For the drums, they prefer the wood of the WARAKA tree.

Normally when one of these rituals needs a new drum, he would first go in search of one of the trees mentioned above. People wish to obtain a tree that has grown in a village or near a waterfall. For some special reason, they would be more interested in a tree that had been stuck by lightening. Once the tree is found, they will first clean the place around the tree, remove all shrubs etc, pay homage to the tree and then bring it down at an auspicious time. Tree trunk is cut and removed, buried under the earth where there is moisture for few days. The tree is taken out, cleaned and measured and the drum is turned out according to the rules.

For all Sri Lankan drums, there are four sounds based on four main letters. With these four sounds, many more interesting and complicated sounds could be produced. These four are, THATH, JITH, THONG and NANG. All rhythms played on drums have the above sounds as their base. A student in the traditional way has first to go to his master to learn the art of playing the drum. For this an auspicious moment is important. The student will first pay homage to the Buddha, then pay homage to the teacher and at the auspicious moment, the teacher will play a basic rhythm which the student will repeat. The student will in this manner be introduced to twelve such basic exercises.

The student will gradually learn more intricate patterns and finally master the MAGULBERA which is a special rhythm played for special occasions. This is also referred to as Ceremonial Drumming. This takes place during the performance of the KHOHOMBA KANKARIYA (a special ritual), marriage ceremonies, birth, placing the eyes on the statutes of Buddha and usually at the commencement of any important event. This drumming is sometimes accompanied with the lighting of a brass lamp using oil from the coconut. People in the villages and even in the urban areas have great faith in this ceremonial drumming.

Dance and drums, they have a very close relationship. Where there is no drum, there can be no dance. Drums of course could be played without a dance. All rhythms played on these drums for many centuries were all preserved in an oral tradition, but recently as these should be preserved for generations to come attempts have been made to put theme in writing. These efforts however, one would say are not so successful or satisfactory.

Sri Lanka has three main dance traditions. They are Kandyan or Hill Country, the Low Country and the Sabaragamuwa. These are really dance forms practiced in the hill country, coastal belt or the low country and the mid country. All three traditions have their own types that should accompany the dances. They are obviously chosen from the ten types mentioned earlier. More descriptions about these drums are given below.

GETA BERA

This is the main instrument that accompanies the Kandyan Dance or the Hill Country Dance. The drum is turned out of the wood from EHELA, KOHOMBA or KOS (JAK) tree. The drum tapers towards the ends and the right side is covered with the

skin of a monkey while the other is covered with the skin of a cow. The long strings that go across the drum from side to side to tighten the two skins are turned out of Deer hyde.

YAK BERA (Law Country Drum)

This drum is referred to by many names, RUHUNU BERA (part of the law country belongs to the province known as Ruhunu), DEVOL BERA (This refers to a ritual performed in the coastal regions) and GHOSHAKAYA (means producing sound). This drum normally accompanies the dances of the Low Country which have their origins in the many rituals performed at healing ceremonies involving the propitiation of demons and other supernatural or mythical beings as Yakshas and Rakshas.

The drum is turned out of the wood from KOHOMBA, EHELA, KITUL or, MLLA trees. It is a long cylindrical drum played with both hands. The openings on the sides are covered with the stomach lining of a cow. This lining is very thin and needs careful handling as too much of pressure on the side will make it split. The two sides are tightened together with strings that go from side to side and these are turned out of cattle skin.

DAWULA

This drum which is very important for the Sabaragamuwa Dance tradition has also a prominent place in the many ceremonies in Buddhist temples. It is much shorter than the Yak Bera and a significant feature in playing the drum is that the right side is played with a stick referred to as KADIPPU and the left with the hand. This is also the drum used in ANA BERA (for communication). The wood for it is taken from KITUL, EHELA, JAK, MILLA and KOHOMBA trees.

According to early records this drum is said to have been turned out of the wood from the Red Sandalwood Trees. The body is decorated with paint and sometimes with silver and brass coverings. Such decorated drums could be seen at the famous Esala Festival in Kandy where the Sacred Tooth Relic is taken in procession. It is also customary for drummers to move in rhythmic patterns while playing the drum. In the Buddhist temples certain rhythms are played on this drum during the mornings, mid day and evenings and the villagers could easily identify the type of ceremony that is on at the time in the temple. Very often this drum is accompanied by the Thammattama (the twin drum).

THAMMATTAMA

This drum consists of two parts and while the high sounds are produced by the right one, low sounds are produced by the left one. Wood for these drums comes from KOHOMBA, EHELA and JAK trees. The drum is played with two sticks with circular ends and they are made of KADURU. THAMMATTAMA is generally not played with equal pressure. There are special rhythms played on this drum. E.g.: to invite people in to the temple, invite Buddhist priests for Pirith ceremonies or Alms giving.

UDEKKIYA

The smallest drum among these instruments is the Udekkiya. This is played with one hand while the other hand is used to control the sound by applying pressure on the strings. The drum is like the hour glass and is turned out of the wood from EHELA, MILLA and SURIYA. It is painted with lacquer while the sides are covered with the skin of iguana, monkey or goat.

DAKKIYA

This is similar to the Udekkiya, but bigger in size. This is used mainly for rituals. The drum is hung on the shoulder of the player and the sound is controlled by pressure on the strings.

BUMMADIYA

This is the only drum turned out of clay. The single opening is covered with the skin of a monkey, goat or iguana. It is hung on the shoulder of the player and played with both hands. Normally used during harvesting and it is shaped like a pot.

HAND RABANA

Rabana is about one foot in diameter and is turned out of wood from JAK and MILLA. The skin used to cover the main opening is that of a goat. Some performers are very skilled and they keep the Rabana revolving on the tip of their fingers. Normally playing of the Rabana is accompanied with singing.

BENCH RABANA

This is the biggest among the drums used in Sri Lanka. It is normally placed on three or four wooden supports each about one foot in height. The players sit around the drum and play it with both hands. A small fire is sometimes lit under the Rabana to keep it warm and this helps it to give a better sound. This drum is commonly used for New Year festival and there are many beautiful rhythms played on them. It is usually played by women but sometimes males are also.

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Rhythms of Sri Lankan Drums & Folk Songs by Piyasara and Chandrakanthi Shilpadhipathi

December 21, 2011

Amaradeva the Lure of a Maestro - The Name is still Magic

By Dee Cee (Kala Korner)

(By courtesy of sundaytimes.lk, 26th June 2011)

The name is still magic. The fact that hundreds who turned up at the BMICH on Sunday evening had to go away disappointed without tickets is ample testimony to the maestro's lure. They had come even from far off places like Trincomalee and were keen to enjoy what was publicised as "a rare musical treat with Pandit Amaradeva". It was titled after one of his most popular songs –Sasara wasana thuru and introduced as Amara gee rasoghaya.

The Channa-Upuli team set the pace for the evening with a glittering presentation of dances for a medley of Amaradeva numbers starting with Aetha kandukara himav arane – Mahagama Sekera's creation for Chitrasena's ballet Nala Damayanthi for which Amaradeva composed and directed the music over four decades ago. Renowned musician Rohana Weerasinghe provided the music for the medley which brought back the haunting memories of the Amaradeva touch. Channa Wijewardena excelling as the foremost innovator in today's dance scene, had cleverly created the dances to suit the themes of the different songs. The fast moving spectacle was well executed.

The presence of a highly talented tabla exponent, Parthasarathi Mukherjee (he has had the distinction of playing in the orchestra at the opening of the Athens Olympic Games a few years back) and a promising young sarangi player, Farooque Lateef Khan – both from India added colour to the evening's performance. The tabla and the geta bera duet between Mukherjee and our own Ravibandu was a treat. How they understood the musical language of each other's instruments was amazing. It was good entertainment.

The evening was more a felicitation to Pandit Amaradeva with a number of top level artistes contributing songs which either he had created for them or on a rare instance, one of them had composed for him - as was the case with Sanath Nandasiri, who confessed that it was with unease that he was singing Maha vessata pera….kabaaya irila which the maestro had sung in the 1980s.

Then there was a golaya – Edward Jayakody who was Amaradeva's pupil in the College of Music. He remembered the days when he used to get a lift from the teacher. Often Edward would accompany him to the Broadcasting Corporation and sing in the chorus at his concerts. An unforgettable incident was when the teacher asked him to sing a number over the radio when he heard him humming it and was impressed. "A moment I will never forget in my life," Edward said.

When Sunil Edirisinghe prompted the maestro to join him in the duet Patu adahas which both of them had sung for a Madhuvanti programme, he was most willing. Even though somewhat feeble, the maestro was in his element when he sang Sasara vasana thuru – the theme song of the evening and many more including Chando ma bilinde – the popular lullaby based on a Rabindranath Tagore creation he had sung with the Indian singer in the mid- 1950s.

To wind up, he insisted on playing a violin solo and to back him invited tablist Mukherjee who willingly obliged.

Bouquet for the Foundation The Amaradeva Foundation deserves a big bouquet for organizing the musical evening. Of course, the person behind the operation was the maestro's son, Ranjana who spent sleepless nights to see that a show worth his father's name was put up as a tribute to Pandit Amaradeva's contribution to Sinhala music.

Ranjana was also instrumental in getting down Mukherjee to conduct a highly successful five-day training workshop for up and coming players at the Jana Kala Kendra.

It is good to see the Foundation which was set up a few years back quietly moving into action. The Indian High Commission has collaborated with the Foundation to award a scholarship to a student for post-graduate studies at Bhatkande University. The Foundation is under the Public Trustee who accepts contributions to it.

A keep-sake publication

An attractive souvenir designed by Wijayabandara of 'The Design Master' was also released that evening. The well laid-out, high quality production carries a series of rare photographs. Several admirers have contributed articles.

Describing Amaradeva as "the colossus in the field of Sinhala music since the middle of the 20th century", Prof. K.N.O Dharmadasa summarizes his career in an informative discussion. He analyses "the fruits of Amaradeva's labours in musical creativity" lucidly.

To Carlo Fonseka, "beyond any manner of doubt the greatest man in the history of modern Sinhala music is W.D. Amaradeva (b.1927) who is still blessedly with us and musically active". Listing some attributes of the man, Carlo refers to his phenomenal creative talent; his unique singing voice; his wide knowledge of musical traditions of the world; his sheer virtuosity as an instrumentalist; and his profound and sensitive grasp of the language of Sinhala poetry.

The souvenir also carries Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne's moving address at the felicitation to Amaradeva on his return with the Magsaysay Award.

12 Cellos to play for you

The cellists of the Cantando Cello Ensemble are busy rehearsing for their next concert on July 7 at the Lionel Wendt. The Cantando Ensemble consists of 12 cellists who are led and directed by Dushy Perera, well-known soloist, teacher and principal cellist of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka.

This year the performance will include Johann Strauss’ ever-popular ‘Overture to Die Fledermaus’, Elegiac pieces by Grieg and J.S. Bach’s ‘Brandenburg Concerto No. 3’.

They will also perform music in lighter vein, with the second half of the programme showcasing the instrument’s versatility and flexibility in Claude Bolling’s ‘Suite for Cello’ and ‘Jazz Trio’ and the Tangos ‘Jealousy’ and ‘Libertango’ by Jacob Gade and Astor Piazzolla.

Performing with Cantando this year are the Menaka Singers, who will collaborate with the cellists in a selection of show tunes guaranteed to send you home humming. The concert proceeds will be donated to the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation. Tickets and box plan will be available at the Lionel Wendt office.

December 20, 2011

Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody OMI - A Legend in His Own Lifetime

(By courtesy of www.sundayobserver.lk, 23rd May 2004)

The birth anniversary of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody OMI, the well-known Catholic priest, musician, poet, lyricist, author, journalist falls on June 03, Lesley Fernando talks about his life as a priest and his varied contributions to the arts drawing on indigenous cultural roots.

A household name in our country, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was a priest far ahead of the times. He led an eventful life replete with ups and downs. He was stronger in defeat and all his defeats later turned out to be victories. He had the Midas touch and everything he handled turned into gold. He lived long, till the ripe old age of 96 and passed away on January 15, 1998 after making an indelible stamp on contemporary society.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was born on June 03, 1902 at Dankotuwa on the outskirts of Maha Oya. He had his early education at Madampe Sinhala School and secondary education at St. Joseph's College, Colombo. He had to suspend his education for one year at St. Joseph's Colombo, because he could not afford to pay the school fees.

In 1920 Fr. Marcelline Jayakody entered St. Bernard's Seminary. He was ordained a priest on December 20, 1927 by Dr. J.M. Masson, the then Archbishop of Colombo.

There was always the love for national culture in his veins. At the beginning of the 20th century, slavishly imitating the West, was the order of the day. At the same time there was a national resurgence led by patriots like Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harischandra, John de Silva and Piyadasa Sirisena.

The higher strata in society who aped the Western way of life was severely criticised by the well-known novelist Piyadasa Sirisena. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody read the novels of Piyadasa Sirisena with interest and drew inspiration from his works.

As a young priest Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was criticised in Church circles for offering some lotus flowers at the sanctuary at the wedding Mass of one of his relatives. Since then much water has flowed under the bridges in Sri Lanka. Now the national culture is given its due place in the Catholic church and Fr. Marcelline Jayakody is considered as an exponent of indigenous culture. As the parish priest in different areas he served, he gave the altar a national aura bedecking it with gokkola and ralipalam.

At that time, the churches were set up on a caste basis. It is so even today in some churches. In one parish the people who belonged to one caste had refused to accept Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who belonged to a different caste for their parish priest. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was adamant and never moved out. Later he won over the parishioners and served the parish with much acceptance.

As a parish priest Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was able to tame tough characters, diffuse caste issues and succeeded in tactfully dealing with the problems in the parishes.

When Fr. Marcelline Jayakody became the parish priest of Duwa in 1939, the Duwa Passion Play was performed with images of sacred personages based on the centuries old Nine Sermons in the Dukprapthi Prasangaya written by Fr. Jacome Gonsalves. At that time no one dared to engage human actors in Passion plays in churches.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody boldly broke with the tradition. He used human actors for all the scenes except for Christ and Mary. He revised and re-cast the play while maintaining the traditional outlook. He also composed all the hymns in addition to the traditional Pasan.

Since then the fame of Duwa Passion Play spread far and wide. At that time, the colourful Duwa Passion Play, performed with over 250 actors, all drawn from the island hamlet of Duwa, was considered as the greatest Passion show in Asia.

The credit of introducing Catholic hymns with both Christian aspects and national sentiments should go to Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the normal practice was to dub Sinhala words to Latin hymns and Western melodies. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody too at the beginning wrote several hymns specially the Carols adopting Western tunes. However, in 1934 Fr. Marcelline Jayakody composed the hymns Sapiri Sama - Asiri Soma and the Christmas Carol Raya Tharu Babalanava set to his own music. These hymns became very popular and are still sung in churches.

In 1940's and 1950's specially around Independence there was a national renaissance in Sri Lanka. This national consciousness had its effect on the Catholic Church as well. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody too began to compose outstanding hymns like Ronata Vadina Bingu Obay, Nelum Pipeela Pethi Visireela and Suvanda Male Pipi Kumudiniye with a national fervour. These magnificent hymns with their superb lyrics, sweet music and local setting captivated the hearts of all.

The hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody are simple and close to people. They contain both Christian themes and national outlook. They are appreciated even by non-Catholics. They are a striking example for cultural adaptation in its true perspective. Most of the popular hymns sung in churches today are compositions of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.

In 1949, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was invited to train the choir for the song Namo Namo Matha as the composer of the song Ananda Samarakone had gone abroad. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody rose to the occasion, trained the students of Musaeus College and presented it, to be acclaimed by all. This fantastic performance went a long way towards making Namo Namo Matha our national anthem.

In late 1949, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was appointed the Editor of Gnanartha Pradeepaya the official Sinhala Catholic weekly. He increased the pages of it from 8 to 12 and introduced new features with an indigenous outlook. It was Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who designed the title Gnanartha Pradeepaya and this title still continues.

However, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody could not stay long in Gnanartha Pradeepaya. The authorities insisted that he should closely follow the English Catholic weekly the Messenger. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody refused and left Gnanartha Pradeepaya on his own for Shanthinikethan in India.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody underwent some training at Shanthinikethan the famous oriental arts centre set up by Rabindranath Tagore. When he returned to Sri Lanka, he was sent to Tolagatty in Jaffna as a punishment for leaving the country without the permission of Church authorities. Later he served on the staff of St. Patrick's College, Jaffna.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody made use of his stay in Jaffna to make a study of Hindu religion and culture. He wrote a series of articles to Times of Ceylon journal on Tamil culture, the simple and serene life of people and beauty of Jaffna. He also presented a Passion play with the students of St. Patrick's College, Jaffna. From Jaffna in 1953, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was appointed to the staff of St. Peter's College, Colombo. At St. Peter's with the assistance of Heen Baba Dharmasiri he set up an oriental arts centre and introduced indigenous fine arts to this leading Catholic school in the metropolis.

The film Rekawa directed and produced by Lester James Peiris screened in 1956 was a landmark in Sinhala cinema. It was the first film presented with a real indigenous outlook and it won several international awards. Lester James Pieris got Fr. Marcelline Jayakody to write lyrics for songs in "Rekawa" and Sunil Santha to provide music for them.

Rekawa generated such enthusiasm in Sinhala cinema, that the Sunday Observer conducted a poll to select the leading personality in the film world in 1956. It was found from the beginning Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was leading the poll. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who did not want to take any undue credit made a declaration that he only wrote lyrics and Sunil Santha set the music for songs in Rekawa. But that did not make any difference.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody won the poll defeating such stalwarts in Sinhala cinema as Rukmani Devi, B.A.W. Jayamanna, Laddiee Ranasinghe, Sirisena Wimalaweera and Mohideen Baig. Dr. W. Dahanayake the then Minister of Education who presented the award said "If I could write a single song like this - I consider it a greater achievement than being a Minister".

In 1970's Fr. Marcelline Jayakody as writing a column in the Catholic weekly Messenger. He wrote it for 4 years and continued it even from abroad. In 1976 the authorities suddenly discontinued his popular column over a controversial article. But. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody could not be thwarted in that manner. He wrote a series of poems to Kaviya magazine extolling Buddhist culture.

Muthu was a collection of poems published in Kaviya. Muthu won Fr. Marcelline Jayakody the Presidential award for the best poetry work in 1979 and the famous international award the Magsaysay Prize in 1983.

That is not all. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was the author of several other works of prose and poetry both in Sinhala and in English. He was a well-known journalist who carried columns in both Catholic and secular press. He was also an active member of "Hela Havula" initiated by Munidasa Kumaratunga for the correct usage of Sinhala. For several decades until his death Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was the President of the Sinhala Poets' Association.

Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera has written a book on Fr. Marcelline Jayakody titled "Malpale Upan Pansale Piyathuma". This is the first book written by a Buddhist prelate on a Catholic priest.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who had to suspend his education for lack of funds in one instance, praises the Free Education Scheme in no uncertain terms mindful of the fact the then Catholic Church did everything possible to sabotage it. He also believed that Christ lived some years in India.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was a priest who practised what he preached. He used a share of the money he received from the Magsaysay award to set up an arts centre for the under-priviledged. He donated another share for the Sinhala Poets' Association. He set apart the balance for scholarships to poor students. He led a simple life with the barest of necessities.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was honoured with the Kalasuri title by the State and Kithu Nandana Pranamaya by the Catholic Church for his outstanding contributions to arts and culture for over six decades.

No other Catholic prelate or priest in Sri Lanka has touched the hearts and lives both Catholics and non-Catholics alike like Fr. Marcelline Jayakody. Sincere to God and sincere to man, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was a legend in his own life time.


You might also like:

A rare collection of Christmas Songs recorded in 1975. Written by Rev Fr Marcelline Jayakody OMI & Ivan Alwis. Vocals: Rukmani Devi, Dayaratna Ranatunga & Amara Ranatunga.

Rukmani Devi - Queen of the Silver Screen of Sri Lanka

By Sumana Saparamadu

(By courtesy of www.sundayobserver.lk, 02nd April 2006)

The statue of the lady in white at the Kanuwana Junction, Ja-ela, may be a familiar sight to those of you travelling along the Colombo-Negombo Road. The lady is Rukmani Devi, who was rightly called "Nightingale of Sri Lanka' and 'Queen of the Silver Screen'.

Were she living today, Rukmani Devi would be 83 years old. She was born on January 15, 1923, at Ramboda near Nuwara Eliya. Her father John D. Daniel was working on a plantation and her mother, Helan Rose was a teacher. The Daniels belonged to the Colombo Chetty community. They named their second daughter Daisy Rasammah; she later became the celebrity, Rukmani Devi. She was the second in a family of four sisters and one brother.

The cold wet climate of Nuwara Eliya didn't suit Daisy; so the family moved to Colombo. Little Daisy started schooling at St. Matthew's School, which was close to their home. Later, she was admitted to St. Clare's School, Wellawatta, where her mother was a teacher.

At St. Clare's she showed her inborn talent for singing and dancing. The Christmas play 'The Shoemaker's Wife', in which she acted, was the turing point in her life.

In the audience was Walter Abeysinghe, a play producer. Recognising the natural talents of the girl, he made inquiries and went to see her father to get his permission to give Daisy a part in the play he was producing.

Instead of putting his foot down, as most fathers of that day would have done, Daniel readily gave permission and encouraged his daughter, and watched with pride as his little daughter appeared on stage in the role of Sita in 'Ramayana'. This was in 1935, and Daisy was only 12 years old.

In her biography Jeevithen Viththi, Rukmani says that she stepped on the stage with her heart going pit-a-pat; but when she heard her own voice resounding in the hall, her heart was filled with pride and joy.

That was the beginning of her career as actress and singer, which spanned four decades. Soon, she was sought after by play producers. She was Mayawathi in Charles Dias' play by the same name, staged at Ananda College. She was Juliet in a Sinhala adaption of Romeo and Juliet. When the Minerva Players, a company of actors formed by B. M. W. Jayamanna and Eddie Jayamanna among others started staging plays, Rukmani got the main female role in all of them.

A milestone in her life was the recording of a duet with H. W. Rupasingha for the HMV (His Master's Voice) record company. This song "Siri Buddha Gaya Viharay" was one of the most popular songs of the gramophone era. Rukmani had spent a few days in Rupasinghe Master's home in Nupe Matara, and he had trained her to hold her breath, to modulate (regulate) her voice and sing naturally.

The date fixed for the recording was October 28, 1938. She was down with fever for a few days, and was anxious about doing the recording.

The night before, as she slept, she had a strange dream. A figure dressed in white was standing by her bed, "Don't worry. You can sing and you will sing", with those words, the figure touched her face and throat. Miraculously, she was well by morning and the recording was a 100 per cent success. (Rukmani has recounted this dream in her biography). That record sold fast and the HMV Company recorded more songs by her, some solo, some duets which became popular among both the young and the old.

It was in the late thirties that Daisy Rasamma became Rukmani Devi. Some say that Rupasinghe Master was responsible for this name change.

The first Sinhala film Broken Promise, first shown in January 1947, was an adaption to the screen of a play from the Minerva Players. Rukmani played the role of Ranjani, the heroine, and the lead role in all the BAW films that followed. By this time she was married to Eddie Jayamanna.

Starting with Broken Promise, Rukmani Devi acted in 84 films, playing the young heroine at the start, and graduating to elderly roles of mother and stepmother.

The last time she faced the camera was two days before her death, for 'Sakvithi Suvaya' directed by Gamini Fonseka.

She has acted in tragedies, comedies, films about society and historical films. She has even acted in a Tamil film. A high point in her career was her role as Malani in 'Kele Handa' (Moon Over the Jungle), the first Sinhala novel to be filmed.

She was well paid for this role. The large-hearted Rukmani Devi bought a Morris Minor with that money for her driver Denzil, instead of spending the money on herself.

On October 27, 1978, Rukmani and Eddie took part in a Musical show at Matara. They left Matara in the wee hours of the morning and were in Ja-ela, Tudella by 6.30 a.m. of October 28, when their vehicle crashed into a bowser, killing Rukmani Devi on the spot.

The news was broadcast that morning, and the whole country was in shock and grief. Thousands came from far and near to pay their last respects to their beloved idol before she was laid to rest at St. Mary's Church. Negombo had never seen such a crowd before.

A close friend, Leela Kottegoda commissioned at her own expense a statue of Rukmani Devi and this statue was unveiled on January 15 (her birthday), 1980 by Minister Anandatissa de Alwis. The road on which the Rukmani Devi Museum in Negombo is located was re-named Rukmani Devi Mawatha by President R. Premadasa, on October 28, 1990.

A stamp was also issued in her honour.


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December 18, 2011

Noorthi Gee in Karaoke - An Effort by Victor Wicremage to Preserve the Art of Nurthi

By Susitha R Fernando

(By courtesy of sundaytimes.lk, 02nd November 2008)

Veteran actor, stage producer and director, Victor Wicremage in an effort to preserve the art of 'Noorthi' will release 'Noorthi Gee', the songs of golden Noorthi era, a DVD with Karaoke at 10.45 am on November 8 at Elphinstone theatre.

The DVD will comprise 20 Noorthi songs like ‘Amba Damba Naran Kesel Del’, ‘Lowe Genu Paradai’, ‘Sirisangabodi Maligawedi’ and ‘Danno Budunge’ which are even famous among the present generation.

The songs with new music without harming the original melodies will be sung and played by veterans in the stage drama scene including Wijeratne Warakagoda, Sandun Wijesiri, Anula Bulathsinghala, Quintus Weerakoon, Nimal Jayasinghe, Premadasa Vithange, Gamini Hettiarachchi and Victor himself and the younger generation representing Ivanka Peiris, Ajith Theldeniya, Lakshitha Sewwandhi, Dhanuska Gayan Perera and Victor's son Saliya Sathyajith who shot to fame with Dancing Star.

‘Most of the time the lyrics of these songs are changed and distorted making them meaningless by the present generation. This is because they do not know the original lyrics and this is why I wanted to give the original words in karaoke form so that they would be preserved’ Wickremage said.

The songs which came up in Noorthis of John de Silva and Charles Dias were done with copy right taken from the relevant authorities and a number of songs will be performed at the event on November 8 and there the DVDs would be available at a special price.

Wickremage's golden jubilee in art

Well known actor in the Tower Hall era, Wickremage has played main roles in a number of famous Noorthis like 'Siri Sangabo' and 'Siwamma Dhanapala' where he played with then leading actresses like Rukmani Devi.

He studied at Kotahena Gunananda Vidyalaya, Wickremage joined Noorthi as a child playing the role of Jaliya in 'Wessanthara'.

‘I played the role with singer Nanda Malanee who played Krishnajina and we were little children then," Wickremage said.

Son of W. Sylvester Master, one of the pioneers in the Tower Hall era and well known name in Noorthi era, Wickremage had the opportunity to be brought up under the backdrop of Noorthi plays and songs.

‘My father being a pupil of John de Silva and proctor Charles Dias and winner of four gold medals from Colonial Governors for his performances, I was brought of with Noorthi plays and songs," Wickremage reminiscing his childhood said.

Later he produced and directed 'Wessanthara' and ‘Sivamma Dhanapala’ in which Rukmanie Devi played lead roles. Later on the invitation of Rukmanie, Wickremage re-produced B. A. W. Jayamanne's play ‘Kadawunu Poronduwa’.

When Tower Hall was taken back to the government in 1978 Wickremage was appointed as the Assistant Manager by late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Not only in Noorthi, Wickremage also performed in Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra's plays like ‘Mahasara’.

Later on the invitation of former chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, M. G. Perera, Wickremage produced a number of Tower Hall plays to miniscreen.

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December 17, 2011

India Honours Doyen of Modern Sinhala Music - Pandit Amaradeva

By R K Radhakrishnan

(By courtesy of www.hindu.com, 29th June 2011)

The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka organised an evening with musician and Magsaysay award winner Pandit Amaradeva at India House here on Monday evening to celebrate his six decades of excellence in music and to underline the deep cultural and civilisational links the two countries share.

Pandit Amaradeva (earlier known as Albert Perera) was awarded the Padma Shri in 2002. He composed the melody for the Maldivian national anthem along with Ananda Samarakoon (author of the Sri Lankan national anthem) and composer-musician Sunil Santha. They are regarded as the founding fathers of the modern Sinhala music. All the three had much in common — were celebrated artists but utterly poor, had deep links with India, and were greatly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore and Rabindra Sangeet.

“It is an emotional moment for me, as a friend of long standing is being re-honoured by India,” said Sarath Amunugama, Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation. “Traditionally we were not a country that promoted music… In modern times Amaradeva single-handedly created Sinhala music,” he added.

The secret of Pandit Amaradeva's success was that he was a people's man; on one occasion people collected money to meet his travel expenditure so that he could learn from his contemporaries.

Highlighting aspects of Pandit Amaradeva's personality, G.L. Peiris, Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs said he had a great knack of working with others and drawing out their best. His partnerships with other noted musicians had enriched Sri Lanka and its music.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, described Pandit Amaradeva's music as one that transcended all barriers and was widely accepted. He absorbed every influence from world cultures and dared to carry out innovative experiments. In many ways, he liberated musicians, Mr. Nanayakkara said.

“Whether in religion or in dance, music, literature and other art forms, it has been a silent but enormously powerful give-and-take between India and Sri Lanka over countless centuries, a process which has been mutually enriching,” noted Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K. Kantha. “This provides the civilisational bedrock to our relationship and makes it so sturdy and so unique.”