Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne ascent to artistic and cultural excellence

Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne ascent to artistic and cultural excellence

By Jagath Chandra Savanadasa

In Bidyut Sarkar’s fascinating oeuvre on the "World of Satyajit Ray" (UBS Publishers, India 1992) he refers to the genealogy and the background in which Ray grew up.

How important are factors such as genealogy environment and especially early education in the eventual development of an individual?

Sarkar adds that Ray’s artistry and creativity are to an extent derivative of his family. More than ever before the genetic make-up and ancillary inputs which combine to build up people are subject to scientific study today.

If you look at the history of Satyajit Ray’s family you will find that his ancestors have been Renaissance figures in Bengal, a great seat of culture. And what’s more they all were strongly imbibed in the Arts and Literature, specifically in publishing and printing.

In writing this essay on my school friend Professor Sunil Ariyaratne, I am not by any means comparing Satyajit Ray with Sunil Ariyaratne, No, I would not even dare that for Ray is a colossus and a global cinematic giant. But, I am only trying to show the similarity in early influences that in essence paved the way for the making of Sunil Ariyaratne an outstanding cultural figure in our own country—principally his education, his home life and also his home town. The last named significantly has also been the home of some other leading artistes and literary men of our time.

But what really impelled me to present this case study were some recent developments connected to Sunil. The first relates to the coveted Doctorate in Literature awarded to Sunil in recognition of his contributions in the field of literature and the arts. It was awarded by the University of Sri Jayawardenepura which nurtured his education. In return Sunil moulded the lives of hundreds of young men and women of talent and ability who have passed through its portals and who serve our country.

Secondly in a further expression of gratitude he financed the statue of Reverend Soratha the great Buddhist priest who founded the original Institution Vidyodaya – the foremost seat of higher education in the ancient capital, Kotte Sri Jayawardenapura.

Thirdly in the course of an interview following the unveiling of the statue of Venerable Soratha, he paid a tribute to his old school and his teachers at St John’s College, Nugegoda. This school founded by the Christian Church in 1915 has somewhat paradoxically produced a number of outstanding Buddhist scholars and men of letters besides of course numerous other individuals who served this nation.

Seeds of literary development

During the years that Sunil was educated at St. Johns it had several teachers of distinction. Two such were Gunadasa Perera and Austin de Silva both nationalists to the core perhaps influenced Sunil and instilled in him during those nascent years, a love of literature.

Whilst Sunil was in his 7th standard in school he authored a book "Ahinsakayo" which was published.

Apart from the school the best source of early influences is the home and its environment. Sunil’s father cultivated an interest in literary activity at home.

An outcome of such interest was the publication of a family oriented book named "Api Okkoma" Sunil has three brothers and two sisters. Two of his brothers are, Nimal Kuruwita Bandara the lawyer and Thilak Kuruwita Bandara the well-known journalist and editor (both Johnians) .

Yet another contributory factor in the upbringing of Sunil was the family’s frequent visits to Lumbini Theatre in Havelock Road, to view dramas and plays.

University life

I have already made brief reference to Sunil’s University life. Yet another fruitful period which this time gave him insights into the cultural antecedents of the Hindu community was during his years as Lecturer of Sinhala in the University of Jaffna. Quite apart from the close ties that Sunil established with his students, he had grabbed the opportunity in Jaffna to study the work of the great savant of Hindu culture Arumugam Navalar.

The life and times of Navalar is a watershed in the resurgence of Hindu culture and religion. He stood tall in the midst of the intrusive march of alien influences (during the time of British rule)

In a crux Navalar was of the same mould of the two great nationalists of the South and icons of National regeneration the Anagarka Dharmapala and Piyadasa Sirisena.

Thilaka gardens and the field of Performing Arts

It would not be incorrect to say that Sunil’s home in Thilaka Gardens a few yards away from the rail track on Stanley Thilakaratne Mawatha Nugegoda was a hive of cinematic and artistic activity for at least three decades.

It was like the confluence of great rivers, the home of Sunil. How much this nation’s cine and music lovers gained from Sunil’s home has never been examined or documented.

Upali Ambalanduwa lawyer, classmate of Sunil talks of the strict atmosphere that prevailed at his home in his school days. And Sanath de Silva, Management Accountant also a school friend recalls his youthful interaction with Sunil in those distant times, giving glimpses of his early leanings towards artistic activity.

Sunil began his journey into Cinema with a school pal of his who too had a literary background – the late Ranjith Palansuriya, a close kinsman of Sagara Palansuriya – the poet of yester year. Young Ranjith like Sunil too had an abiding love for Sinhala culture and they pooled their resources to produce two films, "Siribo Aiya" and "Sarungale".

Whilst one cannot call them notable cinema the two films did make an impact on the Cine-going public. They were also off the beaten track of Sinhala Cinema to a considerable extent and portrayed the underbelly of Sri Lankan society. Later Sunil directed 19 films thus establishing himself as a prolific director of local cinema.

Lester James Peiris

During the early years of Sinhala Cinema, it rather blindly followed the Indian films. But there emerged a paradigm shift in film production in Sri Lanka especially after the 1970"s though much earlier, the year 1956 marked a watershed in Cinematic novelty through the genius of Lester James Peiris. That first film of his "Rekawa", which incidentally had also some lilting songs was an artistic milestone. Peiris followed this gem of a film with other notable cinema like "Gamperaliya", thereby carving a permanent niche for himself in the realm of films.

The World of music

Music is a means of disciplining the mind. More broadly it is a part of education and enjoyment. Western music in the middle ages was a part of religion, indeed its servant. The medieval churches helped in the creation of music.

In post Roman times the Church was the dominant social institution that shaped music for more than a thousand years. Then emerged the Classical, Baroque and Roman eras and their progress into concerts which remain a feature of European life.

But when I referred to the influence of Indian films on Sri Lanka it is the music and (songs an essential component of especially Hindi Cinema) which has had a pervasive role to play not only in Sri Lanka but also in other parts of South Asia.

In this connection if may be pertinent to add what a friend, Dr. Janaka Goonatilleke, medical specialist who authored an excellent book on "The history of Athapattu Walawwa", Galle, says that external influences have made deep inroads into our culture indelibly at times, deeply affecting its development.

The early post independent local directors of film music were quite unabashed about copying Hindi Songs. Such songs, painstaking creations were melodious. Our directors exploited excellent vocalists such as Mohideen Beg, Dharmadasa and Latha Walpola and H R Jothipala to name a few for Sinhala imitations of great Hindi numbers. The early generation of such directors were never into a creative mode so as to compose Sinhala songs of their own. Copying was of course a easy way out, since creativity entails imagination innovativeness and hard work.

There were in fact a good number of outstanding Indian composers during the post independent era until recent times whose creations have elicited widespread appeal.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody the master

of modern lyrical composition

The pioneer who paved the way for a truly indigenous form of lyrics was undoubtedly Father Mercelline Jayakody. Though one feels that his Catholic affiliations provided him the inspiration, his compositions depicted in a manner experienced never before, his genius for interpreting nature. His songs like "Sudu sanda eliye nala matha popiyana… were a delight. Father Jayakody began the new era that saw the emergence of numerous of other composers and lyricists of great ability.

From Premakeerthi de Alwis whose life was tragically cut short to Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe also a Johinian, our modern musical scene drew away from India’s long held musical sway to create a wide array of songs which found nationwide acceptance.

Sri Lanka is in this regard is extremely fortunate it had men in music with strong nationalist traits and it was they who drove this nation towards new frontiers of song and music. This picture of resurgence was embellished by outstanding singers of the calibre of Pandit Amaradeva, Victor Ratnayake, Sanath Nandasari, in addition to the likes of Nanda Malani. All of them I believe lived in Nugegoda adding to its lustre as a centre of performing arts.

Sunil Ariyaratne – A seminal

contribution to lyrics

In a survey conducted recently it was found that 72% of Indians prefer film songs. Such compositions gained from the creative ability of Indian composers who gained inspiration from different musical sources. This helped in the enhancement of quality of the product. The early history of Indian film music reveals that Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan through the domain of classical music also contributed to the enrichment of Hindi film songs.

When mention is made of the finest lyricists in contemporary history of Sinhala music there were three giants – Dalton Alwis (responsible the for one of the greatest songs by a truly great singer Pandit Amaradeva the inspiring "sasara wasanathuru…….." - Sri Chandraratna Manavasinghe and Mahagama Sekera.

To this illustrious list of one needs to add Sunil Ariyaratne who has provided lyrics to more than one thousand songs in the course of his seminal career. Many of the lyrics were provided for the compositions of Rohana Weerasinghe, a master craftsman of Music and songs in his own right.

Sunil’s excellent lyrics were brought to the ears of millions of local listeners largely through the voice of one of the greatest singers of our time Victor Ratnayake, Similarly through Nanda Malani’s melodies.

In conclusion it needs to be stressed that Sunil Ariyaratne has been an inspirational figure in the realm of literature and fine arts in this country. I am confident his unmatched skills in these fields will continue to illuminate our lives.

Jagath Chandra Savanadasa is a Chamber of Commerce activist and socio-economic researcher/writer/author. He is a regular contributor to the national press. His books include Nugegoda – Glimpses of the Past, (co-author) Manual of Procedures for Chambers of Commerce and Associations and Aspects of Export Marketing in Europe.

Courtesy: The Island (17.09.2013)

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