23 October, 2021

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Amaradeva: The (Non-) Passing Of An Icon

By Malinda Seneviratne

There are rain clouds, not too dark and not threatening. It might rain later. There was rain last night. Tomorrow, there will be other clouds of similar shade. Non-threatening for a while. There might be rain. The city pulsated in rhythms acquired over the years. In some village in the Dry Zone, there are children at play. The potter is at his wheel. Someone, somewhere is listening to music. The country called Sri Lanka in determination and resilience, hope and foreboding, meanders through the hills and vales of joy and sorrow at a pace that suits her people. Sounds of yesterday are heard now and will be heard tomorrow. And through it all a silence that is strangely also a song. A sad song. Amaradeva is no more.

Pundit W.D. Amaradeva, known in an earlier avatar as Wannakuwatta Waduge Don Albert Perera, born in Moratuwa on the fifth day of December in the year 1927. Don Girinoris Perera and Maggie Veslina Mendis may never have imagined that their sixth and youngest child would, almost 89 years later, make music so silent and so poignant that it matched and in many ways surpassed everything he did with voice. Amaradeva breathed his last a few hours ago. The nation skipped a heartbeat. Breaths drawn were held for a moment longer than usual and then released as a collective sigh.w-d-amaradeva

Pundit W.D. Amaradeva [Photo courtesy Sandra Mack]

How can one speak of an incomparable voice that will not sing again? What do we say of a man who left us speechless with his songs? Those who want appropriate words to articulate their respective sorrows, their gratitude and sense of loss can of course delve into the lyrics. Song titles alone would yield enough lines to pick from. But that’s not him. That’s his friends, as gifted with word as he was with voice: Mahagama Sekera, Madawala S Ratnayake, Dalton Alwis, Chandraratne Manawasinghe, Ajantha Ranasinghe, Arisen Ahubudu, K.D.K. Dharmawardena, all of whom have passed on as has Prof Nandadasa Kodagoda (one of several one-lyric contributors), and among the living the highly accomplished but most infrequently recognized Sunil Sarath Perera, not forgetting Ratna Sri Wijesinghe and the more ‘present’ Prof Sunil Ariyaratne.

He will no doubt be remembered for offering his amazing voice to equally amazing lyrics, but what singles him out will always be the voice. And as he often said, the music was only carried by the voice — it was born and nurtured in heart and mind. Every word, every syllable and the spaces between were heart-made and mind-nurtured and that what sets him apart. His heart and mind were made of this nation in all its glory, all its inadequacies, and it held everyone cutting across every conceivable distinction. Amaradeva cleared the high noted of our multiple histories and held the integrity of the deep foundations of our cultural ethos. That’s how he became and for a long time will remain the voice of our nation.
Time will pass and his name will pass into the many names among the forgotten in the birth-decay-death of our common human condition, but there will be days, now and for a long time to come, when Amaradeva will be present and ready for renewal and rediscovery, endowed with history and heritage giving us in his own indescribable ways the forgotten yesterdays and inhabitable tomorrows.
There can be no short tribute. And no long tribute will be long enough. It is tempting to draw from one of the hundreds of songs that many of us grew up with, many of us were consoled by in times of grief, many of us were lifted by for countless reasons, but that would be disservice to both singer and lyricist.

For this reason, I choose the words scripted for a TV show on Amaradeva. They were written by Bandula Nanayakkarawasam who, interestingly, had just one ‘Amaradeva Song’ to his credit, never recorded but sung by the maestro on May 18, 1989 when Amaradeva’s classic book ‘Nada Sittam’ was launched.

This is what Bandula wrote:

ගම අමතක වීද ඔහුගෙන් විමසන්න
නගරය මග හැරුනිද ඔහු සොයා යන්න
රට අමතක වීද ඔහු ඇති බව අදහන්න
ගහ-කොළ, ඉර-හඳ, ඇළ-දොළ, සමුදුර, කුරුළු-ගී
ඈ නෙක දියදම් අරුම නොපෙනී නොඇසී ගියේද
ඔහු ඇසි දිසි මානයේ රැඳෙන්න
මේ පුංචි කොදෙව්වේ, මව් දෙරණේ
මේ සියල්ල ඔහුය
‘If you’ve forgotten the village, ask him
If you are lost in a city, go find him
If you forgot the nation, believe that he lives
The trees, the sun and moon, the ocean, bird song…
These and other enchanting things……..
should you not see them, should you not hear
Go stand before him, stay within the circle of his gaze.
In this tiny island, in our motherland
He alone is all these things.”
My friend Nishad Handunpathirana who knows much more about music than those who make knowing-claims and therefore, perhaps, says little, said a few words: ‘He was our Tagore’. Perhaps that’s one way of putting it. Another way is possible, Bandula has shown. He was Amaradeva. Ours.

There is silence amid the clutter of sound. It’s the silence of a singular passing. The voice of the nation has gone silent. And strangely, in this world made of transience, it would probably linger. More tenderly. Yes, softer still.

*Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasen

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Latest comments

  • 11
    1

    I so mourn the passing of this humble giant.

    My tired heart, mind & soul have all been cured countlesss times my his words & music. His work will continue to comfort me and citizens of our tested country way into the future.

    Not even Amaradeva can keep on healing us forever. His time to leave us has come. I let him go in peace, to enjoy the rest he so earned and deserves. With incredible gratitude & respect.

    May you rest in peace.

    • 4
      0

      Malinda Seneviratne

      RE:Amaradeva: The (Non-) Passing Of An Icon.

      “Sounds of yesterday are heard now and will be heard tomorrow. And through it all a silence that is strangely also a song. A sad song. Amaradeva is no more.”

      Thanks for the write up on Amaradeva. The invitation for Amaradeva had come. May he attain Nibbana as per his beliefs and rest in peace.

      ARADHANA – W.D. Amaradewa

      A song keeping with nature and reality.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3inq10OA_Yo

  • 8
    0

    Bravo Malinda for this superb piece.I generally detest your political writings immensely to the point of never reading them beyond the byline.I thought you were incapable of anything better; that was until I read this article on my Hero;our Hero.Believe me, it simply took my breath away.It certainly took a while to be convinced that this masterpiece was from the pen of Malinda Seneviratne.How wrong we are to prejudge people.Each of us has something good in us.MS is no exception to this rule.Well done indeed.

    • 1
      4

      “How wrong we are to prejudge people”

      What’s so wrong about it ?

      We are proud Sri Lankans, pre-judging anything, everything and everyone at anytime with little call for evidence

      • 5
        1

        maalumiris

        “We are proud Sri Lankans”

        You are wrong again, we are the proud little islanders.

      • 6
        0

        Maalumiris,do not take away the sanctity of this sad moment to cast aspersions on Sri Lankan people.with silly comments.Either you should be writing something on the late Amaradeva or on the article itself.How low can you get?

  • 7
    1

    I have been listening to “Adawan Wu Neth Denathin Galana” non-stop since I heard the news.

    So sad the humble and gentle person no longer here.

    My he attain Nibbana!

  • 8
    0

    Nice work, Malinda. Beautiful prose. So was the touching tribute by
    DBS Jeyaraj – tearfully paying his tribute across the ethnic divide. I knew Amaradeva – a quiet, soft-speaking musical genius. Fame had not seduced him. The void shall never be filled.

    May he find eternal peace as he carries his brilliance to the hereafter – to sing and create happiness in that divine company.

    Kettikaran

  • 4
    0

    Biologically, the man known to us then “AMARADEVA”(that name was given to him by Prof. Sarachchandra) is no more; but SPIRITUALLY, that man is with us and that is why we call him “AMARANEEYA AMARADEVA” now. In that sense, AMARADEVA is AMARANEEYAY. He lives with us for ever.

    • 7
      0

      Douglas

      True.

      They will be remembered as great souls for giving much joy to all of us.

      Why has this land stopped producing the likes of Pandit?

  • 5
    0

    Maestro ……. end of a physical existence, yet the begining of immortality of his meomorable and sentimental songs. Rest in Peace Sir…. May you attain Nibbana!

    • 2
      0

      His physical existence is no more there but his voice will remain forever.
      We all woke up by his Songs almost every morning during my schooling days ( 70ties and 80ties) – His and Nanda Malini s were the most we heard to that time. I have no idea what Songs are being played today in the Country. Anyway, Sasana Wasana thuru…. and the like Songs gave us all more energies.

  • 1
    0

    Pandith Amaradewa leaves behind an unparrelled legacy behind him .My heart is sobbing since I heard this news.Thanks to the digital technology future generations will be able to enjoy his genius work and he will live spiritually with us during our life times.May your eternal life be filled with bliss Sir. Sadly we will not see one like you for many generations.

  • 2
    0

    Nice one, Malinda.

    Another giant among our cultural heroes fades away …

  • 6
    2

    “My friend Nishad Handunpathirana who knows much more about music than those who make knowing-claims and therefore, perhaps, says little, said a few words: ‘He was our Tagore’.”

    Bligh me. What a comparison!

    Tagore only wrote lyrics and couldn’t sing to save his life. Didn’t know Amaradeva ever ‘wrote’ songs. Comparing him to Tagore is an insult the stupids have failed to see.

    This is another stupidity in your search to be branded a ‘Bahustrutha’. Give a rest to your computer, you will save a lot of your own bad publicity.

    • 6
      0

      I must say, I also noticed the bad match between Pandit Amaradeva and Tagore.

      There seems to be a new fascination with Tagore these days in Sri Lanka for whatever reason, and comparing Amaradeva to him is improper on many accounts.

      Tagore wrote songs, novels, short stories, musical dramas, essays and did painting and went on lecture tours. Pandit Amaradeva developed a unique Sri lankan music.

      Why do we have to say nonsense like ‘he was our Tagore’? His name will stand on its own forever in Sri Lanka.

  • 1
    0

    A very commendable epitaph to a national icon by Malinda..well done..!

  • 2
    0

    Native Vedda: I too have the same question you posed. Yet, I am very much disturbed the way this country was “directed” and “managed” to move towards a massive breakdown in the value system based on morality and social responsibility. I presume an analysis on this basis, so many answers could be found to you question.

    • 3
      0

      Douglas

      Pandit is a national institution.

      Now the crooks want to establish an Art Centre in his name.

      The politicians are ever ready to hide their sins whenever they get an opportunity. Here is an opportunity they wouldn’t miss it for anything else.

      He was a people’s artist and not a politicians poodle hence the state and the ruling government should keep their hands off any such project.

      The Pundit gave immense joy to the people, now its time for them to return the favour. It is their responsibility to pass the institution of Pandit Amaradeva to the future generation and keep his legacy alive.

      The crooks should be told to keep out of this national institution.

      Crooks – Politicians and state functionaries.

  • 5
    4

    Amaradeva, Nanda Malini, Malini Fonseka and a host of other Artists of repute and disrepute openly canvassed for MR’s victory. Therefore these artists are directly responsible for MR’s legacy of Corruption and Murder in the country, which is an open secret. It is a shame indeed!

  • 0
    0

    Native Vedda: The idea of establishing an “Amaradeva Sangeeth Asapuwa” was a “Dream” of this Late Amaraneeya Amaradeva. If you remember, even Late Amaraneeya Ravi Shankar had this same “Dream” and in fact he started it with his own funds. I have a video clip of that “Ashram” in which Pandit Ravishankar himself describing the entire project. It was a big mistake that the renowned Artists in Sri Lanka did not start it while this “Great Human Being” was alive. We do everything after a man is dead and that is in our genes. I know, it is very difficult to embark on this type of projects without the “Vultures” interference. That was very well described by Mrs. Amaradeva in her recent statement. She said, this man (her husband) being a very humble and obliging person, so many “Political Vultures” wanted his “Voice Cuts” to be made and made use for their political gains; but knowing his nature of getting caught to these tricks, she stood FIRM and prevented such “Disasters” taking place. Doesn’t that explains the situation of the culture created and managed by these vultures. Now what the ARTISTS and other WELWISHERS must do is to take over that project and keep the “CROOKS & VULTURRS ” out of it. It must be in the form of what the cricketers, with participation of Mahela and Sangakkara did recently to set up Cancer Hospitals in the North and South. I am certain if the Artists take the lead, the rest will follow and make that “DREAM” of this GREAT HUMAN BEING a REALITY.

  • 1
    0

    Douglas

    Thanks.

    Lets wait and see.

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