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The Immortal Art of Amaradeva

by Prof. K. N. O. Dharmadasa

(July 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Amaradeva, the living legend of Sinhala music was felicitated by a group of his Rasikas on the evening of 27th June at a ceremony organized by Shri Ashok K. Kantha, the High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka at his residence in Colombo. It was a most appropriate gesture by the diplomatic representative of India in Sri Lanka. As we all know, India is the great source from which we have derived most of the finer and cherished features of our cultural tradition. In this particular instance, Pandit Amaradeva personifies the great tradition of North Indian Ragadhari music which the Sinhala musicians consider as their own classical tradition, just as much as the Tamil musicians consider the Carnatic system as their own classical tradition. It is the convention among Indian classical musicians to address as Pandit or Ustad a musician who has reached great heights in his art. And in that conventional practice, Amaradeva has been conferred the title Pandit just as much as his own Guru Pandit Vishnu Govinda Jog and his mentor Pandit Srivishnu Narayan Ratanjankar were in their time. Amaradeva has also the unique achievement of being conferred the Padmashri by the Government of India, thus becoming the one and only Sri Lankan to be thus honoured. As Sri Lankans we are very proud indeed that our beloved artiste has received such singular and unprecedented estimation from the land which has been his and our spiritual home.

Peerless Artistry

Amaradeva is undoubtedly the most acclaimed musician in Sri Lanka today and interestingly it has been so for well over five decades. His virtuosity is unparalleled. He is peerless as classical singer, classical instrumentalist , creator of melodies and as the master of art-song (subhavita gita ) His voice is the quintessence of vocalic melody, while being the voice of Lanka, the voice that emanates from the depths of the soil of our beloved motherland.

In his illustrious career Amaradeva has enthralled innumerable audiences here in Sri Lanka and abroad with his immaculate performances. His music encounters no barriers of ethnicity, religion, social status, education or age. In that sense the essence of Amaradeva’s achievement is that he has while elevating the quality of popular taste in music appreciation, demonstrated the ideals of a truly Sri Lankan musical idiom ( deshiya sangita aara). In what Pandit Amaradeva has gifted the world of music we see the confluence of his creative genius, his mastery of Ragadhari Sangeet , his extreme sensitivity to the nuances of artistic refinement and the depth of his feeling for our cultural heritage. While being deeply steeped in the Hindustani Ragadhari Sngeeth, Amaradeva composes his melodies in a unique way, sometimes deviating from the norms of a Raga in order to create the rasa he wants to evoke. I can cite two well known examples of such creative utilization of the Ragas . Firstly, his Sarasvati Abhinanadana and, secondly, his devotional song Paramita Bala . The former utilizes the base of Rag Bihag while the latter that of Rag Sindhi Bhairavi. But both are not within the strict confines of Bihag or Sindhi Bhairavi. Both those compositions display how the Raga system becomes pliable in the hands of a creative genius. Coming to his creative utilization of our own national melodic resources let me cite the case of the melody he composed for the devotional song "Muni Paa Piyume Ron Sunu Tavari" It is based on the folk melody sung by pilgrims climbing the trek to the mountain shrine of Sri Pada. The melody has such deep appeal that when listening to it being sung in his inimitable voice one’s heart is gradually elevated to the lofty heights of untrammeled devotion. One needs to note here that part of Amaradeva’s success in creating such immortal melodies springs from his extreme sensitivity to the nuances of meanings embedded in the language of the lyric. He has told us that when he composed melodies for some of the plays of Professor Sarchchandra, the beauty of the language deployed by the professor moved him to arrive at the notes appropriate for the composition. He cited the example of the words "oorasa putra" meaning one’s own son

( literally, ‘ the offspring of one’s own heart’ ) occurring in a song in Lomahamsa Natakaya. Amaradeva says that when he became alive to the depth of the filial feeling embodied in those words, the appropriate notes came to him naturally. In that way,when one considers the case of each and every melody he has created, there are background factors which speak volumes about a rare combination of creative genius, wide knowledge of the Ragadhari system and extreme sensitivity to the meaning embodied in the lyric.

Universal Appeal

The wonder that is Amaradeva is that while being the iconic figure of Sri Lankan music his appeal extends beyond national, regional or even continental boundaries. Here I like to cite one example. Amaradeva composed the music for Chitrasena’s ballet Nala Damayanti in 1963. Its theme song "Aeta Kandukara Himav Arane" bears a haunting melody which carries the mind of the listener to the cool and fascinating environs of a remote forest as suggested by the lyrics of Mahagama Sekara . An Australian musician who had listened to the melody was curious to know how this melody maker in Sri Lanka could follow so closely the melodic patterns of the song he knew, "Three coins in a fountain." The fact of the matter was that Amaradeva had never heard such a Western melody and what he had composed was his own. As he was speaks the universal language of music the melodies emerging from his imagination were resonating in far off lands among unknown musicians. If we speak of his art his creations have already found a niche in the monument of our national heritage . Like Maname and Sinhabahu of Sarachcandra, and Gamperaliya and Viragaya of Martin Wickramasinghe the musical creations of Amaradeva have become immortal in our national memory.

Personally, there is something special about Pandit Amaradeva which I as well as others who have known him for many years have noted. As music is considered the finest of the fine arts the whole of Amaradeva’s being seems to have absorbed all the finer qualities of that art. He rises above the mundane passions and concerns jostling around him and he seems to dwell in that world of beauty where worldly iniquities and evils do not exist. We never hear from him words of anger or ill feeling. He seems to be the embodiment of the four Brahma Viharas as elucidated in Buddhist thought, Metta ( loving kindness), Karuna( compassion) , Mudita ( softness of heart) and Upeksha( equanimity). May be that is why he has few or no enemies! Let us wish him today, like his countless Rasikas here and abroad do " Long live Maha Purusha ,great human being, and may you be blessed with good health for long years to come!"

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