The traditional New Year is a time which has immensely intrigued me. It is a time of sea change in the life of people. It blesses them with a hearty respite from their seemingly endless struggle for existence. A truly relaxed atmosphere dawns, albeit for a few days. For numerous people who toil in cities, it is the time to return to their idyllic villages from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The cities themselves, which are otherwise crowded, busy, and noisy, become quiet and reconciled to nature. It is the time for kiribath (milk rice), kevum (oil cakes), Bulath (beetle), and goodwill. The raban and kavi come to life. It is the time for family re-union; people pay respect to elders and receive their blessing. The rural life amidst the village tank, Buddhist temple, rice fields and lush greenery is at its best.
I felt something true, potent, and innocent, in this life changing Sinhala New Year impulse. I sensed the Sinhala soul in it. Quite instinctively, I felt the urge to listen to the songs of Pandith Amaradeva. His music initiated me afresh to many lovely Sinhala lyrical poems by gifted poets such as Shri Chandraratne Manawasinghe, Mahagama Sekera, Madawala S Ratnayake, venerable Tibet S Mahinda, Dalton Alwis, and Sena Weerasekera. I found that Amaradeva’s songs lent a powerful voice to the Sinhala soul of these wonderful lyrics.
The folk dance
‘Bindu bindu ran gomara mala’ is one of my favourite Amaradeva songs. The lyrics are by Madawala S Ratnayake. The song expresses a lover’s feelings and concerns for a comely village damsel. The beloved is depicted as a beauteous hen. Interestingly, this love song is shot with a lively beat, which evokes the spirit of a charming folk dance. Needless to say, the spirit of Sinhala New Year comes to life.
The folk song
‘Irata muwawen indagena hisa peeranawa’ is one of the many Amaradeva songs, which are inspired by Sinhala folk songs. The lyrics are by Mahagama Sekera. The first stanza is based on a charming ‘Mal Bulath Thatuwe Kavi’ on Saraswati Devi (Nada Sittam: Amaradeva). However, the Amaradeva song does not, unlike the first stanza of the original poem, mention the Goddess by name.
The Buddhist Ethos
The Buddhist ethos is an inseparable facet of the Sinhala soul. It finds supreme expression in ‘ Adawan wu denithin galana’. The lyrics are by Sena Weerasekera. The song describes the renowned Samadhi Buddha statue in Mahamevuna Uyana in Anuradhapura, which is the supreme expression of the Sinhala soul in the realm of sculpture. It is my favourite Buddhist song. The Buddhist sense of ‘Dukka’, which is an integral element of the Sinhala psyche, is ever present in this song. Hence, the feeling of ‘smiling through tears’ is evoked by the song in abundance. Interestingly, the feeling pervades much of Amaradeva’s music, and lends his songs a Buddhistic pathos.
Love of Country
The love of country is yet another integral facet of the Sinhala soul. ‘Muni siripa’ and ‘Sasara wasana thuru’ are two songs of Amaradeva, which evoke the love of country. The lyrics of the former are by the venerable Tibet S Mahinda, whilst those of the later are by Dalton Alwis.
‘Jagan Mohini Madhura Bhashini’ is also one of my favourite Amaradeva songs. It is a glorious Ode to Goddess Saraswati. The lyrics are by Chandraratne Manawasinghe. It is a song with a difference, in that its words, unlike those of other songs, are through and through Sanskrit. Nonetheless, what is so special about it is that the Sanskrit words have been tastefully chosen to ensure that all of them are pleasing to the Sinhala ear. Interestingly, many of the song’s words such as ‘kampita’, ‘mala’, ‘chanchala’, ‘purna’, and ‘payodhara’ are also used in Sinhala. The song is a veritable artistic tour de force: By a stroke of genius, Saraswati Devi, Hinduism’s high goddess of wisdom and learning, is made the supreme Muse of the Sinhala soul. If Manawasinghe and Amaradeva have done nothing other than creating this wonderful song, still they would have rendered an enduring service to Sinhala Muse.
Songs of Amaradeva and the Sinhala soul
It seems that Pandith Amaradeva has been singularly fortunate to have been provided wonderful lyrics penned by gifted Sinhala poets. The poems are essentially pictorial – graphic, in nature. They are the children of imagination rather than of emotion, although they evoke serene emotions in abundance. They are, in effect, word paintings: They are paintings of the beautiful dream images of the Sinhala soul such as the Buddha, the Samanala Giri ( Adam’s Peak ), Saraswati Devi, the moon, jasmine petels, the village maiden, the lotus flower, and the country-side. To use the language of Nietzsche, they are inspired by the ‘Apollonian dream impulse’, which is always beautiful, balanced and restrained: The ‘Dionysian impulse of drunken intoxication’ has no place in these lyrics. Accordingly, the pictorial images of the lyrics are always, like the Samadhi Buddha Statue of Mahamevuna Uyana, the Apsaras of Sigiriya, and lovers of Isurumuniya, beautiful, balanced and restrained. There are no emotional excesses. Amaradeva’s tasteful tunes and golden voice serve to intensify the charming images evoked by the lyrics. He re-paints in tones the same dream images of the Sinhala soul, which the lyricist has already painted in words. His profound intuitive grasp of the Sinhala language and the Apollonian dream impulse of the Sinhala soul facilitate this creative process. It is interesting to note that he describes himself as a tone painter in a book on music authored by him titled ‘Nada Sittam’, which means ‘Tone Paintings’. Amaradeva’s songs are the happy outcome of the perfect harmony of the word painting of the lyricist and the tone painting of the musician. They give powerful expression to the Sinhala soul.