Aesthetics icon, celebrates 50 years of dance,
music, theatre

By Sarashi Samarasinghe
Celebrating his 50th year in the field of dance, music and theatre, Basil Mihiripanne who has journeyed a long way in the field of aesthetics, was honoured at a special felicitation ceremony held at the Navarangahala on June 30..
“Mihiripanne had an extreme determination towards his preferred kind of arts,” said chief speaker Prof. Carlo Fonseka, adding that Mihiripanne has taught around thousand students up to now.

“Among those students there are some outstanding characters such as Dinesh Gunawardena, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Anura Bandaranaike and Chandrika Kumaratunga, who have now become prominent characters in the political arena,” said Fonseka.
“Nanditha Manel, the second daughter of Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra got married to Mihiripanne when she became attracted to him after observing his dances,” said Fonseka.

Mihiripanne has followed the ‘Kathakali’ dancing style under the guidance of the famous arts guru, Shri Padmanabhan Naayar, when he entered the Kerala Arts School in India when he was a teenager.
When he had returned his motherland, his duty had been to search for teachers who could teach him the traditional methods of crafts. He had mastered these crafts dedicating himself to this field for more than 20 years.
Mihiripanne had also gone in search of teachers to learn about the kolam dancing method, nadagam dancing method, yaathukarma and ceremonial dances when he was a youth.

“Mihiripanne had all the important qualities needed to become a great artist from the very inception, when he entered this field of arts,” said W.D. Amaradeva, who was the special guest on the occasion..
He further added that art is a human activity for which there is a human purpose.
Mihiripanne has observed and studied dance forms such as kohomba kankariya, kadawara kankariya, devil dancing, riddi yaagaya, hooniyan kapilla, garaa yakkuma, pahan maduwa, sanda kinduru kavi nadagama and sokari dramas over the years. His main purpose for studying these dance forms has been to identify these important artistic forms and preserve them in his motherland.

“First of all we should express our immense gratitude to Basil Mihiripanne for his artistic creativity, and for bringing respect and pride to our nation by showcasing our indigenous culture in many countries such as India, Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States” said Minister of Urban Development and Sacred Area Development, Dinesh Gunawardena.
He added that 50 years ago he used to be one of Mihiripanne’s enthusiastic pupils..

Mihiripanne has also followed the kathakali dance method under Premakumara Epitawela, and had acted a role in his salalihini sandeshaya ballet where he met a number of prominent artistes such as Mohammed Gawus, Amaradeva, Ibrahim Sali, Nadaraja Careem, Vasantha Kumara, Paneebhaaratha and Ranganaatha, during that period.
Mihiripanne has also been the teacher of the western ballet actresses, Mokrowa Kaaniya, Galiya Smilowa who was from Uzbekistan, Peggy Hoschild who was from United States of America, Belissa who was from Australia, Leela Amma and Sardha who were from India.

Among his past pupils who have become famous figures on the silver screen are Sriyani Amarasena, Vijaya Nandasiri, Kamal Addaraarachchi, while prominent figures on the stage include, Manike Attanayake, Somalatha Subasinghe, Shanthi Gunawardena, Chithralekha Kiriwaththuduwa, Manjula Maanawasinghe, Sena Edirisinghe, Dayampathi Perera, Tudor Nagahawatte, Nilanthi Gunaratne, Sujeewa Rohan and Daya Samaranayake .

Mihiripanne has also directed several well known ballets such as ‘Rankati Putha’, ‘Omarilatha’, ‘Sebaliya’, ‘Maathru Bhoomi’, ‘Amma’, ‘Apeksha’, ‘Sobani’ and ‘Balangoda Maanawayaa’. In addition he has also staged his own creations such as Nawa Ranga, Ves Dakuma, Abhiranga and Vande Girija.
He was also responsible for the dance arrangements in stage dramas such as ‘Nari Baanaa’, ‘Elowa Gihin Melowa Aawaa’, ‘Sanda Kinduru’, ‘Lomahansa’ and ‘Mahaasara’.

While still at school, Mihiripanne performed the main characters in dramas such as ‘Ramayana’ where he played the role of Sri Rama, in ‘Julius Caesar’ and in ‘Diyasena’ as the prisoner.
He also performed all the main roles of his own drama creations.
In addition., he has also performed many solo roles such as ‘Mayura Natuma’, ‘Nai Natawanna’, ‘Dadayakkaaraya’, ‘Wes Muhunu Velenda’, Diwakara’ which won him international renown.

His other achievements include many international awards such as the Golden Medal from the Asian Dancing Competition which was held in Moscow in 1957, and the Best Gesture Acting Award from the Arts Festival which was held in Taiwan in 1987.
He has also won many local awards such as the ‘Kalasooriya’ award in 2000 and an honorary award from the Lions Club of Piliyandala in 2001.

Among the gurus who influenced and trained him during the past fifty years were: Noman De Silva, Kabellagoda Diyonis, M.K. Rajaratnam of Kerala, Edwin Samaradiwakara, Olaboduwa Sadiris guru.
Mihiripanne has also served as a tutor in institutions such as Maliyadeva Boys School in Kurunagela, Sirisumana College in Ratnapura, Royal College primary school and Wesley College in Colombo.

A maestro par excellence in his chosen field, this dedicated dance expert who has showcased our indigenous dance forms both here and abroad, will no doubt go down in our cultural history as an artiste who has preserved these dance forms for posterity..


 Guneetha Gunawardana, nee De Silva                                                           

A friend to all – Especially the needy

Guneetha and I were class-mates at Ladies College and our friendship extended over a period of over 50 years. During our school days she was full of life and fun and was in fact almost a tomboy and even boisterous at times.

Guneetha, Sanoja (now living in UK) and I formed a trio in school and we indulged in various forms of mischief, as we were wont to do but such acts were tolerated by our Principal, Miss Simon who apart from being a firm disciplinarian was very understanding but more so since she had behind her a team of dedicated teachers all of whom realised the innocence and the spirit in which these pranks were played and therefore made no attempts to mete out punishment to any of us.

Apart from her friendliness towards me and so many others who were in school at that time, we all noticed that after her marriage she became very religious and was a veritable recluse. She was a regular participant at Buddhist retreats which would last for around ten days at a time and we noticed that the times she spent during these periods of seclusion, gave her considerable comfort and peace of mind.

Most of us celebrated our 60th birthdays last year and Guneetha too would have done so had she lived, but sadly she had to depart leaving us all in a state of shock. I recall that even when I ‘phoned her to invite her home on my birthday in June last year, she told me that I would have to excuse her as she was unwell. I was very sad at her response as she was present at all my birthday parties which I celebrated from our school days inasmuch as I too participated at her birthday celebrations.

Her birthday fell on the 27th of September and since that day she was no longer in the land of the living, some of us her school friends got together and decided to provide dinner in her memory to children in an Orphanage, where their ages ranged from 5 to 18 years of age.

Guneetha’s immediate family members (sister, younger daughter, and nephews) also participated at this function and provided the children with some expensive gifts. It was sad to see these orphans but I know how much happiness Guneetha would have derived had she seen what we all did for the young ones.

Apparently the concern she showed the poor was not known. It transpired that on one occasion she had asked her sister to take her for a meal to a Mc Donalds food outlet and when she was approached soon after by a poor man, she had given the entire dinner that she had got for herself to him. She always showed much sympathy towards the poor and loved helping them. She was self - less in giving, and even gave away things she owned, and derived much pleasure in doing so.

The last social event in which she participated with us was at our “Ruby Wedding” which was held at the Galle Face Hotel in 2005, it being a surprise gift from our daughter. Guneetha thereafter withdrew into her shell and this made all of us very sad. This was perhaps because she realised that her days on earth were numbered.

I do miss the long chats which I used to have with her on the phone generally after 9.00 pm, and having got so used to ‘phoning her there were times when I still have tried to dial her number without realising that she was no longer alive..
Gunna always had a good and kind word for her sister Lilani, her brother Jayantha and not forgetting her late sister-in-law Askie. She used to tell me that when her parents were both bed-ridden, it was Askie who took charge of their parents’ household and would get round the nurses by giving them ice-cream, chocolates etc.

It is very rarely that an in-law gets involved but it showed how caring Askie was. I did not know her personally but everyone had a kind word to say about her. It’s sad that she is also no more as had she lived she would have looked after Guneetha with much affection and love.

Gunna was very fond of her elder daughter (who has been living in the States for over 15 years ) and she in turn reciprocated her love in ample measure by phoning her often from the USA and sending her various gifts. These included many pairs of walking shoes her mother needed as she was having a problem with her feet. She also visited Sri Lanka very often to see her mother.

Sanoja’s mother lived in Boralesgamuwa and latterly she was quite ill and was unable to get about. Guneetha used to visit her regularly by bus (as a child she always went by car) from Nawala to Boralesgamuwa, and she would sing together with her giving them both much happiness.

Apart from everything else, Guneetha was an accomplished pianist who enlivened many a party by displaying her skills on the piano, even before she was invited by the hosts to do so. She was highly talented and was very well qualified both as a Fellow of the Trinity College of Music and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Music. She was a dedicated music teacher and all her pupils fared excellently at their exams and she had a 100% distinction rate with all of them.

She had two wonderful parents and all of us were always welcome in their home and we were never allowed to leave without a drink or something to eat. They were indeed very hospitable people.
Goodbye my dear friend. It’s sad to know that you are no more. But we shall always remember you and cherish the memory of a loyal friend.
On the 22nd of July will be her first death anniversary. Goodbye Guneetha, you will always be remembered by me and your other classmates.
– Nilanthi Nonis nee de Soysa


Farewell to a patriotic priest

By Lenard R. Mahaarachchi
It was really saddening to read in the Messenger about the demise of Rev. Fr. Flavian Wilathgamuwa at the ripe old age of 89 in the USA.
He was a Christian Brother of the de La Salle community before becoming a Claretian. He was our Vice Director at the Novitiate in Mutwal in the 50s, where Rev. Bro. Lawrence Justinian was Rector and Rev. Bro. Edward the third in charge.

The threesome was in the FSC Fraternity (Fratres Scholarum Christianorum) i.e Brothers of the Christian Schools order established by St. John Baptist de la Salle, the Frenchman, himself a priest. During the post War years, this congregation was not allowed to become priests, a stance that was changed later.
It is somewhat a providential coincidence that the trio later became priests and another common factor was that all three served in the USA after their ordination.

Rev. Fr. Lawrence Jayasinghe predeceased Rev. Fr. Flavian Wilathgamuwa and in my appreciation of Fr. Jayasinghe, I recalled with nostalgic memories those good old days when they took good care of us as junior novices.
Bro. Edward taught us hymns at Lent (O Come & Mourn) and songs too (I’m a smiling cowboy). Rev. Fr. Edward Vaz is still in the ministry in the US.

Fr. Lawrence and Fr. Flavian had the rare distinction of being Directors of St. Benedict’s College; the premier institution of the La Sallian fraternity, with the latter’s tenure of stewardship coming in its centenary year (1965).
Fr. Flavian, of Buddhist ancestry, had a knack of befriending all who came in contact with him. When we were spending our Easter holiday at St. Anne’s Kurunegala, where we occupied the dorm and refectory of the college boarders who were away, Bro. Flavian used to take us out every weekend. During that short holiday he gave us the experience of climbing Athagala, Ibbagala and Andagala – famous rocks that surround the city.

We were always entertained by the Buddhist monk heads of the Vihara there, whom Brother Flavian had become pals with in a short time. During the Easter holidays of the following years he took us to Chilaw and Moratuwa.
Young novices like Fr. Christopher Kurera, late Fr. Mathew Silva, Bro. Eustace Bastians and Bro. Herman Nanayakkara (teaching in Pakistan, now on holiday in Sri Lanka), to name a few, were moulded by Fr. Flavian, a stickler for discipline.

Fr. Flavian was laid to rest in California on June 20. I am sad that I missed a chance of seeing him for the last time this January when I spent my Christmas holiday with my son in Los Angeles. In fact, an old La Sallian domiciled in Los Angeles and I arranged to visit him, but circumstances (wintry rains) did not permit us to keep the date, which lapse I now regret. Fr. Flavian excelled in the public relations field, and was pally with statesmen and ordinary folk alike. It is said that when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was shot in 1958, Bro. Flavian was the first to receive the information from Sirima Bandaranaike.

Likewise, the incumbent President in his message of condolence described him as “a true patriot who has fought fearlessly to protect the good image of the country, against vicious separatist propaganda.”
His robust physique belied his mild ways, but he was mild and gentle in character and mannerisms. That was the paradox of Fr. Flavian’s near nine decade life.

It was during his rectorship that St. Benedict’s, skippered by Sunil Fernando (Ramjet’s brother), scored victories over the mighty Joes, Petes, Royalists, Thomians, and St. Anthony’s at cricket.
We pray that the good Lord who gave our beloved priest a long life on planet earth will now grant him eternal rest, that rest which, according to St. Augustine, is never ours, until we rest in Him.