A dramatist like
ranjithawe- nanditha we
Pushpayen wana sundara we- lankrutha we
Aalayen weli sedi me latha- alayen weli sedi me latha
Mandapayen chandapatha kanditha we hiru rajinduge….
Gale lena bindala, len dora erala
Gosin sema thena- gosin hema dena
Mama denagathimi, mama seka kalemi (Sinhabahu)
Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s quest for an
authentically ‘local idiom’ gave birth to theatrical marvels
have stood the test of time. A literary genius who revived Sinhala literature and whose footprints across the local stage
have guided many along the paths of wisdom, Prof.
Sarachchandra’s legacy is astounding. The Nation salutes this
legendary sage whose 13th death anniversary fell on August 16
By Randima Attygalle
The sheer lyrical delight interwoven with the mastery of
theatrical craft is the genre of late Prof. Ediriweera
Sarachchandra. A legendary dramatist, poet, novelist, literary
critic and an unrivalled genius of a scholar, Prof.
Sarachchandra turned a distinct chapter in the annals of local
Sinhala drama. The late sage conceived an unmistakable local
idiom of Sinhala drama, nourished by naadagam (folk drama
tradition), Jaathakas and Sanskrit tradition. Fruits of such
theatrical labours were phenomenal; Maname, Sinhabahu, Pematho
jayathi soko, Wessanthara, Mahasara, Loma Hansa being few
holding testimony to it. Whilst invigorating the Sinhala drama
culture with masterpieces which have stood the test of time,
Prof. Sarachchandra had enthralled many a lover of Sinhala
drama, inspiring generations of dramatists.
November 3, 1956 marked a decisive era in the history of
modern Sinhala drama, when Maname went on the boards at the
Lionel Wendt Theatre. Inspired by Chulla Dhanuddara Jathakaya
and drawing the critic acclaim like no other theatre attempt,
Maname laid the ‘dais’ for future Sinhala drama.
Sources of inspiration
Celebrated scholar and literary critic Prof. Sucharitha
Gamlath, recalling ‘Peradeniya times’ with guru Sarachchandra
said, “It was in the late ’50s I came to know Prof.
Sarachchandra, in the aftermath of his celebrated Maname. This
was the time Sinhabahu was being done, which I believe to be the
most fruitful era of Prof. Sarachchandra’s theatrical career. It
was the era during which he gained foreign exposure, carried out
extensive research and returned to the country. This wealth of
experience reaped from contemporary global trends, both eastern
and western, reflected in his work.”
Prof. Sarachchandra’s exploitation of both naadagam and
Sanskrit tradition of drama is viewed by Prof. Gamlath as a
‘supplementary’ tool of theatre, complementing each other and
justifying the end product. “The sources he exploited to nourish
Sinhala drama were extensive. From naadagam style, Indian
classical style to Western trends, Prof. Sarachchandra derived
immense inspiration, out of which was borne an authentic genre
of local drama,” he elaborated further.
Prof. Sarachchandra’s contribution to Sinhala literature and
kaviya was exceptional. Dr Gunadasa Amarasekera had once
identified him as the ‘best Sri Lankan poet ever’, a stance held
by numerous other artistes and critics. “The secret behind the
success of Prof. Sarachchandra’s poetic faculty is his ability
to draw a perfect classical Sinhala idiom. Juxtaposing deep
human emotions with simplicity, Prof. Sarachchandra created very
poignant, dramatic lyrics parallel to none,” explained Prof.
Gamlath, adding that work such as Sahithya Vidyawa, Sinhala
Nawakatha Ithihasaya saha Wicharaya, Sinhala Gemi Natakaya are
acclaimed as some of the finest Sinhala literary work to date.
In search of a local idiom
‘Modern epoch of Sinhala drama’ is essentially the definition
of Prof. Sarachchandra’s theatre craft, in the eyes of eminent
artiste and dramatist Jayalath Manoratne. Prof. Sarachchandra is
‘an indispensable shadow’ in the lives of many celebrated
artistes today; Manoratne being no exception. “The strides Prof.
Sarachchandra took in the Sinhala theatre world, in search of an
indigenous idiom, commencing with his landmark creation Maname,
were nothing but footsteps for future generations to follow.
Acclaimed dramatist late Dayananda Gunawardene is one such
classic example of his influence, followed by many more,”
explained Manoratne, who first came under the tutelage of Prof.
Sarachchandra when he was Prof. of Sinhala at the University of
Peradeniya. Having played in the third productions of Maname and
Sinhabahu, Manoratne’s breakthrough came in Pematho jayathi soko,
where he played the lead role. “This was a turning point in my
acting career, followed by Prof. Sarachchandra’s later
productions, including Wessanthara, Kada Walalalu, Elowa gihin
melowa aawa and Mahasara, in which I was privileged to have
portrayed the main role,” added Manoratne.
A mentor of inspiration
‘Wit, forthrightness and simplicity’ are the cornerstones
which made the mettle of this legendary artiste, according to
Buddhadasa Galappatty, whose acquaintance with Prof.
Sarachchandra dates back to 1969, when he became the stage
manager for the reproduction of Maname. “I was introduced to
Prof. Sarachchandra by my guru Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam, when
Maname was to be reproduced. I was privileged to have worked
with most of the ‘maiden cast’ of Maname, including Trilicia
Gunawardene, Ben Sirimanna, Edmund Wijesinghe, Shaman Wijesinghe
and Lionel Fernando in 1969. Padmakumara Ediriweera and
Wimaladharma Diyasena were the chief makeup artistes of Prof.
Sarachchandra’s plays at the time, and I was fortunate to have
come under the guidance of them, whose expertise inspired me,”
recalled Galappatty, who bid adieu to his days as a stage
manager and took up the creative and the demanding task of a
makeup artiste. Since then, Galappatty has been adding his
creative flavour to all productions of Prof. Sarachchandra. “The
fact that I was going to be a huge part of legendary Prof.
Sarachchandra’s labours, unnerved me at first,” recalled
Galappatty with a smile.
Key to Prof. Sarachchandra’s theatrical success is also
attributed to his discipline and sense of time, according to
Galappatty. “He was a strong advocate of time and discipline,
demanding absolute focus on the task ahead, that was
unconsciously drilled into everybody closely associated with
him,” he explained.
Stylized drama was the forte of Prof. Sarachchandra, which he
exploited in depth, his lyrical faculties enriching it. “His
gift for lyrics was simply exceptional that, if one says he’s
the best Sinhala poet we ever had, I think it’s no
exaggeration,” said Galappatty further.
Best theatre researcher ever
Revered traditions of drama, deeply rooted, were brought to the
modern stage by Prof. Sarachchandra with a seemingly ease,
blending east with the west and giving birth to what can be
correctly patented as ‘authentically Sri Lankan’. “Prof.
Sarachchandra is the best theatre researcher Sri Lanka ever had.
Blending naadagam, sokari, Tamil dance and song tradition,
Kabuki and the western modes, he developed a drama tradition
which we can call uniquely Sri Lankan,” explained eminent
dramatist Dharmasiri Bandaranayake. According to Bandaranayake,
the in-depth and tireless research of Prof. Sarachchandra,
undoubtedly strengthened and shaped the faculties of his ‘golayas’.
“Dayananda Gunawardene, Sugathapala de Silva are best examples
who took his legacy forward with their individual style,” said
Bandaranayake, adding that, the time has dawned upon Sri Lankan
theatre to look back, reminisce and may be even revert to that
‘rich research era’ of drama.
Human life and its pathos were the ‘life’ of all Prof.
Sarachchandra’s work, believes Bandaranayake. “Whether it was
Maname, Sinhabahu, Wessanthara, Pematho jayathi soko or his
celebrated literary work, Malawunge Avurudu da or Malagiya
eththo, it is essentially human ethos, Prof. Sarachchandra
brought to life,” final words of Bandaranayake seemed to
transpire the wisdom embedded in complexity and intricacy of the
late sage’s evergreen literary marvels…
(Photo credit: The Nation extends its sincere thanks to
Buddhadasa Galappatty for providing access to photographs of D.B.
Suranimala and late D. Galappatty)