The Cultural Divide
Jayantha Aravinda made a presentation on ‘Music of the Theatre, Then and Now’, during the monthly discourse organized by Samskrti. He was accompanied by the well known vocalist Indeevari Ariyasinghe, whose golden voice we have heard often over the SLBC, and Chandi Ranatunge, who is the tenth ‘Maname queen’. There were also Sarath Hettiarachi and Premerathne Samaranayake who used a ‘tabla’ to produce the sound of the ‘maddala’.
Visharada Jayantha Aravinda was a lecturer at the Peradeniya University and Director of Aesthetic Studies of the Ministry of Education. On this day he was with us as a long time associate of the greatest literary and drama genius Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, having composed the music for many of his plays. He and his team played and sang items from Maname, Sinhabahu, Prematho Jayathi Soko and other plays, as he described the development of the Sinhala drama.
Jayantha, a genius in his own way, told us how Sarachchandra developed his Maname and Sinhabahu using what he had gathered from our Nadagam. Here he mentioned an interesting point, that the terms ‘Nadagam’ and ‘Kolam’ were used as derogatory terms first by our urban elite and filtered down even to the villages, ignoring that Nadagam was a traditional form of artistic entertainment for about two centuries while Kolam has a socio-religious role in our culture.
Then he reminded us that ‘Natya’ means ‘dramatic representation of drama with speech, music and dancing’. ‘Nritya’ is an ‘interpretative dance’, while ‘Nritta’ is ‘pure dance steps performed rhythmically. Prof. Sarachchandra had moved from Nadagam to Ragadhari music in his Pematho Jayathi Soko, where most of the music had been composed by Jayantha Aravinda. He had used 42 Raga, in what he called an ‘Operatic Drama’. About ‘Raga’ Aravinda pointed out that even though it may have originated in India, and thus all the different raga had Indian or Samskrit names, Raga was all universal music, which belonged to all of us.
During the discussion one interesting fact which came to light was that there was a Christian song, composed by Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez a long time back, which was similar to “premayen mana ranjithawe..’ and a part of the Christian song was also played, which had the same music. There was a Tamil song too, to the same tune. Which was the original, we do not know. But it is known that Fr. Gonsalvez’ wrote Tamil songs and his poems were used in Christian Nadagam as well as the Passion Plays.
Samskrti is a quarterly review to provide a platform to discuss culture and the humanities as they matter to Sinhala culture and associated other cultures, which has been published since 1953, with a gap from 1969 – 1983. Most of the gathering were members of the Samskrti organization, now retired but with very pleasant old memories.
On the same day evening, at one of the elite restaurants was held the Gratiaen Awards. Here were the young and the old, some of the old trying to look younger than the young. What was missing was the paparazzi at the entrance to mob the glitterati for the fashion pages and the television, except for a few photographers. Still there were among the officials and the guests, a few wearing simple dress and not ashamed of their grey hair.
After a lapse of a few years in a futile attempt to translate and publish Sinhala and Tamil novels on their own, the Gratiaen Trust was offering an award for the best translation into English. Even though the Gratiaen always belonged to the class which was represented at the award ceremony, by some irony the H. A. I. Goonetillke Prize was awarded to Malinda Seneviratne who translated Simon Nawagattegama’s ‘Sansaranyaye Dadayakkaraya’.
Many of those present, including the Trustees and the Judges, would have known Malinda, as he is a regular columnist to English newspapers and editor, and also because his English poetry had been short-listed for the Gratiaen for the third time, this year. It may not be fair to say that not many of these people would have heard of Simon, one of the greatest Sinhala novelists from our country, or about other literary greats whose books have not yet appeared in translation. Recognition of the translation of his novel is a really great service to Sri Lankan writing in Sinhala, because it is only through such translations, that a few among those who attended the Gratiaen Awards could get to read such a great novel. This novel would now be available to the readers around the world so they would know that true ‘magical realism’ can be found in Nawagattegama novels inspired by our own ancient literature and folk tales.
Michael Ondaatdji would have enjoyed the ‘Dadayakkara’ translation, and would be happy that he initiated the award for translations. The translations into English of Sinhala and Tamil works would be the bridge to bring our nation and all the subcultures together, to share and enjoy all the artistic creations among us. For this let us hope that Michael Ondaatji and the Trustees of the Gratiaen would consider from next year, not only translations from Sinhala to English, but also from Tamil to English. In the same manner, let us hope that the editorial board of Samskrti would consider returning to their earlier policy of publishing articles in English, and as a new and more progressive step, in Tamil too.
Let us hope too that the conjunction of Simon Nawagattegama, Malinda Senevirathne and the Gratiaen is one more step to narrow the cultural divide in this small island.