Sri Lankan Luminaries- Maestro W. D. Amaradeva

Apr 9, 2024 | Backstage | 0 comments

“ඈත කඳුකර හිමව් අරණේ…

සීත චන්දන ලපලු හෙවනේ…” 

When we listen to this song, the legend Maestro Amaradeva comes to our mind. Pandith Amaradeva (1927-2016), born Wannakuwattawaduge Don Albert Perera, was an esteemed and highly influential Sri Lankan musician. He was born in the coastal village of Koralawella to a gifted Buddhist carpenter, Wannakuwattawaduge Don Ginoris  Perera, and a Methodist wife, Balapuwawaduge Maggie Weliana Mendis. 

Amaradeva obtained his early education under Ven. MalalankaraNayaka Tero of the Koralawella temple. With the development of his musical talent, Amaradeva was asked to recite poems at the temple; he was subsequently picked to lead the village choir.

In the mid-1950s, Amaradeva in his Janagayana project consulted experts of the Kandyan dance tradition like Panibaratha, Kiriganita, Gunamala, Ukkuva, and Suramba in his path to understand what constituted Sinhala folk music. Noting that it mostly revolved around a single melody, he decided to add verses that would lead up to the central melody which would now be a chorus thus forming two parts (unseen earlier in traditional Sri Lankan music) removing restrictions that had existed earlier. In doing so, he created a uniquely Sinhalese music style that stayed true to folk tradition while incorporating outside influences.

He later reflected upon the rustic simplicity of rural life in his songs which were full of musical and literary allusions to traditional Sinhalese culture, in combination with other musical forms from East and West. He explored Sri Lanka’s musical heritage and was also inspired by his wife Wimala Amaradeva, herself a gifted folk singer and dancer. 

He is loved by Sri Lankan music connoisseurs for his contribution to Art Song (Sarala Gee), as well as the music he produced for films, ballets, and stage dramas. Many people have been captivated by his lilting melodies and soulful voice. His songs have become classics, and he has been awarded many prestigious national and international honors such as the Magsaysay, Padmashree, and Sri Lankabhimanya or “Pride of Sri Lanka” awards.

Some of his songs are the most popular;

• Veli thala athare

• Sasara wasana thuru

• Muni sisripa

• Tharu arundathie

That Pandit Amaradeva was a genius is a truth that thwarts all argument; that he was the greatest Sri Lankan composer ever, a fact widely accepted even during his lifetime. It is fitting, therefore, that every Sri Lankan song we sing is, at its very core, one inspired by – and, therefore, sung in appreciation of – Pandit Amaradeva, one of our country’s greatest sons. 

Amaradeva was admitted to Sri Jayawaradanapura Teaching Hospital due to a sudden illness. He died at the age of 88 on 3 November 2016 while receiving treatment at the Intensive Care Unit. 

Written by: Rtr. Sithmi Nimasha

Graphic design by: Rtr. Sathmi Dinanja

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