University of Peradeniya
GENERAL CONVOCATION 1998
Honorary Degree - Pandit W. D. Amaradeva
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF LETTERS
In the field of contemporary Sri Lanka music there is one person who has earned the rare distinction of being admired by artist, and connoisseur and ordinary rasika alike for his dynamic influence on the creation of a national tradition, and for his incomparable virtuosity, and creative genius. I refer, Chancellor, to Pandit W.D. Amaradeva who, as the trail-blazer of a distinctively Sri Lankan musical tradition, a composer, conductor, violinist and singer has, over a period of more than half a century, immensely enriched life in our country.
In order to conform to the conventions followed on occasions such as this but even more, for the inspiration that could be gained from recollecting the landmarks along an eventful journey of unmatchable achievement and impact - one which is featured in almost equal measure by extrodinary inborn talent, a capacity for selfless effort, intense commitment and charming humility - I shall present to this gathering a brief résumé of Pandit Amaradeva's illustrious career.
Early in his life Amaradeva displayed signs of exceptional natural skills (pratibha) for music, thus, fulfilling, no doubt, the fond expectations of his parents, who had some repute for their own musical talents within their suburban, cosmopolitan community in Moratuwa of the 1920s. He won, while still a schoolboy, the Gold Medal for instrumental music at a national competition held in Colombo.
Further recognition of Amaradeva's youthful talents in music and his entry into the limelight of professional music at the age of 19, took the form of his being called upon assist Mohamed Ghouse - the doyen among the country's musical composers at the time - in the first ever Sinhala film, Asokamala, of which Ghouse was director of music. The Ghouse - Amradeva collaboration flourished, and lasted through several other musical scores. Perhaps the most memorable of these was for Premakumara's ballet, Salalihini Sandeshaya. By the early 1950s, Amaradeva had become on of the most sought-after Sinhala musicians.
It was at this stage that the late Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra introduced Amaradeva to the University environs, thus making not only the commencement of his association with this university, an association which has now lasted for almost fifty years, but also the abiding friendship between Sarachchandra and Amaradeva, which, as some of us had the good fortune to observe, was highly productive, and was marked by deep mutual respect and affection. We should recall that, from about the early 1950s, Amaradeva has been visiting our University, and, through lucid lecture-demonstrations of the type which he alone could present, provided us glimpses into the world of ragadhari sangita. University audiences have also had, from time to time, the enchanting experience of his music recitals.
Pandit Krishna Narayan Ratanjankar, the Principal of the Bhatkande Institute of Music in Lucknow, came to Sri Lanka in 1954 on an assignment to grade the musical performers by the national radio broadcasting station. He was so impressed with Amaradeva that he placed Amaradeva in the 'Super Grade' among the professional musicians of the country. This is believed to have paved the way for Amaradeva's entry into Bhatkande for formal study and training in music. While in India, he had the opportunity of working under the tutelage of some of the greatest exponents of Indian classical music, among whom were Pandit Vishnu Govinda Jog, Kadambari Ranga Rao and Pandit Ratanjankar himself. At Bhatkande Amaradeva was able to outclass his fellow students (several of whom later were to rise to the most eminent musicians of modern India). He won in 1955 the all-India contest for violinists. A year later he obtained the first place in the Merit List of students from all colleges affiliated tp Bhatkande, and First Division Honours at the Intermediate Examination for violinists. The climax of his achievements as a student of music came in 1958 when he was awarded the Gayana and Vadya Visarad degree of the Bhatkande Institute of Music.
Returning to Sri Lanka, Visarada Amaradeva resumed his professional career at 'Radio Ceylon' (later, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) as the Head of the orchestra. Thereafter, at various times, he has served as the Principal of the state College of Music, Controller of Music Research in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, a Visiting Lecturer of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, and a consultant of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.
In his long and illustrious career, Amaradeva has enthralled innumerable audiences here in Sri Lanka and abroad with his musical performances. In our own society, the appeal of his music encounters no barriers of ethnicity, class, social status, education or age. In that sense, it could be suggested that the essence of Amaradeva's achievement is that he has, while elevating the quality of popular musical appreciation, demonstrated the ideals of a truly Sri Lankan musical idiom. His music represents the fulfillment of a long felt national need - the culmination of an intense search, featured by controversy and a host of interesting propositions, which lasted over several decades. In what Amaradeva has thus gifted the nation one could discern the confluence of his creative genius, his mastery of ragadhari sangit, his extreme sensitivity to the nuances of artistic refinement, and the depth of his feeling for our cultural heritage.
Pandit Amaradeva has added to that boundless and the sublime world of musical creation such images of eternity as the composition for Chitrasena's ballets. Karadiya and Naladamayanti, Sarachchndra's dramas Vessantara, Lomahansa and Bava Kadaturava, the radio programmes Jana Gayana, Madhuvanti, Rasamiyuru, Vijaya Gita and Svara Varna, the television programmes Gi Ama Bindu, Da Gi Saraniya, Snakha Padma and Sangita Makaranda, the musical scores of the films Ran Mutu Duva, Gam Peraliya, Delovak Atara, Ran Salu, Sara Vita, Gatavarayo and Sagara Jalaya, and, finally, in the thousand or more melodies he has created and mellifluously rendered during a period of well over five decades.
Amaradeva has represented Sri Lanka in the Peace Delegation to the USSR in 1957. As the Composer of Music for the Ballet "Triumph of Peace" he represented Sri Lanka in the First Official Cultural Delegation to India in 1959; the UNESCO International Music Symposium in Manila in 1967; composed the melody for the Maldivian National Anthem in 1971; represented Sri Lanka in such events as the Berlin International Music and Drama Festival, 1973; the Annual International festival of Film Music in Poona, 1973; the seminar of the Broadcasting Organization of Non-Aligned Countries in 1980; and the seminar of the Asian Cultural Center for UNESCO in Islamabad in 1982. In 1993 he was awarded the Artist Ambassador Award by the Artists Ambassador International for distinguished service furthering intercultural understanding. In 1995 the Sarvodaya Trust Fund presented him with the National Award for the Advancement of Humanity, Development and Peace through Music and Art and in 1998 he became the recipient of the Bunka Award of the Japan - Sri Lanka Friendship Cultural Fund on the occasion of 50 years of Independence. Amaradeva has also been conferred the title "Pandit" by Bhatkande for his outstanding contribution towards the development of creative music in Sri Lanka making him the first Sri Lankan to achieve such an honour. The University of Kelaniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Fine Arts) Honoris Causa in 1991 and the University of Ruhuna conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa in 1993.
It is my honour and privilege to present this great artist, Pandit, Kala Kirti, Desa Manya, Wannakuwattawaduge Don Amaradeva for the conferment of the conferment of the Degree of Doctor of Letters (Honiris Causa).