A song for thought | Daily News


A song for thought

Inspiration knows no language. If we are to take Henry Wadsworth Longfellow serious for his claim that music is the universal language of mankind, we need to add that inspiration shall be its sole proprietor. If we are to take William Shakespeare serious for what he wrote in Twelfth Night that if music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it, let us add that inspiration holds the sole recipe. The gravity of inspiration is such.

Chandani Lokuge, a Sri Lankan-Australian diasporic author writing in English, encapsulates this testimony when she acknowledges Sunil Ariyaratne for inspiration. Lokuge’s fiction is notable for its lyrical character, and Sunil Ariyaratne is widely acclaimed in this land for his contribution to Sinhala literature. How does Sinhalese song-writing inspire an English fiction writer? It is a phenomenon out of the ordinary.

But that’s where we need to agree, wholeheartedly, that inspiration needs no language.

Sunil Ariyaratne, in that sense, has inspired a whole generation with a halo as a lyricist, filmmaker and academic. This, in addition to his miscellaneous contributions. Plus, it is no exaggeration to see Professor Sunil Ariyaratne as the topmost lyricist who has walked the beat in a wide range of subjects from the macro sphere of social conflict across the microsphere of romance to the stratosphere of metaphysical human nature.

This brief essay is written in awe of Professor Sunil Ariyaratne who celebrated his 71st birthday just recently. Ariyaratne is a definite presence in cultural functions that matter. He would deliver a talk on a chosen subject – witty, light-hearted, yet very much encyclopaedic. At times, he decorates a ceremony as an awarder. Yet, what is conspicuous is the absence of his name before covetous government positions. This writer has never heard his name mentioned as a chairman of some corporation, board or some committee. Perhaps on policy, or he must be shying away from such positions in order to devote more time to his forte. That’s exactly where Sunil Ariyaratne shines and is among the very few academics who can be genuinely called illustrious and iconic.

Illustrious and iconic are but mere terms if used without proper justification. Sri Lanka is not short of lyricists. Nor filmmakers. And, of course, we meet artistes versed in both fields. It is simply a matter of a bit of adroitness, as both genres come under one umbrella, creativity. Though very much in the limelight for his lyrics and films, Ariyaratne has never been the one to leave his ivory tower of academia. The creative spirit and academic sense hardly go hand in hand. But fortunately, Sri Lanka has produced quite a few. We see Ariyaratne taking a firm hold in this revered crowd as we enter Godage Bookshop. That’s where an entire shelf is reserved for Professor Ariyaratne’s books. Interestingly, all his works – academic, creative and miscellaneous – have been published by Godage Publishers.

Some of them include research on Baila Kapirigngna (1985), Grammar phone music (1986), Kerol Pasam Kantharu (1987) Mahinda Prabanda (1987), Manawasinghe Geetha prabanda (1991), Purana Sinhala Nadagam copyediting (1996) and Gandarwa Apadana (1997). As an oriental scholar, Ariyaratne has compiled classical works of yore into anthologies. These compilations open with Ariyaratne’s signature introductions: lengthy and comprehensive, in the truest sense of academic spirit.

Following his journey undertaken to Madras in 1989, Ariyaratne produced his magnum opus on the history of Tamil literature. That was later to be followed by interesting subject areas such as Tamil Buddhists, Tamil folklore, Ramayana, Tamil Sinhala alphabet and Tamil idioms.

Genesis of the genius

While retaining admiration for Ariyaratne’s academic contribution, let us take a brief journey to his creativity. It began when he was only 12 years. Ahinsakayo, it was titled as far back as in 1961. This writer’s father recalls the young lad coming to the then Radio Ceylon with the collection of short stories. That personal narrative aside; Ariyaratne then published a series in the 1960s. They include Api Okkoma a poetry collection in 1963, Alakeshwara, a historical novel in 1964 and Siyothunta Rekawal, a poetic tale in 1965.

In a note of tribute written to Ariyaratne, Professor Sampath Amaratunga relates the following:

“His interest for drama runs to his childhood. He contributed to a play named Amal Biso, in his writing when he was 11 years old. He had joined his neighbours and peers in producing plays as well. He wrote a script for Kumaratunga Munidasa’s Magul Kema while still being a student at St. Jones College. He also produced the play Deyyo written by his elder brother Thilakaratne Kuruwita Bandara, also while being a student.”

During his undergraduate days, Ariyaratne authored a novel titled Jeewithaya Geethayak Wewa. In 1971, he published Dolosmahe Pahana, a poetry collection co-authored with Buddadasa Galappaththi and Jayalath Manoratne. Ariyaratne’s academic sprint began in 1971 upon obtaining a Sinhala Honours degree with a first class.

Sunil Ariyaratne shares an idyllic experience with the readership through poetry. He explores the treasures buried years – if not centuries – ago in classical works. Scholars with such spirit and sense are rare and sadly are becoming the vanishing tribe in this land.

Ariyaratne, despite whatever public role he plays, seems obsessed with his true passion. He never abandons his scholarship for the radiance of public life. At times, hypnotic, and mostly mythic, Ariyaratne brilliantly conveys the sublime and terrible beauty of life and its twin – love or romance.

Almost every lyricist dwells in Sunil Ariyaratne. For instance, Mahagamasekara’s simple prose-like philosophy is evident in some of the Ariyaratne songs. In another instance, Ariyaratne takes on Manwasinghe’s knack for manipulating the language. If a research is to be done on Sinhalese songs on love, perhaps Sunil Ariyaratne is the most crucial factor; he has dealt with this much-touched concept in diverse angles.

Unlike most developed countries, there is yet another area where Sri Lanka lags. The country badly needs lexicographers and database compilers. For instance, most culture-related databases have emerged as a result of individual efforts, albeit the necessity of organised labour. Sunil Ariyaratne is a quintessential in this instance as he has undertaken that project himself. The output is a dozen of books added to his already-vast corpus.

classical history

It is the latest academic endeavour undertaken by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne. The Sri Lankan readership can now gain information about the musicians Sri Lanka has produced over the past few decades. The creative spirit in Sunil Ariyaratne is widely known. However, his academic effort of compiling and preserving classical history by way of contemporary scholarship is yet to be unearthed.

Inspiration knows no language. Let me add if you don’t mind: language knows no barriers. The saga of 71-year old Professor Sunil Ariyaratne bears testimony to that, simply and amply.

It is a crowning achievement that cannot be thrown down into dust.

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