Is disharmony allowed in Buddhism? | Daily News

Is disharmony allowed in Buddhism?


“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”

- George Eliot, ‘The Mill on the Floss’

The 113 year-old ‘Danno Budunge’ brought immortality to its composer, Proctor John De Silva (1857-1922). His ‘Nurthi’, Siri Sanghabo (1903), followed the tradition of lyrical composition on the model set by Parsee theatre group that arrived in the island in latter part of 19th Century, which was popularized in the country at the time. John the dramatist, one of the pioneer nurthi playwrights has composed over 850 songs for his 40-50 plays. The melodies that suited dramatic situations, he learned from Viswanth Lavjee Pandit from Bhownuggeri.

“Use of western musical instruments for eastern music reached stability when Theinia Kall plugged John de Silva’s Danno Budunge with Hubert Rajapaksha singing the words, for years there was strong resentment from the Sinhalese.

They did not like Madame Marchest trained voice, ‘mutilating’ with the beautiful Sinhala words. In time this prejudice was overcome and the beauty of the voice and song came to be accepted and welcomed.” —Ananda Tissa de Alvis: Ceylon Observer—Dec. 16, 1951

A human’s operatic voice developed by the Western musical tradition (origins traced to Germany) undoubtedly is the highest form of the biological tone of voice; all operatic singers are not sopranos— Kishani Jayasinghe’s natural talents in exploring the inexpressible exquisiteness of her high-pitched human voice had made her a soprano and a national treasure. She had reached the zenith of this sophisticated technique of the world of operatic singing as a soprano par excellence.

The style she used to sing ‘Danno Budunge’, an alien Western musical tradition at the 68th Independence Day cultural event has met with severe criticism from various quarters some even over-reacting causing mayhem … Singing Lanka’s time honoured, beautiful song ‘Danno Buddunge’, was described, ‘…it does sound like a trained foreign Opera singer having a ‘yowling cat stuffed in the mouth, shivering in the cold ……,’ by one critic. Caterwauling…!, a mating kitten at wee hours, deserves a half a brick treatment,’ added a morning news sheet reader.

In John de Silva’s play, it was sung by three men on stage acting for the princes Sanghabodi Sanghamitta and Gotabhaya as they were visiting the ancient city of Anuradha Nagara, the present Anuradhapura. The music of the Nurti, played an significant part in building up the musical flavour of the average Sri lankan theatre fanatic a century ago. Proctors John de Silva, and Charles Dias were two great exponents of this art form. In “The History of Proctor John de Silva’s Dramatic Literature”, LDA Ratnayaka, a contemporary of John de Silva, gives a vivid description of the artistic life of this great man.

A song can be sung anywhere, anytime in any mode, provided…

Music can generate a socio-cultural transformation and eliminate the barriers (and animosity) among the communities, races, and nationalities. Kishani’s singing sounds too foreign and does not capture the feeling behind the words though I never felt hurt hearing the opera version and I thought it is sung beautifully.

The scriptures record two instances of Panchasika or Pansilu, the musician of Tavatimsa heaven, visiting the Buddha: on one such occasion, standing outside the dwelling of the Buddha, and within a short distance to be audible to the enlightened one, Panchasika while playing his instrument named as Beluvapanda, sang his own composition which described the attractiveness of his sweetheart. A line from a verse in the lyrics he recited goes as follows...

“When shall I be fortunate to experience the warmth of your smooth and sensual bosom…”

After singing his favourite, Panchasika went before the Buddha who apparently was neither distressed/ disturbed nor enchanted by Panchasika’s obscene lyric; strangely, the Buddha commented about the high quality of his singing [it is not known, if he sang it in high pitched operatic or otherwise]. He specifically admired the synchronization between melody, vocal singing and the instrumental music! The Buddha said,

“the notes of your playing are in harmony with the notes of the song; the notes of the song are in harmony with the notes of your veena; instrumental tones do not exceed your vocal tones, and vocal tones do not surpass your veena tones; Panchasika, when did you compose this song?”

Surely the styles, melodies and lyrics of deities who are of extremely cheerful happy-go-lucky beings cannot be calming, soothing or spiritual but much more erotic even than our modern and emerging compositions of sounds, ideas, rhythms and themes; yet the Buddha, perhaps one of the earliest music critics of the world had a great regard for the worldly aspects of life. The above story gives an indication of the Buddha’s insights on Harmony, as well as his perception and patience. [Panchasika’s musical recital is described in detail in by Gurulugomi in his literary work, Amavatura.]

No-danno Budunge Sri Dharmaskanda

The mind has no body, shape, or form but it can reflect to us whatever image occurs to it as a result of the gathering of several factors together. For instance, when the consciousness, ear and an external sound contact with each other the mind reflects the sound with the help of other Sensation or Feeling – Perception or cognition and Volition or Mental Formation [vedana, sanna and sankhara]. We hear a mental object, a delusion (nama rupa) like a reflected image in the mirror, both of which has no value. However, until we see the reality within us we do not stop there. Instead, the mental object is treated as real; we either start liking or disliking giving that illusion so much value, we cling to it deeply (upadana) creating reasons (karma) to continue in this sansara. The one who comprehend this reality takes the effort to seek out only the truth as it is and gradually stop trusting in the false magician named consciousness.

“It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception.” (When asked about his theory of relativity)

--Albert Einstein

Guttila Kavya: Royal musician borrows heavenly music

In Ven. Wettawe Thera’s Guttila Kavya, Sinhala poem, the Bodhisatva is born as Guttila and his enemy is born as Musila who becomes his pupil. Guttila was the royal court musician, the greatest Veena player of his time. Musila a young musician learnt the art of veena from Guttila. On completion, teacher recommended Musila to become a musician in the royal court too, who was not agreeable to the salary insisting on an amount in-par with Guttila’s. The king wanted teacher and pupil to compete and win.

Guttila an old man feared the terrible humiliation of losing to Musila, went to the forest. Sakra, after consulting Panchasika promised to make him winner by introducing celestial melodies at the veena contest. Guttila went and appeared at the contest. At the beginning both played equally well. However, Sakra intervened to ensure Guttila’s victory. Guttila, the Bodhisattwa and Royal musician had to borrow styles and melodies not from the West but beyond earthly resources!

Professor Sarachchandra copied styles and melodies from Indian and Christian drama schools in creating his timeless work of genius, Maname, Sinhabhahu etc…

Critics over-reacts

The song is believed to convey the compassion and intelligence of the Buddha, and is sung more often than not in the softest way to express that sentiment. ….

Many popular songs have been modified, westernized and regain recognition among youngsters. ‘Change is difficult to accept. Not changing is annihilation.’

When Bhatiya- Santush made an explosive version of ‘ Siri Sangabodi Maligawe’, also from John De Silva’s Nurthi, surprisingly there was no resentment, commotion or uproar. An old songs being ‘converted’ to the Western tradition is not a crime or a slap in the face of the Sinhala Buddhists.

There are quite a few Golden Oldies like, Sri Buddhgaya Vhare [Rupasinhe master and Rukmani], ‘Vile malak pipila..’ and ‘Ase Madura jeewanaye geeta’ by Ananda Samarakoon, ‘Sri Munida [M K Vincent] ‘Lona munirajage’[Luxmi Bhai], that are being re-recorded and sung by talented young local artists adding melodic beauty and charm without harming their originality; they should be encouraged, but saving the songs from vandalism at any future shows.

‘A song can be sung anywhere, anytime in any mode, provided…, that it does not become a nuisance to others …, and as long as the singer appreciates the emotions of masses.

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