Spreading the message of dhamma through song
“ Lama viye kiri suwanda giye nethi lama viyedima
Kasawathak henda, podi hamuduruwo punchima kale,Thaniyama hithilada mahana wune”….
The child who questions podi hamuduruwo about his choice of a ‘robe’ is bewildered as to how podi hamuduruwo is capable of walking so piously without being distracted by the play grounds. “Sansun gamanin koheda wadinne sellam pittani pasu karala”?
Gifted with musical words, Podi hamuduruwo of yester- year is an eminent lyricist today. The Nation met Ven. Rambukana Siddhartha thero to discover more about his lyrical faculties.
By Randima Attygalle
Q: Can you tell us about your childhood?
A: I was born on a Vesak poya day and as a result I was named Ananda. The temple was adjoining our school in Rambukana in Morawaka. It was the centre of our lives. We were taken to the temple by our school principal for budun vendeema etc. When I was older, I went to the daham pasela of the temple. During this time, there was a strong desire in me to be ordained as a priest. My family did not influence me to take this step. When I was about 12 years, I was ordained as a samanera. Thereafter I studied in pirivenas. I went to Sunethradevi Pirivena in Pepiliyana and later entered the University of Kelaniya.
Q: As a child what did you feel about the early days as a samanera?
A: Since it was my decision to be ordained, I never felt restricted and felt that my new life was mundane. I suppose that if I had been gifted to sasana without my liking, things would have been quite different. The lyrics of ‘Lama viye kiri suwanda giye nethi’, sung by Malini Bulathsinhala where the young podi hamurduruwo is questioned as if it was his own decision to be a samanera, is in fact a reflection of my early days as a priest.
Q: Can you recollect your life as an undergraduate?
A: I entered Kelaniya University in 1974 where I specialised in Buddhist Philosophy. My subsidiary subject was Mass Communication. This was the golden era of Sinhala songs. Other than newspapers, SLBC operated as the sole media and it was like an unofficial university. SLBC exposed us to a world of refinement. As undergraduates we were fortunate to have been enriched by work of eminent lyricists, artistes and other scholars. Like so many others of this generation, I too was inspired by creations of Mahagama Sekera, Chandraratna Manawasinghe, Madawala S. Ratnayake, Dolton Alwis, Pandith Amaradeva and Master Khemadasa.
Our undergraduate era was a very rich one where there was revival in all forms of art and literature. We studied the work of Martin Wicramasinghe, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Prof. Sarathchandra, G.B Senanayake etc.
Q: What drawbacks do you identify in the present system of education compared to that of your student days?
A: I think today’s education system is only exam-oriented. Children are unaware of the society around them, they don’t know the history. During our times, the education system cultivated a sense of aesthetics in the student, which we don’t see today. After our Ordinary Levels and Advanced Levels, we were competent to impart our knowledge to our juniors with confidence because we had an in-depth education. It is sad to say that today there is hardly any difference between the school education and university education. Prior to 1956, all intellects, both clergy and laymen were produced through our two main pirivenas — Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara. Scholars such as Prof. Malalasekera, Sir D.B. Jayatilake, Prof. Senerath Paranavithana, Prof. E.W. Adikaram were some of those eminent products of piriven education. After pirivens were converted into Universities, the culturally rich, disciplinary atmosphere of these institutions eroded. Today they are very political institutions divided into various camps. It is a tragedy that these institutions of education have become embattled fields where violence dominates.
Q: What inspired you to become a lyricist and what were your earliest lyrics?
A: I grew up in a Buddhist atmosphere. As a child I used to read Yashodarawatha and Thunsaranaya for my grandmother to listen. On Poya days I observed sil with other village children. This spiritual background coupled with the influence of the golden era of the Sinhala songs in the 70s, inspired me to compose lyrics. My first song ‘Kalpa kalak gathawanathuru’, an ode of Sri Maha Bodhiya, was sung by Visahradha Dayaratne Ranatunga. ‘siyak ayu leba mageth ayu gena’ (sung by T.M Jayaratne, music by H.M Jayawardane) and ‘Budu hamuduruwo’ apith dakinnethi (sung by Victor Ratnayake) are among my early songs.
Q: How would you analyse the relationship between the teachings of Buddhism and the artistic medium of song?
A: The true essence of Buddhist precept nachcha geetha vadana, (forbidding dance, song and performance), referred purely to entertainment which was a hindrance to nirvana. Song had occupied a place in different dimensions in Buddhist culture. Buduguna alankaraya, Subashithaya, Lo weda sangarawa, all this carry the teachings of Lord Buddha, how to win both this life and life after. The Sinhala meaning of gaatha in Pali, means geethaya or song. This does not mean any song which is empty in meaning, but something which can express the reality of life.
Buddhism does not restrict the aesthetic sense in a human being. Lord Buddha is considered the greatest advocate of esthetics in the world or the greatest saundarya wediya. In the chaotic and busy world we live today, a song is an effective mode of expression, a way of communicating a social message. In the ancient days, bana was preached for 12 hours because people had time to spare; they did not have problems such as war or cost of living as pressing needs.
Today people can hardly spare one hour to listen to bana because their minds are not at peace. In such society, a song is a strong means of conveying the social reality. One can enjoy a song while engaged in other day-to-day activities, which is another advantage of this medium. However we should bear in mind that a song is also like a knife. A knife can chop vegetables and at the same time it can inflict harm. A song is similar. We can convey a deep philosophy and at the same time it can destroy young minds. ‘Pipunu male ruwa emala dakeedo’, ‘hari hamba karapu deval duk mahansiyen’- all these songs convey social themes. Therefore even a Buddhist priest can use the medium of song in a Buddhist context, to pacify chaotic minds and to impart wisdom, not merely as a tool of entertainment.
Q: What is the biggest void you identify in Sinhala song today?
A: It is the lack of standards. It’s the same with other mediums of art as well. There is no authority to judge or question them. This is an evil of open economy as well. With the open economy, many things flooded this country with no standards. Till the late 70s, each song, each artiste and even an advertisement was brought before a panel at SLBC. Singers were graded and there were standards. Today the song has become an empty medium, just words which make no sense.
At a time when we were aping Hindi melodies, artistes such as Ananda Samarakoon and Sunil Santha took our music to a different path and created an authentically Sri Lankan genre of music. This trend was followed by lyricists such as Mahagama Sekara, Madawala S. Ratnayake, Chandrarathna Manawasinghe and later on by Dharmasiri Gamage, Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne and Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe. Their creations reflect their knowledge of literature, language and Buddhist philosophy. Sadly, we don’t see this kind of a new generation today simply because they are not aware of their predecessors. Without studying the creations of those before you, you cannot create for the future. In whatever the form of art, we see only a superficial study which is very tragic.
Q: You have written songs for several generations. What is the secret behind this ability to bridge many such eras?
A: From the times of our grandparents to modern generation of grandparents, I have witnessed social changes, change of values etc. But despite all those changes, there is one thing which will stand true to all times. This is the truth of dhamma. This is what I convey through all my songs, directly or indirectly. Through this eternal truth, I can cater to many generations.
Q: As the Registrar of the English Section of Sri Jinarathana Vocational Training Institute (affiliated to Gangaramaya) you associate with young adults. As a Buddhist monk who works closely with youth, what are your comments about the present generation’s association with Buddhism?
A: I’m happy to say that despite all evils dished out by the electronic media, there is still a large cross section of young people who have identified the correct path to take in life. They are inspired by learned people and an intellectually-rich atmosphere. When Vesak and Poson approach, we see many enthusiastic young people actively participating in dhamma discussions, meditation and sil programmes which is a very positive trend. Many young people have realised the repercussions of alcohol and smoking which clearly shows that we still have a segment of future generation with potential.
Q: In the turbulent times we live, what do you think the role of a Buddhist priest should be?
A: Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka thrice. On all three occasions, He came as a mediator and a messenger to resolve disputes. As followers of Lord Buddha, it is our duty to carry this message of peace and to act for the betterment of human beings. We can carry the word of Lord Buddha in various means - through art, song and literature. The prime role of the Buddha puthra should be to bring solace where there is sorrow, to bring equality where there is disparity.
(Pix by Ishara S. Kodikara)
****The Nation. LK***