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 Post subject: Sunil Santha- renaissance man of Sinhala music
 Post Posted: Tue Apr 12, 2005 3:47 am 
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Sunil Santha- renaissance man of Sinhala music

April 14,2005, is Sunil Santha's 90th birth anniversary
By Yohan Perera and Lathikka A. Niriella
DM / 12APR2005


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"Kurulu para deesaye
Kurulu sitina sagaray
Oba ha visumata ennemi
Kurulu surapuray"


Legendary composer Sunil Santha was well known for his melodious voice, astonishingly simple yet beautiful lyrics and his unique style of music. But he was also a craftsman, an award winning photographer and a motor mechanic, epitomizing the true renaissance quality of his well rounded artistic and practical abilities. He was engaged in all these field while playing a pivotal role in the process of establishing a truly Sri Lankan style of music.

Born Don Joseph John on April 14, 1915 to a Catholic family in Pamunugama,Ja-ela, Sunil was brought up by his grandmother and his uncles after the demise of his parents during early childhood. He had his education at Dehiagatha Sinhala school, St. Aloysious College , Galle, Mount Calvary school, Galle and St. Benadicts College, Kotahena. After completing his school studies, he worked as a teacher at a Roman Catholic school and Mount Calvary School, both in the Galle district.

In the year 1939 Sunil left for India after deciding to take up music. He returned to Sri Lanka after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from Shanthi Nikethan and a Diploma in vocals from Maris College of Hindustani Music, Lucknow. Among his teachers were renowned musician Ratnajankar, who would later play a decisive role in Sri Lankan music. When he returned he changed his name to Sunil Santha dropping the letter "h" from 'Sunil Shantha', which he used in India. After this he took up the momentous task building a truly Sri Lankan indigenous style of music, free from Hindustani influences. While being engaged in this endeavour he created wonders with his music and lyrics thus creating evergreen hits such as 'Olu Pipila', 'Handapane', 'Bovitiya', 'Nalawe Sanasanne', and many more. Songs such as 'Olu Pipila' became popular among those who were drawn towards Western style of music while 'Lanka Lanka' almost became Sri Lanka's second national anthem.

Year 1952 brought a challenging time for Sunil as he had to face many obstacles . That year the SLBC banned him for not participating in the experimentation carried out by Ratnajankar who was brought down from India. This made Sunil leave the music scene and take up various other professions to support his family. He became a motor mechanic and later became photographer and and won an award for the best photograph in a competition organised by the Sunday Times in 1960. The photograph was titled 'Making of Greatness'. This is an interesting story as the photograph was sent by Newton studio without informing Sunil.

Sunil was called back to the SLBC in 1967 and engaged in several musical programs creating more popular songs such as 'Walakulen Besa' and 'Hemba Ganga' during this period. Sunil died on April 11, 1981, a few months after his son Jagath Santha's untimely demise.

Apart from being a great musician he was known to be an exceptionally kind and considerate human being who helped many people. Vetaran journalist, illustrator and writer Sybil Wethasinghe relates a fascinating story in the book 'Sunil Samara' (biography of Sunil Santha published by his fan club) how Sunil helped her during her years at Lankadeepa. Ms. Wethasinghe who was doing illustrations for Sinhala verses had been busy when Sunil had walked into the office to meet one of the editors. He had given her a piece of paper with a verse written on it asking her to draw an illustration for it. After the illustration was published with the verse written by Sunil , lots of readers had come forward with their verses to be illustrated and published, thus making her task easier. On another occasion Sunil gave up music classes at Panadura and allowed Pandith Amaradeva who was having financial problems at that time, to take up his classes.

Sunil was a man who loved his nation as well as music. It is the solemn wish of all Sri Lankans who celebrate his birth anniversary on Thursday that more like him will be born in Sri Lanka as this country needs men of his caliber.


Last edited by LankaLibrary on Sat Sep 02, 2006 4:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Sunil Santha: The real Super Star
 Post Posted: Mon Apr 10, 2006 11:53 pm 
Sunil Santha: The real Super Star

The country’s most controversial and extremely talented musician not allowed singer Sunil Santha will be remembered forever for his contribution towards arts in Sri Lanka.

The headstrong musician who passed away on April 11, 1981, gave a new meaning to Sinhala music despite a rugged journey in life and today many regard him as the real super star in the country’s music arena.

We reproduce below a comprehensive article compiled by his only daughter Kala Santha.

Baddaliyanage Don Joseph John alias Sunil Santha was born on 14th of April 1915 at Dehiyagatha, Jaela. His parents died whilst he was still a baby, so he was brought up by his grand mother and uncles. His youngest uncle M.J.Perera was a music lover. Sunil Santha learned to play the harmonium from him.

He came first in the island in the school leaving certificate examination and won the Weeraratne award. In 1933 he passed the Teachers Final Examination. As a teacher at Mt.Calvary School he exhibited his talent in drama, vocal, music, art and handwork.From 1936 to 1939 his students won the competition at the Southern Schools Music Competition thrice and the challenge cup was given to the Calvary school. In 1938 he passed the Intermediate Gandarva Examination and also obtained a certificate in physical training and learned to play the piano accordion and the guitar. He learned Sinhala folk songs and Wannam from Urapola Banda Gurunnanse.

Before long,however he gave up teaching to pursue a musi career, and in 1939 left for India where he studied Hindustani, Classical and Bengali Orchestral and Vocal music, first at Shanti Niketan. After spending one year he went to Batkhande Sangeeth Vidyapeeth. In Allahabad. He became first in the first Division in instrumental (sitar) and first Division in vocal where he obtained the Sangeeth Visarad Degree after a four year course of study

In 1944 he returned to the Island as Sunil Santha. He met Mr. Kapukotuwa and as the Government had appointed a person for the post of music inspector he refused the music teacher’s appointment. He read books authored by Munidasa Kumaratunga and Raphiel Thennakoon and realized the necessity of creating Sri Lankan music.

He wrote a letter titled Montessori Method of Music to the Silumina Newspaper and on the shorter method to learning music to Prabodaya. He started a music class at Kanuwana, Jaela. In 1946 he stayed in the house of Suriyashankar Molligoda at Bambalapitiya and started his quest to find the real Sinhala Music. On the 2nd of March 1946 he sang songs at the Kumaratunga Commemoration ceremony, soon he became a superstar after he recorded Olu Pipila at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. That was the first song done on a record.

The people who saw him performing those days compared him to a Greek god. Another compared him to a handsome Indian prince with Aryan features. His skin was ivory in colour. He was five feet 11 inches tall.

In 1946 he published his first song book "Ridi Walawa". He created songs which he sang at various charity shows like Home for the Elders of mallika in Colombo. He published many song books including Hela Ridi Walawa, Mihiriyawa Mal Mihira, Heli Mihira, Sunil Handa, Song Folio, Song of Lanka, Guvan Thotilla, Desheeya Sangeethaya, Sangeethaye Atthiwarama. As Sunil was against Indian Ragadari music his enemies started a battle to expel him from Radio Ceylon.

They damaged his discs and some of the people who were with him at the beginning pirated his songs and published them to earn money. Sunil attacked these people in his song books. In 1951 the Peramuna news paper did a survey and named Sunil Santha as the most popular singer of the year.

Meanwhile the enemies of Sunil Santha who favored Hindustani Music laid a trap for him. That was to get down Mr. Ratanjankar from India to audition the Sinhala artistes. They mentioned that anybody who refused that audition would be expelled from the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The Lankadeepa News paper published an editorial against the audition of Mr. Ratanjankar. They questioned about the special reason for bringing down Ratanjankar to audition Sinhala artistes. Would that be necessary for his pupils like Sunil Santha to face that audition? Is it necessary to audition artistes at this time? Are they doing that for the progress of art? The Lankadeepa protested against the audition of Ratanjankar.

Sunil Santha boycotted the audition of Ratanjankar. He was expelled from the SLBC. In 1952 he married Bernadet Leelawathi Jayasekara. She was a trained teacher.

In 1953 Sunil started his classes at the Maradana Newton building. He promised to teach 10 pupils free of charge. At that time Albert Perera (W.D. Amaradeva) who played the violin for Sunil Santha’s songs was having financial difficulties. Sunil Santha helped him by allowing him to teach music at his Panadura music class.

In 1955 the great journalist D.B.Dhanapala started a campaign and exposed the plight of Sunil Santha through the columns of Lankadeepa. The money collected by the paper was given to Sunil Santha.

In 1956 Dr. Lester James Pieris invited Sunil to make tunes for the songs of "Rekhawa" and "Sandeshaya". The songs were masterpieces and even now they are very popular.

Sunil tried various trades like selling clothes and doing photography. He became very close to the poor people's hearts. Many parents sent their teenage sons to get advice from Sunil Santha.

In 1967 Director General Neville Jayaweera invited Sunil Santha to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and asked him to do programs in music. He created revolutionary music and created songs in one note and four notes and five notes. Mr. Jayaweera asked Sunil to audition the artistes too. Mr. H.W. Rupasinghe and W.D.Amaradeva assisted him.

In 1970 Sunil moved to his uncle’s house, as the landlady wanted the house. Mrs. Agnes Perera the widow of his uncle was very kind to Sunil Santha’s family and asked them to live in a section of their house. His cousins cleaned the poultry shed. They used that as a study room for the family. Sunil and Leela had three sons and one daughter.

Sunil continued to repair radios and other electrical equipments. In 1977 Mr. H.M. Gunasekara who was the Director of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation produced a record named "Sunil Gee." There was a debate about whether there is a written music in the Sigiri songs. Some scholars opposed that idea. Sunil created Sigiri Gee and showed that there is a possibility of written music in Kurutu Gee as our ancestors were so intelligent in constructing such great buildings as Lovamahapaya and Sigiriya.

In 1980 the then Prime Minister R. Premadasa wanted to gift a house as Sunil had made request in a news paper. Sunil Santha refused to accept that as a gift. He accepted the house to pay the cost in instalments. He didn't accept the money paid as royalty for playing his songs over the SLBC.

Twenty eighth of February of 1981 was the saddest day in Sunil Santha’s life. His third son Jagath was drowned in the Blue Oceanic Hotel Negombo. That death is still a mystery. Sunil suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the Colombo General Hospital where died on April 11,1981.

His eyes were donated to two people after his death.

On April 13, he was laid to rest at the Dehiyagatha cemetery.


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