|Saturday, 12 January 2002|
Sixty six years of Sinhala poetry
by Mervyn Senaratne
Sixty six years ago on April 12 1935, a group of young men P. B. Alwis Perera, R. Wilson Hegoda, Arthur M. de Alwis, Peter Perera, T. G. W. de Silva, A. P. Gunaratne and K. Lionel Perera sat under a tree at the Victoria Park (Now Viharamaha Devi Park) in Colombo for their usual evening chat. On this day they discussed the need to promote in Colombo an era of Sinhala poetry and decided to form an organisation and called it Colombo Kavi Samajaya (Colombo Poetry Association).
A few weeks later at the first meeting held at Dematagoda attended by a large number of young poets of the day, a decision was taken to rename the new organisation as Agaruwara Tharuna Kavi Samajaya (Colombo Young Poets' Association) in order to being all poets in the country under one umbrella.
The acronym Athakasa was used for the Association.
The first office bearers were Ven. Mahinda of Tibet as Patron, P. B. Alwis Perera as President, Kapila E. Seneviratne as Secretary and J. C. Jayatilleke as Treasurer.
One of the prime objectives of the Athakasa was to nurture the art of Sinhalese poetry of the Colombo School. Which denoted a type of Sinhala poetry created with the amalgamation of the Sinhalese poetry of the Matara and Kandy periods. The language used by the Colombo School was simple and flowery and most importantly metrical and rythmetical. It vastly differed from the poetic art of the old schools mainly due to the simplicity of the language used.
In addition ATHAKASA poets demonstrated an unprecedented talent to recite impromptu verse (HITIVANA KAVI) on any given subject, using colloquial language.
To propagate this art these poets travelled throughout the island, accepting invitations to temple ceremonies, new year festivals, meetings of the then Rural Development Societies etc and demonstrated the art to large audiences. Soon the art became very popular among the rural folk and ATHAKASA earned its place as a household name.
However, in 1950s, a new breed known as the Peradeniya School of Poets led by Siri Goonesinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekere, confronted Athakasa by popularising their art which resulted in debates and critical arguments among the two Schools. But this did not harm the position of both the schools and service upto date as two separate groups.
When the struggle for National freedom gathered momentum, Colombo poets toined hands with the freedom fighters to inspire the people. Sinhalese poems written and recited by the late Tibetan monk Ven S. Mahinda are well known and highlighted even today. Sinhalese weekly publications like Sarasavi Sandaresa, Sinhala Balaya, Sinhala Jatiya, Peramuna, and Silumina of the Lake House Group, opened their pages to ATHAKASA poets to enable them to inspire and awaken the people.
After independence, ATHAKASA voiced to raise the Sinhalese language to official status and demanded governments from time to time to make Sinhala poetry a school subject, to confer honourary titles on outstanding poets, to issue postal stamps in commemoration of poets and men of literature and to work for the well-being of Sinhalese poets and artistes.
When the late Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa became the Prime Minister he helped ATHAKASA in numerous ways because he himself was a gifted poet who held close connections with the ATHAKASA. The late Mr. Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, as District Minister for Colombo too assisted it and on June 25, 1985 ATHAKASA held its 50th anniversary at the Embilipitiya Gam Udawa grounds, presided over by the Prime Minister and attended by the Chinese Poet Mr Lu Li.
On this day, the then Finance Minister, Ronnie de Mel, declared ATHAKASA a public charity reading the relevant Parliament Act and the then Postal Minister D. B. Wijetunga issued a special stamp to commemorate the occasion. It should be stated that all these were achieved when the late Mr. Chitrananda Abeysekera, former Director of Sinhala Service of the SLBC, was the President of ATHAKASA for 12 years. He was succeeded by Sesiri Wijesekera, who is doing his best to keep the organisation alive.
At today's Triangular Festival, five prominent poets Panditha M. Premadasa, Walgama Somathileke, Mervyn Senaratne, Katuwalamulle Jinadasa and Srimathie Senaratne will be conferred the Kivipathi title by the Cultural Affairs Minister Professor Karunasena Kodituwakku.
At the Embilipitiya celebrations, so enraptured with the colourful proceedings, Prime Minister/President Ranasinghe Premadasa sprang from his seat and recited the following verse impromptu thrilling the audience by his poetical talents.
"No one can claim that he or she is a poet just because he or she had composed four lines of words.
A poet should necessarily have a fertile imagination, which could come only by having good habits and human qualities, only such a person could be a good poet."
(The writer is a well known poet, lyricist, SLBC artiste and Radio Media personality who held the post of Asst Secretary of ATHAKASA for 16 years).
Produced by Lake House