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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Saana remembered after 25 years

His name was Shanmuganathan, but he was popularly and respectfully known as Saana. Radio broadcasting in Thamil was his field and his forte was drama over the airwaves. He was also one of the earliest producers of foreign plays in the metropolis. I will get back to a comment on him later in this piece.

It was a period of initiative broadcasting in the country. Perhaps the 1950s and the 1960s were the golden eras as far as Thamil broadcasting in this country was concerned. Kolumbu Radio Nilayam at Cotta Road in Borella to Radio Ceylon at Torrington Square from 1949, broadcasting in Thamil has taken different formats.

It was later to be called Ilankai Olipatappu Nilayam and the renamed Ilankai Olipatappu Kootu Thapanam. (CBC/SLBC) There were the Desiya Sevai (National Service) and the Varthaka Sevai (Commercial Service) operating for a long time. Then they renamed the Varthaka Sevai as 'Thentral (The Breeze).

And from January 15, they have four services on two wavelengths. On one metre band the four services that come on the air are: The Desiya Sevai, the Varthaka Sevai, the 'Muslim Sevai and the Kalvi Olipatappu (Education Service.). Over a separate metre band Thentral continues its broadcast.

Besides its services to Lankans, the SLBC also broadcasts in Thamil to listeners in its All Asia Service and Colombo Radio Service, which is heard in many places the southern hemisphere, including India.

Great scholars had been the directors and assistant directors of the Thamil Service of the SLBC in the past: S. Sivapathasundaram (a writer, critic and author. He was also the first compiler and presenter of Thamil Osai over the BBC), K. S. Nadarajah (poet, author), C. V. Rajasundaram a former assistant director of the Training Institute, which Stuart Wavel of the BBC helped to establish and functioned as its first director.

They set up standards. Then over the years many young people of varying relative merits took up the task of running the Thamil Service. Since I am speaking about the Thamil broadcasts some 50 years ago, I am not going to describe the scene after the great contributions made by the pioneers.

We learn that the first Thamil announcer was Sovanna Nadarajah alias Navaliyoor Nadarasan. He was superintendent of examinations and deputy commissioner of the official languages department later.

Son of a great Lankan poet in Thamil Somasundara Pulavar, Nadarajah was a Sanskrit scholar. He had translated into Thamil Sanskrit and Sinhala works. He died a few years ago and before that he became a Buddhist monk. His daughter is Sarojini Arunasalam who is engaged in translation work at present.

I have no space here to write in full about the pioneers of Thamil broadcasting in this country except to mention a few who have been forgotten.

Sana was a trained and experienced craftsman of fine order and worked as producer of radio drama. He had had training with the BBC. Precision, meticulousness, dedication, knowledge ability and acting prowess were his hallmark.

Apart from choosing the content of realistic drama, he was also very particular in the timing in the production of drama. He taught the essence of drama to his faithful participants. A strict disciplinarian and a talent scout, he assigned the right people to the right role. Let me cut into a flashback to keep the context understood.

Earlier broadcasters

At a time when radio broadcasting was relatively new in Thamil in the late 1940s and 1950s, dedicated radio personalities in all three languages did the spade work for clean and healthy broadcasting. Eddie Hettiarachchi, Colomboge, Pearl Ondaatjee, Myrl Swan, Livy Wijemanna, Thevis Guruge, H. M. Gunasekera, S. Nadarajah, Moni Elias et al were the pacesetters for the generations that followed.

During the early fifties, K. S. Nadarajah, Balasubramania Iyer, Arul Thiyagarajah, Shanmuganathan, Vivian Namasivayam, Gnanam Ratnam, S. Sathiyalingam, Param Thillairjah , Subramania Iyer were the producers and organizers working in Thamil National Service.

There were first class announcers like V. N. Balasubramaniam, S. Cunjithapatham, Chenthimani Mylvaganam, V. A. Gafoor, S. Punniyamoorthy, V. Suntharalingam, Majeed, Nadaraja Iyer, Pathma Somasundastram and others.

And on the Varthaka Sevai (Commercial Service), S. P. Mylvaganam popularized Lankan radio beyond the seas. The first Thamil announcer on this was really an English announcer Dan Duriaraj. He used to announce in Thamil too.

Similarly English announcer Prosper Fernando was the first Sinhala commercial service announcer. People like Justin Rajkumar, Christie Dayalan Kandiah, Pulendran, Salim, Naguleswaran, Balsubramaniam, Nagalingam, Sylvester Balasubramaniam, S. K. Pararajasingham, Rajaguru Senadipadi Kanagaratnam were some of the early batch of announcers over the commercial service.

The function

Now, let's get back to Saana. On January 15, the children and grandchildren of Saana remembered him at a public function held at the Colombo Thamil Sangam, Wellawatta, presided over by T. Eeswaran, well known businessman and patron of the arts. Saanas grandson Loshan, who works for the Sooriyan FM radio station, compered the proceedings.

Broadcasters V. A. Gafoor, B. H. Abdul Hameed, V. A. Thirugnanasundaram, Satsorupavathy Nathan, Rajeswari Shanmugam, Visaladchi Hameed and Kalai Chelvan and the president of the Colombo Thamil Sangam (CTS), Periyathambipillai Wijayaratnam, the eldest and the youngest sons of Shanmuganathan- Asokan and Ragulan spoke recalling their associations with Saana.

On this occasion, a publication of 56 pages was launched. It was compiled by Saana's children and grandchildren and primarily by his daughter Ms Sumathi Balasridharan.

The book included two parts: What others said of the veteran dramatist and also a collection of his articles titled Pariyari Paramar (The Physician Paramar). The book is available from 91/5, 3/2 Hampdon Lane, Wellawatta. Phone: 2365606

The inclusion of comments from radio artistes, academics, and other broadcasters not only give an idea to the reader of who this Saana was , but also it records some of the forgotten events the progress of broadcasting in Thamil in this country.


Apart from the compiler, his daughter, Sumathi, his relatives, the following of celebrity status have recorded their sentiments:

Emeritus Professor K. Sivathamby (a leading 20th and 21st century Thamil intellectual in this country, and himself one of the finest pioneer radio drama actor and broadcaster),

S. Saravanamuttu (a pioneer broadcaster and radio actor),

V. A. Gaffor (the first Islamite to be an announcer and newscaster),

Gnanam Ratnam (the pioneer school service broadcaster and later administrator,),

V. A. Thirugnasundram (a broadcaster and administrator),

Arunthathi Sriranganathan (musician and administrator),

S. Ponnuthurai (a leading writer and publisher now living abroad),

Subulaxmi Kasinathan (a radio actress now living abroad),

S. M. A. Jabar (a radio actor and a cricket commentator, now living abroad),

Satsotupavathy Nathan (a broadcaster, news editor, newsreader and administrator),

Rajeswari Shanmugam (a pioneer radio and stage actress and broadcaster),

Visaladchi Hameed (a pioneer radio actress and broadcaster),

B. H. Abdul Hameed (a radio actor and internationally known compere and broadcaster),

S. Ramdas (a radio and film actor),

Rajagopalan (actor, now living abroad),

George Santhirasekeran (broadcaster and radio drama producer),

K. S. Sivakumaran (broadcaster and critic),

Wimal Sockanathan (broadcaster, now with the BBC),

Yoga Thillainathan (actress and broadcaster, now living abroad),

Balambikai Nadarajah (radio dramatist),

V. N. Mathialagan (broadcaster, administrator, now living abroad),

P. Wigneswaran (radio/tv producer and administrator, now living abroad),

K. S. Balachandran (broadcaster, actor on radio, stage and film)

S. Kumaran (administrator, now living abroad),

S. Jesuratnam (actor, now living abroad),

Master Sivalingam (broadcaster and narrator of stories for children),

K. Shanmugampillai (musician),

Kokilavartsni Sivarajah (radio actress and broadcaster),

T. Mahesan (producer of childrens programmes)

T. Rajapandiyan (dramatist),

K. Chandrasekeran (actor)

A. Kanagasooriyar (radio critic),

S. Selvasekeran (actor),

Choakallo Shanmugam (actor, performer),

V. Rasiah (producer of childrens radio programmes and a critic),

S. Nadaraja Iyer (broadcaster, news editor and commentator),

the late V. Suntharalingam (broadcaster and actor),

Maraimuthalvan (broadcaster and actor),

Paara Sinnathamby,

A. Raghupathy Bala Sridharan(son in law and artiste),

S. Senathirajah (a cousin),

A. Poopathi Bala Vadivetkaran (nephew).


S. Shanmuganatahn was a journalist, painter (he had been an art director for Thamil films produced in Chennai), dramatist, producer for both and the stage, administrator and many more. He was a versatile person of fine taste.

My association with him was first as a broadcaster of books and films over the Thamil service in the late 1960s and 70s. Although, he was not a producer for any of my broadcasts (it was the late Arul Thiyagarajah and the late Vivian Namasivayam and S. Subramania Iyer),Saana used to encourage me and comment favaourably my reviews).

But when he became the first organizer for the Tamil Commercial Service, he was my boss. I was a relief Tamil announcer over the Commercial Service between 1966 and 1970. Later I came over to the English Commercial Service.

The book launched on January 15 also included 11 pen - sketches Sana has written. It was earlier published as Patiyati Patamar and it is reproduced with this publication. The sense of humour and fine observation and caricature are enjoyable. The last piece is an engrossing imaginative writing where Shanmuganathan is interviewing Sana.

Contact: 2587617 / [email protected]

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