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W. A. Silva: Architect of the Sinhala novel

Wellawattarachchige Abraham Silva, the famous and outstanding Sinhala novelist was born on 16th January, 1890 in Pamankade, Wellawatte and was the eldest in a family of four children. He received his early education at St. Paul's, Milagiriya. It was the only formal education his parents who were not so rich could afford him.

W. A. Silva was studious in school and liked by his teachers. The family circumstances intervening did not permit him to proceed with his school career further. As such he found employment at the age of 16 as a junior clerk in Carsan & Company, then a well-reputed European mercantile firm in Colombo.

Daily after work, he attended the Dharmasalawa, Bambalapitiya now known as Vajiraramaya and studied Sinhala and Sanskrit at the feet of the great literary luminary Venerable Palane Vajiragnana Thera of Weligama. Being not satisfied with the little education he received in school, he devoted all his leisure hours in reading as he felt he could do better.

The youth, W. A. Silva wrote his first Sinhala novel, 'Siriyalatha' at the age of 16. The literary prowess of this young authors' writing was applauded by most of the contemporary scholars. His second novel 'Lakshmi' was published in 1922. He wrote it in a masterly style and it was a clear proof for his rich Sanskrit vocabulary.

W.A's literary craftsmanship came to light in 1919 when he started editing the fortnightly journal 'Sirisara Sangara'. This was a journal exclusively meant for contributions from eminent literary personalities of the day.

'Lakshmi' was followed with a series of other novels such as 'Hingana Kolla' (The beggar boy), 'Pasal Guruwari' (The School Mistress), 'Deiyanne Rate' (The land of gods) 'Sunethra' nohoth Avicharasamaya' (Sunethra or the Reign of Terror), 'Daivayogaya' (The intervention of Destiny), 'Vijayaba Kollaya' (The Assassination of Vijayabahu), 'Kelehanda' (The Wild Moon), 'Radala Piliruwa' (The puppet of fendal) etc. W. A. was also the author of several short stories, detectives, plays and books on various other topics.

His creation 'Radala Piliruwa' characterised a wealthy business magnate in the capital in the mid thirtees who ran through all his money doing elections to enter the country's legislature and getting defeated all the times.

The 'Kela Handa' was the first Sinhala novel that came on the silver screen. The second was the exotic and fine movie, 'Handapana' (The Moonlight) directed by the talented, Herbert M. Seneviratne based on W. A. Silva's sentimental novel 'Handapana'.

This well-known literary giant not only excelled as a novelist and short story writer but also established a reputation as a gifted journalist. He edited two weekly newspapers 'Sirikatha' and 'Lanka Samaya'. 'Nuwana' and 'Thilaka' were two fortnightly literary magazines edited by him.

Silva who was also a fluent speaker in English talked on Western and Eastern classics with equal distinction. He had a fine flow of oratory, a great deal of which was very amusing and interesting. W.A's personality was dynamic and magnetic. He was very outspoken and gentle, and was a man of high and steadfast ideals.

W.A's last literary work was a translation into Sinhala of 'Valmiki Ramayanaya' direct from its original Sanskrit. Notwithstanding his other onerous and multi-farious duties this work was undertaken by him at the request of his three best friends Cumaratunga Munidasa, the eminent scholar and grammarian; Hemapala Munidasa, the forceful Sinhala writer and J. C. Kannangara the famous Ayurvedic physician and oriental scholar.

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