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Book Reviews

A collection of 'Gat' in the North Indian musical tradition

Sri Lankan edition of New Instrumental
Compositions for North Indian Music

Sri Lankan edition of New Instrumental
Compositions for North Indian Music

The man heeded the divine call. The flute consented. The concord of the man and the flute inspired the dark souls of their fellow beings, dispelling misery and agony.

The world renowned flautist and esraj player Anil Mihiripenna yet rooted in the Lankan soil, played another tune on the pen, away from mesmerizing instruments, when he recorded the Gat (instrumental compositions) finely tuned in his blood and soul.

"New Instrumental Compositions for North Indian Music is a dream- come- true as I had always desired to bring out a collection of Gat in the North Indian musical tradition," the artiste who won many accolades for his musical competency says while placing two books on the table.

"The same book was published in India by Indica Publishers. This is a historic milestone as New Instrumental Compositions for North Indian Music is the first ever book by a Sri Lankan musician published in India," says the maestro pointing at the book with a cover featuring the traditional Indian art. The print of the book was supported by the Indo-Lanka Foundation.

"India is the bedrock of the ragadhari ( North Indian) music tradition and thus boasts of hundreds of thousands of phenomenal writing material on the subject. Why this book won their attention was it encompasses different compositions for six instruments; sitar, violin, esraj, flute, sarod and oriental guitar.

There are compositions appropriate for stringed instruments (bowed and plucked) but the compositions for wind instruments are different. Thus the compositions for various types of instruments with different techniques of playing are elaborated in the book," he explains.

"There are many books on ragadhari vocal compositions but there's a considerable dearth of instrumental compositions. The book provides a guideline to those studying instrumental compositions and suitable for teachers as well. It cannot replace a teacher, but designed to offer some support".

"In Oriental music, guru(teacher) is an essential component. The relationship between preceptor and disciple is the nurturing channel of tradition. For many generations this bond preserved and carried forward the precious tradition. Therefore a book cannot replace a teacher, and it's from a guru that pupils must seek instructions and guidance," the maestro observes.

"I studied under the most revered gurus in this divine art. I mastered my inborn music talents under esraj maestro Ashish Chandra Benerji, flute from Pandit Gowr Goswami and vocals from Pandit Jamini Kantha Chakrwarti at the Vishva Bharati University (Shantiniketan) where the earthly incarnation of the divine art exists.

There it reflected the fundamentals of learning and teaching. When I attended my first esraj lesson, I carried the esraj and a book to write down notes. My guru Ashish Chandra Benerji glanced at me and said "ekne esho"(come here).

Being new, I did not understand Bengoli but the finger gesture spoke it all. ( When I left Shantiniketan I delivered my farewell speech in Bengoli ). I dragged my feet towards him grappling with a sense of uncertainty.

He looked at my book and questioned why I was carrying a book. When I said it was to take down notes, my guru said: "when you study here write everything in your head. Don't bring books hereafter". Following my great gurus advice, I never took down notes.

During the four years in Shantiniketan, all what I learnt is in my head and anytime I am able to recall anything," the inspired artiste says.

"Exercises and compositions should not be forced indiscriminately on students, but the teacher must use his discretion in prescribing suitable material for individual students.

Teacher must also offer advice and guidance on selecting compositions to match their abilities. I tried to propagate the Shantiniketan model of teaching in Sri Lanka but I failed," the maestro says.

"Art cannot be spoon-fed. It should be planted in one's blood and soul. I began exploring this when I was a child. I trained my ears to the melodious voice of my mother when she sang lullabies to my younger sisters. Those fascinated us. That's why our whole family turned out to be artistes of different spectrums," with a blissful smile on the face he recalls.

"I deeply fell in love with the flute when I was in school. I carried the flute to school and entertained my friends during free time, but it was too late when we realised that it distracted other classes and I was punished several times," he laughs having moved back to childhood.

"The noble duty of an artiste is to create a blissful moment. His or her talent is to capture the minds of the people in a moment of trans (Samadhi). This is kind of bhavna (meditation) done through music to soothe and relieve their minds. But it's not music therapy. Both vocal and instrumental compositions can soothe the minds".

"But I don't agree playing vocal compositions on instruments. Songs are to be sung. The words (lyrics) of the song intertwined with the thalam (rhythm) to create meaning. So when you play a song on a instrument how can the meaning be reflected without words?," the maestro questions.

The great musician who was a guru at school and university level has performed in many soils around the world and mesmerized hundreds of thousands of music lovers with his musical prowess.

He also authored books to widen the knowledge of students of the classical music. He founded Sharada Kala Nikethanaya, institution that propagates Oriental classical music in Sri Lanka. He was presented with many national and international level awards in recognition of his service to the field of music.

He was also presented the Honorary Citizenship of Nebraska State in USA and the honorary member of the research board of advisors of the American Biography Institute.

"I don't want to be away from my Motherland. I have done my due. Now the uparwala (the one up there) will decide the rest".

Guidebook on child rights

This is a book based on one of the major issues of the nation - children's rights. The "Guidebook on the Rights of the Child in Sri Lanka" is a result of IDLO's (International Development Law Organisation) Post-tsunami Legal Assistance Initiative for Sri Lanka, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Finland and Irish Aid, Department of Foreign Affairs, Government of Ireland.

The book is divided into eight chapters with each of the key issues related to the subject, focusing on children affected by Tsunami, adoption, exploitation and abuse, duty of protection and support, domestic violence, and Government institutions involved in child affairs.

A contacts directory made up of State Institutions, Ministries, Non-Governmental Organisations, International Non- Government Organisations etc is also provided for those seeking further information.

The book is a helping guide for lawyers for quick reference and for those who have interest towards the topic. Put into easy terms in a question-answer basis, the book also includes tables and charts so that the reader will have no problem grasping the subject or answer.

Each chapter opens with a background to the subject so that even those who are not familiar with the topic and its relating issues will have an insight to the field before relating to the core of the problems in connection with the subject.

Harshini Ranasinghe had co-authored the volume with the assistance of Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo N. Selvakkumaran. Several experts on the topics such as Rose Wijesekara, A. Sarveswaran and Jeeva Niriella, Senior Lecturers of the University of Colombo, have contributed to each of the chapters.

According to William Loris, Director-General, International Development Law Organisation, the idea of the book was born after the Tsunami struck the island. It is dedicated to the children of the country, inspired by the courage they displayed.

It is aimed at supporting those helping children who have been the victims of tsunami and those working with children generally.

An essayist of distinction

The Buddha & Emperor
Aurelius and Other Essays
M.B. Mathmaluwe (Godage International Publishers - Rs.850)

I first came across the by-line 'M.B. Mathmaluwe' in a newspaper article he wrote some years ago, about field inspections by British Government Agents of the Colonial era. I vividly remember the last field inspection , in Walapane, by the very last British Government Agent R.H.D. Manders - in whose entourage I tagged along as well. As I clipped out the article, I presumed it had been written by a long retired Kachcheri Mudaliyar, or some such official.

Imagine my astonishment when, a few weeks later, I read a most perceptive article on the poetry of Robert Frost by the very same writer! As Sri Lanka's 'English literary establishment' is an almost microscopic minority it did not take me long to discover that my presumed 'Kachcheri Mudaliyar' was, in fact, a highly regarded educationist from Matale.

Since then I have been, for many years, an avid reader of his articles on an amazing variety of topics. Mathmaluwe's The Buddha & Emperor Aurelius and Other Essays gathers into an overflowing punkalasa a fine selection of the many essays he has written for newspapers, during the past half century.

Over what a rich variety of subjects do his essays range ! The title essay [which, I feel, should have been the first races the extraordinary coincidences between the Buddha's thought and that of the Roman Emperor Aurelius as recorded in his Meditations, a few centuries later. Two of his other essays on Buddhist themes exhibit an admirably sane approach to issues sensitive to Sinhala Buddhists.

In the essay where he discusses the various Great Councils held to "purify the Dhamma" which indicate the need that had arisen, from time to time, to recall the Master's exact words.

"Thus in all honesty and responsibility, the Dhamma, as it has come down to us may not be exactly the same words the Great Master himself had uttered we are reminded again and again, that it is only 'reported' ( evam me sutam)" His other essay "Did the Buddha visit Sri Lanka ?" provides an explanation, both sane and sensitive, to this deeply held conviction of many Sinhala Buddhists.

These essays, ranging from the sacred to the profane, cover such a wide variety of subjects that the reader can dip into at any point. His writings on D.H.Lawrence, Robert Frost, Emily Bronte, Pasternak, Martin Wickremasinghe and other giants of world literature show a refreshingly original approach to these masters, about whom many other critics have written 'ad nauseam'.

It is also interesting to read his paean of praise for the sadly defunct Life magazine. Side by side is his epitaph to the "little magazines", both scholarly and literary, that flourished here in the 1940s and 1950s in that brief 'Indian summer' when they could rely on a cohort of English fluent literati and writers so brilliant as Reggie Siriwardena, Mervyn de Silva, Douglas Walatara, Guy Amirthanayagam, Godfrey Gunatilleke, Jayanta Padmanabha and others of the ilk. His essays give interesting insights into the lives and deeds of men who made a significant impact on their world - Nehru, archaeologist Bell, D.S.Senanayake and the Buddhist activist Walisinghe Harischandra.

His delicate tip-toeing around Nehru's love life is a delight to read.History enthralls him ,and his essays on Muslim Chiefs in the Kandyan Kingdom and also on the royal prerogative of incest are fascinating reading.

The culture he admires is not confined to historic times. His essay on Sinhala music and drama in today's Sri Lanka not only handles such giants as Sarachchandra, Amaradeva and Lester James Peries but boldly goes forth to speak with understanding on those youthful icons Bathiya and Santush !

Among the other topics these essays range over are Folklore, Agriculture & Water Management, The Rural Scene and the eclipse of the Village, Politics & Power.

I will not comment on them except to say that they display the catholicity of Mathmaluwe's interests, the originality of his perceptions and his clarity of expression.

This is , perhaps, the finest collection of Sri Lankan essays that I have had the pleasure to read.

Showered by 'A rain of stars'

Rohan Liyanage
Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

Ever wondered what it feels like to be showered by a rain of stars? Ask Rohan Liyanage, the author of Tharaka Vessake (A rain of stars), and he just might be able to provide the answer.

Tharaka Vessakeis a book comprising a collection of lyrics. This is the third book by the lyricist. He penned his first poem during his school days. According to him it was based on one of the figures close to his heart, his mother.

"My father, Ariyadasa Liyanage, was my inspiration. He wrote prosody. He took me with him when he went to meet other lyricists and poets," Rohan expressed adding that these discussions formed the base for his entrance to the field.

A few years back, Rohan had his own column in Suwanda, the weekly youth magazine. This was printed under the name Samanala Palama. The poet-lyricist had launched Aaderai Vilasitha in 2004 and Sonduru Asapuwa in 2005. Both of these works are made up of poems and lyrics. "My third book is only on lyrics.

The first half of Tharaka Vessake is on pain of separation from your loved ones. Then there are some lyrics based on love and how I see it in different angles. The former half of the book explores different topics," he said. As a poet plus lyricist what difference does he see in poetry and lyrics? "A poem allows the writer to express his or her ideas freely while you have to limit a lyric to a certain time period."

"Several of the lyrics included in the book have already been put to music and sung by vocalists like Isanka Sewmini, Clifton Gunawardena, Saman Buddhika Bandara, Frank David and Shiromi Almeida. I wish to see the rest put to music and sung by many more vocalists," he said.



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