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Wimal Abhayasundera:

Remembering a poet

The first death anniversary of renowned poet Wimal Abhayasundera was held recently. This article is extracted from ‘Aseniya Kusum’ Wimal Abahayasundara felicitation.



Wimal Abhayasundara addressing the Poets’ Conference in Malaysia 1991.

Reminiscence of by-gone three years of a person’s birthday celebration held September 17, 1996, a man born to this land, not with a silver spoon in his mouth but breast-fed by his mother and nurtured in healthy environment, and endowed with a masterly clarion call with the force of his pen, in a multifaceted arena to push forward a dormant culture, drives me to write this short note not to praise him, instead to infuse novel strength in the imagery of our fellowmen on their advent into the twenty first century, nay the new millennium.

Poetic thought

Wimal Abhayasundera on his 75th birthday made a tremendously heartening presentation of five manuscripts of his poetic thought at a simple charming get-together sans liquor, a confab represented by a sizeable group of friends from diverse walks of life.

The intention of the poet was, apparently to ease himself of a burden which he carried a long way, transferring that burden to the nation and the country at large, to accept the offer or otherwise reject it if considered useless.

In limine, it becomes my pleasant duty to evaluate concisely the five manuscripts, namely: Sudu Welitalawe Gum Negena Sel Gee (Eloquent Poetic Thoughts Worthy of Lithic Records Writ in Silvery Sand Dunes), Lankadheesha - Ravanayanaya and Other Creative Operas (Epic of Ravanayanaya, Story of the Lord of Lanka, Radha-Madhava and Musicological Development, Buddhist Women in the Ancient Past and Denuwana Two Eyes.

Sudu Welitalawe, the first poem consisting of non-related 116 topics running into 256 pages in print is by nature an oxymoron contradiction a figure of speech which explicates the enshrined meaning pregnant with new ideas, written in multi-meter forms depicting a long history coupled with socio-anthropological survey of the Welitota region - written in difference tunes carefully used to suit pronounced poetic justice.

Ravanayanaya, in contrast with the epic of Ramayana, is well known all over the world.

In the words of Sri Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India - the Maha Bharatha and the Ramayanaya, probably took shape in the course of several hundred years and even subsequent additions were made to them.

They deal with the early days of the Indo-Aryans, their conquests and civil wars when they were expanding and consolidating themselves, but they were composed and compiled later.

I do not know of any book anywhere which has exercised such a continuous and pervasive influence on the mass mind as these two epics. Dating back to a remote antiquity they are still a living force in the life of the Indian people’s life.

Among the earliest memories of my childhood are the stories from these epics told to me by my mother or the older ladies of the house, just as a child in Europe or America might listen to fairy tales or stories of adventure.

There was for me both adventure and the fairy element in them. And then I used to be taken every year to the popular open-air performances where the Ramayana story was acted and vast crowds came to see it and joined in the processions.

It was all very crude, but that did not matter for everyone knew the story by heart and it was carnival time.” (The story of the Ramayana is equally popular in other South-Eastern lands as wall paintings, art galleries as well as in periodical dramatic performances).

The villain in the Ramayana is Ravana - the Lord of Lanka, said to have invented the Pushpaka-Ratha (popularly known as Dandu-Monera or wooden peacock) the first air plane known in legendry or history, exhibiting ‘The Veena’ emblem, a musical instrument.

Ravana flew across seas to Bharata Desha in the Pushpaka-Ratha in order to abduct the pretty princess Sita, wife of Rama, the renowned archer, purposely to show Ravana’s valour and super-strength.

However, the Indian people, up to the present day consider Ravana as the World’s worst villain for this bastardly act committed. And, at the termination of carnival time each year they burn an effigy of Ravana in order to stream-off their hatred and vent their venomous feelings.

Theme of the Ramayana depicts altogether a converse view in that Ravana never concerted any immoral advance to (Janaki) Sita when he abducted her.

Super strength

Ravana’s Queen Mandodari was herself a Beauty even prettier than Sita. Hence, the purpose of Ravana to abduct her illegally out of the custody of Rama, his counterpart in India was purely to manifest his super strength. Ravana kept Sita in safe custody giving her the best of comfort she deserved in the salubrious environs of Sita-Eliya, of Nuwara Eliya.

The Veena emblem sported in Puspaka-Ratha stands to prove the high degree of cultural attainment, inherited by the contemporary Lankan Nation before the arrival of Vijaya, according to extant legendry.

Whatever the authenticity of the Ramayana, Lankadheesha Ravanayanaya amplifies in reciprocity, a superb work of art a refilled Opera equally suitable for electronic and print media.

The plot in the play merits expansion in the form of an historic novel in reply to the ancient epic of Ramayana. Never before has such approach been made. Radha Madhava - a compendium of operatic themes written by the lyricist for the radio and television well preserved for the future.

In order to make this compendium more valuable and useful for students of musicology in the Schools of Fine Arts, the author has aptly added innovative notes.

Music teachers

His earlier works Nishadee and Sangeeta-Samhita pioneer works used by Sri Lankan students are landmark texts popularly used for nearly four decades by music teachers as well as students.

Denuwan (two eyes) the youngest poem penned by the writer dragging forth his seventy-fifth year failing in eye-sight, undoubtedly, he would have realized the value of sight.

But the poet never wished to accept a defeatist attitude in life and was even more vigilant to express his aesthetic thoughts to an assistant to reduce such ideas to writing. Further, he was more careful to see that job perfectly completed.

In the respect he got that other to repeat what had been written on paper, being careful not to make mistakes in grammatical usage, the Sinhala idiom or the umlaut theory (i.e., change in the sound of a vowel caused by its assimilation to another vowel in the next following syllabic).

One would even surmise that the poet in Denuwana refers to his wife, who parted this life in May 1998, few days before he completed this final work.

English poet

He expressively pays a heart-searching tribute in memoriam to Kalyani, whom he calls Kalana in the poem. Her demise was a deadly blow to put him off the track, but he was not embittered, like John Milton (1608-1674) the illustrious English poet who wrote Paradise Lost and Paradise Gained and several elegies.

Milton himself was embittered by the ridicule of his ideas, though he had carved a name as a radical.

He sought divorce from his first wife Mary Powell who was half his age at the time of marriage. Within a few weeks she left him to return to her parents.

At the quintuplet launch of these books, era the dawn of the 21st Century and the next millennium, plans are afoot to give adequate recognition to the evergreen ideas of the veteran poet, to move in the matter of calling for an International Poets’ Conference in Sri Lanka.

He speaks with abundant experience, equipped with mementos and souvenirs collected in the course of four memorable Poets’ Conferences at international level held in

(1) England in the year 1964 at Stradford-on-Avon to celebrated the 400th Anniversary of the Bard, William Shakespeare

(2) He represented the Sri Lankan Poets at Serejevo off Belgrade in Yugoslavia, inheriting proudly a long past history - Meeting place of Aurthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Moslem cultures

(3) His tour in the People’s Republic of China and at the participation at Poets’ Conference held in Beijin in 1985

(4) He represented the Sri Lankan Poets at Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka Malaysia, at the national Language and Literary Agency of Malaysia, held in Kuala Lumpur, October 1990, as the Delegate of the Sri Lankan Government.

A noteworthy fact that he experienced at these confabs, two in Europe and two in Asia, was that all proceedings in the said Conferences were conducted in the National Language of those countries, with English as the link language.

He proudly mentioned how at such international conferences, he was requested to sing lyrics of Sinhala Poetry and when he did so in his poor rendering of Sinhala Kavi in several metrical tunes, the attentive vast gatherings even though they did not understand the meaning of such poems, readily and eloquently well received Sinhala Poetry with great rejoice and applause.

The cheering continued well, when he on invitation explained the meanings of such poems. “Language is no barrier to understand Art”, he said.

Literary festivals

Literary festivals sponsored by the respective Governments with the active participation of Peoples’ Organizations, take place each year in India, China, Persia, Italy, France, Germany, England, Japan and in many Universities in the USA as Summer Vacation Programs.

After all, when Sri Lanka celebrated her First Sahitya Day Festival in September 1960. Mulkraj Anand from India was invited as our chief guest.

Dharmapadeepika of Gurulugomi came on the Havelock Town Senior School Stage, in the form of a Dance Dramatic Opera. That was nearly forty years ago. We have not been able to attain that height thereafter.

It is therefore the need of the day to celebrate an International Poets’ Conference at the dawn of the Year 2000.

Wimal Abhayasundera is happy to associate himself in whatever manner possible within his means and provide ‘know-how’ in the organization of such poets’ conference at international level which definitely will bring credit to Sri Lanka.

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