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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.