Incomparable master composer
Muthuswamy Master - 22nd Death Anniversary tomorrow:
Abridged from a manuscript, The Apsaras Music
Group - The first Thirty Years: 1975-2004 by Firoze Sameer
Ramaya Asari Muthusamy was born on January 5, 1926 in the village of
Nagerkovil bordering Kerala in South India. He was the only son of the
versatile South Indian musician called Ramaya Baagawadher.
The fatherís attempt at making his son practice music on a baby
violin resulted in young Muthuswamy enjoying the rare privilege of
mastering the violin at the tender age of ten. Muthuswamy thereafter
proceeded to participate in several variety entertainment recitals in
On January 21 1947, the first Sinhala motion picture in Ceylon
Kadawuna Poronduwa (Broken Promise) was screened. R Narayana lyer, the
music director of the movie, gave the opportunity for Muthuswamy to join
his orchestra, when recordings were being made in India.
Narayana lyer was quick to recognize Muthuswamyís talents as a
violinist and appointed him as his assistant. It was at one of these
recordings in India that SM Nayagam, the South Indian producer of
Kadawunu Poronduwa, met Muthuswamy. Nayagam encouraged Muthuswamy to
visit Ceylon, where, subsequently, his career as a music director was
On October 20, 1952, Mutuswamy Master joined the State-owned Radio
Ceylon Tamil orchestra as a violinist with a group of others. They
included co-violinist G Shanmugananthan, the gadam and thambura player
KK Atchuthan, Mirudhangam players T Ratnam and K Ganapathipillai, veena
player Colendavelu and E Suppiahpillai on clarinet, all playing under
the leadership of the South Indian music conductor, DS Manibaagawadher.
Sometime in 1953, Muthuswamy Master resigned from Radio Ceylon,
accepting an invitation extended by film producer Nayagam, who had built
the Sundara Murugan Navakala Sound Studios in Kandana (presently SPM
Studio) in Ceylon, to be in charge of the music section at the studio.
During this period, business tycoon cum film producer, K Gunaratnam,
who considered Muthuswamy Master as a top Carnatic violinist, sought his
services in music direction for the movies he produced. Incidentally,
Gunaratnam, while travelling in his car was shot dead on August 9, 1989
by unidentified motorcyclists at Armour Street in Colombo, during the
height of the JVP crisis.
It was in 1953 that Muthuswamy made his debut as film music director
in providing music for the Sinhala movie Prema Tharangaya.
He received the award of a certificate, for the Best Music director
for this achievement, from the South Indian Journalistsí Association at
Then followed Pudhuma Laylee (1953), Ahankaara Sthree, Maathalang,
Hitha Honda Minihek (1975) in a series of movies, leading to the road of
fame and success.
Muthuswamy who composed the background music for the hit number
Pruthugeesukaraya, which was recorded in India, in Lester James Periesís
(later Dr) celebrated Sinhala movie Sandeshaya. Muthuswamy gave a break
to budding vocalist HR Jothipala to sing this song and thereafter rocket
to fame, at a time when the great Dharmadasa Walpola held sway in the
local music field.
The melodies by Sunil Shantha and the background music for the movie
were greatly enriched by Muthuswamy Master on par with the high South
Indian standards of that time. LP record sales at Cargills topped over
Rs 100,000; a comparatively tidy sum in that era.
Sometime in 1966, Muthuswamy Master played on the first electric
Hammond organ imported to Ceylon, at the opening ceremony of the Sinhala
movie, Okkoma Hari, produced by Wijayapala Hettiarachchi. In 1974,
Muthuswamy Master received the Deepasikha award for being selected as
the musician who composed music for the most number of movies.
The OCIC recognized and honoured him for his valuable contributions
to Sinhala movie music. On January 3, 1987 he was awarded the
Layagnanavarudhee by Regional Development Minister C Rajadurai, while
his son, Mohanraj, received the Mellisai Mannan award.
While several South Indian singers sang under Muthuswamy Masterís
baton, local artistes who were backed by Muthuswamy Master included the
famed Dharmadasa and Lata Walpola (later Kalasuri), HR Jothipala,
Mohideen Baig (later Kalasuri), GSB Rani, Sujatha Perera (now Attanayake),
Milton Perera, Narada Dissasekera, Angeline Gunatilleka and others.
Notabnle were WD Amaradeva (violin), Premasiri Khemadasa (flute) (later
Dr), Sarath Dassanayake (sitar), Victor Ratnayake (violin) and
Dharmadasa Walpola (flute) all reading their respective instruments
under Muthuswamy Masterís direction.
He was instrumental in Nanda Maliniís entree to music in Daruwa
Kageda in 1960.
In recognition of his contribution to Sinhala music, a directive was
made by Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, consequent upon which
Muthuswamy Master was awarded an honourary Ceylon citizenship on April
12, 1956: a historic day on which Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaikeís
first Cabinet in the 3rd Parliament of Ceylon was sworn in.
Sometime in 1958, Muthuswamy Master re-joined Radio Ceylon as a
violinist. With the departure of the Tamil Orchestra Leader
Manibaagawadher, who held a Temporary Residency Permit (TRP) to South
India, Muthuswamy Master rose to that exalted position in the following
On December 9, 1961 Muthuswamy Master played Oya Belma Oya Kelma
Nilupul Nethai, the song in the Sinhala movie Kurulubedde, at the
ceremonial opening of the Vijaya Sound Studio in Hendala.
It was penned by lyricist and broadcaster Karunaratne Abeysekera.
Apart from being a Carnatic music teacher, Muthuswamy Master was also
His rendition of Madhura Yaame with Sujatha Perera (later Attanayake)
in the movie Sithaka Mahima was popular among the public then.
Decades later, his son Mohanrajís identical rendition of the same
number with popular female vocalist Nirosha Virajini brought about a
great degree of popularity to Mohanraj among the Sinhala speaking
During this era, several musicians used to be employed by Radio
Ceylon/CBC/SLBC on casual basis. Notable was the popular violinist MK
Rocksamy, a one time Saxophonist, who, unlike Muthuswamy Master, was not
a Carnatic musician, but later on conducted the music direction for some
20 Sinhala movies.
The other was Gadam Vidhvaan Kandraseri Krishnan Atchuthan (Kalasuri
in 1992), the Malayale from the village of Guruvaayur in Kerala, South
India, who received an honourary Ceylon citizenship from Prime Minister
SWRD Bandaranaike, on November 5, 1958. Morsing and Gadam recitals were
innovations of Muthuswamy Master in Sinhala movies.
Muthuswamy Master continued to serve as the Leader of the Tamil
Orchestra through Radio Ceylonís conversion into the CBC/SLBC, upto the
time of his retirement at age 55 on January 5, 1981 completing a total
of some 24 years in that state institution. On October 7, 1961
Muthuswamy Master married BDE Neeliya Perera, sister to the erstwhile
shenai player, violinist and member of the Ceylon Navy band, now turned
vocalist, Victor, who hails from a known Sinhala family in Kandy.
On September 27, 1962 Muthuswamy Master and Neeliya were blessed with
a son, and they named him Mohanraj, now the leader of the popular
Apsaras Music Group. Thereafter three girls followed in a row:
Chithrangi, Prasannavadhani and Keerthica.
Sinhala movie Samaawa
In early 1988, Musthuswamy Master was approached by Sinhala movie
star cum producer, Vijaya Kumaratunga, to music direct his movie,
Samaawa, directed by Shirley P. Wijerathe.
It was the first time father, Muthuswamy Master and son, Mohanraj,
were combinedly involved in a project of music direction for a Sinhala
movie at the Ceylon Studios in Narahenpita, Colombo.
On February 15,1988 Vijaya spoke to the Master over the telephone
pertaining to arrangements to be made to voice the last song by the
famous Lata Walpola on the 17th. However, come February 16, on the
verandah of his residence, Vijaya was assassinated.
On a Monday evening, June 27, 1988 Muthuswamy Master passed away
peacefully at the age of 62. State television Rupavahiniís evening news
telecast carried his obit on June 29, 1988.
At the time of his death, Muthuswamy Master had composed music for
nearly 225 Tamil and Sinhala movies.