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Rukmani Devi: Sri Lanka’s nightingale

The 32nd death anniversary of Rukmani Devi, the nightingale of Sri Lanka in Sinhalese singing counterpart of Latha Mangeskhar, the excellent songstress in India. Undoubtedly she would be fell recently remembered on that memorable occasion with nostalgic memories by all music lovers, those who were near and dear to her and her film fans all over the island. Born as Daisy Daniels at Ramboda near Nuwara-Eliya in the early 1920s’, her father was of Indian Tamil origin who had settled down in our country. The Daniels were blessed with daughters.


Rukmani Devi

Rukmani Devi as she was known in the fascinating world of films, also reigned supreme as the Queen of Melody for many decades. The first lady of the screen commenced her schooling at St Mathews’ College, Dematagoda, Colombo 9 and later attended St Clare’s Girls’ College, Wellawatte and Methodist College, Colombo. By this time they came to live in Colombo and later Moratuwa.

That pigtailed schoolgirl of seven first became known as the girl with the voice of an angel when she participated in Christmas Carols at her last two schools. However, her first mentor in recital was Chandralekha, a teacher at St Mathews’ and the wife of the wellknown artist J D A Perera. But it was that well loved favourite ‘Whispering Hope’ which she sang as the distraught wife in the Christmas play The Cobbler’s Wife staged by the pupils of St Clarkes which put her on the road to fame.

Seated in the audience that evening were the Abeysinghe brothers, Walter and Peter the foremost activists of the Sinhala Natya Sabha who decided to make her the heroine in the play Ramayanaya. Even as a child she was able to convey real emotion across the footlights and moved the members of the audience to tears by her very first performance as Seetha. Soon she began appearing as the heroine in a number of plays staged by the drama club among them Dick Dias’ Janakiharana and Mayawathie.

Her first recording was a duet which she sang along with H W Rupasinghe who was her earlier guru. From that maestro she learnt the elements of voice production and breath control.

The most important lesson was to sing from heart and sign naturally. Their duet rendered as a gramophone record Siri Buddhagaya Vihare was an instant hit.

The Daniels family shifted to Moratuwa from Colombo and from there to Negombo. In that lovely town Rukmani Devi had the opportunity to meet and came to know the well known comedian of the day Eddie Jayamnne. The Jayamannes were much respected people of Negombo. Their first get-together or rather confrontation was at the Negombo beach. Instantaneously she fell in love with that happy-go-lucky young man, her future husband to be.

Eddie’s heart too was shot at by the arrows of Cupid. He was mad over her and as there was parental opposition on the part of Rukmani, the young couple had no alternative but to elope.

Eddie Jayamanne pre-planned the elopement to take place soon after a party attended by Rukmani and her father.

That romantic adventure was like an act in a drama.

The parents opposed the marriage on the ground that Eddie did nor have a permanent job not proper education to get a white collar job or even a source of sound income for them to live comfortably.

However, Eddie used to remark sarcastically: “I am a JP, UPM”. (Junior passed, unable pass matric) (matriculation examination of the London University) that was the educational requisite for a middle level job. Rukmani’s parents went to courts opposing the marriage of their up and coming talented actress cum singer daughter in the Sinhalese drama circles.

Eddie filed a petition seeking to get married to Rukmani as she was then minor-just 20 years old below the age of majority of two years.

That matter came up before Dr R F Dias (LL D), District Judge, Colombo, later senor judge of the Supreme court. E G (Emil Guy) Wickramanayake, QC appeared for Eddie Jayamanne the plaintiff petitioner seeking permission of Court to marry Rukmani Devi, Sylvan Fernando, advocate from Moratuwa later of Gampaha District Courts appeared on behalf of the respondent, the father of the girl opposing the marriage.

Permission or matrimony was granted after hearing several arguments adduced on behalf of both parties according to law.

The jubilant two lovers got married at the Catholic Church, Kandana, in 1942.

Her marriage to Eddie Jayamanne, the king of comedy from Negombo, paved the way to the progress of the Sinhalese cinema in an unprecedented manner.

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