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