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Sunday, 6 March 2016





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Ajantha's timeless legacy

"Ninda Neina Rathriye, Mey Paalu Kaansiye, Paaya Arundathi Tharuven, Enna Kaanthiye"

Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe

As the mellifluous voice of H.R. Jothipala, combined with the melodious tunes of Sarath de Alwis wafted through the air during a sleepless night alluded to in the song, I wondered for a moment why the announcer on the Sinhala FM channel I was listening to did not bother to mention the songwriter as usual. But I did remember who penned those unforgettable words.

Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe wrote the lyrics of this beautiful song all those years ago and the song is still popular, decades later. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most of the hundreds of songs penned by Ajantha will remain on the airwaves and in the hearts of listeners for decades to come. While many of today's new-age songs are ephemeral, Ajantha's songs are timeless - and for all time.

Ajantha's death was quite a shock, because he was so full of life and joy. Apart from his collection of perennial songs, the one thing I remember vividly about Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe is his infectious laugh. Ajantha lived a good life and his smile, and his laugh said it all. He loved his friends, he loved the arts and above all, he loved life.

Rare breed

Ajantha was not only a veteran lyricist, a rare breed in any case. He was also a senior journalist. It was a career that opened for him at quite a young age - he wrote poetry and short stories for the Children's Pages of Silumina and Peramuna newspapers. Vanitha Viththi and Lankadeepa were among the other publications that featured his work.

Later, Lake House became practically his home and by extension, almost his life. He worked as a journalist for 34 years at the Lake House newspapers including Dinamina, Silumina and Sarasaviya. He was also the chief editor of Nava Yugaya and Deputy Editor of Dinamina. He worked with all leading contemporary journalists and editors.

Born in Thalannehera, in the Kuliyapitiya District, Ranasinghe studied at the government school in Pannala and later St. John's College, Nugegoda. Initially opting to study science, later he shifted to the arts stream, perhaps based on his instinctive love for the arts and also the inspiration of his uncle and renowned artiste and author Asoka Peiris. Like a few other famous artistes, Ajantha started his career as a lyricist from Karunarathne Abeysekera's hugely popular 'Lama Pitiya'. He was also a participant of film director K.A.W. Perera's Radio Magazine. One of his earliest literary efforts was the 'Thivanka Rekha' poetry compilation of 1964.

He later tried his hand at song writing, inspired by his village upbringing, love of nature and of course, love itself. A villager at heart, many of his songs harked back to village life with nostalgia. In his song Bol Vee Ahuru' he paints a vivid picture of a paddy field kissed by a caressing wind that only a villager can truly understand. Other songs reflected the pain and ecstasy of love. He once said that most of his lyrics sprang from a first love which left him battered and bruised. Nevertheless, he also wrote songs that celebrated the sheer joy of love.

Unforgettable songs

He was so versatile that he could write lyrics to suit the tenor and voice of any contemporary singer, male or female. He had written unforgettable songs for Amaradeva, Rukmani Devi, H.R. Jothipala, Sanath Nandasiri, Victor Rathnayake, Milton Mallawarachchi and Rookantha Gunathilaka, among others. As a song writer who straddled between the old and new generations of artistes, he wrote songs for new entrants including Umariya, Meena Prasadini, Theekshana Anuradha, Ajith Bandara and Surendra Perera. There is no doubt that these songs will also become firm favourites that find a lot of airplay.

He was lucky enough to be at his peak during the heyday of the Sinhala film industry. It is not surprising that Sinhala movie songs of yesteryear are still very popular, even among very young listeners. The secret was music and songs that ideally matched the action on screen. If Jothipala matched the voices of Gamini and Vijaya perfectly, Ajantha's lyrics too blended harmoniously with the music of veteran film music directors such as Premasiri Khemadasa, Sarath Dasanayake, Rohana Weerasinghe and Somadasa Elvitigala. In line with the trend of that time, Ajantha too had to write Sinhala lyrics to Hindi music, such as 'Ninda Neina Rathriye' itself, but he did it with aplomb, giving a Sri Lankan twist and feel. He wrote songs for more than 60 Sinhala movies, starting from 'Wasana', which contained the hit song 'Pokuru Pokuru Mal Senakeli'.

Original compositions

"When you compose lyrics for a film, you have to understand the limits within which you have to work. Your songs must reflect the essence of the storyline and must be appropriate to each scene of the film. What is more, the songs must be lyrically beautiful. In a film song, the lyricist has to satisfy the director of the film and work within certain parameters. The lyrics must heighten the intensity of the scene and should be in consonance with the general theme of the film. Further, the lyricist has to develop a good rapport with the script writer and also the music director to create a memorable song," Ajantha once explained the film-songwriting process to an interviewer.

Ajantha truly excelled in original compositions such as 'Sandakada Pahane Ru Siri Warune' which reflected our heritage and cultural traits. Some of his most famous lyrics include, 'Uththama Muni Dalada'; Pokuru Pokuru Mal Senakili Omari Lathawe'; 'Bonda Meedum Kandurelle'; 'Ran Dunuke Mala Se'; 'Mey Ayurin Api'; 'Bol Vee Ahuru'; 'Rellen Rellata; 'Paalu Susane Prema Purane'; 'Mee Amba Aththe; 'Indunil Gangulal'; 'Mangala Mal dama'; 'Punchi Dawaswala'; 'Kalpana Lowa Mal-wane'; 'Siri Bo Meda'; 'Mata Wasana'; 'Raththaran Pem Purane'; 'Hanga Gallene'; 'Vikasitha Pem'; Pemathura Hengum'; 'May Mei Gaha Yata'; 'Iru Res Dorak'; 'Malin Male Ron Popiyana'; 'Duras Wannata Mey Lesin'; 'Suvanda Deni'; 'Api Ayeth Hamu Novuna Nam'; and 'Nirvana Swarna Dwarayen'.

Several artistes have released CDs containing songs written only by Ajantha. He did not forget the children in his songs - 'Kurumbatti Mashime' is one of his most well known songs for children. Ajantha was also an author - he has published several books including novels like 'Vinkel Bass' and even short stories such as 'Soldaduwa Perala Paminiyeda'. He also penned a couple of books on the film industry.

Three occasions

For his excellent output, he has won several coveted awards including Best Song Writer of the Year on three occasions and the State Literary Award. His skills as a lyricist earned him a string of Sarasaviya, OCIC Honorary, Raigam, Sumathi and Cumaratunga Munidasa awards. He was also conferred a Doctorate in appreciation of his Literary work. In 2014, the Editor's Guild of Sri Lanka honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award under the annual Journalism Awards for Excellence Programme.

Ajantha may have left us, but his lyrics are immortal. As long as the hundreds of songs he had written travel through the airwaves and fill our hearts, his creations will resonate with our feelings and our lives. Like his life itself, every word he wrote had a purpose and a meaning. That is an achievement that not many people can aspire to.


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