Sunday, July 28, 2013

Multi-faceted professor now double D.Litt

When a 64-year-old academic devotes a good part of his life for the welfare of undergraduates and the progress of the university he serves in, he certainly deserves recognition. In addition to being an academic, he is also a researcher of music and literature, a literary conservationist, a film director, author and lyricist. His record is certainly one not many can match. He is Dr Sunil Ariyaratne, Senior Professor of Sinhala at the Sri Jayawardenapura University.

Last week, the University where he has served since 1985 (after a short stint at the Kelaniya University having moved out of the Jaffna University, when all the Sinhala Faculty academic staff and the students were sent to other universities in 1979 due to the communal problems), awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters recognizing his yeoman service. In fact, this was the second time he was honoured with a D.Litt, the same honour having been bestowed on him two years ago by the University of Visual and Performing Arts.

While the Sri J’pura University was in the process of honouring him, Sunil A was busy following up on the statue he had commissioned the country’s leading sculptor, Sarath Chandrajeewa to make of the founder and first vice-chancellor, Venerable Welivitiye Sorata Nayaka Thera. He had rendered valuable service as head of the Vidyodaya Pirivena until it gained university status after which he was appointed vice chancellor. It was then known as the Vidyodaya University. Sunil was not happy with the statue which had been put up at the University premises and decided to have one made out of his personal funds. It was ceremonially opened just a day or two after the Convocation.

I had followed Sunil A’s literary pursuits but it was only after reading through the presentation by the University’s Humanities & Social Sciences Faculty Head, Lasantha Navaratne to the Chancellor for the award of the Honorary Degree, that I realised the vast knowledge he possesses and his contribution to the country’s Sinhala and Tamil literary field. His interest in Tamil literature was after he followed a course at the Institute of Asian Studies while being on sabbatical in 1989 after fleeing to Tamil Nadu following death threats that he was a JVP sympathiser. After returning to Sri Lanka he sat the GCE O’Level exam and got a distinction for Tamil language.

He then started researching Tamil literature and has published nine books and translated five others. He was honoured with several Tamil titles and on Tamil Language Day 1996 he was presented with the award for promoting communal harmony. In 2002 he won a special award at the Tamil Literature Panel of the Cultural Department. He also won the Once a Lifetime Award presented to a Sinhalese literary figure for the service rendered to Tamil literature and the Sarvodaya National Award for promoting national harmony.

Sunil holds a first class degree from the Bhatkande University of Music and has done a lot of research into different aspects of Sri Lankan music. His first two research works – one on Baila and Kaffringa music (1985) and the other on the gramophone record era (1986) won the State Literary Award in successive years. Several others followed. In 1999 he won the State Music Award.

He first showed his talent as a writer when he published a collection of short stories – ‘Ahinskayo’ as a grade 7 student of St John’s College, Nugegoda. He published three more while in school.

As an undergrad at the Vidyodaya University, he became the first film director from the University when he directed the short film ‘Saragi’ in 1971. He scored another ‘first’ for an undergrad when he wrote the lyrics for Nanda Malini. The song was ‘Sakura mal pipila’. Since then he has done a large number of award winning compositions.

He has 19 films to his credit as a film director. He had completed ten films before his first creation was screened. That itself is a record!
He has a few milestones as a film director. His ‘Cristu Charitaya’ on the life of Christ was the first and only film on Christ directed by a Buddhist. ‘Sarungale’ brought into focus the Sinhala-Tamil communal problem – the first time a film was done on the subject. His ‘Kusa Paba’ set up a record as the highest revenue earner in the sixty plus years of Sinhala cinema.

Of his films, ‘Siribo Aiya’ (1981) won the Presidential Award for Best Film and he was selected the Best Director. ‘Sudu Sevaneli’ (2002) was the Best film at both the Presidential and Sarasaviya Film Festivals. As script writer of the film, he won the Presidential Award. Several of his films represented Sri Lanka at international festivals.

Kala Korner by Dee Cee