|Sunday, 28 November 2004|
A. W. Dharmapala of Radio Ceylon
by Ananda W. P. Guruge
This article is published to commemorate the birth centenary of veteran broadcaster A. W. Dharmapala which fell on November 24.
While radio broadcasting was still in its earliest stages in Sri Lanka, Radio Ceylon evoked wonder and curiosity. Not only the presenters of programmes but also technical personnel who brought the magic of music and voice to a little box on the mantle received special attention. A name mentioned in connection with the first Sinhala broadcast was that of A. W. Dharmapala, the young and enterprising engineer. It was his voice that the people of Sri Lanka heard in Sinhala over seventy years ago.
My close and memorable association with Dharmapala goes way back to 1951 when as a graduate student I had the privilege of being a regular broadcaster in Dr. Ediriweera Sarathchandra's "Shastriya Sangraha". Those were days when Radio Ceylon (as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was then known) had not yet come of age and the production of a programme needed constant technical support. Breakdowns were frequent as microphones went out of order or recording machines refused to work as needed.
All broadcasters, especially those of us who delivered our programmes live late in the evening, were relieved to find Dharmapala, the Outdoor Broadcasting Engineer, ready at hand with his wide repertoire of technical skills, ever smiling and always cooperative. No task was too small for him. His single-minded dedication to improving the technical aspects of broadcasting ultimately resulted in a fault-free technical infrastructure, which is undoubtedly to his lasting credit. It was thus we became friends and our friendship lasted many decades.
I came much closer to him both physically and in work in 1954 when I was entrusted with the organization of the national celebration of Buddha Jayanti to mark the dual occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's death and the founding of the Sinhala kingdom in Sri Lanka. My office was in the Home Ministry located in Torrington Square and from my office to Radio Ceylon was a brief walk of two minutes by backdoors of both buildings. The point of entry to Radio Ceylon for me was past Dharmapala's office.
As the Buddha Jayanti Programme depended heavily on the radio, I was at Radio Ceylon practically every day and some days several times. Often I needed to have Dharmapala's advice and direct involvement, especially as the entire Outside Broadcasting Operation was under his control. Buddha Jayanti activities were broadcast from all over.
A very complicated operation was when the switching on of the lights on the path to Sri Pada was an occasion when Justin Kotelawala (representing the Prime Minister, Sir John Kotelawala) and I were to speak from the Uda Maluwa. Kotelawala was very diffident whether we had the capacity to do so and I assured him that Dharmapala was there to ensure that all that was technically feasible would be perfect.
It was really so and the ceremony was heard clearly without a hitch all over the island. An eager listener in Colombo was the Prime Minister himself who had a personal interest in the supply of electricity from Lakshapana to Sri Pada as the fulfillment of a vow. I told him of the most efficient and helpful Engineer of Radio Ceylon and his staff who made this broadcast possible.
An immediate result of Dharmapala readiness to cooperate fully in the Buddha Jayanti activities was that he was entrusted with equipping a mobile public address and outdoor broadcasting unit for the Lanka Buddha Mandalaya. Walkers Limited was supplying the van but it was the Prime Minister's own decision that the technical aspects of the project was to be entrusted to Dharmapala. It was no easy task because he did it entirely as a voluntary activity outside his normal office hours. I have often been to the workshop after office to find that Dharmapala was not only doing all the technical designing but also taking upon himself the detailed tasks of wiring and fitting sophisticated equipment.
For 1955, we had the most up to date broadcasting unit performing a wide variety of activities. The unit was used to send monks all over the island to preach in villages which had no monks. It handled all outdoor broadcasting activities from every nook and corner of the country. So conscientious and attached Dharmapala was to his project that he personally serviced the equipment periodically and looked after its frequent upgrading.
Produced by Lake House