Sinhala ballad portrays a pulse of the people - Parakrama Kodithuwakku | Sunday Observer
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Sinhala ballad portrays a pulse of the people - Parakrama Kodithuwakku

Parakrama Kodithuwakku

Veteran poet and writer Parakrama Kodithuwakku’s latest book in Sinhala is ‘සකල සිරින් පිරි කවි කොලේ’ (Sakala Sirin Piri Kavi Kole) which is a research work on Sinhala ballad or Kavi Kolaya, published by Sarasavi Publishers. As it is the only book written on Sinhala ballad that has a history of over a century, the Sunday Observer met Parakrama Kodithuwakku to seek his views on the book.


Q: You mention in this book that you started this research over 50 years ago?

A: It was in my fourth or fifth grade of my school at Vatapotha, Kahawatta, Ratnapura that I first saw Sinhala ballad or Kavi Kolaya. Vatapotha school, then sheltered with coconut leaves, had only about 50 or 60 students and there was a railway station too at Vatapotha. One day, when I was going to school, I saw a man standing on the platform and reciting a Sinhala ballad or Kavi Kolaya. Actually, he was walking to and fro, singing the ballad with a high tone and a lot of emotions.

At that moment tears fell from my eyes, because he was not just reciting it, but was acting seriously before the people. There was a shock value in his voice. Not only he was singing for the crowd, but also hearing his own voice, like inspecting it. Reciting a ballad is an art and Sinhala Kavi Kolakaraya or the ballad artiste knew this art well. He could be considered as an artiste invariably.

When I went to the market at Vatapotha, in my seventh grade of the school, mother gave me Rs 20 and asked me to buy her a ballad or Kavi Kolaya. Those days, it costs only three or five cents. My mother recited it for us in a soft voice, sitting on the verandah of our house in the evening. I go to the railway station not just for hearing the Kavi Kolakaraya or the ballad artiste, but to see him as well amid the crowd, when the school was closed earlier.

I have been collecting ballads since my childhood. Now, I have over 1,000 ballads or Kavi Kola. It was during my teaching stint at the age of 25 that I collected more ballads. As a Sinhala teacher, working in remote areas, I walked from village to village seeking ballads and meeting ballad artistes. When I had a collection of hundreds of ballads, I thought to do a research on Sinhala ballad or Kavi Kolaya.

Q: Could you elaborate how this book came about?

A: First, I collected names and addresses of the ballad artistes or ballad poets. I could collect them from the printing presses. After I found the addresses, I mailed registered post letters to them asking interviews about the ballads they created. I posted 45 letters, but only received 25 reply letters. However, those who replied, wrote me with much enthusiasm about the interviews and the letters that had no answer, returned me through the post, mentioning ‘Unknown’, ‘Cannot find’, ‘The house was demolished’, ‘Left the house’, ‘Move the place’, ‘No such person’, ‘Wrong address’, ‘No one knows’ and ‘Heard to have died’. When I saw these words, I got a shock and immediately went to see ballad artistes who replied me. In such journeys, I have been to places like Galle, Kekirawa and Kalutara. This book is based on the facts that I found in those interviews.

Q: You say that ballad or Kavi Kolaya is a great art evolved through one and a half centuries in the hands of the folk poets in Sri Lanka?

A: Yes. The first generation of the ballad artistes lived from 1865 to the 1950s. I only met the second generation artistes who began to write ballads since the 1940s. My journeys in seeking the artistes were full of adventures and happy moments. I have met senior ballad artistes, such as K.M. Gunapala in Thalawa, Wilson Jayawickrama in Galle, Simon de Silva in Kiribathgoda and Martin Appuhami in Meegahathenna. I recorded our interviews too. The time was the 1970s-’80s, a period full of uncertainty. If anyone was walking about 20 miles, with a 20 kilograms, recorder in his hand, it was a reason for the Police to question him. Hence, in spite of my long walks and got lost many occasions, I was taken to the police stations a few times. I had to spend two or three hours in vain on those occasions. They asked me questions like, “Why are you roaming in these unknown places?”, “What are these stupid things?” and “Why did you come here?”. Though I explained my intention thoroughly, they couldn’t understand me. However, I was released and I wasn’t discouraged by them.

The ballad artistes whom I met, were living in sad conditions. Some didn’t have even a table or a chair. One teacher who was a neighbour of the artiste, arranged a place in his Guru nivasaya for us to conduct the interview once as the artiste did’t have a proper place.

Q: You have a good collection of Sinhala ballads or Kavi Kola. Is there a preserved collection of Sinhala ballads in the Archives Department or the National Museum?

A: Sadly, there is not a single Sinhala ballad in our State Archive. Only about 60 -70 ballads are in the museum. I too faced difficulties in protecting these literary works. I like to give away these ballads if the Archives Department or the National Museum is coming forward. Even national universities don’t show interest to study this kind of valuable art which demonstrates the pulse of the people.

Q: Ballad artistes knew the pulse of the people?

A: Yes. They have experienced the socio-political dilemmas as well as some personnel tragedies that affected the public. There is a large number of Sinhala ballads about these issues: ‘බණ්ඩාරනායක අගමැතිතුමාට පාප මහනෙක් කල හදිය සහ ජනතාවගේ ශෝක ප්‍රකාශය’, (Killing of Prime Minister Bandaranaike by a sinful monk), ‘රුක්මණී දේවී රිය අනතුරින් මියයෑම සහ එඩී ජයමාන්නගේ විලාපය’ (Death of Rukmani Devi in a car accident and Edee Jayamanne’s lament), ‘සංකර හොල්මන හෙවත් මදන පිල්ලුව’ (Sankara Holmana alias Madana Pilluwa), ‘පානදුරේ අරිය ධම්ම හිමිගේ අපවත් වීම’ (Sudden demise of Ven. Panadure Ariyadhamma Thera), ‘කුමන්ත්‍රණය හෙවත් වැරදුණු කුරැමානම - විසිනම දෙනෙක් හිරබාරයට’ (conspiracy or the misfired aim - 29 in custody), ‘විජයගේ ගමනක අවසානය’ (End of Vijaya’s journey), ‘සේපාල ඒකනායක ඉතාලියේ අලිතාලියා ගුවන්යානය පැහැර ගැනීමේ නඩු තීන්දුව’ (Trial of hijacking an Alitalia aeroplane by Sepala Ekanayake in Italy), ‘මාරක ප්‍රේමය හෙවත් සලමන් අපුපුගේ සහ තංගම්මාගේ ශෝක ජනක කතා පුවත’ (Deadly love affair or tragedy of Salaman Appu and Tangamma), ‘ආදරය සුන්දර වරදකි, කිරිඇල්ල මැදි මහ විදුහලේ සිසුවිය දුල්මිණිගේ ශෝකාන්තය’ (Love is a sweat mistake,Tragedy of Dulmini, student of the Kiriella Madya Maha Vidyalaya), ‘විශ්ව විද්‍යාල ශිෂ්‍ය නායක දයා පතිරණ අබිරහස් ලෙස පැහැර ගෙනගොස් කපා කොටා මරා දැමූ ශෝකජනක සිද්ධිය’ (Mysterious abduction and murder of Daya Pathirana, university student leader), ‘වර්ජන වෙඩිල්ල හොනොත් වැරදුණු කුරැමානම සහ අපට වෙච්ච දේ’ (Strike or misfired aim and What happened to us), දිද්දෙණිපොත පියවතීගේ මරළතෝනිය (Scream blue murder of Diddenipoth Piyawathi). In these ballads, we can figure out how much our ballad artistes grasp the pulse of the society.

Q: Aren’t there any Sinhala ballads or Kavi Kola now in our society?

A: After the first generation of the ballad artistes from 1865 to the 1950s and the second generation from the 1940s, there is no third generation. But there may be one or two ballad artistes, such as Gampaha Jayapala Withanage, though they are not writing anymore.

Has our art of ballad writing died out? No. I don’t see this as an end of its journey, instead I see it as a way of fulfilling its route.

It has finished its historical task. Now, modern mass media have taken the task of ballad. However, though our newspaper and radio have taken its task, television has not taken it as seriously. Even the social media is not doing its task at all.

As linguist Noam Chomsky said, “Though a huge friendly society is to be born in the future, it won’t be a genuine friendly society.” It is a fake society. We cannot expect a real insight from the social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Our real friend is next of us, not far from us.