Pandith Amaradeva, A Sri Lankan Icon: His Life, Music and the Sinhalese Cultural Revival

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Copyright: Jayasuriya, Abigail
This dissertation centres on the career and music of Sinhalese cultural icon, Pandith W. D. Amaradeva. More specifically, it investigates the widely held claim that Amaradeva had an unparalleled impact upon Sri Lankan music and culture. The investigation involves historical research, primary data collection including interviews, and musicological and song text analysis. It is hypothesised that one of the reasons for the persistence of this claim has to do with the socio-historical context in which Amaradeva emerged as a creative musician. An examination of the development of Sinhalese nationalism indicates that colonialism created an environment for the emergence of an Anglicised elite class who became the cultural gatekeepers of the island but grew increasingly distant from endogenous culture and heritage. While the Sri Lankan Buddhist revival of the mid-nineteenth century brought about a cultural re-awakening, endogenous music remained in the shadows. While there was some interest in researching endogenous music during the early twentieth century, early popular songs drew mainly from exogenous sources. From 1906 to 1930 popular songs were derived from North Indian ragas and theatre melodies, and after the 1930s from Indian film tunes. Pandith Amaradeva was arguably the most influential musician in forging a new genre of Sinhalese song in the 1940s called sarala gee (“light songs”) that drew on endogenous folk traditions and was considered an authentic form of expression by Sinhalese bourgeoisie nationalists. It is argued that Amaradeva was the most historically significant of musicians who forged sarala gee not only because of his prolificacy, but because his compositions were more closely attuned to the sentiments of the Buddhist revival, the subsequent movements that embraced nativist linguistic affiliations, and the nostalgia for a perceived idyllic pre-colonial past. It will also be argued that through a cosmopolitan approach to composition that included a carefully proportioned combination of South Asian and Western musical elements, Amaradeva found favour with the influential nationalists and simultaneously touched the lives of the broader Sinhalese population.
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PhD Doctorate
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