LEGENDARY VOCALIST DHARMADASA WALPOLA A DOYEN IN PLAYBACK SINGING IN SINHALA FILMS TO BE REMINISCED ON HIS 39th DEATH ANNIVERSARY
Dharmadasa Walpola was born on 27 November 1927 in Deiyannawea,Kandy ,this future play-back singer displayed his innate talents of musical virtuosity with inherited music affiliations too from his childhood. His father Charles Appuhamy a dress maker by profession tailored costumes to the Tower Hall artistes who also learnt his art from him though not much interested in studies. His mother was Karunawathie a housewife. Young Dharmadasa for a period had made masks for the Sri Lankan Army to contribute to the family expenses. His father’s close association with artistes had paved way for him to know the leading artistes on stage.Before he sang in a Sinhalese film in year 1952 there was a public poll to elect the ‘most popular vocalist” initiated by cinema newspaper titled ‘cinemawa’ of Robert Jayawardena. In this contest Dharmadasa Walpola was the easy winner polling a huge number of votes while still a novice winning the coveted trophy. In this readers voting system Dharmadasa beat all stalwarts then ,namely Kanthi Wackwella, Sunil Santha,WD Amaradewa,RA Chandrasena,PLA Somapala,,CT Fernando,Ananda Samarakoon.etc, Even in Dharmadasa’s early days he was followed and loved by many was the most celebrated Sri Lankan male playback singer of the 1950s and 1960s. Dharmadasa Walpola was an accomplished musician familiarized at playing the flute, harmonium,violin and tabla initially. Had commenced his musical career solely as a flutist for many songs for example for Susil Premaratne’s song’ Ruu Rese Adina Lese’ After Ananda Samarakoon and Sunil Santha Dharmadasa Walpola who continued in the same vein not copying the Tamil tracks containing Indian Raga Dahari music .His dominating process made Indian singers to be excluded singing in our films which was hitherto dominated by them.Dharmadasa later with ‘Geetha Kokilawa’ Latha had recorded to more than thirty Sinhalese films in Indian studios as Sri Lanka lacked the equipped studios. This tenure in India prevented the duo from recording many conventional songs in Sri Lanka.
Before that time he had won a role in Sirisena Wimalaweera’s play ‘Amma’ singing a ‘virindu’ at the tender age of just seven years. He subsequently acted and sang in the play ‘Wessanthara’ as well.To master the flute, Dharmadasa Walpola began taking teachings from Eddie Master, then attended RA Chandrasena’s music academy. Chandrasena was impressed by Dharmadasa Walpola’s aptitude to sing and after auditioning several songs with harmonium accompaniment, sent a good word to the then Radio Ceylon’s director broadcaster Thevis Guruge. At Radio Ceylon then ,Thevis Guruge had given Dharmadasa a ‘Sarala’ gee program along with a duet partner GSB Rani Perera.
For professional defense and preservation was the hall mark of Dharmadasa Walpola’s prime intention though he grew up with immense hardships at the beginning of his life.He struck to his principles very firmly during his entire life been not flexible at all. Dharmadasa always stood by his own philosophies, never wished to bow down to anyone. He has had a huge flair for music initially to hear songs.Father had bought him a radio and had sent to Eddie Master to learn music. Subsequently the family had moved to Colombo. He was an expert for the flute.When he was only 15 years old his father had passed away.Then he gave up studies totally working to maintain the family also learning music from music maestro RA Chandrasena’ s ‘Sangeetha Academy” who was totally accountable in making him a singer .It had been another student of RA Chandrasena , Vivien de Silva Boralessa who had taken Dharmadasa to the then Radio Ceylon.
For Nayagam’s film ‘Prema Tharaganya’ the song was to be sung by Aruna Shanthi and Latha Walpola nee Fernando.The song was unable to be sung properly after several takes. Then the tablist M Ariyadasa had said he will get a novice vocalist had brought in Dharmadasa Walpola late night with whom the song was completed in just one take. It is recalled that at that time the equipment was rather inferior, where the sounds were in a lorry and the singers stood on an incline in Kandana. Thereafter the song ‘wasana wantha kala laba” was sung also as a duet. Film producer Nayagam wanted to avoid inconvenience in recording songs in native Ceylon then with inferior quality studios and equipment decided to do all recordings in India where many film songs were recorded, like ‘Mangala dinaye,Lankaren malak pipi’ which was the first duet song , sung at a Indian studio. Although the duo sang many duets Dharmadasa disliked women having dealings with only the Lord Buddha, his mother and sister. Had disliked Latha initially. .At the recording of Dascon when singing he had told to keep Latha at a distance. When he sang duets with Latha he also wanted to stand at a distance. When the duo was singing in so many duets many film personalities then like Hugo Master had hinted why not you two commence a married life During the period of the filming of Dingiri Menika the connection had become rigid same as the Karunaratne Abeysekera duo also having had obstacles to hurdle because of the Buddhist and Christian religions barrier to navigate. For the marriage though Dharmadasa consented was very worried as he could not obtain his mother’s consent owing to the religion’s disparity .Dharmadasa then was named as ‘one take singer’ and as the Sinhala films ‘Premasawariya’.Some had called him the‘Pemhanda’.It was revealed in television dialogues that Dharmadasa was like a divine for some fans who had worshipped his photo. The most popular duet sung initially by Dharmadasa initially was, “Nidi Yahane Aida” recorded with Vivienne de Silva Boralessa. His first solo is ” Asaray Prema Sepatha” song on Buddhist values.
The marriage of Dharmadasa and Latha had taken place in year 1956 initially at a church where temporarily the former had become a Christian, the reception had been held at the Siri Kotha hall to which Dharmadasa had made an open invitation in a newspaper to which about one thousand five hundred had attended.Latha has confessed that even the cakes and short eats had been insufficient. However, Dharmadasa had not been very happy as his loving mother had not attended the wedding though he had tried hard to pacify her, only his brother from his family had attended. But after marriage living with his mother, she had begun to like Latha very much for her mannerisms. The duo are blessed with five children Amith,Dhammika,Chaminda,Suneth and Sumith who have already entered the music industry following the footsteps of the illustrated parents.
Dharmadasa had debuted as a play back singer in the 1953 film Prema Tharangaya alongside his future wife Rita Jenevi Fernando .Thereafter a spate of duets were sung with Rita Jenevi Fernando.Dharmadasa dominated male playback singing in Sri Lankan cinema providing a counterpoint to the harsh Carnatic style of Mohideen Beg his softer more melodic voice which lent itself to love songs. His best known work during this period included “Seeya Manamalaya” from film Asoka (1955), “Amu Pitisareyeki” (1955), “Upatha Labaa” and “Suba Aasiri (Hanika Yamang)” from Mathalang (1955), “Surathalee” from Surathalee (1956), “Katey Kiri Suwanda” in Sandeshaya (1960), “Oya Belma” and “Waththe Wetunu Pol Athu” from Kurulu Bedda (1961) and “Man Mula Wela” from Deepshika (1963).Dharmadasa’s duetting partners included Vivienne de Silva Borelessa, Chitra Somapala (“Pem Suwandai”, the first time she had sung a love song) and Rukmani Devi in addition to Latha.
After his debut in singing in films sang for films in Sujatha as second film followed by Ahankara Sthree contributing his scintillating voice to over 120 films during a period of thirty years from 1952 to 1983 was really amazing. Mathalang, Surathalee, Sukumali,Surangani Asoka, Suhanda Sahoyuro, Suraya, Surasena,Sundara Birinda ,Seethala Wathura, Deevarayo,,Veera Wijaya, Radala Pilituwa,Dostara etc. were just a few among hundreds of movies that captured hearts of the people with his exciting voice. Unfortunately this golden voice withered away with his final song “Asha Mal Pawan” in film ” Samanalee” released in January, 1979 to the Sinhala Cinema.The everlasting memories of favorite hits like ‘Mae Saumya Rathri’ in Sirimali, “Satnaki Jeevithe” , ‘Oya Belma Oya Kelma in Kurulu Bedda, Kate Kiri Suwanda in Sandesaya, Mangalad dinye in Sithal Watura Jeevithe Jeevethe in Kolamba Hadayo will be well etched in the minds for another millennium or so. Kavi ‘gayana’ in Dingiri Menika”, Kurulu Bedda has influenced the listeners with highest esteem even today. He was also the play-back singer not only for leading Sri Lankan actors like Gamini Fonseka, Joe Abeywickrema,Ananda jayaratne,Herbert Seneviratne,Roy DeSilva, but also to Indian actors like Jemini Ganeshan. He sang for films in Sujatha as his second film followed by Ahankara Sthree, Contribution of his scintillating voice to over 120 films during a period of thirty years from 1952 to 1983 remaining at the zenith of popularity.
The songs recorded by this great play-back singer Dharmadasa in Jeevithaya and Samanalayo are highly popular even today though the two films were never screened as in the good old days the songs of the films are released in books, gramophone discs in advance. The song “Kowlan Handaine” and “Amba Damba Sevanali” sung with Sydney Artigala for the film “Jeevithaya” are still a hot desired among the public.As far back in the latter part of 1950s and 1960s dubbing Sinhala dialogue into Hindi and Tamil movies became highly popular with fully packed audiences. Dharmadasa was adjudged the best play-back singer for his pre-eminent golden voice over the world acclaimed Indian singers.Dharmadasa Walpola was not only the leading play-back singer but also the undeniable singer in ballet radio and stage drama music. His masterly performance of singing in Bari Sil, Kela Mal and Nawarella, famous ballet music composed by Musician Dr Premadasa Khemadasa captured the fully packed spell bound audiences at every presentation. Seegiri Gala Musapath Kala and ” Sirikatha Ena Maga” are highly popular songs even today as well as the lovely song Uttama Muni Dalada Balan Saki from Dalada Watha Radio Drama .
In addition to play-back singing Dharmadasa sang for HMV and Columbia records. It was a privilege to sing for both those commercial branding labels at the time. Among the songs recorded were “Sansare Duka Nesu Shakya Raja”, “Ananda Javanika”, “Ase Gethe Madura Geethe” with Rukmani Devi, “Sri Lankave Shantha Sobana”, “Dakina Dakina Wele”, “Manike Manike Run kande”, “Suwanda Gange Adere Ape” with Latha and a solo like “Me Prema Kathawe” These songs became highly popular overnight.Dharmadasa had shared his golden voice for duets with Latha, G.S.B.Rani Perera, Rukmani Devi, Viviene de Silva Boralessa, Chitra Somapala, Nanda Malinii,Sujatha Attanayake.Jikki, Jamuna Rani K Rani etc. He had sung under the directors Mohammed Gausse, R Muththusami,BS Perera,Sunil Shantha R. A. Chandrasena, PLA.Somapala.Premasiri Khemadasa,Sarath Dassanayake,Santh Nandasir. Also he recorded songs under the direction of famous Indian musicians as Dakshina Murthi, SS Weda, TR Papa,R Sundaram.Raja Thangendra,Gowradanam and Jayadev. For many films for example Uda Rata menike and Ramyalatha all duets were sung by the duo Dharmadasa Walpola and Latha Walpola.
There was a period of about a decade when Dharmadasa abstained from singing for reasons best known to him. During this time he had started a small boutique in his premises also he grew a lot of plants as a hobby, but had been singing at home as singing was in his blood. He was not at all flexible in his own desires. When he sang a duet it is he who selected the female vocalist. He never sang in outdoor concerts, particularly as he forget lyrics ,also as he should be satisfied with all the individuals involved in the concert.Dharmadasa charged a certain fee for his singing,he never consented for anything below his fee, instead had sung free.His associates were all low middle class folks, desisted from accepting invitations from the affluent.He never believed in borrowing money ,once he had been short of twenty five cents to return to Kelaniya by bus. As he disliked borrowing money he and Latha had walked all the way home. He had refused to sing in open air concerts , it is believed that one reason was he forgets lyrics, but the main reason was he needed persons he wanted personnel he liked to be the orgnisers. Once the Prime Minister R Premadasa wanted to gift him a dwelling for his contribution to music, but he had refused giving the reason, as he earns money from his profession. Latha in a recent television dialog had lamented that for any artiste these type of bureaucracy should not prevail but has to be flexible.He once when MS Fernando made a plea for him to sing at the Kandy Lake club, he had consented on a strong promise that MS Fernando should not touch liquor during the trip and during the show. Dharmadasa was used to getting up daily at 4.30am, after a bath had worshipped Lord Buddha for an hour.The children also needed to follow suite had to by heart the words of the ‘thun Suththraya’, which the children had disliked but now they are contented as they know by heart the ‘thun suthraya’. For films Uda Rata menike and Ramyalatha all duets were sung by the duo Dharmadasa Walpola and Latha Walpola.Dhammika the only daughter of Dharmadasa Walpola who regards her father for his unique qualities stands by him despite his unusual characteristics said at television dialogues father is her hero endeavors to follow his life style and qualities. Dhammika prior to his demise on the 25th of December 1983 had recorded duets in a ‘sarala gee’ at the SLBC.Dhammika also reminisced a rare quality of father that he accepted his payment at any recording or show only after the rest were all paid.
Once during the period, he abstained from recordings and singing owing to frustration, lyricist Ajantha Ranasinghe had visited home with lyrics of a patriotic song to voice, initially Dharmadasa had refused but when Ajantha was leaving had called him back asked who is doing the music, when he said Sanath Nandasiri had agreed. The song was “Uththama Muni Dalada”, having studied the lyrics Dharmadasa had sung which was recorded in the first take, like earlier at the studios. Since this recording he again had returned to sing at the SLBC with GSB Rani Perera and Latha. During the tenure he was not taking part in recordings he had commenced a music class ‘Dharmadasa music school in Maradana for which initially RA Chandrasena had facilitated him. Later on ,the class for his convenience was shifted to his dwelling in Waragoda ,Kelaniya.
It is a pity that many artistes after their demise had not been felicitated or saluted by our numerous governments having a cultural ministry too.. Dharmadasa Walpola is one such example having expired at the age of fifty six years on the 25th December 1983.After his demise a group of his ardent fans had formed a society named ‘Dharmadasa Walpola Rasika Samajaya” based at number 96B Kotugodella Veediya ,Kandy.This was interestingly as Dharmadasa Walpola was a native of Deiyannawea,Kandy.It is learnt that the Hony Secretary Vernon G de Siva a retired executive of Bank of Ceylon had taken a lot of interest in commemoration events of late Dharmadasa Walpola by organizing ‘pinkamas’, almsgivings at numerous intervals with the assistance of all members of the “Dharmadasa Walpola Rasika Samajaya”. Vernon Silva and the fellow members took further steps in communicating with the honorable President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the year 2018 by meeting the related authorities on appointment to submit a proposal to name part of the road beginning from the Hungomahoda junction to Rani Dissanayke Road junction to near to his dwelling as ‘Dharmadasa Walpola Place’.The process of obtaining permission was a bit cumbersome as the then Coordinating secretary to the President Sanath Weerasuriya had to coordinate this issue through the Divisional Secretary, Kelaniya Pradeshiya Saba, Executive Engineer ,Gampaha and the Authorities of the Road Development Authority. His fans and friends, led by Vernon De Silva, had organized a Commemorative Death Anniversary Celebration in Kandy as a tribute to this versatile play-back singer with meritorious deeds of blood donation program, Sangika Dana, launch of a book written on Dharmadasa’s biography , a blood donation campaign and issue of a commemorative stamp to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary.The name board ‘Dharmadasa Walpola Pedesa” that was erected in year 2018 to coincide with his thirty fifth death anniversary on the 25th December 2018 at a solemn ceremony .Unfortunately some vandals as often happens in native Sri Lanka had destroyed the name board. Vernon de Silva the Honorary Secretary was very upset and hurt but did not keep quiet had ordered for a new board “Dharmadasa Walpola Pedesa” which is to be erected on the 25th December 2022 to coincide with the legends thirty nineth death anniversary at the same location.
Dharmadasa Walpola was a thorough gentleman who strictly adhered to his principle of safeguarding the dignity of all singers despite it might have caused disadvantage to him. However, the bold decision taken by him has benefitted the future generations involved in music to maintain the distinction of their musical career. Despite his immeasurable contribution of musical brilliancy, he was never recognized with awards except a limited number of articles written particularly in English media. This article is an attempt to reminisce with honor the immeasurable contribution made by him to national music. It is the bounded duty of all Sri Lankans to salute this great musician as a mark of gratefulness in recognition of his musical excellence to the nation .At a recent television program Suneth Walpola mentioned this too, commended the particular television channel for organizing such a commemorative program to felicitate him.
Sunil Thenabadu e mail firstname.lastname@example.org WhatsApp 0061444533242