|Understanding modern Sinhala lyrics
Reviewed by Prof Sunanda Mahendra
For quite sometime the Sinhala terms gitaya, gipadamala,
gipadarachana, gita rachana have been commonly used to denote the
English term lyrics or the compositions that go into the making of a
lyrical creation or a song which again lurk in varying meanings as used
in the context of the country concerned.
The words as sung to the accompaniment of the musical instrument lyre
had been known as a lyric in the context of Greeks and handed down over
the ages as a common usage.
Today in order to either differentiate or clarify the difference
between a poem and a lyrical composition the word geyapada or geya kavya
had come to stay and now it is entering into the collections of lyrical
compositions as is seen in the new collection of Sinhala lyrics of
Professor Sunil Ariyaratna, who had been a scholar cum researcher of the
subject area over a period extending to about three decades, wherein he
had not only researched, but also had written quite a number of lyrics
to various channels like radio, film ballet, television and cassette.
He remains one of the constant prolific contributors to the medium as
a lyric writer and most of his compositions are collected as
anthologies. His anthology Makarandaya won a state literary award for
the best collection of lyrics.
In his latest collection of lyrics down the years, titled Nutana Geya
Kavya Sanhita [Godage 2005] with a long introduction covers all types of
lyrics written for various types of stage plays like nadagama, nurti
gramophone records, radio programmes, films, audio cassettes and various
other social events.
The most striking factor in this collection is the very collection
itself with forty-three creators who could be classified as
professionals and another seventy-five writers classified as perhaps
occasional creators or non-professional, if I am permitted to use the
term taking absolute liberties from the classification.
But I am at a loss to understand whether this classification is
methodical or scientific, for the simple reason that a person may write
one good lyric in his lifetime, and still remain to be a good lyric
writer well remembered and need no reason why he or she should not be
classed as professional.
For instance, a person may have written thousand words for songs sung
by popular singers or churned out lyrical compositions in thousands for
the radio due to the fact that he or she happened to be engaged in that
Should this be a criterion to be taken seriously? The compiler's
intention, I feel is to represent the various periods and channels where
the song had been used in order to make available the words for the sake
of a study at various levels. As such I found the long preface surfing
the trends of creativity originating from sources where the words and
the songs had been used.
His starting point is Pilippu Singho, the creator attributed to the
very first nadagama, where he lays down three of his popular songs with
abstruse verbal patterns yet when sung emerges to be a pleasing song.
This, I think is a paradoxical situation for some of the songs with
Hindi melodies have been dubbed into Sinhala or Sinhala words coined to
suit the Hindi melody may look absurd meaningless oddities if the words
are separated from the melody, yet when sung, pleases the ear as a
result of the original tune. Passing several ages, the compiler traces
the gradual development of the Sinhala lyric as it stands today in the
popular cultural milieu.
From another perspective the Sinhala giya or gitaya [the song] has
its different connotations. One example is the gikavya genre like the
classic kavsilumina. Why was that classic denoted as gikavy? The normal
pattern of understanding is that the term "gi"[gitaya] is used to denote
But "kavi" is poetry. As such the term gikavya belongs to a genre of
poetry but geya kavya may refer to words in songs minus the musical
interpretation. But what exactly is a song separated from its musical
In the Sinhala literary canons as found in textual interpretation the
poet is the person who can even create a song and the classification
into a narrow category is hardly possible. In this context of
understanding and interpretation, the poet himself is qualified to be a
lyric writer and the two terms are synonymous.
One more intention of the compiler is to help the literary enthusiast
to examine the words as written down in the form of lyrical compositions
and their changing patterns in creative communications with the ensuing
changes brought about by the growth of mass media channels. As such the
words that go into the making of songs have to be considered as creative
literary messages in mass media channels.
In this direction the compiler leaves no stone unturned in his
findings of types of Sinhala lyrics written over the years giving access
to major and minor contributions, allowing the reader and the scholar to
examine the various verbal patterns experiences and interpretations in
the area of diction linked with the making of a song irrespective of its
It is mentioned in the resume to the book that the introduction of
the gramophone in 1904, the beginning of the radio broadcasting system
in 1925 and the wide spread of the cassette towards 1970s enabled the
growth of the Sinhala song over the years, making it a more effective
and popular medium of expression. Today the song is one of the most
popular forms of expression and one of the most controversial factors in
the creative communication forms.
This is visualized in such a manner that a major part of the music
broadcasting is devoted by the FM channels and the television services
both in the capacity of a commercial venture as well as other means.
This careful collection of Sinhala lyrics [just a handful from
thousands according to the compiler] over the years could be received by
two major sections of our society, the popular song lover who is attuned
to the popular broadcasting channels and the sensitive song lovers and
academics who so wish to conduct researches on the subject of