Raigampura Kalakaruwo (Artistes of Raigampura) by former Inspector General of Police Victor Perera was launched two weeks ago at Colombo Public Library.
The book, published by Sarasavi Publishers, focuses on the artistes in Raigam Koralaya and academically describes their service to the respective fields aside from presenting biographical notes on those artistes.
This is the ninth book of his titled which includes three novels and two State Literary Prize winning classical books Kalutara Disawa (District of Kalutara) and Police Ithihasaya saha Praja Police Sevaya (Police History and Community Police Service) as well. Following are excerpts from an interview that the Sunday Observer had with him:
Q: How did you enter the literary world?
A: After my retirement as IGP in 2008, I was appointed as the first Governor of the Northern Province from which I retired in 2009. Thereafter, I was appointed as Director General of Rehabilitation of Drug Users at the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) in Rajagiriya where I worked for two years.
In my tenure there, I was able to meet Prof. Carlo Fonseka who was then Chairman of the NDDCB.
One day, after one of my meetings I had a chance to converse with him extensively on disaster management. I had some academic knowledge on this subject since I had followed two courses in the USA (at the Luciana University of Police Academy) and Malaysia.
So, after our conversation, Prof. Carlo asked me, “Mr. Perera, why don’t you write a book on this?” On my retirement from that post, I thought about it thoroughly and began to write a book which was published in 2014 as Apada and Apada Kalamanakaranaya (Disaster and Disaster Management). So that’s how I entered the literary world.
Q: How does this book, Raigampura Kalakaruwo, come about?
A: I was born and grew up in Horana. So I was able to associate with people, rural culture and geography in the Kalutara district very closely. Because of that, in 2017, I published a book titled Kalutara Disawa (District of Kalutara). This book which comprised more than 700 pages was awarded the State Literary Prize in 2018.
Thereafter, I authored another book on Kalutara titled Visiveni Siyawase Kalutara Disawe Gemi Sanskrutiya (Rural Culture of Kalutara District in 20th Century), published in 2021.
I wrote these two books to point out our true values of rural culture in Kalutara because I personally experienced how our values began to decline after the advent of the open economy in 1977.
In the meantime, I was able to meet Janak Premalal, a prominent teledrama and stage drama artiste from Horana.
As we are both from the same area, I knew him and his father, Sirisena Premalal, a veteran playwright. Janak told me, “You have produced two books on culture and geography of the Kalutara district, but you can’t forget the many veteran artistes in Kalutara whose resources are gradually disappearing.”
When I thought about Janak’s claim, I realized its importance. There are two types of artists in Raigam Koralaya, one is solely traditional artists who continued their art traditionally which means from father to son. Those mainly include traditional dancers and drummers who performed rituals such as Gam Madu, Devol Madu and Shantikarma.
They did not have much theoretical knowledge but possessed vast practical knowledge.
The other type were modern artists who had inborn talent and theoretical knowledge more than the others. Those include musicians, singers, song writers, playwrights, actors, writers and painters.
While realizing the value of these artistes, I also understood that most Raigam artistes, especially traditional artistes, were already dead and gone and the resources that can be used to know about them and their art were also declining.
I felt that if I did not write about them, our future generations would not find any trace about them. Therefore, I took it as my duty to compile the book. So that’s how I embarked on this venture.
Q: We know Raigam Koralaya has important educational institutes such as Horana Thakshila and Sri Palee. How do you see them?
A: You mentioned two institutes, but there is another one Horana Vidyarathana. Though it was a Pirivena initially, now it is a school. Sri Palee College was founded by revolutionary educationist and politician Wilmot Perera in 1934. Since Perera was a student from Shantiniketan, India, he was inspired by it to establish the Sri Palee.
Its foundation stone was laid by Rabindranath Tagore.
The name Sri Palee means a place where the goddess of fine arts lives. When the Sri Palee College began to thrive, a fine art center called Arundathi Kalayatanaya was also established near the school. This fine art center later became the Sri Palee Campus of Colombo University which offers fine arts and other degrees to students.
These three educational centers have been the pillars of Raigam Koralaya in terms of arts and academics.
Over the years, they have produced many artists throughout the country. For instance, Horana Sri Palee produced artistes such as Janak Premalal and many others, while Vidyarathana produced artistes such as Sirisena Premalal, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Hemasiri Liyanage, Lal Kularathna, Douglas Siriwardhane and Jayasena Jayakody.
The Horana Thakshila generated artists such as Sarathchandra Jayakody, Karunasena Jayalath, Sarath Kulanga and Rohana Beddage.
Over all, we have more than 400 national level artists from Raigam Koralaya. In poetry, we cannot forget the names of Meemana Premathilake and Upananda Batugedara, who are all from Raigama.
Veteran journalist and writer Dayasena Gunasinghe is also from this region. Maestro Premasiri Kemadasa, Mervin Perera and Premakirthi De Alvis were connected to the music from this area. Maju Sri and Sudeepa Purnajith Perera are painters from Raigam Koralaya.
Q: In your book, do you describe the traditional dancing lineages as well?
A: Yes, we have a few traditional dancing lineages in Raigam Koralaya. Sandoris (Jayantha) Fernando, Kapila Rohana Kolambage and Kirinelis Silva (Malakatuwa) are three famous traditional dancing geniuses that come from there.
As traditional artiste lineages we have lineages such as Olaboduwa lineage, Haltota Meddawath, the Thambawita lineage and the Handapangoda dancing Neketige lineage.
In the Olaboduwa lineage, you cannot overlook such great drummers and dancers as Olaboduwa Nekathige Nandoris or Nada gurunnanse, Thilakarathne, Wilson, Sadiris and Karunadasa.
Then, in the Thambawita lineage, the names such as Thomas Appuhami and Ranjith Rathnasiri are paramount. In Netum Nekathige lineage, Netum Nekathige Sedaraman is a famous traditional dancer.
Some of these artists have produced their performances in Western countries such as France, Germany, England, and even before Queen Elizabeth as well. Most of those performances were presented even before the 1940s.
Q: What sort of research did you carry out for this book?
A: I researched for more than two years for the book. You know, I am from Raigam Koralaya, so naturally I had a lot of materials for the book. But apart from that, I interviewed many people including the artists who are based on the book, and still alive.
And also I referred many books and news paper articles. For that, I sometimes had to go to archives and the museum library.
In spite of that, it was very difficult to find information on some of the artists. Especially, finding facts on Meemana Premathilake, a veteran poet and journalist, was an uphill task.
His eldest son, veteran journalist Sunil Madawa Premathilake, was known to me, but I couldn’t gather much from him about his father.
However, Meemana Premathilake had written his own memoir as Mage Premaya, Kalawa Saha Jeewithaya (My Love, My Art and My Life).
Yet, when portraying a real character in a biographical note, you cannot exclusively depend on its author’s memoirs and autobiographies.
There you have to pursue other people’s views who associate with him. This was most difficult if the people who associated with this particular person (in the book) are no more.
Here, I should mention that some of the people I reached didn’t know anything about their own father or their ancestors who are based on the book. It is a sad thing because they are the only people who could deliver those artists’ inheritance to the next generation.
But on the other hand, there is a pathetic picture behind their ignorance. Those traditional artists were never involved in their art for monetary gains, but for the love of their art. Because of this they never earned enough money to live a comfortable life, some of them hadn’t even a proper house for themselves.
Hence, their children never tried to preserve their fathers’ or grandfathers’ art, their instruments and facts about them. This is where I had to go to the archives and the museum library to gather more facts on them.
And some resource persons were not available for me. Some refused to speak about their husbands or fathers who are in the book. If they had revealed their story to me, it would have been preserved in this book for the future generations.
It is sad that some members in our society do not like to be open or honest when talking about their story. But this is not true in the Western world which is why so many memoirs and autobiographies are being produced in those countries.
And the time I started my research for this book it was somewhat difficult since the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak. So I had to follow strict health measures to reach those people when I was pursuing facts.
At the end of the day, I was able to complete the book, and I think that this is the first time that Raigam artists come together in one single volume.
In this venture, I hadn’t any intention to give biographical notes to the readers, but to collect rare facts about those artists for the sake of our future generations. I still feel that if I did not collect them, most probably those facts would disappear from us forever.
Q: Is there any other artist in Raigam Koralaya that you couldn’t include in the book?
A: Yes, there are few. For instance, I couldn’t include a chapter of veteran journalist and writer Gunadasa Liyanage who was from Raigam Koralaya. The main reason for it was I could not find his biography of him and facts about him from his sons of him.
Late veteran writer DB Kuruppu was another from this region of whom I couldn’t include a chapter in this book. And famous Kolam dancer Handi gurunnanse was also missed out from the book.
If I am to publish the second part of this book, I will definitely include them in it. Not only them, but also others who I had to overlook because of the present issue of paper shortage.
Initially, this book was much more longer, but in printing I had to conform with recommendations of Sarasavi Publishers’ management who described the ground reality of our publishing industry right now.
Kalutara district has two Koralas, one is Raigam Koralaya and the other is Pasdun Koralaya. I limited my research to artists of Raigam Koralaya because of the paper issue. In spite of that, there are others who were left out of the book.
Q: You had a long experience in the Sri Lanka Police Department. Why don’t you focus on writing your own experience as a memoir or autobiography?
A: I can write my experiences in the Police Department, but it might not be an honest documentation. During my police service, I had associated with some politicians very closely, even Heads of States.
But when I write my memoir I have to be honest to myself, I can’t hide things. I think that this is not the appropriate time to launch that type of book.
Q: Are you working on another book at the moment?
A: Yes, I am writing a book on child abuse. In fact, I completed Raigampura Kalakaruwo (Artistes of Raigampura) while I was working on that book of child abuse. Now it is in the final stages.