the-south-asian.com FEBRUARY 2002
FEBRUARY 2002 Contents
'My Secret of
at Every Alien Door'
Fashion & Jewellery
Page 2 of 4
South Asians in News - 2001
"Where music is concerned, no fine line can be drawn to separate Sri Lanka from India and the rest of the world. In fact, through the ages, all of Sri Lanka's fine arts evolved as part of the Greater Indian Tradition. In modern times new art forms came from the West, so that Portuguese lullabies and Christian hymns joined North Indian ragas and Buddhist chants as part of the island's musical heritage. All the while, Sri Lanka's village folk created songs and dances reflecting their own more isolated lives.
So what, exactly, is Sri Lankan music? This question began to matter in 1948 when Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, emerged as an independent nation. Happily, this is about the time that K. W. D. Amaradeva began his musical career. For many Sri Lankans, he has provided the answer.
Born Albert Perrera, Amaradeva came early to music. His father, a carpenter, played the violin. By the age of seven, young Albert was playing the violin too. He quickly mastered the Bengali tunes then in vogue and from his older brother learned the rudiments of the classical North Indian raga. A prodigy, he became a star at local recitals and gained early renown as a singer of Buddhist devotional songs. By thirteen, he was performing on the radio. By nineteen, he was playing the violin, singing, and composing incidental music for the film "Asokamala." Little wonder that he left school to pursue a life of music.
Finding work at Radio Ceylon, Perrera emerged as a brilliant innovator in Sinhalese music and was soon welcomed into the company of leading artists and intellectuals. Sensing the young man's genius, some of them raised a fund to send him to India for classical training. At the Bhathkande Institute of Music in Lucknow, Perrera sat at the feet of India's music masters and won first prize in an all-India violin competition. He returned to Sri Lanka in 1958 as Amaradeva, the name he would make famous.
Issues of national identity now preoccupied many Sri Lankans. In the spirit of the times, Amaradeva began arranging and performing indigenous folk songs, embellishing them with Indian ragas and thus elevating them from simple tunes to more sophisticated compositions. In other innovations, he experimented with Western harmony and counterpoint and with South Indian and Tamil musical forms. With lyricist Mahagama Sekera, he explored ways to wed the cadences of classical Sinhalese poetry to the new music. In time, Amaradeva's music came to reflect an entire spectrum of borrowed and indigenous influences, a uniquely Sri Lankan synthesis.
A prodigious creative artist, Amaradeva has composed music for ballet, film, the stage, and countless radio and television programs. He has written over one thousand songs-melodious, lyrical, haunting songs of patriotism, beauty, faith, passion, and love. For over fifty years now he has also been performing his songs over radio and television, in concert, and on gramophone records, audiotapes, and CDs. Amaradeva's fluid, resonant voice long ago overshadowed his violin. Today, Sri Lankans need only turn on their radios to hear it daily. "He sings so beautifully," says one a dmirer, "onehas to stop everything and listen."
Music, says Pandith Amaradeva, "is the finest of the fine arts." His music is both very fine and widely loved. Sri Lankans say it is music that transcends ethnicity, class, and age. Or as his friend Ediriweera Sarachchandra put it, it is music that "speaks to the soul of the nation."
In electing K. W. D. Amaradeva to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of trustees recognizes his life of dazzling creativity in expression of the rich heritage and protean vitality of Sri Lankan music.
Courtesy Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
Rajendra Singh - THE 2001 RAMON MAGSAYSAY AWARDEE FOR COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP
In 1985 Rajendra Singh gave up his job in Jaipur to restore Alwar’s degraded habitat. With four companions from the small organization he led, Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS, Young India Association), he began organizing villagers to repair and deepen old johads - small earthen reservoirs used traditionally to capture monsoon rainwater - that had been abandoned for quite a while.
When the refurbished ponds filled high with water after the monsoon rains, villagers were joyous and Singh realized that the derelict johads offered a key to restoring Alwar's degraded habitat. Once repaired, they not only stored precious rainwater but also replenished moisture in the soil and recharged village wells and streams. Moreover, villagers could make johads themselves using local skills and traditional technology.
As TBS went to work, Singh recruited a small staff of social workers and hundreds of volunteers. Expanding village by village-to 750 villages today-he and his team helped people identify their water-harvesting needs and assisted them with projects, but only when the entire village committed itself and pledged to meet half the costs. Aside from johads, TBS helped villagers repair dams and deepen wells and mobilized them to plant trees on the hillsides to prevent erosion and restore the watershed. Singh coordinated all these activities to mesh with the villagers' traditional cycle of rituals.
Meanwhile, with others, TBS waged a long and ultimately successful campaign to persuade India's Supreme Court to close hundreds of mines and quarries that were polluting Sariska National Park. Guided by Gandhi's teachings of local autonomy and self-reliance, Singh has introduced community-led institutions to each TBS village. The Gram Sabha manages water conservation projects and sets the rules for livestock grazing and forest use. The Mahila Mandala organizes the local women's savings and credit society.
And the River Parliament, representing ninety villages, disciplines exploitation of the Arvari River and determines the allocation and price of its water. Now dotted with 3,500 working johads, Alwar is a different place. Fed by a protected watershed and the revitalizing impact of thousands of village reservoirs, five once-dormant rivers now flow year round. Land under cultivation has grown by five times and farm incomes are rising. For work, men no longer need to leave home. And for water, these days women need walk no farther than the village well.
Rajendra Singh is TBS's charismatic motivator. Villagers call him Bai Sahab, Elder Brother, and listen to his every word. People have become greedy, he tells them. They should learn again to be grateful to nature. That is why, he says, in Alwar, "the first thing we do in the morning is touch the earth with reverence." In electing Rajendra Singh to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his leading Rajasthani villagers in the steps of their ancestors to rehabilitate their degraded habitat and bring its dormant rivers back to life.
Courtesy Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
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