His first photograph in 1920
Sunil and Leela in 1953
The day that Sri lanka Broadcasting
Corporation was established in 1967,Sunil
after 15 years resumed his music
carrier/singing Olu Pipila Sunil
with his outstanding pupil Ivor Denis
Baddaliyanage Don Joseph John alias Sunil Santha was born on 14th of April 1915 at Dehiyagatha, Jaela. His parents died whilst he was still a baby, so he was brought up by his grand mother and uncles. His youngest uncle Mr.M.J.Perera was a music lover. Sunil Santha learned to play the harmonium from him.
He came first in the island in the school leaving certificate examination and won the Weeraratne award. In 1933 he passed the Teachers Final Examination. As a teacher at Mt.Calvary School he exhibited his talent in drama, vocal, music, art and handwork.
From 1936 to 1939 his students won the competition at the Southern Schools Music Competition thrice and the challenge cup was given to the Calvary school. In 1938 he passed the Intermediate Gandarva Examination and also obtained a certificate in physical training and learned to play the piono accordion and the gitar. He learned Sinhala folk songs and Wannam from Urapola Banda Gurunnanse.
Before long ,however he gave up teaching to pursue a musical carrier ,and in 1939 left for India where he studied ndustani,Classical and Bengali Orchestral and Vocal music, first at ShantiNiketan. After spending one year he went to Batkhande Sangeeth Vidyapeeth. ,Allahabad. He became first in the first Division in instrumental(sitar)and first Division in vocal where he obtained Sangeeth Visarad Degree after four year course of study
In 1944 he returned to the Island as Sunil Santha. He met Mr. Kapukotuwa and as The Government had appointed a person for the post of music inspector he refused the music teachers appointment. He read the books by Munidasa Kumaratunga and Raphiel Thennakoon and realized the necessity of creating Sri Lankan music.
He wrote a letter titled Montessori Method of Music to the Silumina Newspaper and on shorter method to learning music to Prabodaya. He started a music class at Kanuwana, Jaela. In 1946 he stayed in the house of Suriyashankar Molligoda at Bambalapitiya and started his quest to find Sinhala Music. On the 2nd of March 1946 he sang songs at the Kumaratunga Commemoration ceremony, soon he became a superstar after he recorded Olu Pipila at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. That was the first song recorded in a record.
The people who saw him performing those days compared him to a Greek god. Another compared him to a handsome Indian prince with Aryan features. His skin was ivory in colour. He was five feet 11 inches tall.
In 1946 he published his first song book "Ridi Walawa". He created songs which he sang for various charity songs like Home for the Elders of Mallika in Colombo. He published many song books. They are Hela Ridi Walawa, Mihiriyawa Mal Mihira, Heli Mihira, Sunil Handa, Song Folio, Song of Lanka, Guvan Thotilla, Desheeya Sangeethaya, Sangeethaye Atthiwarama as Sunil was against Indian Ragadari music his enemies started a battle to expel him form the Radio Ceylon.
They damaged across his discs and some of the people who were with him at the beginning pirated his songs and published them to earn money. Sunil attacked these people in his song books. In 1951 Peramuna news paper did a survey and named Sunil Santha as the most popular singer of the year.
Meanwhile the enemies of Sunil Santha who favored Hindustani Music laid a trap on him. That was to get down Mr. Ratanjankar from India to audition the Sinhala artists. They mentioned that anybody who refused that audition would be expelled from the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The Lankadeepa News paper published an editorial against the audition of Mr. Ratanjankar. They questioned about the special reason for bringing down Ratanjankar to audition the Sinhala artists. Would that be necessary for his pupils like Sunil Santha to face that audition? Is it necessary to audition artists at this time? Are they doing that for the progress of art? That news paper protested against the audition of Ratanjankar.
Sunil Santha boycotted the audition of Ratanjankar. He was expelled from the SLBC. In 1952 he married Bernadet Leelawathi Jayasekara. She was a trained teacher.
In 1953 Sunil started his classes in the Maradana Newton building. He promised to teach 10 pupils free of charge. At that time Mr. Albert Perera (W.D. Amaradeva) who played the violin for Sunil Santha’s songs was having financial difficulties. Sunil Santha helped him by allowing him to teach music in his Panadura music classes.
In 1955 the great journalist D.B.Dhanapala started a campaign and exposed the plight of Sunil Santha through the columns of Lankadeepa. The money collected by the paper was given to Sunil Santha.
In 1956 Doctor Lester James Pieris invited Sunil to make tunes for the songs of "Rekhawa" and "Sandeshaya". The songs were masterpieces and even now they are very popular.
Sunil tried various trades like selling clothes and doing photography. He became very close to poor people's hearts. Many parents sent their teenage sons to get advice from Sunil Santha.
In 1967 Director General Mr. Neville Jayaweera invited Sunil Santha to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and asked him to do programs in music. He created revolutionary music and created songs in one note and four notes and five notes. Mr. Jayaweera asked Sunil to audition the artist. Mr. H.W. Rupasinghe and W.D.Amaradeva assisted him.
In 1970 Sunil moved to his uncle’s house as the land lady wanted the house. Mrs. Agnes Perera the widow of his uncle was very kind to Sunil Santha’s family and asked them to live in a section of their house. His cousins cleaned the poultry shed. They used that as a study room for the family. Sunil and Leela had three sons and one daughter.
Sunil continued to repair radios and other electrical equipments. In 1977 Mr. H.M. Gunasekara who was the Director of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation produced a record named "Sunil Gee." There was a debate about whether there is a written music in the Sigiri songs. Some scholars opposed that idea. Sunil created Sigiri Gee and showed that there is a possibility of written music in Kurutu Gee as our ancestors were so intelligent in constructing such great buildings as Lovamahapaya and Sigiriya.
eighth of February of 1981 was the saddest day of Sunil Santha’s
life. His third son Jagath was drowned in the Blue Oceanic Hotel Negombo.
That death is still a mystery. Sunil suffered a heart attack and was admitted
to the Colombo General Hospital. He died on the 11th April 1981.
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