Dayananda Gunawardena – දයානන්ද ගුණවර්ධන

1934-10-15 – 1993-06-24

Remembering theatre veteran Dayananda Gunawardena
By Natasha Fernandopulle
It is June 18, 1993…a full house at the Elphinstone Theatre and backstage all the artistes getting ready for their performance. The play’s director, theatre veteran Dayananda Gunawardena is also there, as he was known to watch his work from behind the curtains rather than seated with the audience.As expected, the performance goes off well. After the curtain call, he asks his son Keerthi to take a photograph of the cast. Soon after the photo, Mr. Gunawardena collapses, remains in the ICU for a week and passes away on June 24, 1993.

Dayananda Gunawardena

That play was Mr. Gunawardena’s final production and to commemorate his 16th death anniversary the drama troupe Nalu Keerthi Sabha will host some of his well-loved dramas this July at the Lionel Wendt.

Organised by Jude Srimal, the opening night on July 10, will feature the famous Nari Bena followed by Jasaya saha Lenchina. Madura Javanika will be on July 11 while Gajaman Puwatha will wrap up the festival on July 12.

Mr. Gunawardena is considered one of the fathers of modern Sinhala theatre along with Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Sugathapala de Silva and Henry Jayasena.

Theatre personality Jackson Anthony said that the gates opened in 1956 with Prof. Sarachchandra’s Maname after which point Sinhala theatre came under the spotlight once again.

Mr. Anthony went on to explain that Maname was an operatic type of drama similar to that of Indian operatic style and it was Mr. Gunawardena who brought the stories from the village, folklore, to the proscenium. “Folklore was primitive and he made it to suit modern times,” Mr. Anthony explained.
Nari Bena and Jasaya saha Lenchina were old folktales and what Mr. Gunawardena did was to introduce these stories and the songs, written by Lionel Algama, to contemporary society, Mr. Anthony says. Some of the memorable songs from these plays include Ahala malin gas pirila balanna hari lassanai and Kumatada sohoure kandulu salanne.

Mr. Gunawardena introduced the concept of ‘docu-drama’ to Sinhala theatre – the concept of incidents made into a drama and Madura Javanika is one such drama.

Mr. Anthony says that although our history is documented in the Mahavamsa, our cultural history has not been documented. “What is symbolic of our cultural history is how we have moved from living in a big kingdom to having to go to another country,” he says, adding that the plot follows our cultural history from the Ravana period to the Dubai period.

A scene from Nari Bena and below Gajaman Puwatha. Pix courtesy picasa web.google.com / wasanthaya

The story of Madura Javanika unfolds through conversations among security guard Lanka Arakshaka and Ravana, Sindbad the Sailor, Kuveni, Elara, Bharanaganithaya, Parangiya, Father Gonzales, Jandisingho and Rosa Nona and Vansavathi, to name a few. “You can see how colourful and musical our cultural history is,” he says. Rohana Baddage, Bandula Wijeweera and Edward Jayakody are the music directors for this production.

“Gajaman Nona was not entirely respected as a poet until Dayananda Gunawardena brought out her true story, showing us how the poetry she wrote was philosophical,” Mr. Anthony explains.

Through a collection of letters that Gajaman Nona and her lover Alapatha Mudalali wrote to each other, as well as letters written by John D’Oyley, a true picture of Gajaman Nona was created. So on the last day of this theatre festival Gajaman Puwatha will be staged, highlighting the life of this famous Sri Lankan poet. Once again the music director is Rohana Baddage.

The cast includes Jackson Anthony, Anula Bulathsinghala, Bandula Wijeweera, Rodney Warnakula, Vasantha Gunawardena, Rathnaseela Fernando, Wijeya Nandasiri, Rathmali Gunasekara, Nissanaka Diddeniya and Jayalath Manoratne.

“Dayananda Gunawardena respected people and he was a lovely person,” Mr. Anthony said, adding, “He was a pillar of strength to us and we need to take his plays forward.”

When Mr. Anthony studied Sinhala literature at university, Mr. Gunawardena’s work had been part of the text, so he became a hero to him. “I learnt a lot from him especially since I lived in Ragama while he lived in Gampaha. We would take the same train home and have long discussions along the way. Since I knew the person he was, I felt a great loss when he died.”

Some of the cast members have been around since the 60’s while others have joined recently. But they all pay their respects to Dayananda Gunawardena before acting in his plays because he has influenced their lives.

Date of Birth: 15.10.1934 in Halgampitiya


Schools attended: 

i. Government School, Udugampola (1943-1946, from Grade 1 to 6. It is noteworthy that he was an active member of school’s drama society)

ii. Government Secondary School, Veyangoda (1946-1951, from Grade 7 to Ordinary Level. Vice President of the Drama and Music Society, Junior Cadet Captain and awarded the Trophy for the ‘Best Cadet’)
iii. Ananda College, Colombo (1951-1953) Vice President of the College Geographic Society. It is noteworthy that he was awarded the D. B. Jayatilleke Literary Award (Open category) and the Amarasena Art Award (Open category) during his tenure at Ananda College.


University Education:

  • General Arts Qualifying Examination offering Sinhala, Geography and Economics at Lanka University, Peradeniya.
  • Bachelor of Arts – BA (Lanka) – Special Degree in Geography (1957)

Positions held in Student bodies:

i. Secretary of the Sinhala Drama Society

ii. Vice President of the Socialist Movement


Schools served: 

i. First Appointment – Kegalu Vidyalaya , Kegalle (1957-1960)
ii. Thurstan College, Colombo (1960-1961)


Institutions served: 

i. Producer – Programmes, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (1961-1989)
ii. Director – Audio Research, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (1989-1990)
iii. Director – English Service, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (1990-1992)
Retires from Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in 1992.


Other positions held: 

i. Lecturer at the Drama Institute of the National Drama Corporation
ii. Visiting Lecturer in Theatre at the Government Aesthetic Institute
iii. Member of the Drama Sub Committee of the Sri Lanka Arts Circle
iv. Member of the Public Performance(s) Board


Countries toured and Training received: 

i. 1957 – Moscow – International Student and Youth Festival
ii. 1962 – Rumania – Sri Lankan Representative at the International Drama Federation and Study of Drama in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Russia
iii. 1966 – Awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship for Study of Radio and Television at BBC by Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
iv. 1978 – East Germany – Directing of “NariBena” under the Cultural Exchange Programme
v. 1979 – Yugoslavia – Sri Lankan Representative at the First Television Festival of the Non Aligned
vi. 1991 – South Korea – Conducted a Research on “Buddhism and Korean Theatre” following a scholarship awarded by the South Korean International Cultural Foundation


Publications to his credit: 

i. Mulika Sithiyam Vidyawa (Basics in Mapping) – 1961
ii. NariBena (Sinhala Folk Drama) – 1963
iii. Maddahan Gindara (Collection of Sinhala Verses) – 1963
iv. Sakala kala wallabha (Sinhala folklore) – 1965
v. Bakmaha Akunu (Sinhala Drama) – 1970 Literary Award
vi. Jasaya saha Lenchina (Drama)
vii. Jeevana Vanchawa hewath Ibikatta (Sinhala Drama) – 1973 Literary Award
viii. Gajaman Puwatha (Epic Drama)
ix. Madhura Javanika (Epic Drama) – 1984 Literary Award
x. Ananda Javanika – 1989 Winner of Literary Award
xi. Kamare Pore samaga Keti Natya Pahak – 1992 Literary Award


Dramas which went on boards: 
i. Swarnathilaka (ස්වර්ණතිලකා) – 1958 – Produced by Kegalu Vidyalaya Drama Society
ii. Prassaya (පරාස්සයා) – 1959 – Staged by National Drama Circle
iii. NariBena (නරිබෑනා) -1960 – First Production for Thurstan College Drama Society 1961 – Second Production for Amateur Drama Society
iv. Kamare Pore (කාමරේ පොරේ) – 1960 – Adaptation from English Drama “Box and Cox”
v. Emathi Pattama (ඇමති පට්ටම) – 1960 – Adaptation from the Bulgarian Drama “Golemanov”
vi. Pinguththara (පිංගුත්තර) – 1961 – Produced by the Sinhala Society of the University of Colombo
vii. Bakmaha Akunu (බක්මහ අකුණු) – 1963 – Adaptation of the French Drama “Marriage of Figaro” (Introduced the Revolving Stage to Sri Lanka for the first time)
viii. Denna Depole (දෙන්නා දෙපොලේ) – 1964 – Produced from Hemasiri Prewardhana’s script
ix. Jasaya saha Lenchina (ජසයා සහ ලෙන්චිනා) – 1965 –
x. Jeevana Vanchawa hewath Ibikatta (ජීවන වංචාව හෙවත් ඉබිකට්ට) – 1965
xi. Vikaraye Akaraya (විකාරයේ ආකාරය) – 1967 – Produced for the Drama Festival of ‘Lassana’ Newspapers
xii. Kabaye Habe (කබායේ හබේ) – 1971
xiii. Padmawathi (පද්මාවතී) – 1974 – Produced along with Lakshman Jayakody after editing the original publication of Charles Dias
xiv. Gajaman Puwatha (ගජමන් පුවත) – 1975
xv. Banku Natakaya (බැංකු නාටකය) – 1977 – Produced for the 10th Anniversary of the People’s Bank
xvi. Madhura Javanika (මධුර ජවනිකා) – 1983 – Produced in association with Jones Overseas 1984 – Winner of Peace Award (Drama)
xvii. Ananda Jawanika (ආනන්ද ජවනිකා) – 1986 – Awarded Best Direction and Special Award for Script at the 1987 State Drama Festival. In addition, certificates awarded for Best Music, Stage Management and Acting.
xviii. Mathaka Bhaktha (මතක භක්ත) – 1990 – Produced on the invitation of the Police Sub Services Headquarters
xix. Films: Bakmaha Deege (බක්මහ දීගේ) – 1969 (Following the Bakmaha Akunu Drama)


Passed away at the Colombo General Hospital on June 24, 1993.


Father: Don Simon Gunawardena (1869-1964) English Teacher
Mother: Nalapana Don Somawathi Danansuriya
Marriage: Married Irangani Ranatunga of Gampaha on September 28, 1967
Children: Chakrayuda Kirthi Gunawardena,  Abhimangala Gunawardena & Wasanthapriya Gunawardena
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