Professor Sanath Nandasiri :
Melody silenced forever – By Sachitra Mahendra
With his exceptional voice and unmatched talent, Professor Sanath Nandasiri captivated audiences both in his homeland and beyond, leaving an enduring legacy that will continue to inspire generations to come. From his early years as a student of tabla under DR Peiris to his studies at the Bhatkhande Music Institute in India, and his subsequent career as a singer and composer, Nandasiri’s journey was marked by an unwavering passion for music and a commitment to excellence. In addition to his many musical achievements, he also established the ‘Gandhari’ music education centre, which has become an esteemed institution for music education in Sri Lanka. Nandasiri’s impact on Sri Lankan music and culture cannot be overstated, and his legacy will continue to resonate for years to come.
Born on January 27, 1941, Sanath Nandasiri began his musical journey at a young age and quickly made a name for himself in the industry.
Nandasiri’s talent was first discovered when he appeared on Radio Ceylon at the age of 13. He went on to work with some of the greatest artistes of his time, including Madawala S. Ratnayake, Nanda Jayamanne, Karunaratne Abeysekera, and Sanath Wimalaweera. At just 17-years-old, he began studying the tabla instrument under DR Peiris, becoming Peiris’ first student in the class held at the YMBA Hall in Borella. Peiris introduced Nandasiri to various radio and outdoor programmes, where he participated in radio folk singing programmes once a month.
In 1960, at the age of 19, Nandasiri embarked on a journey to India to further his studies at the prestigious Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University. There, he had the privilege of learning from some of the greatest names in the Indian classical music scene, including Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakwa, GNNattu, Ustad Mokshut Ali, Pandit Hari Shankar Misra, and Ustad Rahimmuddeen Khan Daga. It was during this time in India that Nandasiri composed several songs that would later appear on Lucknow radio.
Nandasiri’s musical career spanned several decades, during which he became known for his unique style of music that combined elements of classical and folk music. He was a prolific composer and performer, with many of his songs becoming household favourites in Sri Lanka and beyond.
Upon his return to Sri Lanka in 1965, he began his singing career and joined the radio industry. Two years later, he was teaching at Uhana Maha Vidyalaya in Ampara while being selected to attend the Government College of Music. Despite applying for the position of University Lecturer, he did not receive an interview opportunity at that time. However, in 1974, with the help of I. M. R. A. Iriyagolle, Sanath Nandasiri was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Kelaniya.
Nandasiri made significant contributions during his time at the university, serving as the Head of Music from 1988 to 1992. He also took the Part I examination in vocal music, achieving first-class honours and becoming the first Sri Lankan to accomplish this feat at the Sangeeth Nipun examination in 1992. In 1972, he recorded the song ‘Mahada Veena’ which was featured in the Soorya album titled ‘Songs and Rhythms of Sri Lanka’. In the 1970s, he recorded two more popular songs, ‘Sanda Balanna’ and ‘Gamey Kopi Kade,’ composed by the well-known composer, Premasiri Khemadasa.
Due to his rapid rise to popularity, Sanath Nandasiri was soon offered the opportunity to showcase his talents in music direction and singing for the silver screen. In 1967, he made his debut as a playback singer in Sinhala cinema with the film Sedol Kandulu, which was released on July 31st. The song ‘Therak Ne Asha,’ with lyrics by Henry Jayasena and music by Amaradewa, was Nandasiri’s first contribution to the film industry.
In 1974, Nandasiri launched his first solo concert, ‘Swarna Kundala,’ which turned out to be a tremendous success, and the concert was later performed for over 250 shows. Five years later, in 1979, he recorded his first full album titled ‘Swarna Kundala’ for Gemtone, which featured some of his most beloved songs, including ‘Kisiwak Nokiyana’ and ‘Egodaha Kandey.’ Following this album, he recorded three major albums for Singlanka in 1980 and 1981, which also included some of his best-known songs such as ‘Eka Yayata Mal’ and ‘Mama Nam Asayi.’
In addition to his solo work, he also contributed to film music, notably under the music direction of Premasiri Khemadasa. Nandasiri established the ‘Anuradha’ song concert in 1982 after the birth of his daughter. His wife, Malkanthi Nandasiri, also participated in the concert, which was a huge success.
In 1998, Nandasiri founded ‘Gandhari,’ a formal music education centre that offers classes in singing and tabla playing. The centre focuses on preparing students for the first and middle scholar examinations conducted annually by the Bhatkhande College of Music in India, as well as music related to the school syllabus up to grades 6–11. ‘Gandhari’ has become a highly respected institution for music education.
Sanath Nandasiri’s music career was marked by his impressive creativity and popularity. In his first Saralagee programme, he recorded three songs that became instant hits: Evilunu Ginidel, Mahada Pem Ville, and Mihiravi. These songs, with lyrics by Bandara K. Wijetunga, showcased Nandasiri’s talent and paved the way for his success as a Super Grade Radio Artist. He created numerous memorable songs such as Bo Maluwe, Adara Semarum, Eda Meda Tura, Mama Nam Asai, Senda Kaluwara, Waradak Kalath, Etha Epita, and Mage Ratata Dalada Himi Sevanai. Nandasiri’s music has left a lasting impression on Sri Lankan fans both locally and internationally.
Sanath Nandasiri continued to excel in the world of Sinhala cinema, gaining fame and recognition for his playback singing in numerous films. He lent his golden voice to popular films such as Harimaga, Hanthane Kathawa, SamanalaKumario, Hathara Watte, Sihina Lowak, and Ahas Gawwa, among others. His talent was often utilized behind the beloved film star Vijaya Kumaratunga, with whom he created many memorable hits. Notably, Nandasiri sang a duet with the legendary Dharmadasa Walpola in the film Hingana Kolla (1979), which was Walpola’s last film song before his passing. Throughout his career, Sanath Nandasiri’s unique and captivating voice left an indelible mark on the world of Sinhala cinema.
Sanath Nandasiri’s talent in music extended beyond singing and playback singing. He also exhibited excellent expertise in music direction, which led him to direct music for several movies on Silver Screen. His directorial debut was in the film ‘Ajasaththa’ in 1981, followed by ‘Thuththiri Mal’ (1983), ‘Ranmalige Vasanawa’ (1984), ‘Mihidum Salu’ (1985), and ‘Kiwulegedara Mohottala’ (1987).
Apart from movies, he also composed music for several teledramas, including ‘Sandamalige Kathawa,’ which was one of the first teledramas to be telecast on Rupavahini Television.
In 2015, Nandasiri held the ‘Prathama Wasanthayai’ concert, featuring performances by his daughter Anuradha and Malkanthi Nandasiri. In March 2018, the ‘Du Anuradha’ concert took place at Nelum Pokuna Theater. In 2016, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts by President Maithripala Sirisena following the passing of Pandit Amaradewa. Nandasiri was also recognized with numerous awards throughout his career, including an honorary award presented by President Sirisena at the ‘Ninnada 2018 Thunpath Rata Swara Dehana’ concert and a Janabhimani Honorary Award at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. In October 2017, a book titled ‘Sinhala Sangeethaye Sanath Nandasiri Sanathana Gee Miyasi’ written by Yapa Bandara Seneviratne was released at the Colombo Public Library Auditorium. Additionally, a collection of 100 lyrics and chords of Nandasiri’s songs titled ‘Rasanandaya’ was released at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute in September 2019.
Sanath Nandasiri passed away on March 28, 2023, leaving behind a legacy that will continue to inspire future generations of musicians. His contributions to the world of music will never be forgotten, and his music will continue to live on as a testament to his talent and passion for art.