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Ganga Addara, Augustus and Lanka’s Theme …

Ganga Addara, Augustus and Lanka’s Theme …


The day on which I  find no surprises in my motherland, mother tongues and her people, will see me trade in my burgundy-coloured passport with the rather nice Sovereign seal of Sri Lanka, for another.

Malathi makes an observation

Today has been one of those Indian summer days when you wonder if tomorrow will bring in the first cold wind that confirms the summer has finally left us behind. The morning good-reads stapled a sadness on my day as I read the final sentence in Malathi de Alwis’ review of Kalumaali; an excellent observation.  Any depiction of motherhood or womanhood surely cannot leave out the great devastation of war and tsunamis? should include the heartbreak borne by son, child, daughter, friend, neighbour, Aiya, Anna, Acca, Appa, Thaththa and especially Amma ?

Her last sentence read

“As I sat in the darkened theatre the image that kept recurring in my head was the tear-drenched face of a young Tamil mother who had had to abandon her injured daughter in their bombed-out home as she carried her two other children to safety.”

I thought of my friend, a young mother (also happened to be Thamil) who was vivacious as the day and is still beautiful and loving. She lost both her young children to the Tsunamis of 2004 when she would have been around 28 years old. There is another mother in Kandy who will never see her son’s remains and is joined by countless others waiting for news of the disappeared.

So well yes, while I am relieved that the country labelled with negative travel advice not so long ago has recovered its value as a natural beautiful travel destination with diverse landscapes, climates, festivals and experiences just hours of each other, there is a lot more I wish for Serendib than serenity of the present. Admittedly, they who held out in the bad times and never deserted Sri Lanka deserve it. However, even if Sri Lanka is the No.1 travel destination in 2013 you would have to be extremely selective in what you imbibe to escape the ocean of sadness and devastation that is part of the entire island.

Sometimes I gotta listen to Ganga Addara

Later on in the day, a friend’s critique of the cinema (just published), and the conversation with another on reading it of Ganga Addara, must have been playing out in the backdrop for I found the theme of Ganga Addara on Youtube and was once more haunted by that Sri Lanka with its rivers, Vasanthi Chathurani’s  innocent, earthy beauty and Vijay Kumaranatunga’s unmistakable hairdo, hand outstretched… stepping towards each other … ah WHY did they have to kill him… the JVP appeared splintering the sunlight on the river and heartbreak returned once more.

Jeez, wherever you look you see some evidence of heartbreak I thought to myself now sailing along with the haunting melody which never failed to bring tears to my eyes

“Obe ruwa chaaya…aa …sangawe paaya…. .“ (your reflection….its glow appeared and now is lost to sight …)

Yes, these lines were an anthem to the cinema, Vijaya and a Sri Lanka whose silhouette is beautiful, seemingly innocent yet elusive.

But hey, what was this? At first it appeared to be a simple typo in the Youtube description but refreshingly amusing :

From the film Ganga Addara by Sumithra Peiris. A film by Sumitra Peries and Produced by Sumathi films. Song composed by   Nimal Mendis and Sinhala translation by Augustus Vinyagaratnam. Sung by Vijaya Kumaratunge.

Augustus Vinyagaratnam did the Sinhala translation ??

No, of course not, maybe he did a Thamil translation, I thought, and googled dear Augustus. The first shock I got was about the singer/songwriter Nimal Mendis who had composed Ganga Addara.

“Nimal has 22 songs published in Britain and has written music for films in Sri Lanka. “Kiss Kiss Kiss” was Nimal’s first song that was recorded in Britain and sung by Mary Marshall on the Columbia label. “Kandyan Express”, “Cherry Blossom Tree”, “Oh My Lover”, “Butterfly in the Rain”, “Champagne Blues”, and “Goodnight Kisses “‘ were number-one hits in Sri Lanka in the late fifties.”

” Mendis appeared on the popular BBC television music programme Top of the Pops with his singing partner Sandra Edema in 1968 as guest artists with his song “Feel like a Clown”. They were also featured with the song on Beat Club in Germany that year. Eugene Wright bass player with the original Dave Brubeck Quartet arranged and recorded five of Nimal’s songs only with him playing bass. He also arranged and produced one other song “Singing Fish” with electric guitar, bass, and piano. They were sung by Sandra Edema.”

Wh—aaa—–t ?

“His composition “Ganga Addara” (“By the Banks of the River”), written by Augustus Vinayagaratnam, and sung by Vijaya Kumaranatunga) for the film (Directed by Sumitra Peiris) of the same name, is also a very popular song in Sri Lanka…”

The lyrics of the all-time favourite Ran Tikiri Sina ( the golden childlike smile ) composed by Nimal Mendis is also attributed to Augustus Vinayagaratnam.

So, Augustus V wrote the lyrics of these Sinhala-most anthems.

Friends of Augustus :

” Tissa (Abeysekera) related how a few of them met at Victoria Park (now Vihara Maha Devi ) and formed a theatre group. It was obvious the name ‘Ape Kattiya’ came from Sugath. Others in the group included G. W. Surendra, Cyril B Perera, Augustus Vinayagaratnam (who did not know a word of Tamil even though his father was a Tamil) and Neil I. Perera – all of them are no more.” Read more

 Well, well. So there it was. Cinema is not what it used to be. Augustus and his ilk (to use an old word) and Vijaya the inimitable are gone and Sri Lanka has devastation and tragedy in its very grain, though we tend to waltz off at times seemingly without remembering, due to well-rehearsed survival skills.

Lanka’s Theme

In long running dramas when beloved characters exit from the script forever they leave to a Theme  music which is repeated as in Julia’s Theme of EastEnders and then there is the evergreen Lara’s Theme later developed to be Somewhere my Love of my mother’s beloved Dr Zhivago.

So thank you Augustus Vinayagaratnam for setting Nimal’s composition to such beautiful Sinhala lyrics :

 “Obe ruwa chaaya…aa… sangawe paya.. aa…”

 You almost hear it adapted to an orchestra playing out against a sunset  in a commemoration of what has left our island forever and a poignant celebration of what we know lives and breathes in the beauty of the sea, the soil and the people’s smiles; enchantment within an ocean of sadness.

And so I will hang on to this burgundy-coloured travel document which indicates a citizenship a while longer.



  1. Gaya, lovely nostalgia. BTW, Augustus stayed a few doors next to ours in Panadura and her daughter another SANDYA, differentiated as Sudu SANDYA was at Grants with us for years and now lives in Canada! Small world, what?

    • Would love to get in touch with Sandya… if anyone knows her contacts. I would like to do an oral history interview of her father’s life and times.

      • Sandhya Fernando says:

        Hi, I’m Sandhya, Augustus Vinayagaratnam’s daughter. Thank you Sandya Salgado for your comment. I was just checking this today and wanted to reply.

        • Sandhya, wonderful to hear from you. It would be great to record your recollections of your father and his life and times. Will email you directly and thank you for responding. Gaya

        • Anusha Abeydeera says:

          Hi Sandya

          How are you????? this is anusha from Panadura. One of your classmates from the good shepherd convent panadura [montessori] to panadura balika.. Your mother and my mother were close friend..
          If you have time please write…………….

          • Anusha, this is amazing… Which Sandhya do you mean? Fernando or Salgado nee Rodrigo?

          • Sandhya Fernando says:

            Hi Anusha, How are you? It is so nice to hear from you. I have lost touch with so many of our old friends. I have two daughters now. Where do you live? I’d like to hear from you. This is my personal email address: sandhyasfernando@hotmail.ca, Take care, Love,Sandhya

        • Hi Sandya, Do you write songs like your father – I have few melodies would love to get some lyrics written 🙂

  2. Wow, love the way you have written this… I came across the same youtube video and was dumbfounded when I saw it. I ahve been searching everywhere but couldn’t find the English version of Nimal Mendis’s “Golden Smile” and “By the Bank of the River”. Grew up listening to these songs (Sinhla versions) and wish I was lucky enough to listen to the English versions of these songs 🙁

    • Hi Gayan, Thanks for the comment. These are original compositions and the Sinhala version IS the original. The Sinhala lyrics were composed by Augustus V. There are no English translations as far as I am aware of. The English translation up there on the Youtube description is cos in international media some people would not know what Ganga Addara meant.

      • P.S. I am not sure if the English language ( personal opinion) could capture the essence of these Sinhala lyrics. When I listen to the Methodist hymns we used to sing as children translated from English, the Sinhala versions were a great improvement on the original 😉

  3. Sandhya Fernando , i am also from panadura. please ,add your farther’s song list , photos & ather detalit to this page.

    • Hey Janaka, good to hear from you. I actually did an interview with Sandhya which is revealing about a time when people really were themeselves and not tainted by ethnic identity. A truly unique story of post-colonial times in Sri Lanka.

  4. Hi this is Sathy from Canada….I came across this song. Ganga Addams and wish to know the translation of this song either in English or Tamil….sounds so soothing….can any one help? Thanks…watched the original as well… Such a beautiful song…..n

    • Hi Sathy, thanks for commenting and stopping by… These lyrics were written by Augustus Vinayagaratnam in Sinhala and they were not translated.,,, I wish that there was a Tamil translation- will check with Sandhya Fernando the composer’s daughter also in Canada.

      • Sandhya Fernando says:

        Hi Sathy, sorry I don’t have the English version of this song, Sandhya Fernando from Winnipeg. (Daughter of Augustus Vinayagaratnam). Thanks Gaya for your input.

  5. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KuTNVj342jE&rdm=1zvnba3bz&layout=tablet&client=mv-google
    This recording of “Banks of the River” by Hasala Perera and Anno Domini is probably the best version of “Ganga addara” I could find, after the movie. The movie track was the best for me, because the instruments used (I think it was a sitar and tabla?) captures the soul of the river flowing. It takes me to the river bank. Very few music productions are able to do that (take the listener to where the song is sung). Sadly when they did a teledrama remake in 2010, the singing by Surendra Perera was good but the essence of the music was lost. Anyone know who directed the music for the movie in 1980?

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