Danno Budunge, a very special song.
Posted on April 15th, 2020

By Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale. January 2019 Courtesy colombomedgrads1962.blogspot.com

A Historical perspective of people who influenced it and of culture related to the song(I don’t claim this to be a scholarly treatise; it is based chiefly on internet resources)
I discuss this subject in paragraphs and indicate the main subject in the sub-heading. You will see a thread running through the article which I hope is relevant. At first reading, it may appear disjointed but when your revisit, it will all make sense. Some of the views expressed are my own. I have done my best to check on accuracy.
John de Silva – (1857-1922)As far as I can determine, the lyrics of Danno Budunge was written by Makalandalage John de Silva playwright and play-producer, a pioneer in the field of Sinhala drama, for his drama Sirisangabo Charitaya.
Born in Kotte on January 13, 1857 to Catholic parents, he first attended Christian College, Kotte and then went to the Colombo Academy which later became Royal College, and at age 20 he was a teacher at St. Joseph’s College and later at Wesley College. As he moved closely with oriental scholars like Pundit Batuwantudawa, he had acquired a good command of the Sinhala language too.
Like many young men of his age living close to Colombo, John de Silva too must have been a theatre fan who tried his hand at play-writing and producing. The first play he wrote was Nala Raja Charitaya), which was staged in 1886, when he was only 29. This was followed by Dascon Natakaya (1888), the story of the Portuguese General who had a love affair with the Sinhala Princess Samudra Devi. He also wrote a play called ‘ParabhavNatakaya’ (1901-1902) a satire on the Europeanised upper class.
His next play ‘Ramayanaya Natakaya‘ was staged on May 31, 1889 (according to some writers in 1904) at the Floral Hall, Malwatte Road in Pettah, a popular venue for plays (sadly no more). It is said that on the night of the second performance, June 5, the hall caught fire, and stage sets, curtains, costumes etc. were destroyed. It was believed to be arson by those jealous of his success.
Shock and grief turned into anger and he gave vent to his anger in a booklet he published in Sinhala titled ‘Fire-fight or Hanuman comes to Floral Hall.‘ (It was Hanuman the monkey who set fire to the garden where Sita was kept a prisoner by Ravana). Later in the year, he printed and published the play with the title ‘Sita haranaya’ (abduction of Sita) or ‘Ginigath Ramayanaya’ (Ramayanaya that caught fire). Downcast and disgusted, he gave up writing and producing plays, entered Law College and qualified as a proctor, and started practising as a lawyer. This was in the 1890s.
But the theatre beckoned him and with the writing and producing of Siri sangabo, began the second and the best phase of his career as playwright and producer. First staged in 1903, Siri sangabo is perhaps his most popular play and a perennial favourite. After Siri sangabo, his group of actors (no actresses, as females were not allowed to act then, and it was usual for males to dress up as females for feminine parts), became professionals, known by the name Arya Suboda Natya Saba. They entertained audiences every night, and regular theatre-goers wouldn’t miss a John de Silva play.
By this time he had become a Buddhist and also a devotee of the Hindu Gods. It is on record in his own writing, says Sunil Ariyaratne who has made an indepth study of John de Silva’s plays, “that after the first premier of Ehelepola, he made offerings to God Kataragama and God Vishnu”. He was convinced that Sinhala music had firm roots in India. He wrote There is evidence that Indian classical music existed in ancient Lanka during the times of our Sinhalese kings. Consider where Sinhalese poets of the past took their poetic meters. A careful analysis shows that Sinhala poetic meters originally belonged to the system of rāga [Indian melodic modes] and tāla [Indian rhythm cycles] found in North Indian classical music”. This explains why his songs had the Raga-tala tradition which he approved of.
John de Silva wrote plays not only to entertain the public. Through his plays, he tried to inspire in the audience a feeling of nationalism, a sense of pride in our culture and heritage and encourage them to regain the loss freedom. He poked fun at those who slavishly aped the white ruling class and he was averse to alcohol and championed temperance. It is on record that he didn’t engage any actors who had taken to drinking. In his own small way, he was contributing to the national movement, and he was among the Sinhala leaders arrested and jailed after the riots of 1915. In spite of that, he retained his love of Western attire and favoured the jacket, shirt and tie.
John de Silva’s last play was NaganandaNatakaya written in 1919 and staged at the famous Tower Hall. He passed away on January 28, 1922 after a brief illness. He was 65 years old. He had injured his foot while swimming in the sea, and being a diabetic, the wound had proved fatal.
The Tower Hall and John de Silva’s Nurti have become synonymous. When we speak of Tower Hall plays, we mean Nurti (also spelled Nurthi) and John de Silva’s plays.
But it was many years after the Tower Hall was built and opened for public performances that a play by John de Silva was staged there. Folklore says that the proprietor of Tower Hall, G. Don Hendrik Seneviratne, whose son-in-law Charles Dias was J. de S’s rival in the theatre, did not permit J. de S’s plays staged there. Only Charles Dias’ plays were staged at the Tower Hall for a number of years, and they were so popular that many actors left John de Silva’s Arya Subodha Natya Sabah and joined Charles Dias’s Arya Sinhala Natya Sabah.
The John de Silva Hall behind the Art Gallery in Colombo was built in 1974 in honour of and to commemorate this great playwright and play-producer who made theatre-going the most popular form of entertainment in the early decades of the 20th century
Danno Budunge composition – 1903
The melody was composed by the Indian musician Viswanth Lauji (also spelt Lawjee). Siri sangaboCharithaya was first performed in 1903, and the song Danno Budunge from it contains three verses sung separately by Sanghatissa, Sangabo and Gotabhaya as they approach Anuradhapura after crossing a wooden bridge and saw the city of Anuradhapura in the distance. The play is based on the story found in the thirty-sixth chapter of the Mahāvaṃsa. The thirty-sixth chapter is about a virtuous king named Siri Sānghabō who with his two friends Gōtābhaya, and Sangatissa, travel to the royal city of Anuradhapura to serve the Sinhalese king. The following is an English translation.
Sānghatīssā:                Behold in this mansion-like town many monks adhering to the preceptsDestroying their defilements and abiding by Buddha’s dharma teachings
Sirisānghabō:              Like heaven on earth!The shade of the many monks who travel by airDestroy hot sun rays
Gōtābhaya:                I see flocks of ducks wading in deep ponds, where stems of lotus and lily flowers rise to the top
The song describes the environment created by a
large number of monks and the beauty of the city with lakes full of flowers and whistling fowls. The song describes the beauty of the city of Anuradhapura and is not directly a Buddhist song as such. But the words proclaim the wisdom of following the Dhamma. The religious and patriotic feelings aroused made the song very popular and became a favourite among the early musicians who made an attempt to create a place for the Sinhala song. Among them was Hubert Rajapakse, famous Tower Hall singer. Hubert Rajapakse, was the brother of Gate Mudaliar Tudor Rajapakse who donated land to build Ananda College and the Medical College. Their main house was “Gatherum” while they had two ancestral homes – one Maha Kappina Walauwa and the other in Muthuwadiya near Negombo. Hubert Rajapakse is believed to have sung this song in the 1920s. The public did not react well to his western” style of singing. Hubert was said to have been trained by the famous German opera singer Madam Mathilde Marchesi. According to Dr Tissa Abeysekara, Devar Surya Sena and Hubert Rajapakse were attempting to bring about a Sinhala music culture at a time of imperial rule and relaunched Danno Budunge with a few modifications.
It must be remembered that Hubert R sang this song in the 1920s, long after Siri Sangabo. His style of singing was apparently very different from the original which was sung in the Hindustani (vedic) style. He, for some reason, sang the first words as ‘Dharma Budunge’. Being the gramophone age, he recorded under the HMV (His Master’s Voice) label and the record was titled ‘Dharma Budunge’ (in Sinhala) – Ode to the Sacred City’. A popular notion is that Hubert Rajapakse being very western educated, had some difficulty pronouncing Sinhalese words properly and Danno became Dharma.
Another pioneer musician, H.W. Rupasinghe sang the song by himself while Rukmani Devi sang it twice, the second time accompanied by the Super Golden Chimes. Pandit Amaradeva’s rendition is highly rated as is Nanda Malini’s – the latter singing with a male chorus.
It is said that ‘Danno Budunge’ was popular with both Governor General Lord Soulbury and Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake. In fact, Lord Soulbury’s daughter Joan Ramsbotham sang the song. Joan has also recorded Olu Pipeela and Handapane, both sung in operatic style in 1948.   According to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, when the Queen visited Sri Lanka on two occasions, ‘Danno Budunge’ was sung at both receptions.
The SLBC once played it as the signature tune when announcing election results.
The clock tower in front of the Central Bank always chimes the first two lines of ‘Danno Budunge’ before it strikes the time. This clock tower is a historical monument because it was from this point that distances from Colombo were measured. This clock tower was not properly maintained till recently. However, the Governor of the Central Bank decided to renovate this historical monument and to maintain it, and for this, the country should be grateful to the Governor of the Central Bank.
The other singers who sang this popular song included Lawrence Perera and Mohideen Baig in the 1950s, Dalrene ArnoldaSoul SoundsSudath Samarasinghe, Corrine Almeida, Janaka Wickremasinghe, Kapila Pugala Arachchi and Nelu Adikari and the well-known cricketer Sidath Wettimuny.
The latest of course is the operatic” version sung at the 68th Independence Day celebrations at Galle Face Green in 2016, by the talented internationally famed Sri Lankan Soprano, Kishani Jayasinghe, causing such a storm. Kishani’s credentials were impeccable. She was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artistes Programme at the Royal Opera House from 2006 to 2008. She is also an Associate of the Classical Opera Company; an Alumni Laureate of the University of Nottingham; Zonta’s Woman of Achievement for the Performing Arts (2010) and the Asian Woman of Achievement for Art and Culture in the UK. Even her worst critics admire her musical talent.
Her husband Kaveenga who was surprised and disappointed by the overreaction says She is a Sinhala Buddhist woman, the former Head Prefect of Sri Lanka’s leading Buddhist Girls’ school Viskha Vidyalaya, who has mastered a revered and exalted form of singing – Opera, who has gained international fame and recognition, who sang a beloved Sinhala song in opera, wearing a traditional saree, in gold and maroon nonetheless, in dignified demeanour, meaningfully and respectfully but is vilified by a segment of her very same people, for petty political reasons, which has nothing to do with her. Those who say that she Christianised a traditional Sinhala song, despite singing it in the same melody with the exact original lyrics written by John de Silva, (who happens to be related to her), are being disingenuous. Singing a song in opera does not make it Western or Christian, if that was so, everything written or said in English or Italian should be considered as such. Singing a Sinhala song in opera is not an insult to the Sinhala language, yet some people seem to think so”.
Harsha Makalanda, the great-grandson of the composer commented thus on Kishani’s version “Kishani sang Danno Budunge” beautifully. The lyrics were written by my great grandfather Makalandage John de Silva for his immortal play “Sirisangabo” which stirred a wave of patriotism in real Sri Lankans in people who march forward into battle. Kishani’s rendition is Majestic as well as Spiritual-that unique combination my great grandfather wanted”
In “Sirisangabo” what was intended was patriotism and by all musical terms, Kishani conveys it and it takes someone who had studied music to properly understand it.
The reaction to Kishani’s song broadly ranged from mostly favourable to non-committal with fortunately only a small minority resorting to vile and insulting language. Some moderates commented that although the song was sung beautifully, the occasion was not right for it. But I don’t personally subscribe to that view although I have some sympathy for it.
At this point, it is relevant to a quote from another famous Sri Lankan musician, Devar Surya Sena, about the power of music. He said I realised the power of music to provide a common platform for the meeting of people of divergent races, creeds and interests”
Music and Cultural Background in Ceylon
An appreciation of the cultural background that prevailed in the late 19th Century and early 20th             Century helps us to understand the evolution of music and drama in Ceylon. The background to the story takes us through the various stages of drama in Ceylon (as it was called then) and the influence of foreign musical traditions on local music. It was also a time of display of national identity and moving away from colonial rule. There was a Buddhist revival with organised activity against Christian Missionaries who denigrated Buddhism. Key influences in this revival were people such as Hikkaduwe Sumangala, and Organisations such as the Buddhist Theosophical Society (Henry Steele Olcott) and the Maha Bodhi Society (Anagarika Dharmapala). The Press also proved to be a good medium to disseminate propaganda. The Buddhist revival became the dominant theme in John de Silva’s Nurti musicals. The other key influence was the advent of the vinyl record and how it changed the medium of musical entertainment available to the Public. Nearly every song that labels in Sri Lanka released between 1906 and 1930 were songs from the nurtitheatre. During this period gramophone players became status symbols of affluent homes in urban areas in Sri Lanka. This was coupled with one more important occurrence. This was the move of people to urban areas and their desire for entertainment, and the advent of the cinema.
Before the availability of the cinema, the chief mode of entertainment was the performance of Drama. The prevalent form in the mid 1880s was the Nadagam form, which was heavily influenced by India. The Nadagam were prolonged affairs, sometimes going on for days. John de Silva wanted to change this and can be regarded as the architect of the nurti form of drama. Nurti was derived from the Persian Theatre with its actors and musicians mostly from Gujerat and trained in the Hindustani school of classical Raga music. This heavily Persian influenced form was much more colourful and much shorter. Nurtis includedSri Wickrema Rajasinha” andSirisangabo,” (1903).
However, the nurti era also began to fade in the 1930s and aluth-sindu took its place. The melodies were derived from Hindi or Tamil songs and mostly musical imitations. One example of this is the Indian song (1940) Chal Chal Re Naujawan original tune from movie Bandhan, sung by Leela Chitnis and Ashok Kumar which was made into Dul Sal Vanē Lakal” Colombia Record by Mr Stanley Mallawarachchi and Mrs Greta Jennet de Silva and group, composed by late Mr U.D.Perera.
Sinhala songs continued to evolve and the next great chapter was the emergence of Sunil Santha who wanted to get away from Indian influence and create genuine Sinhala form. He was influenced by poet Munidasa Kumaratunga and Hela Hawula, a school of poets and intellectuals who placed importance on unsanskritised Sinhala known as Elu_Sinhala (also called Hela Sinhala). I will discuss Sunil Santha (and others like Ananda Samarakoon) in more detail in a later article. Suffice to say that he was a highly principled man who did not seek any personal glory in pursuing his love for Sinhala music.
Pundit Viswanath Lauji(Also known as Vishwanath Lawjee, Vishvanath Lowji, Vishvanath Lowji, Viśvanāt Lauji, Viśvanāt Lauji).
John de Silva (henceforth referred to as JdeS) was not a musician. He was more a lyricist and the melody for Danno Budunge was written by his Indian Musician friend, Pundit Visvanath Lauji, who came from Bombay. Lauji came to Ceylon with the Parsi theatre but stayed behind. It is said that Lauji was impressed by Western music and that he moved in circles which included Mendelssohn and Wagner. The story goes that John de Silva had met the Indian maestro of music, at a Christmas party hosted by Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike (the father of the late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike) at his manor in Kotahena. JdeS invited him to compose fitting tunes to the songs in his dramas. He would describe the scene and the character around whom the song is written and read out the Sinhalese poetry and Lauji would hum various melodies and JdeS would choose the one he liked. In other words, Lauji composed suitable airs to the poetic verses in JdeS’s libretto. This has been compared to the famous Gilbert and Sullivan theatrical partnership.
Thus it can be seen that Danno Budunge music was composed by an Indian musician schooled in the Ragadhari tradition. Could this be truly called a Sinhala” song?  You can decide! John de Silva’s songs have become a part of Sinhala dramatic heritage as indeed was his intention. He was convinced that musical dramas portraying the finest periods of Sri Lanka’s history could arouse a sense of true patriotism; hence his choice of plays around Dutugemunu and Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe.
It is debatable whether Danno Budunge can be called a Buddhist” song, but the popular view that it is a Buddhist song is understandable in the context of the evolution of the song. The lyrics describe the beauty of the city Anuradhapura. It does praise the virtues of pursuing the Buddha dhamma and does arouse religious and patriotic feelings. On the other hand, throughout history, Buddhism was not associated with music although Art, on the other hand, has been heavily influenced by it. Buddhism is associated more with chanting than singing. But over time, the association of Sinhala history with the predominant religion in Sri Lanka has made it in the eyes of many people, a Buddhist Sinhalese song. A moderate critical view of Kishani’s version is that it failed to deliver the intention behind the lyrics as the melody and the manner in which the words are sung must bear semblance to the meaning of words in the song, and that is exactly what is lacking when sung in operatic like style – in the opinion of some.
Before Nurti
Nadagam, a kind of musical play, came to Sri Lanka about 1750. The music consisted of simple forms used in South Indian village plays. Instruments were the drums Mridangam or maddal, the wind instruments, Nadaswaram, and kaithalam. Sinhala nadagam became popular, and by 1850 was a hobby of the elite. But it had become poor in musical content and the limited melodies failed to attract urban audiences. The arrival of more lively North Indian music also played a role in the decline of the nadagam. In India with Muslim rule Sanskrit, drama had declined, but folk play traditions had continued. Local music had developed with new Arabian and Persian raga and tala.
In 1853 in Ayodhya, the musical play ‘Indrasabha’, comparing an earthly ruler to a deity, was created, guided by classical and folk music and it became very popular. Parsi entrepreneurs spread this and similar plays across much of India. In these early Indian musical plays many melodies were based on Ghazal, originally Persian, music for poetry.
There was also the influence of Western melodies. Indian musicians, it is conjectured, heard these from military bands. Europeans and their ways were sometimes uncritically emulated in India, and also in Sri Lanka.  On the other hand, Christian missionaries in India used Indian raga for Christian songs in English. These were now used in these plays, for travel and weddings scenes.
In the latter half of the century, when travel by sea became easier, North Indian melodies came to SL. Indian traders visited and some settled in Sri Lanka. Indian pilgrims to Kataragama landing at Galle were sought and hosted by nadagam practitioners. Their experts had no training in music. They appreciated the elegance of Hindustani songs. There was some influx of the melodies into nadagam.
Beginning in the late 1870s Calutantrige Don Bastian Jayaweera Bandara (1852- 1921) and his followers staged plays which used North Indian music, such as his ‘Rolina’ in 1877. He called these nurthia, Sanskrit word for a dance signifying a subject. In nadagam, each actor first appears in a dance conveying his or her character, and CDB’s early plays continued with this. He may have intended the new name as a contrast to nadagam. In popular use it became nurti. He is also recognised as a pioneer in establishing Sunday Buddhist schools and for setting up the first Sinhalese daily newspaper, Dianapata Pravurti. He is always referred to as C. Don Bastian.
In 1880 the Indian musical play company of Baliwalla arrived in SL, followed by others from India. Their plays were influenced by ‘Indrasabha’. These often used emotional love stories, which suited musical plays. Baliwalla’s first in Sri Lanka was ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Some of his others were based on stories of Arabic and Hindu deities.
CDB attended Baliwalla’s plays and learnt their melodies and instrumental passages. He too produced a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which closely followed Baliwalla’s. CDB’s Sinhalese Drama Co. continued until about 1900.
John de Silva set up his company after CDB. His first two plays contain much music from ‘Indrasabha’ and Baliwalla. But he was the first playwright in Sri Lanka to try to understand the classical basis of Hindustani music. In 1885, he engaged Abdul Latif, a North Indian businessman in Colombo, to write the music for his ‘Nala Raja Charitaya’, an Indian-based play, and published a book with the raga and tala and the original Hindustani lyrics for each song.
A liking for Hindustani and Urdu music developed among Sri Lankans. Sinhalese and others who liked Indian music, regarded Hindustani as associated with music, as Italian was in Europe. A singer would follow a Sinhala song with a Hindustani one in the same melody to show it was authentic. It was quite common for the first line of the song to be the name of the original to indicate its derivation. Few in Sri Lanka knew Hindustani, and lyrics were often cleverly faked!
In 1888, JdeS got down a Gujarati copy of ‘Indrasabha’. The play was staged from Colombo to Hambantota. Its songs became popular. Renditions though were not always accurate. Until 1900, all musical plays in Sri Lanka were influenced by ‘Indrasabha’. Its song of welcome, king’s song and others were used in many Sinhala plays, with some adaptations.
Early Sinhala musical plays contained several alien Western melodies. This is an example of the emulation mentioned above.
Around 1900, soon after CDB’s co. closed down, as I have indicated earlier, JdeS brought new vitality to nurti by engaging Vishvanat Lavji, a professional musician involved in Hindustani and Gujarati plays. VL took music from such plays and altered it close to classical form. JdeS produced six Sinhala plays with his guidance, including ‘Siri sangabo’. He believed that the earliest Sinhalese were Hindus and were hence heirs to Hindustani music.
Other producers of plays in SL at the time freely used music from the six plays by JdeS and VL. After VL went back to India the Tower Hall co. engaged other Indian musicians for JdeS. Most of their music for nurti were popular melodies from Hindustani and Gujarati plays. In general, this was the case in Sri Lanka from the 1880s until the Tower Hall Company closed down. Three years before it didButabhai, a North Indian musician, convened all leading actors in Colombo and taught them ‘Indrasabha’ in Hindustani.
Another source for nurti music were the Malays” of Sri Lanka. They had heard Indian melodies from Indian soldiers in Singapore. They helped CDB by memorising Baliwalla’s music and in his plays, many were experts on the violin and dhol. Their saji meeting places were a source for the spread of nurti music. From time to time, well known Sri Lankan musicians composed for new plays, such as H.W. Rupasinghe, J.A. Sadiris Silva, and W. Satasivam. Incidentally, playing a lead role in the play Sirisangabo was Sadiris de Silva, popularly known as Sadiris Master for his musical talent. He was to assist Henry Jayasena who was invited to produce ‘Sirisangabo’ to mark the opening of the Tower Hall after exhaustive renovations in March 1978. It was coincidental that Sadiris Master’s son, reputed musician Shelton Premaratne handled the music in Henry Jayasena’s production.
Later, there was much competition and secrecy among those involved in musical plays in Sri Lanka. Nurti music declined because of the cost of getting down Indian musicians.
Alleged connections with Mendelssohn and Wagner
It has been stated many times, without firm evidence that Danno Budunge is based on a Wagner Organ Concerto. Nobody has so far produced any firm evidence to substantiate this. Another favoured Western influence is Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn’s Duetto op. 38 no. 6, in ‘Songs Without Words’ (MWV U119) does have a lot of similarity to the opening two lines of DB.
Mendelssohn also had an indirect connection with Ceylon, and this is referred to in an article which appeared in the Sunday Times Plus, Sri Lanka dated 17th April 2016 by US. In 1829, when Ceylon was a British colony, Alexander Johnston, its ex-Chief Justice, asks Mendelssohn to compose music to given lyrics to mark legal changes in Ceylon including the abolition of slavery”. Mendelssohn does so. Johnston is impressed by the piece and says it can reform the Empire. In 1832 Mendelssohn. composes #38-6. A sequence of notes at the start (of its first voice”) is identical to that at the start of the Western version of Danno Budunge. Therefore, maybe he had written the same beginning for the Johnston piece, it was sung here, the melody survived, reached nurti, and Lavji altered it a bit”.Incidentally, in the same article, he says The first run of ‘Siri sangabo’ did not include Danno Budunge. This and two more songs were added in the second or third edition”, to provide more time for changes of sets. Maybe in this situation, Lavji was not that finicky about their origin? (In opera, for this purpose, rarely, a producer added a piece by a lesser-known composer!)”
It is possible that composers such as Mendelssohn and Wagner did influence the melody on DB. The evidence for being influenced by Mendelssohn is more compelling. But in the absence of definite evidence it is still largely speculation, but interesting.
Hymn for Ceylon
The next to consider in this historical piece is the Christian Hymn, Hymn for Ceylon”. This was written in 1923 by the Rev. Walter Stanley Senior. The notion that Danno Budunge was influenced by Hymn for Ceylon is clearly false as DB was composed long before Hymn for Ceylon. It is, in fact, the converse; Hymn for Ceylon borrowed the melody from DB.
Rev. Senior came to SL in 1906. By that time Sirisangabo nurtiya had been shown in Ceylon for at least 3 years. WSS wrote the Hymn for Ceylon at a much later stage. Devar Surya Sena composed music for this song in the 1950s using the Danno Budunge melody, slightly modified to suit Church singing.
Reverend Walter Stanley Senior. (10 May 1876 – 23 February 1938) 
He was an English scholar, poet and member of the Church Missionary Society and was popularly known as the “Bard of Lanka. Reverend Senior came out to Ceylon in 1906 and served as Vice Principal of Trinity College Kandy from (1906–1916). When the then Principal of Trinity, Rev. A. G. Fraser, was looking for talent in the English Universities to come and serve at Trinity College, he came across Senior who belonged to a set of brilliant men, including the late Dr Kenneth Saunders from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, N. P. Campbell, also a Balliol man recognised as a great scientist, and J. P. R. Gibson, later Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In the absence of Rev Fraser, Senior also deputised as Acting Principal for a short period.
He retired to England, and one of his greatest desires, namely, to see Ceylon and some of his numerous friends before his death, was gratified when he was able to spend a short holiday in the Island two years before his death, already a very sick man who knew that the end was not far off. A few months before his death, he said: The idea has come to me that I should like my ashes, for I contemplate cremation rather than burial, to be interred in St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Haputale.” His gravestone at St Andrew’s is a testament to his life, bearing the plain legend He Loved Ceylon” preceded by the opening lines from his poem, Lanka from Piduruthalagala: Here I stand in spirit, as in body once I stood Long years ago, in love with all the land, this peerless land of beauty’s plenitude. The pulpit of the Trinity College Chapel is dedicated to his name.
A common vein in many of his finest pieces is an appreciation of the diversity and beauty that is Sri Lanka. Rev Senior also has the distinction of being the author of the famous Hymn for Ceylon as well as the Hymn of Trinity College, Kandy and that of St. John’s College, Jaffna. His best-known work, however, is the soul-stirring epic titled The Call of Lanka, which many consider to be arguably the finest poem dealing with Sri Lanka ever written.
The tune of the Hymn for Ceylon is another adaptation from the DB tune composed by John de Silva. The music for the Hymn for Ceylon was composed in 1950 by Devar Surya Sena. The tune is the same as that of the original tune of Danno Budunge except for the 5th and 6th lines which were altered by Devar Surya Sena. When it is sung in full harmony, it sounds wonderful.
According to Devar Surya Sena, Walter Senior gave him the words of his ‘Hymn for Ceylon’ (O father thou has promised the isles shall wait for thee), and suggested, Someday you’re going to write a tune for this Bertie.” Later, on my return from England…In a flash the thought came that the much loved melody of ‘Danno Budunge’, adapted slightly, would fit the metre…I…married the words to the tune, harmonising the melody in four parts”.
Deva Surya Sena (1899- 1981)
He was the son of Sir James Pieris and was baptised Herbert Charles Jacob Pieris. His cousin was the well-known Rev. Lakdasa De Mel, later Bishop and Metropolitan.

Devar was the pioneer who introduced Sinhalese folk songs to Western audiences. There he is in the same league as Ravi Shankar. Like most sons of rich families, he was sent to England for further education. He went to Tonbridge School in Kent and later read Classics and Law at Cambridge although his primary love was in music.  He initially returned to Ceylon as a lawyer but he travelled regularly to London and studied at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London and obtained ARCM in singing.
In 1927 he decided to pursue a career in singing and left for England.  He said that the spiritual satisfaction that music gave him was far more valuable than materialistic comforts.  Once back in Ceylon, he developed an interest in Sinhalese traditional music and did extensive research on it. He dropped his Pieris name and called himself Surya Sena and wore Indian dress to de-Westernise himself. His wife Winifred (nee De Silva) a musician herself and mostly educated in Belgium, took the name Nelun Devi. They went around the country collecting folk songs which are now preserved at the Devar Surya Sena Trust. As they travelled the island, they heard, probably for the first time, the songs of the earth that were theirs. The devotional songs, the sacred chants, the haunting village lullabies, and the folk songs and rhythms became part of a new adventure of discovery and learning.  The vannams, or sung poetry of lion, elephant, horse, hare, cobra, monkey and hawk, are part of the earth and sky of this land; and the flutes and drums of the villagers, and the long sad chants of the Veddahs, return with reminding presence. Surya and Nelun, listening and learning, discovered the primitive wonder of indigenous music; the simple brooding songs of farmer, fisherman, carter and blacksmith – the folk music that accompanies hardship. Surya Sena expressed anew the emotions of love, joy, anger and grief expressed in song and dance and in the chanted poetry and silence of his people, and these became his own. He pledged to use his gifts to make this knowledge as widely known as possible.
Later, he expanded his interest into Hindustani music by studying at Maris College of Hindustani Music in Lucknow and Sangit Sangha at Calcutta. He also spent 9 months in Tagore’s Shantiniketan. In 1932, Devar and his wife Nelun Devi sang Sinhalese folk songs at a concert in London. The singer’s voice was most agreeable and musical”, said the Daily Mail. They toured Europe and America and introduced our folk songs to a wider international audience. He has written books and articles on Sinhalese Folk Music. 
Surya Sena used his wealth and experience to set up a Trust for the furtherance of education, music and art. He gifted his gracious home in Colombo 3 with its valuable effects to become what is known as the Surya Sena Centre. He was awarded the OBE in 1949.
The Hymn for Ceylon
O father, Thou hast promisedThe isles shall wait for Thee,The joyous isles of ocean,The jewels of the sea.Lo! we, this island’s watchmenWould give and take no rest;For thus hast Thou commanded -Till our dear land be blessed. //
Then bless her mighty Father,With blessings needed most,In every verdant village,By every palmy coast.On every soaring mountain,O’er every spreading plain,May all her sons and daughters -Thy righteousness attain. //
Give peace within her bordersTwixt man and man goodwill,The love all unsuspicious,The love that works no ill.In loyal lowly service,Let each from other learn,The guardian and the guarded, -Till Christ Himself return. //
To Him our land shall listen,To Him our land shall kneel;All rule be on His shoulder,All wrong beneath His heel;O consummation gloriousWhich now by faith we sing;Come, cast we up the highway -That brings us back our King! //

In conclusion, this wonderful song Danno Budunge loved and cherished by the people of Sri Lanka has been sung by many singers over the years and will no doubt continue to be sung by singers from future generations for time immemorial.

One Response to “Danno Budunge, a very special song.”

  1. Nimal Says:

    This tune came from the collage hymn of Christian collage Kotte in 1822.My great great grandfather who stated this collage in 1819 at Gotambi then moved to nearby Kotte to help erect the CMS collage in Kotte with the help of either Rev Dougbigin or Rev Ferrier.It was then a colonial tradition to have a collage song and a collage hymn.

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