Amaradeva was born on December 5 in Koralawella, Moratuwa. He was named Wannakuwatta Waduge Don Albert Perera. His adopted name is Amaradeva which means immortal deity. His father, Jinoris Perera, was a carpenter by profession and a Buddhist. His mother was BalapuWaduge Maggie Besliyanu Mendis, a Methodist.
His father specialized in making and repairing violins. He started fiddling with violins at a very tender age. When his mother was reciting hymns Amaradeva played his violin to accompany his mother’s singing. Due to the fact that his parents belonged to two different faiths he was influenced by both the temple and the church. Due to his singing talent he was a member in both the church choir and the temple Bakhthi Gee band.
He enrolled at Sri Saddharmodaya Primary School in Koralawella for early education. The principal of the school was KJ Fernando who was a diehard member of the Hela Hawula, an organisation which vigorously campaigned for furtherance of pure Sinhala usage which was founded by Munidasa Cumaratunga. On occasions Amaradeva was requested to recite poems at meetings of Cumaratunga’s residence.
On his seventh birthday Amaradeva received a violin from his father personally handcrafted by him which inspired the young boy’s passion for music. By now Amaradeva had mastered playing the violin and the school choir led by him won the gold medal for musical renditions at the competition conducted by the Colombo branch of the Kalyana Mithra Sangamaya.
At the MoratuVidyalaya he got the first opportunity to sing over radio. He directed music for the stage play ‘Kirihamy’ when he was still a student at the school.
When the school principal was transferred to KalutaraVidayalaya he took Amaradeva along with him to the same college and again to Balapitiya Siddhartha Vidyalaya which was the turning point in his music life.
Production work on the film Asokamala commenced around this time and its lyricist happened to be his former music teacher Danister Thomas. Amaradeva was selected to the orchestra of Master Mohamad Ghouse who directed music for the film. Amaradeva produced interludes for songs like ‘Shantha Me Rathriye’, ‘Preethi Preethi’ and ‘Ayi Kale Yamek Aale’ in this film.
Just before flying to India as a violinist in the orchestra of the film Asokamala, Amaradeva played the violin for the songs ‘Aadra Nadiye’ and ‘Metharam Sundara Mal’ sung by Sunil Shantha.
In India, working for the film he sang two songs for Asokamala, namely ‘Aiye KaleYamek Aale’, and ‘Bhave Bheetha Hera Deshithe Thilona’ and acted in the film as a hermit. He was nicknamed the ‘Hermit of Koralawella’, for playing that role. This was his debut as an actor and background singer. He was introduced in the film credits as Assistant Music Director to his surprise. It was a great honour bestowed on Amaradeva by Ghouse Master for this up-and-coming musician. Further, Ghouse Master selected him for his orchestra as a violinist for recording songs for Colombia Records.
Amaradeva composed music for the plays of renowned dramatists Chitrasena and Premakumara Epitawala. He reached the zenith of his musical career when Prof. Sarachchandra chose him to direct music for his play ‘Pabawathi’. Realizing the talents of Amaradeva, Maestro Lionel Edirisinghe, who graduated from Bhatkhande Music College, wanted to introduce Amaradeva to great musical traditions of India before he fell into Tamil Nadu influence and proposed to Prof. Sarachchandra to award him a scholarship to Bhatkhande.
Prof. Sarachchandra persuaded veteran journalist DB Dhanapala to raise a fund sponsored through national newspaper Lankadeepa and Amaradeva was fortunate to go to Bhatkhande. Prof. Sarachchandra christened him Amaradeva befitting his musical talents.
Amaradeva won the first place in playing the violin at the All India Violin Competition held in 1955. He was among the ten best musicians in Bhatkhande in 1956. His Guru Pandit Shri Vishnu Govind Jog named his grandson after Amradeva as a gesture of respect.
Amaradeva fused north Indian ragas with local folk music traditions without affecting the local flavour at a time when local music was dominated by Tamil musicians and singers.
Amaradeva composed a unique style of music to films like Ranmuthu Duwa, Gampereliya, Ransalu, Getawarayo, Rena Girauw and Thunman Handiya, which won the hearts of all and sundry. He provided memorable musical scores to ballets like Nala Damayanthi and Karadiya. He was versatile in playing musical instruments viz. sitar, table, violin and harmonium.
He had a niche in the history of the Maldives for composing the tune for their national anthem.
Amaradeva was never interested in amassing wealth unlike many of his ilk. He remained apolitical throughout his life. He honed the music talents of then up-and-coming vocalists like Nanda Malini, Victor Ratnayake, Sanath Nandasiri, Narada Disasekara who are music doyens of the country.
He authored a book on music titled ‘Nada Siththam’ which is even today used as a guide by music students and was the only Sri Lankan to win India’s coveted Padma Sri Award and Ramon Magsaysay Award from the Philippines which is considered Asia’s Nobel Prize.
In his own country he was conferred a doctorate and titles Deshmanya and Kalakeerthi. The University of Kelaniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Fine Arts) in 1991 and the Universities of Ruhuna and Peradeniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Letters in 1993 and 1998.
Amaradeva possessed a remarkable musical talent and silvery voice which enthralled the entire nation for six decades. He passed away to the Land of No Return on November 3 at the age of 88. May his journey in Samsara be smooth till he reaches the Supreme bliss of Nirvana.