Could Fr. Marcelline Jayakody be called "Modern Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez"?


rev.jpg (13810 bytes) By W. T. A. Leslie Fernando
The 3rd death anniversary of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, the well known catholic priest, musician, poet, lyricist, author, journalist and patriot falls on January 15, 2001. A household name in our country, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody passed away on January 15, 1998.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was born on June 03, 1902 at Dankotuwa on the outskirts of Maha Oya.

He had his early education at Madampe Sinhala School and secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. In 1920, he entered St. Bernard’s Seminary and was ordained a Catholic priest on December 20, 1927.

Slavishly imitating the West was the order of the day in the early 1900’s. There was also a national resurgence led by patriots like Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harischandra and Piyadasa Sirisena. The higher strata in society who believed in the Western way of life were severely criticised by the well-known novelist, Piyadasa Sirisena.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody always had a great love for our indigenous culture. Fr. Jayakody read the novels of Piyadasa Sirisena with interest and drew inspiration from his works.

As a young priest, Fr. Jayakody was criticised for offering some Lotus flowers at the altar at the wedding Mass of one of his relatives. Much water had flowed under the bridge since then and now culture is given its due place in the Church. Marcelline Jayakody is considered to be an exponent of indigenous writing.

Fr. Jayakody served as the assistant parish priest in Kotahena, Pamunugama, Kochchikade (Negombo) and Kandana. He served as the parish priest at Paiyagala, Duwa, Katana and Maggona. As the parish priest, he gave the altar a national aura bedecking it with Gokkola and Ralipalam.

When he was the parish priest of Duwa, the Duwa Passion Play was performed with images of sacred personages based on the "Nine Sermons" of "Dukprapthi Sangrahaya" written by Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez. Fr. Jayakody revised and recast the Duwa Passion Play while maintaining the traditional outlook.

He used human actors for all the scenes except for Christ and Mary. He also composed all the hymns in addition to the traditional "Pasan". At that time the Duwa passion Play-performed with over 250 actors all drawn from the hamlet of Duwa - was considered the best enactment in the whole of Asia.

The greatest contribution Fr. Marcelline Jayakody has made to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is in the sphere of Church music.

At the beginning of the 20th century, dubbing Sinhala words to Latin hymns and Western tunes was the normal practice. Accordingly Fr. Marcelline Jayakody too wrote some hymns, specially carols, adopting Western melodies. In 1934, however he composed the hymn "Sapiri Sama Asiri Soma" and the Christmas carol "Raya Tharu Babalanawa" set to his own music. These hymns became very popular and are still sung in churches. He then, began to compose hymns and set them to his own music.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s there was a national renaissance in Sri Lanka around Independence. This national consciousness had its effect on the Catholic Church as well. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody too began to compose outstanding hymns like "Ronata Vadina Bingu Obay", "Nelum Pipeela Pethi Visireela" and "Suvanda Jale Pipi Kumudiniye" with a national fervour. These magnificent hymns with their wonderful lyrics, sweet music and local setting captivated the hearts of all.

In 1949, Fr. Jayakody was invited to train the choir for the song "Namo Namo Matha" At the first independence celebrations as the composer Ananda Samarakone had gone abroad. Fr. Jayakody rose to the occasion, trained the students of Musaeus College and presented it to acclamation of all. There is no doubt that this fantastic performance had paved the way to adopt "Namo Namo Matha" later as our national anthem.

In late 1949, Fr. Jayakody was appointed the Editor of the "Gnanaratha Pradeepaya" the Sinhala Catholic weekly in Sri Lanka. He increased the pages from 8 to 12 and introduced new features with an indigenous out look. It was Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who designed the caption of the paper in a national setting and this caption is still continued.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody underwent some training at Shanthinikethan, the famous oriental Arts centre in India set up by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1950’s for some time he served on the staff of St. patrick’s College, Jaffna. There he presented a Passion Play with the participation of students of the College.

The film "Rekawa" presented by Lester James Pieris in 1956 was a landmark in Sinhala cinema. It was the first Sinhala film with a real indigenous outlook and it won several international awards. Lester James Pieris got Fr. Marcelline Jayakody to write lyrics for songs in Rekawa and Sunil Santha to provide music for them.

At a poll conducted in the "Sunday Observer", Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was selected the leading personality in the film world in 1956 for his fascinating lyrics in "Rekawa". Dr. W. Dahanayake, the then Minister of Education, who presented the award said "If I could write a single song like this I consider it an achievement greater than being a Minister".

In the 1970’s, Fr. Jayakody wrote a column in the "Catholic Messenger". He wrote it for four years and continued it even when he was abroad. In 1976 his popular column was suddenly discontinued over a controversial article. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody instead wrote a series of poems to the "Kaviya" magazine on Buddhist Sinhala Culture.

His work "Muthu" was a collection of the poems carried in the "Kaviya". "Muthu" won Fr. Marcelline Jayakody the Presidential award for the best poetry work in 1979 and the famous international prize the Magsaysay award in 1983.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody has authored many other prose and poetry works both in Sinhala and in English. A well known journalist, he often wrote columns for both the Catholic and secular press. For many decades until his death he was the president of the Sinhala Poets’ Association.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody whose prose is poetry and words are songs was the proud boast of Catholics as a national artist and patriot.

Some call Fr. Marcelline Jayakody the "Modern Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez". Fr. Marcelline Jayakody did not like the title. He resisted it explaining that he thought and wrote in Sinhala.

An enthusiastic members of the "Hela Havula". Fr. Marcelline Jayakody preferred pure Sinhala words rather than mixed language. This is evident when we compare his compositions with those of Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez.

The language in the hymns of Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez is high flown with many Sanskrit and Tamil words. The music is somewhat monotonous. A majority of the hymns are not intelligible to the average educated. The hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody on the other hand are simple and close to people. They are appreciated even by non-Catholics. A Majority of the popular hymns sung in churches today are compositions of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.

Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez did everything in Sri Lanka to convert people to Christinanity. In "Budubana Prathyakshaya" he attacks Buddhism and condemens it as a pagan religion. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was different. In his work "Muthu" Fr. Marcelline Jayakody extols Buddhism and Buddhist culture. He likes to see Buddhism further consolidated in Sri Lanka, rather than converting people to Christianity. It is clearly seen from the following verse in the poem "Vehera" in Muthu.

Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez used subtle modes in his missionary work. He presented curios and specially made sweets to the Kings of Kandy to win over their goodwill for his activities. He associated Buddhist monks also to convert them to Christianity if possible. He once converted a Buddhist monk and sent him abroad on the sly.

The Buddhist priests in Kandy led by Weliwita Sri Sarananakara Sangaraja Thera resented the activities of Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez and protested about them to King Vijaya Sri Rajasinghe.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was always praised by the Maha Sangha. Many Buddhist Bhikkus helped Fr. Marcelline Jayakody when he was harassed and humiliated by the church Authorities. He was close to Buddhist priests and remarked that holy and learned Bhikkus are "Angels in yellow robes". Fr. Marcelline Jayakody took pride in being called "Pansale Piyathuma".

In fact, Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera has written a book on the life of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody titled "Malpale Upan Pansale Piyathuma." This is the first book in the whole world written by a Buddhist prelate on a catholic priest.

In these circumstances, it is a misnomer to call Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who has touched the hearts and lives of both Catholics and non-Catholics a like, in Sri Lanka the "Modern Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez".
(The writer is a former High Court Judge)