The life and times of Rev. Fr. Marceline Jayakody indeed evoke sweet memories of a respected Catholic Priest who marched through the silky routes of literature and bloomed into a garden of fragrance.
Rev. Fr. Marceline Jayakody with Indrani and Sisira Senaratne with whom he closely associated with
The fourth death anniversary of this great figure fell on January 15.
The late Kalashoori Fr. Marceline Jayakody was not born with the proverbial
silver spoon clenched in his fist when he came into this world on June 3, 1902. Born to a middle class family in Dankotuwa, his father was an Ayurvedic physician.
A product of Madampe Vidyalaya and St. Joseph's College, Colombo he passed the Cambridge senior amidst financial constraints and was ordained as a priest on December 20, 1927 after following a spiritual stint at St. Bernard's Seminary.
Fr. Jayakody's long-playing passion for Arts and poetry started as a little child while flipping through his father's Ayurvedic literature which had been in poetic rhythm. His childhood passion eventually took him to such great heights that he brought fame to Sri Lanka by clinching Asia's Nobel Prize - the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award in 1983.
Fr. Jayakody who was acclaimed as one of Sri Lanka's finest writers, always infused our own traditional culture and values into his creations, also taught at St. Patrick's College, Jaffna, St. Peter's College, Colombo and completed a stint at his alma mater St. Joseph's College.
The fine violinist, while studying music at the esteemed Shanthi Nikethan in India, had the rare honour of having India's former Premier, the late Indira Gandhi as his contemporary.
Fr. Marceline Jayakody, the respected Catholic Priest, poet, lyricist and journalist, holds the distinguished record of being the first Catholic Priest to write songs for Sinhala films and penned nearly 800 songs which became instant hits among the masses. Always decorating his words in line with indigenous culture and traditional values, Fr. Jayakody who was fluent in about ten languages authored several books in Sinhala and English and was awarded the Kalashoori award in 1982.
His eternal romance with the pen won him the coveted Presidential award for his anthology Muthu in 1979 and seven years later he was accorded a special award for penning a special song to mark World Food Day.
Fr. Marceline Jayakody who became more humble, the more he was showered upon with success is known to have been a key element in getting Ananda Samarakoon's Namo Namo Matha accepted as our national anthem. It is said that the move came after the then Finance Minister J.R. Jayewardene invited Fr. Jayakody to train the special choir to sing the song as Ananda Samarakoon had gone abroad during the first Independence day celebrations in 1949.
Fr. Jayakody is said to have gone to the temple on Poya days with his mother Josephine Senaratne - a Buddhist, who later became a Catholic. Perhaps that background had encouraged Fr. Jayakody to build a close rapport with Buddhism and Buddhist prelates and years later he was popularly known as "Pansale Piyathuma" or the Father in the temple.
In a significant move, Ven, Ittepane Dhammalankara Thera wrote a book titled "Mal Pele Upan Pansale Piyathuma" - the first book in the world written by a Buddhist prelate about a Catholic Priest.
Coming back to films, Fr. Jayakody's 'Wesak Kekulu Athu Aga Mal' written for Lester James Peiris' 'Rekhawa' and sung by Indrani Wijebandara was adjudged the best film song in 1957, largely due to soaking it with wondrous words.
Veteran songstress Indrani Wijebandara recalling the glorious past, told the TV Times that Fr. Jayakody was her first guru who guided her when she sang her debut song "Lo Pura Rev Naga".
'He is the one who introduced me and my husband Sisira to sing in Rekhawa. There was a fine rhythm even when he spoke to people. He is one of the greatest human beings I have ever met', she said.
Among the other popular songs penned by him were 'Olu Nelum Neriya Rangala', 'Sudu Sanda Eliye' and several other Christmas songs including 'Seenu Handin Lowa Pibidenawa' and 'Ronata Wadina Bingu Obai'.
History records Fr. Jayakody as the only Sri Lankan Catholic Priest ever to have conducted a Holy Christmas Mass at Jesus Christ's birth place, Nativity Church in Bethlehem in 1961.
The President of the Lankan Poets Association till his demise, he was also the first to pen the maiden English song My dreams are roses for my love for a Sinhala film 'Romeo Juliet'.
As a journalist, he was at the helm of the Gnanartha Pradeepaya - the Sinhala version of The Catholic Messenger - in 1949 and he used his paper for the benefit of the entire country.
Fr. Jayakody always captured the perfect harmony between man and nature and artistically conveyed them through his creations. With the passage of time, even when ill-health was his closest companion, he continued his childhood passion of writing.
The country lost the ardent lover of nature and his motherland on January 15, 1998, when he was 96. Though Fr. Marceline Jayakody is no more, his works, especially his songs would certainly have immunity from death.