Sunanda Mahendra (De Mel) was born on 28th January 1938 to Martin Henry De Mel and Lilliat Magaret Waidyaratne of Piliyandala, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Sunanda was the 3rd of 5 children. He also has a younger brother and a sister in which the former unfortunately died in his younger days. De Mel’s were a well to do middle-class family with emphasis on academia and religious education. De Mel Senior, himself a Public Health Inspector (PHI), had to relocate places of his work from time to time which inadvertently resulted variations in young Sunanda’s education too. As a result, he was compelled to study in both Dharmaraja, Kandy and Ananda College, Colombo. However, this distraction was not something he would recall with distress or misfortune, instead that paved him with glut of experience to his sideline which happened to be writing short works of creative arts.
Unlike most of the nowadays children who are bombarded with to become doctors, proctors or engineers, he had something of his own search through literary interest. In his school days he had endeavoured Science without much of an interest, subsequent to his own admission and his uncle ‘Sudu mama’ whom he fondly still reminds his path to success was changed. Through the interests of his endearing uncle he chose the path to be literary scholar. His literary works were published in daily and weekly papers of the country and bore ‘Sunanda Mahendra De Mel’. However, ‘De Mel’ portion was later dropped due to his own persona. According to Sunanda his father was also a writer to a certain extent; ‘Vineetha Hema’ (Decent Hema), he created the history in Ceylon by becoming the first to publish a drama associated book. One notable incident in Sunanda’s younger days was his application to memorise the verse of the ‘Dhammapada’ every morning by his father, thereon the interest on Buddhist studies and related literature. No doubt both father and uncle had a greater influence upon this progeny.
Sunanda entered the University of Kelaniya, then Vidyalankara University, for his BA degree where he pursued further interests in literary interests and western playwrights. Sunanda’s maiden novel ‘Hewaneli Eda Minissu’ (men with crooked shadows), in 1964 fetched him the State Literary Award for the best novel at the tender age of 26. Thereon it was one-way traffic for him and he studied Henrik Ibsen’s creations. Sunanda himself a left-lenient, saw Ibsen as a great social reformer than a political stooge and latter’s works had influenced him heavily. In 1965 he translated Ibsen’s ‘Heddar Gabler’ as ‘Geheniyak’ to Sinhala and staged it. By this time, he was engaged in teaching at the University of Lanka and later became a programme producer in Radio Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation). The 1960 decade made that budding progeny become more productive with further achievements competing with veterans in the media field. With odds heavily stacked against on him to become Ceylon’s representative to the BBC Sinhalese service on a scholarship, Sunanda came up trumps by piping everyone at the post to make way to the BBC, Bush House in the UK and to carry on ‘Sandesaya’ for the first time for our Sinhalese listeners in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile Sunanda had also tied the knot with his university sweetheart Seetha Srimathi Ranasinghe who happened to be his student as well.
The BBC days not only brought satisfaction to Sunanda but also paved way for him to search for various other options in facets of academic interests. During this period he took up to visiting the British Museum and especially on researching ‘Jataka’ tales pertaining to Buddhism. The research works led to MPhil followed by PhD degree from the University of London, UK. Despite opportunities that came across to settle in the UK and build an upper class society and become part of the Sinhalese diaspora, Sunanda’s mind was firmly ingrained with Sri Lankan affairs; as a result he wrote somewhat nostalgic yet patriotic songs for the late charismatic singer C T Fernando. Good old C T with a broad smile did not let Sunanda down as he sang his heart out despite suffering in his initial stages of the cancer inside the mouth. Those who have not heard those songs, only Sunanda would fondly remember it; ‘Obage Thurulen oba dun sihilen’ and ‘Amathannata Heki basak soya’. The original Stereo recording of these songs consist of the unmistakable music of late maestro Patrick Denipitiya. However, these songs were not broadcast via the Radio Ceylon until C T bade farewell to us in 1977 at the age of 57; even then the songs were sung by his son Priyantha with a different mode and at somewhat elevated beat. Sadly, the tape of the original sound track which Sunanda had kept with him since the BBC days was lost due to the negligence of the SLBC co-workers whom later on try to transfer the recordings from the tape to a CD. Sunanda also happened to write the song ‘Kuda Devika’, a poem which depicts the seasonal effects in the UK in the eyes of a little girl Devika, melodiously sung by Edmond Wickremasekera. Edmond also happened to produce the first stereophonic record in the UK by a Lankan in the early 1970s. ‘Kuda Devika’ is still one of the all time popular songs by Sunanda.
Consequent to his come back to Sri Lanka after a flourishing period in the UK, Sunanda got into lecturing in the University of Vidyalankara (Now Kelaniya). His main endeavours on drama studies did not stop here. In 1976, in conjunction with university students he displayed yet another Ibsanite vision, ‘Jana Hathura’ (A public Enemy). ‘Jana Hathura’ was talked in the theatre circles with great interest. Sunanda’s knack to create an own piece of drama to the centre stage bloomed in 1979, in the name of ‘Pokuru Wessa’ (A Tale of a Farce). ‘Pokuru wessa’ was a simple yet intermingled with greater depths of the Sri Lankan oppressed society. Sunanda Mahendra, the literary persona cum social thinker was conspicuously yet scrupulously and meticulously portrayed in this creative piece of work. It also drew the attention of the then giants of the drama stage; Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra,called it as a masterpiece.
In the 1980s Sunanda was heavily involved in writing children’s and media books. His radio features such as ‘Vishwa Keerthiyata Pathwuuwo’ (The Renowned People of the World) became one of the rare occurrences in the Sinhalese radio (Broadcast on first channel of Sinhala). For this series he had recreated the great people who once changed people’s thoughts and socio-political frame work. Some of them included the calibre of Charles Darwin, Socrates, Charles Dickens, Plato, D H Lawrence, Beethoven, Checkov, Gallileo Gallie, Homer and many more. The beauty of this particular series is that he had associated many books written based on those scholars and had recreated a common plateau to the Lankan audience who can comprehend with much ease. Some of his other radio programmes included were ‘Geeyaka Rasa’, ‘Nirmana Vindana’ and most recently ‘Sahan Eliya’. The 80s also showed him visiting Hawaii’s East-West centre where he encountered research work with the former head of the department of mass communication, University of Kelaniya, Prof. Wimal Dissanayake. In 1987 he visited Poland where he was engaged in folklore studies, the University of Wroclaw offered him an honorary doctorate (which he hardly mentions in his works). Subsequent to his return to Sri Lanka he published a book on Polish folk tales, ‘Polantha Janakatha’. For Sri Lankans this may have been the firsthand experience in savouring folktales from Poland.
In the 1990s he became a revolutionary figure following his tumultuous creation ‘Socrates’ a biopic stage play based on the great Greek philosopher’s life and his works. The drama took the country by storm, unlike his early creations, ‘Socrates’ became an experiment ‘snuff out’ as a final product with a handful of professional actors and as many a student. The drama fetched Sunanda with plethora of praise and awards including the best state drama award in 1991. The 1990s also became significant to his career as he was conferred as a Professor in addition to being the head of the department of mass communication, University of Kelaniya.
Since the ‘Socrates’ success he had changed his path from an academic award winning dramatist to an ‘almost’ full-time writer. The daily papers were seen full of his view points and literary works. Sunanda’s notable account on ‘Second thoughts’ a series of features published in the ‘Daily News’ brought him many comments from the English speaking Sri Lankan readers. A mini collection of the series was later on published as a book bearing the same title.
Despite all the various triumphs like any other person Sunanda has been going through the mill with plenty of natural obstacles at times. However, he has not retired from his academic work as yet as most would do after the age of 65. When the going gets tough the tough gets going is what Sunanda is carrying out now. He has weathered the storm yet face dooms and glooms with a beam. With plenty of books written and published on many facets such as novels, poetry, children’s literature, media studies, folklore, drama and journalism. Sunanda sometimes pleasantly reminds his childhood past especially those related to living under the bunkers during the world war II period. It may be oddly surprising if he stays away from writing and publishing on such area to fellow folks. Young programme producer from Ceylon turned his fortunes to become one of the brightest and prominent Lankans of the modern day with a host of students around him in various influential places in the country boasts a sweet scented dream of a tale.
Text by Dr. Vidhu Mahendra
Prof. Sunanda Mahendra's Books
Guvan Viduli Natya Hathak
Ane Hippo Mokada Une
Avalassana Tara Petava
Belek Vedakarayage Kathava
Budun Dutu Deriya
Diya Kinduriya saha Tavat Katha
Girava saha Amba Gediya
Kisida hina novu kumariya
Kokilava saha Tavath Katha
Mahalu Parvathi Amma
Nikan Nositi Daruwo
Piya Puthu Urumaya
Santhuvaraya saha Miya
The Golden Parrot
Udara, Yodaya saha Gangava
Vale Vetunu pirisa saha tavath katha
Aruma Puduma Mantaraya
Ashva Velendage Diyaniya
Dhammapada Katandara 1
Dhammapada Katandara 10
Dhammapada Katandara 2
Dhammapada Katandara 3
Dhammapada Katandara 4
Dhammapada Katandara 5
Dhammapada Katandara 6
Dhammapada Katandara 7
Dhammapada Katandara 8
Dhammapada Katandara 9
Ege Chanda Balaya
Golden Pumpkin, The
Handa Nagana Bera
Heart of a Mother, The
Hiroshima Kathava saha Paramanu Bombaya
Ingrisi Ingi Kiyaman
Jana Katha Lokaya
Jana Kiyaman Potha
Jana Mathaka Pothin
Kavata Katha Lokaya
Khalil Gibrange Nirmana Chinthana Lokaya
Manapa hevath Vikalpa Jana Vurthanta
Natya haa Ranga Kala Shabdaraya
Ohu Saha Ohuge Nirmana (Ishak)
Ohu Saha Ohuge Nirmana (R K Narayan)
Parables of Buddha
Philip Gunawardena soya Yama
Pili Roo Bindima
SAARC Ratavala Jana Kathandara
Sahitya Kala Shabdakaraya
Sebe lovin Bindak
Sinhala Kai Katandara
Sinhala Phrase and Fable
T B Illangarathne
Tsunami hevath Vadaba Rella
Tsunami, the Great Wave and other stories
Udu Atata Heri Tibunu Muhuna
Vada Kandavuraka Siravi
Vishva Natya haa Natya karuvo
Vishva Nirmana Pravesha 1
Vishva Nirmana Pravesha 2
Vishva Nirmana Pravesha 3
Vishva Nirmana Pravesha 4
Vishva Nirmana Pravesha 5
Zen Katandara 1
Zen Katandara 2
Folklore and Mass Media
Inimaga saha Matumahala
Jana Madhyaye Negima
Janasruthi saha Polanthaye Janakatha
Janasrutiya saha Nirmanaya
Key terms in Culture and Communication
Man and Myth
Mass Media Tradition and Change
Memory and Message
Navalokaye Puravesiyata Nava Vederum Gnana
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 1
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 10
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 2
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 3
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 4
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 5
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 6
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 7
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 8
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana Pravanatha 9
Nirmanatmaka Sannivedana pravesha saha bhava prakashana
Puvathpath Kala Samikshana
Sannivedana Kshetraya saha Jana Sannivedanaya
Sannivedana Vichara Prathichara
Sannivedanaye Svabhaya saha Aramunu
Shabda Madhyaya saha Sri Lankave Guvan Viduliya
Sinhala Sangara Itihasaya
Thahanam Nirmana saha Sannivedana Tahanchi
Eya mese sidu viya
Hevaneli Eda Minissu
Kala Mekulu Hamba Enduna
Uda Gedara Mahatmiyage Kathava
Valmiki Obata kive Sitha
Ama Vila Dutu Pipasithaya
An Inner Eye
Asal Vesiyo Golu Vuha
Ethera Kavi Esura
Ethera methera Kurutu
1990 Sinhala ketikatava haa ketikatavata peravadanak
G B Senanayaka chintanaya saha Nirmanashili Dayakatvaya
Gamperaliya nirmanatmaka pasubima
Jataka katha Sampradaya
Natya Kalava saha Hamlet
Sinhala Jana Kavi Sandaha Praveshaya
Vishva Gnana Koshaya 1
Vishva Gnana Koshaya 2
W A Silvage Aprakata Keti Nirmana haa Sannivedana Satahan
Birinda Saha Mithuriya
Dora Kavulu Erala
Heta Sundara Davasaki
Prof. Sunanda Mahendra's life
1994 – 2006
Professor, Department of Mass Communication, Kelaniya University.
1995 – 1997
Director National Institute of Aesthetic studies.
Member of the Board of Directors, Sri Lanka Television Corporation
Member of the Board of Directors, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
Visiting Professor Leicester University, UK.
1989 – 1991
Course Director, Theatre Arts and Communication, National Youth Services Council. "'1989 – 1992"'
Member, National UNESCO commission, Colombo.
1988 – 1989
Member of the Draftsman of National Communication Policy for Sri Lanka, Ministry of Information.
Secretary Treasurer, National Chapter of CAEJAC, Sri Lanka
1986 - 1987
Consultant, National Book Development Project, Sarvodaya Movement."'1984 – 1985"'
National Communication Consultant, UNO-FAO, small farmer group organization in Sri Lanka,
1983 - 1984
Professional Associate, East West Cultural Centre, Hawaii, US,
Consultant and researcher, Audience Research Division, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and Sri Lanka Television Corporation.
1981 – 1984
Member Board of Management, Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Kelaniya University.
1973 – 1977
Visiting Lecturer Jaffna University.
1972 – 1974
Producer, Sinhala Talks and Drama Unit, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
1968 – 1971
Managerial Producer British Broadcasting Corporation, (BBC), in charge of Sinhala Radio Programme, Sandesaya, Bush House, Strand, London.
1972 - 1973
Visiting lecturer Mass Communication and Development Studies Colombo, Moratuwa, Jaffna and Kelaniya Universities.
Member, International Association for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR), Leicester University, UK
Vice President, Commonwealth Association for Education of Journalism and Communication (CAEJAC).
Executive Editor, Sri Lanka Journal of Communication
Awards Prof. Sunanda Mahendra has won
2006 "Ogha Tharanaya" Best poetry collection State Literary Festival
2004 "Chaya Pranthaya" best Sinhala Novel Godage Literary Award
2003 "Puranokthi Sangrahaya" merit State Literary Award
2002 "Niruwath Devivaru" best Sinhala Novel State Literary Award
2001 "Janakiyaman potha" best research State Literary Award
1993 "Socrates" eight awards State Drama Festival
1992 "Socrates" best playscript State Literary Award
1964 "Hevaneli eda minissu" best Sinhala Novel State Literary Award.
1990 Most outstanding Citizen Award. Lions International.
 [http://www.sunandamahendra.org Sunanda Mahendra's official website]
* [http://www.dailynews.lk/2007/10/03/art07.asp Review on Sunanda Mahendra's first play]
* [http://www.kln.ac.lk University of Kelaniya]
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