Former Sri Lankan Supreme Court Judge C.V.Wigneswaran, who is the Chief Ministerial candidate of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the forthcoming elections for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), is a trained Sitar player and the only Lankan Tamil to have taken to this North Indian instrument.
“I learnt to play the Sitar at the Chitrasena School of Dance and Music (Chitrasena Kalayathanaya) in Colombo about 40 years ago. My guru was Titus Nonis,” Wigneswaran told Express.
Asked how far he went in learning to play the instrument, the judge-turned politician said: “ To the extent of performing in public. One of the major functions I had performed at, was a judges’ gathering in 1979 or 1980.”
Asked if he was still in touch with the Sitar and North Indian music in general, Wigneswaran said: “After becoming a judge, for lack of time I had to give up the Sitar. But at the Bhajan singing sessions I have been attending, some of the hymns are sung in the North Indian style.”
Wigneswaran is a Tamil nationalist and a scholar specializing in Tamil literature and Hindu religion, but he has a cosmopolitan outlook and an eclectic taste. In this respect, he is different from the typical Lankan Tamil who tends to be hide-bound culturally, seeing himself as a guardian of pristine Tamil culture, unadulterated by any outside influences. The Lankan Tamils would learn only Carnatic Music or Tamil Isai as they call it, and play the Veena and the Mridangam. Violin or any other Western or North Indian instrument is taboo. And Bharatanatyam is the only dance form they would learn. Hindustani music and North Indian dances are a definite no-no.
Lankan Tamils are in marked contrast to the Sinhalese, who though attracted to North Indian music and Kathak dance, also learn Bharatanatyam. In Colombo, there are as many Sinhalese Bharatanatyam gurus as there are Tamil gurus. Many Sinhalese gurus have composed Padams in the Sinhalese language so that audiences are better able to relate to the mime and movement they see on the stage.
Cross cultural family
Wigneswaran’s eclecticism is seen in his family too. Though he belongs to an elite family of Jaffna which counts among its members the distinguished Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Wignesawaran’s sons have married into Sinhalese families. One son is married to government minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s daughter, and the other to the niece of a former ruling party MP, Keseralal Gunasekara.
Wigneswaran’s personal and familial profiles have made many Sinhalese believe that he can bridge the chasm between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, and the government and the TNA, in post-war Sri Lanka.