Sunil Santha (Sinhala:සුනිල් සාන්ත; 14 April 1915 – 11 April 1981) was a renowned and influential Sri Lankan composer, singer and lyricist. He was pivotal in the development of Sinhala music and folk songs in the mid to late 1940s and early 1950s. He composed the beloved soundtracks to Lester James Peries’ Rekava and Sandesaya in 1956 and 1960. In a later comeback, he produced several experimental works.
Baddaliyanage Don Joseph John alias Sunil Santha was born on 14 April 1915 on the Sinhalese New Year’s Day in Dehiyagatha, Jaela. Both his parents died before he was two years old, and Santha was raised by his grandmother. At an early age he came to the limelight when he played king Dutugamunu in a village play. One villager adorned him with a battery-powered lighted necklace. He had his education at St.Benedict’s College Kotahena and the prestigious St.Aloysius college,Galle.
Santha passed the school leaving certificate examination as the first in the island, with the highest marks in his class as a young adult and was awarded the Weeraratne award. In 1933 he completed the Teachers Final Examination and began work as a teacher at the Mt. Calvary School(St.Aloysius college,Galle), While tenured there, Santha led the school to three consecutive victories at the Southern Schools Music Competition. In 1939 he passed the Intermediate Gandarva Examination and received a certificate in physical training. He also learned to play the piano and guitar at that time. He acted and produced several dramas including “Hamlet” during this period.
In 1940 Santha gave up teaching and travelled to Shantiniketan to study music. The following year Santha enrolled at the Bhatkhande Music Institute and worked to get his Visharadha Degree in 1944. He passed the final exam as the first in the first division in Sitar and Vocals, the first non-Indian Asian to do so. Joseph graduated in “Sangeetha Vishaarada” from the Lucknow’s Bhathkanda University of Musicology and returned to Sri Lanka in 1952 and shunned his English name, Joseph John and adapted Sunil Santha.He then adopted the name “Sunil Santha”.During his studies in India he regularly contributed to Sri Lankan newspapers.