The history of the Sri Lanka Magic Circle is inextricably woven round it’s Founder President. An article written about him is given below which also provides an outline history of the SLMC. (A more comprehensive document on the history of the Circle is been prepared.)

Mudaliyar Amarasekara was the founder President of both SLMC and IBM-139. He was born on March 2nd, 1883 and passed away on March 19th, 1983. He lived 100 years and 17 days. My acquaintance with Gate Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekara was limited to the last few years of his life. I met him at the first SLMC Convention I attended. It was in 1979 at the Hotel Ranmuthu, Kollupitya. Nihal Weerasinghe the master of the ceremony introduced me to the Mudaliyar as a new comer.

In 1980 I was in UK on a study tour. As an enthusiastic novice I made use of the opportunity to attend the 44th Convention of the British Ring at Brighton. Bill Stickland the renowned Secretary of the British Ring (IBM Ring 25) inquired me about Mr. Amarasekara of Ceylon, who had won limelight at one of their conventions in 1940s. He was amazed when I told him that the very Amarasekara was our president then, at the ripe old age of 97. 1981, I was fortunate to receive the ‘Runner-up Trophy’ of the ‘Magician of the Year’ contest, from Mudaliyar’s hands (the one and only trophy I won in Magic). As a member of the organizing committee of the “Mudaliyar Amarasekara Felicitation Festival” in 1982, I visited him several times at his residence No.13, Dawson Road. When informed that all the performing members of the SLMC would take part at the show, this 99 year old ‘Doyen of Magic’, volunteered, saying “Very good, I too will perform there”. 1983, no sooner I was elected as the Editor of “The Wand”, the legendary personality passed away leaving me the unexpected burden of dedicating my first edition of ‘The Wand’ for him."

His full name goes as Abraham Christopher Gregory Sooriyarachchi Amarasekara, but fondly referred by “ACGS” or “The Mudaliyar”. His father, Rev. Abraham Sooriyarachchi Amarasekera was a scholarly Minister of the Church. Being a son of an Anglican priest at the height of the British rule, our hero enjoyed a privileged childhood with many opportunities and had the access to the best of all at the time. He started his schooling at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa; and then moved to St. Thomas' College, Mutwal. At St.Thomas, young Amarasekera proved his capabilities as a born artist. He was the cartoonist of their hostel magazine “The Dormitory” which was edited by Francis Molamure. Late Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake was a class mate of him. His school not only provided opportunities for his artistic abilities but also encouraged his love for the theatre. Thomian theatre, famed for its presentation of Shakespeare plays made him an actor helping his talent as a magician to blossom.

Like most of the great magicians ‘ACGS’ too, was first smitten by the ‘Magic Bug’ as a child, seeing an Itinerary street magician. ACGS put his hand in magic as a teenager in 1897. He related the following story in one of his witty speeches revealing an experience he had as a mischievous teenager; “___When I was a younger boy than I am now, a teenager; my father caught me trying to hypnotize a nice looking servant girl we had. I tried to explain my father that I was trying to practice that trick of levitating a girl in mid-air without any physical means of support. But he did not swallow that story and he locked me up for the night in the Godown. That night I performed my first HOUDINI Act, escaping from a lock-up, and left home. A few days after I saw a notice in the newspaper over my father’s name. It read “All will be forgiven. Please don’t come back ……..“

Mudaliyar dedicated his first book on conjuring written in Sinhala language “ඇස්බැන්ඳුම්” in 1932. “To my father Rev.A.S.Amarasekara ; who did not hesitate to punish me when got caught doing tricks on others in my childhood, yet encouraged me today to teach the conjuring secrets to my countrymen by translating them into simple Sinhala” (Prior to this he had published the book "Gay Deceptions" in English. A copy of “ඇස්බැන්ඳුම්” is available in the SLMC Library.) Rev. Amarasekera wanted his son to follow the family tradition of joining the church. However, being a gifted student with aesthetic talents ACGS persuaded aesthetic path of studies to become a visual artist. His painting ‘The Kitten’ was awarded the first prize at the Ceylon Society of Arts’ Annual Exhibition of 1903. As the school knew his capacity in magic as well, he was requested to give a magic show in aid of the college building fund. Warden Stone, introducing ACGS said “As in his painting, so in the art of magic he deceives the eye without deluding the mind of the spectators”.

After leaving school in 1907, ACGS joined the famous H.W.Cave & Co. to study Commercial Art. Then he worked at the Survey General's Office as a draughtsman. Later secured a place as a lecturer in fine arts at Ceylon Technical College, Maradana; and while working there he visited St. Joseph's and Ladies College to teach art. Simultaneously he continued his love for magic, ventriloquism and mesmerism and developed the skills in all branches of ‘Magic’. A multi-faceted genius ‘ACGS’ married Ms. Mable Beatrice Pereira in 1908. Soon he founded his “SCHOOL OF ART” at the ‘Atalier’ on Reid Avenue. Many artists who made a name in mid-20th century were the products of his school. (Later the ‘Atalier’ was well established and shifted to No. 13 Dawson Road, Colombo 05. The Dawson Road was renamed in honor of this genius as ‘Amarasekara Mawatha’ on his 100th Birthday on 2nd March 1983, by H.E. President, J.R.Jayawardane.) ACGS seems to be very active in all spheres of his talents during this period, a letter he received from a general practitioner in 1908 says “I saw you mesmerize some people. I was much struck with the success of the performance. I am a medical man and this is to inquire if you could give me some lessons which will be useful to me in my profession-Dr.H.P.Wijesinghe, LRCP&S (Edin) ”

It was in 1913 that ‘ACGS’ did the big leap taking the Magic & Conjuring to the “theater”. Thereby he raised Magic in Ceylon to the artistic level and to the audiences of learning and culture. Under the stage name “Gay Deceiver” he staged his first public show with of Sir Robert Charmers, Governor of Ceylon; as the chief guest at the ‘Public Hall’ Colombo. (Public Hall was, at Chatham Street). It was full two hour show of entertainment with Conjuring, Illusions, Ventriloquism, Mesmerism, Shadow-grapy and Lightning Sketches. The interest in the conjuring as a theatre art was felt. In 1916 the visit of ‘Madame Twenka’, a Japanese lady magician crated interest among some other youngsters to dabble with conjuring. ACGS became the Secretary of the Ceylon Society of Arts in 1919. The Manager of the Toy Department of the H.W.Cave & Co. Mr. Harold Holden, was an amateur magician himself. He had contacts with those who were interested in Magic because Caves was the place where books on Magic and other recreational hobbies were available at the time. Those interested in Magic, flocked together and exchanged ideas for self improvements. At one of those meetings Harold suggested ‘ACGS’ of initiating a club for ‘Magic’. The idea culminated by inaugurating the ‘Association of Ceylon Magicians’ (A.C.M.) on 18th February 1922 with a public show at the Regent Hall, Regent Street. (IBM, the International Brotherhood of Magicians started on 10th February 1922 in USA just a week prior to the ACM) Within a short period the ACM grown to be a well established society in Ceylon with regular meetings and public shows. President Amarasekara’s social status, personal contacts and influence in the higher circles was a major factor behind the success of ACM. In 1924 Mudaliyar was decorated with MBE (Member of the British Empire) for his activities in the social arena.

His son, Douglas Amarasekara followed in his father’s footsteps and performed as the "Gay Deceiver Junior”. In late 1930s young Douglas considered a genius; he was a painter, pianist, violinist, organist, actor, magician and scholar, all rolled into one. He excelled in mathematics. ACGS decided to take his son to Cambridge for higher studies, at a time of impending World War. Both father and son left for U.K. in 1939. Even there he did not put aside his ‘Paint Brush’ and the ‘Wand’. He started painting and entertained British’s with his talents in magic and ventriloquism. “Amarasekara father and son Art Exhibition of 200 paintings of Ceylon” was declared open on 1st September 1939 in London. On the very date Hitler had threatened to bomb London. The Universities were closed temporary and they got stranded in England. Rev. C.V.A. McEachern a family friend of Rev. Amarasekaea, who worked in Ceylon in 1920s, invited them to his Kirkmaberck Manse, Creetown, Scotland and took care of them. In his fifties Mudaliyar was a daring man to take up any challenge. He opted for a position as an entertainer to the troops overseas. Mudaliyar went to France with the First British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). His services as a Magical entertainer could best be described by quoting a letter of another Ceylonese Chandra Goonaratna; Welfare Officer, B.E.F Headquarters, Boulogne. Quote- “We began the first show at 4.30 at a big improvised British Indian Hospital. A large enthusiastic crowd had gathered; Stretcher cases in front then came those in wheel-chairs, crutches and the rest including the domestic staff of Nurses and others……… His performance was superb, audience response was keenly appreciative. I have seen the Gay Deceiver performs many a time since that memorable night, I have not seen him perform with greater enthusiasm and incentive than he did then; the tension, the setting, the uncertainty of what was going to happen while the Air-Raid warnings were screeching overhead, all contributed to his performance. It was unforgettable.” –unquote. In 1940 Mudaliyar Amarasekara was decorated by King George V himself at Buckingham Palace with the insignia of the “Officer of the British Empire” –O.B.E.- Throughout the war in the United Kingdom the Mudaliyar continued to entertain troops braving London raids over and over again. This was how he became known among the Magical community in U.K. In recognition of his War time services the British Ring elected him as Honorary Member. His performance before the Magic Circle at St. George’s Hall, London was specially commended in “The Magic Circlular” the organ of the Magic Circle. Mudaliyar Amarasekaara participated at the first post-war Magicians’ Convention held by the British Ring (I.B.M. Ring No.25). His act, “Magic of the East”, won third place at the entertainment that followed, the Civic Reception given by the Mayer of Hereford. He was invited to propose the toast at the banquet. Mudaliyar and his son Douglas, who was not second to his father as a Magical Entertainer, had placed Ceylon on the Map of the World Magic. In “Who’s Who in Magic” published by Will Goldstone. Both father and his son appeared in the section for distinguish amateur Magicians along with Edward, the Prince of Wales (Duke of Windsor). (Following his academic achievements at the Cambridge University, Douglas joined the University of Ceylon and culminated his career as the Professor of Mathematics. Though he had somewhat distanced from ‘Magic’ during his professional career, he was acknowledged as a foremost mathematician, astronomer, musician, pianist, poet, dramatist, short story writer, artist, scientist and philosopher; and dubbed as the ‘Socrates of Sri Lanka’ among the intellectual circles. He could speak and converse in more than twelve languages. He could read and write more than sixty languages-Not exaggerated, I believe-. Douglas passed away in 2001 at the age of 83. ) Amarasekaras returned to Ceylon in 1949. Shortly after, the Secretary of the I.B.M. wrote to ACGS suggesting to form an IBM Rring in Ceylon. “We have one in Bombay and one at Calcutta” he said “and if we could have one in Ceylon this will give a wonderful representation of our organization in the vicinity of India. You are certain to be the man to lead this Ring.” Mudliyar replied “ My impulse was to tell you how happy I would be to act at once on your suggestion to form a Ring here, but while I was away in England our Association become dormant and I have been trying to gather together the scattered sheep.”

Mudaliyar Amarasekara was a painter by profession. Magic was his hobby. He played a vital role in the Ceylon Society of Arts as well. Won his first prize for his exhibit 'The Kitten' in 1903.He was its Hony. Secretary (1919-1923) Hon Vice-President (1926-1958) and President (1959-1968). There was a time, when nobody was considered a national leader or a statesman unless his or her portrait was done by ACGS.

After the WWII, in 1949 Mudaliyar ACGS Amarasekara returned to the Independent Motherland as a respected civilian of the British Empire. The Secretary, International Brotherhood of Magicians’ suggestion to establish an IBM Ring came at this surrounding. Members of the Association of Ceylon Magicians (ACM) who were active and kept the Magic alive in Ceylon during his absence rallied round the leader once again. Following few preliminary meetings, the ACM was resurrected on 1st August 1952 with a new found enthusiasm. There was quite a number of Ceylonese interested in Magic by this time and some of them too enrolled as new members of the ACM. Mudaliyar made use of then available media, Press & Radio to popularize magic. He had broadcasted a series of talks titled “Magic as a Hobby”.

ACGS was elevated to the rank of Gate Mudaliyar by the King’s office and appointed as the Chairman of the Fine Arts Committee of the Colombo Plan Exhibition in 1952. He made use of this opportunity to take Magic into the prominence. He himself had performed at the cultural shows of the exhibition. Mudaliyar persuaded the Giant Showbiz Entrepreneur Donavan Andree, to organize an open Magic Competition at the SSC Carnival-1952, where several magicians both ACM members & non members took part.

1953 the ACM was re-named as the Sri Lanka Magic Circle (SLMC) and the logo of the circle too modified sans the ‘Swasthika’ sign which had an ill repute as the ‘Nazi’ logo.

By 1954 the membership swelled and he was in a position to carry out the IBM Secretary’s request. Herbert Gonzal a founder member in 1922 was the man who did the spade work with IBM. The SLMC was affiliated to the International Brotherhood of Magicians and received the Charter IBM Ring No.139, dated 2nd August 1954, with the names of 13 SLMC members who took the membership of IBM. ACGS as the President of SLMC became the first President of the IBM Ring 139 and Herbert functioned as the Territorial Representative.

The SLMC cum IBM became an active organization having regular meetings and public shows. Charity shows at Hospitals and other institutes were a common feature. ACGS described himself as the “Leader of the Gang of Deceivers” and performed at almost all the shows throughout the island. His act was named as the “Magic of the East” and the ventriloquism act with “Somapala” was loved by the kids as well as adults. At this period Magic was not taken as a profession or mode of earning. It was a fine art taken as a hobby by people of all walks. Prominent professionals in upper circles of the society such as Raja Hewavitharana, TCP Fernando, Herbert Gonzal, Melson Fernando and many others were regular performers at these charitable shows.

1957 Fellow Magicians decided to honor Mudaliyar commemorating sixty years as a Magician & Entertainer. (Mudaliyar started performing as a teenager). He was presented with a Gold Medal at the Festival of Magic held on 30th August 1957, by H.E. the Governor General Sir Oliver Gunatillake. Accepting the decoration Mudaliyar declared it as the ‘Badge of Office’ of the ‘Presidents of the SLMC’ which remains to this date.

1958 the President of the Society of Art Prof. Gunapala Malalasekara was appointed as the Ambassador to USSR and Mudaliyar had to succeed him which position he continued till 1968. (1968 The Society of Art published a commemorative volume ‘Doyen of the Ceylon Art’) .

‘Gate Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekara Challenge Shield’ was designed by himself and an annual event, ‘Magician of the Year Contest’ was launched. The inaugural contest was held in 1961 and the winner was Wickramapala Alwis aka ‘Professor Akbar’.

1967 Mudaliyar wanted to step down from the Presidency and named Ranapala Bodhinagoda as his successor. ‘Bodhi’ and the council persuaded him to remain as the ‘Life President’ of the SLMC and amended the constitution to have an Executive Vice President to carry out the arduous duties.

1970, for the first time the SLMC conferred the title M.I.M.C. (Member of the Inner Magic Circle) on five members including Mudaliyar Amarasekara, for distinguished servicers rendered to the Circle. Others were Linden De Alwis, Simon Perera, Herbert Gonzal and G.C.Nanayakkara.

1972 , the Golden Jubilee Year was an unique occasion for the Mudaliyar. At the ripe old age of 89 he had been continuing to be the president of SLMC for 50 years. (Probably a world record, though not gone into the books.) The SLMC celebrated this event in grand scale with a Festival of Magic, Banquet and a reception at the Queens House by the Patron H.E. the Governor General William Gopallawa. The ‘Sri Lanka Magicians Open National Contest’ for the ‘Four Aces Challenge Trophy’ was inaugurated in 1972. The first winner was Tuan Akbar Ramblan aka ‘Akbar the Great’, who continued the winning spree for three consecutive years. Mudaliyar was somewhat feeble in his 90s. But he graced almost all the functions of the Circle, and especially he himself came on stage to hand over the ‘Gate Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekara Challenge Shield’ to the winners. The SLMC & IBM felicitated the ‘Doyen of their Art’ with an unusual ‘Felicitation show’ on 12th March 1982. It was a great show where 27 magicians performed in honor of their ‘Gang Leader’ on achieving the 100th year of his life. (A Guinness Record in1982 …….. ?)

Mudaliyar became a centurion on 2nd March 1983. Recognizing Mudaliyar Amarasekara’s services to the nation, H.E. the President J.R.Jayawardane re-named the Dowson Road, Colombo 5; as ‘Amarasekara Mawatha’ and an exhibition of paintings was opened at the Art Gallery.

17 days after his 100th Birthday, on 19th March 1983 this great son of mother Lanka bade good bye to the earthly world and proceeded to take his seat in the ‘Walhalla’ of visual and performing artists.

By H.D. N. Gunesekera