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Traditional Dancing Experience in Sri Lanka

authentic experience in other culture


Sri Lanka has an inherited traditions dance as old as her proud history. All traditional dances and dramas had conjunct with traditional cultivation, way of life and culture of the people. All folk dances and dramas performed people’s authentic life style and these rituals and ceremonies reflect the values, beliefs and customs of and agricultural civilizations of Sri Lanka.

Dance was initiated to Sri Lanka during 4th century B.C. for the purpose of expelling natural disasters, sickness and greets people and land. At the end of Polonnaruwa period (15th century A.D.), chola influence came into Sri Lanka and was adopted in Sri Lanka folk dancing. But indigenous people “Vedda” was fallowed rituals as their traditions, Kiri koraha one of their rituals dances.

With the time, unique dancing forms were developed and varied from each other according to regional and local traditions. Today there are three principal dancing forms that can be seen in Sri Lanka. Each of the style quite differs from each other from the dress, drums, songs and way of dancing and movements of hands, legs and fingers.
    • The Kandyan dances of the Hill Country, known as Uda Rata Natum;
    • The low country dances of the southern plains, known as Pahatha Rata Natum;
    • Sabaragamuwa dances or Sabaragamuwa Natum.

Kandyan Dance

Kandyan dance takes its name from Kandy. The dance imitates movements of animals as there is dancing of elephant and peacock, the costumes of Kandyan dancers are colourful with white, red, yellow and black mixed. The male dancers with their bare chests decorated with exquisitely silver regalia and spectacular headgear; silver bangles are also worn on the arms and ankles. The performance is companied with hectic rhythms of drums called “Geta Beraya”. There are 18 main dances in Kandyan Style.

Dances (Uda Rata Natum)

Ves

"Ves" dance, the most popular, originated from an ancient purification ritual, the Kohomba Yakuma or Kohomba Kankariya. The dance was propitiatory, never secular, and performed only by males. The elaborate Ves costume, particularly the headgear, is considered sacred and is believed to belong to the deity Kohomba. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century the Ves dancers were first invited to perform outside the precincts of the Kankariya Temple at the annual Kandy Perahera festival. Today the elaborately costumed Ves Dancer symbolize Kandyan dance.

Naiyadi

Dancers in Naiyadi costume perform during the initial preparations of the Kohomba Kankariya festival, during the lighting of the lamps and the preparation of foods for the demons. The dancer wears a white cloth and white turban, beadwork decorations on his chest, a waistband, rows of beads around his neck, silver chains, brass shoulder plates, anklets, and jingles. This is a graceful dance, also performed in Maha Vishnu (Vishnu) and Katharagama Devales temples on ceremonial occasions.

Udekki

Uddekki is a very prestigious dance. Its name comes from the Uddekki, a small lacquered hand drum in the shape of an hourglass, about seven and half inches (18 centimetres) high, believed to have been given to people by Gods. The two drum skins are believed to have been given by the God Iswara and the sound by Vishnu; the instrument is said to have been constructed according to the instructions of Sakra and was played in the heavenly palace of the gods. It is a very difficult instrument to play. The dancer sings as he plays, tightening the strings to obtain variations of pitch.

Pantheru

The Pantheruwa is an instrument dedicated to Goddess Pattini. It resembles a tambourine (without the skin) and has small cymbals attached at intervals around its circumference. The dance is said to have originated in the days of Prince Siddhartha, who became Buddha. The gods were believed to use this instrument to celebrate victories in war, and Sinhala kings employed Pantheru dancers to celebrate victories in the battlefield.

The costume is similar to that of the Uddekki dancer, but the Pantheru dancer wears no beaded jacket and substitutes a silk handkerchief at the waist for the elaborate frills of the Uddekki dancer.

Vannams

Originally Vannams were kind of recitations. In most Vannams it describes about the behaviours of animals like Elephants, Monkeys, Rabbits, Peacock, Cocks, and Serpents etc. Later dancers have used Vannams as background songs for their performances. There are 18 Vannams in the Kandyan Dance form. Traditionally a dancer would have to learn to perform all these Vannams before they would be gifted the Ves costume. The most well known among these are the Hanuma (Hanuma) Vannama, The Ukusa (Eagle) Vannama and the Gajaga (Elephant) Vannama.

The word "Vannam" comes from the Sinhala word "varnana" (descriptive praise). Ancient Sinhala texts refer to a considerable number of "Vannams" that were only sung; later they were adapted to solo dances, each expressing a dominant idea. History reveals that the Kandyan king Sri Weeraparakrama Narendrasingha gave considerable encouragement to dance and music. In his Kavikara Maduwa (a decorated dance arena) there were song and poetry contests.

It is said that the ‘Kavi’ (poetry sung to music) for the eighteen principal vannams were composed by an old sage named Ganithalankara, with the help of a Buddhist priest from the Kandy temple. The Vannams were inspired by nature, history, legend, folk religion, folk art, and sacred lore, and each is composed and interpreted in a certain mood (rasaya) or expression of sentiment. The eighteen classical vannams are Gajaga (elephant), Thuranga (horse), Mayura (peacock), Gahaka (conch shell), Uraga (crawling animals), Mussaladi (hare), Ukkussa (eagle), Vyrodi (precious stone), Hanuma (monkey), Savula (cock), Sinharaja (lion), Naaga (cobra), Kirala (red-wattled lapwing), Eeradi (arrow), Surapathi (in praise of the Goddess Surapathi), Ganapathi (in praise of the God Ganapathi), Uduhara (expressing the pomp and majesty of the king), and Assadhrusa (extolling the merit of Buddha). To these were added Samanala (Butterfly), Bo (the sacred Bo tree at Anuradhapura, a sampling of the original bo tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment), and Hansa Vannama (swan). The vannam dance tradition has seven components.

Costume:
The dancers wear an elaborate costume including a headdress. The dancer's chest is covered by a decorative beaded net. This costume is known as the Ves costume. The headdress incorporates a metallic front which makes the dancer look taller than he is. The complete costume also includes anklets that produce a metallic rattle each. The headgear in the Ves costume can only be worn by the males and can only be worn after a special ceremony called Ves Mangalaya in which the male dancer first wears the Ves costume and dances. Legend also says that if a female wears the headgear she will have a lot of bad luck or get very sick even the males if they have not performed at the Ves Mangalaya the same will happen to them(only males perform at the Ves Mangalaya and the females have a separate ceremony called Kalaveny Mangalaya.

Music
The Kandyan Dance is traditionally performed to percussion only. The most common drum is the Geta Beraya, which is only used in Kandyan Dance. To assist the dancer to keep rhythm a small pair of cymbals knows as the Thalampata is also used. The Vannams however have lyrics that are sung in tune with the movements of the dancer. These lyrics sing about the virtues of the animal that the Vannam is depicting. Another form of twin Drums called Tammettama used with cane drum sticks.

Sabaragamuwa Dances

The dances are usually performed in Ratnapura, relating to the worshipping of God Saman much revered by local people. There are 32 main dances in Sabaragamiwa Style.

Devil Dances

Mask of the demon Maha Sohona used in the Tovil Healing Ritual in Sri Lanka.

The "Devil Dances" are an attempt to respond to the common belief that certain ailments are caused by unseen hands and that they should be chased away for the patient to get cured. If an individual or a family is not doing well, the village-folk believe that it's because that person or the family is being harassed by unseen hands. A 'tovil' ceremony is the answer.

The 'tovil' can be a simple ritualistic ceremony at home restricted to family and immediate neighbours or involving the whole village like the 'gam-maduva' or the 'devol-maduva' which is closely linked to the worship of gods. Masked dancers take part in at least two of the well-known 'tovil' ceremonies referred to as the 'Maha Sohon Samayama' and the 'Gara Yakuma'. The mention of 'Maha Sohona' frightens the people since he is believed to be the demon of the graveyards.

The performer disguises himself as a bear and wears a mask and a dress to resemble one. Often the 'tovil' involves the 'sanni' dances where all the dancers wear masks. The 'Daha Ata Sanniya' refers to eighteen ailments with a demon being responsible for each one of them.

Dancers wearing masks take part in processions while at certain ceremonies, masks are used to depict different characters. Of later origin are the masks worn by children and teenagers at street performances during Vesak. Popularly known as 'Olu Bakko' for the simple reason that oversize masks are worn, these performances keep the younger-folk, in particular, entertained.

The simple version of the devil dance ritual usually starts in the morning with the building of the stage, decorations and preparation of the costumes. The performers build an intricate stage before which the dancing commences. The stage consists of a wall made of freshly cut natural materials such as coconut palm tree and banana tree trunks. Depending on the region and the available materials the stage may also be coated with clay mud. The dances are accompanied by drummers which also herald begins of the ritual. The distinctive sound ensures all neighbours turn up to take part. The full ritual usually lasts until the morning, with the dancers consuming betel-nut juice and drinking coke to stay awake. Dances can however also go on for multiple days.

Pahatharata Dance

Dances in low country are highly ritualistic. This form of dance is performed to appease evil spirits which cause sickness. The dancers wear masks depicting many characters varied in forms of bird, demons, reptiles, etc. There are 18 main dances related to pahatharata style known as the Daha Ata Sanniya held to exorcise 18 types of diseases from the human body

Wanni Dances

Even though not popular a dance form exsit in nothern parts of Sri Lanka by veddha decedents. This form of Dancing involves only few steps and lots of rituals and singing.

Dance Drama

There is also in the low country a dance-drama called Kolam in performers wear masks depicting animals or people such as kings or high officials, and provides amusement and social satire. It has been suggested by scholars that Kolam may have developed from the ritual known as Sanni Yakuma and had later become a dance-drama independent of ritual elements.

Where you can see this traditional dance on your request we can arrange traditional dance in below locations.

Kandy

Rathanapura

Anuradhapura

Rajanganaya

Dambulla

Kurunegala



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