Negombo ready for Passion Play in ballet form
In the history of world Passion Plays we come across the world's most
famous Oberammergau Passion Play which was once dramatized in the
Baroque style. In 1750, Ferdinand Rosner, a Benedictine monk from the
monastery of Ettal in Bavaria was instrumental in revising the
traditional text of the Oberammergau Passion Play.
He introduced the sacred Baroque theatre in the 8,457 verses of his
Passion nova which became very popular in Bavaria as a new model for
Passion Plays. Though Rosner's innovation did not last long due to the
opposition of the traditionalists in the Community of Oberammergau his
experiment in changing the Content and especially the Form of the
traditional Passion Play model paved the way for the search of new
for the Passion Play
According to Prof. E. R. Sarachchandra, the earliest Sri-Lankan
Passion Plays were enacted at Pesalai in Mannar and at Duwa and Pitimana
in Negombo. These Passion Plays were performed by means of life-size
statues inside a large pavilion with a roof about 20 feet high (The Folk
Drama of Ceylon, p. 124). It was K. Lawrence Perera, the pioneer of the
Borelassa Passion Play who brought innovative changes in 1924 by using
living actors instead of statues as "[...] he thought that the Passion
shows done in Church premises with statues were 'crude' and unworthy of
so lofty a theme as the Passion of Christ." (The Folk Drama of Ceylon,
p. 126). It was the Oberammergau Passion Play which influenced Lawrence
Perera for this innovation. But the Archbishop of Colombo disapproved
his another innovation of using women in the cast and the play was
banned in 1939. (See for an extensive research on this, Wijith Rohan,
The History, the Content and the Form of Sri- Lankan Passion Play, pp.
For the first time in 400 years of Sri-Lankan Passion Play history we
are going witness an entirely innovative change concerning the Biblical
Content and the Form of the Passion Play tradition with the intense
preparation in Negombo for a Passion Play performance in Ballet style
titled 'Tharakayano' on April 29 at Kadolkele grounds around 6.30 p.m.
Ballet is known as a kind of performance dance which has its birth
place in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century. It is
important to find out whether a Passion Play had been dramatized in
Ballet style in the world. We know Oberammergau Passion Play in Baroque
theatre but not in Ballet.
'Tharakayano' is the true Sinhala name given to Jesus Christ (For
this, see the Passion Play script written by an erudite scholar, Sri
Charles De Silva in pure 'Hela' Sinhala, 'Parama Puda' or Supreme
The Biblical content
In keeping with the age old Passion Play tradition, 'Tharakayano'
begins with the Creation Story and the Fall of Adam and Eve as depicted
in the book of Genesis in the Bible. But much emphasis is given to the
story of Exodus which is the real Passion Story of the Bible. It is
Jesus, the new Moses who liberates the oppressed people of the world as
God YAHWEH brought freedom to the slaves of Israel through Moses by
releasing them from the fetters of the oppressor, the Egyptian king,
Pharaoh. The 'Crossing of the Red Sea' is the Passover from slavery to
freedom (Exodus, 14: 5-31). The liberated Israelites sang a song in
praising YAHWEH which ends in a convincing praise 'YAHWEH will reign
forever' (Exodus, 15: 18), the fundamental profession of Israel's faith.
The Serpent, the craftiest of all the wild creatures is symbolized as
the inner craving of humanity's greed for Power, Wealth and Prestige.
The true Biblical meaning of this symbolism is identified with the
depiction of this Serpent again when the disgusted Israelites who were
marching arduously towards YAHWEH's promise land refuses to eat
The people who complained against God and Moses were bitten by fiery
Serpents sent by YAHWEH. Then Moses as instructed by YAHWEH made a
bronze Serpent and set it on a standard. The Israelites who looked
towards this bronze Serpent were cured and lived as they agreed not to
be deceived again by the Serpent which symbolizes the unlimited desire
for want of power, wealth and prestige (The book of Numbers, 21: 4-9).
When Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist at the river Jordan,
YAHWEH's proclamation in accepting Jesus as his Beloved and Chosen Son
is intermingled with the fundamental profession of Israel's faith,
'YAHWEH will reign for ever.'
Jesus is tempted in the wilderness just after his Baptism. The Cross
on the mount of Calvary is depicted with the Serpent. Jesus who
struggles against the temptations of Satan which were in contrary to the
values of God's Kingdom, convincingly defeats them with total renouncing
of Power, Wealth and Prestige that caused the Fall of Adam and Eve. At
the end of the scene the Cross on Calvary is depicted without the
The Serpent is again depicted when Judas is given the 30 pieces of
silver by the chief priests of Sanhedrin for the betrayal of Jesus.
After Jesus was arrested by the Roman battalion and the Temple Police
and all his disciples fled, Judas comes and opens the purse of the 30
silver from which the Serpent comes and strangled his neck.
Three women, Jesus' mother, mother's sister Mary and Mary of Magdala
are seen with the Beloved disciples at the foot of the cross after the
death of Jesus (John 19: 25). An Angel lights a candle from a star that
shines on the cross and shares that light with Mary and others. The
audience also participates in lighting their candles with all the
artists. The lighting of candles symbolizes the birth of the first
Christian Community at foot of the Cross. Finally 'Tharakayano' ends
with the scene on the 'Road to Emmaus' which depicts the Resurrection
and the Ascension of Lord Jesus.
Nearly 200 young boys and girls perform various characters in
'Tharakayano', the first ever Sri-Lankan Passion Play in Ballet style.
Namal Weveldeniya plays a pivotal role as the choreographer. He is a
professional in choreography and a teacher of a leading school in
Dr. PrabathAloka is instrumental in realizing this dream and plays
the role of Director and the Music composer of 'Tharakayano'. He was
also the producer of drama on Jacome Gonsalvez. Aloka is a medical
officer presently attached to the General Hospital of Negombo.
Ranil Fernando, the versatile sculpture of Christian statues is the
stage director and costume designer.
Wijith Rohan, a senior lecturer attached to the department of
Christian Culture of the Faculty of Humanities in the University of
Kelaniya, scripted 'Tharakayano.'
The writer is a Senior Lecturer, Kelaniya University