The Kandyan connection | Daily News

The Kandyan connection

Kathak dancers.
Kathak dancers.

India and Sri Lanka are closely bound by historical, geographical, cultural, and religious ties. Even languages and formation of letters resemble each other to some extent. Second-century Silapathikaram, the Tamil classic, describes Santhi Koothu. Santhi Koothu which consists of four main Koothu forms, namely, Chokam, Mei Koothu, Abinaya, and Nadakam. Chokam is the pure Nirutha dance.

The Mei Koothu consists of three main categories. Desi, Vaduku, and Sinhalam. Desi was a dance form belonging to the Tamil country. Vaduku was a dance form belonging to Telugu Desam, and the word Sinhala was apparently a reference to a dance form belonging to Sinhala country. Unfortunately, apart from the word Sinhala, there is nothing about the dance form in Silapathikaram. Even the great Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi spoke of constructing a bridge to Sinhala Deepa.

Dance forms

Traditional Kandyan dance is a pure Nirutha dance firmly based on Thala, Laya, and on Thandava stances and based on rhythm. Like Tamil classical dance form Bharatha Natyam, Kandyan dance was also danced in temples, and temple festivals.

But both these dance forms enjoyed the royal patronage. Today Bharatha Natyam has moved to public halls, from temples. Kandyan dance is still danced in temple peraheras (processions), and sometimes in social functions. In ancient times Sathir was performed in temples.

Earlier a dance form called Degge Natuma the dance of Devalaya existed, like Sathir, but today Degge Natuma is no longer in existence, like Sathir. In Bharatha Natyam, many items have disappeared in the course of time, but today all that remains are the references found in literary works.

Most of the Indian classical dance forms are based on Natya Sastra. But these dances developed and were influenced by regional, religious, cultural, and social traditions of each region. Kandyan dance appears to have grown out of Natya Sastra, as there are discernible similarities between the classical dance forms of India.

Hand movement

In Bharatha Natyam the term Adavu (a pure Nirtha) is confined to a step (a footwork), a body movement accompanied with a hand movement, and hand mudras (hastas) based on a particular Thala and laya. In Kandyan dance, the term Adavu is used for a collection of pure Nirutha movements.

According to Dr Raghavan, ‘The most alluring of Kandyan dance is the Ves’. Dr Raghavan also points out ‘Among these are features which point to a certain affinity in the Ves dancer’s costumes, to the highly ornamental and elaborate makeup of the dancer in Kathakali of Kerala’. There are many links between Kandyan and Kathakali Dance’.

Vannam, one of the Kandyan dance, is the latest inclusion in the dance. There are altogether eighteen Vannams, each Annam is based on a separate theme, The addition of Vannam to Kandyan dance provided a limited scope for some Nirthya movements in Kandyan dance.

Sitting position

Like Bharatha Natyam, female dancers also play a significant role in Kandyan dance. Some of the similarities, between Kandyan dance and Bharatha Natyam are the half sitting position, separation of feet, (the gap between the two legs are wider in Kandyan dance than the gap between the two legs in Bharatha Natyam), knee facing two different directions (right and left), stretching the arms at the shoulder level, neck movements following the hand movements are some of the similarities between the two classical dance forms. In Bharatha Natyam, also certain pure classical pieces, but these pieces are anyhow interwoven with Classical Carnatic music, Thala, and Laya. However, in Kandyan dance, the pure Nirutha is interwoven with Thala, Laya, and Rhythm.

In Kandyan dance ‘Udekki’ is another important category of dance, which derives its name from the drum, named ‘Udukku’. In Bharatha Natyam also this drum plays an important role, because in the division of Sabtha Thandava and in the 108 Thandavas this drum Udekkiis always found in the hands of Thandava Murthi Lord Nataraja, and the drum, is called Udduku. It is believed in Thiru Manthiram that all creations arose out of the sound of Udduku. There is a line which refers to the sound of Udduku saying, ‘Thotram Thudi Thanil’. This Uddku also plays an important role in Hindu rituals.

There are a lot of similarities in the terminologies between Bharatha Natyam and Vannam. Some of the Vannams are influenced Hindu mythology. North Indian classical dance form Kathak has a certain similarity with Kandyan dance.

For instance, both the dances are firmly based on Thala, Laya, and firm Niruth A movements. Both these dance forms have fast and circular movements. In Manipuri, the East Indian dance male dancers wear a turban, and they carry drums whilst they dance, as the male dancers in Kandyan dance.


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