A magnificent fusion of the man and the moment | Daily News

A magnificent fusion of the man and the moment

Title: Kohomba Kankariya – The Sociology of a Kandyan Ritual
Author: Dr Sarath Amunugama
Publisher: Vijitha Yapa

Though deceptively a slim volume is as H. L. Senevirathne introduces Dr Sarath Amunugama’s “Kohomba Kanakariya”, in its back cover, functionally the volume massively is an elucidation in the role of Sociological research of a Kandyan Ritual. The volume is in three essays in terms of chapters – which Sarath names the First Essay as Kohomba Kankariya – A Dance Drama of Revenge, Retribution and Relief; the Second Essay as “VES NATUM” – From Cosmic Drama to Street and Stage Spectacle; and Third Essay as MASTERS – Chitrasena, Sri Jayana, Makuloluwa, Tittapajjala Suramba and Nittawela Gunaya.

It appears, the Ritual (“KOHOMBA KANKARIYA”) as is considered today, is a developmental deification of practices that have been observed over history. In short, it is the growth of a belief system that had become traditionalist in the societal ambience aesthetically born as an inherent part of its culture.

Dr Amunugama ritualizes it by describing the processes it had taken place symbolically and how it is connected to the societal events sacredly in a well-designed formula. This formula seems to familiarise “KOHOMBA KANKARIYA” with the low country ritual named Daha Ata Sanniya as both the rituals functionally and believably serve a similar purpose, namely healing. Both rituals are no doubt sociological in essence and analytically theoretical.

Feudal community

Dr Amunugama explains that “the dancers in the Kanakariya were ritual priests (Yak dessas) bound by practices and cultural beliefs of a feudal society. In such a society Kanakariya dancing was to banish illness and ensure prosperity in a structured feudal community.” Yet he explains this as a practice of the traditional “Thevava”, or a “Performance” which he points out “was a concept that was infused “VES NATUM” – From Cosmic Drama to Street and Stage Spectacle; with a different meaning among the colonisers” referring how it got converted to ‘VES NATUM’ – From Cosmic Drama to Street and Stage Spectacle” as is discussed in the Second Essay in the book.

This element has been enumerated by “the art critic Walter Benjamin as follows; “During long periods of history the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The way human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstance as well” (1999; 216)”” Dr Amunugama quotes.

In essence, this is, what is maintained, as I mentioned earlier. They are similar growths of belief systems. They have become traditionalists. They have become so in the societal milieu aesthetically born ritualistically. They are inherent parts of the societal culture being dynamic, whether “KOHOMBA KANKARIYA” or Daha Ata Sanniya attaching the nature of theatrical spectacle animation. This element had been demonstrated by Sri Jayana, Tittapajjala Suramba and Nittawela Gunaya gaining international status appearing in the foreign lands too exemplifying their talents bringing repute to the country. At the very initial stage, the form they were taken to the west sounds very weird and unusual as they were fashioned in the company of wild animals and “Wild Men” of Somalia by a touring agency titled “Hegenbecks Caravan”.

Drumming sessions

Yet the Kandyan dancers seemed heroic and valiant. Compared to other nationals bizarre presentations “Sri Lankans were better off since much of the Kandyan dancing was of the ensemble type, like in the Avenduma, wherein the impact was due to coordinated precision dancing. It is also likely that the episodes of the Kankariya using flambeaus were presented because it together with the drumming created a stunning effect for what the audience believed was Devil dancing. The low country dancers wore masks and dresses imitating devils and with their flambeaus drumming sessions were closer to the western fantasies of primitive peoples.” Dr Amunugama inscribes in his book, (pages 105-106).

Yet with the ripe of time, the esteem of the status of the Sri Lankan dancers changed as they were present in most of the Expositions in Europe, particularly in Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1889 at the time of the erection of Eiffel Tower “for this occasion”, at which “32 million visitors” or more attended. As a result of the presence of Sri Lankan dancers at “these Expositions”, they later “transited from being ‘wild men’ to classical dancers who were welcome on the cultural and commercial circuit. Dancers like Gunaya and Ukkuwa had made that transition with a grace that De Zoete describes as not ‘losing their Kandyan character’”.

They were looked upon “as symbols of a national classical culture and adopted as possible icons of a new nation.” Further, they were “held up as representations of an ancient culture which was superior to that of the west.” Sarath Amunugama, author states in page 111.

This clearly is established by the references Dr Amunugama makes to personages in the Third Essay titled MASTERS – Chitrasena, Sri Jayana, Makuloluwa, Tittapajjala Suramba and Nittawela Gunaya.

All these masters are treasures of the country in many ways. This clearly is established by the references Dr Amunugama makes to personages in the Third Essay titled MASTERS – Chitrasena, Sri Jayana, Makuloluwa, Tittapajjala Suramba and Nittawela Gunaya.

All these masters are national treasures of the country.

Best known Sinhala ballet creator

Perhaps Chitrasena may be introduced as an exception of the group for his creative ability and the comparative knowledge he acquired and being a reputed talented actor as well, as acting Othello in the titled play as well as in many others, during the course of his living. He “is the best-known creator of Sinhala ballet”, and performing in England at the Sadler Wells Theatre at the West End, London. “His wife the famous danseuse Vajira has written” about him thus. “He is often celebrated as a pioneer for bringing ritual dancers to the stage, for creating a path for the female dancer and establishing a new genre of performance – the Ceylonese Ballet.”

The most celebrated ballets of the kind were “Karadiya” and “Nala Damayanthi” veering towards “Swan Lake”, the Russian Ballet. “It is commonly accepted that Chitrasena’s initiative helped in breaking down the caste taboos, and together with the 43 groups, helped in positioning Kandyan dancing as a national iconic art.” Dr Amunugama exalts, brightens on page 145 in his esteemed book.

Besides Chitrasena Dr Amunugama also praises and evaluates the other Masters, Sri Jayana (1921-2008); W. B. Makuloluwa (1922-1984); Tittapajjala Suramba (1914-1998); Nittawela Gunaya (1906-1986); appropriately in the Third Essay with a collection of beautiful and valuable photographs in the Photo Gallery and lastly concluding his unforgettable book, affirming “even today that is recognized as a magnificent fusion of the man and the moment and a recognition of the pure dance quality of Ves as the preeminent national aesthetic manifestation of the Ceylonese nation.”

Finally, may I conclude by stating that Kohomba Kankariya is a must that should be read especially by the widely read as well as the general readers without fail for its richness in the subject matter.

Reviewed by Dr Namel Weeramuni

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