The Roots of Kandyan Dancing

DBT Kappagoda, in Daily News, 4 April 2018, where the title reads thus How Kandyan dancing began”

Kandyan dancing is popularly known as Udarata Natum derived its name from the traditional dance forms peculiar to the central region of Sri Lanka. The origin of Kandyan dancing can be traced back to the time of the Nayakkar rulers who ascended the throne of the Kandyan Kingdom 300 years ago.

In Kandyan dancing Vannam forms as a special  feature. In Tamil and Telegu Vannam means a description. When the dancer performs he recites the Vannama and according to the description when he has recited and begins to dance displaying a Tandava style of dancing. The dancing is done in a rigorous way while describing the movement of the cobra (Naiyandi), elephant (Gajaga), peacock (Monera), eagle (Ukussa) showing the onlookers a description of the animal. In the course of the recitation, adoration to the Buddha and the great qualities he had possessed is highlighted.

The books written on this form of dancing namely Nrutiya Upata, Bere Daul Upata and Saranga Male do not refer to the existence of books on Kandyan dancing. But with the coming of the Nayakkar rulers, it was made possible for the dancers, musicians and craftsmen to make their presence in the Kandyan kingdom which resulted in the creations and innovations in the field of arts and crafts. Dancing then became a regular feature in the royal court. The dancers and singers sang Prasasti or eulogies extolling the king’s virtues. At times kings were compared to Ananga when the verses were sung and dancers then performed to the rhythmic beat of the drums before the king and his courtiers.

Rhythmic watch

The popular drum – Geta bere became the accompaniment to singing and dancing. Verses were sung to keep pace with the rhythmic movements of hands and legs when they moved in keeping with the beat of the drums. The Tandava form of dancing which is essentially masculine became popular making Kandyan dancing more rhythmic and pleasing to watch. It also created the correct tempo for singing and dancing. The dancers were able to move to and fro in keeping with the drumming.

In viharas too during Tevava time drumming became a vital part of pooja when homage was made to the image of the Buddha. Talam pota and Pantheru that accompanied provided perfect timing to singing and dancing. In rituals like Bali and Thovil drumming formed an integral part of reciting verses when appeals were made to deities or devils In the text Nrutiya Upata mode of dancing not mentioned. It is said that Maha Ishvara and other deities had helped to foster the art of dancing.

However, the books give the history of dancing but it cannot be accepted as a form of systematic study on Kandyan dancing. The information given in verse is in the form of questions and answers and the failure to answer was subject to taboos like the disability to move the dancer’s limbs and also the difficulty in playing musical instruments.

According to the description given in the books Ishvara, Mahesvara with his left-hand holds the conch and play fivefold musical notes and with his right hand he claps several pada and commences his dancing. However, there are contradictory’ descriptions about the manner in which Ishvara does his performance.

Drumbeat

He dances to the beat of the drums but there is no instruction to the beat of the drum. The beat of the drum begins with Tak Dik Tonnan and goes to the second beat Tatadik Tonnan and to the final Urataka Jagadam Tadarika Kadiri Tol. The beat of the drum is similar to a mantaram. The sound of the drum takes one to a state of a spell. The drummer begins his performance with the recitation of the tala and then plays the drum. This is done the manner of Taraga poya hewisi. Horaneva is an accompaniment with its notes keeping to the drumbeat making the onlookers enthralled with the performance.

Tamattama is another form of a drum with two small drums tied to the waist of the drummer. When it is played with sticks (circular at the ends) on the face of the drums to the accompaniment of the horaneva can make the performance exciting. In Naiyandi and ves the playing of Udekki and Pantheru can be added to provide as an accompaniment. To the drummer has to play his bera pada and make the dancer perform Adam Sandam – Tanam Matra Tit and also Kastiram to keep up with the steps.

The teachers of drumming have to depend on the tradition when teaching their pupils. In the text Bera Daul Upata, the bere was said to have been created by Brahma, Maheshvara Bhadrakali, Maha Kalanaga, Mahapadmanaga and goddesses Tara and Pattini.

Thovil rituals

In Bali and Pideni rituals when offerings are made the drummers change the beat of the drums to suit the different rituals. In the recitation connected with Bali and Thovil rituals, names of Hindu deities are mentioned. The folk dramas like Kinduru Natuma and Sokari Natuma have originated in the Kandyan areas. These two folk plays possess the elements of a dance drama. In the Sokari Natuma, the influence of South Indian folk drama can be seen.

The dialogues in these two folk plays are interspersed with song and dance. They appeal to the popular taste of the ordinary people who enjoy them especially during the time of the Sinhala Avurudda. The dialogues are always improvised and lack refinement. At times jokes and poking fun by the participants are seen bordering into vulgarity. The theme of these folk plays is to appease goddess Pattini and the worship fertility cult.

In Kandyan dancing Vannam forms as a special feature. In Tamil and Telegu Vannam means a description. When the dancer performs he recites the Vannama and according to the description when he has recited and begins to dance displaying a Tandava style of dancing.

The dancing is done in a rigorous way while describing the movement of the cobra (Naiyandi), elephant (Gajaga), peacock (Monera), eagle (Ukussa) showing the onlookers a description of the animal. In the course of the recitation, adoration to the Buddha and the great qualities he had possessed is highlighted.

There is evidence to show the influence of Gita Govinda based on the Krishna legend which was translated from Sanskrit into Tamil and later rendered into Sinhala poetry during the reign of King Narendrasinha when dancing became a popular form of entertainment in the royal court. In the present context, it is necessary that Vannams should be adapted and innovated to suit the modern stage. ln this exercise Mudras (gestures) should be incorporated to enhance the beauty of our dancing. Tandava aspect of Kandyan dancing should not be taught to girls because of its masculine nature. Instead, they should be taught Lassiya form of dancing as in Manipuri which is more graceful and rhythmic in movement of the body and in its presentation.

 

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