Traditional Sri Lankan Dancing and Firewalking

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Traditional Sri Lankan and Kandian Dancing

I would have loved to have spent some time in the Tooth Relic museum but while they’ve been great, Lisa and I can see we may be pushing our luck and Chris has given us a deadline to be back out in time for us to go and see a traditional display of Kandyan dancing and drumming.

So we slowly made our way out, collected our shoes and walked across the courtyard, out of the security zone and over to what appears to be a cross between a large town hall and a theatre – the Kandyan Art Associations Halls. As we’re walking, Chris asks us how we got on and what we thought. There are positive comments all round but, to my families exasperation, I mention to Chris that while we’ve seen a lot of Buddhist temples, I’d love to see a real Hindu one and he immediately smiles and says he’ll sort something out.

We walk in and take our place about 10 rows back from the front and sit, slightly apprehensively, wondering exactly what the dancing will involve.

After a short announcement in Sinhala the first act gets underway. Six performers come onto stage. Two are elegantly dressed ladies in long flowing white dresses. They are holding some sort of brass horn that has a long tube which rises and then bends into a bell shape which looks a little like a brass study lamp. There are two men who position themselves at the back of the stage and are both playing instruments – one a small silver instrument that looks rather like a miniature trumpet, the other is playing a shell – a Conch Shell. The act is called a Magul Bera which refers to the drums that the final two men on stage are playing. It’s a double skinned, a drum skin on each end of the drum which is dangling in front of each man so it can be easily played on both sides, one with each hand.

Traditional Sri Lankan Dancing

Traditional Sri Lankan Dancing

All four men are dressed similarly with a white turban-like headdress with colourful ribbon adorning it and what looks like a red feather at the back. They have long earrings and a wide and ornate collar which drapes over their shoulders and ends in a triangular point at the top of their chest. Below this, they wear a red bodice, trimmed with white and a white sarong which reaches right down to their feet.

The drums are the key focus of this act and the step, in time around the stage, keeping a fast drum going all the time sometimes with the accompaniment of the instruments, sometimes without.

Traditional Drumming using the Magul Bera in Kandy Sri LankaThe act seamlessly moves into the second act with the instruments and the ladies with the horns departing and two mens, similarly dressed join with a new set. The new drums are made up of two separate drum skins the size of two tambourines. They too hang from the players’ neck and are played in from of the drummer with the skins facing the audience. They are joined on stage by 3 graceful women with flame-like headdresses and burning oil lamps in each hand (the Puja Natuma).

I won’t describe all of the acts but they were numerous and varied. They were a mixture of traditional dances featuring a peacock or vipers and ritual dances such as the Devil Dance (Raksha Natuma) where a frightening devil mask parades ominously across the stage.

The dancing was quite bewildering and if I am honest went on a little too long, even for our children who started to get a little fidgety. Lisa goes as far as saying it is the worst concert she has been to but the reality is that it’s a professional performance of a cultural show that is very different and unfamiliar. It is a pretty spectacular which shows the wide diversity of dances and other acts from across different parts of Sri Lanka. I think it was well worth seeing although possibly a little long!

Fire Dancing and Fire Walking

The last two acts are worth a mention – the Gini Sisila (Fire Dance) and the Fire Walking. Gini Sisila is basically a handful of rugged looking men, bare-chested showing off with fire. They have fire torches and after blowing a few flames and an impressive display of fire-eating the then rub the fire up and down their bare-chests! As if this is not enough, out come the hot coals and a new set of men calmly walk across them. These acts are also accompanied by the incessant drum beat although it is clear that here, fire is the main act!