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8th August 1999

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Mirror Magazine

Dance revival in Dambadeniya

At first glance, it is just another of those forgotten hamlets. Travelling down the Giriulla road in Alawwa in the Kurunegala district, what meets the eye are vast expanses of flat open country with lush green vegetation and gently swaying rice fields.

Further interior, is the quaint little village Boyawalana. Here lies the core of folk and Kandyan dancing which flourished in all its splendour in the 13th century, when the Dambadeniya kingdom epitomised an era of economic, social and cultural development. It is also home to the family tribe of the great patriarch and dance virtuoso Panchanatha Gurunnanse, whose whole family is involved in keeping the ancient traditions and dance forms of the area alive.

But during the last few years, this great tradition of dancing had lost its appeal among the youth of the area. The ageing guru silently witnessed the decline of dance traditions which once enjoyed royal patronage and sponsorship. Despite the inherent talents they possessed (being descendants of families that were traditionally dancers and drummers for generations), the youth of the area, particularly young men, were reluctant to choose dancing as a career, as prospects of making a living out of it seemed bleak.

Ancient riuals being performed at the induction of the Wes dancers at the Dambadeniya Temple with Panchanatha Gurunnanse in attendanceBut on June 16, this year a colourful and memorable event took place at the Boyawalana Temple. Four youths were inducted as 'Wes' dancers according to ancient rites with all the ritual and pageantry, that accompanied such events when art and culture flourished at its height in Dambadeniya.

This was a direct result of the efforts of the Dambadeniya Development Foundation (DDF), a development organisation, which having recognised the potential of this area, has committed itself to its upliftment. The DDF has started an extensive development programme, targeted at all sections of the community. The programmes focus on the nutritional, agricultural and educational and human resource development of the community. Empowering the people of Dambadeniya through English and computer knowledge and improving the total personality of the child, through sports and aesthetic education and appreciation, is DDF's vision for the people of Dambadeniya in the new millennium.

As part of its cultural and aesthetic studies programme, dancing classes were started under the auspices of the DDF, six years ago. This endeavour was richly rewarded and the talents of the young dancers amply demonstrated, when of several troupes DDF's youthful dancers were selected to represent Sri Lanka at the SAARC Cultural Festival in India in 1994.

Magul Bera, the opening item of Nurthianjali '99More recently, a cultural show "Nurthianjali '99" was staged at the Boyawalana Maha Vidyalaya on July 3 to give the new group the opportunity to perform in public. The dancers were trained for the occasion by Chandrani Boyawalana, the daughter of Panchanatha Gurunnanse and P.N. Piyasena, two well-known personalities in the field of dancing and drumming.

The show was a display of sheer talent, grace and promise. Seventy students presented 16 items which included both up-country and low-country dancing, and a comedy skit in the tradition of 'Nadagam', which kept the audience in fits of laughter.

As the show drew to a close, the audience was held spellbound as the drummers beat out a hypnotizing rhythm of traditional percussion instruments. When the dancers began filing in for the final curtain call, appreciative murmurs rose from the audience and the great guru Panchanatha Gurunnanse rose from his seat with tear filled eyes. Among those who shared his joy was the driving force behind this whole exercise, Padma Balasuriya, the manager-in-charge of the Cultural and Aesthetic Studies Programme of the DDF.

This show reflected the true rural flavour of their performance, and the immense potential of these poor children, in taking Sri Lanka into the new millennium as a centre for cultural tourism.

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