A burst of Daha Ata Sanniya

By Vidushi Seneviratne
Fire dancers bending backwards while they lowered flaming torches into their mouths. Drummers accompanying them while rhythmically beating on two Yak bera. A Gurunnanse (master of ceremonies) holding out a pouch of flammable powder for the dancers to light their torches. And finally a dancer dressed up as a Yakka (devil) performing a scene complete with witty, humorous dialogue.

Snippets from a much longer and fuller recital, these scenes gave all those present a glimpse of what they were in for. Performed at the end of the media briefing held at the Ceylon Continental Hotel, this preview would have adequately tempted everyone watching it, to witness the "real thing". The complete performance of "Daha Ata Sanniya," will definitely be a novel experience for any audience.

Organised by the Rotary Club of Colombo Millennium City District 3220, the performance of this traditional and extremely unique dance ritual is co-ordinated by Kumar de Silva of Adahas (Pvt.) Ltd and Rohana Beddage, one of Sri Lanka's veteran experts on traditional Sinhalese dance and drama.

Especially organised to create awareness and revive dying forms of culture, some of the proceeds of the recital will be used by the Rotary Club of Colombo Millennium City, for the club's polio eradication campaign.

The "Daha Ata Sanniya" is a traditional dance ritual held to exorcise 18 types of diseases from the human body. Though an extremely colourful and vibrant pageant, most Sri Lankans do not get the chance of witnessing it, due to the performance's exorbitant costs and the long duration. The organisers plan to edit the original performance in order to suit urban audiences as well as tourists, bringing this essentially traditional spectacle to the Colombo stage.

As Mr. Beddage, explained, the origin of this Shanthi Karmaya (blessing) took place in the times of ancient kings and was performed in the southern and western parts of the country. According to the story, while King Sankapala was at war, his wife who was pregnant had a sudden craving for a certain variety of mango. As she ate it, her maid of honour too had wanted a piece of the fruit, but had been refused by the Queen. Angry at this refusal, the maid cursed her and when the King returned after the war, told him that the Queen had conceived out of wedlock. The story was believed and the Queen was sliced in two with a sword. The baby was born and ate off his mother and so, a devil was born. As the story goes, lead by this devil, 18 other devils were created and they in turn came to towns and cities and began to spread in the form of diseases. It is to counter this type of sickness that the Daha Ata Sanniya originated.

'Daha Ata Sanniya" will be performed in two sections where the first part will consist of seven palis, while the second part will be performed as the 18 sannis. The artistes will perform their parts in jovial movements, bringing much entertainment to the audiences. Joining hands to make this spectacular recital a reality are, Lionel Bentharage, Hemachandra Weerasinghe, Kumudu Kumara and Sumith Jayanetti. The drum beats of "Daha Ata Sanniya" will pulsate on April 5 at the BMICH Western Garden.

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