Aditi Mangaldas tells the story of Kathak
By Tennyson Rodrigo
The occasion was Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam's birth anniversary. The event was a recital of Kathak Dance by Aditi Mangaldas on January 31. The venue was Bishop's College auditorium by the breezy borders of the Beira Lake.

Aditi Mangaldas hails from India and is a versatile exponent of the Kathak dance form. Kathak is the classical dance form of Northern India - Lucknow and Jaipur in particular were flourishing centres of this ancient tradition. What Bharatha Natyam is to South India, Kathak is to the North. If Bharatha Natyam is replete with angled symmetry and chiselled form and precision, Kathak wallows in intensely charged cycles of ebbs and flows with rhythmic footwork and poetry. Electrifying climaxes are reached when the percussionist and the dancer engage each other in skilful execution of Boles.

Traditionally, Kathak dancers are experts in music, dance and story-telling. The word 'Kathak' is derived from the word 'Katha' (story); as stated in the Programme notes, in modern Kathak renderings, rhythm and movement have overshadowed the story-telling character.

Aditi took the audience on a journey filled with artistry, passion and enchantment. In the first half she displayed her technical prowess and artistic brilliance in the rendering of today's traditional Kathak. She chose the four seasons to depict the fury of the monsoons, the abandonment of the falling autumn leaves, the isolation of winter and the consuming fire of summer. Music from a trio of vocal and instrumental accompanists gave active rhythmic support and the minimalist melodic content that characterizes the Kathak format. Intricately weaving the Boles, the entranced Tabla player and the dancer synchronized their climatic crescendos with explosive ecstasy and panache. The audience was too spellbound to applaud these high points. Yet, it did so, it seemed, somewhat hesitatingly.

The second half that comprised a kaleidoscopic miscellany was a striking contrast in technique, choreography, presentation and genre. It looked as if Aditi the Kathak-dancer had been transmogrified! Recorded music replaced live musicians. Coloured spotlights and a variety of costumes changed the overall stage ambience. The themes were sensuous and passionately danced. The imagery and movements were languorous and pulsating. All in all, there was a discernible touch of modernity in content and form without a hint of cheap vulgarity. Aditi's movements showed the suppleness and plasticity of her body. She used yogic postures and stillness of silence to express moods of romance, lamentation and cycles of heightened passion and claustrophobia. Shubha Mudgal's music interspersed with sprinklings of her haunting, plaintive voice gave atmospheric intensity to these emotions. But the fire and spirit of Kathak's deft footwork that surfaced from time to time were fleeting moments that were reminiscent of Andalusian flamenco.

As I watched all this, it never occurred to me that the gypsies originated somewhere in North India. In their nomadic wanderings, they displayed a passion for music and dance. Another amazing aspect of the gypsy diaspora was its capacity to absorb local music and dance forms and infuse into them elements of Indian music.

Thus, when they entered Spain in the 15th century, fragments of Indian music having distinct mogul influences might have been absorbed into Spanish dance forms.

Aditi is an innovator and an explorer of the past to create a new future in her dance idioms. Could it be that some of her contemporary repertoire are cross-cultural derivatives stemming from her deep insights into the cultural history of India?

It is clear that Aditi is more than just another accomplished practitioner of Kathak. She has performed in major cities of the world to critical acclaim; she is an examiner and a judge in the Ministry of Human Resource Development in granting scholarships in Kathak dancing and has read papers at dance workshops. The evening's dance performance was a fitting event to commemorate the birth anniversary of Neelan Tiruchelvam. His deep interest in and love of music and culture were eclectic. By giving the Sri Lankan public the opportunity to enjoy Aditi Mangaldas, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies has once again shown its enduring commitment to celebrating Neelan's inspirational life.

(The writer is a member of the Western Music Panel of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka)

Contrasting styles in ‘trading places’

Robert Sedgley returns for his fourth exhibition in Sri Lanka. Entitled "Trading Places", it highlights his abiding interest in depicting shops, stores and commercial outlets of every description that have had a popular reception in the past.

His water colours range from intricate paintings of crumbling old colonial style buildings with their many and varying trades to the smaller rapid studies, such as the old Dutch houses in Galle Fort, kiosks and vendors' stalls.

However, these are not mere picturesque or quaint renderings of old and decaying buildings, or sentimental representations of the leftovers of a bygone era, but painterly depictions of light, shape and colour.

"My paintings of street life are quite objective," he says. " My subject is buildings, old or modern, but normally with some aspect of age or decay. However, I do not paint romantic ruins; to me there is no romanticism in decay, dirt and degeneration. The noise, ugliness and squalour of urban life repels me, but I am also drawn to it as a subject. However, just as I have no wish to romanticize the things I paint nor do I want to condemn or express anger. Although much of what I see, what I would describe as urban blight, is ugly and often brutal in the way low grade modern buildings are unsympathetically inserted into streets of formerly well designed and attractive housing, my hope is that in describing what is there, and expressing it as form and colour, it can in some way be redeemed and reclaimed as art."

This he does by painting what is there in a manner which on closer inspection reveals interesting combinations of shapes and colours drawn into unity by the light and the underlying grid structure of the architecture.

When he paints shops, the colourful patches and detailed painting of the signboards play a significant part in the overall scheme of the work.

His Kandy paintings focus on the elderly, graceful buildings many of them now listed for conservation. Ornate, decorated upper stories where broken window frames, cracked and peeling plaster work and fading colours provide a richly detailed backdrop in stark contrast to the slick brash signboards and open shop fronts, banners, metal supports and air conditioning units.

"Architecture has been described as 'frozen music' and that is another of its attractions for me," he continues.

"So I conceive my paintings as musical analogies. The repetition of formal elements, spacing or intervals, clustering of details and lines running through, is a classical structure over which are the incidental elements: open and closed windows, broken fragments, patches of moss and foliage, signboards, traffic and pedestrians, and the interplay of light and shade provide variations which enliven and develop the theme. The whole takes on a symphonic appearance."

The larger pieces are painted in the studio with the aid of drawings and photographs and often take many days to complete, while the smaller studies are done entirely in front of the motif.

Sitting on the crowded pavements of Kandy for instance, struggling against noise and fumes and the constantly changing light, with sometimes only glimpses of the buildings opposite between parked vehicles and crowds of onlookers, he still manages to draw his detailed and accurately proportioned buildings, delicately painted, with tiny figures scurrying about or standing in the shops.

The exhibition opens at Barefoot Gallery, on Tuesday, February 18, at 7.30 p.m. and continues daily until March 4.

Kohomba Kankariya for Chitrasena’s school

The Chitrasena Kalayatanaya will hold a "Kohomba Kankariya" on Saturday, February 22 to bless the plot of land on which the new Chitrasena Kalayatanaya will be built. The land is located on the corner of Elvitigala Mawatha and Park Road. All are welcome to attend.

"Kohomba Kankariya is a ritual performed in the Kandyan areas to invoke the blessings of the deities to bring about prosperity in cultivation. The origin of this ritual can be traced back to age-old customs, cults and beliefs in our society.

The story of its origin is interesting. It goes back to Vijaya's arrival in Sri Lanka. Vijaya and Kuveni were married and had two children. Later Vijaya abandoned Kuveni to marry a princess from Madura. Kuveni cursed Vijaya for this insult. The curse fell on Panduvasdev who was Vijaya's successor. King Panduvasdev after a dream in which an apparition appeared in the form of a leopard, was taken ill. Sakra declared that the king's illness could be cured only by a person who was born of a flower. 'Malaya Raja' who was supposed to be the ideal person, had to be brought to Sri Lanka for this purpose. Rahu undertook to bring him and entered the king's garden 'Nandana' in the form of boar. The king gave chase to the boar. The chase continued through Sri Lanka. The bear finally reached Hantane. God Sakra appeared again and explained everything. Malaya Raja then performed the ritual at Mahamevuna garden, Anuradhapura and blessed King Panduvasdev. The king was cured and since then 'Kohomba Kankariya' became a ritual invoking blessings on the sick.

The ritual is performed as a number of dance sequences beginning and ending with prayers. Five dramatised incidents (Yakkam Paha) and five stories (Katha Paha) are enacted. This is followed by five different types of aims (Dana Paha) and a series of drumming and dance sequences.

Malaya Raja, before returning to his country, conferred the duty of performing the ritual to a prince, who was bathing under a Kohomba tree. Thereafter the prince was named 'Kohomba' and the ritual came to be known as 'Kohomba Kankariya.'

From the time preparations are made for the ritual till the completion of the ceremony there are a number of rites and customs to be performed. Those are presented with drumming, singing and dancing. The dances performed in the tradition known as Kandyan Dancing are included in the ritual 'Kohomba Kankariya'.

Kala Korner by Dee Cee

New book
Meeting an old friend is always a pleasant experience. Wimal Dissanayake and I were on the Dinamina news desk in the early sixties. After he moved over to the Kelaniya University to head the newly formed Mass Communications department too we worked together. Then he took wing to the East West Centre in Hawaii where has been pursuing his academic work. Since retiring from there, he has moved to the University of Hong Kong as a visiting professor.

While being busy with his university work, Wimal continued his interest in creative writing - something he has done since his undergraduate days in Peradeniya. His first book of poems, was 'Akal Wessa'. A few days back he dropped in to give me a copy of his latest anthology of poems, 'Nagala Kanda' .

I was quite intrigued to find that the 92-page book carries no less than 78 creations completed over the past few years. He says that he sees two underlying themes in them - death and contemplation. However, the poems do not drag the reader into thinking life is not worth living. Written in the most simple and lucid style, Wimal touches on a variety of topics in 'Nagala Kanda'. Even for the average reader like me, it offers much.

'Nagala Kanda' portrays the mood of the times - the war, young lives being lost and families being devastated. These poems create not only sympathy and sorrow but also remind one of the futility of war. 'Jana Viruva' is a fine example. When he moves over to nature, he creates vivid pictures. In 'Avurudu Da', he captures his thoughts of spending the New Year back home, intermixed with life in Hong Kong from where he writes.

Paying a tribute to our 'guru', Dr Sarachchandra, he captures the essence of the masterpieces created by him in eight lines. Similarly, Wimal sums up what maestro Amaradeva means to us. There are other unnamed personalities he remembers with his pen.

Make-up maestro
If one spots a young man in light blue denims and shirt with sleeves rolled up amidst a crowd of art lovers, make no mistake - it's Buddhi Galappatti. He rarely misses any event connected to the arts. He is seen at book launches, musical presentations, felicitations and of course, at plays where he spends most of the time backstage doing make-up with his helpers.

His latest assignment was 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde' where he did a superb job in transforming a few young Royalists into early 20th century English ladies.

Buddhi's involvement with theatre began in 1969 when he was picked by Dr Tissa Kariyawasam who was helping Dr. Sarachchandra to revive 'Maname', to be stage manager. He had just passed out of the Vidyodaya University. Soon he found himself assisting a well known name in the make-up field, Padmakumar Ediriweera. Whenever the latter found himself unable to go for outstation shows, Buddhi was given that responsibility. "What a wonderful experience it was to do makeup for the queen of stage at the time, Trillicia Gunawardena and the foremost actors Ben Sirimanne (Prince Maname), Edmund Wijesinghe (Veddah king) and 'Potheguru' Shyaman Jayasinghe," Buddhi recalls. "I was so nervous wondering whether I would be able to please Dr. Sarachchandra - he was so particular and so meticulous." Obviously he did a good job for he is now the most sought after make-up artiste both in Sinhala and English theatre.

From stylised drama, Buddhi moved over to realistic drama with Sugathapala de Silva's 'Dunna Dunu Gamuve' and has worked right through with veteran dramatists up to Prasanna Vithanage. Many are the awards that Buddhi has earned over the years for his efforts. Apart from awards for best make-up, Buddhi's last collection of verses, 'Turu Liya Akuru Viya' won the 1999 State literary award.

A top executive in the private sector (he works at Holcim, which bought Puttalam Cement), Buddhi somehow finds time to get involved with cultural activities.

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