I sing for the Dalada
Dr. Tony Donaldson continues his investigation into the Kavikara Maduva in the Temple of the Tooth. Drawing on contemporary fieldwork in Kandy he explores the textual, musical, and contextual features of the Kavikara Maduva

The texts and musical descriptions presented here are based on field recordings of the Kavikara Maduva made by the author in early 1998 in the Temple of the Tooth during the Nanumura Mangallaya, the Ritual of Sacred Cleaning. The family that serves in the Kavikara Maduva is the Kelekoralegedara (KG) paramparava.

Some years ago, a Buddhist monk related a story about an incident that he had witnessed at a meeting organised by the Temple of the Tooth. A lively debate was taking place at the meeting over a proposal to introduce the kavadi dance into the Esala Perahera. Most of the participants were objecting to the proposal suggesting that the dance was unsuitable for the Esala Perahera. The leader of the Kavikara Maduva was then asked to sing a dalada kavi as an example of their tradition - perhaps to remind the participants of what was considered to be suitable music for the Perahera. But he refused saying, “without the Tooth Relic I will not sing dalada kavi.”

While this story gives us a rare glimpse into temple life, it also demonstrates certain values the Kavikara Maduva attach to their texts, which the singers claim have been handed down from father to son, and are only performed in the Temple of the Tooth.

The texts are drawn from a collection made up of over 400 verses that date from the period of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781). Some of the poems are quite lengthy, but there are also poems of just one or two verses. The identity of the poets is unknown. The poems narrate stories of the Buddha's life, His departure from lay-life and attaining nirvana, and the history of the Tooth Relic.

To learn dalada kavi and to join the Kavikara Maduva are two significant events in the life of a temple singer. As Keerala explains in the following account of his initiation into the Kavikara Maduva, both of these events are celebrated through rituals that exhibit a Hindu flavour.

"I started singing dalada kavi in 1965 at an auspicious time when the Kapurala came to our home and blessed me. We first offered a pujava for the gods. The Kapurala then sang the first line of an asirivadaya called kri stree, and this is how I started. We always practised each day around 6 or 7 in the evening.

“Later, when I joined the Kavikara Maduva, I was given a special mantra and asked to recite it seven times. The purpose of this mantra is to increase the power of memory and to call on the spirits of all deities to bless our voices." Temple musicians say that the most effective learning takes place in the evenings because then it goes 'right into the core of a person'. Concentration wise, the night time is the best time to learn music.

Contextualising temple singing
The Kavikara Maduva sing in the Nanumura Mangallaya, Pasalosvaka (the ritual held on poya day), in the Esala Perahera, and whenever the Tooth Relic is exhibited to the public. My focus here is on temple singing in the Nanumura Mangallaya which is the ritual performed on Wednesdays for the symbolic cleaning of the Tooth Relic. The ritual consists of 16 tasks performed in the inner chamber by the Nayaka Thera (Chief Monk), with the assistance of the Vattorurala, who is the only laic permitted to be in the inner chamber while the ritual is taking place.

The essence of the ritual is a substance called nanu, which is a type of herbal scented water prepared in the temple kitchen and brought to the upper chamber. The Hevisi play a special drum pade in the lower chamber that announces 'the alms is being taken into the chamber', and it gives a sense to the worshippers that the ritual is about to start.

For the Kavikara Maduva, the preparations for the ritual actually start the day before. As K.G. Wijeratne relates, "On Tuesdays I do not eat fish or meat, and early morning on Wednesday I have a bath before I go to the Maligawa." On arriving at the temple the Kavikara Maduva clean and sweep the floor of the veranda room next to the inner chamber, which is where the singers sit during the ritual. Mats are laid on the floor. The singers collect their musical instruments, and sit and wait for the Hakgedirala (Conch Playing Official) to sound the hakgediya, which signals the start of the ritual.

The costume worn by the Kavikara Maduva consists of a vettiya (a white garment), and a scarf that is worn around the upper part of the body. In the Esala Perahera, the temple singers also wear a jatava (head-dress), kadukkan (earrings), and bandi valalu (bangles).

A typical approach to understanding temple singing would be to analyse the texts and music. However, to understand their performances the music should be evaluated in terms of the ritual context in which it takes place. In the Temple of the Tooth, the Kavikara Maduva employ a distinctive harsh vocal quality - perhaps to cut through the tremendous variety of other sounds in the temple. The singers do not extend beyond the range of one octave, and they do not employ the expressive qualities of alankara, which are to be found in other Sinhala music contexts.

These contextual features perhaps explain why the Kavikara Maduva do not regard what they do as music. Wijeratne says, "Music is different from this. It is true that we use some musical instruments but we only sing four lines. It is not like singing a song. When you sing a song you can be expressive and sing it in a high, low or normal pitch, or a combination, but we do not sing dalada kavi like this."

Temple poetry
The Kavikara Maduva begin their participation in the Nanumura Mangallaya with an asirivadaya. Its purpose is to invoke blessings and to venerate the Buddha. In the asirivadaya that follows the poet expresses three fundamental achievements of the Buddha. The first is His attaining of the ten perfections. These are the highest possible attainments in human character, which the Buddha perfected during many aeons of rebirths. Next is the Buddha's attaining of enlightenment, which is evoked by a description of the Buddha sitting on a diamond seat under the bodhi tree. The poet then describes the Buddha's ultimate triumph over the evil Mara.

Piru depasak paramita äti guna utuma
Garu vajirasne väda hinda bo mulama
Maru binda jaya gat uttama bala mahima
Hiru udayak men eli viya dasa digama
(Invested with virtues of the ten perfections performed
You sat on the venerable diamond seat, under the great bodhi tree
Crushing Mara by noble effort you attained glory
All (ten) directions shone in effulgence, as by a rising sun)

The text is sung freely, unaccompanied, and antiphonally (two-by-two). After performing an asirivadaya the Kavikara Maduva sing a tanama (a poetical arrangement of non-semantic syllables), which outlines the tala on which the texts that follow are rendered. The singers also begin playing their musical instruments, which are made of silver, and consist of udakki (hour-glass drum), panteru (metal rattles in a circular frame), and talampota (paired cymbals).

For most of the ritual the Kavikara Maduva sing dalada kavi and dalada sindu. In setting a kavi to music, the singers set the rhythm according to the light and heavy syllables of the text. A light syllable is given a duration of one count and a heavy syllable is given a duration of two counts. The time-span is often extended at the end of a phrase or line of a verse.

Most dalada kavis are sung antiphonally in which the singers divide into two sections. The first section sing a phrase that is repeated by the rest of the group. This interplay is characterised further by distinct changes in tempo in which the first section of singers either maintain or push the tempo forward on a phrase, while the second section hold the tempo back on the next phrase.

The two verses that follow illustrate the themes of dalada kavi. The Namayen kavi narrates the passing away of the Buddha. The poet describes the Buddha entering into a magnificent sal park in Kusinara, the location in which the Buddha chose to attain parinirvana (His final passing away, never to be reborn). The brahmas (spirits), the gods (devas), and humans come together to perform the final rites for the Buddha.

Namayen lova nohära para sidu ekusinara pura dimut
Pema vadavana esal uyane pirinivan pekala sugat
Säma bamba sura naro räsvi sandun säyak kara mahat
Boma dun neka sadu naden vada tibu muni kala sirit
(In the resplendent city, Kusinara, a name known world-over
The Buddha attained parinirvana in the alluring sal park
All brahmas, devas, and humans gathered to erect a pyre of sandalwood
To place the Lord there-on, with boundless acclamations of 'sadhu!'
And to perform the customary rituals)
The Mevan kavi tells the story of the bringing of the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka. In the early fourth century, the Tooth Relic was in the possession of King Guhasiva, but his enemies sought to capture it and destroy it. Believing the Tooth Relic would be safer in Lanka, Guhasiva sent his daughter, Princess Hemamala, and Prince Danta, to Lanka disguised as Brahmans with the Tooth Relic, which was hidden in the hair of the Princess. Hemamala and Danta built a small dagäba and hid the relics, before taking a rest on a golden sand bed.

Mevan asu bava asa danna denna samugena ves gena
Nivan siri dena datu aragena denna yannata nikmuna
Ruvan kala gan gani ganga väli tale dagäba tana
Evan väli yata datu sangava dedena yahane sätapuna
(Having come to know that such an inquiry was made
They both in disguise took leave with the relics that bestows nivana
Built a dagäba on the golden sands of the Gangani river
Underneath the sands they hid the relics, and stretched themselves on the bed)

The temple singers conclude their participation in the Nanumura ritual with a dalada astaka. Drawing on customs that appear to be derived from the Kandyan court, the Kavikara Maduva salute the Tooth Relic and seek permission to leave.
Sonda dasa päruman puramin nomanda
Oda binda a vasavatu saha pähäda
Lada budu bava ape muniduge dalada
Vända bäsa avasara ganimu badada
(Who, having performed the ten perfections without blemish
Crushed the audacity of Mara, and contenting himself
Attained omniscience. Let us salute the Tooth Relic of the Lord
And stooping low, obtain permission, this Wednesday)
On singing this last line the temple singers bow their heads forward, while simultaneously raising and joining their hands together in a salutation.

Devotion to service
To sing for the Dalada is a privilege given only to the Kavikara Maduva who perform their duties in the Temple of the Tooth with profound respect and a tremendous sense of responsibility. Reflecting on the years of service he has given to the Kavikara Maduva, Loku Banda describes singing for the Dalada as a 'meritable and joyful act'.

Wijeratne shares a similar view. In paying tribute to his ancestors he says 'I really enjoy being in the Kavikara Maduva. If I have a son in my paramparava I will ask him to take over. To sing for the Dalada Samidu is a blessing. As a Sinhalese Buddhist I am very happy about this and I give merit to our grandfather for putting us into the Kavikara Maduva'.

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