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Kohomba Kankariya, the sociology of a Kandyan ritual



Kohomba kankariya, the sociology of a Kandyan ritual,

by Sarath Amunugama

(Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2021).

Reviewed by Usvatte-aratchi

‘What we have described in this book are the halcyon days of Kandyan dancing….. ’ Amunugama.

Sarath Amunugama has put out a new book and it is on the Kohomba Kankariya. This is the first book on the subject that I read, although there are three others in Sinhala in my collection. Two of them are collections of kavi and other statements in the ritual. None of them describes the performance of a kankariya in detail, as Amunugama does.

Of them, the book that comes close to Amunugama’s concerns is that by Mudiyanse Dissanayaka, an accomplished artist and teacher (one time professor at the University of the Visual Arts in Colombo) of dancing. Dissanayake in the last chapter of his book deals with some concerns relevant to Amunugama’s subject matter: the sociology of the ritual. Amunugama’s Kohomba Kankariya is the first full length treatment of the subject. That is in contrast to the extensive attention paid to healing rituals in the southern coastal belt, by scholars, both local and foreign.

I am personally familiar with actual performances of sooniyama, sanni yakuma and rata yakuma, having seen them when I was a child and never forgot. I have never seen a kohomba kankariya live or on record. Amunugama writes a fine account of a kankariya which was performed in Rangamuwa, in 2015 in a village near his parents’ home. He himself was the prime mover organizing it. He also noted the distinction that other forms of dancing (panther, udakki, raban) in and around Kandy and were undertaken by high caste persons. After all he is ‘Kandy Man’. That itself makes reviewing this book difficult. It is partly personal and mostly professional. I shall try, nevertheless.

The book consists of three essays: the first sets before us, in exquisite detail, the performance of the ritual in Rangamuwa. While doing so, he explains to us the sociology of what goes on. The second essay on ves natum is an extraordinary foray into the emergence of scenes from rituals to the mainstream entertainment in Colombo: ‘….traditional culture….., shifting emphasis from ritual to commerce’. That shift was preceded by Kandyan dancing being introduced to western audiences, not as art but as acrobatics. The persons who brokered this transfer were a most unexpected lot. The third, the shortest is a collection of photographs, some in colour, of personages connected with the Rangamuva kohomba kankariya and other earlier celebrated dancers.

The reader would enjoy the systematic presentation of the kankariya. Here, I will offer a few comments on the sociology of it, well aware that I, no sociologist, dare to comment on the writings of a most brilliant student of the subject in the country. Amunugama has an ambitious plan in this essay: ‘ …. what I am attempting here is to prepare a schematic ‘frame’ into which all or most rituals can be incorporated. …….all local healing rituals have the same basic format…’. While the schemata that Amunugama presents is mostly complete, he misses a very substantial part of the of suniyama.

For several hours in the early hours of the following morning, yakdessa conduct various acts to remove all evil influences afflicting the aturaya. These include puhul kapima (cutting a cucumber), cutting tholabo (a kind of yam), dehi (lime) kapima, valalu kapima (the patient is put in a sort of cage made of cane and the cane is cut to set him/her free), symbolically removing all that afflicts him. Sirasa pada kavi comes in here. Finally, the whole atamagale, made of banana tree skins and gokkola (young coconut fronds’) in which the aturaya sat all night, is cut down. All this is furious activity with several yaddessa wielding knives is entirely exciting. It may be useful to consider that. Amunugama successfully analyses the kankariya in terms of this schemata.

I found the second essay the most engaging. Its subtitle is ‘from cosmic drama to street and stage spectacle’ announces to us the processes he analyses. The personages who facilitated that transfer of whom Amunugama writes are of equal interest, because those personages and dancers belonged in different worlds. But yesterday, ves natum was in kohomba kankariya in villages in kande uda rata. Today, corona permitting, we sit in the comfort of the balcony of the Queen’s Hotel and watch ves netum and sit in the Lionel Wendt and watch Chitrasena’s ‘karadiya’ or Ravi Bandhu lead a drum ensemble. Ves dancers play before potentates in Colombo or conduct a bride and bridegroom to the poruva in Guruva pattu far distant from Harispattu. How did that shift take place? What social forces enabled that change? Who were the agents who activated the process? Those are questions to which Amunugama provides answers, probably never final.

The kankariya and ves netum were performed by men of the berava caste, low in esteem in the hierarchy. Like almost all ritual healers among the Sinhala, these ritualists tilled some land from which they derived a meager income, which they supplemented from performing rituals. To dance before Europeans, to dance before royalty (Edward, the Prince of Wales) and before the Governor were some sort of manumission. When they travelled to Europe and US in late 19th century, and early 20th century as performers in circuses they not only earned some money but also stood in altered relations to their foreign employers.

For the Europeans, these dancers were exotic people from strange lands. From the beginning of the 16th century, when the Portuguese ventured south along the eastern coast of Africa, never far beyond to lose sight of land and went inland along Sierra Leone rivers they came across people quite unlike themselves and with manners and customs utterly foreign to them. The sailors came home and spoke of those wonders and exaggerated the unusual features so much so that there were stories of men from whose head trees grew. Gulliver’s Travels is an outcome from these fanciful stories.

Kings kept zoos of animals from tropical lands and humans who were different from themselves. Vimala Dharma Suriya I, when he became king in maha nuvara repeated this experience which he had witnessed in Lisbon. In 1917, P.B. Nugawela, a high caste potentate brought ves natum to the dalada perahera. Writes Amunugama, ‘…..the yakdessas…. had to be brought in as Sinhala society began to emerge from its feudal straitjacket’. The Ceylon National Congress, a political organization looking for identifying itself with national culture began to espouse Kandyan dancing.

In the 1930s, Western educated aesthetes in Colombo, the 43 Group led by George Keyt, ‘discovered’ these dancers and dances. Their photographs were published in Europe. The dancers appeared in exhibitions in Europe. The dancers ‘….(moved) away from the Kankariya to enter the global stage as dance performers and drummers’. ‘Nittawela Gunaya, the finest exponent of the Kandyan dance on stage…. was not interested in the Kankariya ritual’. The same could be said of Sri Jayana. Those processes need further analysis.

A high official in the department of education in the late 1930s, S.L.B Sapukotana, was enthusiastic about teaching Kandyan dancing in all schools. Such change would have given a new social status to members of the berava caste and of course raised their incomes. In 1947 or so, Mr. Punchi Banda arrived in the then remote little town Hikkaduva, where I was a student, to teach Kandyan dancing. And we learnt the first steps ‘thei, thei’ and a few days later ‘thei kita, kita thei ‘. We first danced the musaladi (Tamil for a hare) vannama. That process has gone on and now many children in most schools learn Kandyan dancing.

The clothing of ritualists in the coastal belt have changed, influenced by the costumes of Kandyan dancers. The all white cloth from the waist to the ankles that ritualists in the south wore now has red and blue lines at the ankles. Drummers who sometimes tied a white piece of cloth round their heads now wear an elaborate headdress copying dancers in the Kandyan tradition. Many cultural practices from the hills have been adopted by those in the plains, e.g. wedding suits have changed from European to thuppotti. Brides now mostly commonly adorn themselves with Kandyan sari and matching jewellery. These phenomena, someone needs to inquire into.

The most striking transfer of rituals to the proscenium theatre was brought about by Ediriweera Sarachchandra, when he wrote and directed Maname nadagama. The story was from the jataka potha. It was a village ritual, more entertainment, that was played over seven evenings on a village heath. Sarachchandra brought it on stage as a sophisticated play that lasted a mere two hours. He went to the same well, the jataka pota, for fresh themes and we had kada valalu (in which Amunugama acted), pemato jayato soko, loma hansa while hasti kanta mantare was from the dhammapadattha kata. This well seems to have been beyond the depths of those that came after Sarachchandra. These are subjects for broader and deeper inquiry.

In the last essay Amunugama presents a series of ‘….photographs of the kankariya and its associated personnel’. Here and elsewhere in the book, there are photographs of dancers like Gunaya, Suramba, his two sons Sumanaweera and Samaraweera and Chitrasena. There are also pictures of Lionel Wendt and George Keyt.

I conclude.

Diversion to Pali grammar.

On page 18, Amunugama presents a stanza which he says, ‘identifies the hopes and prayers of Sinhala Buddhists’. In homes of many people in this country, this stanza is heard, often several times a day.

devo vassatu kaalena- sassa sampatti hetu ca

pito bhavatu loko ca- raja bhavatu dhammiko.

He translated it as follows: ‘may Gods bring rain in due season- cause our livelihoods to prosper/may the populace be happy and may the ruler be righteous’. I have seen the same stanza, as presented here, in a number of places. As I found its grammar intriguing, I inquired where it was copied from. I learnt that it came from H.W.Codrington’s, A short History of Ceylon, published in 1926.

There are several problems with both copying the stanza and its translation. All the verbs are in the benedictive mood, singular number: vassatu (pl.vassantu), hotu (pl.hontu) and bhavatu (pl.bhavantu) The verb in the second line is hotu not hetu. The benedictive verb in Pali has this ‘tu’ ending. Then, devo vassatu kalena is singular and the subject cannot be in the plural: Gods. The fact is that devo, is rain or water (devo vassati is the Pali equivalent of ‘It rains’. Rhys Davids, Pali Dictionary). Then devo vassatu kaalena says ‘may it rain in season’. In the second line, the words hetu ca was copied for Codrington, wrong. There is a word hetu as in ‘ye dhamma hetuppabhava’, attributed to Sariputta. ‘hetu’ here means cause (noun). In contrast, hotu means ‘may there be’, the benedictive form of hoti (plural: honti, to be). So all three verbs are in the benedictive mood: vassatu, hotu and bhavatu. tu ending also occurs in another usage. ‘aham gaccatu kamo.’ (I like to go); or ‘bilalo musike khadatu kamo (a cat likes to eat mice’). Ca is a common conjunction equivalent to ‘and’. The translation of the line is, ‘may crops (literally, cereals) be plentiful’. There are no problems with the last two lines, except perhaps to note that raja is singular, (plural rajano, an irregular declension.) Now even bhikkhu (bhikkhu is the plural as well) have no intelligent reading of Pali, as we hear day in day out on television. To lose a language is to suffer a tremendous loss.

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Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS



From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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Hair care mask



LOOK GOOD – with Disna

* Aloe Vera and Olive Oil:

Aloe vera can beautify your hair when used regularly. Aloe vera is a three-in-one plant and is the best medicine for health, skincare, and hair care, too. Using products, containing aloe vera as the hair strengthening agent, is quite expensive. So,treat your hair, naturally, by trying out these natural hair care masks.


Aloe Vera Gel: 4-5 tablespoons

Olive Oil: 3-4 tablespoons

Egg Yolk: 2-3 tablespoons


In a bowl, mix well the olive oil (after heating the oil for eight to 10 seconds), the aloe vera gel and the egg yolk.

Apply the mixture on your brittle and dry hair with a hair brush and leave it for four to five hours. Apply it overnight for better results.

Wash off wish a mild shampoo later on.

When applied continuously, for eight to 10 days, your hair will definitely turn healthy and shiny, within no time

* Almond Milk and Coconut Oil:

Almonds are one of the amazing products when it comes to hair care. Try this mask to experience that salon affect you probably missed out.


Almond Milk: 4-5 tablespoons

Egg White: 3-4 tablespoons

Coconut Oil:1-2 tablespoons


Mix all the ingredients well, in a bowl, and gently apply it on your hair with a brush.

If applied overnight, it is the best remedy for those with dry hair.

Wash off with cold water and a mild shampoo.

Use it thrice a week and if your hair is badly damaged a daily use for eight to 10 days improves your hair condition.

You can continue using it twice or thrice a week until you get the required results.

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Amazing Thailand… opening up, but slowly



I know of several holidaymakers who are desperately seeking a vacation in Amazing Thailand, and quite a few of them keep calling me up to find out when they could zoom their way to the ‘Land of Smiles!’

Last year, they were contemplating doing their festive shopping in that part of the world and were constantly checking with me about a possible shopping vacation, in early December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved a disaster to most tourist destinations, and Thailand, too, felt the heat.

However, the scene is opening up, gradually, and fully vaccinated travellers are now being given the green light to visit quite a few countries.

The Maldives is one such destination…and now Thailand is gradually coming into that scene, as well.

Several provinces, in Thailand, have reopened, through the Phuket Sandbox programme, and there are plans to reopen five more areas, including Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and Pattaya.

Now, hold on! Before you rush and make plans to head for Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

The plan is to reopen to fully vaccinated tourists, and, in all probability, they would be able to visit without having to quarantine. But, that has to be officially confirmed.

Currently, travellers to the provinces that have already reopened, such as Phuket, must quarantine before travelling elsewhere in Thailand. The new reopening plans are the most significant travel policy changes the country has enacted since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Thai government relaxed some restrictions on gatherings in certain areas, including Bangkok, and that’s certainly good news for Sri Lankans who love to be a part of the Bangkok scene.

Bangkok is still in the ‘dark red zone,’ however — the strictest designation — that has restricted movement in the city for months.

The government has said that activities, such as shopping malls and dine-in services, in the dark-red zone, will be allowed to reopen – but no official dates have been mentioned, as yet.

Gatherings are now capped at no more than 25 people, an increase from just five people. A curfew still remains in place, however.

This October reopening (hopefully) will be launched alongside with the country’s newly adjusted ‘universal prevention’ guidelines against COVID-19 … including accelerating vaccination for the local population and formalising tourism campaigns.

Thailand will reopen in phases, I’m told: Phuket reopened in Phase One in July, while Bangkok is scheduled to reopen in Phase Two. Phase Three will reopen 21 destinations – hopefully at some point in time, in October – while Phase Four will begin in January 2022.

The measure comes not a minute too soon for local tourism operators as tourism is one of the nation’s largest gross domestic product drivers (GDP), and preventative measures against COVID-19 resulted in a massive blow to the industry.

Yes, we are all eager for the world to open up so that we can check out some of our favourite holiday destinations.

And, after staying indoors for such a long period, the urge to break free is in all of us.

I’ve been to Thailand 24 times (on most occasions, courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand) and I’m now eagerly looking forward to my 25th trip.

But…I wonder if Amazing Thailand will ever be the same – the awesome scene we all experienced, and enjoyed, before the pandemic!

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