Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kolam, Another traditional drama

Kolam dance is a traditional dancing event popular among low country people. The speciality of this drama is that all actors wear masks that show the features of the relevant characters.
These masks are one aspect that attracts people to this drama. The characters of this comedy type of drama also attract people. Dramas similar to kolam can be seen not only in Sri Lanka, but all over the world.

The origin
The story about the origin of kolam differs slightly in various cities of Sri Lanka. But, generally, the story says that the first kolam drama was staged because the Queen of King Mahasammatha had a great desire to watch kolam.

To please her, the King had brought in actors from various countries. The Queen had been highly pleased to see the kolam drama which had been performed by these actors wearing masks.
According to old books, God Shakra had ordered God Vishva Karma to make the masks from sandalwood (sandun). After he had finished making the masks, he had written a book explaining how to stage a kolam drama, and had left them all in the King's garden.

The gardener, who had come across these things, had informed the king about them. The king had then ordered all his men to perform the kolam according to the instructions provided in the book. After seeing this drama, the Queen had been pleased, and kolam dramas had been included in the list of traditional dramas from then on.

The stage

This drama is staged in an outdoor area referred to as Thanayampola. This circular-shaped place will be outlined with ropes, while flower beds (mal yahana) will adorn its sides.
A place will also be arranged for the actors to change into their costumes. Since it is an outdoor stage, a cover known as 'ves attha' is provided to help the actors make a dramatic entrance. This cover can be described as the door of the stage and the actors hidden behind this, before arriving on the stage.
The masks that belong to the set of kolam are worn by the actors after the performance of a religious event called Madu Baseema.
This is held to avoid the troubles that may crop up as a result of donning the masks. This religious segment may have been influenced by the honour and respect the villagers had towards wearing these masks.
Musical instruments

Since kolam is popular among low country people, the main musical instrument used is the 'Yak Beraya'. (An article on the drums of Sri Lanka appeared in an earlier Heritage Splendour page.) In addition to this, a Vas danda or Horanava is also used.
The sequence of kolam dance
According to the area where a drama is staged and the scripts, the sequence of the actors entering the stage can differ. Some characters and the sequence of them entering the stage are common to all scripts.
The start of the kolam dance is marked by worshipping the triple gem and playing magul bera. Then the entire dancing troupe comes on stage and pay homage to the flower bed through a dance. Finally, all the actors come to the stage according to an order. Here are some of the characters in the drama:
Sabe Vidane: He comes on stage first, worships the Triple Gem and invites the gods. Then he sings the origin of kolam.Anabera Kolama: He brings the news of the arrival of the king and the queen to see kolam.
Hewa Kolama: They represent the king's army. They scare the audience, but also play comedy scenes.
Police Kolama: They depict police officers who control people using batons. Arachchi Kolama: He comes to make the Thanayampola under orders of the Mudliyar. Jasa Kolama: He comes with a load of cloth to cover the stage.
Lenchina: The beautiful wife of Jasaya, comes in search of her husband.
Last, the King and Queen come to the Thanayampola. Then the first part of the drama finishes and the second part starts. The Sanda Kinduru story, Gotaimbara story, Maname story and Village story are staged as full dramas afterwards.
Nowadays, this drama is staged solely for the purpose of fun and entertainment. But earlier, it had been staged as a religious event or for the benefit of pregnant women.

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