June 2017


Gammaduwa: A Dance for the Gods
June 2017




The Kala Pandan Pooja - a tribute to time

A ritual closely linked to the ancestry of Sri Lanka and her legends, the Gammaduwa is a rare dance performed to win the favour of the gods, especially the goddess Pattini.


Words
: Tishani Sripathi
Photography: Menaka Aravinda, Geeth Viduranga and Anuradha Perera


Traditional and cultural rituals that governed the thinking of our ancestors are the very essence of Sri Lanka. Immersed in the belief in deities as well as the other worldly beings they developed ceremonious rituals designed to bring in the good and dispel the evil.


A ritual of many vibrant colours, dance, chanting and camaraderie; Gammaduwa calls upon the gods for blessings to be showered upon the village and to banish the evil spirits. Held mainly in honour of the goddess Pattini, the elaborate ceremony takes place within the confines of the village temple. From the entrance the temple is fully decked with ‘gokkola' or young coconut palm leaves. The maduwa or sacred grounds where the ritual takes place is cordoned off with gokkola. A large pandol-type structure beautifully made from gokkola displaying images of the goddess Pattini and other gods. Within the ritual area seven malu or worship stations made from gokkola dedicated to the seven deities Pattini, Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha, Saman, Gambaara and Devol.


The ceremony takes place at night with the villagers gathered around by the maluwa, which has been prepared with utmost care to welcome these gods and deities. Flowers and incense fill the atmosphere with their aroma. Before the commencement of the rituals the Kapu mahaththaya, who is the officiating performer, invites all to light the lamps and pandol.


Dancers, a troupe of the new and the experienced, all dressed in white, gather inside the maduwa, where they take their blessings from their elders. At the beat of the drums the Gammaduwa commences. Dancers take many mesmerising formations in great synchronisation. As the beat escalates it takes over the heartbeat of onlookers enthralled by the vigour and grace of the dancers. Every stage and step of this ritual has significance.

First is an invitation to the gods with oil lamps, incense and flower offerings placed in the seven stations (malu). The splendour gets more intriguing as the night ages on; each stage depicted in dance.


First is an invitation to the gods with oil lamps, incense and flower offerings placed in the seven malu. The splendour gets more intriguing as the night ages on with each stage depicted in dance. The kala pandan pooja, a tribute to the Torch of Time, is a magnificent performance. Two dancers all dressed in red and with gokkola head thrones dance with the torches, juggling them in the air. The torch is then affixed to the top of the pole, kala pandan gaha, which is then raised. The raising of the pole is called kap hitaweema.


Even past midnight, the rhythm of the ritual keeps onlookers on their toes. In addition to the dances, skits are performed. These are comedies that involves the crowds and even retells the story of the birth of the gammaduwa ritual. According to the retellings, an ancient Chola King was once plagued with a curse. He was asked to pay tribute to the goddess Pattini through continuous prayer and acts of benevolence for seven days. The King, they say, chose to perform this act of devotion in Sri Lanka and did so with great pomp and pageantry beseeching the goddess' blessing.


In the wee hours near dawn the dancers seem to disperse from the maduwa. The kapu mahaththaya who is dressed as goddess Pattini in a yellow sari and ornamental jewels, then gracefully walked towards the maduwa with white cloth laid on the ground before him and a canopy held over his head; a symbol of sanctity. A bundle concealing sacred jewellery dedicated to the goddess is carried with great care. The kapu mahaththaya then performs this holy tribute to the goddess after which the bundle is offered. The impressive dance is performed by the kapu mahaththaya with graceful feminine movements and pride, making the onlooker feel as if the goddess herself has hailed on to the grounds.


Similar dances are performed with offerings to other deities as well. Each executed with great care, calling upon the gods to dispel all evil. The most adventurous dance is that of the Wahal Natuma where a dancer, in the guise of the god, with great energy moves across the maduwa at times even heading out of its confines to dispel evil with fire, water and sounds.


The light of the morning dims the Gammaduwa ritual comes to a close and leads the villagers to their homes. Having been in touch with a ritual so sacred they are filled with a blissful peace, feeling assured of the blessings and protection by the gods called upon that night. It left us with an unforgettable dazed sense of being a part of something ethereal, something magnificently ancient.

 

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    An intense moment: a ritualistic dance

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    Lighting the oil lamps in request for blessings from the gods

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    The dancers take mesmerising formations

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    Performers chant and play the drums throughout the night

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    Kapu mahaththaya transcends as the goddess Pattini

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