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Kohomba Kankariya: The Sociology of a Kandyan Ritual by Sarath Amunugama

Kohomba Kankariya: The Sociology of a Kandyan Ritual by Sarath Amunugama

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‘This deceptively slim volume describes the fascinating journey of one of the two "mega rituals" of the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka, the Kohomba Kankariya, from its origin in a rural agricultural community's collective rite for the achievement of fertility and prosperity, to high art on the metropolitan stage, both national and international. In the course of this journey, one of its components, the Ves dance, has become a proud political symbol of an assertive and sovereign nation keen to parade its art and culture on the world stage. In true anthropological fashion, this is understood not in isolation but is contextualized within the broad structure of Sinhala ritual that prominently features the other mega ritual of the system, the Gammaduva ritual of the Goddess Pattini, performed for the same purpose of achieving fertility and prosperity.

The book consists of three Essays, the first, a detailed description and analysis of a Kohomba Kankariya ritual performed at the premises of the renowned Tittapajjala family of dancers, and the second, a narrative of the evolution of Kandyan dance from collective community ritual to stage performance. Both subjects are dealt with brilliantly, with the second marshalling a particularly impressive body of data that illustrates the disparate sources that converged to constitute the consummation. These include the use of the Ves dance by the early 20th century British colonial officers in their state ceremonial and private functions; the role of the Kandyan chiefs and monastic leaders, in particular, those associated with the Temple of the Tooth; western impresarios who introduced the dance to European and American audiences; and the support given by the Colombo artistic elite that constituted the '43 Group including their introduction of the dance to their contacts in Europe and India. In the course of narrating this confluence of interests, the reader is provided with a feast of details hitherto little known, if at all. The third Essay presents crisp sketches of five key contributors to the dance's epic journey Chitrasena, Sri Jayana, W.B Makuloluwa, Tittapajjala Suramba, and Nittawela Gunaya.

The rest of the volume consists of a rich collection of photographs, first, those taken at the Kohomba Kankariya performance at the premises of the Tittapajjala family and woven into the text, and second, a 15-page gallery of photographs of the dance that includes some rare old pictures.’


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