Image: Sri Lanka Foundation
There are three main styles of Sri Lankan classical dance, The Kandyan dances of the Hill Country, known as Uda Rata Natum, the low country dances of the southern part of Sri lanka, known as Pahatha Rata Natum and Sabaragamuwa dances, or Sabaragamuwa Natum.
The three classical dance practices vary in their styles of movements and motions, in the outfits worn by the performers, and in the nature of the drums used to provide rhythmic sound to the dance.
The drum used in Kandyan dancing is known as the Geta Bera, the drum in low country dancing as the “Yak Bera“, and drum in Sabaragamu dancing the Daul beraya.
The main feature that differentiates Ruhunu dance from Kandyan and Sabaragamu dancing, is that only Ruhunu dancers wear masks and some Ruhunu dance styles look more bold than other two graceful dance styles, to a person seeing it for the first time.
The Kandyan Dance is traditionally performed to drum beating only. The most common drum is the Geta Beraya, which is only used in Kandyan Dance. To assist the dancer to keep rhythm a small pair of cymbals knows as the Thalampota is also used. The Vannam’s however have lyrics that are sung in tune with the movements of the dancer. These lyrics sing about the virtues of the animal that the Vannama is depicting. This form of dance has developed from the period of Kandyan kings and today is regarded as the national dance of Sri Lanka. The costumes of Kandyan dancers are striking.
The Sabaragamuwa dance style is performed to worship the God of Saman. Typically, this dance is exclusively performed in Ratnapura. The local people love and admire the God Saman in a fascinating way. What’s more, this dance style is a combination of both Kandyan Dance and Low country Dance. Both male and female dancers are allowed to perform this dance.
Dances in low country are highly ceremonial. . This form of dance is performed to quieten evil spirits which cause sickness and is therefore, called ‘Devil Dance’. The dancers wear masks portraying many characters varied in forms of bird, demons, reptiles, etc. There are 18 main dances related to pahatharata style known as the Daha Ata Sanniya Kolam.