Recollections of a contented past
Vajira seventy-seven today:
Garayakuma which is a part of the low-country dance ritual
was performed at the Chithrasena-Vajira Dance Academy
yesterday with the participation of its students. The
performance which was mainly a gesture of honour to the
legendary female dancer Chithrasena was also an attempt to
enable younger generation to witness those dying traditions,
said Ms. Upekha Chithresena of the Chithrasena - Vajira
An encounter with such a pleasant interviewee should be the wish of
every journalist! A smiling Vajira Chithrasena, Sri Lanka’s legendary
female dancer who has always been able to keep her audience spellbound
with her enchanting performances for several decades is right in front
of me ready to share her lifetime achievements on the eve of her seventy
Together with her late husband Chithrasena, Vajira could develop a
strand of theatre that was stamped with local identity, but still with
Recalling her past, the first professional female dancer of the
country says that though women had already entered the field of dance at
the time she did, none of them had pursued it professionally.
“Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha were two dancers who adorned the male
costume and performed on stage before me.” It was for Vajira that the
first female costume for the traditional Kandyan dance was designed by
Somabandu for the opening pooja sequence for the ballet `Ravana’ in
Even as a child Vajira had always been quite sociable, had freely
mingled with crowds. She had also worked as a dance teacher at various
schools. “But it was Chithrasena who moulded me into what I am today.”
She asserted. She admits that as a child she never aspired to become
a dancer though it was her mother’s wish to see her as a dancer in
future. “The interest developed only after I met Chithrasena. As I
became a pupil of his and started working with him my innate ability
sprang to light.”
The Kalayathana which later came to be known as Chithrasena-Vajira
Dance academy was established in 1944. Prior to that Chithrasena had
conducted dance classes at various places.
Vajira with her ‘grandmotherly’ touch
at the Kalayathana Pix by Chinthaka Kumarasinghe
From the very early days she had got engaged in all the creations of
Chithrasena. The experience she gained through engaging in stage work
laid the foundation for her future successes.
Initially Chithrasena being the first professional dancer himself had
to face lots of stumbling blocks in persuading the society to think
positively about professional dancing. “By then dance was an accepted
vocation in India and also in most of the countries.”
Vajira recalled how her late husband legendary dancer Chithrasena
used to visit India frequently during the period 1944-1946 collecting
necessary material and meeting prominent people like Indira Gandhi,
Jawaharlal Nehru at the Shanthinikethana.
1985 - Zonta International -
Women of Achievement in Fine Arts
1988 - International Women’s
Day Contribution to the dance of Sri Lanka
1988 - Presidential Award
Kalasuri from President J.R. Jayewardene
1997 - Cultural Exhibition
Award Viharamahadevi Balika Vidyalaya, Kiribathgoda
1998 - International Women’s
Day from The President H.E. Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga for the Service to the Dance
1999 - Praise to the
teachers who led us, Princess of Wales College Union
1999 - Vishishta Prathiba
award Contribution with dedication to the Arts, Dharmaraja
College Annual Cultural Exhibition.
1999 - Yuganthaya New
Millennium Award Independent Television Networks for the
Contribution to the Dance of Sri Lanka Vinodhan Ninaivalayam
Cultural Award `Sinhala Ballet
2001 - International Women’s
Day, Sharma Shakthi Union Award, Contribution to the dance
But When Vajira started her career in 1946, the society had undergone
many changes. “Dancing was not viewed with scorn any longer. Public had
begun to accept it as a profession and it was also added as a subject in
In fact the elite in Colombo too had started paying attention to the
subject. It became a fashion at that time to learn the national dance.
“Following her marriage to her Guru Chithrasena in 1950 it became more
of a team work. They started performing together.
Vajira and Chithrasena
“Whatever we created it was based on traditional dance. Chithrasena
is the only one who had always maintained the tradition in the
background. It was Chithrasena who pioneered the creation of stage
Also it was he who made women to take up to dancing. Earlier
performances like Kohomba Kankariya and Gammaduwa were performed
overnight. It was Chithrasena who brought those traditions to the stage
making them a refined art.
“There was a story behind all his creations. Earlier it was just a
dance. It was Chithrasena who mooted the idea of developing a dance with
a story behind. But he was always very careful not to violate any of the
Adding another feather to her cap Vajira became a choreographer at
the age of 20 by producing the first children’s ballet named “Kumudini”
in 1951. “Children never participated in ballets before that. The story
which was written by Ananda Samarakoon revolved around a flower and a
bee! In fact it was a dialogue between “Kumudini and bees” she smiles.
As I put to her the most frequently asked question- of her ability to
assimilate modern techniques into Sri Lankan traditional dancing, she
tells me that there is `no such thing called modern dancing.’ With time
and experience choreography becomes more stylised.
As we practise dance for a long time we get the opportunity to find
more ways of interpreting it. “All that depends on one’s creativity. You
can make any traditional dance look different and novel if you are
creative enough. You can do that without violating traditional rules.”
She adds that such creativity is a must. Then it is easier to express
your ideas to the audience . Unlike in Indian dances `hand gestures’ are
not used in Kandyan dance, So it becomes necessary to make use of many
artistes for our performances.
She says that moulding the art the way dancer wants is his or her
talent. “Karadiaya” was a fine example of such creativity.
Vajira in the mid
It was Vajira who introduced feminine touch to Kandyan dancing. “I
always imitated Chithrasena in all what he did. But when I displayed it
to the public I did it in a `feminine’ way. Not that I changed any steps
or style. It became graceful because it was done by a woman. “As she
says male aspect was more stronger.
We all agree with what Bandula Jayawardena had said about Vajira’s
dancing in 1986.” I think vajira mainly as the artiste through whose
dance of Gajaga Vannama I came to know the meaning of grace in Sinhala
dance. I believe it was she who created out of this traditional thandava
dance lyric a lasya dance of delicate beauty.
The Gajaga vannama was originally danced by men. The majesty of the
elephant they were expected to reflect was essentially masculine. Vajira,
taking nothing away from that, added to the dance-poem a feminine grace
and refinement that transformed it into a piece of presentable on the
international stage. She took an unpolished gem and presented it as a
Vajira, a contented mother of three and a grandmother is still the
Chairman of Chithrasena-Vajira Dance Academy. Both her daughters Upekha
and Analika have followed the footsteps of their legendary parents.
It is Upekha who heads the Academy now. “My granddaughter is also
involved with the administration of the Kalayathana”. I see her eyes
lighting up as she speaks of her granddaughter. A contented life. Her
story is a legend, would set an example to women of all calibre. We wish
her health, wealth and more happiness in the coming years!