Kandyan dance Vannams strengthen communal harmony | Sunday Observer

Kandyan dance Vannams strengthen communal harmony

23 January, 2022

It is a reality that Tamils and Sinhalese have been living in Sri Lanka for centuries. Both the communities are linked together by religion, language and culture. They are interrelated with one another with peace and harmony.

Each community respects each other’s culture, traditions, religion and the arts. Many Buddhists visit Hindu temples and worship Hindu deities. They worship with total devotion, make vows for their different needs, and promptly fulfil their vows with devotion and dedication.

Similarly, many Hindus also visit Buddhist temples and worship images of the Buddha and other Hindu deities. Such attitudes bring communal and religious harmony and mutual understanding between the two main ethnic communities.

Longstanding relationships between the two communities naturally influence one another’s cultural relationship. My father was an ardent devotee of the Buddha. After his demise, according to his wishes, my family installed a Buddha statue at one of the Buddhist temples in Kesbewa.

The Vannama is one of the Kandyan dance forms. There are altogether 18 Vannams in Kandyan dance. Each Vannama is based on a separate theme. The inclusion of Vannama in Kandyan dance has provided a lot of scope for Nirthya movements. Generally, the Vannama is based on numerous themes such as folk legends, nature and religion. Most of the Vannams describe the behaviour of animals such as elephants, monkeys, rabbits, cobras, and birds. Each Vannama is based on a separate imaginative theme.


First among the Vannams is the Gajaga Vannama. In Tamil ‘Gaja’ means elephant. Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced God, is always called Lord Ganapathy, Gajan, Gajamugan, Gajavathan, Gajendran, Gaja Nathan, and Gaja Mohan. Gajaga Vannama is based on a particular legend. It depicts Iravana, an elephant, sporting in the cool water of a lotus tank.

The movements of the elephant’s majestic movements, twists, and steps are naturally and beautifully reflected in the Vannama. It is the most attractive Vannama. There is another Vannama on God Ganesha. In the Vannama, dancers invoke blessings of Lord Ganesha. It is called Ganapathy Vannama.

Another Vannama is Naiyandi Vannama. In Tamil there was a Melam (orchestra) called Naiyandi Melam which was quite popular and was in use long ago.The Naiyandi Melam is practised even today in certain places.

The Naiyandi Vannama deals with a story connected to a princely Naga (cobra).The snake charmer’s movements are reflected in the dance, rather than those of the snake. For the Vannama, Sarpa Sirasa hand gesture is used. It is also used in Bharatha Natyam and Kathakali.In Bharatha Natyam the Naga Narthanam especially depicts the dance of the cobra.

Naga Vannama depicts the one-day life of a cobra which crawls on the floor of the court halls, how it emerges out of its hole and raises its hood in different directions. The dance depicts the natural movements of the cobra. In Bharatha Natyam the single hand Muthra Sarpasirasa and the joint hand Mutha Naga Bandha, Muthras (gestures) depict the Naga (cobra) Muthras.

he Hanuma Vannamais related to Lord Hanuman worship. It is a worldwide phenomenon for bravery, moral strength and protection. In the Vannama the dancer reveals the actions and different attitudes of a monkey through the movements such as jumping from tree to tree.

The dancers dress themselves as monkeys with wrinkled faces and jutting eyes. Some of the Vannams are directly linked with Hindu mythology. For instance, SavulaVannama is based on Skanda Purana.According to the Vannama, there was a dispute between the Asuras and Devas. At the end Lord Skanda entered the battlefield with sword and spear and fought with the Asuras.At last one of the Asuras was split into two by Lord Skanda.In Hinduism Lord Skanda killed the Sooran (Asura) who thereafter became a cock and a peacock.


The theme of the Mayura Vannama is based on the peacock Vahana of Lord Kataragama. Sinhala Buddhists worship Lord Kataragama also known as Skanda or Lord Muruga whose Vahana is the peacock. In Tamil the peacock is known as Mayuran. The Mayura hand Mutha is used in Bharatha Natyam and Kathakali to depict the peacock.

Another Vannama deals with the victorious dance of Lord Iswara (Lord Shiva) after finding Goddess Uma. It is based on a theme. Lord Iswara disguised himself and went in search of his consort the Goddess Uma. As he was overjoyed after finding her, he danced vigorously with firm and majestic Thandava movements.

Musaladi is another Vannama. The word ‘Musaladi’ is derived from the Tamil word Musal meaning rabbit. Here the dancer imitates the movements of a rabbit. Imaginative movements of rabbits are depicted in the dance. Some of the movements are hiding with fear, jumping, running in a zig-zag manner and hopping. At the end the rabbit takes a rest under the cool moonlight. Another Vannama deals with Lord Brahma, Lord Visvakarma, and Lord Iswara, (Lord Shiva). Lord Shiva blew the conch before the King of the Universe. The Vannama is also connected to Hinduism. The Vairodi Vannama deals with the precious and brilliant diamond stone. In Tamil the diamond stone is known as Vairam.

Hence most of the Vannams are based on Hindu religious themes. The descriptions reveal that for centuries both the major communities in the country lived together with one another in peace and harmony.