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The Very First Annual Dance Festival of SRI LANKA

An exclusive interview with Sri Lanka's Minister of Human Resources, Development, Education & Cultural Affairs Karunasena KODITHUWAKKU, M.P., after the First Annual Dance Festival of Sri Lanka, which began on December 27 until 29 2002 in Colombo.

Interview by Bircan ÜNVER


Over 4000 dancers and including 66 cultural centers, 11 schools, 10 groups from Kalayathana & District, 11 guest dancing groups including Jaffna Dancing Group, India, Pakistan, Nepal participated in the First Annual Dance Festival of Sri Lanka. The events purpose was to celebrate and make people aware of “Protecting and Restoring the Culture and the History of Sri Lanka." 

Minister Kodithuwakku made the traditional opening ceremony by lighting a candle before the parade in front of the Viharamahadevi Park Cultural Square, beefore the performances had started at the amphitheatre of Viharamahadevi Park. Minister Kodithuwakku, was there from the opening of the parade from 5 until 11 in the evening, the end of the stage performance, each night. The parade was like a rainbow with the most vibrant and vivid colors in a very rich variety of the traditional and folk costumes and masks. Accompanied with all types of Sri Lankan drums.

The parade started at the Viharamahadevi Park, each group performed during the parade. There were more than 10 thousand attendees at each evening of the dance performances and parade. The three nights amphitheatre performances were free to all attendees of the festival.

Karunasena Kodithuwakku M.P., Minister of Human Resources, Development,
Education & Cultural Affairs of Sri Lanka; during traditional openning of the parade
of the very First Annual Dance Festival of Sri Lanka.
(Photo: Bircan ÜNVER, Dec. 28, 2002)

- The dance festival actually inspired me to do this interview. Because I really didn’t know much about your culture. I have been so lucky that your festival schedule dates matched my trip here. Also, the over all concept of the First Annual Dance Festival of Sri Lanka was wonderful. What was your initial idea?

- Because of my long association with education, I have seen the talents of our students, not totally the academic career, extracurricular activities, but for the extracurricular activities and in case of sports. There are some opportunities available for them too, for men to exhibit their talents, but not enough opportunities for the esthetic things. So there are some nice and liberal functions, drama functions. And the dancing is the one thing I enjoy myself and it’s very vital for a healthy life, balanced life, to develop the human qualities of evil. So I said we must organize something on a national level to recognize that, and also to have the opportunity for unification of North and South.

- When you had this idea at first, was it also initially for unification North and South or was it only the cultural purpose to begin with?

- No, of course not, when this idea came there was no ethnic issue coming into my mind. I wanted to give an opportunity. But I feel in the long term, social unity, harmony of the country will depend on younger generation working together.

- Did you have any problem supporting this dance festival within the government? Because I assume that there were more than 2000 dancers and all those costumes, transportations, and at least three days staying in Colombo, preparing all these accommodations, so over all did you have any difficulty to get sufficient funds within the government. How much budget did you have for this festival?

- No, we are still having everything done by the ministry. Of course Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka), the blessing and the backing from the entire armament force was there. At that time we did not ask anyone else to help us financially. But I am very glad to inform you that many who had seen the event offered their contributions, and their sponsorship for the next event. I think the next event onwards, it will not be a burden to the taxpayers, and it will be sponsored by many organizations.

- Can you give a figure as a rough idea about how much did it cost the festival?

- No, it's still too premature. I think by the next interview I will be able to tell you. But we had newspapers supplements in all major newspapers. At least that would have cost more than 500.000 ruppies but it doesn’t mean that the cost is only that. We had to print many publications and of course in case of opening the theater, Colombo Musical Council did not charge us a single cent, completely free. But the electricity board, they did charge us about 200,000 rupees. In fact I requested the minister to give us a discount. He told the advisors but the officers even refused to come to the place until they collected the check. There was no discount at all. No regard at all for the cultural heritage of their own. Some of them are very indifferent. But for an example the same cost could have been for the musical. They didn’t charge a single cent. It’s two different approaches.

- How did the North and South get trained for this festival? Do they take classes or courses at the school or are these types of cultural activities available at the private schools?

- We have about close to 100 cultural centers. I think ninety-four, or ninety-fifth one will be opening this coming Sunday in the upper woods of Pruneil. Now in all this cultural synthesis they have their own cultural groups. Meaning all the schools, all the mini schools have their esthetic divisions. Some of those performers are school teams. The drumming team in the last item of the last day was from Kandy, Trinity College. In addition to that, private art centers are more then 1200. So it is a representative item. Some of them are schools, some of them are cultural centers, and some of them are artists. That’s how it emerged.

- So where would you like to move the festival to from this point on?

- We are still planning as the Annual National Dancing Festival at the end of the last weekend of every year. But in addition to that, in September onwards we will have provincial dancing festivals this year. So we are planning 10 such provincial plans and functions. Eastern provincial will get two because Eastern provincial has a very long cost. One base will be in Shrinko, the other base will be in Batticaloa. Because even ethnicity wise we have to recognize a few more groups. Other provincials will have one each, too, so10 provincial dance festivals will be held this year. But this will be only provinciality.

- Will the provincial festivals lead you to the Annual National Dance Festival?

- It doesn't mean that the team that will perform here is second-class. But the more representative, the best will come to the press.

- I read that there is a great enthusiasm within the dance groups, but was there any conflict behind the scenes such as reluctance to be in the festival from the Northern side?

- No reluctance. In fact, one reason I felt we must have provincials is that normally I would have seen a modern team came from Jaffna, they had each item very briefly. And they were telling me normally if they took the normal time, that would call for a minimum of three hours. So that means within our cultural heritage, there are different sub heritages. Tamils have their own heritage, identity. Muslims have one, Southerners have another and even among the Singhalese there are three main types of dancing. Kandian Dancing, LowCountry Dancing, Saparagamu Dancing. We also have folk dancing. Normally you have to identify those dances on the bases of their drama.

- How many dancers did you have during the festival?

About 2600 has taken place in the parade. The same group everyday, but on the stage roughly about 500. In 3 days, 3 different groups. So it was roughly about 1500 on the stage, and so all together more than 4000.

- How do you feel about the result of the festival?

- I really accomplished my dream.

- Congratulations.

* * * * *

- What are the cultural mosaics of the Sri Lankan society?

As Cultural Ministry, a minister and a Singhalese Buddhist, I don’t want to limit our activities to Singhalese Buddhist culture. Our culture has to be entered by many other ethnic subcultures. Hindus culture was at the very beginning. Then the Islam culture came from the Arab world. Tamils have come here roughly a thousand years ago. Even before that there were some Tamils here, but the big cultural sites were Hindu cultural sites by then. Also, 7-8 centuries ago the Arab traders came to this country, then Europeans came here. All those ethnic groups have enriched our culture, the Sri Lankan culture, not just the Singhalese Buddhist culture. Those are still the base so therefore protecting the culture and restoring the culture and the history. We will provide the opportunity to make a state and we will bring in every community. It doesn’t mean that we would limit it to Singhalese Buddhist. Thus, the side effects of the Dance Festival theme is the cultural unity and the culture came to Colombo and then southerners and particularly Muslims here, all of them are in the same state, not only that even south nation neighbors are in the same city.

- I realized downstairs is that you have a minister of school education and you are also minister of education. What is the difference?

- I am the cabinet minister. There are two projects ministers of need. One is downstairs and its main task is to look after schools. Provision for school, like furniture, maybe setting up libraries, where the standards are the main theme. All these aspects he has to look after.

- So you over look it?

Yes, I rule the cabinet. All decisions are taken by me. But we have more then 9000 schools and I don’t have time to go to school and take care of these kind of issues. So somebody must be there for their needs. However, with the curricular subjects or examinations, I am the one who is in charge.

- Educations is a very in-depth subject. Despite this, what is your overall approach?

- We must not forget about the emerging trends in the world on a global scale. Therefore, the bilingual situation is a very vital thing. We do not want to limit our children to learning only the mother tongue. There were some arguments on language. Therefore, instead of segregating strength on the ethnicity around the medium of instruction, education and cultural activity on media, we chose to bring the children of all different communities on to the same classroom or to the same city.

- I also would like to get your general approach on the "Human Resources Development" department?

Our major function here is not to go into micro level projects. To identify macro level trends the man power needs, availability of man power and even to identify the youth who are coming out of the system of education. It is very important. Also during 1965-70, those two ministries were combined. It was separated in 1970, then once again after 31 years it once again was combined. More things are very vital and it must go together because we have a good culture. Culture has a positive side and a negative side. Even the violence has a violent culture. But the positive side of the culture or the good side of the culture has to be given to the children. If we do not have a proper culture in the classroom, there will be cultural defoliation in the country. Therefore cultural heritage or the positive side of the culture has to be passed onto our children. So that’s why we are giving very high emphasis into cultural aspects of the people into education. Also, we are giving equal emphasis to the subject matters that the persons ability to develop communication opportunities created to develop their extracurricular activities or abilities. These can be in sports as well as an esthetic side. The esthetic side can be dancing or music. In fact, I want to start another thing which is young talents in singing! There are many schools for dancing, schools for music, but to be a good singer, of course, the better you know the music and all these things will lead to a better result.  But currently there is not any really good opportunities. Therefore, recently we have founded a group for this purpose, and I asked them to start searching for those new young talents.

- Thank you so much this great opportunity.

- . -

Related Links:

- Dances, Masks and Drums of Sri Lanka
- Peace Process of Sri Lanka

E-mail to Bircan Ünver>: contact@lightmillennium.org
Actual interview date: January 2, 2003 in Colombo.
© Bircan Ünver, Light Millennium, March 25, 2003, New York.

This issue is dedicated to the Peace Process of SRI LANKA & prominent Turkish author Yasar KEMAL

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