by Dilini Seneviratne

Deriving from Sri Lanka’s last royal capital Kandy, Kandyan dance is a genre considered today to be the The Classical Dance of the island. Although it’s a popular dance form within the country, it appears to be a niche dance area outside of Sri Lanka.

Throughout a series of short articles, I aim to bring you some light reading on Kandyan dancing, it’s history and some important terminology to get yourself familiar with the dance form.

According to the legend, the origins of the dance lies in the dance ritual known as the Kohomba Kankariya – named after the deity Kohomba. Traditional dance masters believe that originally the king referred to as ‘Malaya Rata’, and his two brothers performed the first ever Kohomba Kankariya.

The legend goes, the three shamans came to the island as a result of a trick of the god Sakra, in order to cure the king, Panduwasdev, who was suffering from a mysterious illness. The king was said to be suffering from a recurring dream in which a leopard was directing its tongue towards the King. This was believed to be as a result of black magic of Kuweni – the first wife of King Vijaya. After the performance of the Kohomba Kankariya the illness vanished, and many natives adopted the dance.

It was originally performed by dancers who were identified as a separate caste under the Kandyan feudal system. They were aligned to the temple of the tooth and had a significant role to play in the Dalada Perahera (procession) held each year by the temple.

The dance waned in popularity as the support for the dancers from the Kandyan Kings ended during the British period. It has now been revived and adapted for the stage, and is Sri Lanka’s primary cultural export.

For more information
Blog: Dilini Seneviratne Blogs | YouTube: Project K(andyan) | Dilini.kandyandance@gmail.com


Dilini is a British-Sri Lankan Kandyan dancer, choreographer and dance instructor.

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