A rediscovery of cultural roots at the Guru Gedara Festival

To celebrate 75 years of dance and culture, the Chithrasena Vajira Dance Foundation, along with Cinnamon Life, in association with John Keells Foundation, is set to present ‘The Guru Gedara Festival’ – a four day long experience from 30 August to be held at the Chitrasena Kalayathanaya, where over 40 of Sri Lanka’s gurus and artistes will gather to share their skills and stories pertaining to the traditional arts of our country.

The Festival aims to revitalise the significance of Sri Lankan heritage and tradition, as well as create awareness and build an air of appreciation towards the sacred Arts which have been passed down from  generation to generation.

The Festival Outline

Commencing on 30 August, the festival is to take off with a performance of an excerpt from the Pahan Maduwa which takes place in the ritual space illuminated by lamplight, dance and drumming, by groups of ritual artistes.

On the second day, 31 August, the festival commits to edifying teachers from schools island wide, who teach the Ordinary Level and Advanced Level Dance Syllabi. The afternoon session on the other hand is for university students, who have pursued this field.

1 and 2 September are public sessions which are ticketed. Audience members are given the opportunity to participate in the meticulously planned activities, designed to help us reconnect with our cultural identities. Both days are filled with an array of festivities sure to evoke fascination.

September 1 includes presentations on the pioneers of the Sri Lankan ballet – Gurus Chitrasena and Vajira -, stage costumes, Sri Lankan folk music, as well as workshops and master classes on puppetry and ‘gok’ art, among other activities which will be conducted by expert gurus and artistes who are reputed for their association with healing and storytelling.

September 2 includes a discussion of the plight of healing rituals with ritual masters. This will be followed by an interactive session with the three generations of principal dancers from the Chithrasena family, Vajira Chitrasena, daughter Upeka and granddaughter Thaji. Followed by this and other insightful forums, the afternoon will uncover the world of mask dancing and how each mask influences different drum patterns, sounds and body movements, and serves as a defense mechanism to disease, enemies and evil spirits.

Chitrasena’s legacy and how it all began

In 1944, Guru Chitrasena set up a School of Dance in his rented home in Kollupitiya. Eager to save the ancient culture that was on the verge of extinction, Chitrasena eventually became a pioneer in taking dances and drumming to the stage and creating a platform for others that shared the same passion as he did. He eventually wived his star pupil, Vajira Chitrasena, Sri Lanka’s first Prima Ballerina, who joined the journey of changing the face of Performing Arts in the country. The 2nd and 3rd generations, led by Upeka and Thaji respectfully, help keep the legacy alive today despite the westward shift in modern lifestyles and ideals.


By Shenali Jayasinghe