Very First Annual Dance Festival of SRI LANKA
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.
by Bircan ÜNVER
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."
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
* * * * *
What are the cultural mosaics of the Sri Lankan society?
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?
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?
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
Thank you so much this great opportunity.
- . -
- Dances, Masks
and Drums of Sri Lanka
- Peace Process of
to Bircan Ünver>: email@example.com
interview date: January 2, 2003 in Colombo.
Bircan Ünver, Light Millennium, March 25, 2003, New