29th July 2001
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Rhythmic, sensuous power of life

By Esther Suhasini
The purpose of life is creation and not destruction. This theme was powerfully portrayed in dance form in the Kalinga victory by King Ashoka and his subsequent distress at the vast destruction caused during the battle. It was at this point that the King embraced Buddhism and spread its message throughout his kingdom. The scintillating dance also unfolded the story of the King's son and daughter who were sent to Sri Lanka with a sapling of a bo tree. Was there a message of peace to the Sri Lankan audience in the dances performed by Sonal Mansingh?

Her recital on July 16 marked 50 years of the Indian Council for Cultural Affairs. Accompanied by her troupe, the dancer organised several sequences that related to a Sri Lankan audience.

Dance is a medium through which a dancer can present the viewpoint of those who often do not get a platform to speak, says Sonal Mansingh. Having started dancing in 1961, Sonal, who has studied in depth classical dance forms such as Bharata Natyam and Kathakali, is also a leading exponent of the Odisi form that dates back to the 2nd century BC.

The noticeable difference between Odisi and Bharata Natyam, another classical dance form that is more familiar in Sri Lanka, is that Odisi is a more sensual dance form as opposed to the athleticism, and angular nature of Bharata Natyam, according to experts in the field.

Odisi dance movements, which include hand gestures, body postures, rhythmic footwork, head and eye movements are a creative expression in themselves.

Most of Sonal Mansingh's dances, which she has choreographed herself are based on Indian mythology as well as contemporary issues related to women and the environment. 

The legend of Amarapalli, who was sought after by many kings and noblemen for her beauty and was then ordained by Lord Budhdha as one of his disciples was related through dance.

Springtime or 'Pallavi' was yet another dance that consisted of myriad movements of limbs and various rhythmic patterns. The percussion sounds together with the movements were in perfect synchrony, depicting life in all its fullness.

An ensemble by percussionists comprising the mridungam, pot, flute and the human voice, in competition with each other had the audience tapping to the beat. 

Tombos and Dutch power over natives

Book review

Land for Money- Dutch Land Registration in Sri Lanka-by Dr. K.D. Paranavitana. Reviewed by Sonali Siriwardena

The registration of land was carried out primarily with the idea of controlling the emergence of land owners and thereby accumulation of power in the hands of the natives. It was with this setting that the first land registration or compilation of tombo started in 1670." (Pg. 96)

Land for Money -Dutch Land Registration in Sri Lanka by Dr.K.D.Parana-vitana is a monograph analysing the subject of tombo registration during Dutch rule in then Ceylon. Illustrated with rare maps and drawings from the National Archives and museums in the Netherlands, the book delves into the origins of land registration in the island beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese. 

The word 'tombo' is of Portuguese origin and means 'the register of lands'. These demographic statistics embody the remains of the European obsession to classify and regulate the life and lifestyles of people. They are invaluable instruments for determining movements among the human settlements, land use, agriculture, merchandise and ethnic composition, not merely in towns but also in the rural areas under colonial administration.

These facts are lucidly presented by the author and make fascinating reading not merely for scholars and students of history. This is the third such publication on Dutch rule in the Maritime Provinces by Dr. Paranavitana. The first two are: An Inventory of Sri Lanka Maps in the General State Archives in the Netherlands (1984) and The Journal of Spilbergen, the First Dutch Envoy to Ceylon in 1602 (Translation) (1997). 

'Land For Money' is divided into three separate areas -Dutch Administration in Sri Lanka, Structural Development of the Tombos and the Society Depicted in the Tombos. It thereby effectively covers the subject matter in its entirety, adding new and interesting facts regarding tombo registration and the native society depicted therein. 

The author says his interest in the topic was first stirred by the tombo collection prepared by the Dutch, which is still used by landowners in Sri Lanka, 250 years after its original compilation. He adds that the validity of these land registers even today is recognised by courts of law as evidence of genealogy and land holdings.

Dr. Paravavitana explains that there are two main categories of Dutch tombos; namely, the Head tombos and Land tombos. The first was a family register. Each village carried one tombo recording the names, caste and age of the landlord (Chief occupant of the family) and his family members. And the Land tombo, as the name suggests, was a corresponding register carrying entries of land which belonged to the family. In this respect he asserts that the tombo registrations available in the National Archives of Sri Lanka (amounting to 457 volumes), is a unique series in that there is no similar collection available among the rest of the archives of the Dutch East India Company in any other repository. 

Dr. Paranavitana began his study after stumbling on the Council minutes of the RAAD-VAN-CEYLON- the main regional council of Batavia (now Jakarta), who administered the country for the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam. The latter company- was the world's first limited liability company and was established as early as 1602. These council minutes included information on the compilation of tombos to facilitate taxation and thus increase state revenue. Here were found sets of instructions issued to three tombo Commissioners translated to English by S.A.W. Mottau. These are included in the appendix to the book. The tombos completed in accordance with these instructions, embodied vital details essential for the establishment and exercise of government- the occupation and ownership of land and a census of all inhabitants within the Company's territory.

However the instructions were not entirely free of imperfections and steps were taken by the then Governor Van Gollenesse to improve the tombos by employing a number of surveyors to carry out an extensive cadastral survey within the Dutch expanse. It was here that the author came across the names of two pioneering land surveyors from two different centuries: Yan Brandes and Baltus .J. Van Lier. The many maps and drawings by these two gentlemen preserved in The Netherlands include a land atlas of Sri Lanka by Van Lier, some sections of which are reproduced in the book aptly illustrating the division of land by the Dutch administration. 

The monograph is the fruit of two and a half years of research and is a culmination of work done in both Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. When asked about the main difficulties, Dr. Paranavitana mentioned the problems encountered in mastering the medieval Dutch language, used in all the Dutch records. This hurdle, he says, was overcome only through years of patient study. He recollects that as there was no Dutch embassy 30 years ago, he was compelled to visit the houses of obliging Dutch diplomats to learn the contemporary Dutch language. However in 1978 he secured a scholarship to study medieval Dutch at the State Archive School in The Netherlands.

A poor understanding of the Dutch language of the 17th and 18th centuries continues to be the main obstacle facing young researchers, he says. Dr. Paranavitana believes it is opportune to revive an interest in the subject. He states that a wealth of material lies idle at the National Archives in Colombo through which one could do research on the economic, social and cultural aspects of the maritime provinces in Sri Lanka during the Dutch rule. 

Speaking on the different facets of Dutch heritage, he says the Dutch contributions to our culture have been both varied and lasting but are often not recognized. In the field of architecture for example, the houses and churches built by the Dutch, such as the Wolvendaal Church in Colombo and the buildings lining Prince Street in Pettah, stand as living monuments to a bygone era. The linguistic influences can be traced to changes brought about in the Sinhala language by the borrowing of words from the Dutch language. These range from the popular 'kokies', which refers to a traditional sweetmeat, to a lesser-known 'kamer', which adapted by the vernacular reads 'kamere' meaning a 'room'. In respect of medicine, we find the Dutch VOC Hospital now situated adjacent to the World Trade Centre in Fort. Meanwhile the Dutch influence in the field of law needs little explanation. Not only did they establish an elaborate system of courts in the areas they ruled but more significantly they also introduced Roman Dutch law -which to date remains the residuary law of the country.

This heritage states Dr. Paranavitana, should be cherished and upheld by all Sri Lankans not least by the Burgher community. However he notes that the Dutch -Burgher (Burgher, incidentally means 'citizen' in Dutch) community in Sri Lanka has experienced a rapid decline in numbers following Independence- firstly due to the mass migrations to Australia which followed in the wake of the Official Language Act of 1958 and secondly by being absorbed into the formal population though inter-marriage. But the need for young blood to carry on the traditions of the likes of R.L Brohier, J.H.O.Poulousz and Edmund Riemers is felt more keenly now than ever before and it is hoped that the coming years will see such a revival within the Burgher community in the country. 

Dr. Paranavitana is presently finalizing a Glossary of Dutch and Sinhala words prepared in the late 1600s by Dutch priests of the Dutch Reformed Church. 

Kala Korner

Nanda Malini scores another 'first'
Not many realised that our leading songstress Nanda Malini is also the first female Sinhala music director until the launch of her latest audio cassette and CD recently, along with a book titled 'Nanda Malini Gi Thanu' (Melodies of Nanda Malini). "I never dreamt of creating melodies, composing and directing music. I learnt music to improve my inherent talent to sing. It was quite by chance that I tumbled on to creating melodies," she confesses in the book.

It happened when in the 1960s she was selected as a grade one radio artiste and had to present a half hour programme every month. She had to look for new compositions. It was not an easy task to find lyric writers and get recognised musicians to compose melodies on a continuous basis. "I had no choice but to try my hand creating the lyrics and composing music myself. I was encouraged by the tremendous response I got for 'Sakura Mal' the first song I created. The song became so popular that it was a major victory for me," Nanda recalls. Encouraged by this success, she never looked back.

'Sari Podiththak'
'Sakura Mal' is among a fine collection of Nanda's songs that became popular in the seventies, presented in her latest cassette titled 'Sari Podiththak'. They bring back sweet memories to those who enjoyed them over the past three decades. They are still fresh. Their words are simple and beautiful and the tunes melodious. They are much better than the cheap, meaningless stuff dished out day in and day out in the name of Sinhala music. 'Sakura Mal' is also the first composition of Professor Sunil Ariyaratne which became popular among music lovers. 

Out of the hundreds of melodies Nanda had created over the years,the 'Sari Podiththak' cassette contains just 16. They are a mix of compositions by eminent lyric writers including the late Premakirti de Alwis ('Surangita Duke Hithuna'), Mahinda Algama ('Ruk Aththana Mal Mudune' and 'Chandra Madulu Yata'), Dalton Alwis ('Ran Giri Giri' and 'Deega Nogiya Punchi Neno'), W. A. Abeysinghe ('Mihi Mandale'), Ariyasinghe Perera ('Mage Sina Oba Aragena') and eight by Sunil Ariyaratne. 

At the launch, Nanda admitted that it was not easy locating the original songs. She spent days among the heaps of records stacked in the SLBC archives (not in ideal conditions). Once she decided on the 16 songs to be included in the cassette, she worked with leading musician Rohana Weerasinghe to present them maintaining the original music. The final product is yet another excellent Singlanka production.

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