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Performing Arts
Sri Lanka

Raja Thun Kattuwa

Easter Passion Play


(from left) Raja Thun Kattuwa (Three Wise Men)

Jesus Christ's life story, from the birth to the Crucifixion, is embodied in this play. Judging by the prevalence of similar festivals of mass participation in the predominantly Catholic countries, it can be reasonably assumed that this practice was initiated by the early Portuguese missionaries who successfully converted a section of the fishing community into Catholicism.

Reasons for selection

The Sri Lankan folk art is firmly rooted in the Sinhala/Buddhist/Hindu culture. Perhaps the sole exception to this all Island phenomenon are Catholic church ceremonies performed by the coastal fishing communities. These ceremonies are undergoing rapid transformation due to changes brought about by the forces of modernization. Hence the need to preserve the original forms of their presentation.

Area where performed

Coastal belt in the Southern and Northwestern Provinces.

Essential elements of the performing art

Dance, Music, Theatre

Detailed explanation

Brief history
The maritime belt of Sri Lanka came under the sway of the Portuguese from the 16th Century onwards and their missionaries successfully converted its inhabitants, particularly the fishing community into Catholicism. Alongside they introduced various religious rituals practiced elsewhere which soon began to blend with the forms of the then existing performing arts. A series of festivities associated with the Easter ceremonies thus took firm root among the fishing community of Sri Lanka.

When and where performed
Easter Passion plays are usually woven around the episodes depicting the life story of Jesus Christ. Although the title Raja Thun Kattuwa applies only to its earliest part- that of the three wise men's journey to Jerusalem in time for the birth of Christ- it is generally used to cover the rest of the episodes culminating in the crucifixion.

The play is usually staged at the first weekend of the month of April. The birth of Christ, his trial before Pilate, the crucifixion and the resurrection form the main themes of the play which is performed from Good Friday to Easter.

Main characteristics
The most discernible characteristics of the Easter Passion Play is its successful fusion of Christian episodes with the local traditions of folk drama. Therefore not only the Christians but a large number of Buddhists also could be found among the audience.

The most popular Passion Plays are staged in two or three centres near Negambo where Catholics live in heavy concentrations. But it has been reported that several decades ago Easter Plays have been staged at such distant areas of the Islands as Mannar and Jaffna.

With the passage of time the Passion Plays have lost some of their original character and flavour. The traditional musical instruments which were played at these performances several decades ago are being replaced by modern electronic music. Therefore it is of vital importance to record and preserve the play in its original form before it transforms into a display of mod theatre.

Publication and textual documentation

Some details are given in secondary publications.

Audio documentation

Some people connected with the production of this play have recorded some parts of it on audio tape.

Visual documentation

Audio-Visual recordings of parts of this play are available in the Sri Lanka Rupavahini (TV)corporation.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

does not exist

Data provider

Dr. R. A. Ariyaratne
Sri Palee Campus of the University of Colombo
Address: Wewala, Horana, Sri Lanka