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Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

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Performing Arts
Sri Lanka


Recital/Dance Eulogy

Vannam represents over twenty forms of traditional dance and recital which go back to ancient antiquity. They are individual acts which are not joint together under a common theme. They provide a simple yet aesthetically satisfying form of entertainment to the village folk and the town-dwellers alike.

Reasons for selection

Due to the geographically and socially diversified nature of this valuable form of folk art, some individual forms could disappear from the folk scene altogether without being noticed by anyone.

Area where performed

Spread over the whole Island, but mainly performed in the hill country and the adjacent areas.

Essential elements of the performing art

Dance, Music, Theatre

Detailed explanation

Brief history
Like many of the dance and recital traditions prevalent in the Sri Lankan folk art culture, Vannam too appears to have crossed the Palk Straits from India together with the early migrants who settled down in the Island. In fact some scholars have shown that similar dance/recital sessions are still conducted in the South Indian Naga Pattanam locality.

Judging by the consummate skill with which Vannam poems have been composed to give out an exquisite rhyme and song-like rendition, it can be reasonably assumed that they were originally meant for recital only. Subsequently the regional variations of dancing have come to be performed to the sonorous tunes of Vannam. The singing and dancing blended so well that today they form the basis of some of the highly popular songs and feature-dancing.

Vannam poem relate the heroic demeanor of their subjects - mostly animals, and in a few instances, gods and humans. The actors and actresses dress themselves and wear head-gear in imitation of the particular Vannam they had selected to play and engage in a stylized dance to the accompanist of the chorus of Vannam singers.

Though mostly performed in the central highlands, a number of variations of Vannam can be seen in the adjacent Sabaragamuwa and Vanni districts and, with less regularity, in the deep South. The well-known 18 Kandyan Vannam are based on existing scripts but their variations are not always performed in accordance with their original script.

Publication and textual documentation

Some details are given in secondary publications.

Audio documentation

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation has parts of singing and music recorded on audio tape.

Visual documentation

Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (TV)has made some visual documentation.

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