‘The Sound of Music Sans Instruments’
The Ritualistic Dances of the Veddhas
by Rohan L. Jayetilleke
Sep 2006 /The Island
Once a year the Veddhas have a rituaistic dance. The place where the dance is orchestrated is called 'Yakgama'. It is accepted as a disrespect to others if all the others are not invited to this ritualistic dance. This song is a yearning by fellow Veddhas to the chief to announce to them the date and time of the dance.
The plebeian needs of primitive man, meaning the needs for emotional experience of the super world and for emergency aid in external and internal distress, needs which arise out of the recurrent crises in life were satisfied by two types of possible soteriology; magic or that of saviour. In ancient pre Vedic Indian civilization, primitive man believed that all the dead are in the spirit world and abode in huge trees or green groves. Those departed were their next of kin, to whom they made offerings and sought their intervention to redeem them from crises in life, which they themselves could not control or redeem. Such places were called ‘cetiyas’, which word meaning ‘wish of the heart’ was later absorbed by the Buddhists to name stupas enshrining the sacred relics of the Buddha or Arahants as ‘caitiyas’ or ‘cetiyas". This is the birth of animism (worship of the dead).
True to tribal life of Veddhas their simple faith was in the guardianship of the living by the spirits of the dead, not only of the forgotten nameless dead, but more specifically the recently dead, collectively called ‘Nae Yakku’. Etymologically the word Yakkha or Yakku, does not mean demons, but a derivative of the Sanskrit term ‘Yajna’ fit for worship. The Veddhas’ dead heroes or leaders, the chief of whom were the brothers, Kanda Yaka, also called Ala Yaka, and Bilindu Yaka.
Next in importance to the Kanda Yaka was Bumbura Yaka, also referred to as Ala Yaka, who provided them opportunities to find yams and assistance in their hunting of pigs and other edible animals. They also feared in case they angered the Ala Yaka it would lead their dogs astray and become targets of leopards or even wreck their lives with mortal sicknesses. Still another in their pantheon was Panikki Yaka with similar merits and demerits. They paid their respect and reverence to these guardian Yakkas with ritualistic dances.
In the work of Dr. R. L. Spittle’s, ‘Vanished Trails’ he gives a vivid description of the dance forms. "The morning of the seventh day all the Veddhas, men and women and children gather at the foot of the hill their dancing area. This is the abode of the Kande Yaka (hill Yaka) and also of the Nae Yaka (Relative Yakas). This arena, which is also their bartering ground too is called the Wedipola (Veddhas marketing site). This is primarily the ground of the Nae Yakas. The chief of the Veddhas steps into the center of the ground, sets beside it a gourd of water, some boiled yams on a tripod of sticks. Holds an arrow in both hands he moves around offering and repeating the rituals incantations in Veddha Language, the English translation of which is, ‘My departed one, my departed one, my God, Where art thou wandering?’ ‘Thus the others circumublate around him dancing and singing. Then they address the Kande Yaka, Lord of the Dead first, extolling his hunting prowess, "Going from hill to hill, trackling from spoor to spoor, the beaten track of the sambhur".
This ceremony’s finale is the invocation to Nae Yaka, which in English reads as, "Hail, Hail, Come wherever you may be: On a tree, on a rock, or in the forest, come and partake of this: Grant us your aid as you did when alive: Eat and drink, think no fault of us; we also eat and drink; you who sought us, whom we failed to save: Grieve not, however you may be; But be at rest, we have your child; he shall be one of ours; And should the man who wronged you live; May his fate be as he deserves". Finally the congregation partake of the yams and water in the arena. Thus they make a communion with the recently dead Veddha.
There is another ritual called, Kuda Kaname Gale Radana Kanda Palli. This is an invocation to the spirits of the dead Veddhas, beseeching their assistance in their lives in the forests, the domain of ferocious wild beasts. They believe that they are directed to a bee-hive of water and other edibles. They sing and dance around it, begging the Yaka to accept their humble offerings and songs. In another dance called Kirikoraha Yakuma they sing in the Veddha Language; "He bola - kuda ukkiri gal pojje ; ich gejjee tel pojjada mee tel; He Bila, maha kane gal pojjee; mal rukan pojje radana kandapalliga; diya tenada mee diya tena hura; He Bola, Uragama huraga neaenii; emokogama hurata – horatene’ enna mangaccana – ruwatenada mee; ruvatena hura. "This gives a description of the offerings made to the visiting Yaka at their request. This song describes buffalo milk, bee-honey, and these are as magnificent as the day that Embalogama Veddha chief eloping with the wife of Uru tribe Beddha chief’s wife.
When once the dancers are in a trance they sing the dance song, which runs as "Kande daman pojje; kewillana kakuna; kiri niga daman pojjata, mangaccana kakuna’ kande deyiyalaa etto; anukalana kankuna; mee ettannee pangiri kola pojjata; anukalana kankuna; mee ettenne moriyan kaccata; anukalana kakuna; anukalana kankuna:
This song is an incantation to Kande Yaka to help find the prized game, the sambhur, the meat of which would stand in good stead for a rainy day. The song says the grazing sambhur comes to the grassy mound. Oh, god accept my betel and the arrows and in return give me a sambhur.
The following song depicts the arrival of the white officials who have come to their homestead and the Veddhas hurry to him and plead for things they need." Tadanat tandana tadinane; tadanat tandana tadinane; sudu hura dakinda; sudu neni dakinda; mamat duwagena mee awee; mamath pensgena mee awee; jiwakari damkinda; sudu huro dakinda; mamath duwangena mee awee; mamath penagena mee awee; tikkata mola marapi; kahata gedith ena genee; pangiri kolathgena gennee; wewaa kolathgena genee; sudu hura gena genee; inee vatana koman pojjath gena genee; inee vatana koman pojjath gena genee; depatullan gena genee; karan pojjath gena genee; sudu hura gena genee; tadanan tandana tadinanee". Herein the Veddhas say having heard of the arrival of the white gentleman and the white lady we hurried here. In fact enroute nearly I saved my life from an elephant. We thought Jiwakara (live saviour) government agent had brought us arecanuts, betel, tobacco, clothes to wear and rice and salt. This was originally in the form of the song that the Veddhas told the government agent of their needs in a direct way without pleading for them.
In the Eastern Province Veddha settlement of Pollebedda, there is an incantation in the form of a song. This is based on the spirit of the dead person taking possession of the Veddha and is in the form of a dialogue. It is most dangerous to plck a hornets’ hive. The hornet’s nest under the rock, and not easily accessible. They make a fire at the foot of the hive and the hive plucker too takes and direct the smoke with a bunch of twigs to chase away the hornets. Thus there is a special incantation to the Yakkhas for their intervention fir a successful completion of the task.
This song runs as follows: "Ihata aki mekichi nevini senava; aluta mala upan nevini senava; mee rammini kindata divas pala: enna moo enna: mehi kellange mehi ural; katu ipil gasa yannimo yanninee; adupadut kodoyi kiya; isata karata Uuden duwoo moo ynanninyee; yandomo yanniyee".
This incantation says as hornets' nest is being plucked, the dead Veddhas, relative Yakkhas, recently dead relatives take possession of the hornet's nest attacking rod. This song is more or less incantation to relieve them from their fear.
The best companion of a Veddha is his wife, the husband is her guardian and protector. As such on attaining the appropriate age a young Veddha marries a young Veddha damsel. The following song describes a marriage by a man. "Tadanath Tandana tadinane; tadanath tandana tadinanee; chiten chulage pana noyee; keeden keemee pana noyee; chiten pinnen pana noyee; kudi peta nettan pana yanne; tadanan tandana tadinanee; tadana tandana tadinanee: Here the man says death will not come around even if the winds are cold, or caught in the dew, but, without a marriage one has to die. This gives the mindset of the Veddhas as regards their reverence to marriage, which help them to propagate their tribe.
The Veddhas cherish the flesh of monkeys. They go towards a tree where monkeys are and from the foot of the tree sings the following songs. Consequently the monkey comes down from the tree and then they are killed by the Veddha. This song enticing monkeys describes the features of the monkeys. They are told that tree top is not safe and for safety to come down. Thus the monkey become victims of this flattering song.
Once a year the Veddhas have a rituaistic dance. The place where the dance is orchestrated is called 'Yakgama'. It is accepted as a disrespect to others if all the others are not invited to this ritualistic dance. This song is a yearning by fellow Veddhas to the chief to announce to them the date and time of the dance: "Hee bola tena tedinanee tedinanee; tena tedinanee tedinanee; kanden pahala yakgamatoo; apatah kiyal natanee; Plalle talawee yakgamatoo; apatath kiyalayi natanenee; tena tedinanee tedinanee; tena tedi nanee tedinanee (the last two lines are the chorus). A Veddha tells, that he too should be invited to the dance at Palletalawa and Kandepalaha dances too. This indicates that they invoke the help and blessings of their departed kinsmen to tide over their lives' hurdles, which they themselves are unable to hurdle over. Further, the community oneness too is depicted in these songs.
Their lullibies too are very melodious to put their babies to sleep. In order to that the baby is enticed to sleep they sing the following chorus with the child on the lap.
"Appi rori roriyaa; Ammi loli loloyiyaa; Appi roppi roroyiyaa; Ammi loppi lololiyaa "Though there is is special meaning in the lines, it portrays the child's mother and father. As the child falls into sleep in a lesser intonation, the mother sings," Peti monnata adanne; Gonala bokkita adanne; Ekat dipiv petittita; Peti monnata adanne; Hiratala bikkita adanne; Ekat dipiv pettikita; Peti monnata adanne; Katuwala bokkita adanne; Peti monnata adanne; Ekat dipiv petittita; Peeti monnata adanne; Bokki kuretayi Adanne; Ekat dipiv petittikita; Peti monnata adanne; mayiraga kuriyata adanne; Ekat dipiv petikkita; Peti monnata adanne; Uyala malata adanne; Ekath dipiv petittikita."
This song is a dialogue between the father and mother. Father questions why the child is crying. Father says give him the yams, gonala, hiratala, katuwala, the the most cherished food of the Veddhas. Further the father says in the songs as children love flowers to give the child uyala, elawel, gonala, uyan flowers.
The Veddhas' lives though most difficult, every such difficulty is overcome with highly rythmic songs of their own composition, based on what they see in their environment. There are several songs sung by young men in search of their life partners and they are most romantic, describing the beauty of the maiden and what the young man would provide her. There are also humorous songs sung when a man fails to find a bee - hive of hornets, the deadly insect bambaru.
The religion of the Veddhas is still animism, worshipping of the dead, a tradition found in all primitive communities. Even in the Buddhist tradition this animism is given a deviated form in that transference of merit to the departed. In fact god worship, Bodhi pujas, offering of flowers, and worship of Buddha's sacred relics, are based on invoking external aid to cross over life's crisises. Certainly these Buddhist rituals in any form do not tend to clear the path to final Nirvana.
The Veddhas in their hunt for food move about in the forest in groups headed by the father and the other family members. They need to be very cautiously circumspect as regards fierce animals in the forest, the elephants, leopards and even reptiles. They move a few steps and look about to safeguard themselves from animals and also to spot the deer, sambhur, pigs etc., for the hunt and also have watchful eyes to trace bees, hornets hives precariously found on tall trees or ledges of large stones. This wary walk is manifested in the following song which they sing in chorus while on their hunt.
"Eee ammi ee deyiyoo; Ee ammi Ee deyiyoo; ira pojja pata arila; handa pojja pata erilaa; us millalan bala balaa; Miti millalaa bala bala; Miti dawuta bala balaa; yamu kekuli yamu kekulaa; Kan kuna ideidoo: Bala balaa yamu nenii: Kabarwath idiyidoo: bala balla yamu kekuli: Kundii vat eidiyidoo: Bala balaa yamu kekulaa: Yamu nenii yamu denna: Yamu kekulii yamu kekula: Bala balaa yamu nenii; Kanda palli; idiyidoo: Bala balaa yamu Kekulaa: yamu nenii yamu denna: Yamu kekulaa yamu kekuli: Pegiwat idiyidoo: Bala balaa yamu naenii: Kalu manna idiyidoo: Bala balaa yamu nenii: Botakanda idiyidoo: bala balaa yamu kekula: Ottama rada radaa: Mettama rada radaa; Us hubas bala balaa:: Roba kotan bala balaa: Yamu nenii yamu denna: Yamu kekuli yamu denna: Ee ammi Eee deyiyoo: Ee ammi ee deyiyoo".
The sun rise (ira pojja pata erilaa) moon rise (handa pojja pata erilaa). then species of trees both short and tall, sambu (kankunaa) deer (idivida kabara), talagoyaa (mundi) pig (hossadikka) porcupine (katu kecca) kabellawa (valapotti) dandulena (large tree squrrel (mayiraa) and then hornets' and bees' hives, are the objects that they are circumspect about.
Thus the life of the Veddhas is not a bed of roses but one fraught with danger always. But these obstacles are no hurdles for them and their sound of music gives them recompense for their toiling and moiling for existence, without depending on any handouts from others.
(Source: Dambane Gunawardena (First Veddah Community graduate) 'Vedi Gii Vimasuma' author publication 2000)