Sri Lankan Pahim Path Mangalya
Pahim Path Mangalya production by the National Dance Troupe of Sri Lanka on Staten Island in August 2014.
Kandyan dance is an ancient art form the upcountry of Sri Lanka, native to the region of Kandy. The repertoire is comprised of a combination of traditional dance, drumming, and song. It is one of three styles of traditional Sri Lankan dance along with the Low Country dances of the southern plains known as Pahatha Rata Natu, and Sabaragamuwa dances. Performed in a deeply squatted position, this athletic and percussive dance form is characterized by heavy foot stomps, rhythmic gestures and ritual storytelling. Accompanied by live drumming and initially taught and practiced via local Buddhist temples, Kandyan dance remains a staple of the traditional Sinhala wedding ceremony and annual Sri Lankan festivals. There are 18 main dances of the Kandyan style, which depict the elegant movements of birds and other majestic animals - called Wannam. Following the opening of the Chitrasena Dance Company (1944), the first official school of Kandyan dance, various gurus began to teach their own forms of Kandyan dance and bring the tradition to the world stage. When a Kandyan dance student reaches an advanced level, they are invited to undertake their Pahim Path/Ves Mangalya or stage performance in which the student demonstrates their dance capabilities to family and friends. Similar to a recital or an Arangetram in Bharata Natyam, it is a rite of passage for young dancers to perform their Pahim Path/Ves Mangalya and it often considered the debut dance of a new generation of tradition bearers that will teach the next generation.
Staten Island is home to the largest Sri Lankan community in the U.S. and an active Buddhist vihara and Kandyan dance school, the Sri Lankan Dance Academy of NY (SLDA). Founded in 1992 by Tanya DeSilva (former dancer with the Chitrasena Dance Company) as the National Women’s Dance Troupe of Sri Lanka, the academy offers weekly classes in traditional Kandyan dance, bera drumming, and other Sri Lankan dance styles in its quest maintain the practice of, and pass on these traditions within the community. Now under the direction of Dhammika Navinna (Administrative Director), Dilhan Pinnagoda (Artistic Director and Master Choreographer) and Uthpala Eroshan Jayakodi Arachchi (Master Percussionist), they produce annual recitals, Sri Lankan cultural events and perform widely throughout the New York tri-state area sharing the art form with the larger community and presenting nuanced and authentic examples of this Sri Lankan art form. In 2014, the school conducted the first ever Pahim Path Mangalya held in the U.S. graduating a cohort of senior dancers on to the next level in Kandyan dance. These dancers, alongside their gurus now perform across the U.S. at the national level and are engaged in teaching younger students. Beyond SLDA, Pinnagoda and Eroshan tutor additional students throughout the tri-state area.
Dilhan Pinnagoda is an internationally celebrated Kandyan dancer, choreographer, and percussionist. He began learning traditional Kandyan dance when he was twelve years old at Carey College in Colombo, Sri Lanka under Ms. Visha DeSivla and Mr. Ranjith Priyanga. For the past twenty years he has been honing his craft under the direction of various gurus and through important life experiences. Pinnagoda undertook his Ves Mangalya (ritual graduation ceremony for male kandyan dancers) at the age of seventeen. In 2004 he joined Ravibandhu Samanthi Kalayathanaya to continue his dance education and began his professional career only a year later. Pinnagoda has worked as a professional dancer and drummer with Mr. Ravibandhu Vidyapathi, Mr. Kulasiri Budawatte, Mr. Channa Wijewardana, Mr. Jananath Warakagoda and the Chithrasena Kalayathanaya Dance Company. As a member of these renowned Sri Lankan ensembles, he had the opportunity to tour widely throughout Europe and Asia to many countries including Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, France, China, Thailand, USA, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. In July 2013, Pinnagoda immigrated to the U.S. He soon became the main teacher and master choreographer for the Sri Lankan Dance Academy of NY in Staten Island. Within a year, Pinnagoda was able to undertake the task of training his eleven senior students to receive their Pahim Path Mangalya (ritual graduation ceremony for female Kandyan dancers). This was the first ever Pahim Path Mangalya to be performed in the U.S., and since then Pinnagoda has risen to international acclaim not only for his work as a performer, but also as a guru and choreographer. He is respected for his mastery of the centuries old Kandyan technique as well as for his ability to create new work for his students that remains grounded in tradition.
"There has never been a ceremony of this kind in the U.S., never (eyes water and becomes emotional). I can't believe from the many years ago that I started this school, to now that we have achieved all this. These girls have been dancing since they were babies. I started with them and gave them that fundamental technique. But when Dilhan came, that's when this all became possible. What a choreographer, what a creative guy. He is such an amazing dancer and brought them to the next level. Now they really dance, they really have that experience with the tradition. Growing up here they have dance as a part of their heritage. But never before have we been able to really teach Kandyan dance like this abroad and get them to the level they would have been in Sri Lanka. There isn't the space for it and the teachers. But now finally that is different. This is the next step, the next generation. They have been able to study for many many years and build their skill. And now they are rewarded with Pahim Path Mangalya. In Sri Lanka, it is common for this ceremony to take place for the most advanced dancers. It shows that they are ready to perform on stage with their gurus, that they are ordained to present certain rituals and dances, and that they are also ready to become teachers for the next generation. We produced this ceremony like we would have done in Sri Lanka. Of course some things are different, the weather, the venue, but we make it work. This is a moment that these girls will remember for the rest of their lives. Today they became dancers, and women."
-Tanya DeSilva (Founder of the National Women's Dance Troupe of Sri Lanka, now the Sri Lankan Dance Academy-NY) in an interview with Naomi Sturm, August 2014."