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Origin of Bali rituals and its evolution

Continued from November16

Some of the raw materials mainly utilized at a Bali ritual are drums, flambeaus, rosin, arecanut cutter, metal hand bell, unused mat, rice pounder, comb, mirror and a braid of hair. Heeressa Creeper, tholambo, divikaduru, betel leaves, rice gruel, sandal wood, milk, incense, camphor, dew water, fragrant flowers are some of the ingredients considered for offerings.

On the scheduled date at sunset Bali ceremony commences by beating of drums, lighting earthen oil lamps and burning incense. Verses, stanzas and quatrains are sung in a melodious and mellifluous rhythm by Bali performers in adoration of the Triple Gem and some chosen deities. Then the dance gets off the ground and proceeds till dawn on the following day or for further duration according to the particular Balis selected for a specific occasion.

The violent and vigorous dance similar to that of devil dancing is inconspicuous in Bali rituals. The mode of dancing in a Bali ceremony is a slow rhythmic movement conveying expressions by face movements and hand gestures of the Bali performer. But there are insignificant differentiations in the procedures adopted by Bali performers in Kandy district, Southern district and Sabaragamuwa province. It is uncertain and unbelievable whether there exists a ritual in any quarter of the globe where painting, decorating, drumming, singing and dancing are incorporated in one single cultural event.

Wide variety of Balis according to historical chronicles

It is recorded in manuscripts pertaining to Bali rituals that there are 9 for 9 planets (Graha Bali), 27 for the 27 constellations (Nekath Bali), 12 for 12 mansions (Rasi Bali), 8 for 8 Rakshas, 4 for 4 directions and 5 for 5 birds. In case all planetary deities are to be propitiated in one single act, the Bali with 80 flower chambers is prescribed (Asu Gebe Mal Baliya). Anguththara Nikaya text describes five balis viz. Gnathi, Atthi, Pubbapetha, Raja and Devatha. Moreover 13 varieties of balis are mentioned in the text Ramayanaya. In point of fact the number of Balis are too numerous to cite in this article.

Analysis and observations

In consideration of the aforementioned legendary and documentary factors it can be presumed that Bali rituals had been introduced by North and South Indian Brahamins to our motherland and it must have probably got merged or amalgamated with the traditional rituals already existed during the distant past and with the Hindu offering practices that prevailed. Mention must also be made here that during Kotte regime Bali rituals had been transformed into appreciable and admirable modifications.

It is a natural inclination that human mind longs for a strategy to avoid illnesses, mental deficiencies, misfortunes and misadventures. It is assumed that the performance of a Bali ceremony has the potency to bring physical healing as well as psychological contentment to an individual who had been afflicted by malefic effects of planetary deities and associated demons.

Bali rituals had faded away to a great extent from present-day society owing to laborious and arduous pre-arrangements to be executed before a Bali performance, which is a very expensive exercise and also dearth of proficient and efficient Bali performers in the country. Another noteworthy factor is the logical mode of thinking based on modern scientific theories by most of the present-time generation. ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ (2005 – pages 87 and 88) under caption ‘Enrichment of arts and culture’ expresses that a special program will be launched to safeguard and enhance the traditional arts and artistes. Hence it is the obligation of authorities of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage to initiate appropriate action to conserve this aesthetic and artistic Bali ritual for the benefit of future generations.

Eminent personnel who have immensely contributed to popularize Bali rituals

It is a gesture of profound gratitude to cite a few western and native scholars who had executed extensive research on the subject of Bali rituals in Sri Lanka and had authored informative and instructive monographs. They are Messrs Otakar Pertold, Beryl de Zoete, Robert Knox, Dandiris de Silva Gunarathna, Dr W Arthur de Silva, Professors Nandadeva Wijesekera, Jayasena Kottegoda (Vice-Chancellor, University of Visual and Performing Arts), Mudiyanse Dissanayaka, Head of the Department of Drama, Ballet and Modern Dance of the above-noted university, Vinny Vitharana and Tissa Kariyawasam. Our highest gratitude should be bestowed upon the celebrated and distinguished personages undernoted for their outstanding contributions rendered towards regeneration of Bali dancing. They are Messrs J E Sedaraman, S H L Fernando – retired Lecturer at Kelaniya University, Ranganatha, Director of ‘Ranganatha Cultural Centre’ – Warakapola.

We should also appreciate and admire the distinctive and unique services provided by the following traditional Bali performers for the renaissance and resuscitation of Bali rituals in Sri Lanka. They are Messrs Hakmana Ganithage Dingoris Vidya Silpi, M H Gomis – Weligama, Weerasangilige Aedin – Thunduwa, Panditha Nekathige Ayonis – Dickwella, Babarende Silpage Saundiris, Pitiyagama Punchiguru, Thiththawela Ukkuwa, Thiththapajjala Suramba, Amunugama Rajapaksa Ganitha, Alakegama Nandina and Rambukwelle Guru. It is our bounden duty to commemorate and accord glowing tribute to all departed Bali performers in upcountry, low country, Sabaragamuwa Province who were responsible for preserving or conserving this highly acclaimed traditional Bali ritual and handing over same from generation to generation.

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