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Negombo ready for Passion Play in ballet form

In the history of world Passion Plays we come across the world's most famous Oberammergau Passion Play which was once dramatized in the Baroque style. In 1750, Ferdinand Rosner, a Benedictine monk from the monastery of Ettal in Bavaria was instrumental in revising the traditional text of the Oberammergau Passion Play.

He introduced the sacred Baroque theatre in the 8,457 verses of his Passion nova which became very popular in Bavaria as a new model for Passion Plays. Though Rosner's innovation did not last long due to the opposition of the traditionalists in the Community of Oberammergau his experiment in changing the Content and especially the Form of the traditional Passion Play model paved the way for the search of new models.

Rehearsing for the Passion Play

According to Prof. E. R. Sarachchandra, the earliest Sri-Lankan Passion Plays were enacted at Pesalai in Mannar and at Duwa and Pitimana in Negombo. These Passion Plays were performed by means of life-size statues inside a large pavilion with a roof about 20 feet high (The Folk Drama of Ceylon, p. 124). It was K. Lawrence Perera, the pioneer of the Borelassa Passion Play who brought innovative changes in 1924 by using living actors instead of statues as "[...] he thought that the Passion shows done in Church premises with statues were 'crude' and unworthy of so lofty a theme as the Passion of Christ." (The Folk Drama of Ceylon, p. 126). It was the Oberammergau Passion Play which influenced Lawrence Perera for this innovation. But the Archbishop of Colombo disapproved his another innovation of using women in the cast and the play was banned in 1939. (See for an extensive research on this, Wijith Rohan, The History, the Content and the Form of Sri- Lankan Passion Play, pp. 265-290).

For the first time in 400 years of Sri-Lankan Passion Play history we are going witness an entirely innovative change concerning the Biblical Content and the Form of the Passion Play tradition with the intense preparation in Negombo for a Passion Play performance in Ballet style titled 'Tharakayano' on April 29 at Kadolkele grounds around 6.30 p.m.

Ballet is known as a kind of performance dance which has its birth place in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century. It is important to find out whether a Passion Play had been dramatized in Ballet style in the world. We know Oberammergau Passion Play in Baroque theatre but not in Ballet.

'Tharakayano' is the true Sinhala name given to Jesus Christ (For this, see the Passion Play script written by an erudite scholar, Sri Charles De Silva in pure 'Hela' Sinhala, 'Parama Puda' or Supreme Sacrifice).

The Biblical content

In keeping with the age old Passion Play tradition, 'Tharakayano' begins with the Creation Story and the Fall of Adam and Eve as depicted in the book of Genesis in the Bible. But much emphasis is given to the story of Exodus which is the real Passion Story of the Bible. It is Jesus, the new Moses who liberates the oppressed people of the world as God YAHWEH brought freedom to the slaves of Israel through Moses by releasing them from the fetters of the oppressor, the Egyptian king, Pharaoh. The 'Crossing of the Red Sea' is the Passover from slavery to freedom (Exodus, 14: 5-31). The liberated Israelites sang a song in praising YAHWEH which ends in a convincing praise 'YAHWEH will reign forever' (Exodus, 15: 18), the fundamental profession of Israel's faith.

The Serpent, the craftiest of all the wild creatures is symbolized as the inner craving of humanity's greed for Power, Wealth and Prestige.

The true Biblical meaning of this symbolism is identified with the depiction of this Serpent again when the disgusted Israelites who were marching arduously towards YAHWEH's promise land refuses to eat tasteless manna.

The people who complained against God and Moses were bitten by fiery Serpents sent by YAHWEH. Then Moses as instructed by YAHWEH made a bronze Serpent and set it on a standard. The Israelites who looked towards this bronze Serpent were cured and lived as they agreed not to be deceived again by the Serpent which symbolizes the unlimited desire for want of power, wealth and prestige (The book of Numbers, 21: 4-9).

When Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist at the river Jordan, YAHWEH's proclamation in accepting Jesus as his Beloved and Chosen Son is intermingled with the fundamental profession of Israel's faith, 'YAHWEH will reign for ever.'

Jesus is tempted in the wilderness just after his Baptism. The Cross on the mount of Calvary is depicted with the Serpent. Jesus who struggles against the temptations of Satan which were in contrary to the values of God's Kingdom, convincingly defeats them with total renouncing of Power, Wealth and Prestige that caused the Fall of Adam and Eve. At the end of the scene the Cross on Calvary is depicted without the Serpent.

The Serpent is again depicted when Judas is given the 30 pieces of silver by the chief priests of Sanhedrin for the betrayal of Jesus. After Jesus was arrested by the Roman battalion and the Temple Police and all his disciples fled, Judas comes and opens the purse of the 30 silver from which the Serpent comes and strangled his neck.

Three women, Jesus' mother, mother's sister Mary and Mary of Magdala are seen with the Beloved disciples at the foot of the cross after the death of Jesus (John 19: 25). An Angel lights a candle from a star that shines on the cross and shares that light with Mary and others. The audience also participates in lighting their candles with all the artists. The lighting of candles symbolizes the birth of the first Christian Community at foot of the Cross. Finally 'Tharakayano' ends with the scene on the 'Road to Emmaus' which depicts the Resurrection and the Ascension of Lord Jesus.

The artistes

Nearly 200 young boys and girls perform various characters in 'Tharakayano', the first ever Sri-Lankan Passion Play in Ballet style.

Namal Weveldeniya plays a pivotal role as the choreographer. He is a professional in choreography and a teacher of a leading school in Colombo.

Dr. PrabathAloka is instrumental in realizing this dream and plays the role of Director and the Music composer of 'Tharakayano'. He was also the producer of drama on Jacome Gonsalvez. Aloka is a medical officer presently attached to the General Hospital of Negombo.

Ranil Fernando, the versatile sculpture of Christian statues is the stage director and costume designer.

Wijith Rohan, a senior lecturer attached to the department of Christian Culture of the Faculty of Humanities in the University of Kelaniya, scripted 'Tharakayano.'

The writer is a Senior Lecturer, Kelaniya University



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