© 2023 Dr. M. Sheppard

Dances Evening Watch Midnight Watch Morning Watch Patient Dancing Fire Dance Finale

Midnight Watch Dances

During the the Midnight Watch Mahansona is called, appears and dances, receives his offerings and departs. This is known as the Dance and Death of Mahansona.

The Dancers change into their costumes for this series of dances during the Mat Dance and the short break that usually follows it during which the Audience are served light refreshments - plain tea, biscuits, bananas etc.

For this dance to “call” Mahansona from all the 8 directions in which he resides, they are dressed as women. They have coconut head dresses with large coconut ear lobes and long coconut streamers of “hair”. They wear elaborate red jackets. Often they may  whiten their faces and apply black kohl around their eyes. They wear white sarongs to represent the Deity Pattini and have red sashes to represent the Deity, Kataragama. They wear silver bangles and silver anklets with bells. All these parts of the costumes are to attract and imitate the attributes preferred by the demons.

The dance starts with slow drum beats and the Dancers gather in front of the the offering areas and baskets where lamps have been lit.  A lamp is lit to Isvara (Lord of Dance)  at the base of Mahasona’s Palace. They first sing the hymn to Buddha and the Guardian Deities. The Dancers then “greet” the Drummers in traditional fashion (with two hands together), then the head of the household and the Patient, then the Audience and lastly each other. The drums are beaten to salute Buddha. Dummala is then smoked around the dancers which they inhale to attract the demons into themselves.

The Dancers perform several dances that often run into each other:

Samayan pade (gathering time dance)

Aile pade (offering plate dance)

vata pade (whirling dance)

anguru kabala pade (brazier dance)

Kukulu dance  (cock dance)

Vilakku pade (torch dance)

Igaha Pade (arrow dance)

(These dances and their symbolism is outlined in great detail by Bruce  Kapferer in a “Celebration of Demons” p.206-213. However it should be noted that the formats vary between the different groups of the Tovil Dancers.)

These dances are to call Mahasona and his superior Mangara-deviyo, and the Dancers will from time to time rock the Demon Palace. This shows the presence of the demons in the Palace. Each dance typically starts slowly and then becomes faster and faster. The Dancers will do acrobatics such as whirling, cartwheels, somersaulting etc. The Drummers beat out the special different rhythms of the main demons to attract them.

These dances and songs ask Mahasona to take the offerings and to remove his hold over the Patient, thus releasing him/her from their sickness.

The Dancers will juggle their lighted torches. In the cock dance, one Dancer dances with the cock  which at the end of this dance is placed in the Demon Palace. During the torch dance the dancers throw flaming dummala around the Performance Area and the Patient and then one Dancer rushes into the house throwing it around the house. This is to drive away demons. In the final dance, the Igaba dance. one Dancer dances with the Igaba  which he takes from the Demon Palace, he dances with it over his shoulder then stops in front of the patient. The audience call out “Long Life”.

Dancers preparing their costumes in the Demon Palace for the Midnight Watch series of dances. For these dances  they wear costumes with red and black. They have coconut leaf head dresses ,“ear lobes” and coconut “hair”.

Gradually the dances become more and more spirited. Like with the Evening Watch Dances, there is whirling, juggling with the torches, and acrobatics

The Drummers stand when they are drumming for these dances .

When all the Dancers are ready, to the accompaniment  of the slow drum beats, they come out of the Demon Palace where they have been preparing. They are each passed lighted torches which are lighted and issued by an Assistant.

The dances start slowly, often a Dancer will strike a pose. They dance and sing the stories of Mahasona and the dance.

One of the Dancers picks up the cock and dances  around the Performance Area with it. He dances to the Demon Palace and smokes it and himself with dummala. The smoke entrances both the cock and the Dancer. It also “summons” the demons to the cock.

The Cock Dance

Towards the end of this series of dances is the Cock Dance.

Juggling with two or three lighted torches. An Assistant is on hand with spare torches

He dances around the Demon Palace

At some ceremonies the pacified cock is then wrapped in the white cloth which is “imbued” with “essence”of the Patient

This “package was then placed in front of the Patient and a small offering basket was placed on top of the bundle.

The Patient then made some offerings into this basket. The cock was then waved three times over her head to transfer the demons causing her sickness into the cock which was then returned to the Demon Palace.

The Tovil Dancer may dance some more with the cock over his shoulder before placing it in the Demon Palace.

Next follows the Mangara Pelapaliya – the 12 Presentations  or The Dance of Mahashona. When I have attended Tovil Dance Ceremonies they have sometimes performed the Presentations first or Mahashona has danced first.

You Tube Video Links:

Midnight Watch Dances: Collection Dance: https://youtu.be/J2E8yjqw1JI

Midnight Watch Dances: Offerings : https://youtu.be/mKaYcRvVuek

Midnight Watch Dances: Igaba Dance: https://youtu.be/tMTSkpQBIbQ

Midnight Watch Dances: Calling Mahasona: https://youtu.be/Ldjmvivoivs