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Entrancement Dance - Wahal (Vahal) Natuma

This dance followed on immediately from the “Demon Barber” act. By now the sky was lightening and dawn was near. This is a very energetic dance and is a demonstration of the strength of the Deity, Vahala.

A new drumbeat signalled the start of this dance. The dancer  dressed mainly in red with a small triangular shaped hat appeared from behind the Toran and sat on the chair placed in front of the  right hand shrine. An Assistant thoroughly smoked the area including his feet with dummala which he deeply inhaled. Purifying water was also poured over his feet.

When he was “smoked”, he started to tremble as he was entering an entranced state and the chair was removed by the Assistant. He sprang up and danced to the drumbeat in  a “jerky” manner, towards and in front of the toran and then in front of the “hut”. He held small bunches of areca flowers in each hand.The rope preventing audience incursions into the Performance Area was removed and the audience were waved back to safety by Assistants. The dancer whirled violently around the Performance Area at times - this very energetic and dramatic dance is performed  whilst the dancer is in an “entranced State” from inhaling the dummala.

His movements took him back to the right hand shrine where still to the drumbeats’ rhythm, he grasped it with his hands and shook it. He was held up by an Assistant who held him around the waist. He broke out of the grasp and continued shaking the shrine, then whirled rapidly towards the Toran. Then again back around the Performance Area. His jerky movements caused the bells on his anklets to tinkle in time to the drumbeat. Then he whirled rapidly towards the “hut” dancing in front of it for some minutes. Then he progressed in the same manner back around the Performance Area ending up back  at the right hand shrine which he again grasped and he started trembling. This time he was being supported by another dancer. Here he inhaled more dummala and an Assistant administered more water.

He then continued dancing in the same manner. He had exchanged the areca flowers for a smoking dummala container and an Assistant followed him with  more dummala. He danced with this in the same manner, from time to time whirling around the area. He danced around the Festival Bough. Then he returned to the right hand shrine, again collapsing against it, being supported by the other dancer. This time he broke free from the shrine holding large bunches of areca flowers  which he took from the Shrine, with which he danced around, circling and whirling. The drumbeat became even faster and he shook the bunches violently up above his head and then down again several times., This part of the dance is showing respect to the Four Guardian Deities. Then he again collapsed against the shrine where water was poured over his head by the Assistant who also lit the torches in the Shrine.

The dancer then grasped the torches in his left hand. He threw flaming dummala on them which flamed around the Shrine. He then danced away from the Shrine still holding the torches. He was followed by the Assistant with replenishing supplies. He threw flaming dummala around the Performance Area and in front of the Toran and then danced rapidly towards the Temple, flaming dummala on the way. He danced all around the temple “flaming” as he progressed, before returning in the same manner to the Performance Area. Here he danced around the area again flaming around the right hand shrine, Toran and the “hut”. Then back to the Festival Bough for a final “flaming” and finished by whirling really fast from the Festival Bough to the base of the Toran where he collapsed by its side. The drumbeat for the dance ceased. Here he was cared for and revived by the other Tovil dancers who carefully prised away the burning torches from his hand.

After a few minutes  he recovered enough to stand up, now hatless. A chair was placed in front of the Toran.  The now hatless dancer then performed a much slower dance - the movements following after each line of recitation from the drummer who beat a different slower rhythm. The drummer and the dancer sang alternate lines. Whilst they were doing this another chair was positioned beside the other and an offering basket placed on top. The dancer then bowed to the toran and audience and the drumbeat changed again to the “collecting” beat.  First the two community representatives made their offerings into his hat, then he passed around the audience collecting their offerings into his cap. When he had finished taking up the collection, he placed the cap and contents in the right hand Shrine. The drumbeat increased and with a final whirling he finished the dance in front of the Toran where he bowed respectfully before retiring.

This dance had lasted just over 30 minutes. Obeysekere writes that this dance is not performed in this Matara area, in any case it is fairly rare to see it performed.This version does vary from his description in some details e.g. this dancer was not blindfolded for the dance and the singing of the relevant Pattini texts was not until the very last part of the dance before the collection.

This dance is for the Deity Wahal or Vahalla. Texts 24  and  25 of the Pattini texts relate Vahala’s story - see Obeysekere pages 210-220. Vahalla is also known as Dadimunda, who stood at the side of Buddha against the demons when all other Deities fled in terror.

First he inhaled smoking dummala and his feet were “smoked” with it by the Assistant at the right hand shrine. His feet were sprinkled with purifying water.

When he had inhaled sufficient dummala to become entranced, he danced first in front of the Toran and then around all areas of the Performance Area.

From time to time he returned to inhale more dummala - this helps, with the dancing and promotes the entranced state. Then he returned to the shrine and shook it violently.

N.B. the fire in the background for the later Fire Walking

At this point he was dancing holding the clay pot containing the dummala and from time to time the Assistant gave him “top ups”

He grasped the clay pot of dummala from the Shrine

As he became more entranced he returned to shake the structure. The other Tovil dancers ensured his safety

By now dawn was breaking. He danced around all areas of the Performance Area and circled the Festival Bough that had been erected at the beginning of the Pattini ceremony. The candle was still burning on the top.

During this next stage an assistant followed him and as he danced to the drumbeat, he took dummala, throwing it onto his lighted torch to create flames. He danced around the Performance Area throwing the fire all around the area and then rushed into the Temple. Here he danced all around  the structures “throwing” the fire. This was to drive away the problems that had been visited upon the community so that  the village would be free of troubles. The flames are cleansing the community and the environment of their problems.

Dancing around the Toran. He had at this time picked up a bunch of areca leaves from the right hand Shrine. As he danced he raised them up to his head and shook them violently up and down. This part of the dance is showing respect to the Four Guardian Deities. Then he again collapsed against the right hand  Shrine and was supported by a dancer and revived with water from an Assistant who had also lit two torches in the Shrine.

He took these in his left hand and started dancing around again holding a handful of dummala in his right hand.

He danced back into the Performance Area. By now the drumbeat was very fast and the dancer performed several whirls back towards the Toran

Eventually he collapsed in front of  the Toran, completely entranced. The other Tovil dancers revived him with water and freed the still burning torches from his fingers.

After recovery he made an obeisance to Buddha and then to the audience and then  started dancing again to a different much slower drumbeat - he responded in his movements to the singing of the drummer. He danced around the Offering Basket.

Then he was given offerings by the community representatives who were standing to the side of the Toran.

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Finally he circulated to a much slower drumbeat taking up a collection from the audience who placed coins and notes into his cap. They were making offerings to the Deity.

At the conclusion of this dance he placed the cap with the offerings in right hand shrine.