Sinhala Avurudu in London

In the absence of Erabodu Mal and the tweeting of Œ Kohaš, Sinhala and Hindu New Year dawned on London on 13th April. For hundreds of Sri Lankan residents in the NorthWest London, Kingsbury High School became the venue to celebrate this auspicious occasion in typically traditional manner.

The function was organised by Sri Saddhatissa Education and Welfare Foundation for the seventh successive year bringing nostalgia to a packed audience. Fortunately the sun god was in favour of the Sri Lankan expatriates that it provided adequate warmth and sunshine which enabled the spilled-over crowd to enjoy the show from outside the hall.

H.E. The High Commissioner, Mr. S. K. Wickremasinhge and Mrs. Wickremasinghe graced the occasion as Chief Guests. Other distinguished guests included Sir Rhodes Boyson MP for Brent North, Messrs.Robert Evens, Euro MP and Barry Gardener, Labour Parliamentary candidate for Brent North, Prof. Lakshman Perera, Prof. Ratna Wijetunge and Deputy Mayor of London Borough of Brent and his wife and the Buddhist clergy.

Air Lanka and Bank of Ceylon mainly sponsored the event. There were many special features this year about the Avuruu festival at Kingsbury. Firstly, it had been blessed and supported by the Minister of Cultural and Religious Affairs, Mr. Lakshman Jayakody, who had paid a visit last year to the Sri Saddhatissa Buddhist Centre and witnessed personally to what extent the Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation dedicated to uphold and propagate Sinhala culture and tradition in the UK. The Deputy Minister of Plan Implementation, Ethnic Affairs and National Integration Mr.Jeyraj Fernandopulle had taken a keen interest in sponsoring Dr. Mudiyanse Dissanayake, Head of Dept.of Dance, Institute of Aesthetics Studies, University of Kelaniya, through The Ministry of Cultural Affairs, who arrived at the nick of time to tap the young local talent and get them on the boards for the occasion. Within a breathing space of four weeks Dr. Dissanayake waved his professional magical wand of choreography and drumming to train a team of local lads and lasses to churn out a world class performance.

Three days prior to the occasion a special initiation ritual [ Wes Benduma] of three dancers took place to invoke blessings on them by the gods prior to their public performances. According to Dr. Dissanayake, this is regarded as customary in Sri Lanka but this was the first instance in the whole of Europe where three dancers were initiated simultaneously in such ritualistic fashion.

Adding extra splendour to the occasion Ms. Lanka 1996, Girshi Usitha Boteju, mesmerised the audience with Sarasvathi Abinandana dance, usually performed to invoke the blessings of Goddess Sarasvathi before any cultural event in the East, and also with a special performance of a harmoniously blended Udarata Netuma with modern ballet movements. Girshi is a professional dancer in Sri Lanka trained under the veteran dance teachers, Panibaratha and Channa Wijewardena, and she is also a rising tele drama actress on Sri Lanka television.

Towards the end of the show many colourful, agile and rhythmic dancing movements & drumming by Dr. Mudiyanse Dissnayakešs pupils brought the show to a climax that even the English guests were seen tapping their toes, shaking their heads and moving their bodies to the rhythms of the Pantheru, at the end of which Dr. Mudiyanse Dissanayake received an standing ovation from the audience.

Among other events were Œ Raban Netumaš by students of Vipuli Samarasinghe and a variety of dance performances by students of the Sri Saddhatissa Cultural Institute trained by Ms. Suhari Jayasekera. Indeed it was a moving scene to see young children from the age of four upwards parading on to the stage and relating stories, singing and even attempting to have a go at most advanced ŒPel Kaviš [poetry] . These children had been trained by the Principal of the Sri Saddhatissa Dhamma School Ven. Athurpana Wachiswara thera and Mr. Wimal de Silva, a member of staff of the school. Had there been a coveted prize for the best performer, the four year old Tilini de Silva would certainly have been the unanimous choice for bravely walking up to the stage through a packed audience and singing Œ Aadare Ai Podi Handa ma me obata metharam daruwo.š

As an encouragement to all the young children who took part this year Dhamma school awarded a prize each, while those who had been successful in Sinhala and Dhamma exams received their certificates from the High Commissioner Mr. Wickremesinghe.

Sinhala and Hindu New Year celebrations were organised by the Sri Saddhatissa Education and Welfare Foundation, which is an umbrella organisation of the Sri Saddhatissa International Centre at Kingsbury. In addition to numerous charity work it does, it also runs an orphanage in Kurunegala, which was put up at a cost of Rs.1 million. Its second stage, to add another wing to accommodate more children is underway at present. The orphanage is run by a Trust called Muditha, under the patronage of the incumbent at The Sri Saddhatissa International Centre, Kingsbury, Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi, who is also the patron of the Sri Saddhatissa International Centre.

The Sinhala Avurudu celebrations came to a jolly end when Dr. Mudiyanse Dissanayake playing the role of the Pied Piper appeared on stage, through the audience, followed by his troupe, singing "Avilla, Avilla, Sinhala Avuruddha Avilla" to which the whole audience clapped and joined. For a moment at least, there was a scene when Sri all Lankans present, from wider spectrum of the London society, were singing and enjoying in unison. That was the spirit of the Sinhala Avuruddha I had seen many moons ago, back at home. I managed to wipe out a few nostalgic teardrops without being seen by anyone.