By Thilak S. Fernando

As ' Magul Bera' (ceremonial drums) throbbed an urgent invocation to the gods and the beat rose to a vibrant staccato crescendo, Sarasvathi Abinandana or the Puja Netuma, as an invocation to the divine mother of dance seeking protection and blessings on the dancers and the audience, was unveiled on 14 February 1998 at the Commonwealth Institute hall by a member of the Sri Lanka Army Cultural Troupe, in the presence of the Sri Lanka High Commissioner Mr. S.K.Wickremasinghe, Mrs. Wickremasinghe, distinguished invitees and a packed audience. The occasion was the climax of a series of celebrations in London to mark the Golden Jubilee of Sri Lanka's Independence. The celebrations on the 14 and 15 February at the Commonwealth Institute were organised by the Sri Lanka High Commission in London, in association with Air Lanka, Bank of Ceylon and the Tourist Board.

As the drums throbbed non stop, over a period of ninety minutes, fluid, supple and graceful movements of fourteen male and seven female dancers of The Sri Lanka Army Cultural Troupe unfolded and twirled through twenty five centuries of Sri Lankan culture - a priceless art form communicating to the audience the ' legends and tales that live for ever' through Mask, Kulu, Sawan, Raban, Hansa, Tea and Kandyan dance forms, as well as with Salupaliya, a popular rural dance in Southern Sri Lanka, Wadigapatuna, a traditional low country dance, Thelme, a low country ritual and finally bringing to a climax with Pancha Thurya Vadanaya incorporating one-faced drum ( Atata), two-faced drum ( Vitata), the skin drum with strings ( Atata-Vitata), the metal percussion instruments ( cymbal etc) and the wind instruments ( Horaneve- Susira).

Sri Lankan Army Cultural Troupe, which is one of the best in the country, became a household name to millions of TV audiences the world over when they gave a widely acclaimed performance, in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, at the Albert Hall, London on the occasion of the Jubilee Dinner organised by Asia House when India and Pakistan celebrated their 50 years of Independence last year. Sri Lanka has a magnificent cultural heritage going back more than 2500 years and the members of the Cultural Troupe, as ambassadors of this ancient culture, were able to give the London audience on this historic day for Sri Lanka, a glimpse of her ancient culture. The Sri Lankan dancers' magnificent performance during February 14-15 enabled the expatriate Sri Lankans to take back with them pleasant images of their motherland's cultural diversity.

On the eighth of February, Sri Lanka Educational Cultural and Welfare Foundation staged yet another cultural show at the Brent Town Hall, incorporating an exhibition of events with still photographs covering Anuradhapura, Pollonnaruwa and Kandy era as well as a film show produced by Tissa Madawela, depicting the metamorphoses of events from pre-independent to post independent Sri Lanka.

Dr. Mudiyanse Dissanayake, the Head of Aesthetic Studies at University of Kelaniya was flown by the Foundation especially for the occasion to supervise choreography of the members of the Dance Troupe of the Sri Lanka Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation who had been trained by Manjula Upasena . Lanka Bandara trained children of the Themes Meditation Centre.

Amidst a mixture of hill country and low country-dance forms, several local artists, from the very young to senior citizens, took to the boards on this blissful evening to express their feelings about their motherland's independence by song, verse and/or speeches. The local orchestra consisted of Hema Bandara, Gamini Abayawardana, Francis Jayamanne, Manil Subasinghe and Sujith Subasinghe. Nirmala Fernando and Anura Keppetipola compered the show.

Among many distinguished guests Sri Lanka High Commissioner, Mr. S.K.Wickremasinghe, His Worshipful Mayors of Brent and Harrow Cllrs. Mark, Cummins and Tom Hawks respectively, M.P. for Brent Barry Gardiner, Member of European Parliament Robert Evans and Prof. Ven. Bellanvila Wimalaratana Thera, SOAS, University of London, aired their views on Sri Lanka over 50 years of independence on the country. Dr. Kusum Subasinghe's patriotic & powerfully sung song, ' Peradiga Muthu Etayai Me' brought the cultural show to a nostalgic end.

A special feature of this celebration was the publication & distribution of a commemorative magazine comprising 27 invaluable articles, written by eminent professors, academics and scholars, focussing on many topics ranging from a brief history of ancient Sri Lanka, origins of the struggle for independence, the Kandyan uprising against British rule in 1817-18, and many other socio, economic, political and religious topics over a period of 50 years. This commemorative volume is a must for every Sri Lankan household and undoubtedly it will shine as a beacon on any bookshelf.

On 4 February itself, official celebrations took place at the Sri Lanka High Commission with the hoisting of the National flag, followed by the normal tradition of Sri Lanka's religious dignitaries invoking spiritual blessings on the country for peace, harmony and prosperity and the High Commissioner reading the Independence Day messages of the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Subsequently two social gatherings were hosted by the High Commissioner and his staff at two London's prominent hotels for the Sri Lankan expatriates and other diplomatic and British friends of Sri Lanka, on account of this special occasion.

Sri Lanka's Golden Jubilee of Independence was celebrated in London at several other venues, which included an historical exhibition at the London Buddhist Vihara, a seminar at the Imperial College and functions in Birmingham & in Leicester. At Letchworth FAME (Films Arts Music and Entertainment) Group organised a second show by the Sri Lankan Army Cultural Troupe and a private musical show 'Nandana Vindana' had also been organised by a separate cultrual group where Latha Walpola, the popular female Sri Lankan vocalist appeared on London stage.