By Anand Holla
Little girls dressed in Sri Lankan finery swayed to the persuading rhythms of traditional music. With each step and move, their musical anklets chimed and jingled in sweet unison as if to aurally emphasise the visual grace of their sparkling performance.
Breaking into a traditional dance to the groove of Sri Lankan percussions.
The occasion couldn’t have asked for a more adorable sight to bring in the celebrations at the Al Jazi Gardens Clubhouse in West Bay, last morning. It was the 12th anniversary of the International Ladies’ Potluck Group (ILPG), which has been a torchbearer for expat ladies in Qatar, boasting of over 400 members from more than 65 countries.
From right, Rusandie and Dinu Lawrence with ILPG’s Ruth Sabry and a dancer.
The country in focus to showcase its culture was Sri Lanka — also popularly known as the Pearl Island. All seven Sri Lankan members of ILPG had gotten together to put out a fabulous show to an audience of around 120 ladies.
Joanne Blakemoore with her prize.
The flurry of activities started off with pomp. The lighting of the traditional lamp was carried out by the ILPG committee members, also joined by the ambassadors’ wives, to the beats of ceremonial drumming, which in Sri Lanka, is known as Magulbera. To set the tone for the morning, Sri Lankan fish rolls and cutlets, sent by the Sri Lankan restaurant White Oceanic, were served with tea and coffee. The delicious-looking 12th anniversary cake was cut by committee members Shriani Burley, Ruth Sabry and Anu Vye.
ILPG member Antoinette De Silva went on to give the audience a primer on Sri Lankan culture, way of life and celebration. “A diverse and multicultural country, Sri Lanka is home to many religions, ethnic groups, and languages,” De Silva said in her speech, “In addition to the majority Sinhalese, it is home to large groups of Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aboriginal Vedda. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and the first known Buddhist writings of Sri Lanka, the Pali Canon, dates back to the Fourth Buddhist council in 29 BC.”
Among other aspects, De Silva spoke at length about the Sinhalese New Year, which is known as Aluth Avurudda in Sri Lanka. “It is a major festival celebrated by not only the Sinhalese people but by most Sri Lankans. The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The festival has close semblance to the Tamil New year, Songkran, Bengali New Year, Cambodian New Year, Lao New Year, Thingyan in Myanmar and Vishu festival in India. It is generally celebrated on April 13 or April 14,” De Silva said.
It is once the important rituals are done that the partying begins, De Silva explained. “As families mingle in the streets, homes are thrown open and children are let out to play. The ubiquitous plantain is dished out alongside celebratory feasts of Kavum (small oil cake) and Kokis (crisp and light sweetmeat, originally from The Netherlands). However, the extent of outdoor activities depends largely on the neighbourhood. The suburban communities tend to have such social gatherings more than urban or city dwellers. Aluth Aurudu is an important national holiday for both the cultures of the Sinhalese people and the Tamil people of Sri Lanka,” she said.
Dinu Lawrence, who runs the Dinu Dancing Academy in Doha, had arranged the three dance performances of the girls. A beautiful Kandyan fusion dance saw a group of girls stamping, spinning and twirling to the enchanting percussive rhythms. The Kandyan dancing and drumming originated as part of an all-night ceremony in honour of the deity Kohomba, an elaborate ritual featuring around 50 dancers and 10 drummers, and flourished under the patronage of the kings of Kandy. The other two dance acts were just as fascinating to watch.
Lawrence told Community, “In Sri Lanka, we have the main dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and then we have styles such as the Up Country and Low Country. Kandyan dance, for instance, is an Up Country dance. Being a Kandyan fusion, the little girls’ dance was a mix of Up Country and a bit of Low Country as well. At my academy, I teach Sri Lankan traditional dance forms. For this event, we knew we would be performing before expat ladies from all over the world. We wanted to showcase our diverse culture in the best way possible and hence chose these dances. Everything came together really well.”
Lawrence’s 14-year-old daughter Rusandie, who studies in Sri Lankan School Qatar, was one of the girls who participated in the performances. “The dance that I did with my friend is called Gajaga Wannama, which is centred on the gait and characteristics of an elephant. Hence, it’s called the dance of the elephant,” Rusandie explained, “In Sri Lanka, we have 18 varanams; this dance is one of those traditional dances. Another interesting dance the little girls did was the folk dance which is based on life and rituals in village, and how the people in villages celebrate their New Year festivals.”
Rusandie, like her other friends, appeared mighty pleased. “This was so much fun. Dancing is one of my favourite things to do. I feel free and relaxed when I dance Gajaga Wannama and other traditional Sri Lankan dances,” she said.
After the dance feast, it was time for the actual feast as the ladies made a beeline for the lunch supplied by Mercure Grand Hotel and also several authentic potluck dishes prepared by Sri Lankan members of ILPG.
Shriani Burley, also the chief organiser of the event, thanked the Sri Lankan embassy for their support in organising the event. “It was another successful event by ILPG. On the occasion of the 12th anniversary, it was a wonderful opportunity for the Sri Lankan members to get together and present to the audience, their culture and cuisine. After the presentation from Sri Lankan Airlines and Sri Lankan Holidays, many ladies present at the event have expressed their interest in visiting Sri Lanka,” Burley said.
Since a lot of the ladies had never worn a sari before, Burley and her friends helped them buy saris from the best sari sale in town and helped them come dressed for the occasion. Burley said, “That made the event look even more graceful. Also, we would like to thank our sponsors for the Raffle Prizes — Sri Lankan Airlines, Book My World, Radisson Blu, Oryx Rotana, W Hotel, Trader Vic’s, Salam, Sawasdee Span, Bombay Silk, and Belezza Salon.”
The big prize of the day went to ILPG member Joanne Blakemoore, who won a business class return ticket to Sri Lanka, courtesy Sri Lankan Airlines.
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