Salu Paliya – Mask Dance of Sri Lanka
During a casual walk on Saturday evening near Marina Bay, Singapore, I was distracted by noises and banging sound of drums coming from Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. Several performances were scheduled on weekends on account of Vesak day celebrations. I took my seat to watch the next performances in line, one of the most unique traditional dance performance of Sri Lanka, Salu Paliya. Salu Paliya is a cosmic dance featuring the spirit Salu Paliya. The spirit wears a white shawl and brings blessings of goddess Pattini to the patient. Goddess Pattini is worshiped by both Hindu and Buddhist community in Sri Lanka. Mask dances are used extensively in ritualistic performances. In Rural Sri Lanka, the healing ritual called Thovil is performed to ward off evil spirits and illness. People still believe that certain ailments like small pox are caused by spirits and the people suffering from those ailments are possessed. To chase the demons away, thovil ceremony is performed where the dancer appears wearing demonic masks. Both patient and the dancers are possessed during the healing time. During the exorcism, the healer honours Buddha and appease the demons with offerings, chanting and dancing. After the Thovil ceremony, Salu Paliya is performed in the second stage of the ritual where the dancer acts like a clown to uplift the spirits of the patient and take away his fear. The dancer cleanses the area where the exorcism had taken place and provides cosmic relief.
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