Posted : 2017-06-12 18:10
By Choe Chong-dae
Buddhist contact between Korea and Sri Lanka can be traced back to the 13th century. In the modern era, Venerable Anagarika Dharmapala, a Ceylonese revivalist of Buddhism whose adopted name means “homeless,” visited Korea in 1913 and donated the Sacred Relics of the Buddha (sarira) to the Jogye Buddhist Order. Since my office in Seoul is near Joogyesa Temple where the Sacred Relics are enshrined in a seven-story stupa, I frequently pay respects to them and am reminded of Sri Lanka’s contribution to Korean Buddhist culture.
Sri Lanka is known to us as “the Pearl of the East” which shines brightly for its breathtaking natural beauty where refined jewels are produced. The country boasts centuries of arts and culture amidst the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. It has a rich artistic tradition, with distinctively creative forms that encompass music, dance, the visual arts and its seemingly endless tea plantations producing the world famous Ceylon tea. In Marco Polo’s autobiography, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” co-writer Rustichello da Pisa describes Sri Lanka as the most beautiful island in the world. Also, in the sixth voyage of “Sinbad the Sailor,” Serendib (the old Persian name for Sri Lanka) is known as “Treasure Island,” where “diamonds are in its rivers and pearls are in its valleys.” No wonder Korean tourists have increasingly been drawn to the allure of this ancient tropical paradise.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Sri Lanka, the Embassy of Sri Lanka and Korea Foundation organized a special performance by choreographer and percussionist Ravibandhu Vidyapathy and a traditional Sri Lankan art troupe at the National Theater of Korea on May 19. Many figures from a variety of sectors of Korean and foreign society, including the Minister of Foreign Employment of Sri Lanka Thalatha Atukorale and Her Excellency Manisha Gunasekera, Ambassador of Sri Lanka, took delight in the wonderful display of moving art.
The unique performance under the title of “Sri Lanka The Treasure Island of Dance and Music” featured a feast of traditional Sri Lankan drums and dances showcasing the history, religions, myths and art of Sri Lanka.
Ravibandhu Vidyapathy’s ensemble stage fascinated the viewers with a mysterious Kandyan and passionate performance of traditional Sri Lankan music, recitals and dance named Raksha, Vannam, Krishna and Salu Paliya.
Vidyapathy, renowned as an outstanding percussionist, excels at playing various drums of Southeast Asia, traditional drums of northern India and common percussion instruments in Hindustani music such as “Pakkawaj,” “Tabla” and “Kandyan” drums. Drawing on his extensive musical knowledge, he has created new percussion instruments to reflect his eclectic musical style.
Of all the 10 distinctive stages titled Swasthi, Naga Raksha, Gajaga, GetaBera, Krishna, Thelme, Macbeth, SaluPaliya, Mayura and Bheri Nada, my favorite was the Swasthi. I was captivated by the harmony found in its intense drum sounds, music from various traditional instruments, swift dance moves, female dancers’ colorful costumes and graceful gestures. Swasthi’s initial ritual drum sounds were followed by Kandayan dance that was originally performed at court banquets of the Kandy Dynasty.
Most recently, there have been an increasing number of people-to-people exchanges between Korea and Sri Lanka. Many Korean Buddhist organizations participate in social welfare activities benefiting Sri Lankans. For example, Jeong Heon-dae, Chairman of the Korean-Sri Lanka Buddhist Welfare Association in Gyeongju, has been providing financial assistance and charity since 2002 to support the health and education of children at Uda Walawe Kumara Primary School in southern Sri Lanka and other schools in the northeastern Trincomallee region.
This longstanding Buddhist connection between Sri Lanka and Korea is the drum that will lead the beat as the two countries expand their political, economic and cultural ties.
Choe Chong-dae is a guest columnist of The Korea Times. He is president of Dae-kwang International Co. and Director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.