Arts and Culture Bring Peace and Reconciliation To Multi-Religious and Multi-Ethnic Communities in Sri Lanka
by Iromi Dharmawardhane
The arts and culture can be powerful catalysts in bringing about reconciliation within the hearts of individuals as well as between communities, changing who we are and how we relate to each other. Reconciliation through the arts and other cultural mediums can occur in two ways: firstly, a victim of war may find it easier to express one’s pain – including one’s remorse – through aesthetic mediums, and secondly, artistic and cultural projects and performances which are a fruit of collaboration between individuals belonging to different communities would lead to the regaining of each other’s trust and respect, understanding each other’s different but equally painful war-time experiences, learning about what is common and valuing what is unique in each other’s cultural heritage, and at last recognizing each other’s interdependence.
The arts, whether it is through music, painting, poetry, prose, song, dance, film, photography, theater, or puppetry, can be a vehicle for truth, dialogue, and inter-cultural understanding for communities who speak different languages in nations where communal relations have been battered by the circumstances of war. Sri Lanka has seen several outstanding examples of how the arts have a great part to play in the national reconciliation process. An extraordinary concert was organized and directed by Mrs. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan on March 6, 2012 in Sri Lanka where an orchestra comprising 100 young musicians from all districts of Sri Lanka performed in unison, playing a variety of Oriental and Western instruments. This talented and large assembly of musicians from diverse backgrounds conveyed a convincing and memorable message of “unity in diversity”.
The Aru Sri Art Theatre troupe founded by Mrs. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan to promote inter-ethnic harmony rendered a captivating performance of the dance drama Sri Ram at the International Ramayana Festival in Bintaan, Indonesia on April 12 – 13, 2012 and in Singapore on April 14. They also presented scintillating performances of classical compositions on Hindu themes such as Bharathanatyam and the Cosmic Dance of Shiva which were performed by Sri Lankan dancers of different ethnicities and religions. The conciliatory power of the performing arts in drawing different ethnic groups together was never so vividly and vibrantly depicted. Aru Sri Art Theatre offers audiences across Sri Lanka and overseas contemporary interpretations and innovative productions of rich historical and cultural lore, while retaining the purity of the traditional performing arts. Sri Lankan theater and dance companies and associations, in this way, can organize dance symposiums to celebrate and bring together the different dance types in the Sinhalese tradition (such as Upcountry dances, Low Country dances, Sabaragamuwa dances, and folk dances) and the Tamil tradition (such as bharatanatyam, kathakali, and naddu koothu and other folk dances).
Sri Lanka held the Interfaith Music Festival (a first in Asia) in February 2012 which was organized and created by the Mother Sri Lanka Trust and The Art of Living Foundation. Children from across the island came together to perform Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Islamic chants and songs on one stage. The highly-praised Jaffna Music Festival was held in March 2011 where hundreds of local folk artists from all over Sri Lanka as well as international folk artists performed in Jaffna in celebration of the unique and diverse traditional musical heritage of Sri Lanka and the world. This event was organized by the Sewalanka Foundation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Aru Sri Art Theatre, and Concerts Norway.