Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sokari : The folk drama

Posted by The Editor at 4:39 AM
Sokari is a form of folk drama brought to Sri Lanka by migrant workers from South India many centuries ago. The name "Sokari" is Indian, from the colloquial word Chokri, a girl in Marathi and Hindustani. In the drama there is the name Andi, the husband of Sokari, according to the old versions of the story, is from Kasi (Kusinara of old) in the North-Western part of India presently the Bihar State.
The Sokari play or drama opens with three characters Gurunnanse or Guru, supposed to be from Delhi, Sokari his young wife and Paraya his attendant. The couple having decided to leave their homeland in India travels to Sri Lanka in a boat across the seas.

They land at Puttalam on the west coast  and halt at a 'Ambalama' or 'madama' a wayside inn at Tambaravila.
(It is said that this Kalpitiya area was a popular sea port for Indian migrants and other merchants from Arabia.But , with the time , this port was ruined by the strong tides.)
The landing suggests that they came from the South Western parts of India probably Kerala, where even now folk dramatic arts are lively and vibrant. On arrival Sokari dries the paddy she had purchased in the sun. She pounds the grain, winnows it and prepare along with it curries of pumpkin and green peas. They look out for water. The Guru carrying his gourd skin vessel goes out to fetch water.
On the way he is bitten by a dog and takes seriously ill. He is attended by his retinue and wife Sokari. She goes to the Vedarala (physician) of Tambaravila. The Vedarala calls over, examines the patient and prescribes a medicine made of 60 Kalans of black sesamum, big sesamum, cummin seed, 'sivanguru' (red ochre) and 'siddhinguru' (dried ginger). He too performs some incantations too. Vedarala makes love to Sokari and wins her heart. Vedarala and Sokari vanish in the morning. The Guru having recovered goes to a Kapurala and requests him to find his wife.
The Kapurala tells him that Sokari is now living with the Vedarala and advises him to seek assistance from the gods to get her back. The Guru prays to Vishnu and Kataragama as well as Sat Pattini goddess.
The Guru proceeds to the village of Tambaravila and brings his wife Sokari.
Besides the three main characters, the Guruhami, his wife Sokari and the Vedarala the full cast as staged by the Kinnaras of Henawela, Off Kadugannawa, who are just a few in number now included a Chetty (money lender) from India, a Paraya alias Rama, a servant of Guru, Sokattana, the Vedarala's son, and the main protagonist of the play the compere (potegura), who with a long drum play a rhythmic tatoo to keep the tempo of the play, and a snake charmer (Naykaraya) from the gupsy tribe (Ahikuntakaya).
Characters
Thus it is seen that kinnarayas too are nomadic in their movements. The Gurunanse as the central figure starts singing a couplet, taken up in chorus by the others who move along in sidelong and rhythmic strides. Verses sung are the introductory quatrains of the Sokari poem.
Rama, Guru's servant has a bundle of clothes on a pole stung over his shoulder and under his arm a roll of peacock feathers. Vedarala is amorous and develops a passion for Sokari. The Guru resentful of the advances of Vedarala cracks his whip on him. Not being subdued with the whip, he orders Rama to strike him down which he does and the Vedarala rolls on the ground and bellows. The son does some incantations and Vedarala is back on his feet. His passion and romantic advances to Sokari continue with him strutting about boasting of his wealth and lands to entice her from the migrant husband.
In the next scene Veda and his son enter into an argument over the former's indecent advances while being married.
The wife of the Veda appears to have strayed away because of the lustfulness of her husband for other women. Son pours forth jokes at the father and sings of the beauty of his mother. The Veda is invited to dance. He starts dancing to the tune of the drum but still has lustful advances to Sokari.
He being ordered does the frog dance and Ketala dance. All this is done to win the heart of Sokari. He dances and dances and finally drops at the feet of Sokari, fully exhausted. Guru knowing that Veda could be enticed promising conjugal love with Sokari, asks Veda for a plot of land. The Veda wants Sokari to come all by herself and make the request. He agrees and Guru comes into possession of the land.
Construction
The next scene enacted deals with the construction of a house for Guru and Sokari. Finally Veda through his amorous pursuits is reduced to penury. All these actions are with gesticulations. In the midst of these episodes, Sokari too being amorous runs away with the Vedarala but later recovers her. Finally Guru and the party become ganja addicts and take to gambling. They are all in a coma and fall asleep. The drama ends there.
The Sokari dance in the early stages was performed in the coastline, such as Puttalam and the tribe of people shifted on to Kandyan region and became celebrities in mat weaving and broom making. The artistic talents came to be known as 'Dumbara Rata'.
This tribe is now decimated with somewhat of an upward mobility in their lives. The famous folk song in Sinhala - Inne dumbarai maha kalugalak yata; kannekarawalayi rata hale batata; yanne kawadada mawpiya balannata: (In dumbara living under a huge boulder, eating imported rice with dry fish meal; whence would I visit my parents) is misidentified as a song of the Dumbara valley. This folk song is of those gem miners. Sokari is not performed by the people of the kinnara clan as their settlements with the passage of time had got absorbed with the surrounding areas.
The Kinnaris are supposed to venerate the Sokari dance for bright weather and heavy rains for the rushes to grow in the lowlands and river mangroves (beside the Mahaweli river).

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