In December 2018, Class of 1998 ARTC doctoral alumnus B.D.
Nandadeva travelled to Mauritius (small island to the east of Madagascar
island) to attend the 13th Intergovernmental Committee meeting of the
UNESCO 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural
Heritage. In early 2016, Sri Lanka submitted a nomination to include
traditional string puppet drama in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural
Heritage of Humanity. Nandadeva prepared the nomination dossier with the
assistance of a small committee. The nomination was accepted by the Evaluation
Body and then adopted by UNESCO. Nandadeva and an administrative officer
from the Sri Lankan Cultural Ministry served as subject experts to the official
delegation. Below is a description of Sri Lankan traditional string puppet
drama, adapted from a presentation following UNESCO’s official recognition of
this important form of intangible heritage.
Traditional String Puppet Drama of Sri Lanka (Sinh. Rūkada Nātya)
Traditional String Puppet Drama of Sri Lanka, known as Rūkada Nātya in the native language Sinhala, had been a popular form of theatre for many decades. Although its origins are uncertain, it is believed that the technique was introduced to Sri Lanka by migrants from the coastal areas of Southern India several centuries ago. During the course of time, it evolved as a fully naturalized art form displaying a Sri Lankan character, ethos, and identity to become an important element of the country's intangible cultural heritage. Perhaps due to the arrival of the television and other electronic entertainment media since late-1970s, traditional puppet drama has begun to lose its popularity.
Rūkada Nātya is performed by familial groups who belong to, or are connected with, the lineage known as Gamwari, living around the southern coastal towns of Ambalangoda, Balapitiya, and Mirissa. In addition to the artists of the Gamwari lineage, there are also other groups who are connected to those of Gamwari lineage through marital relationships and have internally migrated to other parts of the island and practice the art. There are other groups of puppeteers too who have learnt the art from the Gamwari masters but not related to them, and practicing the art in the districts of Colombo, Kalutara, and Gampaha in the Western Province.