Rūkada Nātya, traditional string puppet drama in Sri Lanka

Inscribed in 2018 (13.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Rūkada Nātya is a type of drama performed using string puppets, traditionally to provide light entertainment and convey moral lessons to village communities. Rūkada Nātya is performed by family groups who belong to, or are connected with, the lineage known as Gamwari, living around the southern coastal towns of Ambalangoda, Balapitiya and Mirissa. The themes are chosen from folktales, Buddhist stories, ancient literature, historical narratives and trivia with humorous anecdotes from contemporary life or nadagam, an extinct form of ‘folk opera’. Puppeteers make their own wooden puppets and prepare handwritten scripts with dialogues and songs, which they recite while manipulating the puppets. A small band provides a musical accompaniment, and performances are community events. Through the medium of puppet drama, worldviews and core values essential for peaceful communal co-existence come alive for young people to easily comprehend; the practice is therefore an effective way of conveying messages crucial for maintaining cohesiveness among community members. It also allows community members to laugh and have fun together, helping them socialize. Museums play a key role in contributing to the dissemination of related knowledge, as does the traditional practice of holding performances during festive times in May and June at temple premises, traditional community centres in Sri Lankan culture.

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