Sanni Yakuma – Benthara
In Sri Lanka, one of the most dramatic forms of dance occurs in exorcist healing rituals (called Tovil, Thovil, Toile, Yakuma and Yakun-natima). These are folk traditions that have been greatly influenced by Buddhism.
The Daha Ata Sanniya is a traditional dance ritual that combines mythical exorcism of 18 types of diseases from the human body, employing deft psychological manipulation. Exorcists wear masks depicting the demons thought to be responsible for a person’s ailments. Most Sri Lankans rarely have a chance to witness this extremely colourful and vibrant ceremony, due to the exorbitant costs and duration of the performance, traditionally lasting up to 12 hours.
A Gurunnanse – or master of ceremonies – holds out a pouch of flammable powder from which dancers light their torches. Fire dancers bend backwards and lower flaming torches into their mouths. A Yakka devil and brightly costumed performers in fearsome, elaborate masks all dance and move to the music and rhythmic beating of Yak Bera drums. This devil dance known as the Daha Ata Sanniya, is a carefully crafted ritual with a history reaching far back into Sri Lanka’s pre-Buddhist past.