Trinity College National Drum & Dance Orchestra Celebrates 45 years of Excellence

by Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne

I was first introduced to the rhythmic wonders of the Trinity College National Drum & Dance Troupe (TCKNDT) by my husband Vidura Gunaratne, who had been a member of this prestigious contingent during his school years. He would regale me with stories of their glorious victories at the many competitions they participated in and he proved his capabilities at several family functions when beating a drum and dancing to the tune of its beat which seemed to come so naturally. To further prove his point he and I witnessed a compelling performance by the orchestra at the Rangaweli held in 2002 and I was awe-struck! The school had certainly struck a chord in the hearts of musical aficionados of the country and claimed a fan base who were culturally spurred.


During the ensuing years I saw the young men perform at various events such as Thrithva Ranga and several other occasions in which they never failed to impress. This year though there has been a vested interest due to the Leader being a cousin of ours, Pawan Dassanayake.


A tête-à-tête with Pawan revealed the milestone celebrated this year by this stellar outfit who has retained supremacy for the past 45 years as the best in the island, one simply cannot expect anything less from the best school of all, now can they? (This sure does prove my affinity to the school in the hills….). “During my tenure in the troupe, we travelled to Philippines, China and Vietnam for festivals and to Korea for a Mask Dance competition in which we were placed 6th out of 38 troupes from various countries.” The present troupe consists of 40 members who undergo rigorous training by our dedicated Instructor Sunil Chandrasiri and the untiring support of our Master-in-Charge, Ruwan Jayarathna.”


The 45th anniversary was commemorated in traditional style at the Trinity College ‘Rangawali 17’ which showcases the talents of the Drum and Dance troupe. This unique event is celebrated once in five years and eagerly anticipated by the students. The Chief Guest at the event was Prof. Srinath Chandrasekera who was part of the ‘baby drummer’ brigade who had a wealth of memories to share about his own experience as part of this prestigious outfit.


In his message, Prof. Srinath points out the profound and lasting lessons learnt as a member of TCKNDT, “Certainly, for the little drummer (not even a teenager by then), the dance troupe reflected the need for deep commitment to achieve results. It meant long hours of practice, almost daily during holidays, missing playtime, trips and vacations and to cap it all, sore, cracked palms thanks to the unyielding hide of the Kandyan drums. ..” adding that, “… Critical was coordinating with the rest of the performers to ensure that their beat too was not only perfect but in harmony…..The instruments would be removed only from the head and not the foot end of the performers and were never to be kept on the ground. Virtues of respect and discipline were thus inculcated during the practice of performing traditional arts.” He further spoke of the overseas experience, “In the 70’s traveling overseas was beyond the wildest dreams of most Sri Lankan kids; above all, to travel without parents, adapt to different cultures, survive European weather when performing bare-bodied, compete internationally and win!…..Winning the Cleveland International Trophy and other awards in 1978 was a significant national achievement and a milestone in the annals of Trinity. However, the young drummers and dancers, through such experiences, gained much more by developing the confidence that their dedication together with the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka made them as good, and in this instance the best from across the world. The remarkable achievements of several generations of talented young performers to follow over 40 years, visibly demonstrated the consistency Trinity has maintained by nurturing such values to its student. At least, the baby drummer’s experience is akin to what Trinity has inculcated to thousands of her products, be it in art, culture, rugby or cricket.”


The main instruments are the geta beraya (upcountry), Dawula (Sabaragamuwa), yak beraya (low country), thammettama, magul beraya and conch shell. Apart from participating in selected competitions overseas, the orchestra serenades the awe-struck audiences at special occasions and ceremonies inclusive of school events.


“… Not only is Kandyan Dancing and Drumming an enjoyable, energetic and exciting art-form in its own right, but it also plays a vital role in ensuring that the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka remain preserved and healthy, even at this time of massive globalization. It is a source of pride to us that Trinity plays an important role in maintaining this tradition….,” stated the present Principal, Andrew Fowler-Watt in his message.


The scheduled events at the Rangawali 17 consisted of a host of impressive performances such as the pooja dance, lee keli, Gajaga, Jasha Lenchina Kolam (low country), Pantheru, Naga Raksha dance, Gini Sisila, Magul Bera and the culmination of the event was the mesmerizing pièce-de-résistance by the TCKNDT, which was the Drum Orchestra. The vibrant dances and the unique beats of each drum coursed through the veins of the audience who could not contain their admiration and it reverberated through the deafening applause at the conclusion of each performance.


In Retrospect

Trinity College Kandy was famous for its prowess in the field of rugby as the boys were known to take to the sport as ducks take to water but the erstwhile Principal, Lionel Fernando (1971-1977) envisioned an unprecedented path which would tap the rhythmic nerve of students and create an awareness and appreciation for the traditional dance and drums which had only been relegated to rural areas. By founding the TCKNDT, he gave the Sri Lankan traditions a facelift and hitherto unexplored recognition. Kandy is known to have spawned a wealth of traditions with Kandyan dancing being its most treasured possession. Regaled for its authenticity and association with royalty from time immemorial, it seemed inevitable that it would find its way into the hallowed precincts of Trinity College.


The event per se granted the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to those who played a pivotal role in creating a prestigious troupe such as the Dancing Teacher and Master-in-Charge of the National Drum and Dance Troupe of TCK, Karunadasa Rajapakse (1970-1990), Dancing Teacher and Master-in-Charge of the National Drum and Dance Troupe of TCK, Vipula Janashantha (1990-2011). It was the latter who was instrumental in forming the TCKNDT Drum Orchestra, which has secured many awards and accolades locally and internationally. He set the benchmark for excellence in the field of Dancing and Drums which has held sway to this day.


Significant Milestones

1970 – The establishment of the Trinity College Kandy National Drum and Dance Troupe

1971 – Karunadasa Rajapakse was appointed as the Dance Instructor. The first show was held at Sangamiththa Balika in Matale.

1972 – The first Rangaweli show was held in commemoration of the centenary celebration of TCK.

1973 – The Dance committee was formed at the 60th anniversary of the Sinhala Literary Association

The play ‘Kalagola’ by Odiris Jothirathna was staged by the dance troupe

1974 – The first ‘Ves’ dancer was inducted by the dance troupe

1975 – A Rangaweli performance was held at Ladies College

1976 – An independent formation of the dance committee which resulted in the separation from the drama committee. Placed first at the National Drum & Dance Competition organized by the National Youth Council

  • Performed at the Scout Festival which hosted foreign delegates from 19 countries.
  • Performed in Nuwara Eliya, Badulla and Bandarawela for the sole purpose of collecting funds for the building of the college pool.

1977 – Invitation by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to perform

1978 – Won at the All Island Drum and Dance Competition in the drum category. Toured Denmark, England, Switzerland and West Germany for the first time.

1979 – Performed at the Dalada Perehera for the first time

!980 – Won the International Pesis Dance trophy

1981 – Performed at the welcome ceremony held in honour of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kandy.

1983 – Performed for the distinguished guests which included the President, Prime Minister and Ministers at the ceremony organized on behalf of handing over the living quarters for the clergy.

1984 – Participated in two events organized by the OBA.

1985 – Performed for various guests who arrived from Sweden, the cricket team of Bishop’s College of Sweden, the cricket team of Berkshire.

  • A performance was held in honour of the founder of TCKNDT.

1986 – Toured Denmark, Great Britain and Sweden for the second time.

  • Participated in the International Dance Festival in Cleveland
  • Performed at the Upcountry Cultural Centre in aid of the Deaf and Blind School

1987 – Performed at the event organized on behalf of our old boy’s Fr. Gnaprakasham being ordained the Bishop of Colombo.

1989 – The brilliant Dance Instructor Karunadasa Rajapakse retired after many years of loyal service. Vipula Janashantha appointed as the new Dance Instructor

1990 – Placed first for the 10th time at the All Island Drum & Dance Competition in the Drum Orchestra category

1991 – Celebrated the 20th anniversary of the TCKNDT through a show titled “Vaadya Ranga Prasanga”.

Performed at the S.O.S.Village in Piliyandala

– Established a joint venture with Hillwood College

1992 – A television performance in collaboration with a western musical group

  • Performed the Rangaweli in Matale, Ratnapura, Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Colombo and Kandy

– Toured Great Britain, Sweden and Netherland for the 3rd time

– Participated in the International Dance Festival held in Cleveland, Sheffield Festival and the Stockholm Water Festival

– Performed in a Japanese television programme

– Performed at Fr. Kenneth Fernando’s Appointment as the archbishop and the erstwhile Bishop of Canterbury’s tour to Sri Lanka

1993 – Performed at the Annual Asian Lawyers Summit at the BMICH

  • Performed at the Duncan White awards

1994 – 10 members of the dance troupe performed the Ves ceremony. An excellent performance at the 50th Bradby celebrations

  • Won the All Island prize at the open drum category at the All Island Drum and Dance Festival
  • Performed at the ‘Gam Udawa‘ ceremony organized by the Gangwata Koralaya Education ministry

1995 – Cultural performances at the church situated in Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 07 in honour of the Asian Christian Summit

  • 10 members of the Dance troupe performed the Ves ceremony
  • Performed at the ‘Night of the Lions’ ceremony organized by the OBA
  • 1996- Brilliant ‘Magul Bera’ performance in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the St. John’s Chruch
  • Was placed first in the Interschool Dance and Drama Festival

1997 – Commemorated the 25th anniversary of TCKNDT

  • Was placed first in the Interschool Dance and Drama Competition and performed at the prize distribution during the event

1998 – Performed at the Duncan White Memorial Shield distribution

  • Rangaweli performances in Ratnapura, Polonnaruwa, Nuwara eliya. Toured Europe for the 4th Participated at the Langothland Westers Ferd International Dance Festival
  • Was placed first in the Interschool Dance and Drama Festival
  • – performed a Ves dance at the 25th National Games Festival
  • Was placed 2nd and 3rd respectively in various categories at the All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2000 – Performed an item titled ‘Dance from the hills’ at the golden jubilee of Ladies College

2001 – Was placed first and second in various categories at the All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2002 – Rangaweli performance in celebration of the 30th anniversary of TCKNDT

Was placed 2nd at the All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2004 – The senior students of the Dance troupe participated in All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2005 – Was placed 3rd at the All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2006 – Was invited to perform at the Royal Philamonic Orchestra performance in Great Britain

  • Performed a show called’ Sadhani Ranga Prabha’ at Ladies College Colombo
  • Was placed 1st at the All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2007 –  A collaboration with the Western Music students of TCK

  • Performed at the 45th anniversary of Hillwood College’s Dance Troupe
  • Invited to perform at the ‘Blended Beats’ event organized by Bishop’s College Colombo
  • Represented Sri Lanka at the ‘Best in the World’ event held in Malaysia in honour of the golden jubilee celebrations of the country

2008 – Represented Sri Lanka in the tour of England

  • Was placed 2nd All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2009 – Represented College at the Independence Day celebrations

  • Performed at the ‘Night of the Lions’
  • Asian Tour titled ‘International Lions’
  • Invited to perform at ‘Kithsiri 2009’ organized by St.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia
  • Was placed 3rd All Island Dance and Drama Competition
  • Felicitation of the teachers
  • Performed at the event organized by the OBA

2010 – A collaboration by Hillwood College and TCKNDT

  • Was placed 2nd All Island Dance and Drama Competition

2011 – Performed at the Cancer eradication programme

  • A deep sense of loss was felt by TCKNDT at the demise of the beloved Dance Instructor Vipula Janashantha Sir

2012 – Sunil Chandrasiri appointed as the Dance Instructor

  • Rangaweli performance in celebration of the 40th anniversary of TCKNDT

2013 – Performed at the ‘Night of the Lions’ event

  • ‘Risgo’ performed at the Dharmaraja College

2014 – Represented Sri Lanka in the Vietnam tour

  • Placed first at the All Island Dance and Drama Competition
  • Performed at ‘Dwini 2015’ organized by Bishop’s College

2015 – ‘Nada Nupa’ performance in collaboration with Hillwood College in honour of the 125th anniversary of their school

  • Represented Sri Lanka at the Philippines Tour

2016 – The dedicated Ruwan Jayarathne accepting the post of Master-in-charge

  • Represented Sri Lanka at the tour of South Korea

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