Influences in the Characterisation of the Princess in MANAME

Ernest Macintyre, being an article entitled The Growth of a Tragic Princess”…. published in The Ceylankan, Journal 104, Vol 26/3, August 2023 MANAME

Hemamali Gunasinghe as Princess Maname in 1956

Sometimes desultory, at a passing social phenomenon in early Peradeniya that was the Japanese Noh theatre, a powerful and proximate influence on the creation of Maname and Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s sub- sequent major plays. In essentials, Noh theatre shares a good deal with Sanskrit theatre, but the latter is extinct. The texts of the Sanskrit plays do exist, but these alone were insufficient to instruct and inspire meaningful theatrical innovation.

The latter needed an existing, breathing live model, which is what Sarachchandra found in Noh theatre. The influence of Noh is much clearer in his later plays, where the chorus not only narrates but comments on the happenings on the stage poetically and philosophically. Maname however pioneered the effective and systematic use of both the narrator and the chorus.

An even greater justification for labelling Maname as “made in Japan” comes from the story. It was Sarachchandra’s experience of seeing Akira Kurosawa’s film classic Rashomon that germinated in him the possibilities the Culla Dhanuddhara Jatakaya (the Maname story) offered for the exploration of the psychology of a woman in the grip of anxiety.

Whereas the Culla Dhanuddhara takes a simplistic and conventional “infidelity, thy name is woman” view, Rashomon explores it with great subtlety,   viewing the woman’s “in- fidelity” from several different perspectives. It gave Sarachchandra a model for the content of the play just as Noh theatre gave him a model for its form. The long, arduous, and often frustrating search for an indigenous theatre motivated by both artistic and political reasons found its consummation in a dramatic entity that blended the rusticity of the Sinhala Nadagama with the refinement of the Japanese Noh play.

Rasa, Sita and Philip had their first contact with Sarachchandra’s Maname when at the end of four weeks the seniors arrived. Freshers in all halls showed nervousness. And in this condition Philip, Sita and Rasa, made contact with the making of Maname.

Philip knew a second-year undergrad, also at Jayatilleke, Arthur Seneviratne. He lived next door to Philip’s home in Marys Road, Bambalapitiya. Philip had seen a notice on the board at the Arts Faculty, announcing a major new theatre project at Peradeniya. It was led by Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra, well known as a scholar of the folk theatre of Lanka, apart from his scholarship in Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Western Philosophy. Philip saw that the notice was signed by Arthur, who was called “President, Sinhala Drama Circle”. With the impending torment and pain of the ragging in mind, Philip had an idea that he and Rasa, could soften things for themselves, if he met Arthur and volunteered to join in this theatre project and do any work called for. This association with seniors, if it materialized, Philip imagined, would give some shielding from the worst of the ragging, through the intervention of Arthur.

The meeting was in the afternoon of the day after Philip had seen the notice. The lecture theatre was packed, and some had to stand. Philip, Sita and Rasa sat together. On the raised cement section at one end, sat Dr Sarachchandra, centre. Dr. Siri Gunasinghe spoke first, to introduce Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra.

“I am Siri Gunasinghe of the Department of Sanskrit. Welcome to you all who have shown interest in helping to launch, this theatre project, for a play called Maname. I am helping Doctor Sarachchandra in this project in any way he wants me to, but specifically as art director. I won’t say more, because Doctor Sarachchandra has much to communicate to you. Indicating the centre chair, he announced, “Doctor Ediriweera Sarachchandra”.

“Thanks Siri. Welcome to you all and thank you for showing this support”, began Sarachchandra and delivered his speech as follows:

I am told by Arthur Seneviratne, the president of our Sinhala Drama Circle, that present here are a more than expected number of freshers. That is a gladdening sign for what better way to start your life at university than with an activity that hopefully will set your imagination in motion. What is this residential university at Peradeniya? Immediately, I can tell you, it is not only for passing exams. It is also for the passing of life at a time when it is surging, I remember a short verse, written by a friend.

“Get up you swatter for Bachelor of Arts Give rest to that cramming strife.

Come forth and bring your glorious hearts! To sing, to dance, to act and be another life!”

Exams have their important place, for you need to know what your five senses, especially seeing and hearing, tell you about the world and have jobs when you leave. But that is only a part, not the whole, and the word “university” derives from the word “whole”.You have come here, to use your imagination, which in many things is more important than your five senses, to relate to the whole. Theatre is only one such opportunity. If you do physics, as they do at Colombo campus then outside of lectures, looking at the stars at night and contemplating, the vastness beyond our tiny planet, could be another avenue for the creative imagination. I hope that one day the science faculties will also be moved to this campus, for creativity in the arts is only part of the human story of finding out who and what we are. That is also part of university.

And university is not a closed habitation. We should be very conscious that thou- sands, millions, of people, out in the country outside, do not have this university opportunity. So, let us, maybe feel a little better, if any discomfort accompanies being elite and fortunate, by trying to tell them that it is their culture and lives, as well, that give us inlets and sustenance for our growth. That is the case with the project I am about to introduce to you, Maname. On my right is Charles Silva Gunasinghe Gurunanse. He is a master of Sinhala Nadagama and works and teaches in Balapitiya. His village actors in Balapitiya are mostly cinnamon peelers, by day. Without him this Maname project will not be realized. Charles was with me at every stage of the writing of ‘Maname’. He provided the music, he advised on dance movement and song and participated in discussions about the content of the play. Charles demonstrated the traditional Nadagama style but was agreeable to changes. He is a good teacher.

  Charles Silva Gunasinghe Gurunanse

Now, to divert a little, I have chosen to speak in English. To explain why will take too long. But each of you has a faithful translation, on paper, of what I say. So, you may follow as I speak or read later at your leisure.

From Balapitiya to the city of Athens in Greece, seems a long way out. While I have studied the folk theatre of Ceylon and the Natyashastra of India, and seen it come alive in the Noh and Kabuki of Japan, I have also gone out, through reading, in the calling of university, to find the whole. I studied Aristotle’s theory of Tragedy.

I have taken the story of Maname, from the Sinhala folk tradition, and I am hoping to transform it into a contemporary play for anywhere. The essence of Aristotle’s theory of Tragedy is that misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty [hamartia]. I have adapted this to mean an inner nature, not necessarily an error of frailty. According to Aristotle, tragedy has six main elements: plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle (scenic effect), and song (music), of which the first two are primary. In the structure of Greek tragedy plot or circumstance is crucial; for inner nature will not come into play if circumstances or plot do not give it occasion. For tragedy is an imitation not of men but of an action and of life. Char- acters in Tragedy are victims of circumstance, events in life over which they have no control, and “why did it happen” as is the concluding thought in Maname, is a recurrent complex phenomenon.


I’m not a sociologist, but I like to think we were all, long ago, in the status of folk. So, when we say we are changing the content of the old folk tale, we are changing what we all thought and lived earlier. We are not changing what another social stratum believed. We were that stratum earlier.

The princess of the old folk performance was despised and condemned as evil for assisting in the killing of her husband by the tribal leader. The woman in our Maname is very differently treated. When their marriage is arranged by her father, to Prince Maname, we know nothing about what their respective hamartias were, that is, what their inner natures were, as given them by simply being specific humans. So, the marriage is arranged, and prince and princess get to love each other, though not knowing each other’s natures. Then, when going through a forest, on the way to the prince’s kingdom, they meet a tribal leader, who desires the princess. The differences in the natures of the prince and princess emerge when the prince who has the tribal leader firmly in his grip after combat, asks the princess, who is holding the prince’s sword, to give it to him, to kill the tribal leader. The apparent nature of the princess emerges when she pleads with her husband not to kill the tribal leader, who was generous enough not have the prince killed by the large number of tribal warriors but agreed to single combat instead. The nature of the prince also becomes evident, when he is astounded by her attitude. His grip loosens, the tribal leader apparently snatches the sword from the princess and kills the prince. Circumstance or plot had to make them cross this forest and that led to the further circumstance of the combat between prince and tribal leader, which in turn led to the death of the prince. Finally, these circum- stances placing her helpless in the tribal leader’s forest, determines her actions thereafter. Circumstances seemed to have forced her to say to the tribal chief that she always wanted to give the sword to him. The implication being that she facilitated the sword coming into the tribal leader’s possession. We don’t know. His reaction was that he snatched the sword, and if she had intentions of giving the sword to him, she is despicable. He abandons her. All circumstances. This woman as complex as men or women can be, dies of a broken heart. So different from the original folk tale woman who was simply despicable.

But I need to explain that the despicable princess of the ancient folk tale has not been discarded and replaced by our modern very complex princess, victim of circumstance. There is continuity. This is a little difficult but let me try. She has grown into our new complex princess, as a companion to our own growth into middle classes from the time we, like her, were simple uncomplicated folk. And in her body movements, the way she can sing, chant, and dance she is the same. This continuity is why Charles Silva Gunasinghe Gurunanse is living in my home and teaching me. He grew up with the same princess of old, to what she is now, and has come to know how she has changed, internally, in content.

That does not alter his affectionate presentation of his princess, in the form he knew her when he first came to know her. And now, I am sharing with you the most exciting experience I have had since I began making this play. Aiyapali Manamperi entered Peradeniya with the new batch that has just come in. She entered from Balapitiya Vidyalaya. Charles Silva Gunasinghe Gurunanse knows her because she has been acting the evil princess in the Jataka folk tale from about four years ago in his presentation of the Maname story in the villages of Balapitiya.

When Gurunanse gave me this information I asked him to bring her along so that I could meet her. The first question I asked Aiyapali was whether she was happy to act the evil princess, in the folk story. Instead of answering me she wanted to know why I asked that question. I knew I was meeting a quick-thinking woman. I told her that to give the impression that women are evil, is not a comfortable thing to act over and over again. She then told me that the princess being evil did not mean that women are evil, that the princess is an individual and does not represent women. She only represents herself, as an evil individual woman. After the show I used to talk to the village people about the play, because they wanted to talk about it. I told them that everybody in the world is a separate individual, but in the world today people have been made to think that individuals are what they are, not because they are separate individuals, but because of their race or religion or whether they are women or men.

She spoke in beautiful Sinhalese to express her original understandings. She concluded: “I was very comfortable acting that part in the Jataka story, because an individual woman can be evil, or not evil as in your Maname, which I read a few days ago.”

Aiyapali conveyed what an individual is, better than most academics do. I brought this along to read to you: “An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Individuality (or selfhood) is the state or quality of being an individual; particularly (in the case of humans) of being a person unique from other people.”

At that stage I did not want to tell her that the princess in our Maname is difficult to pin down as being good or not, that she is made complex by circumstances. By that time, I had decided to give her the part. I tested her dance movements and her singing, and found she had a very good grounding from our Gurunanse here.

So, Aiyapali Manamperi will be Peradeniya’s Princess Maname. She knew about this meeting, and I told her that I will be saying some words about selecting her as the princess. She said she would rather not be at this meeting, and I respected her feelings.

To conclude, I must address a matter that seems to concern some theatre practitioners who use modern Sinhala prose in naturalistic movement. The form or convention in which Maname is performed. All of humanity does not communicate content in the same form. I cannot imagine the content of Maname being communicated in naturalistic acting in Sinhala prose dialogue, because we then lose the progeny of the folk tale princess, who I identified as having grown up, in her inner life, in our Peradeniya development. Her inner life has grown up within her outer appearance, which is one of song, chant, dance and music is a vital form that is integral to her growth into our times. Changing content does not have to be accompanied by changing form. Let me say this in another way. When I refer to the language of theatre, I don’t mean the spoken languages such as Sinhala or Tamil or English or German. I mean, the way theatre communicates with an audience, quite apart from spoken language. Theatre has languages all of its own, independent of words that come out of mouths. The form or medium used to communicate the experience of the play is Nadagama.

Yesterday I was talking to a member of the Catholic Newman Society of Peradeniya. He was very interested in the new Maname we are trying to make and asked me why I did not think of doing it in modern prose drama, which is the trend in our culture now. The old chanting, dancing and singing in theatre was the old folk culture, he said.

Almost like an accident it came to my mind, and I told him that I have heard a story that some years ago, some Christian church hierarchy in Ceylon thought they would replace the bread and wine of the Christian Mass with betel leaves, chunam and areca nut, to align Christian ritual with our culture. It was a failure. It failed because the ritual of the Christian Mass is one of the great dramas of Western civilization. It is drama, in the sense that the audience, the participants, are offered the possibility of transformation, as a result of participation, with the offering, “Take, Eat, This Is My Body”. Words said over two thousand years ago, at the original “performance” at Christ’s Last Supper, according to the Christian Bible.

I believe that bread and wine was customarily offered at supper, soon after God was thanked for the meal, long before Christ’s Last Supper, and its infusion with the dramatic new content of transformation into the flesh and blood of Christ, at this fundamental supper of Christianity, was a crucial continuity of form, with a new content.

Now, when some people in Lanka became Christians, they accepted, they absorbed, this dramatic ritual in the cultural form in which it came into the world, because they believe that their God first manifested as Christ in that part of the world’s cultures.

The spoken words of the Christian Mass can be in Sinhala and Tamil languages, as it now is and in ordinary spoken language, not in the form it is spoken in the mass. But the way the words are poetically delivered goes with the bread and wine “language” of its theatre, the bread and the wine, its form, is in- separable from its content, its transformation of the bread and wine to the flesh and blood of Christ, in the belief of participants.

You will have noticed that European individuals who have chosen to follow the path of the Buddha, becoming monks, wear the saffron robes of Asian culture. They also perform meditation with the form of body posture of ancient and modern Asian monks. That is comparable to the use of the bread and wine by Asian Christians.

Why our new princess Maname, tells her new story, in the same form of action and speech, as when she was in olden times, is a natural continuity of growth, of the same “per- son”. I think I’ll stop there because the President of the Sinhala Drama Circle, has a lot of work to do taking down the names of students who volunteer to help and other administration. I have been told that ten minutes can be used for any comments or questions.

Philip was not surprised when Rasa got up and raised his hand. He had noticed that Rasa, gradually forgetting that they had come to this meeting to cultivate Arthur as a buffer against the impending ragging, looked deeply involved in what Sarachchandra was saying. So were Sita and Philip.

“Sir, Doctor Sarachchandra, I do not know Sinhalese literature, I am from Jaffna Hindu College, Vannarponnai. But what you said, makes me feel that this Sinhala play is universal. Thank you, sir. I volunteer to help in any way I can.”

“Thank you for your offer. And I would like to say that I am happy that a Tamil student has volunteered. In 1952 when my The Folk Drama of Ceylon was published, I wrote, about “…. the close connection that seems to have existed even from early times, between the Sinhalese folk culture and the folk culture of the Tamils”. In fact there was a Christian song, composed by Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez who wrote Tamil songs, used in Christian Nadagama long time back, and one of them is similar to Premayen mana ranjithawe nandithewe.. the duet song in the happy times early in the play.”

And then Ibra, the Joker got up and raised his hand. All the seniors knew high fun was coming. The word “Joker”, had become a well-established item in the vocabulary specific to Peradeniya in the 1950’s. What it conveyed was the identification of an undergraduate, who appeared to treat everything as a joke, and as a consequence was himself considered a joke. A joker of Peradeniya was laughed at by others, but his antics or utterances enjoyed, nevertheless.

Ibrahim, called Ibra for short, was one such. When he got up, most seniors remembered Ibra’s performance a year back, when he was first branded as a joker. At a meeting to discuss the national flag he suggested that the two stripes representing the minorities be moved from the threatened position in front of the lion to the lion’s backside for safety.

Up he arose as soon as Rasa sat down. “Doctor Sir” he said aloud: People of Arab descent should also be noted in connection with theatre. Sir, you referred to Aristotle and his influence on your work. So, I would like to recite a short verse which explains itself.

“I’m Mohamed Ibrahim Marrikar

We’re not so advanced they say,

But we transmitted Aristotle,”

So, you Yakkos can now have a play”.

The laughter in the room, mixed with other reactions, was so huge, that Sarachchandra’s response could not, at first, be heard. Some seniors led by Arthur, managed to restore normal- cy, and Sarachchandra spoke again. “Thank you for that timely reminder of a fact that many may not have known. Yes, it was Arab scholars who translated Aristotle and conveyed his work to Europe, from where we ‘Yakkos’ got it!” Laughter, again, as Sarachchandra sat down.

Soon after, the area around Secretary Arthur’s desk was crowded with volunteers for the Maname project, giving their names. After the Maname meeting the three friends strolled along the Old Galaha road. Philip laughed, “I planned the Maname involvement to get Arthur to protect us when the ragging starts. Now we are deeply immersed in Maname itself”.

Sita joined, “Yes, the Maname meeting was an experience. I can’t wait to see it develop.”“I got a lot out of it.” Rasa added, “I felt a lot and learnt a lot”, listening to Sarachchandra. I suppose this is what Sarachchandra meant when he said at the beginning that passing exams is only a part of university”.

Sita, who was hoping to do English Honours, said, “The plot, the arrangement of the events and incidents, is how tragedy works on the stage”.  “Not only on the stage” laughed Philip, adding, “And not only in tragedy. If I had not sat in the same compartment as you, in the train to Peradeniya I would not have met you.” “Maybe, all three of us coming to Peradeniya at the same time may be the circumstance that becomes a plot, which we don’t know about”, volunteered Rasa. They laughed.


CEYLANKAN EDITOR’S NOTE: This short story is Chapter 3 of a 12-chapter memoir A Bend in the Mahaweli about Ernest Macintyre’s time at the University of Ceylon – Peradeniya. It is important to note that each chapter in Ernest’s book can be read as an episode in itself. Chapters 1 and 2 appeared in The Ceylankan J 101 Vol 26(1) February 2023. There is no need to remember what happened in previous chapters as there is no plot in the conventional sense, just a collection of short stories. The characters are drawn from Ernest’s play Rasanayagam’s Last Riot, written and performed in 1996.

Ernest Macintyre, Rasanayagam’s Last Riot, (Colombo: Vijitha Yapa, 1996) …………… Rasa, Philip and Sita, the fictional characters in this story, are the same as the 1996 play. The characters Philip and Sita are loosely based on Ernest and Nalini Macintyre, both CSA members.



The Open Air Theatre at Peradeniya University 

 Prof ER Sarachchandra 



          Maname in progress




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