Whiff of Kandyan royalty

Whiff of Kandyan royalty

It looked like a movie shoot. A period drama that some of us in the Bangalore of 1984 played out in David Lean’s A Passage to India. Here on a Colombo hotel lawn, in extravagant historical clothing and accessories, actors were similarly fleshing out characters from an exciting romance thriller.

The bride, beautiful in a variant of the sari and ruffles around her waist and puffy princess sleeve had glittery jewellery all over. The dashing young man in a velvety Juan jacket, chunky gold necklace and sheathed dagger in a cummerbund had a swashbuckling look. By their side, bridesmaids, groomsmen, little flower girls — all had elaborate make-up and period costumes as they faced a camera.

It was the third such sighting on my pre-light morning walk by the Galle Face. I reasoned that the shooting was taking advantage of morning light and low humidity. Interrupting the constitutional, I edged closer to the happening. A senior in the group, in a light three-piece suit and carnation, smiled at me. “No, it’s not a film-shoot,” he responded with a laugh. “This is poruwa season. After picture taking, we’ll head indoors for the traditional wedding ceremony.”

To my whispered queries, the affable gentleman, Mr Dissanayake, filled me in. Sri Lankan weddings are grand affairs unlike old times when mainly the rich dressed in this fashion. Subjects then just couldn’t afford it but today many people can. “The jewellery you see here may not always be real,” winked Mr D with a laugh. “Imitation of Kandyan court ornaments are common these days. Customs and traditions of old luckily stay close to the original Udarata Mul Anduma.”

The wedding regalia’s story dates to 1815, when the British took over from King Sri Vickrama Rajasinha, marking the end of one of the world’s longest dynastic rule. During that period, a succession of kings left behind strong legacies such as the royal standard now depicted on the Sri Lankan flag, and the Royal Palace complex and its Sacred Temple of the Tooth. They also left behind another fascinating legacy — the high sense of costumed dressing and style.

In the shopping arcade, a kiosk displaying sparkling Sri Lankan bridal wedding jewellery caught my eye. “This handmade set is typical of the Kandyan princess bride’s ensemble,” explained the sales lady. “It consists of intricate jewellery to cover her — head chain, throat-lets, earrings, pendants with chains, necklace, bangles and hip chain — made with gold or gold-plated, combined with precious metals.” “Of course, not everyone can afford this luxury,” she said with a sigh, and continued, “that’s why people hire costume jewellery to complete their make-believe.”

A buzz in the lobby made me step outside. A group of tourists, all agog, were recording the marriage party procession with hand-held devices. Rose petals fell like confetti everywhere. I waved out to the Juan-jacketed groom. He nudged the pretty puffy-blouse bride. They broke out in a smile and gave me a little wave. I was drawn into the romance — awed by style, splendour and whiff of Kandyan royalty!