Vajira – Sri Lanka’s Doyenne of Dance

March 20, 2017 at 4:21 pm


by Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne

The prima ballerina of Sri Lanka dance celebrated her 85th birthday recently, I came across a picture of Vajira being surrounded by her family in front of a picture of her legendary partner Chitrasena. A few years ago, when I interviewed the danseuse, I recalled her confession about the feeling of despair and hopelessness which overcame her after the demise of her husband and dancing legend Chitrasena, but many years later we see the strength and determination of this amazing lady who has steered her family and generations of dancers to the fore. Her undiminished spirit has led powerful emissaries to recognize the beauty of Sri Lankan dance.


Humble despite her fame, and entitlement as the first female dancer of our isle, she continues resolutely in promulgating this art form to all who are keen to sit at her feet.


The admirable star of this enthralling movement draws everyone through her passion for dance and her ability to teach and mould anyone who wishes to learn.


Chitrasena himself recognized her potential and through his guidance and patience the beautiful Vajira blossomed. She herself was initially ignorant of her immense talents until it was tapped by her Guru and life partner and later on by circumstances.


‘As a dancer, Vajira’s versatility extends from her technical virtuosity to her dramatic portrayal of character roles. Her contribution is immense and far reaching and her impact will without doubt influence the future dance of Sri Lanka.’ … Chitrasena -1986


One wonders if Chitrasena was a clairvoyant as well when he made the above prediction about his spouse as we have seen it unfold long after his passing away. To this day Vajira remains the matriarch of her dance family, spreading the mantra which began as a young teen to the global stage. Her presence is greatly valued at the studio and her absence is keenly felt as she exudes an aura of strength and fortitude to the rest. She has and continuous to be the role model to many enterprising young women who wish to spearhead any venture as many of her students who learnt the abc’ of dance at her feet have taken wing in their varied careers and diverse roles as mothers and businesswomen.


She continues to lead by example, by engaging in her task daily through meditation and other forms of dance for the more senior students. As an octogenarian, Vajira has taken a step back and allowed her children and grand- children to proceed with the development of the family heirloom, which is dance, but they continue to seek her treasured advise on many albeit all occasions.


Many would excuse her or suggest her to lead a more sedentary life due to her advanced years, yet her vision and passion holds sway and remains undiminished. This per se is a blessing for her family and the country as it enables us to flourish in the sphere of dance.


Vajira’s contribution to the country is not merely dance but her family which she has meticulously guided in this intrinsic aspect of art in motion. She could have retained her talent and expertise to herself but she has shared it among her family and led them through many challenging situations to remain resilient and take on the mantle which they have been handed down by their father. Through her inner strength, she has enabled them to share the responsibility and the great honour they have received as the dance family of the island.


Honour and title come with the knowledge and duty which has to be fulfilled. They have to forge ahead in their inherent quest of drawing people from all over the world to the beauty of authentic dance, which sets this island apart from the rest and Vajira herself has been the guiding light in attaining this goal.