12/12/2011, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Theatre, dance and the arts bring peace between Tamils and Sinhalese

by Melani Manel Perera
The Centre for Performing Arts (CPA) celebrates its 46th anniversary. Founded in 1965 by a Catholic priest, it opened up nationally because of the civil war. Finding new talents is its goal.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Centre for Performing Arts founded by Fr Nicholapillai Maria Saveri, a Tamil Catholic priest, has celebrated its 46th anniversary by organising a number of activities, including inter-faith ceremonies, alms giving, tree planting and blood donations in its 20 centres across the island nation. Established in 1965, the CPA provides a venue for theatre and dance that focus on peace, harmony and equality among the country’s Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities, which have been affected by ethnic strife. Its motto is “Service of God through the Arts”.

Raising social awareness, protecting children’s rights, eliminating social and other forms of discrimination, promoting women’s rights, discovering new artists, encouraging them to be ambassadors of pace, and healing wounds caused by war and natural disasters are among the Centre’s goals.

Known as Thirumarai Kalamandram in the local language, “The Centre for Performing Arts was first created “as a theatre group in Jaffna in North Sri Lanka,” said Anura Ranatunge, the centre’s programme manager. “Youth were brought together from villages and towns so that they could be formed into a cohesive group and overcome barriers of creed, gender and caste”. It was hoped that they could “be inspired to use their individual energy and talents for the broader goal of service to the community.”

At the end of the 1980s, after civil war broke in the north and the east between the government and Tamil rebels, the devastation of so many communities led Fr Saveri to open more centres in the war-torn areas.

In 1992, a coordinating office was opened in Colombo, allowing the Centre to expand into the south of the country.

“In the conflict-ridden North and East, the sense of security, peace and harmony, hope and prospects for a bright future was left in tatters,” Ranatunge explained. “Fear and mistrust have left their marks on the lives of the children and youth who have grown up with war. Through the creative arts, the CPArts supported the return to democracy, peace and harmony in the North and the East as well as a culture of reconciliation and co-existence in the South of Sri Lanka.”

Since its foundation in 1965, the Centre opened an additional 20 in 18 districts. Over the years, it has organised lectures, seminars, meetings and shows. At present, more than 4,000 people take part in its activities, for a total of 20,000 in 46 years of activities.
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