According to the legend, the origins of the dance lie in an exorcism ritual known as the Kohomba Kankariya, which was originally performed by Indian shamans who came to the island. According to legend, the Indian shamans came to the island upon the request of a king who was suffering from a mysterious illness. The king was said to be suffering from recurring dream in which a leopard directing its longue towards the king. Which is believed as a black magic of "Kuweni" the first wife of the king "Vijaya". After the performance of the Kohomba Kankariya the illness vanished, and many natives adopted the dance.

It was originally performed by dancers who were identified as a separate caste under the Kandyan Fudel system. They were aligned to the Temple of the Tooth and had a significant role to play in the Dalada Perahera (procession) held each year by the temple.

The dance waned in popularity as the support for the dancers from the Kandyan kings ended during the British period. It has now been revived and adapted for the stage, and is Sri Lanka's primary cultural export.


The dancers wear an elaborate costume including a headdress. The dancer's chest is only covered by a decorative beaded net. This costume is known as the Ves costume. The headdress incorporates a metallic front which makes the dancer look taller than he is. The complete costume also includes anklets that produce a metallic rattle each

The head gear in the ves costume can only be worn by the males & can only be worn after a special ceremony called ves mangalaya in which the male dancerf irst wears the ves vostume


The Kandyan Dance is traditionally performed to percussion only. The most common drum is theGeta Beraya, which is only used in Kandyan Dance. To assist the dancer to keep rhythm a small pair of cymbals knows as the Thalampota is also used. The Vannam's however have lyrics that are sung in tune with the movements of the dancer. These lyrics sing about the virtues of the animal that the Vanna is depicting.

Originally Vannams were kind of recitations. In most Vannams it describes about the behaviours of animals. Such as Elephants, monkeys, rabbits, peacock, cocks, serpents etc. Later dancers have used Vannam as background songs for their performances. There are 18 Vannams in the Kandyan Dance form.

Traditionally a dancer would have to learn to perform all these Vannams before they would be gifted the Ves costume. The most well known among these are the Hanuma Vannama (Monkey), The Ukusa Vannama (Eagle) and the Gajaga Vannama (Elephant).
The word "vannam" comes from the Sinhala word "varnana" (descriptive praise). Ancient Sinhala texts refer to a considerable number of "vannams" that were only sung; later they were adapted to solo dances, each expressing a dominant idea.

History reveals that the Kandyan king Sri Weeraparakrama Narendrasinghe gave considerable encouragement to dance and music. In this Kavikara Maduwa (a decorated dance arena) there were song and poetry contests.