Bellanwila Esala Perahera: A religious and cultural icon

21 August 2019 02:29 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Meritorious Ceremony includes three days of Dhamma Deshana Final Randoli Perahera on August 24

For the 69th successful time, the annual Bellanwila Esala Perahera will parade the streets this month. Since its commencement in 1950, this remarkable cultural and religious event has – except on a few occasions – taken to the streets in grandeur.   

The Perahera which started as a ceremony to invoke blessings on people and their cattle in times of famine and epidemics in Bellanwila has gradually developed into a month of religious and cultural celebrations. A concept introduced by the late Ven. Bellanwila Somarathana Thera and later nurtured into a majestic street pageant by Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera, it has come a long way and today operates under the able guidance of Ven. Bellanwila Dhammarathana Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Bellanwila  Temple and Chief Sanghanayake of Singapore. The Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya itself is well-known for its murals, the Bodhi tree as well as the image house. People visit this temple to invoke blessings. The temple has been a source of strength to residents in the area by providing a plethora of valuable services. 

The Perahera which started as a ceremony to invoke blessings on people and their cattle in times of famine and epidemics in Bellanwila has gradually developed into a month of religious and cultural celebrations

‘YATHIWARA SAMARU PAHAYA’ 

Chief architect of the Perahera, the late Ven. Prof. Wimalarathana will be missed during this period. Incumbent Chief Priest Ven. Dr. Dhammarathana Thera has toiled to build the memorial building ‘Yathiwara Samaru Pahaya’ in a bid to commemorate both Ven. Somarathana Nayaka Thera and Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Nayake Thera, and their yeomen service to the temple, the locality and to Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a place that will always remind us of these two vibrant priests who made the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya a place for people to find solace and presented an iconic religious and cultural pageant that is only second to the Kandy Esala Perahera. 

EDUCATION

There are two Dhamma schools which function in English and Sinhala media. In addition to supporting schoolchildren who study Buddhism in both languages, it also enhances their knowledge of English. Furthermore, the ‘Sri Somarathana’ memorial programme grants scholarships to schoolchildren of low-income families. This is a huge relief to parents who struggle to find the means to pay for school material. 

TECHNICAL AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING

The temple provides technical and industrial training to youth and these include welding and lathe work. These trainings along with English and Japanese language classes are offered free of charge to young people in the area. 

The vocational training centre has been in existence for over 30 years. The number of students who enrolled at the centre post O/L exams has soared over the years. The centre continues to offer these opportunities and those who have enrolled are reaping the harvest of the training. 

‘Sri Somarathana’ memorial programme grants scholarships to schoolchildren of low-income families. This is a huge relief to parents who struggle to find the means to pay for school material

HEALTH

The proceeds of the car park go to a health programme aimed at providing financial assistance to patients who undergo surgery. A sum of Rs. 50,000 is provided every month to several patients. This invaluable service has continued without any publicity. The quantum of financial assistance rendered so far to patients is enormous. 

The temple often conducts health clinics in which government doctors serve voluntarily. Lab tests are also done and this is a great service to low-income families. The cost of diagnostic tests is exorbitant and this clinic eases that burden. In addition, vision tests are also done and spectacles donated at the eye clinic. 

  • Vocational training centre in existence for over 30 years
  • Two Dhamma schools function in English and Sinhala media

TRAFFIC LIGHTS

Thanks to the efforts of the late Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera, traffic lights were installed by the Road Development Authority (RDA) at the Bellanthara junction thereby bringing relief to both motorists and pedestrians. 

PERAHERA

It should be acknowledged that the Perahera is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and glamorous pageants in the country. One cannot imagine how difficult it would have been to organise such a gala event 68 years ago. Resources would have been much poorer then, but the sheer will power of the chief prelates – the late Ven. Somarathana Thera and Ven. Prof. Wimalarathana Thera – along with the support of the Dayaka Sabha and the ‘Perahera Komitiya’ ensured a grand show was placed before the public every year. The Perahera committee grants opportunities to traditional dance troupes to display their talents and most importantly includes dance forms of various parts in the country without discrimination. Not only up-country but low-country and Sabaragamu dance styles are also included. The Perahera in Bellanwila is very unique in providing opportunities for men, women and children to take part in. This is significant as most temple pageants disallow women from partaking. Bellanwila Esala Perahera is indeed inclusive in all aspects. 

This meritorious ceremony includes three days of Dhamma Deshana which draws devotees to the historic Bellanwila temple. Invoking of blessings commences with a week -long Pirith chanting followed by the Devadootha Perahera, Dorakada Asna, Kumbal Perahera, Mal Perahera, Paavada Perahera, Ransivili Perahera, Diyakapana Perahera and Deva Daanaya along with many other ceremonies. Since the writer’s first involvement with this Perahera 8-9 years ago, he had always wondered how Ven. Prof. Wimalarathana Thera organised this pageant so well. He soon found out that he always had the fullest support of the Dayaka Sabha, Women’s Society (Kulangana Samithiya), Youth Forum and various other committees affiliated to the temple. They all came together and worked in unison to organise this majestic event. Ven. Dr. Bellanwila Dhammarathana Thera, the present architect of the pageant, also receives the same support from these associations. 

The temple often conducts health clinics in which government doctors serve voluntarily. Lab tests are also done and this is a great service to low-income families 

This is one event which goes beyond commercial norms of having exclusive sponsorships. Even traditional business rivals come together to sponsor the Bellanwila Perahera. Both private and public enterprises support this event on an annual basis. Although there have been many changes in our society, the event as a whole has protected religious and cultural traditions and passed them on from generation to generation. Not only Buddhists, but Hindus, Christians and those of the Islamic faith support and benefit from this week-long event. It is a time for all to come together. It is also an opportunity for vendors to make significant profits during the Perahera time. 

The Perahera commenced on August 18 and will continue till the final Randoli Perahera on August 24, culminating with the day Perahera and water-cutting ceremony the following day. 

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