Majestic Procession conducted to commemorate the Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta
Navam Perahera which was originally known as ‘Colamba Perahera’ is conducted annually during Navam (February) at Hunupitiya Gangaramaya Viharaya. The arrangements for the pageant are made by Gangaramaya Temple. The organizing is handled by young people associated with the temple under the direction of the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera.
Originally Kolamba Perahera was conducted in August, immediately after the Esala Perahera in Kandy. The thought behind conducting the Navam Perahera is to commemorate the first sermon of Gautama Buddha titled ‘Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta’ and held at Isipathanaramaya.
Gangaramaya Raja Maha Viharaya
Gangaramaya was originally a small hermitage in a piece of marshy land at Hunupitiya within the Municipal Limits of Colombo. It was transformed into a nationally and internationally known Viharaya by Ven. Dewananda Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera. Jinaratana Nayake Thera was liked and honoured by Buddhists as well as by non- Buddhists. With the cooperation of the people in the area the Thera transformed the little Avasaya (monk’s quarters) into a large temple complex within a short period of time. At present Gangaramaya carries three main features: Sharairika Dhatu (physical remains of the Buddha), Maha Bodhi (the sacred tree) and Buddha Rupa (Buddha Images.) The main features of the temple include Viharaya (main temple) the Chetiya (Pagoda), Bo tree, Vihara Mandiraya, Seemamalikaya and the relic chamber. In addition a museum, a library, a residential hall, a three- storey pirivena, an educational hall and an alms hall are also in the premises.
The origin of the pageant
In place of the former Kolamba Perahera an annual pageant is conducted. This practice began in 1979 with state patronage. The Prime Minister of the country back then was R. Premadasa. The objectives of this pageant are varied. Primarily it is to venerate the Triple Gem, Buddha, His doctrine the Dharma and Buddha’s disciples Sangha. Another objective is to commemorate the appointment of Arahants (Enlightened ones) Sariputta and Moggallana by Gautama Buddha as his chief disciples (Agra Sravaka). The two most important positions in the Order of Maha Sangha were conferred on Arahant Sariputta (Dakunath Suw) and Arahant Moggallana (Wamath Suw) by the Enlightened One at the first congregation on Navam Full Moon Poya Day after experiencing Enlightenment.
The pageant also makes provision to sustain traditional dancing and other art forms as well as Sinhala culture. It also encourages talented artistes to hone their skills and be known. Thus this pageant emerged during a time when no Buddhist pageant was conducted within the metropolitan area of Colombo. The pageant comprises a multitude of participants who in unison make it magnificent.
Various types of performers make the pageant colourful. In addition to the electric lamps on the streets there are torch bearers who provide not only light, but also colour to the pageant. Copra or dried kernel of coconut is put into flambeaus and lit so that flames emerge and illuminate the surroundings.
Whip crackers serve a number of purposes. Firstly it is a means of clearing the way for the main pageant. Spectators confine themselves to the pavement and leave the road entirely for the procession to pass without any disruption. Secondly it is a signal that the main procession is approaching. It is also helps signify the majesty of the procession. It is also a sound offering. It is said that even the celestial beings hear that sound which is an invitation to watch the procession. Devotees young and old and also
schoolchildren walk behind the whip crackers; some of them carrying flags, banners and trays of flowers.
The pageant also makes provision to sustain traditional dancing and other art forms as well as Sinhala culture. It also encourages talented artistes to hone their skills and be known
Beautifully adorned elephants including tuskers provide majesty and elegance to the procession. The tusker of the temple carries the relic casket on its back. Like in the Sri Dalada Perahera in Kandy, Kelaniya Duruthu Perahera and Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya Perahera the elephants walk in Gangaramaya Navam Perahera too. They are adorned in costumes consisting of three parts -the body part, the fore head garland called ‘Neththi Malaya’ and the ear ornament called ‘Kan joduwa’. Large quantities of padding, rich cloth, velvet coral etc. are required to make these costumes. Obviously these ornaments add to the elegance of the elephants which in turn provide colour to the procession.
Performers of drama
Drama performers at the Gangaramaya Navam Perahera can be categorized into four groups. There are the dancing teams representing the dancing styles of Kandy, low country and Sabaragamuwa.
The world’s oldest and most ubiquitous musical instrument, the drum, is used in all these dances. Various kinds of drums such as ‘Gatabera’, ‘Mangul Bera’,’Yak Bera’, ‘Udakkki’, ‘Pantheru’ and ‘Rabana’ are used during these dances. In addition a pair of cymbals-Talampota-also known as ‘Taitalama’ (the Tamil cymbal) is used with the tambourine to provide timing. Tambourines are beaten to produce rich and melodious sounds so that the music is in harmony with the dancing. The songs are known as ‘Vannams’. The Talampota is used in all dances to maintain the rhythm. A loud ringing sound is made when the two cymbals clash.
The most important group comprises the Hewisi drummers. They produce a roar using the large drum which is termed ‘Daula’. Another drum used by this group is the double drum titled ‘thammattama’. Another key instrument used by this group is the bugle horn ‘horanewa’. Meanwhile the conch shell blowers produce gentle and prolonged sounds increasing the serenity of the atmosphere.
Vannam or metrical verses
Dancers in their costumes look elegant when they move in the procession. They sing Vannams while dancing. Vannams are metrical verses sung by dancers to provide lyrical music through their performances. There are eighteen Vannams such as Thuranga (horse) Vannama, Vairody (cat’s eye gem) Vannama, Savula (cock) Vannama and the most important Gajaga (elephant) Vannama. When the performers dance to the tune of Gajaga Vannama they move just like elephants.
A special kind of Kandyan dancing is known as ‘Ves Natuma’. Dancers belonging to this category have to undergo training for a long period of time before they are considered as fully fledged Ves dancers. The performer will be entitled to the Ves costume which is accompanied with a beautiful head dress only after the completion of the training.
Pantheru dancers form another group. Each dancer has a circular instrument called the ‘pantheru’ which produces a clinging sound. This makes the performance melodious.
‘Borukakul karayas’ or stilt walkers produce special colour to the pageant. The performers walk high above the ground on two long poles with pads to rest their feet on. They sneer at the spectators from above and provide them with entertainment.
A significant feature about this pageant is that it is planned and organized in an excellent manner. The pageant parades a number of streets and the main road in front of Gangaramaya Viharaya and along the Beira Lake -Navam Mawatha. Seating accommodation is provided for spectators. The route of the pageant is predetermined and the places where elephants, dancers, drummers and torch bearers, Maha Sangha, office bearers and others who partake in the pageant and well planned. The organisers leave no stone unturned when preparing for the event.