In the month of August this year, the 66th annual historic Bellanvila Esala Perahera will take to the street.
A concept introduced by the Late Ven. Bellanvila Somarathana Thera, this majestic street pageant has come a long way, and today it is under the guidance of Ven. Bellanvila Dhammarathana Thera, the Chief Sanghanayaka of Singapore.
The Viharadhipathi of Bellanvila Temple, Ven. Dr. Bellanvila Vimalarathana Thera continues to be the chief architect of this esteemed festival. This perahera which started as a ceremony to invoke blessing on the people and their cattle in times of famine and epidemics in the Bellanvila area, has gradually grown into a month of religious and cultural celebrations.
While thousands of people visit the Temple to find spiritual solace, there are a few lesser known facts about the Bellanvila Temple which I feel should come to light during this time. The yeoman service that the Temple has been providing for over 30 years certainly has contributed to the community development in the area.
Technical and Vocation Training
The Temple provides technical and industrial training to youth including lathe work and welding. 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 30 years. The number of students who enrol at the Centre after their O/L exams has increased over the years. However due to the influx of three wheelers and young people being more interested in driving these vehicles, we also see that in the recent years the numbers have dropped. This is unfortunate because skill development is extremely important and perhaps more important than book learning. The fact remains that parents do not encourage their children into vocational training. However, the Centre continues to offer these opportunities and those who have enrolled are reaping the benefits of the training.
The Temple also builds cost-effective houses for the poor every year. This is an incredible service and support to those from low income families in the area.
There are two dhamma schools which function in the English and Sinhala media. In addition to giving support to school children who study Buddhism in both languages, it also enhances their knowledge of English. The Sri Somarathana Memorial Programme also provides scholarships to school going children from low income families. This is a huge relief to parents who struggle to find the means to pay for school materials.
The Temple also conducts health clinics where government doctors voluntarily come to serve. Lab tests are also done and this is an invaluable service to low income families. Especially, the cost of diagnostic tests are extremely expensive to get done and this clinic eases that burden. Going to a government hospital at 5.00 AM is difficult, especially for ailing and ageing patients. Hence this service is greatly appreciated, as it is a reach out programme for the needy. For the doctors who conduct the clinic, this is an opportunity to gain more experience in diagnosing health problems.
In addition to this, vision tests are also done and spectacles are donated during the eye clinic.
The entire income from the car park goes into the health programme, especially to provide financial assistance to patients who undergo surgery. Approximately Rs. 50,000 is provided every month to many people. This service is continually done without any publicity because charity is a meritorious act and should not require any cut-outs or banners.
Support to other Temples
Every year the Nayaka Thera selects a temple in a distant place and supports in many ways. Starting with an alms giving, essential utensils are provided to these temples. Robes are offered to the monks while books are also provided to the children. Individual assistance is also provided to priests.
During the recent floods, the temple was instrumental in collecting dry rations for the affected people and distributed in collaboration with the Government. While many groups and media institutions sought publicity during this calamity, the Temple did a silent service of helping the flood and landslide victims.
Coming back to our main topic this month, it should be acknowledged that the Perahera is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and colourful pageants in the country. People say that it is second only to the Kandy Esala Perahera. It encompasses over 50 dance items. The Perahera Committee also ensures opportunities to students of traditional dance to display their talents and most importantly includes dance forms of various parts of the country without any discrimination. Not only up country dance, but also low country and Sabaragamu dance styles are included. The Perahera in Bellanwila is very unique in providing opportunities for men, women and children to take part. This is most significant as most Temple pageants disallow women from participating. Bellanwila Esala Perahera is indeed very inclusive in all aspects. Although there have been many changes in our society, the event as a whole has protected religious and cultural traditions and passed it on from generation to generation.
Also not only Buddhists; Hindus, Christians and those of the Islamic faith support as well as 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 season. Pineapple, ‘achchaaru’ and gram sellers can recover their monthly income during this period as large crowds gather to watch the perahera.
This meritorious ceremony includes Dhamma sermon sessions which draws devotees to the historic Bellanwila Temple. Invoking of blessings starts with a week-long Pirith chanting. This is followed by the Deva-dootha Perahera, Dorakada Asna, Kumbal Perahera, Mal Perahera, Paawada Perahera, Ransivili Perahera, Diya Kapana Perehera and Deva Daanaya along with many other ceremonies.
The Perahera will commence on the 21st; the final Randoli Perahera will parade the streets on the 27th and will culminate with the day perahera on August 28.
The writer is the Secretary to the Bellanwila Esala Perahera Organizing Committee