The annual historic Bellanwila Esela Pageant commenced for the 63rd year on 15th August and will culminate on 1st September.
A street pageant which started as a ceremony to invoke blessing on the people and their cattle in times of famine and epidemic in the Bellanwila area, has gradually grown into a month of religious and cultural celebrations.
Bellanwila Esela Perahera continues to draw large crowds not only from the District of Colombo and the Western Province but also from all parts of the country. The attraction is not only the colourful features of the Perahera itself but more so the religious activities that leads up to the main event.
This meritorious ceremony includes Dhamma Desana 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, Paawaada Perahera, Ransivili Perahera, and the final Randoli Perahera concluding with the Diya Kapana Perahera and Deva Daanaya along with many other ceremonies.
The Perahera is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and colourful pageants in the country. It encompasses over 50 dance items and 50 elephants caparisoned in beautiful attire. The pageant also gives opportunities to students of traditional dance to display their talents as well as to take dance forms of various parts of the country to greater heights. The event as a whole, passes on religious and cultural rituals through the generations.
The in Bellanwila Perahera is very unique in that it provides opportunities for men, women and children to take part. This is significant as most Temple pageants dis-allow women from participating. The Bellanwila Esala Perahera is indeed quite inclusive in all aspects.
The history of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya goes as far back as the 1850’s when Ven. Thengodagedara Hamuduruwo discovered the Bo tree quite by accident - a rather mysterious event.
It is said he heard the beating of drums and he followed the sounds only to find this Bo tree. With the help of the community members he cleared the area and started to establish a temple. It is strongly believed that the Bo tree is one of the 32 saplings of the Sacred Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura. There is evidence to believe there had been a temple in these premises even during the time of Kotte Kingdom . However with the foreign invasions, the temple could have been destroyed. Following the re-discovering of the Bo tree, the temple gradually grew into one of the most significant places of worship in the Country.
It was Bellanwila Sri Somarathana Thero who became the Chief Incumbent of the Temple in 1947, who started the perahera way back in 1950. The reason for such a pageant was to overcome the sicknesses which reached pandemic proportions and also to safeguard the cultivations from various natural hazards. Year after year, the Perahera grew and became a permanent feature in the Buddhist calendar and received State patronage. Today, the support the Perahera receives from the public in terms of sponsorships and gifts in kind is indeed indicative of the importance of such a religious festival in the Western Province.
The revival of the Perehera Organising Committee took place a few years ago. Prior to that, it was Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thero who organised this whole event with the support of the Dayaka Sabha. As Members of the Committee we know what a gigantic task it is to organise a Pageant of this scale and we marvel at the organising power of Rev. Wimalarathana Thero who still advises us on this great event. The success of the pageant is the concerted effort of all committee members - every task, big or small, is very important for the success of the Esela Perahera , and everyone involved in this event feels blessed to carry out their assigned duties as it earns us a lot of merit.
Although many are aware of the religious and cultural significance of the Perahera, there are many social aspects to this pageant which only a few would know.
The whole event is service oriented. The organising of this event begins a few months ahead. The organising committee meets with both Government and private sector to seek their support. As a result, several roads around the Temple, including the Perahera route are carpeted and the area is well cleaned. The street lamps along the route are replaced with new ones. The area gets a new look.
The Esela Perahera is a permanent feature in everyone’s calendar in the Dehiwala, Mount Lavinia and Boralesgamuwa areas.
We are indeed grateful to both the public and private sector organisations which help us year after year by way of sponsorship for the Perahera to parade the streets in all its grandeur. From August 1st, we provide opportunities to hundreds of small vendors and traders to set up stalls along the roads. As people gather in hundreds, the Perahera provides a fortnight long market for these vendors to sell goods ranging from flowers and incense to balloons, and even useful items such as cooking pots. Large scale business persons also hold Dan-sal stalls to give away soft beverages and snacks to the crowds that gather during this period. People also enjoy providing and feeding bananas and sugar cane to the elephants
This is also a time where people invite their relatives to visit them and witness the Perahera. Those who live along the Perahera route take pride in hosting family and friends during this time. Some visit during the evening and stay till the early hours of the next day. Taking part in religious activities as well as witnessing the Perahera, strengthen family ties year after year. People living along the Perahera route are happy to allow their friends and acquaintances to stay at their balconies and roof tops to watch the Perahera. It is indeed an enjoyable time for young people.
The Perahera is supported by people of all faiths. Christians, Hindus and Islamists alike support in illuminating the streets, setting up the lights in front of their houses. While it brings a religious awakening to Buddhists in the area, it also brings all communities together in harmony.
The wonderful and historic Bellanwila Esela Perahera with the generous support extended by all people, irrespective of ethnicity, cast, creed or economic standing, is a great religious and socio-cultural event which grows annually, bringing blessings upon the people and the country.
(The writer is also the Secretary, Bellanwila Esala Perahera Organising Committee)