The Nawam Perahera, also known as Colamba Perahera, is an annual pageant conducted during the month of February with the tradition beginning in 1979
Navam Perahera (Pageant), which was originally known as Colamba Perahera, is conducted annually during the month of Navam (February) at Hunupitiya Gangaramaya Maha Viharaya. The arrangements for the pageant are made by Gangaramaya Temple and the entire organising of the event is handled by the youth associated with the temple under the capable direction of the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Galaboda Gnaniswara Thera. This year the Perahera will be held on February 18 and 19. Last year the pageant was held on February 28 and March 1.
Originally Colamba Perahera was conducted in August immediately after the Sri Dalada Maligawa Esala Perahera, in Kandy. The reason behind conducting the Navam Perahera is to commemorate the first sermon of Gautama Buddha- “Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta” at Isipathanaramaya.
Gangaramaya was originally a small hermitage on a piece of marshy land at Hunupitiya within the Municipal Limits of Colombo. It was transformed into a nationally and internationally famous Viharaya by Ven. Dewananda Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera. Jinaratana Nayake Thera was liked and honoured by Buddhists as well as by non- Buddhists. With help, the little Avasaya was turned into a large temple complex quickly. Today Gangaramaya carries three main features, Sharairika Dhatu (physical remains of the Buddha), Maha Bodhi (the sacred Bo tree) and Buddha Rupa (Buddha Images.)
Origin of the pageant
In place of the former Kolamba Perahera an annual pageant is conducted during the month of February with the tradition beginning in 1979 with state patronage of the then Prime Minister, R. Premadasa. The objectives of this pageant are varied. Primarily, it is to venerate the Triple Gem, Buddha, His doctrine -Dharma, and Buddha’s disciples Sangha. Another objective is to commemorate the appointment of Arahants Sariputta and Moggalyana by the Enlightened One as His chief disciples (Agra Sravaka). The two most important positions in the Order of Maha Sangha were conferred on Arahant Sriputta (Dakunath Suw) and Arahant Moggalyana (Wamath suw) by the Enlightened One at the first congregation on Navam Full moon poya day after their Enlightenment.
Navam Perahera is held to sustain traditional dancing and other cultural forms as well as Sinhala Buddhist culture. It also encourages talented artistes and helps keep their art alive and be known. Thus Gangaramaya Navam Perahera emerged during a time when no Buddhist pageant was conducted within the metropolitan area of Colombo.
Millions of people witness this perahera event every year including as many as 10,000 tourists.
The entire organising of the event is handled by the youth associated with the temple under the capable direction of the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Galaboda Gnaniswara Thera
In addition to electric lamps in the streets and special illuminations of the festive days 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 to emerge flames in order to illuminate the surroundings.
Whip crackers serve a number of purposes. Firstly it is a means of clearing the way for the main perahera. Secondly it is a signal that the main procession is approaching.
Beautifully adorned elephants including tuskers provide majesty and elegance to the procession. The tusker of the temple carries the relic casket on its back.
Dancers at Gangaramaya Navam perahera can be categorized into four groups. There are the ordinary dancing teams representing Kandyan dancers, low country dancers and Sabaragamuwa dancers.
“Borukakul karayas” or slit walkers produce special colour to Gangaramaya Navam perahera. 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.
Gangaramaya Navam Perahera is extremely well organized every year. Well in time for the procession Dayake Sabha (Admin committee) is provided with valuable instructions and guidance by the chief incumbent priest. Seating accommodation is provided in the streets in the form of stages.
The pageant parades a number of streets and on the main road in front of Gangaramaya Viharaya and along the Beira Lake - Navam Mawatha. Seating accommodation is provided for the spectators. The perahera arrangements are guided by the directions of the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Galaboda Gnaniswara Thera- fondly known as ‘Podihamduruwo’.