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Bellanwila Esala Pageant : An offering more than a spectacle

23 August 2019 03:30 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • Bellanwila Esala festival began in the year 1950 as a form of offering to the Buddha and deities in response to an unfortunate cattle epidemic that pervaded Bellanwila village and its suburbs
  • Bellanwila Esala festival culminates on Sunday (25) with the ancient water-cutting ritual and the Deva Daana (alms)

 

A multitude of religious offerings in Buddhist faith continue to dominate the calendar of Buddhist events in Sri Lanka, giving pride of place to the Full Moon Poya day phenomena in the months of ‘Duruthu’, ‘Nawam’, ‘Vesak’, ‘Poson’, ‘Esala’, ‘Nikini’, ‘Vap’, ‘Unduwap’ etc. During those Full Moon days, arrival of the Buddha in Sri Lanka, the entry of two leading disciples into the Buddhist order, commemoration of the Buddha’s preaching to his father, birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, conduct of the Buddha’s first discourse (sermon) to the ascetics, conclusion of preaching of ‘Abhidhamma’, obtaining of ‘Vivarana’ and bringing of the ‘Jayasri Maha Bo’ sapling to Sri Lanka, etc are remembered with devotion by members of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka. Of them, the month of Esala is of special significance and prominence to the Buddhists for generations since the royal spectacle in the up-country, the ‘Sri Dalada Perahera’ (pageant) fascinates all walks of life and is revered by thousands who converge on the streets of the hill capital.   


This is indeed a seasonal commemoration that paves the way for both Buddhists and Hindus alike, to recall the spiritual significance attached to multiple forms of veneration, pageants (Perahera) and Poojas in Sri Lanka. For Buddhists, the great renunciation of Prince Siddhartha in search of the eternal bliss of truth, conduct of the Buddha’s first Dhammachakka Pavatta Sutta discourse, the conception of Prince Siddhartha in Queen Mahamaya Devi’s womb, the performance of twin miracles (Yamaka Maha Prathiharaya), Preaching of Abhidhamma to the Gods in Thavuthisa heaven, first local ordination of the first Sri Lankan into monkhood at Anuradhapura, the foundation-laying for Ruwanweli Seya and its enshrinement of relics, the great revival of Theravada Buddhist reformation at Malwathu Viharaya and a few other milestone events in the Buddhist calendar necessitate them to recall those sacred memories with devotion and veneration.  


More significantly, the Esala Full Moon Poya assumes prominence since it is the onset of the rainy retreat of the monks, popularly called the ‘Vas’ season which is held across the country on a grand scale. It is owing to this combination of landmark commemorative phenomena, that the Buddhists are used to fittingly observe this day ceremonially, holding largely the ‘Perahera’, giving pride of place to the historic Sri Dalada Perahera in Kandy. In fact, legends also speak of how the sacred Tooth Relic was also placed for public veneration in Kandy on an Esala Full Moon Day.   
In parallel with the great spectacle in the hill country, many leading Buddhist places of worship across the island are in the practice of holding colourful pageants with regalia, hundreds of dancers, caparisoned tuskers and decorated floats. 

 

"Bellanwila festival in parallel with all age-old traditions and practices, generally observed at Sri Dalada Maligawa and elsewhere, prioritizes the veneration of  the Buddha"


Of them, Kataragama, Devinuwara, Aluth Nuwara, Bellanwila and Kotte pageants are leading since those cultural processions are of grand nature and crowd-pullers.   
Bellanwila Esala festival began in earnest in the year 1950 as a form of offering to the Buddha and deities in response to an unfortunate cattle epidemic that pervaded Bellanwila village and its suburbs, claiming the lives of hundreds of farming cattle and driving innocent farming communities and villagers into desperate straits of economic hardships at that time. Late Ven Bellanwila Sri Somarathana Nayake Thero, the Incumbent at Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya at that time, was very much disturbed about what was going on in the area and summoned all victims to the temple where a sacred sapling of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya remains planted for generations.   
This far-sighted incumbent monk conducted minor processions for three days around the temple and made special offerings to the Bodhiya pleading for an immediate end to this tragedy and urging the God Vishnu to bless the village for eradication of this epidemic. Surprisingly,  history records that his offerings with villagers worked well and the situation dramatically improved to the satisfaction of the villagers. That was the initiating onset of the Esala Perahara festival at Bellanwila which has now grown to be one of the mammoth Esala spectacles in the country. Late Ven Somarathana Nayake Thero with humble beginnings developed the temple premises to what it is today and continued this Esala pageant up until his demise in the year 1984.   


Bellanwila Esala Perahera festival in 2019 is organized under the auspices of Ven. Dr. Bellanwila Dhammarathana Nayake Thero, Incumbent at Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya and the Chief Sangha Nayake of Singapore after the tragic departure of Ven Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Anu Nayake Thero in February last year. Ven Wimalarathana Anu Nayake Thero’s dedication and commitment to the annual spectacle brought it to new heights and began to receive state patronage.   
Bellanwila festival in parallel with all age-old traditions and practices, generally observed at Sri Dalada Maligawa and elsewhere, prioritizes the veneration of the Buddha with a week-long ‘Pirith’ chanting, through which the entire country and her people are blessed.
 The festival began after planting the symbolic Kap on Wednesday (Aug 14) and the conduct of Dorakada Ashna Anushasana and the Deva Dutha Perahera which again invoked blessings of the Triple Gem on all Sri Lankans and people at large on Saturday (17).

 

"This is a seasonal commemoration that paves the way for Buddhists and Hindus alike, to recall the spiritual significance attached to multiple forms of veneration, pageants and Poojas in Sri Lanka"


Four Mal Peraheras (pageants of flowers) that paraded inside the temple premises this year for four consecutive days (18 - 21 Aug) symbolized the offerings to the Buddha before the remainder of the pageants began parading the area. This year, the Pavada Perahera which is regarded as one of the most sacred in which the relic casket of the Buddha and replicas of deities are taken on heads atop ‘Paavada’ (white clothes) spread along its way took place on Thursday (22) amid a huge gathering of devotees,   
The ‘Ransivili Perahera’ that parades around the Bellanwila village, reminding the villagers of ancient practices takes place on Friday (23) with many dancing troupes and elephants. The climax of the festival, Randoli Maha Perahera, the final highlight with hundreds of dancers, drawn from many corners of the country is scheduled to parade along Dehiwala - Mahargama road (Prof Bellanwila Wimalarathana Mawatha), Bellanthara - Pepiliyana road and Vihara Mawatha on Saturday (24) before it wends its way back to the 
temple premises.   


The incumbent, Ven Bellanwila Dhammarathana Nayake Thero, dedicated to uphold all traditions and conduct the Esala Perahera on a grand scale, has decided to add several new features to the Perahera this year too, as a tribute to both late Ven Somarathana Nayake Thero and late Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thero, the latter who did his best to conduct this mammoth festival uninterrupted after the demise of his great teacher, late Ven. Somarathana Nayake Thero.   
The final Randoli Maha Perahera, comprised of many caparisoned elephants and dancing groups is indeed one of the most spectacular and colourful pageants in the country. The whole of the arrangement is lavishly supported by resident monks, Ven Boralesgamuwe Pemarathana Thero, Ven Udugampola Hemarathana Thero, Ven Bellanwila Sangharahtana Thero, the Esala Perahera committee, Dayaka Sabha, Kulangana Samithiya, Buddhist Youths’ organization, Community Development Foundation, Tharuna Sansadaya, island-wide Buddhists, donors and many other laymen of different faiths.  


Bellanwila Esala festival culminates on Sunday (25) with the ancient water-cutting ritual and the Deva Daana (alms) offered both at Boralesgamuwa and Bellanwila temple premises before the final Shanthikarma ritual invokes blessings on everyone. The Deva Daana offered to thousands by Boralesgamuwa Pararthasadaka Awamangalyadara Association and Boralesgamuwa villagers at the water cutting location culminates the commemorative event.   

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