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Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya History behind the colourful Duruthu Perahera

28 January 2021 02:53 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Duruthu Perahera is held on three consecutive nights starting with the first procession. The Udamaluwa Perahera is started on the upper terrace of the temple 

Kelaniya temple is a splendid example of Buddhist architecture and art. At the entrance of the temple there is a Makara Torana (Arch way) constructed during the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe

 

Annually during the month of Duruthu (January) the most colourful Duruthu Perahera is held at Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya premises to commemorate Gautama Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka. According to chronicles the Exalted One visited Kelaniya on the Vesak Full Moon Poya Day eight Years after the Enlightenment at the invitation of Naga King Maniakkhika. This invitation was made when the Blessed one visited Nagadeepa three years earlier to quell a rebellion among Nagas of Nagadeepa led by Chulodara and Mahodara. The Nagas offered a Gem Throne to the Blessed One on which He sat to preach. The Gem studded Throne was enshrined in the Dagaba built by King Yatalatissa who reigned in the third century B.C. In addition to this Dagaba, which is sixty cubits (80 ft.) in height, the King built a temple at the place where the Buddha was seated to preach Dharma. The Dagaba is in the shape of a heap of paddy and its circumference is 180 ft. In the temple premises are devalayas dedicated to Katharagama, Vishnu, Natha and Vibhishana gods. 

 

Since the Kelaniya temple is situated close to Colombo many visitors both local and foreign are drawn to explore its architecture, statues, frescoes especially the Dhanyakkara dagaba built on the site where the Buddha sat to preach Dhamma


Tsunami situation in Kelaniya area

There are statues of Buddha including the Buddha statue in the meditating posture in the main hall adjoining the shrine room of the reclining Buddha statue at the Kelaniya Temple (Pic AFP)


In the legend there is a story of King Kelanitissa who in the second century B.C. angered over a love affair between his wife and brother executed an Arahant by burning him alive in a cauldron of boiling oil. The story continues that the custodian deities of Sri Lanka were angered by the cruel act of the King caused the sea to flow inland. This was indeed a Tsunami which was about seven Gawwas (28 miles) from the coast was reduced to about six Gawwas (24 miles) which means that a stretch of land about four miles in this coast had been washed away. Legend has it that the king had to float his daughter, Vihara Maha Devi in the sea to appease the guardian deities. The boat carrying Vihara Maha Devi was washed away to the Southern coast of Lanka and was recovered by the Rohana King, Kavantissa at Magama and he married her. Their son, Dutugemunu fought against the Chola king, Elara and unified the country. There is chronicle evidence to the effect that there were many bhikkhus in Kelaniya during the time of the unification of the country by king Dutugemunu and more than five hundred bhikkhus from Kelaniya participated in the Relic Depositing ceremony of Ruwanweliseya. According to chronicles King Kanistatissa (164/192 A.D.) had constructed a poyage (house set apart for Buddhist monks’ private confessions) at Kalaniya Viharaya. King Voharatissa had constructed a parasol over the dagaba. During the Dambadeniya period the sacred area of Kelaniya had been in a dilapidated condition due to the foreign invasion, but King Parakramabahu ll (2150 -1285) renovated  the Kelani Viharaya with granite and had constructed a Mandapaya (pavilion). He had also offered a coconut grove to the Kelaniya temple which would help perform daily rites.

 


Bhikkhus from Burma 
During the Jayewardenepura/Kotte period this sacred place was known as Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya. King Sri Parakramabahu VI (1412 -1467) had renovated Kelani Viharaya. During the reign of king Buwanekabahu VI (1470 -1478A.D) Dharmachethiya king of Burma had sent some bhikkhus from that country to attain the Higher Ordination (Upasampada) at Kelani Ganga where Buddha had bathed during His visit. They were ordained to full priesthood by twenty five bhikkhus led by Veedagama Maha Thera. The Burmese king had constructed a Seema Malakaya known as Kelani Sima. 


The original paintings on the shrine walls had been added during the reign of king Voharakatissa. 

The Kelaniya Perahera, inaugurated in 1927, is held annually and proceeds for three days (Pic AFP)

  
Destruction caused by Kalinga Magha
Kalinga Magha from South India who invaded the island destroyed shrines and temples in our country including the Kelaniya temple, but King Vijayabahu 11 rebuilt almost all the temples and Kelaniya temple was returned to its former glory.

 


Invasion by Portuguese
Again after the invasion of the Portuguese during the sixteenth century the temple was destroyed, but King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe the reigning king of Kandy rebuilt it in 1767 A.D. It was Mrs. Helena Wijewardena and the members of her family that brought this ancient sacred place to the present condition. Since 1888 A.D. the famous artist, Solius Mendis restored the interiors of the temple building to the former glory. For more than 20 years artist Mendis painted frescoes depicting the lives of the Enlightened One and scenes from the Buddhist History in Sri Lanka. He also added geometric ceiling painting to the temple hall.

 


Buddhist Architecture
Kelaniya temple is a splendid example of Buddhist architecture and art. At the entrance of the temple there is a Makara Torana (Arch way) constructed during the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe. Makara is a symbol of protection in local mythology and is a stylized depiction of animals combined into an elaborate pattern. Makara has a body of a fish, feet of a lion, ears of a pig, and trunk of an elephant, tail of a swan and mouth and teeth of a monkey.

 


Shrine built on a rock Platform
The shrine of Kelaniya is built on a rock platform and the external part of the foundation has three rows of carved figures. There is a row of swans and the middle row is of carved Bahirawayas-the terrible ones holding the entire edifices with the ugly expression of the faces that shows anger, disgust and pain. The third row of figures on the outside walls are statues of Hindu deities, Gana Deviyo,(god of wisdom) goddess Ganga, god Vishnu, Vibhishana (Rawana’s brother), Maithri Bodhisattva, Naga King Maniakkhika and god Skandha Kumara (god Karkithikeya- Katharagama deviyo –god of war).

 


Traditional Sandakada Pahana and paintings depicting the king’s fit of rage
At the entrance of the temple there is a traditional Sandakadapahana or Moonstone flanked by two Gajasinghe images with a body of the lion and head of an elephant. Inside walls of the hall are painted depicting Jathaka stories, myths and legends including King Kelanitissa’s execution of an Arahant in his fit of rage.

 


Reclining statue of the Enlightened One
The eighteen cubits long Reclining statue of the Enlightened One is the main focus of the temple. It is in the darkened hall. The only light in the day time is the stream of light peeping from the entrance to the shrine room. There are statues of Buddha including the Buddha statue in the meditating posture in the main hall adjoining the shrine room of the reclining Buddha statue.

 


Dagaba
To the right hand side of the shrine there is the dagaba built in the shape of a heap of Paddy. Incidentally this is the best example of a Dhanyakkara style of dagaba. At the request of the Naga king this dagaba is said to have been built to mark the place where the Buddha sat on a gem studded throne to preach Dhamma. This golden throne inlaid with precious stones is believed to have been enshrined in the dagaba. 

 


Sacred Bo tree 
To the left of the shrine is the Bo tree of the same species of the tree which provided shelter to the Buddha during His meditation.

 


Local and foreign visitors 
Since the Kelaniya temple is situated close to Colombo many visitors both local and foreign are drawn to explore its architecture, statues, frescoes especially the Dhanyakkara dagaba built on the site where the Buddha sat to preach Dhamma. The Kelaniya Temple situated by the side of the Kelani Ganga has an attractive environment with scenic beauty. 

 


Duruthu Perahera 
The festive season of Kelaniya Temple starts in the month of Duruthu (January). Kelaniya Duruthu Perahera, inaugurated in 1927, is held annually on three days. Kelaniya Duruthu Perahera is second in splendour only to the Sri Dalada Maligawa Esala Perahera in Kandy. This is the most colourful and popular low –country procession in Sri Lanka heralding in the New Year according to the Gregorian and Julian calendars. Hundreds of thousands of people throng the sacred town of Kelaniya to watch the colourful pageant with elephants, dancers including Kandyan dancers, low country dancers and Sabaragamuwa dancers drummers, whip crackers, torch bearers and acrobats followed by a large number of devotees dressed in while. 

 


Religious festivals
A variety of religious festivals take place for more than a week. The Duruthu Perahera is held on three consecutive nights starting with the first procession. The Udamaluwa Perahera is started on the upper terrace of the temple with the ritual of handing over a casket. Canon fire marks the beginning of the parade. The casket is carefully placed on a colourful cushion. On the second day the procession or the Pathamaluwa Perahera which is even more colourful is held. The Perahera is continued with elephants carrying the casket and the divine insignia. The festivities reach the climax with the Randoli Perahera, the most magnificent of the processions held on the day prior to the Duruthu Full Moon Poya day. Kelaniya Duruthu perahera is now confined to the temple premises and the roads surrounding it but in the nineteen sixties the Perahera paraded the streets starting from the temple premises and proceeding along the Biyagama road and Pattiya Junction along Kandy road to Thrana Junction and back to the temple premises along Pilapitiya. The curtailment is presumably due to 
security reasons.

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