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The final religious ritual of the Kandy Esala Pageant

9 August 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By the time you are reading the newspaper, a strange, but true ritual called the ‘Water Cutting Ceremony’ would have taken place in Kandy. The ritual dates back to the period of our ancient kings. There is a fallacy that a sword is collected by the devale (A shrine where devotees worship Gods) officials for the Water Cutting Ceremony, connected with the Kandy Esala Perhera. This segment of the pageant is the final ritual in the agenda. But, this story has no foundation whatsoever. It’s not only a fallacy, but a myth that has existed for years without any substance. 

  • Diyawadana Nilame of the Maha Vishnu Devale has  to make arrangements for the security of the casket
  • Gedhige Vihare is believed to have been constructed in memory of Queen Chandrawathie
  • Since the time of bringing the Sacred Relic from Delgamuwa to be placed at this Vihare, it has also come to be known as Gaman Maligawa
  • The Mahanayake Thera himself then wraps the Golden Casket in a white cloth, seals it and deposits it in the enclosed area
  • This function has to be carried out by the Mahanayake of Asgiriya alone. If he falls sick, then this task is performed by the incumbent of the Adahana Maluwa

 

Temple officials getting ready for the ‘Water Cutting Ceremony’
- (Pic by JAL Jayasinghe) 

This ritual happens in an amazing manner. The Golden Casket (Karanduwa) is paraded at the Kandy Esala Pageant.  The belief is that a sword is used for the ‘water cutting’ ceremony that takes place at the Getambe Ferry in the early hours of the final day of the pageant. This belief has no base and how it came to being is unknown.   


But, it is the belief of many that when the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought back to Kandy from Delgamuwa, the auspicious hour had passed. As there was no suitable place to keep the Sacred Tooth Relic, it was placed at Gedhige Vihare for the night. It is said that in order to remember this incident the relic was kept at this Vihare. Now the Golden Casket is kept to remember the incident. There is a plausible reason too. It’s recorded that the Sacared Relic was taken to the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalda Maligawa) after a auspicious time was available on the following day. What had happened then can be justified.  

 
On the other hand the responsibility of the Golden Casket now lies with the Diyawadana Nilame of the Maha Vishnu Devale. This official has  to make the arrangements for the security of the casket. The Basnayake Nilame has to wait till the following day until its removed. The instructions for the the ritual are given by officials of the Temple of the Tooth.   
On the east side of the D.S.Senanayke Veediya-right in front of the gates leading to Trinity College- is a flight of steps that leads to the Vihare. Earlier the flight of steps was spread, but now the surroundings have changed and one finds only a small flight of steps, towards ones right. This flight also leads to the Asgiriya Maha Vihare, This Viahre is part and parcel of the Asgiriya history.  Historians claim that the first resident monks to live in the Kandyan Kingdom were from the Kurunegala District.    


Gedhige Vihare is believed to have been constructed in memory of Queen Chandrawathie, the mother of Vikrama Bahu III. She was known to have been a keen devotee of the Asgiriya Maha Vihare. History reveals that this queen was cremated at the spot where a bo tree stands within the premises. This particular place is believed to be over 600 years old. Gedihige Vihare itself is built of rock according to a Hindu style.  This structure is surmounted by a dome also built of rock. The latter is said to contain the ashes of Queen Chandrawathie.   


There is a Buddha statue which was built during the same period when the Vihare was built. While the original building stands, the exterior has some additions. These additions are about two hundred years old and were renovated by the Cultural Triangle in recent times.   
There are markings of a Poya Maluwa, which perhaps indicates that it would have been one of the original Poyage’s, where monks retreated for their rituals and Upasampada.   
The Adhana Maluwa, which denotes the cremation grounds, was in reality used for the cremation of members of the royal family. The last remains here are that of Prince Maha Astana; the son of Dona Catherina or Kusumasena Devi who died suddenly. Kusumasana Devi suspected King Senerath of having poisoned Maha Astana. With this incident in mind, a disgusted Kusumasna Devi left Kandy and resided in the Kegalle District. After sometime the practice was again revived by the kings of Kandy and ended with King Rajadhi Raja Singhe in 1798.   


Upali Thera from Thailand, who brought Upasamapada rites to Sri Lanka during the period of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, is believed to have been cremated at Adhana Maluwa. There stands a memorial constructed by Thai Buddhists to mark where the ashes had been buried. Earlier a Temple tree marked the place before this construction was built.   
Since the time of bringing the Sacred Relic from Delgamuwa to be placed at this Vihare, it has also come to be known as Gaman Maligawa. The sacred tooth relic was shifted to Delgamuwa Vihare in Kuruwita in the Sabaragamuwa Province and kept inside a grindingstone. This was due to fears that the Portuguese may take possession of this sacred object. It was only brought back after defeating the Portuguese.   


An interesting ceremony takes place at the Gedhige Vihare, only known by a few. On the last night of the pageant, after the golden casket returns to the Temple of the Tooth, the casket is taken to Gedhige Vihare and is kept in the custody of the Mahanayake of Asgiriya.

  
There is another story as to why the Golden Casket is deposited at the Gedhige Vihare. It is said that this is done to honour Queen Chandrawathie, who had been cremated at this site. Once the casket is deposited at the Gedhige Vihare, the Secretary of the Temple of the Tooth, who is in charge of the inventory of the articles of the Karanduwa or the Golden Casket, comes to the scene. He then outlines to the Mahanayake Thera the valuables that are in the Casket. The Mahanayake Thera himself then wraps the Golden Casket in a white cloth, seals it and deposits it in the enclosed area.   


On the day of the pageant, the Diyawadana Nilame enters the Gedhige Vihare. Then the secretary reads the inventory again to check every item. Once the checking is over the Golden Casket is handed over to the Diyawadana Nilame to be removed and placed on the tusker for its final journey of the pageant.  

 
This function has to be carried out by the Mahanayake of Asgiriya alone. If he falls sick, then this task is performed by the incumbent of the Adahana Maluwa. Traditionally the Diyawadana Nilame has no power to remove the Golden Casket on his own. It has to be handed over by the Mahanayake for him to be placed on the tusker going in the pageant.   
The Diyawadana Nilame remains inside the Gedhige Vihare until the Mahanayake Thera hands over the Golden Casket, for its removal for the pageant. That then is the ritual at the Adhana Maluwa. 

 

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