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Kandy Esala Perahera - The world’s oldest, religious and cultural pageant

12 August 2013 04:19 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Lakmal Sooriyagoda

The historic Esala Perahera in Kandy, the world’s oldest, religious and cultural pageant began on August 7 with the traditional installation of Kapa (Kappa-Situweema) at the four Devales located around the Sri Dalada Maligawa.

This year’s Esala Perahera is considered as the 1701st perahera after the ‘Danta Dhatu’ (Tooth Relic of the Buddha) was brought to the country by Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala of Kalinga Desha in India during the reign of King Kirti Sri Megavarna in the Anuradhapura era.

The paying of homage to the Tooth Relic of the Buddha is a historical tradition by Sri Lankan Buddhists, while preserving the rituals and traditions of this historical event from generation to generation.   

The installation of Kapa is considered not as a task belonging to the Dalada Maligawa but a ritual done by four Devale gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and goddess  Pattini. The four devales are regarded as the guardians of the sacred  tooth relic. The installation of Kapa for this year took place at the auspicious time of 7.59 am last Wednesday (7).  In this ceremony, a young jak tree was cut and planted in each of the four Devales.



When the Perahera was paraded in the streets, a relic casket substitute for the Tooth Relic is placed inside the  “howdah” (ranhilige), which is tied on to the back of the Maligawa elephant.

The Kumbal Perahera, which consist of the Maligawa and four Devale Peraheras will march the streets from August 11 to 15. This magnificent pageant  long associated with cultural and ritual traditions would give a message that we have inherited a grand and unique cultural heritage.

This year’s Randoli Perahera the most colourful  perahera will parade the streets from August 16 to 20 adding glamour to the country’s culture. This Perahera is an expanded version of Kumbal Perahera accompanied with palanquins (randoli) of four devales the Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini.

On August 20 night, the four Devale Peraheras will make their way to the water-cutting site at the Getambe ferry. The Kapuralas of the devales would cleave the waters with the sacred sword at the river and would collect a pitcherful from the places where the sword touched the water. It would be stored in the Devales for a period of one year until the next water-cutting ceremony.   

The perahera will come to an end with the Day Perahera (Dhawal Perahera), which is scheduled to be held on August 21.

This pageant will be made more colourful with exciting cultural events like traditional drummers, caparisoned elephants, dancers from various traditions and singers. This year’s Esala Perahera will consist of more than 53 caparisoned elephants including 14 elephants from the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The perahera will also consist of more than 1200 artistes talented in dancing, drum beating, fireball dancing, whip-cracking and so and so. This event can be considered as a valuable effort made to safeguard the cultural values of the country specially preserving the Kandyan tradition.



The artistes are well-trained under the direct supervision of the Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara in protecting the standards of the historic tradition. Only the talented artistes are selected for each event after being referred for training programmes. A sacred dance called Ves is notably visible in the perahera reflecting the identity of Kandyan tradition. The Hewisi, Panteru, Nai Adi, Udekki (hand drum) are the main cultural events of the Esala perahera.   Prior to the perahera, the artistes have to perform their talents even in the presence of Diyawadana Nilame at the Dalada Maligawa. It is learnt that the present Diyawadana Nilame has initiated a programme to respect the artistes, who contribute their services to the perahera by strengthening the cultural centres they are being trained. The aim of this programme is to provide artistes in Sri Lanka a platform to empower themselves with dignity over their profession.

It has been recognised that organising the annual Esala perahera is a prime duty of a the Diyawadana Nilame. He has to organise activities under the instructions and the blessings of the Mahanayake Theras of Malwatta and Asgiriya chapters. The Government representatives, volunteer organisations and the representatives of the private sector are called for a meeting by the Diyawadana Nilame prior to the perahera. The Kandy District secretariat administers the government mechanism for the success of the perahera by empowering the state patronage. The organising committee of the Sri Dalada Maligawa requested the devotees that they be clad in white  and behave with honour and respect towards the sacred Tooth Relic.

This year’s perahera will be with new dance routines and newly designed customs. More than 30 dancing teams will participate in the perahera with newly designed mixed dancing events. Dancing teams representing from remote areas like Polonnaruwa, Ampara and Anuradhapura are scheduled to participate in this great historical event. Most of them have participated in the perahera for generations going back to more than four generations.



Millions of visitors are expected to view this wonderful religious and cultural pageant. The visitors will have an opportunity to visit two other places located in the vicinity of the Dalada Maligawa. Therefore, they will receive a golden opportunity to visit the International Buddhist Museum as well as the Royal Palace of Kandy.
Sri Dalada Maligawa has established the International Buddhist Museum to showcase the expansion of Buddhism throughout Asia and rest of the world. This is the only museum which demonstrates the growth of Buddhism throughout the world.

The royal palace of Kandy is the country’s last royal residence, which belonged to King Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe. It was the place where the king resided until he was overthrown by the British administration in 1815.  The Magula Maduwa or the Royal Court is one part of the large palace complex. It has been built between the main palace building and the Temple of the Tooth  Relic. It was built by King Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe in 1784. This place is historically very important as it was here the Kandyan Convention was signed between the British and the Kandyan chieftains in March 1815.

In concurrent to the perahera a photographic exhibition on the historic Esala perahera and Dalada Maligawa under the theme ‘Kandyan Focus’ will be held from August 10 to 20 at the Kandy City Centre. The photographs selected for this exhibition captures the significant moment on the Kandy Esala Perahera and Dalada Maligawa. Visitors would be able to enter this exhibition free of charge.   

The sacred Tooth Relic was considered as a property of the king and also served as the symbol of power. The history of the Esala perahera dates back to the reign of King Kirti Sri Meghavarna during the Anuradhapura era. The performance of ritual practices in respect of the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha came into effect during this era and the relevant facts in this regard were recorded throughout history. With the shifting of capitals from time to time, the Sacred Relic was taken to safety places and close to the royal palace. During the time of Polonnaruwa kings -  Parakramabahu I and Wijayabahu I – wanted to continue the rituals. It is believed that King Parakramabahu I held the Dalada perahera to avert the drought that prevailed in the country.



The rituals connected with the sacred relic were written in books during the time of the Yapahuwa kingdom.  During the time of Parakramabahu IV in the Kurunegala era the Dalada Siritha was written describing the ceremonies connected with the sacred relic.During the period of the Kandyan Kingdom, King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe made arrangements to conduct the Esala Perahera with the combination of the Dalada Perahera and the four Devale Peraheras.

There are so many stories woven over the miraculous power of the sacred Tooth Relic throughout history. History tells us that during the period 1818 to 1828, the British administration decided to ban the historical perahera and subsequently the country suffered a severe drought.

The British administration took this decision soon after the Wellessa rebellion, which was launched by locals against the imperialists. The then Governor Edward Barnes held the Dalada perahera on the advice of Kandyan chiefs. A heavy downpour resulted, which surprised the governor of the  powers of the sacred relic. History further stated that owing to this heavy rain, the Kandy Lake spilled over submerging several streets. This rain was known as “Dalada Wathura” and it was later written as a literary text.

Probably, the Kandy perahera is one of most significant events of Sri Lankan history and it is our responsibly to preserve the heritage that made this country what it is today.

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