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Sri Dalada Perahera makes the hill capital a paradise

19 August 2013 04:01 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Gamini Jayasinghe

The Esala Perahera in the hill capital was originated in 1775 A.D. under the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe and was confined to the processions of four Devalayas- Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini.

At the instigation of Weliwita Sri Saranankara Sanghraja Thera Siamese priests were brought to Sri Lanka for the restoration of Upasampada - Higher Ordination and these priests led by Ven Upali Thera advised the King that there should be a procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic to head the processions of the four Devalayas.
The king issued orders to conduct the hill capital Perahera in that manner. Since then the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic is followed by the Devala Peraheras. Natha Devalaya is given preference as it is believed that deity Natha is Buddha-to-come - Maithri Deva Raja.  

The Maha Vishnu Devalaya Perahera comes next. It is believed that god Sri Vishnu has been entrusted with the custody of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Vishnu Devalaya is accompanied by the Basnayaka Nilames of the Lankatillake, Gadaladeniya, Alawathugoda, Hanguranketha, Morape, and Medirigiriya Devalayas.

This perahera is followed by the Kataragama Devalaya in Kandy. God Kataragama is supposed to be the all powerful General of Sakra. In this perahera the Basnayake Nilame of the Ganegoda Devalaya accompanies the Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devalaya.

Last of all comes the perahera of the Pattini Devalaya headed by the Basnayake Nilame accompanied by the Basnayake Nilame of the Embekke Devalaya. Goddess Pattini, is supposed to exercise control over diseases such as Small pox, Chicken pox and Measles and inclusion of her devalaya in the Kandy Esala Perahera is to placate her and to invite her blessings.



The procession embodies all the traditional forms of music and dancing. The pageant is splendid and attractive especially because it is conduced at night in the glare of lamps both electric and oil with the participation of about one hundred elephants and various kinds of dancers and drummers. Religious rites and traditions are followed to the letter in the conduct of the Esala Perahera in the hill capital.

At the auspicious moment recommended by the astrologer of Sri Dalada Maligawa known as “Nekath Rala” the kap erection ceremony is performed by the Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini Devalayas. This is the first ceremony performed in connection with the Esala Perahera in which the Sri Dalada Maligawa does not participate. Kap situweema is to get a pillar or a post erected as a vow to the gods with a view to performing the proper ceremony on a convenient date. To make the Kap or the pole the stem of an Esala tree (Cassis fistula) is used. Ruk Attana (Aistomia scholaris Apoiyn) or the Jak tree (Artocarpus Integrifolia Urti) is cut and “Kap” is planted in each Devalaya. Before cutting the tree frank incense is offered together with a liquid made of Sandalwood dust.

Under the selected tree nine oil lamps with nine wicks are lit. On a tray on which a white cloth is spread nine leaves of Betel and nine kinds of flowers are offered. This is to supplicate tutelary deities to leave the tree if the particular tree is haunted or inhabited by any such sylvan deity. After these offerings the tree is felled by the Maha Devalaya “Porokaraya”, (wood cutter) who should devote for the purpose for a number of days by confining himself to vegetable food. The tree is cut into parts. The lowest part of the stem is set apart for the Natha Devalaya, second part for the Vishnu Devalaya, the third part for the Kataragama Devalaya and the end part is for the Pattini Devalaya. These logs are taken to respective devalayas in processions. The length of the Kap is one cubit or eighteen inches and one end of the pole is smothered to the shape of a small spire and a white cloth is wrapped around it. At the auspicious time the Kap is erected in a cubicle called the “Kap Ge”. Three coconuts are placed around the Kap. A coconut oil lamp is kept burning by the side of the Kap.

It is believed that the deity haunting the Devalaya protects the Kap from the day of its erection. Hence the “Ran Ayudhaya” – the golden weapon of the god is traversed around the five days after the erection. This is called the “Ethul Perahera” the inner procession which is conducted by the “Sathara Devalaya” without the participation of the Temple of the Tooth Relic.



On the sixth night the actual Perahera known as the”Kumbal Perahera” is started. According to legends and hearsay the Esala Tree or the Kap was originally placed on an ant hill “Humbaha”. Today it is placed in a clay structure resembling the “Humbaha” of the Sri Dalada Maligawa Perahera joins the Sathara Devalaya Perahera on this day. This procession parades streets with the Kandyan chiefs including the “Diyawadana Nilame” of the Sri Dalada Maligawa and Basnayake Nilames of the Sathara Devalayas dressed in their traditional white Kandyan court dress and elephants, the number of which is increased day by day. Flag bearers walk in a single file. They carry flags of different provinces and temples. They are followed by “Peramune Rala,” who rides on the first elephant of the Perahera. He is followed by drummers who play Daula, Tammetttama and Horanewa, which produce the drum roar called “Hewisi”. This provides dramatic outlook to the perahera.  The Gajanayake Nilamme comes next. He rides an elephant with a silver goad in his hand. Traditionally he is in charge of the royal kraal. Next to ride on a tusker is “Kariya Korala”. He is only second to the Diyawadana Nilame in order of precedence and is responsible for all ceremonies of the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

The most important officer of the perahera ceremony is the Diyawadana Nilame who walks in the Perahera throughout the period. He is the lay incumbent and figures prominently in the Esala Perahera. He is dressed with extra ordinary elegance in the full Kandyan uniform. The highlight of the Perahera is the Sri Dalada Maligawa tusker carrying the golden casket containing the Sacred Relics. A canopy is held over the casket. Every day of the Perahera the tusker is taken to Sri Dalada Maligawa Maha Wahalkada. The Diyawadana Nilame places the casket reverently in the “Ransivige” (howdah) on the back of the tusker.

" After five nights of Kumbal Perahera the Randoli Perahera begins and continues for another five nights. Randoli literally means queens’ palanquins. Palanquins are symbols of consorts, the deities or queens of the reigning kings. In ancient Sri Lanka palanquins were used to carry important persons. Priests’ palanquins were known as “Koonamas”. "
The tusker goes down the steps into the streets and is hailed by the cries of Sadhu. He realizes the solemnity of the occasion and reverence attached to it. The tusker is followed by two lines of dancers facing each other on either side of the road with drummers in the centre. At the end of the retinue walks the Diyawadana Nilame. He is attended by lance-bearers, sun-shade-bearers and umbrella bearers and minor heads of temples. The Dalada Perahera is followed by the Sathara Devalaya Perahera.

After five nights of Kumbal Perahera the Randoli Perahera begins and continues for another five nights. Randoli literally means queens’ palanquins. Palanquins are symbols of consorts, the deities or queens of the reigning kings. In ancient Sri Lanka palanquins were used to carry important persons. Priests’ palanquins were known as “Koonamas”. The rich and important persons used the palanquins as they were ornamentations. Queens were carried in palanquins called “Randoli”. Up to 1775 A.D. Randoli were carried along side the elephants in the Perahera. King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe decreed that palanquins should be carried at the end of the Perahera as it is not proper for females to walk alongside the Sacred Tooth Relic. The Randoli Perahera is continued for five nights and the last night’s Perahera is the grandest of all. The last night’s Perahera returns to the Sri Dalada Maligawa after parading the streets and then goes out again joined by Devalaya Perahera to Asgiriya Maha Viharaya Adahana Maluwa. The golden casket is placed there temporarily in Gedige until it is removed on the following day. It is guarded by the Basnayaka Nilames of the four Devalayas. The visit to Adahanamaluwa Viharaya is by royal decree of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe as a mark of respect to his mother queen who was cremated there.

Devalaya Peraheras go out again in the morning on the following day to Getambe ferry for the Diya Kapeema mangalya (Water cutting ceremony). According to legends this ceremony is held to commemorate the victory in the battle of Suras with Asuras. The blood stained swords of gods especially that of god Kararagama were washed and cleansed at the Diyakepeeme mangallya. The Kapas which were in “Kap Ge” of Devalayas are floated in the river.

Another view about the water cutting ceremony is that it is the commemoration of the incidence of making way for king Gajaba and his army by his army commander, “Neelamaha Yodhaya”.  It is believed that Neela Maha Yodhaya had cut the water in the Palk Strait with his sword to make way for king Gajaba to go to Chola state to bring back the Sri Lankan youth who had been taken captive during his father’s reign. The story is that 1,200 Sri Lankan youth were taken to Chola state in India during the reign of King Wankanayake Tissa. His son Gajaba took back all of them together with an equal number of Chola youth to avenges the insult. He had also brought back the Sacred Bowl Relic which had been taken away during the reign of king Walagambahu and the golden anklet of goddess PattiniDevi. It is believed that the water cutting ceremony is the commemoration of this incident. Yet another belief is that the water cutting ceremony had originated from an Indian festival known as “the Assathi Games” which was introduced to Ceylon by King Vijaya and his followers.



At the end of the ritual performances of the Esala Perahera Diyawadana Nilame, Basnayake Nilames and those who are responsible for the conduct of the Perahera go to the President’s House in Kandy to inform the President or the Head of State that the Esala Perahera was conducted successfully and all rituals had been followed. A memorandum is handed over to the head of state. All of them are received by the Head of state who invites them for a tea party. The head of sate addresses the officials and suggests solutions to problems if any at Sri Dalada Maligawa and Devalayas.

The last ritual relating to the Esala Perahera is the seven-day long Waliyak Mangallya held at Vishnu Devalaya. This is to bless everyone who had participated in the Perahera including the the Nilames and Elephants and to counteract the effects of the “evil eye” .

The dance, is performed before the head and the trunk of the elephant that carried the Ran Ayudhaya of the Deity in Maha Vishnu Devalaya. Pirith is chanted in the “Devalaya and alms are given so that the gods might acquire merit. The Perahera is conducted under the direction of Sri Dalada Maligawa Diyawadana Nilame, who is the lay incumbent of Sri Dalada Maligawa and under the patronage of Maha Nayake Theras of Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters.

  Comments - 2

  • Hoona Tuesday, 20 August 2013 08:20 AM

    It was not so. During the time of the Sinhalese Kings, their Queens were mostly from South India, who were Hindus. While the King worshiped at the temple, the Queens worshiped at the Kovil. That was how it started. Nothing to do with Sinhalese culture.

    Sanjay Karuna Tuesday, 20 August 2013 05:30 AM

    The Esala Perahera, embodies the Sense of Community there existed between Hindu Religion and Sinhala Culture. What has happened in the recent Past to destroy that Rapport, which once made this Country Great ?


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