The Kandy Esala Perahera: A ritual of splendour | Sunday Observer

The Kandy Esala Perahera: A ritual of splendour

For many Sri Lankans, Kandy holds a sentimental attachment due to the sole reason of the Dalada Maligawa. The annual Esala Perahera, held in Kandy, is a key element of the Buddhist calendar every year.

The beginning

The historical story of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha began in 4th century AD, during King Siri Meghavanna’s era in Sri Lanka (371AD). By then Buddhism had already been rooted in Sri Lanka and the kings maintained close relationships with India to foster Buddhism. Hence, it was not a surprise when Kalinga was under attack, King Guhasiva entrusted this sacred relic,which was in the care of the Kalinga Kings for 800 years, to his daughter Hemamala and son-in-law Dantha, to be taken to Sri Lanka for protection; Hemamala famously hiding the sacred tooth in her coiffure, so as not to raise any doubts.

“In the ninth year of this King (Sirimeghavanna), a Brahman woman brought hither (to Anuradhapura) from Kalinga country, the Tooth Relic of the Great Sage Buddha.

The ruler received it with reverence, paid it highest honours, laid it in an urn of pure crystal.... and brought it... to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The King spent 900,000 Kahapanas and arranged a great festival for the Tooth Relic and decreed it should be brought every year...

- Chulavamsa Part I (CH. 37:92-97)

Literary works in Sri Lanka, such as Dathavamsa, Dalada Siritha, and the Chronicle of Mahawamsa have devoted many passages to record various vicissitudes the couple encountered in their odyssey en route to Sri Lanka. However, King Meghavanna initiated the annual parade, Dalada Perahera, to honour the sacred tooth relic. Ever since, Dalada Perahera occurred annually, religiously, only to be interrupted during foreign invasions.

History

It has been stated that the Kandy Perahera is the World’s oldest recorded spiritual pageant, entailing unreserved and overwhelming devotion. Despite the time lapses, there are perennial rites and rituals that remain largely unchanged, making it one of the most complex spiritual ceremonies in the world. This includes the intricate preparatory process that stretches for months before the 10 day pageant takes to the road.

To perform these rituals, there is an extensive array of officials; some are to calculate the auspicious time for various rituals, some are in charge of materials for the procession.

And, there are those who actually take part in the parade, carrying flags of various administrative regions. There is a group of respected monks and officials leading matters related to the performances.

The Perahera season is initiated with the Kumbal Perahera which is traditionally exclusively for children, to dispel evil influences affecting them. Randoli Perahera, which starts after five days of Kumbal Perahera is more elaborative and colourful, and during those days, the Chief Queen took part in the parade, travelling in a palanquin, which later became a symbol after the monarchy was abolished. After five days of Randoli, the Kandy Esala Maha Perahera takes to the road on full moon poya day in August with thousands of people performing.

This Maharandoli Perahera is where the Diawadana Nilame appears in his official attire, representing the glory of ancient royalty that made the security of this relic their first priority. It has been assumed that King Siri Meghavanna along with Hemamala and Dantha, marched along the original Perahera, though it is a forbidden ground for women in today’s world.

[The only section of the Perahera that women are allowed to perform is the Paththini Perahera, the parade from Paththini Devale. The other Devalas are, Vishnu, Natha and Katharagama. In the 18th Century, King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe amalgamated the Perahera from the four Devalas with that of Dalada Maligawa.

During the Portuguese and Dutch control, the independent Kingdom of Kandy remained closed to the outside world. However, after 1815, the ‘perahera penning’ was a vital aspect of reporting on Sri Lanka.

“That they may honour their Gods, and procure their aid and assistance,” he comments, “they do yearly observe a solemn feast and general Meeting, called Perahera; but none are compelled, and some go to one Pagoda, and some to another.

The greatest Solemnity is performed in the city of Kandy.”

- An Historical Relation of Ceylon (1681) by Robert Knox

Perahera today

This resplendent religious pageantry season of 2017 begins on Saturday, July 29 evening and will parade the streets of Kandy every evening, till the Poya Day Perahera on August 8.

The traditional dancing families who have dedicated their lives to service, who perform at the Perahera annually, do so with pride and a sense of ownership. With their majestic skill, the dancers, drummers and other performers, spellbind their audience along the roads.

Peter Surasena, a traditional dancer, a name that carries a load of weight in the Perahera season said, it is vital to remember the Kandyan dancing that is being performed is not merely a dance, but a Shanthikarma, a dance ritual performed with the intention of solving problems, curing illnesses.

The traditional dancer knows how to differentiate the tune when performing on stage, performing at Perahera and performing at Shanthikarma. The Surasena Family performs the rights after the elephant carrying Karanduwa, introducing the Diyawadana Nilame to the audience. “We have four sets of audiences; the Karanduwa in the front, Nilame behind and the spectators on the other two sides. Our dance should please all four sections,” he explained.

Surama Gurunnanse, Thiththapajjala Gurunnanse, Uduwela Family, Molagoda Family are some of the traditional families who still perform at the Dalada Perahera. These families, along with many other traditional families, have an issue of the youngsters showing less interest in performing at the Perahera and committing themselves to the service. However, these proud families are yet to give in. Every year they perform with more pride, more devotion, determined to carry the centuries old tradition forward.

SOME OF THE MAIN EVENTS IN PERAHERA

The Permission

Until the sound of shots for the start of the procession is heard, the tuskers, drummers, dancers and other artistes are lined up. Permission for the start of the procession is granted by the Diyawadana Nilame. All the officials, Kariya Korala, Gajanayake, Kapuwas Vidanes, Kankanam Rala, Mohottala and Wattorurala greet the Diawadana Nilame and then proceed. These traditions are carried out regularly.

Sound of shots in the Perahera

It is the custom to fire three rounds of shots before the commencement of the pageant. At the first sound the processions of the four devalas line up and move to join the procession of the Maligawa. The second sounds indicate that the casket is placed in the Ranhilige on the ceremonial tusker. The third sound indicates that the pageant is set off.

Provincial flag bearers

According to the traditions of the Kandyan era, the provincial flags are added to the procession, at which time, the Nilames in charge of the provinces carry these flags. This tradition could be seen even today. First is the Sun and Moon flag of the Sathara Koralaya, second, the white flag of Matale, third, the Silk flag of Sathara Koralaya, fourth the mythical bird of Thun Koralaya,the flag of the Peacock of Uva Walapane and the flag of the Lotus Flower of Uda Palatha are taken in the Procession.

Sword carriers

From the time the Sacred Tooth Relic arrived in Sri Lanka and was established in the temple it faced many hostilities and hazards. However, the swords which were raised to prevent these hostilities are remembered by the feature of these sword bearers in the procession. They walk with raised swords along the path of the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic. They do not perform any dance but walk.

Peramune Rala (Front Runner)

Traditionally, after the whip crackers, come the Peramune Rala on a tusker with his set of documents of tailpots containing the religious activities of the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic, as well as, the duties with regard to the properties of the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This set of documents should be taken with both hands. He wears a white costume and a triangular hat (Thuppottiya).

Gajanayake Nilame

He is in charge of the group of tuskers of the King. Symboling this, the Gajanayaka Nilame walks as if he is in charge of all the elephants and tuskers who walk in the procession. As a tradition, the Diyawadana Nilame hands over a goad to Gajanayake Nilame. He carries this pointing it to the sky and walks majestically dressed in a colourful costume.

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Program of the Kandy Esala Perahera 2017

On Monday July 24, at 6.58 a.m. the planting of Kap will be held at the four Devales in Kandy, facing North,

and the Perahera will be conducted within the Devale premises until July 28. From July 29 to August 8 the Perahera

will be conducted along the streets of Kandy as mentioned below.

Kumbal Perahera

Saturday, July 29 – Perahera of the four Devales will start at 6.30 p.m. facing South and proceed according to custom to the main gate of the Sri Dalada Maligawa and from the Dalada Maligawa at 6.54 p.m. facing South, the full Perahera will proceed along Dalada Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Pansala Para, Deva Veediya, Srimath Bennet Soysa Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Sunday July 30 – The Perehera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 6.50 p.m. facing South and proceed along Dalada Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Monday July 31 – The Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 6.39 p.m. facing South and proceed along Dalada Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Srimath Bennet Soysa Veediya, E.L. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Tuesday August 1 – The Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 7.12 p.m. facing South and proceed along Dalada Veediya, E.L. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Wednesday August 2 – the Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 6.40 p.m. facing North-West and proceed along Dalada Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Randoli Perahera

Thursday, August 3 – Randoli will be taken from the Devalas at 6.14 p.m., facing North-West and the Devala Peraheras will arrive at the Dalada Maligawa, and at 6.39 p.m., facing North-West join the Perahera, and at 6.44 p.m. proceed along Dalada Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Pansala Para, Deva Veediya, Srimath Benet Soysa Veediya, E.L. Senanayake Veediya, Cross Street, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Friday, August 4 – The Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 8 p.m. facing North-West and proceed along Dalada Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Srimath Bennet Soysa Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Saturday, August 5– The Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 7.50 p.m., facing North-West and proceed along Dalada Veediya, E.L. Senanayake Veediya, Srimath Bennet Soysa Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, Kumara Veediya, E.L. Senanayake Veediya, Cross Street, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Sunday, August 6 – The Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 6.48 p.m., facing South and proceed along Dalada Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, Cross Street, E.L. Senanayake Veediya, Kande Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

Monday, August 7– The Perahera will start from the Dalada Maligawa at 7.53 p.m., facing South and proceed along Dalada Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, Kande Veediya (Hill Street), D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Raja Veediya and return to the Dalada Maligawa along Maligawa Chathurasraya.

The same night the Dalada Perahera will join the Dalada Maligawa Perahera at 1.15 a.m. on Tuesday August 8 facing South, proceed along Dalada Veediya, D.S. Senanayake Veediya to Gedige Viharaya and after depositing the Sacred Relic Casket there, will return to the Devales. The Devala Perahera, before dawn, on August 8, will proceed along Peradeniya Road to the Gatambe Thota for the Water Cutting ceremony (Diya Kapana Mangallaya). Thereafter, the Devala Perahera will return along the same road to the Ganadevi Kovila, Katukelle, where the customary ceremonies will be performed.

Tuesday, August 8– The Devala Perahera will start from the Ganadevi Kovil at 12.40 p.m., facing North and proceed along Peradeniya Road, Dalada Veediya, Kotugodella Veediya (E.L. Senanayake Veediya), Kande Veediya and at D.S. Senanayake Veediya join the Sri Dalada Maligawa Perahera which will start at 2.45 p.m., facing North from the Gedige Viharaya and proceed along D.S. Senanayake Veediya, Pansala Para, Deva Veediya, Raja Veediya and circle round the Maligawa Chathurasraya three times before returning to the respective Devales. The auspicious time for depositing the Sacred Relics is 4.35 p.m. on Tuesday, August 8.

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