Kandy’s glittering Esala Perahera | Sunday Observer

Kandy’s glittering Esala Perahera

Pix: Sulochana Gamage
Pix: Sulochana Gamage

The Dalada Perahera or the Esala Perahera is perhaps the world’s oldest religious pageant and held this year for the 1709th time. It is held in the Sinhala month of Esala (between July and August) to honour the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha which reposes in the Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy.

When the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka from Kalinga, (current Orissa) by Princess Hemamala and her husband Prince Dantha in the fourth century, it was handed it over to King Kirthi Sri Meghawarna(King Kithsiri Mevan AD 303 – 331) who reigned in Anuradhapura. An overjoyed King reverently accepted the precious relic and deposited it in a mansion called the Dhamma Cakka Geha which was built by the first Buddhist Kin g of Sri Lanka, Devanampiyatissa. Prior to this the Sacred Tooth Relic was kept at the Meghagiri Monastery (present Isurumuniya).

During this time the Sacred Tooth Relic was taken in a procession to the Abhayagiri Viharaya and this is supposed to be the origin of the Kandy Dalada Perehera. According to the Chulavamsa, King Kirthi Sri Meghawarna began the Perahera in the 10th year of his reign which works out to 372 AD.

King Vimaladhrmasuriya (AD 1591-1604) brought the Sacred Tooth Relic to Kandy then called Senkadagala.

The reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (AD 1747-17810) is said to be the Golden Era of Buddhism. Though he belonged to the Indian Nayakkar dynasty and a Hindu he did much for Buddhism including the reestablishment of the Upasampada or Higher Ordination. He also ordered the combination of the individual peraheras of the devales (shrines dedicated to the different deites) and the perahera of the DaladaMaligawa. This was done on the advice of the Sangha Raja, Velivita Sri Saranankarathera. 

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