Tusker at the Esala perahera | Sunday Observer

Tusker at the Esala perahera

27 June, 2021

There is a belief among the Buddhists that only a meritorious tusker will have the fortune to carry the tooth relic of the Buddha during the historic Esala perahera which is held annually in the central hill capital of Kandy.

Also, such a tusker is even worshipped by the people and there have been several tuskers that used to carry the tooth relic of the Buddha since the inception of the Kandy perahera.


Among them, the Nedungamuwe Raja is a tusker that is currently performing this function. A few days before the Dalada perahera, the tusker can be seen walking along the Colombo-Kandy main road under military escort.The elephant begins the journey to Kandy from Weliweriya, Gampaha on foot covering a distance of around 90 kilometres.

Born in India, the land of the Buddha, Raja arrived in Sri Lanka about 60 years ago as a baby elephant around five years old.

Navamrajah, who came from India with Raja and landed in Lanka on the same day, has now passed away. A bikkhu is said to have cured a severe mental illness of a relative of the Maharaja in the state of Mysore in India.

Pleased with that, the Maharaja had invited this bikkhu to India with a promise that he would give the Thera whatever he desired.

The Thera asked for two baby elephants. Accordingly, two baby elephants around five years old were given to the Thera and they were later named Navam Raja and Nedungamuwe Raja.

The Thera, thereafter, sold the two elephants to a person in Embilipitiya and the other to a Walawwa owner in Horana since he found difficult to upkeep them. The current owner’s father had bought Nedungamuwe Raja in 1978 for Rs. 75,000. Nedungamuwe Raja first joined the Kandy Esala perahera in 2005. It was following a special request made by the present Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela. Raja, who had never been to the Kandy perahera earlier, walked to Kandy in 2005 after covering a distance of 90 kilometres, but was not given the privilege of carrying the relics at the Dalada perahera.

After the death of the tusker that was used to carry the tooth relic during the Kandy perahera, there was no suitable elephant tusker to carry out this task and, therefore, the opportunity was given to Nedungamuwe Raja. Nedungamuwe Raja has now been performing this task for nearly fifteen years. However, he did not get the opportunity to carry it in 2005 since the leather belts used to place the casket on the previous tusker, could not be used on Nedungamuwe Raja. Later in the year the belts were altered and since then Nedungamuwe Raja has been carrying the casket during the perahera.

Although it lost the privilege of carrying the relics for the first time, Raja continued to carry the casket for nearly fifteen years during the Esala perahera.

Despite being nearly 70 years old, Raja, is still energetic and has never used a vehicle for transport.

Night stops

On his way to Kandy, Raja has been usually making his night stops in four different locations for the past many years. Also, since the present roads have been elevated through many development projects, it has prevented Raja to reach natural water bodies for his usual bath. Since there is no way to bathe in a waterway the owner transports water in trucks for this purpose. Since Raja does not use a vehicle owing to the fear of an accident and considering the importance of the tusker, the government has been providing Raja with a military escort during his trek to and from the temple.

If Raja stays in a place for one night or more while proceeding to take part in the perahera it is considered as a blessing for the owner of that place and the tusker is offered with food and drink during the journey. However, the tusker is allergic to a variety of fruits since he develops bowel disorders. Nedungamuwe Raja, who plays a significant role in the Dalada perahera, one of the most valuable cultural events associated with the lives of Sri Lankan Buddhists and others it is highly revered by the people and the respect they have for the tusker is clearly evident when it makes the annual trek along the Colombo-Kandy main road to attend the perahera. Although it is not clear whether the Dalada perahera will be held this time due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation, Raja, however, will be a part of it as early as possible.