Vasana, the cynosure of all eyes in processions | Sunday Observer

Vasana, the cynosure of all eyes in processions

17 October, 2021

Perahera, also known as procession, is a major part of Buddhist culture which has been around for a long time. In addition to humans, elephants are one of the major contributors to its success. The most important part of a procession is the carrying of the relics by elephants. Elephants perform this function in processions such as the Esala Perahera in Kandy, the annual processions of the Kataragama Devalaya and those of the Sabaragamu Maha Saman Devalaya.

‘Vasana’ is among the elephants that contribute to the processions held in various parts of the island. It is also unfortunate that Vasana had been injured in two terrorist attacks. However, Vasana has earned the respect of the people for fulfilling responsibilities even after being bombed at one point.

Vasana was found stranded in a jungle area in the Anuradhapura District, and was brought to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in 1978, and was later offered to the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya by the then Minister Wimala Kannangara.

This elephant has been in the custody of the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya ever since. It is 48 years old and has an attractive and majestic appearance.

Characteristics of the elephant

Ajith Ashoka Liyanage is currently the caretaker of Vasana elephant. He has been dealing with the elephant for about 20 years now. Before him, his father also took care of Vasana. Now, Ajith’s sons are also supporting him. Vasana is considered to be an elephant belonging to the Mangala caste. This elephant has a more mature intellect than other animals and has the intelligence to understand certain activities of the people and events that take place in the environment.

Apart from the elephant language, the common language is also familiar to Vasana. For example, Ajith, the caretaker of the elephant, tells Vasana to drink as much water as it wants by saying ‘Full Tank’. It reflects the training and intelligence that the elephant has received over a long period of time. It is also the custom of Vasana to give a signal when it feels any fear.

Vasana is more fond of people dressed in white. One of the weaknesses of Vasana is that it is not careful about its tusks.

The tip of its left tusk broke off a few years ago. Another feature of the elephant is that it carries its trunk between its tusks during the processions.

The musth season of Wasana is about three to four months from March to July and usually ends about a week before the start of the Esala Perahera.

Bitter experiences

In 1989, the rebels ordered the procession of the Kataragama Devalaya not to be held due to the unrest in the country. One of the reasons for this was that the person who held the post of ‘Basnayake Nilame’ at that time was a political activist.

Despite the threats, the Devalaya did not want to stop the procession which had been held on royal orders since time immemorial, so it was held as usual in 1989.

Vasana elephant, who was young at the time, was carrying the relics of the procession and unexpectedly, on July 18, 1989, the rebels bombed the procession its last say the last day.

Secretary of the Kataragama Devalaya, Pelwatta Adikaram, and some others were killed in the bombings and Wasana was also injured in the attack.

The caretaker of the elephant was also injured in the bombings. People did not pay attention to the relics, but because Vasana understood its duty, it went back to the Devalaya where the relics are kept. Those who were there took steps to place the casket at its usual location. Soon after that, Vasana fell down and was cured after more than three months of treatment.

While returning after attending a procession of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Vasana was shot in the 18th bend area. The neck of the elephant was also damaged. For these reasons, Vasana is still afraid of firecrackers, fireworks, and does not like noisy places.

Cultural significance

Among the rituals of the Ruhunu Kataragama Maha Devalaya, the inaugural elephant of the Devalaya, Vasana, occupies a special place. During the 15-day Esala Perahera, the Maha Perahera in November and the New Year Perahera in April, it is the responsibility of Vasana to carry the jewels of the God Kataragama. When considering other elephants that take part in processions, Vasana is unique as the rituals of Kataragama Devalaya procession differ from those of others.

A person named ‘Perahera Kapurala’ in charge of the jewels of the procession rides on Vasana in a different posture than a person rides on an elephant. That is, throughout the procession, he rides on the elephant with his feet to the right of the elephant. The elephant carrying the jewels should be careful about this as well.

Apart from the processions of Kataragama Maha Devalaya, Vasana also participates in the processions of the Saparagamu Maha Saman Devalaya, Gatabaruwa, Seenigama, Kotte and Kelaniya.

It is the custom of this elephant to carry a garland before and after the processions and to pay homage to the Buddha statues and the gods.