Esala Perahera Essay

The Esala Perahera in Kandy is one of the oldest and grandest of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, featuring dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers, and lavishly decorated elephants. This is held in Esala (July or August) which is the month that is believed to commemorate the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. The Kandy Esala Perahera lasts for ten days while various festivities can be witnessed right throughout. The Sinhalese term ‘Perahera’ means a parade of musicians, dancers, singers, acrobats and various other performers accompanied by a large number of caparisoned Tuskers and Elephants parading the streets in celebration of a religious event.

The Esala Perahera in Kandy is celebrated to honour the Sacred Tooth Relic and the four ‘guardian’ Gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Goddess Pattini. The Kandy Maligawa Perahera is followed in order by those of the Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini ‘Devales’ (Temples dedicated to these Gods) which are situated in the vicinity of the Kandy Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth).

After the Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British in 1815, the custody of the Tooth Relic was handed over to the Buddhist Clergy. In the absence of the King, a lay custodian called the Diyawadana Nilame was appointed to handle routine administrative matters. The purpose of the Kandy Esala Perahera Procession is to beseech blessings of the gods to obtain rain for the cultivation of crops and to enrich the lands of the kingdom.

This ritual is performed by carrying the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha through the streets of the Kandy city which is done with exceptional panache. This is considered as one of the most beautiful pageants in the Asia.

The first ritual ‘Kap Situweema’ (planting of a sanctified young Jackfruit Tree) will be held to commence the rituals that start off Perahera. The ritual is performed according to an auspicious time decided by astrologers. The Jackfruit tree is sprinkled with sandalwood scented water and offerings are is made of nine kinds of flowers and an oil lamp with nine wicks. The priest of the Maha Vishnu Devale (Vishnu Temple) recites his prayers to all the gods.

Tentative Dates of the Kandy Esala Perahera 2018

History of the Kandy Perahera

Old Ceylon Kandy Perahera – the Kandy Perahera originates with the arrival of Prince Dantaha and Princess Hemamala, the son-in-law and daughter of King Guhasiva of Kalinga in India to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kirthisiri Meghawanna (305-331 AD). Following the decree of King Kirthisiri Meghawanna that the Relic should be taken round the city of Anuradhapura once a year, the Esala Perahera had been followed by the succession of kings, though with interruptions caused by foreign invasions.

The most revealing narration of the Esala Perehera is found in the book written by the Chinese pilgrim ‘Fa Hien’ who visited Sri Lanka in the 5th century A.D. The sporadic invasions by the Dravidian Kingdoms resulted in the shifting of the seat of the kingdom from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, then to Dambadeniya and thereafter to other cities. In each retreat, a new temple was constructed to enshrine the Sacred Tooth Relic. Finally, after the shift of the capital to Kandy, the Relic has been undisturbed. ever since and the Esala Perahera has been held annually to rejoice and honour the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Kandy Esala Perahera Viewing Galleries 2018

The Kandy Esala Perahera is believed to be a fusion of two separate but interconnected Perahera’s – The Esala and Dalada. It is a very grand affair with elegant costumes and is celebrated either in July or August depending on the Full Moon Poya Day. The Esala Perahera which is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC, was a ritual enacted to request the gods for rainfall. While the Dalada Perahera is believed to have begun when the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India during the 4th Century AD.

The order of the procession of Kandy Perahera

The Kandy Perahera features five processions organized by the Sri Dalada Maligawa , which is the most venerated Buddhist temple of Sri Lanka and four shrines dedicated to Hindu Gods and a Goddess, i.e. the Shrine of God Natha, the Shrine of God Maha Vishnu, the Shrine of God Katharagama and the Shrine of Goddess Pattini. By 8pm, the Maligawa Perahera or the procession of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth takes the lead and are joined by the processions of the four Hindu shrines. The second procession is from the shrine dedicated to God Natha. The 14th Century shrine that faces the Sri Dalada Maligawa is said to be the oldest edifice in Kandy.

The third is from the shrine dedicated to God Vishnu. The Vishnu Devale also known as the Maha Devale is located close to the Natha Devale. The fourth procession is from the Kataragama Devale dedicated to the God of Skanda, the deity of Kataragama. The Kataragama shrine is located along Kottugodalle Street of Kandy. This procession includes Kavadi, the peacock dance, in which pilgrim dancers carry semicircular wooden contraptions studded with peacock feathers on their shoulders. The fifth and final procession is from the shine dedicated to goddess Pattini. The Pattini shrine is located towards the west of the Natha Devale.

Maligawa Perahera or Perahera of the Temple of the Tooth Relic is comprised as follows:

At the forefront of the procession are the Whip Crackers. The cracking of whips all the way from the very beginning to end of the chosen path of Perahera signifies the approach of the procession. Immediately following the whip crackers are the Flag Bearers carrying standard flags and flags of the different Provinces and the Temples in single file on both sides of the road. The official called Peramunerala riding on the first elephant follows next carrying the register of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth at Kandy.

Next on the procession are the Drummers playing an array of traditional drums and blowing traditional flutes. While the drummers play in explosive style, the teams of traditional dancers create magic with their leaps and moves. The hoards of drummers and dancers are followed up by the officer in charge of the elephants, of course mounted on a caparisoned and decorated tusker. During the ancient and medieval times of Sri Lanka, the officer in charge of the King’s stable had been a high ranking minister of the king. To date the officer in charge of the elephants called the Gajanayaka Nilame carries the silver goad called Ankusa that symbolize his authority. Following the Gajanayake Nilame is another officer of the temple mounted on a tusker: the ‘Kariyakorawnarala’, is the officer in charge of drummers and dancers. He is also responsible for minor functions at the Sacred Temple of the Tooth. Arrival of the Kariyakorawnarala sets the stage for the center of attraction: the Maligawa Tusker who is caparisoned, robed and illuminated, walks majestically in supreme grace and great pride carrying the resplendent golden casket called the ‘Karaduwa’ sheltered with a canopy. The golden casket contains the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha.

The beast’s sense of the solemnity of the procession and the reverence in which the Sacred Tooth Relic is held could hardly be bettered even by a human itself. Held high over the Tusker is a canopy while the Tusker’s walking path is covered by a ream of white cloth called pavada. The devotees, spectators, foreign tourists and all distinguished guests stand steadfast while the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha passes them. The Tusker is followed by two long chains of vibrant dancers, on each side of the road, facing each other with a team of drummers in the middle forming another column. At the end of the retinue is the Custodian of the Temple of the Tooth titled Diyawadana Nilame, dressed in traditional regalia of the high officials of kings, who reigned at the medieval kingdom of Kandy. Diyawadana Nilame is attended by Murawadu (lance bearers), Wadana tal-athu (sunshade bearers and umbrella-bearers) as well as the other officials of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth.

Kandy Perahera – Esala Perahera Highlights

Sri Dalada Maligawa during the festival (Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic )

Randoli Perahera

The Five ‘Randoli’ Perahera’s are continued after the Kumbal Perahera for five consecutive days. Out of these Perahera’s the most beautiful and spectacular Perahera is the Randoli Perahera (golden palanquin). The city of Kandy is fulfilled with tourists and local spectators during this period.

This is the only Perahera in the world which is held for ten days along with more than fifty Elephants and Tuskers, hundreds of drummers, dancers, singers and elegantly dressed pilgrims and spectators.

Diya Kepeema and Day Perahera

After the final Perahera four Perahera’s from the four ‘devales’ head towards the steppingstones of the Getambe Mahaveli River near Peradeniya. The chief ‘kapuralas’ (priests) of the ‘devales’ then wade into the middle of the river. One of the ‘kapuralas’ marks a circle in the water with the point of a ‘golden’ sword. Then the priests’ empties the water into the river that is held in the ‘golden ewer’ (ran kendiya) which they had filled with water at the same spot the year before.

Then they fill them up again with fresh water (The ewers thus filled will be emptied and refilled here at the end of The Esala Perahera the following year). This ritual is known as the ‘diya kapeema’ (water cutting), which takes place on the morning of the last day of the festivities.

Then the four Peraheras start marching back to Kandy. On their way they stop at the ‘Pulleyar Kovil’ (Selvavinayagar Kovil) at Katukelle. Next at an astrologically calculated auspicious moment they proceed to the Adahana Maluwa, where they join the Maligawa Perahera. The five Peraheras parade along the D. S. Senanayake Street and King Street three times. Finally the Maligawa Perahera enters the Maligawa and the devale Peraheras wind up at their respective temples, bringing the annual Kandy Esala Pageant to an end.

The month of Esala (July), during which period this annual pageant is usually held, had been considered a month of celebrations and festivity, both among Indians and Sri Lankans. Even from the lifetime of the Buddha in the 6th century BC, the Esala festival was held to commemorate the Buddha's Conception, his Renunciation and the First Sermon. Esala is also considered to be the beginning of the raining season (Vassana) when the monks commence their Retreat. Also, this month is considered to be the period when ritual performances to the protective divinities are held, (eg Pattini puja) as recorded in the text 'Pattini-Halla'.    Being considered a 'chaste' month, the period is held sacred for the availability of water, hence prosperity.

Several records have been left behind by dignitaries and other visitors to the island such as Robert Knox, John Davy, etc. The description of the perahara. These accounts provide much evidence as to the constitution and organization of the present day perahara. Yet many features seem to have been added and some changed to suit the time and the available resources and conditions.Dalada procession and the social traditions are linked so much together; the month of Esala has been named as the procession month, because of the Esala feast. In the 18th century at the time of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe the four Devala Peraharas and Dalada Perahara were amalgamated and were made series of Peraharas. The procession is a complex procedure in which various customs are involved.

The preliminary preparation for the perahara commences at the beginning of every year. Immediately after the Wesak and Poson pageants steps are taken to inform the owners of elephants the number of tuskers and elephant required measures of repair the dresses worn by the elephants and prepare new dress if required. Measures are taken to repair the required implements like oil torches etc and to fulfill the requirements to make the perahara a success. The astrologer attached to the Sacred Tooth (Nakath Mohottala) is required to prepare an auspicious time for pageant to be inaugurated. Later a meeting of state official and delegates of voluntary associations with the patronage of the Mahasangha is summoned to discuss matters pertaining to services to be executed to make the perahara a glorious event.

Kumbal Perahera (Kumbal Procession)

  • The first procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic stars with the Kumbal Perhara. This is the first Kumbal Perhara shown to the infants to drive away Evil Spells and Illwill. It is a tradition that the procession parades the streets of Kandy for five days. But the Kumbal Perahara is popular and remains as an unfinished procession or a semi procession. The reason is that Nilames do not work in this procession. But the Drummers and Tuskers take part without any ceremonial costumes.

Randoli Perahera (Randoli Procession)

  • This could be seen only with the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic and parade the streets for whole five days which is a tradition. In the days of the Kings the Chief Queen of the Kings paraded in this procession in Palanquins. As the participation of the Queens was not proper to the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic they were stopped but a palanquin is taken in the procession as an honor to the Queen. Today it is taken as the last item of the procession.

Maha Randoli Perahera (Grand Randoli Procession)

  • The Maha Randoli  Perahara is the last Procession. It is the grandest event of the festival. The Tuskers come with garlands and decorated with ceremonial costumes. The Diyawadana Nilame adds a novel glamour to the procession by wearing newly stitched costume.

SOME OF THE MAIN EVENTS IN PERAHARA.

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 Diyawadana Nilame. All the officials Kariya Korala, Gajanayake, Kapuwas Vidanes, Kankanam Rala, Mohottala and Wattorurala greet the Diawadana Nilame and proceed. These traditions are carried out regularly

Sound of Shots in the Perhara

  • It is the custom to fire three rounds of shots before 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.

Kasakaruwo (Whip Crackers)

  • When the procession parades the streets the first participants you see are the whip crackers. It is believed that the noise of the whips depicts thunder and lightning. There are thirty of them. They intimate the arrival of the King. Generally they are used to make room for the Sacred Tooth Relic to be taken in the procession.

Buddhist Flags

  • To indicate that Kumbal Perahra and Randoli Perahahra are Buddhist rituals, Buddhist flags are taken in the procession. The youth clad in white cloth carrying Buddhist flags and their solemn walk is a spiritual and pleasant sight. The cool breeze from the Kandy Lake and the colours of the Buddhist flags add glamour to the procession.

Provincial Flag Bearers

  • According to the traditions of Kandy era the provincial flags are added to the procession and at that time Nilames in charge of provinces carry these flags. This tradition could be seen even today. First is the Sun and Moon flag of Sathara Koralaya, second the white flag of Matale, third the Silk flag of Sathara Koralaya,second the white flag of Matale, third the Silk flag of Sabaragamuwa, 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 taken in the Procession.

Sword Carriers

  • From the time, the Sacred Tooth Relic arrived in Sri Lanka and established in the temple it faced so 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.

Fire Ball Dancers

  • The glow of lightning is magnificently shown by these Fire Ball Dancers. Turning of the Fire Balls is called 'Pandampaliya' which drives darkness of the night illuminating the procession.This Fire Ball Display is dangerous but with a balanced mind and body it is a simple exercise.

Peramune Rala (Front Runner)

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

First Hewisi Group

  • They come behind the tusker with the Peramune Rala (Front Runner). They are the first four Hewisi Players of the Temple. Their Presence in the front of the procession is a tradition. They Perform with a majestic skill.

Gajanayake Nilame

  • He is in charge of the group of tuskers of the King. Symboling this Gajanayaka Nilame walks as if he is in charge of the Elephants and tuskers who walk as if he is in charge of all the Elephants and tuskers who walk in the procession. As a tradition 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.

Drummers

  • These hereditary Drum Beaters beat their drums as a religious ritual to the Sacred Tooth Relic. The procession consists of a collection of several generations of Drum Beaters who play the tunes pertaining to their own tribe. Start of the beat,Welcoming beat,Walking beat,Walinada beat are performed. These professional musicians perform with great respect and honor.

Horanekaruwo (Trumpet Blowers)

  • Trumpet is a well tuned instrument and is to be mastered. It has been popularized as the sound of Dalada Perahara. The tune Gajaga Wannama is well played right throughout the procession.Trumpet is made with skills pertaining to generations. It is an essential instrument of the Dalada Procession. White dress red cotton belts and shoulder are parts of the trumpet blower’s costumes and bare chests.

Coconut Flower Dancers

  • Coconut Flower is the symbol of prosperity. That is because they decorate the Punkalasa with Coconut flowers. The purpose of the Dalada Perahara is to wish prosperity to the country. To symbolize this, dancers carry coconut flowers in their hands. They perform a simple dance reciting verses changing the coconut flower from hand to hand.

Thammattamkaruwo    (Thammattam Players)

  • The drum tied round the waist produce the rhythm by beating with the help of two sticks. The hands and feet are free for them to dance and play the drum easily. Their costumes are made of white and red cloth.     

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