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 )
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 Kandy Esala Perahera
by Janani Amarasekera
The glittering Esala Perahera, which is 235 years old, is one of the grandest events we have in Sri Lanka. Many locals and foreigners look forward to witness this wonderful festival every year. This is held during the Esala month, in August, honouring the sacred tooth relic. Many foreigners who have been fascinated by the Perahera have written notes about it; among them is the famous British poet and novelist, D. H. Lawrence, who describes the Perahera as a "perpetual fire-laughing motion among the slow shuffle of elephants."
Fa-Hien, one of the famous Chinese monks who arrived in Sri Lanka on a pilgrimage in the fifth century A.D. also gives a full description about the Perahera in his book, Fa-Hien Travel Records. "By the side of the King's Palace is the Vihara of the Buddha's Tooth, several hundred feet high, brilliant with jewellers and ornamented with rare gems. Above the Vihara is placed an upright pole on which is fixed a great Padmaraja (ruby). The Tooth of the Buddha was always brought forth in the middle of the third month.
Ten days in advance, the king magnificently caparisoned a large elephant. A man dressed in royal robes on this elephant, who could speak distinctly, and the man went round it, beating a large drum, describing the life and the virtues of the Buddha, and announcing to the public; "Behold, ten days after this, Buddha's Tooth will be brought forth, and taken to the Abhayagiri Vihara. Let all, whether monks or laymen, who wish to amass merit for themselves, make the road smooth and in good condition, grandly adorn lanes and by-ways, and provide an abundant store of flowers and incense to be used as offerings to it."
When this announcement was over, the king placed for exhibition on both sides of the road, the 500 different bodily forms in which the Buddha had appeared in his previous births according to the Jataka stories. All their figures were brightly coloured and grandly executed, looking as if they were alive. After this, the Tooth of the Buddha was brought forth, and was carried along in the middle of the road. Everywhere on the way, offerings were presented to it, and thus it arrived at the hall of the Buddha in the Abhayagiri Vihara. There the monks and the laity gathered in crowds, burned incense, lighted lamps and performed all the prescribed services, day and night, without ceasing till 90 days had been completed until the Tooth was returned to the Vihara. On Poya Days, the doors of the Vihara were opened, and forms of ceremonial reverence were observed according to the rules.
Even during the Kandyan era between 1739 and 1815, the Esala Perahera was given much prominence. Four Devale Perahera, which was dedicated to the four guardian deities, Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Pattini, was merged to the main Perahera during the Keerthi Sri Rajasingha Era.
The Perahera is held according to some rituals coming down from traditions. They are known as ‘Esala-keliya'. This festival begins with the installation of ‘kapa' in each Devale. According to the ritual, for five days after installation of kapa, the kapuralas of each devale take it around every evening in a procession, accompanied by music and drumming and along with flag and canopy bearers and spearmen, and the sacred emblem of the gods.' This is known as the Devale Perahera.
The Randoli Perahera begins on the 5th day. This is a lengthened version of the famous Kumbal Perahera. Palanquins of the four Devales which contains ornaments of the goddess, pitcher, and the sword are added to the Randoli Perahera. On the full moon day, this Perahera reassembles to go to Asgiriya temple, where the casket is placed. Then Devale Peraheras return to their Devales.
Again, in the night, the Devale Peraheras make their way to the water-cutting site at the Getambetota. At the river, the ‘kapuralas' of the devales, go in a decorated boat, to some distance in the river.
At this place, each ‘kapurala' slashes the water with the sacred sword and collects a pitcher full at the place where the sword touched the water. This water will be stored in their Devale for one year, and will be put back into the river, next year at a similar Ceremony.
After seven days from the day Perahara, the ‘Waliyak-netuma', a shortened form of ‘Kohomba-kankariya' is performed at the Vishnu devalaya, along with masked dancing. On the seventh day, the Esala festival will be declared as over. The people of the ‘balibat' caste, who are sorcerers and exorcists, were the dancers in the Perahera during the days of our kings. It was a form of ‘Rajakariya' (duty) to the king.
This time the Kandy Esala Perahera will be held in a grand style and will be a testament that Sri Lanka is ready for tourism after the peace!
Courtesy: The Sunday Observer of Sunday, 25 July 2010