31 Jul #Kandy Esala Perahera
The Kandy Perahera is the most primeval and utterly magnificent grandstand festival of the Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese term ‘Perehara’ means a parade or a procession which is full of traditional performers who has been accustomed to their peculiar performances for the last couple of centuries. It is ceremonialized to commemorate the Sacred Tooth Relic and the four guardian Gods- Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama amd Goddess Patthini. This procession is a unification of the old Esala Perehara which was a ritual performed to request the Gods for rainfall and of Dalada Perehara which is deemed to have in motion with the approach of the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka.
Its legendary history dates back to 305 AD amidst the entrance of Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala of Kalinga, India during King Kirthi Sri Meghawanne’s reign. The Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien’s credentials affirm that the Relic had been taken around the city of Anuradhapura by a succession of Kings despite the foreign invasions before consorting it unharmed to its current home- Kandy. Kandy Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is the most venerated temple located in the Royal palace complex of the last kingdom of Sri Lanka. After the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom to British in 1815 annihilating the Royal reign of Ceylon, the guardianship of the Relic was given to the Clergy. As this admiration was done by a King earlier, the Clergy decided to appoint a curator and called him ‘Diyawadana Nilame’ who is most likely a head minister of a King, to administer the festival phenomenon. To this day the curator post has been handed over for generations of the first Nilame family.
This celebration takes place annually in August to memorialize the first teaching given by Lord Buddha after he attained Enlightenment. The festival preserve for ten consecutive days mingled with plenty of other fiestas that exhibit the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.
The Kandy Perahera is consisted of five processions- The Sri Dalada Maligawa procession and the procession from the four shrines devoted to Hindu Gods and a Goddess.
The Kandy Perahera is initiated with the first step of the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic) procession to be joined bu the rest of the processions.
The first Hindu temple that joins the Perahera is the Natha Devale dedicated to Lord Maitreya- the next Buddha. This temple is believed to be existed even before the Tooth Relic was brought to Kandy. As the belief of Lord Natha protecting Buddhism from the demon Mara- The Natha Devala takes the proud position of just behind the Maligawa Perahera.
Then joins the Vishnu Devale which is in the inner complex of the Royal palace. As Lord Vishnu has vowed to protect Sri Lanka while protecting Buddhism is believed to be a future Buddha after Lord Natha- thus enlisting third in the Kandy Perahera.
The Katharagama Devale dedicated to Lord Skanda also joins as a guardian of Buddhism. Both beginning and the end of the Kandy Perahera is inaugurated in a Katharagama Devale. The traditional Kap situweema ritual or the installation of a sanctified log at the premises of the temple is done with great devotion to seek blessings to connote the beginning of the festival. The water cutting ceremony is the epilogue of the festival as the Kapurala(official of the temple) cut water of the Menik River with a sword at the dawn amd the devotees submerge in the shallow waters of the river for purification concluding the Kandy Perahera festival.
The procession from Pattini Devale located in the west of the Natha Devale joins last to honor Lord Buddha as a guardian of Buddhism as well as the island. The Goddess is the patron of fertility and health worshipped in times of drought and feminine to be saved and to prosper with thriving harvest.
The Kandy Perahera is perfected by the stunning performers of various casts and creeds that had been performing for generations to achieve a flawless ceremony every year. The Whip crackers are used to make room for the Relic to be taken through as well as to publicize the arrival of the King. Then according to the tradition comes the Peramune Rala (Front Runner) on a tusker with his set of documents of religious activities and duties of the Temple of the Tooth Relic. He wears a white elegant costume and carry the document with honor in both hands.
The first Hewisi Group of four Players of the temple perform majestically taking the lead of all performers as tradition demands.
The Youth in white carrying the Buddhist flags walk coolly in chime to mark the Kumbal Perahera and Randoli Perahera are Buddhist rituals.
The traditional flag bearers are a cast that had been taking part in the procession for generations after the Nilames in charge of the provinces declined with the Royals. The original five provinces have seven flags to be carried in the procession as been carrying till now.
The Sword carriers walk placidly yet with pride to honor the men who fought to protect the Tooth Relic and ultimately Buddhism, from time to time in many adversities as if to remind people of their warriors.
The Fire ball dancers and the fire breathers are a breathtaking sight to see in the procession in the night as they illuminate the whole area. The glow of the fireball well balanced in the hand of the performer circling around his body up and down to the beat of the Hewisi and Drums is ecstatic and alluring as much as it’s dangerous. The sole purpose of the fire breathers is to illuminate the procession road for the devotees to make way to the Relic. These were done with extreme caution and practice of techniques for a long period of time passed on over generations.
The Gajanayaka Nilame who is the authoritarian of the group of Tuskers belong to the King, moves on a Tusker,dressed in the traditional Nilame costume, as the owner and the caretaker of the Elephants and Tuskers in the procession, with the traditional goad pointed to the sky to exhibit his authority and duty, as the Elephants are exceptional in the procession.
The procession is a long queue of performers and is consist of several types of drummers. In the Sri Lankan culture there are different tribes and casts where each has a different drum and a tune unique to them. This cultural pageant called Kandy Perahera is the stage for these artists. It consists of several generations of professionals as they perform with respect to their rituals and honor the Tooth Relic.
The Horanawa or the trumpet is mostly famed as the sound of the Dalada Perahera. A specific tune named Gajaga Wannama is very peculiar in the Perahera. As Gajaga means Elephant, most of the elephants can be seen dancing in motion to the tune in talking three steps front and two steps back quavering their trunks to the beat.
The specia Kawadi and Peacock dancers of Katharagama Devale adds more delicacy and cultural importance as it’s the unification of two different cultures and religions making Sri Lanka an epitome for the cultural harmony. In reality the peacock dances before the rainfall & the dancers signify the faith of the devotees that in the end of the ceremony they will surely gain success.
The women dancers from Pattini Devale procession adds devotion and purity and acts as a prayer to the Goddess to seek blessings for the country to prosper.
The Maha Randoli Perahera is the peak of glory in the entire festival. It is the grandest of them all processions. The Tuskers are all decked up in garlands, light studded glimmering clothes and costumes while the Nilames in newly meshed traditional wear adds a neoteric magnetism to the procession. It is explicitly radiant to the eye as one would wonder in mind if such a big and wild animal can be so calm and conquered and brought up to elevate nobility, ethics and respectability.
This procession is the concluding Perahera of the five consecutive days after the Kumbal Perahera thus is the most remarkable. With respect to the Randoli Perahera which is the final five days the Kumbal Perahera which is the first five days are a bit low-key.
As a tradition the Tusker with the Relic parades the streets for five days in accordance with the Randoli Perahera along with the Queen’s palanquin. The Tusker walks on a white clothe to honor the relic on his back along to the music with great respect and poise.
The Randoli Perahera is the third stage of the Dalada Perahera. Randoli signifies the participation of Royalty in the procession as it was the name given to the palanquins in which the Queen was taken. In the old days of Esala Perahera the Chief Queen was taken in the golden palanquin in the procession but later as it became the Dalada Perahera it was not convenient for the Queen to participate in the procession along with the Sacred Tooth Relic. So, the palanquin was taken instead as a honor to the Queen. There are four Randolis (golden palanquins) now to represent the four Devale that adds up dazzle to the procession more and more.
It is the only Perahera which is spectacularly in lined with more than 1500 artists and 90 elephants all dressed up in elegant costumes. In the final five nights the atmosphere becomes extremely exciting and the excitement reaches its peak kn the last night of the Maha Randoli Perahera before going in to the water-cutting ceremony to end the parade.
Every year it is a glistening cultural pageant, a beautiful scenery and a unique event to experience for the outsiders but it’s a pure faithful prayer to Gods in requesting prosperity and protection for the locals.