Kandy Esala Perahera

The Kandy Esala Perahera is one of the most splendid festivals in Sri Lanka. With a rich history dating back to 235 years, it has held the beholders, foreign and local alike, spellbound year after year. Held in the month of August in honour of the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha, enshrined in the Temple of tooth in Kandy, it has awakened the muses of a great number of writers, poets, painters, and lyricists creating a vast literature around it. The celebrated English novelist D.H. Lawrence himself has described 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.

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 with the main Perahera during the Keerthi Śrī Rajasingha Era.

The Perahera is held according to some rituals coming down from traditions. They are known as ‘Esala-keliya’. This festival starts 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 prolonged 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 deposited. 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 takes 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.

Read more about Kandy Esala Perahera at http://daladamaligawa.org/2010.7.25_sundayobserver.htm

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