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South Asia’s most spectacular:

Kandy Perahera comes alive

First ‘Peace’ Perahera

The first Kandy Esala Perahera after the dawn of peace will be held this time under the auspices Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara.

Randoli Perahera. Pictures by Udeni Rajapaksha

Speaking to the Daily News was the spokesperson from the Diyawardena Nilame’s office, Sunil Rambukpotha, who said that there have been several inquiries from around the world about the Kandy Esala Perahera.

“After the Sri Lankan Government successfully won the war, we have got plenty of worldwide interest about the Kandy Esala Perahera because it is the first Perahera after peace,” he said.

Even though it is peace time in the country, the Dalada Maligawa will continue with strict security measures to ensure nothing goes wrong.

Rambukpotha said,”We have adopted the same security measures just like the previous years where we will bring many armed forces to ensure that the security is kept optimum.”

With regard to the parade itself, there will be 90 elephants decked in their finery to display the best of Kandyan culture to the world with many stunning gymnasts, dancers and stunt performers.

Diyawadana Nilame
Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara

“We have informed international and local media about the Perahera so that the message is spread all over the world that Sri Lanka is a culturally rich country,” he said. About the Perahera schedule itself, he noted, “We started the religious observances under the auspicious time on Wednesday and will hold the Kumbal Perahera over a period of five days from July 27 to 30.”

He said that the dazzling Randoli Perahera will begin on August 1 and will go on from August 4 with the finale set to take place on August 5.

“We are expecting a crowd that would exceed 100 percent because of the considerable tourist turn-out to Kandy this season. Around the world, Sri Lanka has garnered a good name after winning the war and with the travel advisories to the country relaxed, we are expecting many spectators to see the true cultural glory of Sri Lanka that is signified by the Kandy Esala Perahera,” concluded Rambukpotha.

- Nilma

When you see Raberosia and Esala trees on the fringes of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and around the Kandy Lake donning their spectacular plumage of pink and yellow, you know it is time for the City of Kandy to adorn itself with festivities of Esala Dalada Perahera (the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic). The Perahera this year will be of special significance as it immediately follows the defeat of terrorism in the country by war. Having being a target of terrorist onslaught previously, crowds that kept away due to bomb scares are expected to resume their annual homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic this July.

Usually, in the duration of the Perahera, many a household in Kandy turns motelier or accommodator of guests catering to both the pilgrim and the tourist alike. This is besides the hotels and the guesthouses in Kandy which would be choc-a-bloc to capacity.

If you have money, you can obtain seating on offer by those who have shops or houses on the Parahera route and see the Perahera in comfort. The less affluent and the traditional rural folk who come from distant area while away day and night on the pavement, reluctant to give up their temporarily owned abode by the road side to view the Perahera.

Kandyan dancers in action

Mudiyanse Konara, Administrative Secretary, Sri Dalaga Maligawa,(the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), told the Daily News that the human influx to Kandy during this year’s Perahera season is expected to be about four-fold of what used to be earlier. Therefore, the seating on offer too will be competitive.

The Buddhist clergy and VIPs will be offered special seating, Konara said. The general public can avail themselves of seating offered by the Kandy Municipal Council, by paying for a night. There are also arrangements to meet the needs of common amenities such as food, toilets, first aid and ambulance facilities.

Extra bus and train services will ease the mobility of the masses. Konara also made a plea to the crowds to minimize the goods and baggage they bring in to the city of Kandy and to reduce the use of polythene. This will reduce the litter lying on streets.

The Perahera of the Dalada Maligawa and the four devales, Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini, will be conducted according to the recommendations of the venerable Theras of the Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, Konara told the Daily News.

“From about 1400 to 1500 dance troops and ensembles of kalayathanayas coming for rehearsals, those in conformity to the Kandyan Dance Traditions will be selected to dance in the Maligawa Perahera,” he said.

“Not only mature dancers, but also children who must take on the mantle from their older generation will dance in the Perahera.” Besides the human element, about 80 elephants inclusive of the Maligawa Tusker Raja are billed to take part in the Maligawa procession.

Decorations during Perahera time will be done in a systematic manner to make it more attractive, he added. There will be no ad hoc decorations and the four main bridges entering the city of Kandy at Peradeniya, Katugastota, Tennekumbura and Lewella will be decorated in a unique manner by the respective provincial councils.

Konara pointed out: “There will be an operational chamber run by the Department of Buddhist Affairs to deal with any irregularities. Though the war is over, we have not relaxed security arrangements. There will be tight security measures,” he said offering reassurance, to dispel any doubts that may linger in the mind of the general public.

‘The Tooth Relic and the Crown’, authored by Dharmaratna Herath, gives some lesser known facts about the Sacred Tooth Relic with special reference to its political significance. It says that the interdependence of the state and the Buddhist Order was a key element of the Sri Lankan polity. Its dominance was visible in Sri Lanka’s history throughout centuries. The Sasana depended on the generosity of rulers. It also bestowed a certain sanctity on the royal office - the throne and its occupant.

It was assumed that ‘A ruler ascends the throne in order to protect the Bowl and the Robe of the Master’. It was even held that none but a Bodhisatva (one who aspires for Buddhahood) was eligible to occupy the throne of Sri Lanka.

The book deals with eleven centuries after the Sacred Tooth Relic arrived in Sri Lanka. The tradition of the Tooth Relic is recorded in the Dathavamsa (The Chronicle of the Tooth Relic), the earliest works on the left canine tooth of the Buddha, transferred to Sri Lanka in A.D. 130, from Dantapura in Kalinga.

It is composed by Dhammakitti Thera during Queen Lilavati’s second spell on throne in the twelfth century. The legitimacy of Royal authority flows from the possession of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Since the introduction of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the third century B.C., the ruler of the land was required to perform the dual role of statesman as well as patron of the Sasana.

Reference to the Tooth Relic, found in the reign of Buvanekabahu VI, says that amnesty was granted to people of the four Korales in the name of Tooth and Bowl Relics. Political significance was attached to the Bowl Relic in the early centuries. Mahavansa states that King Devanampiyatissa enshrined Buddhist relics in stupas like the Thuparama but kept the Bowl Relic in his palace. This suggests that the Bowl Relic, though it was not a Saririka Dhathu (corporeal relic), was treated as an object of special importance but the reason is not known.

The Sacred Tooth Relic (Saririka Dhatu of the Buddha), the Bowl Relic and Dhammacakkageha (House of the Wheel of the Law) were seen as political symbols. In dealing with the Tamil invasion during the reign of the Vattagamani Abhaya, the king could not take the Bowl Relic with him in his flight to a hideout. Dhammacakkageha, in Buddhist literature, symbolizes the Buddha’s universal overlordship of the Saddhamma or true doctrine. An example is the Saranath Asokan pillar where the wheel is mounted on a seat of three lions, standing on a circular plinth, adorned with a lion, an elephant, a bull and a horse.

But the Tooth Relic superceded both the Bowl Relic and Dhammacakkageha in political significance, as the symbol of Buddha and Dhamma. Its possession was the clearest expression of a ruler’s adherence to Buddhism emphasising his determination to wield his authority in the name of the Buddha and Dhamma.

Two stages in the history of the Tooth Relic within the period A.D. 300 - 1500 is established. During the first, ending with the downfall of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, the Tooth Relic secured a firm footing in the religious life of the Island. In the second period, the Tooth Relic occupied a prominent place in both religious and the political spheres.

There are reasons for the Relic’s prominence. One was the cordial relations between Nikayas. Monks lessened sectorial feelings and came to a compromise, venerating equally, objects entrusted to different fraternities. The Tooth Relic was a symbol of nationalism, unifying Sinhalese against foreign invasions. It was believed to have mysterious powers to produce rain. It’s mobile character saved it from disasters and enabled rulers to take it to new capitals.


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