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Kandy Esala Perahera Sri Lanka

One of the most magnificent processions to attend is the Kandy Esala Perahera. It is the most exquisite and oldest Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka. Many people are captivated by the bright lights, joyful sounds, dances, and incredible designs on display. Even for a once in your lifetime, have this experience. You will never forget the entertainment and the dignity of Sri Lankan traditions.

Perahera is one of the most prestigious occasions holding by Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. It represents the iconic part of the country. While well as it is the significance of Sri Lankan culture and traditions. Several peraheras are holding by temples in different parts of the country. Kandy, Kataragama, and Kotte peraheras are the infamous ones.

Among all these, Kandy Perahera is the most significant occasion undoubtedly. It is also known as Kandy Esala Perahera, conducted by the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Traditionally it holds in the month of Esala (July) annually. Every year a large number of people come to eyewitness this special occasion. Not only locals’ foreigners from all over the world come and experience this most outstanding event.

The Kandy Esala Perahera is a festival of enlightenment, distinctive rituals, and heritage that honors Lord Buddha’s precious Tooth Relic. The journey of the Relic to Sri Lanka is as fascinating and colorful as the poojas ceremony that represents it. According to legend, perahera creates in the 3rd century B.C.E. by merging Esala and Dalada. Rain-seeking is an integral part of the Esala Perahera tradition. The procession’s order still includes a belief that a Sacred Tooth Relic has mystical rain-producing powers.

Buddhists from all over the world regard this Lord Buddha’s living memory as their most valuable property. It has miraculously survived many manufactured disasters, such as conflicts and foreign invasions, such as the bombing several years ago.

Kandy Peraheara Sri Lanka

According to Buddhist belief, the Sacred Tooth Relic, which resides at Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, is the living Lord Buddha. As an offering of honor for load Buddha, there are daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rituals and poojas. Kandy Esala Perahera is a yearly celebration endowed with divinity. It regards as the pinnacle of the country’s Buddhist festivals. Thousands of people are pulling into the City during this season.

Esala Perahera is an elegant event to see the hidden talents of the Kandyan people. Perahera starts with whip crackers announcing the initiation of the event. The elephant march and the performance of Sri Lankan drummers are the most exciting experiences. The solitary place where you could see the elephant march is at the Perahera.

Mahouts led a herd of about 10 to 12 elephants across the road, dressed in colorful costumes. In addition, one of the elephants is carrying the casket containing the Buddha’s Tooth Relic on its head. The Perahera comprises dancers, musicians, jugglers, fire breathers, and many more cultural events. It is bringing in Esala (July or August), the month believing to mark the occurrence of Buddha’s first teaching after attaining enlightenment. Usually, the event is holding for ten days. Every day you can experience different festivities.

During the Esala Perahera celebrations, the sacred Tooth Relic and four guardian gods, Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Goddess Pattini, are honored. This possession intends to summon the gods’ blessings to receive rain for cultivation and empower the kingdom’s lands. The ritual is performing by taking the sacred Tooth Relic within the streets of Kandy city. The Relic is placing in a casket, and a tusker is carrying it proudly. This event is regarding as one of Asia’s most magnificent pageants.

The ceremony starts with “Kap Situwima,” where a young jack fruit tree planting on the premises of four devala’s; Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha, and Paththini. The plant is spraying with sandalwood-scented water, and offerings encompass nine different types of flowers and a nine-wicket oil lamp. The priest of the Maha Vishnu Devale pleads to all the gods. This public spectacle lasts ten days, spanning up to the full moon in August, attracting locals and visitants worldwide.

Perahera Festival Sri Lanka

Esala Perahera is an annual event for Kandy residents. Tourists from all over the world fly to Sri Lanka solely to witness the dazzling spectacle. All hotel and guest house rooms are reserved well in advance of the Perahera by tour agents. And even private homes keep space available for tourists. A spare room in Kandy is hard to come by while Perahera is in Randoli phases. And the few that were available could charge up to Rs. 7,000 per night.

Aside from the large number of tourists who visit, the traditional journey undertaken by rural men, women, and children remains a constant. For them, this annual pilgrimage is a long-awaited celebration. They arrive days in advance and reserve their lakeside space by spreading a bedsheet, ready for the perahera to begin. The Kandy municipal authorities have refused to install seats on the lake rounds to honor these rural pilgrims. As they do in other parts of Kandy city, the cost varies depending on the viewing advantage.

This year’s peace process expects to draw thousands of tourists from the North and East to Kandy. They are bringing individuals from opposite sides of the country together to appreciate a common culture. For Sinhala, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, and everyone else who lives in this area. Dalada Perahera’s spirit, however, remains unaltered and unconcerned by social developments around it.

The Sacred Tooth Relic Guardian, Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyaratne, is adamant that tourism should not jeopardize Perahera’s sacredness. A religious ceremony, the Dalada Perahera, has been practiced since antiquity and passed down from generation to generation. Its sacred construction cannot alter to meet the needs of various visitors. Instead of an annual festival, we perform Perahera as a puja to request Lord Buddha’s blessings and protection on the people, emphasizing the Diyawadana Nilame.

Anyway, it is unquestionably one of the most important World Heritage events designated by UNESCO. Every year, it draws thousands of pilgrims and tourists to the picturesque hill city of Kandy. Not only to honor the Sacred Tooth Relic. But also to witness the Dalada Perahera’s unique Buddhist art, culture, Thevava rituals, and Kandyan dancing.

History of Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Perahera’s detailed history has been lost in the mists of time. Ever since the sacred tooth relic was brought to Ceylon, it has been the subject of many festivities. The history of Kandy Esala Perahera runs back into the 3rd century of B.C.

As Siri Moghavanna (reigned Anuradhapura from 303 to 331 A.D. ) of Sri Lanka entered his ninth regional year, Kalingadesha (modern Orissa) in India experienced internal conflict. The Buddha’s left-eye Tooth Relic /Vamadhata Dhatu were in Kalinga’s Dantapura. Prince Danta and Princess Hemamali (son-in-law and daughter of King Guhasiva of Kalinga in India) posed as wandering mendicants to protect the Sacred Tooth Relic. They landed in Sri Lanka with the Trisula, including water pots, concealing that Sacred Tooth Relic in the knot of princes Hemamali’s hair. That happened in the 4th century C.E., 800 years following the passing of Buddha.

Knowing King Siri Meghavanna was a devout Buddhist who had contacted Samudragupta in India and erected a monastery for Sinhalese pilgrims, they set out to find him (Mahavamsa introduction, Geiger translation). The Perahera began with the arrival of Lord Buddha’s sacred Tooth Relic into Sri Lanka.

The Kandy Esala Perahera has created thanks to the efforts of Upali Thera. King Kirthisiri Meghawant dictated that the Relic be paraded around Anuradhapura once a year in the spring. However, Perahera was followed by a succession of king’s but later this event was interrupted caused by foreign invasions. A Phalika (Steatire) casket used to hold the sacred tooth relic and housed in the Dharma-Chakra, creates by King Devanampiyatissa around 300 B.C. There is solid evidence about perahera and Tooth Relic in the book written by the famous traveler, Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien. During the fifth century A.D., he visited Sri Lanka.

Since Dravidian Kingdoms frequently invaded Anuradhapura, it moved to Polonnaruwa, Arattana, Yapahuwa, and Isurumuniya, then Dambadeniyya, then other cities. The Sacred Tooth Relic enshrine in a new temple at each retreat. Finally, once the capital moved to Kandy, the Relic has remained unaffected by these changes. Every year since that time, the Esalaparehera s holding as a way to celebrate and honor the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Modern Perahera

The current parade, Esala Perahera, began during King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747 – 1781 A.D.), who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom, Sri Lanka’s last kingdom. Because the Tooth Relic was considered the King’s private property during this period, the public was never permitted to worship it. On the other hand, King Rajasinghe ordered that the Relic be carried in procession for the crowds to see and honor.

Later the British conquered the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815; this Maha Sanga custody the Relic. A revered Buddhist Theros requested in 1835 a Diyawadana Nilame – a top lay custodian of The Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic – be chosen to oversee its enforcement. Diyawadana Nilame is currently planning the perahera, which takes place on dates he chooses, usually in August.

The Order of Kandy Perahera's Procession

The order of the processions of Kandy perahera is comprising of five parades. The main one is from Sri Dalada Maligawa, and the other four are by the Devala(Shrine). This devala is dedicating to the Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama, and Pattini deities. Natha, then Vishnu, Kataragama, and Patini were in order of importance throughout the Kandy period.

Also, this devala is mention as “Sathara devala” in Sinhala. Since their beginnings, these four Devalayas have been worshiping by Buddhists and Hindus. With the Royal Palace (Maha Vasala) and the Temple of the Tooth Relic(Sri Dalada Maligawa), these four Devalayas have a long history. The first 05 days of the perahera are conducting in internal. Then it is performing outside naming as Kumbal perahera. The Temple of the Tooth Relic leads the procession, and others join with Hindu shrines parades.

Perahera inaugurates with planting a baby jack fruit tree – Kap situweema. The second procession is from Natha devala, which is worshiping to God Natha. It is the most archaic surviving construction from the Kandyan Kingdom and is located directly across the Dalada Maligaya. King Wickrambahu III built the building in the 14th century. A “gedige” type of Dravidian architecture dominates the edifice. The building has three floors. However, the first and second floors serve no purpose.

According to legend, “Natha” arrived in Sri Lanka in many different forms in different places and during different eras. “Avaloktheeshvara” Bodhisattva is one of these forms. This Bodhisattva is revering in Mahayana Buddhism.

The third one is from Vishnu devala dedicates to God Vishnu. It also distinguishes as Maha devala, which remains to locate near the Natha devala. The God Vishnu called in different names in different historical documents. Once a prisoner in Sri Lanka, Robert Knox calls this diety “Aluthnuwara Deviyo.” according to legends, Aluthnuwara Deviyo has come to Aluthnuwara where situated in Kegall district from Devinuwara, Mathara. People also called him “Upulwan Deviyo,” meaning the diety with the color of lotus.

As per the grand chronicle in Sri Lanka, “Mahavansa” God Vishnu has been taken as the protector to shield the island Sri Lanka and Buddhism after that passing away of Lord Buddha. The belief is that after Natha, Vishnu would become a Buddha. As a result, Vishnu has always occupied a prominent position among Sri Lankan deities.

The fourth place is taking by the Kataragama Devala procession. The devala is devoting to the God Katharagama. Located in “Kotugodella Vidiya,” Kataragama Devalaya is a little way from the other Devalayas (Shrines). God Katharagama is One of Sri Lanka’s most revered deities. His primary devalaya (Shrine) is locating at Kataragama, a town in the southern section of the country.

This deity’s origin is as mysterious as he is. While the Lord Buddha made his third journey to Sri Lanka in the 8th year of his enlightenment, some believe the Kataragama Deviyo to be Mahasena, a powerful regional warrior monarch. After meeting the Buddha, this warrior king converted to Buddhism and raise to divinity due to his encounter. The procession specializes in Kawadi dancers. This ritual takes many forms, including carrying structures decorated with peacock feathers and flowers upon their shoulders.

The fifth or the ultimate procession is from Paththini devalaya which dedicating to Goddess Paththini. The Shrine is situated west of Natha Devalaya, separated by a crossroad, “Eth Veediya,” in the past. Now the crossing is no more. Paththini has various benefits for the people. Drought and subsequent famine are times when she is invoking for healing infectious ailments and children’s diseases.

During the first five days, Devala perahera is holding within the ground of the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Then comes those first outside processions, Kumbal perahera. It is setting for another five days. In the last five days, Randoli perahera takes place. On the 5th day of Randoli perahera is the name “Awasan Maha Randoliya.” after day is holding the ritual of “Diya Kepima” and Day perahera. Perahara ritual completes with handing over the “Perahera Sandeshaya” to the President (in the past to the King).

MALIGAWA PERAHERA, ALSO KNOWN AS PERAHERA OF THE TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH RELIC, IS COMPRISED OF THE FOLLOWING

At the beginning of the perahera, on the forefront, whip crackers come announcing the commencement of the ritual. From the very start to the exact conclusion of the planned Perahera route, the cracking of whips signaled the approach of the procession.

In a single file on both sides of the road, the Flag Bearers follow the whip crackers. They are marching while carrying standard flags as well as flags from various provinces and temples. Then we can get to see the most awaiting sight; The “Peramunarala” riding the first elephant on the procession. He is the official who is bringing the Register of the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Then comes the drummers playing various traditional drums and blowing flutes. A squad of traditional dancers creates beauty as they leap and move in unison with the drummers. Following them, the officer in charging for the Elephants called “Gajanayaka Nilame.” he is coming riding a tusker that is caparisoned and decorated with a beautiful dress. A high-ranking minister served as the official responsible for the King’s stable in Sri Lanka’s ancient and medieval ages. He carries the silver goad known as the “Ankusa,” which symbolizes his authority.

Following him comes to the “Kariyakarawanna Nilame,” riding a tusker responsible for the drummers and dancers. Also, he is in charge of minor operations at the Sacred Temple of the Tooth. Arriving at Kariyakarawana Nilame opens the stage for the center of the attraction: the “Maligawa Tusker,” who is carrying the Golden casket: “Karaduwa. Lord Buddha’s Sacred Tooth Relic, covered in a canopy, is kept in the golden coffin. The Tusker is robing with glaring, colorful illuminating cloth and walks in majestically.

The moment to carry the Sacred Tooth Relic is a great honor once rarely a tusker can have. Not every Tusker in Sri Lanka can have this opportunity. Even a human wouldn’t be able to equal the beast’s sense of the procession’s seriousness and devotion for the Sacred Tooth Relic. While carrying the casket, Tusker’s walking path is covering with “Pawada,” a ream of white cloth. The Tusker follows closely by two long lines of dancers on either side of the road, facing each other with a group of drummers in the midst, forming another column.

When the Maligawa Etha passes, all the sitting people stand steadfast, including devotees, onlookers, tourists, and special guests. At the end of the parade, “Diyawadana Nilame” comes with Murawadu (lance bearers), Wadana tal-athu (sunshade bearers and umbrella bearers), and other officials from the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. Diyawadana Nilame is a high official of the kings who ruled in the old kingdom of Kandy. He is wearing beautiful traditional regalia and is responsible and is the custodian of the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Four Devalas

End of the Maligawa perahera follows four Devala Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama, and Paththini accordingly. Natha devala is worshiping God Natha. And the premises are considering as the oldest building in Kandy. The third perahera from Vishnu devala honors for God Vishnu, who is a Hindu god. Vishnu devala is often naming as Maha devala, situates in front of the Natha devala gate.

Forth possession is from Katharagama devala situates in Kotugiella veediya. The devala is worshiping God Katharagama, identifying as God Skandha. The final one is from Paththini devala, which honors Goddess Paththini. From the entire processions, this is the only perahera in which female dancers participate. Goddess Paththini is calling upon for help in droughts and famines. She is also helping in curing infectious diseases. Pathtini devala is situating on the west side of the Natha devala.

It takes more than three hours to finish the whole parade. Every aspect of the spectacle mirrors modern Buddhist worship. Still, it also depicts a historical state service system known as ‘Rajakariya.’ People from different occupation-based ‘castes’ (Kula) performed chores for the King in exchange for royal land grants. In addition to Buddhist and Hindu ritual activities, there are also components of Mahayana and Theravada in this cultural spectacle.

The Maligawa Perahera enters the Adahana Maluwa towards the end of the last Randoli Perahera and stops there. To commemorate the King Vimaladharsuriya I (1592-1604) who, on his route from Delgamuwa to Kandy, carried the Sacred Tooth Relic and stayed overnight at this location after temporarily storing it in the Gedige Shrine before ceremonially returning to his palace the next day.

Kap Sitiveema

Kandy perahera begins with Kap situweema ritual. A young jack fruit tree is planting on the premises of four Shrine dedicating to each God. It traditionally intends to bestow blessings on the King and the people.

Kumbal Perahera

The Kumbal Perahera begins on the sixth night and lasts for five days. All perahera from devala gathering in front of the Temple of the Tooth Relic. And their insignias are placing on the Ransivige following by a lay custodian Basnayaka Nilame.

Processions are holding within the premises, and the highest priests from each take the pole every evening. Kumbal perahera accompanies all the events, including dancers, drummers, spearmen, flags, canopy bearers, and Ran Ayuda with the sacred insignia of the gods.

Tooth Relic’s replica placing inside the Ransivige attached to the Maligawa Elephant, and the Maligawa Perahera joins the awaiting Devale Peraheras and leads the procession. The wipe crackers announce the arrival of the perahera for the awaiting crowd. And the fireball acrobats clear the pathway for the event.

The firing of cannonballs, which hears all over Kandy, signals the following vital times.

  • The start of the Devale Perahera
  • The placement of the casket on the back of the Tusker
  • The start of the Dalada Perahera
  • The Perahera’s completion

Randoli Perahera

The following five nights are taken by “Randoli Perahera.” it is the most magnificent event out of these ten days of the process. Randoli refers to palanquins, which traditionally uses to transport the Queens of the ruling Kings. Randoli means “Golden palanquin.” on these five days, the Kandy city is filling people from all over the world. All are much waiting to witness the majestic event.

Out of these five, the final day Randoli named “Awasan Maha Randoliya.” Many people are competing to get an opportunity to see the perahera on this day. Kandy Esala Perahera is the only event that is holding for ten days within the world. And also, with the participation of more than 50 Tuskers and elephants, more than a hundred dancers, drummers, and traditional pilgrims.

Diya Kepeema and Day Perahera

The grand event ends with the ritual of “Diya Kepeema.” it is a water-cutting ceremony taking place in Gatambe at Mahaweli River, a few miles away from the City. After final Randoli the very next day, all the perahera from four Devala marches to this place. The chief priests from four devala are wade into the midst of the river. With the point of a ‘golden’ sword, one of the Kapuralas draws a circle in the water.

The priests then empty the water into the river containing the ‘Golden Ewer’ (Ran Kendiya), which they had filled with water the previous year at the exact location. Then they refill the Ran kendiya again with fresh water. Diya Kapeema, or water cutting, is a custom on the morning of the final day.

Then all four processions start back, heading to Maligawa. On their way, they stop at Pulleyar KoviFl, often name Selvavinayagar Kovil at Katukelle. On an auspicious time calculated astrologically, they enter “Adahana Maluwa” and join with Maligawa perahera. whole five perahera are parade through D.S. Senanayaka mawatha and Raja veediya for three times. At last Maligawa perahera enters to maligawa and others enters their respective premisess ending the Anual Kandy Esala Perahera.

Perahera Sandeshaya

After the event’s successful completion, Diyawadana Nilame and the other Nilame from sathara devala and other rural devala march to the President Pavillion. The ritual name is “Perahera Sandeshaya.” they bring a formal letter, “Perahera Sannasa,” to the President, stating the completion of Anual Esala Perahera Kandy. The President meets them at the entrance of the President Pavillion and receives it. It is the fulfillment and end of the annual process.

Maligawa Casket Bearres

Not every Tusker in Sri Lanka is getting the opportunity to bear the Golden casket. The chance to hold the sacred Tooth Relic is rarely getting for a Tusker. The ones who select must have significant qualifications to carry on. Following are a few of the Tuskers who bear the Golden casket so far in Kandy Esala Peahera.

  • Raja
  • Heiyantuduwa Raja
  • Millangoda Raja
  • Nadungamuwa Raja
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