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DateLine Sunday, 19 August 2007

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The season of peraheras and festivals

Continued from last week.

There are many Esala and Nikini festivals and peraheras in the low-country, some very old like that at Munneswaram near Chilaw and the Paththini Devala in Nawagamuwa, near Kaduwela. Some were started after Sri Lanka gained independence (in 1948) like the Bellanwila Perahera, started in 1950 by the then Viharadhipathi Somaratana Thera.

The Kumara Bandara Perahera and the Paththini Devala Perahera, which are now part of the Ridee Vihara perahera (Kurunegala district), may be going back to the time of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe who founded these shrines.

The last in the series of Esala peraheras in the low-country, which was under foreign rule from about 1520


Munneswaram festival

 is the Kotte Perahera which was started in the late 19th century.

Many peraheras have their own special items like Maha Bamba, the two-faced giant that leads the Ratnapura Saman Devala perahera, the "Gon pita perahera" at Nawagamuwa, and the "dodam (oranges) perahera of the aadivasi community at Mahiyangana. The more recent peraheras like those at Bellanvila and Kotte have a mal (flower) perahera on one day and a pavada perahera on another before the grand procession on the final day.

Whatever the special features of the different peraheras, there are certain common items in the festival. First is the planting of the 'Kapa' - the sacred post which is a branch of a jak tree that has not borne fruit, before the festival commences. In some places, instead of planting the 'Kapa' , the flag of the god is hoisted.

This is done at the Ishvara Kovil in Munneswaram and at the Kandasamy Kovil in Nallur. All peraheras end with the "water-cutting" ceremony, the "diya Kepeema" in Sinhala and "theertham" in Tamil. Taking the emblems or "vel" of the god in procession is also a "must". Kandy's Esala perahera, is led by the Maligawa perahera which carries the Sacred Tooth Relic.

This list of festivals and peraheras is not complete if I do not mention the "vel" festival of Colombo. This is known as "Aadi Vel". Aadi is the name of the month corresponding to Esala in the Hindu calendar.

"Ther", the chariot carrying the sacred statue of God Subramanium, wends its way from the Kovil in Chetti Street, Pettah to the Bambalapitiya Kathiresan Kovil, where poojas are held.

The return journey, about two or three days later, starts in the late afternoon, reaches Galle Face at about 9 or 10 in the night and reaches Chetti Street in the wee hours of the morning. The journey takes so long as the chariot moves very slowly, allowing devotees to make their obeisance to the God. This perahera or procession is the most attractive part of the Vel festival, attracting large crowds of all religions and ethnic groups.

Coinciding with the Nallur Kovil festival is the Ther festival of the Arulmihu Siva Subramaniya Swamy Kovil in Slave Island, Colombo. The Murugan Vel festival of the Sri Sivasubramania Swamy temple in Gintupitiya (Colombo north) is also at this time of the year The "Vel" - insignia of the God - is placed in a silver chariot and taken in procession on the streets around the temple.

These festivals may go on for three or four days, for weeks, or even a month. The month-long Nallur Kandasamy Kovil festival is a spiritual as well as a cultural event. In the kovil ground, there is music and dancing for the devotees to feast their ears and eyes upon.

The local festival and perahera is the most important event in the calendar of the people of the area. Devotees go to the shrine to pay their obeisance to the God, thank him for favours granted and ask for more favours and their blessings and protection.

Outside the shrine is a fair ground with amusements, and stalls full of sweetmeats, trinkets and things for everyday use like clay pots and reed baskets - plenty to choose from as souvenirs for oneself or as gifts for those who were unable to come to the festival or to see the perahera.


Gateway walks for children

The Gateway College celebrated its tenth anniversary recently and a walk titled 'Walk for the Child' was held on July 28 to wrap up the celebrations.

"Our anniversary celebrations began earlier this year with a carnival," said Dr. Harsha Alles, Director, Gateway Group. "We wanted our closing celebrations to give a special message to society. So, we decided on a charity walk; the proceeds will go to two deserving causes related to children, the Children's Heart Project of Sri Lanka and the Maithri Lama Nivasa," he said.

"We chose the Children's Heart Project of Sri Lanka because the problem of children with congenital (acquired from birth) heart disease in the country is severe and heart-rending. Around 1,800 children are diagnosed each year with congenital heart disease and the government can cope with only about 600 operations. Therefore, at any given time, there are over 1,000 children waiting for a life-saving operation and because of the large number, the wait for an operation is about two years.

Many children do not survive this wait. With a timely operation however, most can go on to live a normal life," Dr. Alles aid.

The Children's Heart Project of Sri Lanka aims to eliminate this waiting list by collecting funds primarily to support the Government to increase capacity; in the short-term, it provides financial assistance to a limited


A scene from the street drama The Bully.

 number of children requiring urgent intervention and having to seek private sector facilities.

Each class participating in the walk had the chance of expressing its creativity by way of a theme in dress, decor and music. The walk started at Borella and finished at the Gateway College premises in Rajagiriya, which was a hive of activity with street dramas, and an exhibition by the primary school titled 'A Child's World'.

Three street dramas focused on issues that affected children. The Journey focused on children affected by conflict and street children, while The Clock dealt with the hectic pace of modern life, with which today's child has to cope; The Bully tackled the ever-present problem of bullying in school.

All activities were conducted amidst a lot of fun and frolic, but the fact that they were all for a worthy cause added further value to the event.

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