The Kandy Esala Perahera
Today is Esala Poya day:
glittering Esala Perahera, which is 235 years old, is one of the
grandest events we have in Sri Lanka. Many locals and foreigners look
forward to witness this wonderful festival every year. This is held
during the Esala month, in August, honouring the sacred tooth relic.
Many foreigners who have been fascinated by the Perahera have written
notes about it; among them is the famous British poet and novelist, D.
H. Lawrence, who describes 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.
Ten days in advance, the king magnificently caparisoned a large
elephant. A man dressed in royal robes on this elephant, who could speak
distinctly, and the man went round it, beating a large drum, describing
the life and the virtues of the Buddha, and announcing to the public;
“Behold, ten days after this, Buddha’s Tooth will be brought forth, and
taken to the Abhayagiri Vihara. Let all, whether monks or laymen, who
wish to amass merit for themselves, make the road smooth and in good
condition, grandly adorn lanes and by-ways, and provide an abundant
store of flowers and incense to be used as offerings to it.”
When this announcement was over, the king placed for exhibition on
both sides of the road, the 500 different bodily forms in which the
Buddha had appeared in his previous births according to the Jataka
stories. All their figures were brightly coloured and grandly executed,
looking as if they were alive. After this, the Tooth of the Buddha was
brought forth, and was carried along in the middle of the road.
Everywhere on the way, offerings were presented to it, and thus it
arrived at the hall of the Buddha in the Abhayagiri Vihara. There the
monks and the laity gathered in crowds, burned incense, lighted lamps
and performed all the prescribed services, day and night, without
ceasing till 90 days had been completed until the Tooth was returned to
the Vihara. On Poya Days, the doors of the Vihara were opened, and forms
of ceremonial reverence were observed according to the rules.
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 to the main Perahera during the Keerthi Sri Rajasingha Era.
The Perahera is held according to some rituals coming down from
traditions. They are known as ‘Esala-keliya’. This festival begins 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 lengthened
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 placed. 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 collects 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.
This time the Kandy Esala Perahera will be held in a grand style and
will be a testament that Sri Lanka is ready for tourism after the peace!
Dates of the
Kandy Esala Perahera 2010
2010-08-10 Kapsituvima (Planting of the ‘Kapa’)
08-10 to 08-14 Perahera of the Four Devalas
2010-08-15 First Kumbal Perahera
2010-08-16 Second Kumbal Perahera
2010-08-17 Third Kumbal Perahera
2010-08-18 Fourth Kumbal Perahera
2010-08-19 Fifth Kumbal Perahera
2010-08-20 First Randoli Perahera
2010-08-21 Second Randoli Perahera
2010-08-22 Third Randoli Perahera
2010-08-23 Fourth Randoli Perahera
2010-08-24 Fifth Randoli Perahera
2010-08-25 Main Perahera Day