The month of Esala (July), during which period this annual pageant is usually held, had been considered a month of celebrations and festivity, both among Indians and Sri Lankans. Even from the lifetime of the Buddha in the 6th century BC, the Esala festival was held to commemorate the Buddha's Conception, his Renunciation and the First Sermon. Esala is also considered to be the beginning of the raining season (Vassana) when the monks commence their Retreat. Also, this month is considered to be the period when ritual performances to the protective divinities are held, (eg Pattini puja) as recorded in the text 'Pattini-Halla'. Being considered a 'chaste' month, the period is held sacred for the availability of water, hence prosperity.
Several records have been left behind by dignitaries and other visitors to the island such as Robert Knox, John Davy, etc. The description of the perahara. These accounts provide much evidence as to the constitution and organization of the present day perahara. Yet many features seem to have been added and some changed to suit the time and the available resources and conditions.Dalada procession and the social traditions are linked so much together; the month of Esala has been named as the procession month, because of the Esala feast. In the 18th century at the time of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe the four Devala Peraharas and Dalada Perahara were amalgamated and were made series of Peraharas. The procession is a complex procedure in which various customs are involved.
The preliminary preparation for the perahara commences at the beginning of every year. Immediately after the Wesak and Poson pageants steps are taken to inform the owners of elephants the number of tuskers and elephant required measures of repair the dresses worn by the elephants and prepare new dress if required. Measures are taken to repair the required implements like oil torches etc and to fulfill the requirements to make the perahara a success. The astrologer attached to the Sacred Tooth (Nakath Mohottala) is required to prepare an auspicious time for pageant to be inaugurated. Later a meeting of state official and delegates of voluntary associations with the patronage of the Mahasangha is summoned to discuss matters pertaining to services to be executed to make the perahara a glorious event.
Kumbal Perahera (Kumbal Procession)
- The first procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic stars with the Kumbal Perhara. This is the first Kumbal Perhara shown to the infants to drive away Evil Spells and Illwill. It is a tradition that the procession parades the streets of Kandy for five days. But the Kumbal Perahara is popular and remains as an unfinished procession or a semi procession. The reason is that Nilames do not work in this procession. But the Drummers and Tuskers take part without any ceremonial costumes.
Randoli Perahera (Randoli Procession)
- This could be seen only with the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic and parade the streets for whole five days which is a tradition. In the days of the Kings the Chief Queen of the Kings paraded in this procession in Palanquins. As the participation of the Queens was not proper to the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic they were stopped but a palanquin is taken in the procession as an honor to the Queen. Today it is taken as the last item of the procession.
Maha Randoli Perahera (Grand Randoli Procession)
- The Maha Randoli Perahara is the last Procession. It is the grandest event of the festival. The Tuskers come with garlands and decorated with ceremonial costumes. The Diyawadana Nilame adds a novel glamour to the procession by wearing newly stitched costume.
SOME OF THE MAIN EVENTS IN PERAHARA.
- Until the sound of shots for the start of the procession is heard the tuskers, drummers, dancers and other artistes are lined up. Permission for the start of the procession is granted by Diyawadana Nilame. All the officials Kariya Korala, Gajanayake, Kapuwas Vidanes, Kankanam Rala, Mohottala and Wattorurala greet the Diawadana Nilame and proceed. These traditions are carried out regularly
Sound of Shots in the Perhara
- It is the custom to fire three rounds of shots before commencement of the pageant. At the first sound the processions of the four devalas line up and move to join the procession of the Maligawa. The Second sounds indicate that the casket is placed in the Ranhilige on the ceremonial tusker. The Third sound indicates that the pageant is set off.
Kasakaruwo (Whip Crackers)
- When the procession parades the streets the first participants you see are the whip crackers. It is believed that the noise of the whips depicts thunder and lightning. There are thirty of them. They intimate the arrival of the King. Generally they are used to make room for the Sacred Tooth Relic to be taken in the procession.
- To indicate that Kumbal Perahra and Randoli Perahahra are Buddhist rituals, Buddhist flags are taken in the procession. The youth clad in white cloth carrying Buddhist flags and their solemn walk is a spiritual and pleasant sight. The cool breeze from the Kandy Lake and the colours of the Buddhist flags add glamour to the procession.
Provincial Flag Bearers
- According to the traditions of Kandy era the provincial flags are added to the procession and at that time Nilames in charge of provinces carry these flags. This tradition could be seen even today. First is the Sun and Moon flag of Sathara Koralaya, second the white flag of Matale, third the Silk flag of Sathara Koralaya,second the white flag of Matale, third the Silk flag of Sabaragamuwa, fourth the mythical bird of Thun Koralaya,the flag of the Peacock of Uva Walapane and the flag of the Lotus Flower of Uda Palatha taken in the Procession.
- From the time, the Sacred Tooth Relic arrived in Sri Lanka and established in the temple it faced so many hostilities and hazards. However the swords which were raised to prevent these hostilities are remembered by the feature of these sword bearers in the procession. They walk with raised swords along the path of the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic. They do not perform any dance but walk.
Fire Ball Dancers
- The glow of lightning is magnificently shown by these Fire Ball Dancers. Turning of the Fire Balls is called 'Pandampaliya' which drives darkness of the night illuminating the procession.This Fire Ball Display is dangerous but with a balanced mind and body it is a simple exercise.
Peramune Rala (Front Runner)
- Traditionally after the whip crackers comes the Peramune Rala on a tusker with his set of documents of tailpots containing the religious activities of procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic as well the duties with regard to the properties of the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This set of documents should be taken with both of his hands.He wears a white costume and a triangular hat(Thuppottiya).
First Hewisi Group
- They come behind the tusker with the Peramune Rala (Front Runner). They are the first four Hewisi Players of the Temple. Their Presence in the front of the procession is a tradition. They Perform with a majestic skill.
- He is in charge of the group of tuskers of the King. Symboling this Gajanayaka Nilame walks as if he is in charge of the Elephants and tuskers who walk as if he is in charge of all the Elephants and tuskers who walk in the procession. As a tradition Diyawadana Nilame hands over a Goad to Gajanayake Nilame. He carries this pointing it to the sky and walks majestically dressed in a colourful costume.
- These hereditary Drum Beaters beat their drums as a religious ritual to the Sacred Tooth Relic. The procession consists of a collection of several generations of Drum Beaters who play the tunes pertaining to their own tribe. Start of the beat,Welcoming beat,Walking beat,Walinada beat are performed. These professional musicians perform with great respect and honor.
Horanekaruwo (Trumpet Blowers)
Trumpet is a well tuned instrument and is to be mastered. It has been popularized as the sound of Dalada Perahara. The tune Gajaga Wannama is well played right throughout the procession.Trumpet is made with skills pertaining to generations. It is an essential instrument of the Dalada Procession. White dress red cotton belts and shoulder are parts of the trumpet blower’s costumes and bare chests.
Coconut Flower Dancers
Coconut Flower is the symbol of prosperity. That is because they decorate the Punkalasa with Coconut flowers. The purpose of the Dalada Perahara is to wish prosperity to the country. To symbolize this, dancers carry coconut flowers in their hands. They perform a simple dance reciting verses changing the coconut flower from hand to hand.
Thammattamkaruwo (Thammattam Players)
The drum tied round the waist produce the rhythm by beating with the help of two sticks. The hands and feet are free for them to dance and play the drum easily. Their costumes are made of white and red cloth.
The Kandy Perahera
by M.D. Raghavan, Ethnologist Emeritus, National Museums of Ceylon
In the religious and social life of Ceylon there is nothing more resplendent than the annual Kandy perahera pageant. By tradition, a celebration commemorating the victory of the Devas against the Asuras, on the day after the new moon in the month of Esala, it possibly began as a celebration sacred to Maha Vishnu, the Lord of Sri Lanka. A festival of the Gods, it was later incorporated with the festival of the sacred Tooth Relic.
The Kap Inauguration
Wanakku Rala Herath delivers the kap to an official of Kataragama Devale
The annual Kandy Esala Perahera is inaugurated with the planting of the kap at the four devales of Natha, Maha Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini on the day following the new moon in Esala. An Esala tree (the Indian Laburnum—Cassia Fistula) in full bloom at this time of the year, is supposed to be cut and its stem planted as the kap at the four devales. It has in modern times been replaced by a jak tree (Atocarpus Integrifolia) cut into four sections, one for each of the four devales. A drum tattoo from the Naha devala announces the ceremonial conveyance of the stumps to each of the devales.
Reaching the devale, the kap is duly planted at the allotted place in the premises facing east. For the next four days the devale perahera is conducted within the devale premises. Following this first stage, the perahera goes in procession for ten days in succession over a prescribed route along the main streets of Kandy. On each of these days, the peraheras of the devales proceed to the entrance to the Dalada Maligawa, where they join the Maligawa perahera and the combined procession goes winding along the prescribed route.
The Two Phases
The first six days of the perahera, is called the Kumbal Perahera, and the second phase of the perahera, the Randoli Perahera, from the randoli or the gilded palanquins of the four devales, which are a feature of the processions the next five nights. To the average visitor the religious side of the perahera scarcely impresses as much as the spectacular side of it. On all these days the vast precincts facing the Dalada Maligawa is a scene bustling with excitement, alive with dancers in several stages of bedecking themselves with the costumes and jingles that lend colour and resonance to the perahera pageant. The great man behind the perahera is the Diyawadana Nilame in a resplendent costume of an embroidered tunic and shining silk, of some twenty yards wrapped round his waist with a head gear of a four cornered golden coronet.
The Progress of the Procession
To the visitor who comes to see the Perahera, for the first time, it is an exciting event. Expectantly and patiently he waits at a point of vantage commanding a good view of the procession. Faint sounds of the flourishing of whips are the first indication that the procession is approaching and the perahera bursts to view, with the whip crackers standing in a ring wielding enormous snaky whips. The whip crackers herald the perahera. The component parts of the procession open out in their proper order and the perahera spreads out in all its stateliness, to the brilliant illumination of hundreds of torches.
The Diyawadane Nilame and the three Basnayake Nilames of the devales and the Kandyan chiefs walk in the procession in measured steps and slow with all pomp and dignity. At intervals in majestic stateliness come the elephants in colourful trappings, the Dalada Maligawa tusker leading and bearing aloft the sacred relics in a gorgeously bedecked ransivige, the golden howdah brilliantly lit with electric jets, the cynosure of all eyes.
Kandyan dancers in brilliant array, delight the beholders with their impressive performance of Kandyan dancing. Folk plays, Li-Keli and Kalagedi malai add to the variety and charm of the procession which in all its pomp and orderliness proceeds over the appointed route of the main streets of Kandy.
On the last night of the Randoli Perahera, the procession after going round the city, separates itself into two parts. The Maligawa part proceeds to Adhana Maluwa Gedige Vihare where the golden karanduwa containing the sacred relics, is deposited. The Devale peraheras proceed to their respective Devales, and before dawn proceed to Getambe Tota for the Diya Kapana Mangallaya, "the water-cutting" ceremony. Reaching the Mahaweli Ganga, the procession halts. The Kapuralas and the functionaries of the Devales row up the river in decorated boats. Reaching the middle of the river, the kapuralas with a golden sword describe a circle in the waters. Each throws out the water taken at the previous year's "water-cutting" ceremony, and dips the golden kendiya taking fresh water.
The ceremony over, the procession returns to the Ganadevi Kovila for the performance of a series of customary ceremonies. Proceeding from the Ganadevi Kovila, the devale peraheras join the Dalada Maligawa perahera returning from the Adhana Maluwa in the afternoon. This, the Day Perahera, proceeds thrice round the temple square. The devale peraheras return to their respective devales towards the evening, and the Maligawa perahera to the Maligawa. This concludes the Kandy Esala Perahera.
Kandy Perahera: The Historical Background
A link with the past, the Kandy Perahera reflects the glory of the days that are no more, the days of the pomp and splendour of the Kandyan monarchy when the King personally directed the arrangements for the great event. It then served the further purpose of a royal levee, at which were present the two Adigars, (Governors of Provinces) and all the other chiefs. The King took his stand at the Octagon of the Dalada Maligawa—termed the Pattiruppuwa, and presented himself to the view of his assembled subjects in the square below, who eagerly awaited a sight of his Royal Majesty.
The Adigars satisfied the King as to the disposition of the several components of the long procession each in its due order of precedence. The procession being duly formed and marshalled in the temple square, the King with all ceremony brought the Karanduwa, or the relic casket containing the Tooth Relic which he placed within the ransivige on the howdah upon the Maligawa tusker.
The story of the Kandy Esala Perahera runs con-current with the history of the Kandyan monarchy. All Peraheras of Ceylon are annual celebrations of a devalaya dedicated to one of the Gods. An additional sacredness of the Kandy Perahera is its association with the Danta Dhatu, the Tooth Relic. As the safety of the kingdom depended on the Tooth Relic, the Perahera at the capital where the Tooth was enshrined, received royal patronage.
The Kandyan King was the source of all pageantry and pomp. Two of the main devales of Kandy, the Maha Vishnu Devale and Naha Devale are regarded as built by King Narendra Sinha (1707-1739). The subsequent Kings, Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha (173-9-1747), Kirti Sri Raja Sinha (1747-1780), Sri Rajadhi Raja Sinha (1780—1798) and Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha (1798—1815) maintained the tradition.
All the Peraheras of the Island follow the pattern of the Kandy Perahera, and all Peraheras were continued to be held by the Kandyan Kings. At Kandy the responsibility of conducting the Perahera was vested in the First and Second Adigars during the days of the Kandyan Monarchy. Subsequently this became the responsibility of the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada
Maligawa, who dons the gorgeous dress of a Kandyan Chief with the distinctive head dress. The chief official of a devale is termed the Basnayake Nilame and such dignitaries at most of the devales of Ceylon are Kandyans. An interesting exception is the Basnayake Nilame of the Dondra (Devundura) devale, who though a Low-country Sinhalese, wears the costume of a Kandyan Chief.
Kandy Sets the Pace
All the Peraheras follow the pattern of procession of the Chief officers, the elephants, drummers and dancers. Among the time-honoured peraheras are those of Kandy, Gampola, Ratnapura, Dondra, Kotte, Alutnuwara, and Kataragama. For pageantry and magnificence of display, the annual perahera of the Kotte Raja Maha Vihare, comes close to the Kandy Perahera. No perahera approaches the Kandy Perahera in the wealth of its picturesque variety, its inordinate length, and its exuberance of dancers and folk-plays. Kotte having been an earlier Capital of the Kings, the perahera there is indeed brilliant, next only to Kandy. The tradition at Kotte is one established by King Sri Parakramabahu VI, who ascended the throne in 1415 A.D. Successive Kings respected and maintained the tradition, even in the Kandyan period.
Queyroz, the eminent Portuguese historian has left an account of the Kotte Kings in his book "The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon" in these words:
|Photo courtesy: Lakpura Travels (Pvt) Ltd.|
De Queyroz has over-drawn the picture of the place of the women dancers—who in the early and late Middle Ages were a feature at all temple processions in South India and Ceylon, and temples maintained families of dancers and musicians, who were remunerated by lands held on service tenure.
Water-Cutting: A Ceremony in Sympathetic Magic
A ceremony often misunderstood or misinterpreted, is the "water-cutting". The conception is erroneous that it is symbolic of the parting of the waters of the Palk Strait with the magic weapon of King Gaja Bahu (174–196 A.D.) when he crossed over on his South Indian expedition. The water-cutting ceremony is indeed the most essential of the ceremonials of the Perahera. At the ceremony, the water collected and stored in the kendiya at the previous year's ceremony is poured out. Plunging the vessel in the stream, fresh water is taken and preserved until the next season. The Kapurala, the ritual priest, cleaves the water with a golden sword, pours out the water, and replenishes the vessel with fresh water. The splashing of waters, and the pouring out and refilling, are all part of the symbolisms of the rain making ceremonies of the East, particularly of India.
"Water-cutting" ceremony conceived in its proper perspective as symbolic of rain making, is an illustration of sympathetic magical rites. In all lands where agriculture is the mainstay of the peoples, altogether dependent on an adequate supply of water, society and state have been at pains to seek divine aid for sufficient rainfall.
From: Ceylon: A Pictorial Survey of the Peoples and Arts by M. D. Raghavan, Ethnologist Emeritus, National Museums of Ceylon (Colombo: M.D. Gunasena & Co., Ltd.) Chapter 18 (pp. 119-125)