The Esala Perahera in Kandy in July-August is a ten day summer festival held before and on the full moon poya of Esala. Described as one of the most incredible celebrations in the world, this medieval pageant starts slowly, gaining momentum each day until the climax at the full moon. Taking part in festival are hundreds of Kandyan dancers and drummers in colorful headdresses and traditional beaded costumes, Kandyan chieftains in medieval court dress, more than 100 caparisoned elephants, whip crackers, torch bearers, conch trumpeters, dancing and juggling torch spinners and other participants.

Florence Wickramage wrote in the Weekend Express, “The colorful perahera held annually to pay homage to the Sacreds Tooth Relic dates back to the period of the Sinhala kings. Spreading over two weeks, the perahera begins with the traditional "kap situweema" — and ends with the water cutting ceremony at Gatambe. The Mahanuwara Esala Perahera begins with the festivities inside the Maligawa, which preceeds the actual parading of the streets by the perahera. The center of attraction of the Dalada perahera is the majestic Raja, the Maligawa Tusker, carrying the jewelled casket of the Sacred tooth Relic, walking reverently over the pavada, amidst the beating of drums and Kandyan dancing. The Maligawa perahera is preceded by the peraheras of the four devales dedicated to gods Skanda, Vishnu, Natha and Pattini. The Esala perahera season is the only season in Kandy, during which Mahanuwara becomes one colorful carnival. The entire nation looks forward to this event which spells out in full measure, the grandeur and beauty of traditional Sinhala culture. [Source: Florence Wickramage, Weekend Express, July 24-25. 1999]

The first six days of the festival are relatively mellow. On the seventh day the processions becomes more elaborate. There are processions in which the peraheras (shrines) for four devales (deities that protect the island) are carried through the streets. The four deities are Nantha (the deified Buddha-to-be and tutelary of Kandy); Vishnu (the guardian of Sri Lanka) ; Skanda (god of war and victory); and Pattini (the goddess of chastity).

The Kandy Esala Perahera is held annually in July August on days fixed by the Diyawadana Nilame (Chief Lay Head or Trustee) of the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic). The festival ritual formally begins the day after a new moon in July when a an escala tree is cut. The month of Esala also commemorates the birth of the Hindu god Vishnu and some say the festival is held annually to placate the Gods to ensure timely rain for cultivation. Other believe that the festival also celebrates the victory of the gods (suras) over the demons (asuras) and the invasion of the Chola country by King Gajabahu (A.D. 174-196). Perahera has been held more than 1,600 years.

The Esala Perahera actually comprises of five separate Peraheras — four from the Kandy devales (shrines) to the deities – with order of precedence maintained throughout. Led by the Dalada Maligawa Perahera, the second is to Natha, a deity of special importance to Kandy, believed to be Buddha-in-waiting. The third is to Sri Lanka’s Guardian Vishnu, also one of the three great Hindu gods and an important figure in representing the crossover between Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Fourth and fifth peraheras are from the shrines to god of war and victory Katharagama, and goddess of chastity Pattini. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

A.G.S. Kariyawasam wrote in “Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka”: “The annual Esala Perahera in Kandy, held in honor of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, is the most colorful traditional procession in the country. It is the prototype of the other peraheras held elsewhere in the island in such places as Kataragama, Aluthnuwara, Lankatilaka, Bellanwila, Devinuwara, etc. The Kandy Perahera is itself the latest expression of the annual festival in honor of the Tooth Relic that has been held with state patronage from the time the relic was brought to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century . Although periodically there have been intermittent breaks due to unsettled political conditions, the festival was never neglected intentionally. This had been so even during colonial times. Respected as the palladium of Sinhala royalty, the Relic had been accommodated in different parts of the country, depending on the change of the capital city. Ultimately it came to stay in Kandy, which was the last royal seat of the Sinhala people. [Source: A.G.S. Kariyawasam, “Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka”, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1995]

Kandy Esala Perahera Procession

Ten days of increasingly frenetic activity during the Kandy Esala Perahera culminates in the ancient, awe-inspiring procession that for centuries has drawn religious devotees, and more recently tourists, to Kandy’s narrow hill-streets. Heralded by thousands of Kandyan drummers, a host of majestic elephants, adorned in elaborately embroidered cloaks, are led by the brilliantly caparisoned Maligawa Tusker. Decorated from trunk to toe, he carries a huge canopy that shelters, a replica of the cask containing the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

The most important event in the festival is when the peraheras for four devales are brought together. Leading the procession of the Dalada Maligawe (the Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic) is the Maligawa Tusker, a huge elephant with gilded tusks that walks on rolls of white cloth laid on the road so that he may not step on dirt, carrying the bejeweled golden reliquary with a replica of Buddha's eye tooth (the real tooth never leaves the temple) and lesser relics on top of the elephant. One beloved Maligawa Tusker died in 1988 after 50 years of service, He was replaced by a young Thai-born elephant specially trained for the task.

When the elephant reaches the temple, fireworks are set off and torch-bearing merry makers, drummers, whip crackers musicians, acrobats and dancers parade through the streets behind the elephant with the tooth and a hundred other elephants, marching three abreast and wearing brocade robes and masks illuminated with portable lamps.

The procession was first held in Anuradhapura in the 4th century under King Kithsiri, who decreed that the tooth should be paraded around once a years. in a great festival. Succeeding kings kept the tradition going. The procession in its current form was conceived in 1755 and combines a Buddhist rite with the four Hindu deities named above.

Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Tooth (on the side of the lake in the center of Kandy) is the sacred temple, known locally as Dalada Maligawa, that houses Buddha's tooth, which is said to be an upper left incisor snatched from Buddha's funeral pyre in 543 B.C. The tooth was reportedly brought to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century A.D. hidden in the hair of an Indian princess and given to the Sri Lankan king, Kithsiri Megawanna, who in turn placed in an edifice built by King Devanampriyatissa.

The Sinhalese kings considered themselves the guardian of the sacred tooth, which was considered the source of their power and venerated to invoke the blessings of the king and his people. The sacred tooth was kept in Anuradhapura for a while and moved around Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese kings changed the location of the Sri Lankan capital until it finally came to rest in the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy during the Kandyan period.

Placed on a site, where an auspicious white tortoise was found, the temple is a white crenelated temple structure with a moat and towers that look like swirls of soft ice cream. The closet that visitors get to the tooth is a view of the golden reliquary that holds the tooth through a glass portal.

A two-story shrine was built next to a lake to house the relic by Sinhalese king, Wimala Dharma Suriya I in 1590, when the relic was taken to Kandy. The current two-story pink structure was built under King Narenda Sinhala in 1687 to 1707 and expanded from 1747 to 1782. The tooth is kept in an inner chamber. The temple is surrounded by a moat. The octagonal tower in the moat was built to house palm-leaf manuscripts. The gilded roof was deed by President Premadasa.

The entrance to the temple features moonstone steps, two stone elephants and five intertwined damsels. Pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka converge on the temple during the lunar month of Esala (July or August) for the massive Perahara festival that honors the tooth. At 6:00am and 4:00pm daily the tooth is venerated with a special ceremony that involves drumming. and sacred chanting.

The Dalada Maligawa was badly damaged by a bomb attack in January, 1998 that killed 16 people and was believed to have been set by the Tamil Tigers. The relic was not damaged but the octagonal tower was. The building was not badly damaged because the walls are made of wattle and daub and shock waves from the explosion passed right through them. The damage was fixed in time for the next festival. The tile roof was repaired, painting and teak carvings were retouched. The blast was a sort blessing on an archeological and art level in that paintings covered by plaster over the years were revealed. When visiting, shorts are not acceptable. Sometimes tourists with are given a sarong to wear over their shorts. There is an extra fee for a camera and even more for a video camera.

Origin of the Kandy Esala Perahera

The origin Kandy Esala Perahera:, as one writer on Ceylon describes it, is "lost in the mists of centuries". The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought by the Kalinga Prince Danta and princess Hemamali to Sri Lanka in the A.D. fourth century A.D. According to the Mahavamsa, from the time the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Ceylon in the reign of King Kirthisiri Meghawanna who ruled at Anuradhapura from 303 — 331., it was placed in a casket made of Phalika (Steatire or Soapstone) and lodged in an edifice called the Dharma-Chakra built by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century B.C. The Mahavamsa goes on to say that 900,000 Kahapanas (a great sum of money) were spent in celebrating the festival in honour of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the King Kirthisiri Meghawanna decreed that the Relic should be taken round the city of Anuradhapura once a year in spring. There is evidence to show that his decree was faithfully carried out by those Kings who followed him, [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

the famous Chinese traveler Fa Hien, in his book describing his travels in India and Ceylon in the 5th century., confirms the view as follows : "They always bring out the tooth of Buddha in the middle of the third month. Ten days beforehand, the King magnificently caparisons a great elephant, and commissions a man of eloquence and ability to clothe himself in royal apparel, and riding on the elephant, to sound a drum and proclaim as follows : ' Bodhisattva during three Asankhyeya kalpas underwent every king of austerity ; he spared himself no personal sufferings ; he left his country, wife, and child; moreover he tore out his eyes to bestow them on another; he mangled his flesh to deliver a dove (from the hawk) ; he sacrificed his head in alms, he gave his body to a famishing tiger; he grudged not his marrow or brain. Thus he endured every sort of agony for the sake of all flesh. More over, when he became perfect Buddha, he lived in the world forty-nine years preaching the law and teaching and converting men. He gave rest to the wretched, he saved the lost. Having passed through countless births, he then entered Nirvana. Since that event it is 1467 years. The eyes of the world were then put out, and all flesh deeply grieved.

“After ten days the tooth of (this same) Buddha will be brought forth and taken to the Abhayagiri Vihara. Let all ecclesiastical and lay persons within the kingdom, who wish to lay up a store of merit, prepare and smooth the roads; adorn the street, and highways ; let them scatter every king of flower, and offer incense in religious reverence to the Relic'. This proclamation being finished, the kings next causes to be placed on both sides sides of the procession-road representations of the five hundred bodily forms which Bodhisattva assumed during his successive births. For instance, his birth as Sudana ; his appearance as Sama ; his birth as the king of the elephants, and as an antelope. These figures are beautifully painted in divers colors and have a very life-like appearance. At length the tooth of Buddha is brought forth and conducted along the principal road. As they proceed on the way, religious offerings are made to it. When they arrive at the Abhayagiri Vihara they place it in the Hall of Buddha, where the clergy and laity all assemble in vast crowds and burn incense, and light lamps, and perform every king of religious ceremony, both night and day,with out ceasing. After ninety complete days they again return it to the Vihara within the City".

History of the Kandy Esala Perahera

It is doubtful whether the procession as described by Fa Hien continued to be held annually after Anuradhapura ceased to be the capital of Ceylon. It is clear, however, that the Devale Peraheras that we have today in the Esala Perahera in Kandy did not form part of the Procession referred to by Fa Hein. From the information I have been able to gather, the Esala Perahera as we know it today, with the four Hindu Devale Peraheras participating in it, had its origin in 1775. under the reign of King Kirthisri Rajasinghe.

The Perahera he inaugurated in his reign was confined at first to the four Hindu Devales, because by then Hindu practices and rituals had crept into Theravada Buddhism owing to the influence of Mahayanism as well as that of the King's consorts who were Hindu Princesses from South India.

During this time a body of Siamese priests who came to Ceylon for the restoration of the Upasampadha ordination were surprised to find a purely Hindu ceremony in the capital of a pre-eminently Buddhist country. To remove their scruples the King ordered a procession with the Sacred Tooth Relic to head the four Devale Perahera, and that decree had been faithfully carried out ever since. Today, however, the Sacred Tooth Relic itself is not carried in the Perahera. Only a duplicate of the casket in which the Relic is kept together with a few Seevali relics is carried on the back of the gorgeously caparisoned Maligawa Tusker. This is because it is considered inauspicious to remove the Tooth Relic from its sacred precincts. Further more, taking it out would require special safeguards to protect its security as it became, in course of time, the palladium of Ceylon on the Preservation of which depended the security of the country.

While the Perahera referred to in the Mahawamsa was a purely religious one, it was customary, however, to hold peraheras to commemorate various events, mythical, traditional and historical, which were of special significance to the country or to propitiate and seek the help of the deities of the four Devales for victory in war and success in secular undertakings. There are the following traditions connected with the origin of the origin of the Devale Peraheras.

There was war among the Asuras (heathen deities) in which the God Kataragama was involved, and it came to an end on the day after the new moon in the month of July. To commemorate this event on the identical day in July every year an Esala tree (Ehala or Indian Laburnum Cassia Fistula), which is in full bloom in Ceylon at this time of the year, is cut , its trunk fixed as " Kap" (which means the token of a vow) and certain ceremonies performed. Although the Esala tree gives its name to the Perahera connected with the ceremony, it is usual in the present day to use a Jak tree (Artocarpus Integrifolia) or Rukkattana tree (Alstonia Scholaris) for the purpose. Both these trees exude a milky sap when cut, and this sap in supposed to be a sign of prosperity.

Another view is that during the reign of King Vankanasika Tissa, who ascended the throne in 109., the King of Chola (in India) invaded Ceylon and took back 12,000 prisoners. King Gajabahu (King Vankanasika's successor) avenged the insult by crossing over to India and bringing back 24,000 captives as well as the Sacred Bowl Relic (which had been taken away during the reign of King Walagambahu (103, and 89 — 77 B.C.) and the golden sacred rings of the Hindu goddess Pattinidevi. The Perahera that was held to celebrate that victory is supposed to be the origin of the present-day one. Still another theory is that it originated from an Indian Festival known as " the Asalhi Games" which was introduced in to Ceylon by Vijaya and his followers in the fifth century B.C.

Custodians of the Sacred Tooth Relic

The custodians of the Sacred Tooth Relic are the High Priests of Malwatte and Asgiriya. These two chapters are akin to the two Archbishoprics of Canterbury and York in the Church of England. The lay custodian of the Sacred Tooth Relic is the Diyawadana Nilame. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

According to tradition there were four Tooth Relics of the Buddha, one being in Possession of the Blessed Sakra (Lord of the Six Devas) who pays homage to it incessantly in devotion and godly splendor. The second was given to the district of Gandhara (present day Afghanistan), the inhabitants of which worship it devoutly. The King of the Nagas (Cobras) is in possession of the third Tooth Relic, and is is worshipped with various religious rites. The Ascetic Khema, who came into possession of the Fourth Tooth Relic, handed it to King Brahmadatta of Dantapura in Kalinga (the present Orissa in India). Dantapura, according to Indian tradition, is the present seaside resort known as Puri in Orissa, the site of the famous Jagannath Temple. At Brahmadatta's death Prince Guhasiva became King, and when his enemies waged war against him to take the Kingdom, he called Prince Danta to him, and saying what a calamity it would be if the Sacred Relic were to fall into the hands of the enemy, directed him to take it to Lanka and hand it over to the great King Kirthisri Meghavanna who was ruling the country at that time. The Prince not only carried out these instructions but also offered to the Relic many priceless treasures.

Tradition too has it that a Princess who fled to Ceylon for safety brought the Relic hidden in the coils of her hair. Since that time the Relic has been in various parts of the country. Ultimately King Vimaladharmasuriya the Second (1687 -1707) brought the Relic from Labugama and deposited it in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa) built by him in Kandy. In later years King Sri Wickrema Rajasinha (1798 — 1815 A. D.) the last King of Kandy — who had a keen sense of artistic beauty, added the Octagon to the Dalada Maligawa. He was incidentally the builder of the Kandy Lake.

Events During the Kandy Esala Perahera

On the following the new moon in July an Esala tree (Cassia Fistula) or at the present time, usually a Jak tree (Artocarpus Integrifolia) or Rukkattana tree (Alstonia Scholaris) is cut and ‘Kap Devale as a vow that the Perahera will be held. For five nights processions are conducte Devale precincts round the Esala Tree( or its substitute) with flag , drums and torches. The Kapurala (lay official of the Temple) walks in these processions carrying a golden weapon called "Ran Ayudhaya" said to belong to the Deity of the Temple and supposedly used by him in battle. These processions are held in all the four Devales. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

On the sixth night starts what is known as the Kumbal Perahera. Its is called by that name because the Esala tree is placed in a clay structure resembling a humbaha, or ant-hill , round which the procession goes. It is on the sixth night that the Perahera is seen for the first time outside the Devales and is joined by the Dalada Maligawa Perahera. The temple chiefs wear their traditional white Kandyan court dress to walk in the procession. Each night the number of elephants in the Perahera is increased, making the Perahera bigger, grander and more colorful.

After five such nights is held the Randoli Perahera. Randoli literally means " Queen’s Palanquin". Up to 1775 the palanquins were carried alongside the elephants in the Perahera. Once the Dalada Maligawa was brought into the procession, however , King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe decreed that the palanquins should be put at the end of the Perahera-presumably because females could not be permitted to travel alongside the Sacred Tooth Relic.(The generally accepted theory is that the palanquins are a sysbol of the presence of the Consorts of the Deities, but another tradition is that the Queens of the reigning monarch traveled in them.)

It is interesting to note that there were different kinds of palanquins. The King’s palanquin was called Koonama, the Queen’s one Randoli, the Priests’ Pallakkiya, the chieftain’s Dolawa and the Concubine’s Yakada Dilawa. The more important the user of a palanquin, the richer was its ornamentation.

It is said that during the reign of the Sinhalese Kings the King himself walked in the Randoli Perahera with his retinue, consisting of the two Adigars, the Dissawas and other officials of the Court, and that his section of the Perahera Devale Perahera- the idea being that he could not take precedence over the Dalada Maligawa or the Devales.

Yet another story is that the priests themselves took part in the Perahera and that the arrangements were made by the Sangakkara Lekama, who was one of the Secretaries of the Place who established liaison between the King and the priests. It is also said that he spied on the priests and reported to the king any acts of commission or omission against the Vinaya (the disciplinary code of the priests.) The randoli Perahera goes on for five nights and the last night is the grandest of all.

After returning to the Dalada Maligawa that night the Perahera goes out again, joined by the Devale processions, and passes along Dalada Weediya(Ward Street) and through Trincomalee Street to the Adhanamaluwa Vihara, where the golden casket is temporarily placed and is guared by the Basnayake Nilames of the Four Devales . This visit to the Adahanamaluwa Vihara (Cremation Temple) is by royal decree of king Kirthisiri Rajasinghe as a mark of respect to the Queen Mother who was cremated ther Devale processions return to their respective Devales and go out again in the early hours of the morning for the Diyakapana Mangallaya (water-cutting ceremony). Originally this ceremony was performed to commemorate a victory in battle, and the blood-stained swords of the God of Kataragama (which were supposed to have been used to kill the demons) were ceremonially cleansed. The present form of the ceremony is that each of the Kapuralas of the four Devales fills a goblet of river water (purfied by the sword of the God). These four goblets are kept in the Devales till the next year, when they are freshly filled again at the next year’s Diyakapana Mangallaya. After th Devale Peraheras return along the Katukelle Road up to the Ganadevi (Elephant God) Kovila where certain ceremonies are performed.

The whole festival is brought to an end the following afternoon when the maligawa procession returns to the Temple of the Tooth from the Adahanamaluwa Vihara bringing back the golden Devale Peraheras join it at the junction of Kande Weediya(Hill Street) and Trincomalee Street and then down Raja Weediya (King Street), after which it proceeds three time round the Dalada Maluwa (Temple Square). The Perahera Devale procession goes back to its Devale. In the days of the Sinhalese Kings the chiefs were then received by the King , to whom they did obeisance and reported that the Perahera had been held with due ceremonial.

After the advent of the British the custom was carried on, and the Government Agent of the Central Province, as representative of the Government received the Chiefs. At the end of the Day Perahera, Pirith(See glossary) is chanted in the Devales and alms given so that the Gods might acquire merit; in addition, the Devale holds a "Walli Yakum" ceremony to counteract the effects of the "evileye". This ceremony consistes of a dance which is performed before the head and the trunk converings of the elephant that carried the "Ran Ayudhaya" of the Deity in the Maha Devale Perahera.

In olden times those who participated in the Perahera were temple tenants who held lands belongings to the temple, in return for which they performed certain services. This system was known in English as the Temple Service Tenure. With the commutation of services most of the tenants now pay money in lieu of services due by them.Unfortunately, these commutations are so out-of-date that the temples find it difficult to get the services performed without additional expenditure form the temple exchequers.In the olded days the temple services were looked upon as the privileged labor of piety which could not be replaced by hired laborers.

Participants and Order of the Maligawa Perahera

The main Perahera procession consists of five separate Peraheras: 1) The Dalada Maligawa Perahera; 2) The Natha Devale Perahera; 3) The Maha Vishnu Devale Perahera; 4) The Devale Devale Perahera. The order of precedence is maintained throughout. The best time to see Esala Perahera is on the last two nights; partically anywhere along the route gives a good view of the procession under way. [Source: Kandy Esala Perahera by Sir Richard Aluwihare K.C.M.G., C.B.E., Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

The Maligawa Perahera makes up the main part of the main Kandy Esala Perahera procession. It is comprised of: 1) The Whip Crackers, who lead the way and announce the approach of the Perahera by cracking their whips.There is quite an art in this,and it is not as easy as the onlooker may imagine. In the times of the Sinhalese Kings the Adigars (within their own territories) were entitled to have whip-crackers hearld their approach,and this practice was continued even in early British times. The whip crackers come into picture only at the commencement of the Randoli Perahera.They do not take part in the Kumbal Perahera. They did not form a part of the traditional Perahera but were added to it in the time of Dissawe P.B.Nugawela Diyawadana Nilame. [Source: Kandy Esala Perahera by Sir Richard Aluwihare K.C.M.G., C.B.E., Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

2) The Flag Bearers walk next in single file on either side of the road. The flags they carry are the standards of the different Provinces and the Temples. 3) The Peramunerala is the official who rides on the first elephant. In olden times he carried the mandate from the King giving permission to hold the Perahera.The mandate had,in the present day, been replaced by an ola manuscript called the Lekam Mitiya,which is a register of the Maligawa lands as well as the tenants and the services due by them (Fa Hies also refers to an official who proclaimed the Perahera).

4) Drummers comes next, playing Hevisi or martial music on a variety of drums such-as Dawulas , Tammettams and Beres and bloeing Horanawes (flutes). The rhythm, combined with the measured movements of the drummers, vivifies the whole procession. 5) The Gajanayaka Nilame comes next. He rides an elephant and carries a silver goad (ankusa)which is the symbol of his authority.In the time of the Singhalese Kings the Gajanayaka Nilame was a very high official-the head of the King’s Elephant Stables – and(except for royalty)He alone had the privilege of riding an elephant within the four Gravets of Kandy.He is follow by in numbers from time to time.

6) The Kariyakorale, who is next to the Diyawadana Nilame in order of Precedence and is responsible for all the ceremonies connected and is responsible for all the ceremonies connected with the Maligawa, walks next in the Perahera. He is attended by minor temple functionaries, drummers and dancers.

Maligawe Tusker

The highlight of the procession – the Maligawe Tusker — carries the Perahera Karanduwa (golden casket) containing the Sacred Relics. (The Sacred Tooth Relic is not now taken in procession-see p. 3). A canopy is held over the Tusker, and pavada.(white cloth) is spread in its path (as a mark of respect) for it to walk on. Those who have the privilege of going up to the Octagon and watching the formation of the Perahera from there still get chance of seeing the Diyawadana Nilame come into the countryard of the temple accompanied by drummers and dancers walking on pavada and carrying aloft the golden casket. [Source: Kandy Esala Perahera by Sir Richard Aluwihare K.C.M.G., C.B.E., Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau srilanka.travel ]

“He stands on a dias and places the casket reverently in the ranhilige (howdah) on the back of the Tusker. The animal then goess down the steps into the street and is hailed by cries of "Sudhu."It is amazing to watch the Tusker coming down the steps. He does it with such care, one almost feel he realizes the solemnity of the occasion and the reverence attached to it.

Incidentally, in the days of the Sinhalese Kings the King himself with the Diyawadana Nilamein attendance carried the sacred casket from the Maligawa and placed it on the back of the Tusker. I might here mention that spectators- Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike-are expected to stand, as a mark of respect, when Perahera Karanduwa or golden casket passes them.

The Tusker is followed by two lines of dancers facing each other on either on either side of road with the drummers in the center, and at the end of retinue walks the Diyawadana Nilame in all the Oriental splendour. He is attended by lance (murawadu) bearers, wadana tal-athu sunshade bearers and umbrella-bearer as well as minor temple headmen.

Four Devale Perahera

1) The Natha Devale Perahera follows the Maligawa Perahera of witch it is a smaller edition. The howdah on the chief elephant’s back contains the apparel and insignia (Ran Ayudhaya) of the Deity of the Dewla Devale is the Basnayake Nilame. He walks in the Perahera with his retinue of dancers, and it is customary for him to be accompanied by the Basnayake Nilames of Dodanwela, Vegiriya nd Pasgama. These three Devales are outside the Four Gravets of Kandy and are placed in the category of Pitisara ("outside") Devales. The Natha Devale is given precedence over the other Devales because, according to tradition, the Deity of this Devale is the Buddha-to-come.

2) The Maha Vishnu Devale Perahera comes next. The Basnayake Nilame walks in the procession. He has the usual retinue of dancers and attendants, and it is customary for him to be accompanied by the Basnayake Nilames of the Pitisara Devales of Lankathilaka, Gadaladiniya , Alawatugoda, Hanguranketha, Morape and Mediri. The traditional history of the Devale is that chief of the gods (Sakra Devendrayo) entrusted the protection of Buddhism in Ceylon to the Deity of this Devale. It is also the accepted tradition that Sakra is in the line of succession (next to the Deity of the Natha Devale) for Buddhahood.

3) the Katharagama Devale Perahera follows. Katharagama is supposed to be the General of Sakra and is believed to be all-powerful in war. His assistance was invoked by the kings before Devale should not be confused with the Devale in Uva.) The Basnayake Devale walks in the procession, and it is customary for him to be accompanied by the Basnayake Nulames of the Pitisara Devales of Embekke and Ganegoda.

4) Devale Perahera, coming last of all, headed by the Basnayake Nilame, is accompanied by the Basnayake of the Embekke Devale. Pattni is a goddess who is supposed to exerices control over diseases such as snmall-pox, chicken-pox and m Devale in the Perahera is to placate her. The long procession ends with the Randolis borne by the tenants of the Dalada Maligawa. The Diyawadana Nilame may, if he so desires, invite the Adgars and Dissawes to walk with him in the Perahera. (This is usually done in a raja-Perahera – see Chapter IV.) Further, if for any reason he is unable to officiate in the procession, he may ask one the Basnayake Nilames to take his place.The choice of acception or refusing the honour is given to the Basnayaker Nilames in the order of precedence of their Devales, viz., the Natha Devale, Maha Vishnu Devale Devale and the Pattini Devale.

Walli Yak Mangallaya: Finale of the Kandy Esala Perahera

During the finale stage of the Kandy Esala Perahera, Gara Yakka or the Devouring Yakka, enters the precincts of the Sri Maha Vishnu Devala, gobbles all that is given and thus appeased in his enormous appetite, goes away, with the assumption that he would be called again next year as well where he would be given the same treatment. He in turn promises to safeguard the humans who took part in the Esala Maha Perahera in Kandy, and those who witnessed it from the evil eye. This then is the seven days of secret ritual to end the Kandy Esala Perahera which is known only to a few, and who also know the benefits which accrue from this ceremony. [Source: L. B. Senaratne, lankalibrary.com ]

This ritual is performed to ward off the evil eye on those who performed in the Perahera, and also on all those who witnessed the Kandy Esala Maha Perahera. The 'Yakdessas' who perform the ritual, first place a young coconut flower at the center of the forecourt of the Devale and on the first night dances on the Ata-Mangalla drawn with rice offered by the Devale. This ritual where the Yakdessas from Aluthnuwara act as the kapuralas takes place over a period of seven days in which these ceremonies are performed. On the sixth day it is an all night ceremony, with stanzas of Kohomba Kankariya and Gara Yakkum recited.

“On the seventh day the ceremony takes place in the after noon, where the coconut flower is brought down with dancers around it. This marks the end of the Kandy Esala Perahera where Gara Yakka enters the forecourt of the Devale. During this period of seven days, those villagers who know the existence of the ritual come to offer vows and also make vows. These vows are tied on the 'Tail' of the Yakdessa's headgear and not at the Devale proper. Those who come, redeem the vows hey have made the previous year which have been successfully granted, and go back satisfied. It is no secret, that young women are brought by their mother's to tie vows in search of their future husbands, and in numerous instances these have come true.

According to legend, the Gara Yakka was a Prince. After the prince was born, astrologers were called in to read the horoscope of the newly born. It was predicted according to the horoscope of Gara Yakka, who is actually Dala Kumaraya that a girl would be born to Royal family of exceptional beauty who would be desired by anyone setting eyes on her. The prince, the astrologers said, would be no exception. As such the royal family decided to send the prince away to the uncle's home. They were not ready to take a risk to bring disgrace to the royal household.

“The prince was named Dala Kumaru. This name was given to him because of his long eye teeth, which gave him a bestial look. In course of time, a girl of exceptional beauty was born to the royal household. She was named Giri Devi. “Meanwhile Dala Kumara heard that a sister had been born to his family and desired to see her. Permission was not granted both by the uncle and the royal household, but the prince was adamant. After much persuasion the request was granted and no sooner the prince set eyes on her he desired her. They were secretly married and fled into the wilderness.

“There is yet another story which is that while Dala Kumaraya was living in isolation at his uncle's house he practised meditation and attained supernatural powers with powers of astral travel. One day he had flown over the palace and seen the princess and not realising that it was really his sister, he fell in love with her. This brought him down to earth and so ended his days of meditation. The king banished them to the wilds.

“This set the base for the ritual to ward off the evil eye. When Gara Yakka enters the Devale, he is questioned as to the reasons for his appearance. He replies that he has been summoned for seven days and his presence is for the purpose of taking away of his prey. The Yakdessas are however not satisfied to respond immediately to his demands but he promises that no harm would befall on anyone. He is then propitiated with oil cakes, milk rice, plantains, water and money. Gara Yakka appeased, dances his way back until he is summoned once again. In days gone by, all Basnayake Nilames attended the ritual enacted on the last days following on the Kandy Maha Perahera, but this practice has now gone into disuse

History Behind the Walli Yak Mangallaya

“Traditionally called "Walli Yak" Mangallaya, this ceremony has its origin at Aluthnuwara — the abode of the God Dedimunda. It is here that the first Perahera was enacted over five hundred years ago, in the Kandy District. With the shifting of the effigy of Maha Vishnu from Aluthnuwara to Kandy, all its associated practices and traditions were brought to Kandy. Walli Yak Mangallaya is one of them, where the 'Yakdessa' come from Aluthnuwara, and for their performance in this ritual, lands have been given to them by the ancient King's of Kandy. The custodian of Sri Maha Vishnu Devale also administers Aluthnuwara Devale. What is enacted at this ceremony is part Kohomba Kankariya and Gara Yakkum. Those who conduct the ceremony today are unaware of the finer points of the ritual. The Gara Yakku mask is not the original one, but a mask also of the Gara Yakk from Aluthnuwara. Down the years, due to the lack of proper administration the ritual has lost its glamour. [Source: L. B. Senaratne, lankalibrary.com ]

“According to myth, legend, and folklore, Gara Yakka has no evil disposition toward humans. But, he has an evil eye; all he wants is to eat- the satisfaction he demands is for his appetite. He is said to have the capacity to eat more than any other devil in the nether world. This was manifested in an incident during the marriage of God Skanda the God of War. It is said that Goddess Pathini- Goddess of Chastity was invited for the weddings. Since Goddess Pathini knew the furniture and the feast would be of animals, bone and ligaments, as the father of the bride was a hunter, the Goddess Pathini thought the best to hold the position of "Gamana" was Gara Yakka. He had to clean the house of marriage so that it would be a fit place for her to enter in. Earlier the Goddess had refused to enter the residence, because it was unclean by her standards.

“Gamana is even used today in marriage ceremonies to announce the arrival of important personages and also of the main arrival parties. The legend goes that when Gara Yakka entered the house of marriage, he saw to his consternation the situation in the house. He realised that had Goddess Pathini arrived, she would never have entered the household. So he made short shrift of the entire place, commencing with the furniture, the food, and all that was meant for the guests. Not satisfied, he ate everything else found in the neighbouring houses, and also drank all the water from the wells, to quench his thirst. Now satisfied with his performance, he shouted "This is a good way to treat your guest, I was dying of hunger and thirst". By the time Goddess Pathini arrived, everything was to her liking — this then is the story of Gara Yakka.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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