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' planted in each Dewale as a vow that the Perahera will be held. For five nights processions are conducted within the Dewale 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 dewales.

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 Dewales 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 are increased, making the Perahera bigger, grander and more colourful.

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 symbol 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 followed the last Dewale Perahera- the idea being that he could not take precedence over the Dalada Maligawa or the Dewales.

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 Dewala 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 Dewales . 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 there.

The Dewale processions return to their respective Dewales 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 bloodstained 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 Dewales fills a goblet of river water (purfied by the sword of the God). These four goblets are kept in the Dewales till the next year, when they are freshly filled again at the next year's Diyakapana Mangallaya. After the water cutting' ceremony the dewale 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 casket, when the Dewale 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 then breaks up and each Dewale procession goes back to its Dewale. In the days of the Sinhalese Kings the chiefs were then received by the King , to whom they paid 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 Dewales and alms given so that the Gods might acquire merit; in addition, the Maha Vishnu Dewale 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 Vishnu Dewale 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 from the temple exchequers.In the older days the temple services were looked upon as the privileged labour of piety which could not be replaced by hired labourers.


The main Perahera procession consists of five separate Peraheras:

1. The Dalada Maligawa Perahera
2. The Natha Dewala Perahera
3. The Maha Vishnu Dewala Perahera
4. The Katharagama Dewale Perahera
5. The Pattini Dewale Perahera

THE NATHA DEWALA PERAHERA follows the Maligawa Perahera of which 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. The head of the Dewale 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 Dewales are outside the Four Gravets of Kandy and are placed in the category of Pitisara ("outside") Dewales.
The Natha Dewala is given precedence over the other Dewales because, according to tradition, the Deity of this Dewala is the Buddha-to-come.

THE MAHA VISHNU DEWALA PERAHERACOMES 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 Dewales of Lankathilaka, Gadaladiniya , Alawatugoda, Hanguranketha, Morape and Mediri.
The traditional history of the Maha Vishnu Dewale is that chief of the gods (Sakra Devendrayo) entrusted the protection of Buddhism in Ceylon to the Deity of this Dewala.
It is also the accepted tradition that Sakra is in the line of succession (next to the Deity of the Natha Dewale) for Buddhahood.

THE KATHARAGAMA DEWALA 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 battle.
(This Dewale should not be confused with the Maha Katharagama Dewale in Uva.)
The Basnayake Nilame of the Dewale walks in the procession, and it is customary for him to be accompanied by the Basnayake Nulames of the Pitisara Dewales of Embekke and Ganegoda.

THE PATTINI DEWALE PERAHERA, coming last of all, headed by the Basnayake Nilame, is accompanied by the Basnayake of the Embekke Dewale. Pattni is a goddess who is supposed to exerices control over diseases such as snmall-pox, chicken-pox and measles, and the inclusion of her Dewale 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 Dewales, viz., the Natha Dewale, Maha Vishnu Dewale, the Katharagama Dewale and the Pattini Dewale.
Incidentally, 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.

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