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Friday, July 22, 2016

Kandy Esala Perahera

There are many number of perahara festivals in Sri Lanka. Almost all perahera festivals are based on the religion, especially Buddhism. The Esala Perahera in Kandy is one of the oldest and grandest of all Buddhist pageants in Sri Lanka. Even though it is a Buddhist event, other religions devotees also take part here. The Esala Perahera in Kandy parades along the streets to honor the sacred Tooth Relic and the four ‘guardian’ Gods: Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Goddess Pattini.
The Kandy Esala Perahera is held annually in July and August on days fixed by the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic). The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Ceylon in the reign of King Kirthisiri Meghawanna who ruled at Anuradhapura from 303 – 331 AD.
On the following new moon in July an Esala tree or at the present time, usually a Jak tree or Rukkattana tree is cut and ‘Kap’ planted in Natha, Maha Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini dewalas vowing that the perahera will be held. For the next four days the ‘dewala perahera’ is conducted within the dewala 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 dewalas 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 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 dewalas, which are a feature of the processions the next five nights and the last night is the grandest of all. The main perahera procession consists of five separate peraheras which are Dalada Maligawa Perahera, Natha dewala perahera, Maha Vishnu dewala perahera, Katharagama dewala perahera and Pattini dewala perahera.
All pereharas are comprised with religious and cultural items. Whip crackers lead the way and announce the approach of the perahera by cracking their whips. Whip crackers come into picture only at the commencement of the Randoli Perahera. They do not take part in the kumbal perahera. The flag bearers walk next in single file on either side of the road. After that Peramune rala rides on the first elephant.Next comes the drummers playing Hevisi or martial music on a variety of drums such as dawula, tammettam and bera and blowing horanawa.
The Gajanayaka Nilame comes next. He rides on elephant and carries a silver goad (Ankusa) which is the symbol of his authority. After that Kariyakorale, who is, next to the Diyawadana Nilame. Now comes Maaligawe tusker to carry the perahera karanduwa (golden casket) containing the sacred relics. A canopy is held over the tusker, and pavada. 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 comes into the courtyard of the temple accompanied by drummers and dancers walking on pavada and carrying aloft the golden casket.
The Natha dewala perahera, maha Vishnu dewala perahera, Katharagama  dewala perahera, pattini dewala perahera follows the Maligawa perahera respectively. The long procession ends with the Randolis borne by the tenants of the Dalada Maligawa. The Diyawadana Nilame may, if he desires, invites the Adikarams and Dissawes to walk with him in the Perahera. Furthermore, if for any reason he is unable to officiate in the procession, he may ask one of the Basnayake Nilames to take his place.
Incidentally, the best time to see Esala Perahera is on the last two nights. This festival is a sacred festival to all of us. We have to give our respect as much as we can. As the Sri Lankans we should reserve a time to watch this colorful event lively.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kataragama Pada Yatra

Among the ancient living traditions that survive in Sri Lanka, few are as well known or as poorly understood as that of the Kataragama Pada Yatra. Starting from the island's far north and ending up to two months and several hundred kilometers later at the Kataragama shrine in the remote southeastern jungle, the Kataragama Pada Yatra tradition has played a major role in propagating and perpetuating traditions of Kataragama throughout Sri Lanka and South India. Predating the arrival of all four of Sri Lanka’s major religions, it is essentially a tradition inherited from the island's indigenous forest-dwellers, the Wanniya-laeto or Veddas, as the Kataragama shrine's Sinhalese kapurala priest-custodians themselves readily concede.
Traditional foot-pilgrimage or Pāda Yātra is not, as many people believe, a peace march, but an annual reenactment of espisodes related as legend and myth about Kataragama. Simple, ordinary people who say they have received a 'call', take part in this marathon walk.
Leaving everything behind but a bundle of essentials, they experience the homeless life of a beggar or religious recluse. Deep lessons about the paradoxes of life are driven into them in a sustained act of self-denial.
Sleeping and living outside, under trees and in shrines and temples; seldom knowing from where their next meal will come, braving death from animal attacks and worse in recent times; seldom knowing from where their next meal will come; braving death from animal attacks and worse in recent times; these are the factors of Pāda Yātra that make it such an intense spiritual opportunity for those who receive the 'call'.
Prior to 1950 when a motorable road was extended up to Kataragama from Tissamaharama, the only way pilgrims could reach Kataragama was on foot or by bullock cart. All that has changed since then and now Kataragama is easily reachable by regular bus service from Colombo and other districts including the Eastern Province where the pada yatra tradition still flourishes. For uncounted centuries, however, pilgrims had come on foot not only from points all over the island but also from India and even occasionally from Central Asia.
In 1988 the Kataragama Devotees Trust and Cultural Survival (precursors of the Living Heritage Trust) revived this ancient tradition that had gone into abeyance since 1983. That first year a mere 60 pilgrims dared to walk on this historic revival that has recently grown to over 30,000 annually. The devout respect of all for Skanda-Murukan,the wargod of Kataragama and ruler of the region, ensures the safety of the pilgrims.
The traditional foot pilgrimage from Jaffna to Kataragama not only serves to raise public awareness of the traditions linking North and South, but also helps to break down barriers dividing communities long separated by decades of conflict. The very sight of traditional Pada Yatra pilgrims walking from the North once again after decades of conflict has lifted the hearts and spirits of young and old alike throughout the length of the East Coast.
The multi cultural nature of the Kataragama region enables Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and those of any other religion to practice their faith in the safety of a sacred area.
Before the escalation of the war and the termination of the ferry service across the Palk Strait wise men and women representing many lineages came to Lanka as pilgrims from all over India. The tradition of visiting Adam's Peak and Kataragama (also called Dakshina or Southern Kailasa)has its origins in mythology.
Hills, certain old trees, rocks and sacred groves along rivers are landmarks in a culture where everything is sacred and connected with mythical exploits. Indeed, the Kataragama region is also known as Deviyange Kaele ('the God's own Forest').
Panama is the home of a culture in transition from hunter-gatherer to cultivator. It is a forest village culture of commingled Sinhala and Tamil identity. This homogeneous culture is on the verge of disappearance in Sri Lanka due to absurd claims of ethnic purity in an island context.