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B/N 987 Kandy EsalaPerahera

The Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts has issued three new postage stamps,denomination of Rs.10.00, Rs. 15.00 and Rs. 45.00 each andthree souvenir sheets, First day cover and MS first day coverin the, on 25 July, 2020, to mark the Kandy EsalaPerahera.

Date of Issue July25th, 2020
Denomination Rs.10.00,Rs.15.00 & Rs.45.00
Catalogue No: Rs.10.00 - CSL 2393
Rs.15.00 - CSL 2394
Rs.45.00 - CSL 2395
Stamp Designer NihalSangabo Dias
Stamp Size: 41mm x 30mm
Sheet Composition: 20 stamps per sheet

First Day Cover

Miniature Sheet

Miniature Sheet First day Cover

There are several meanings to the word Perahera. Travelling in line, pay tribute, being respectful and carrying out rituals are some of the meanings of the word Perahera. However it is obvious that mainly one things comes to mind of Sri Lankans when they hear the word Perahera; this is holding a procession to honour Buddha, PaseBuddhas, the Arahats and others who had achieved a higher form of enlightenment.

The GebPerahera is held to mark the birth of Prince Siddhartha and was held to protect and bless the foetus. The birth of Prince Siddhartha takes place during a GebPerahera because Prince Siddhartha was born without any problem; there is a belief that a Perahera is equivalent to protecting and trust, according to Buddhist literature and lore. Peraheras are also held to mark important occasions like the AluthSahalMangallaya, a harvest festival of the Mahakannaya in Sri Lanka.

Among a number of aPeraheras held in Sri Lanka; the Kandy EsalaPerahera is the most prominent and receives the most amount of public attention. According to the Mahavamsa, the first EsalaPerahera took place during the ninth year of the reign of King KirthisiriMeghawanna, who ruled at Anuradhapura from 303 - 331 A.D. The Perahera started from an edifice called the Dharma-Chakrage or dathadathugaraya, at EtuluNuwara, Anuradhapura. The tooth relic, around which the EsalaPerahera revolves, was brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali and her husband, Prince Dantha on the instructions of her father King Guhasiva of Kalinga. This is said in the Mahawamsa and other historical sources. This version of events in Mahawamsa is collaborated by the famous Chinese traveller Fa Hien, who says that the Perahera was held to honour the tooth relic.

According to sources, King KirthisiriMeghawanna lodged the tooth relic in an edifice named Dharma-Chakrage or dathadathugaraya at EtuluNuwara, Anuradhapura. During the Perahera the tooth relic is taken to Abayagiriya and is placed on disply for 90 days. This Peraherawas a grand one with dancing, music, singing and there were a large number of people carrying banners, flags, sesath and insignia. The Perahera was also given security by king's men.

During the Polonnaru Era, since the Peraheras held by King Parakramabahu; one of the main reasons for the Peraheras was to ask for rain that was needed for agriculture. The mahawamsa said that after the Perahera, rain would fall and fill rivers, canals, tanks and other sources of water used by the people. Thus people started believing that the EsalaPerahera would be followed by rains. For some EsalaPerahera became synonymous with WehipoojaPerahera (a Perahera that brings in rain.) Even today, there are rains during EsalaPerahera, which is held in what is normally called a dry month. These rains are called Peraherawehi (rains associated with the Perahera.)

Since the tooth relic was brought, kings from all kingdoms, i.e. Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte and Kandy, held DaladaPeraheras and holding this event annually has become an integral part of our culture.

During the reign of Dharmapala of Kotte, the relic was kept hidden in DelgamuwaVihara, Ratnapura, in a grinding stone. It was brought to Kandy by HiripitiyeDiyawadanaRala and DevanagalaRathnalankara Thera and King Vimaladharmasuriya I built a two-storey building to house the tooth relic. By this time it was accepted that the person in possession of the relic had the mandate to be king.

Those who came after King Vimaladharmasuriya, i.e. King Senarath, King Rajasinghe II, King Vimaladharmasuriya II, King Narendrasinghe, King WijayaRajaasinghe, King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, King RajadiRajasinghe and King Sri WickramaRajasinghe all ensured that the tooth relic was venerated and that the necessary customs regarding the relic was followed.

In the second era of the Kandyan Kingdom, Hindu traditions too were integrated into the DaladaPerahera. The EsalaPerahera as we know it today, with the four Hindu DewalePeraheras participating in it, had its origin in 1753 A.D. under the reign of King KirthisriRajasinghe. The Perahera he inaugurated in his reign was confined at first to the four Hindu Dewales, 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 the 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. Under the advise of VenUpalithera from Burma and Ven. AsaranaSaranaSaranankaraSangaraja Thera; the King ordered a procession with the Sacred Tooth Relic to head the four DewalePerahera. With these developments the objective of the Perahera expanded to include paying tribute to the four Hindu Dewales.

As time went by Hindu traditions like 'KapSituweema,' and 'diyakepima' became a part of the EslaPeraheragestivities. According to Hindu tradition there was war against 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 Sri Lanka 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 (ArtocarpusIntegrifolia) or Rukkattana tree (AlstoniaScholaris) for the purpose. Both these trees exude a milky sap when cut and this sap in supposed to be a sign of prosperity. The auspicious times for 'KapSituweema' is calculated by the main NekethMohottala (astrologer for the Temple of the Tooth.) On the auspicious day, the Kapuwas (persons who conducts rituals in a devale) of AluthnuwaraDedimundaDevale, falls a male jak tree. Then they select a part of the trunk, large enough to be distributed among the four devales and bring it to the Vishnu Devale also known as SenkadagalapuraMahaDevale. At the Vishnu Devale they divide the trunk into four parts, place them on a tusker and takes these parts to the area prepared to plant the Kap at Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattinidevales respectively.

It is customary to decorate the area prepared to plant the Kap with flowers and gok kola (light coloured coconut leaves that have not matured.) Afterwards a group led by the chief Kapuwa of the Devalewal around the planted 'kap' with garments depicting what is assumed to have worn by the gods.

After five days of Peraheras at these devales; on the sixth day starts what is known as the KumbalPerahera. It is on this night that the Perahera is seen for the first time outside the Dewales and is joined by the DaladaMaligawaPerahera. 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 colourful. However in general the splendour of these KUMBAL PERAHERA is less and even the lights carried out by those in the Perahera are dimmed. There is a belief that watching the first KumbalPeraherais good for children as it dispels 'vas-dos' (evil eye.) Moreover it’s at the KumbalPeraherathat elephants, singing and dancing are used at the Perahera for the first time. Thus it is also called 'athahuruwana' Perahera (a rehearsal Perahera). This is called KUMBAL PERAHERAbecause it is said that during the ancient times a potter carried a new set of pots during the Perahera and also because the Perahera walks the streets of Kandy as a Kumbala( an insect that build its abode with clay) builds his abode.

After five days of KumbalPerahera; RandoliPeraheras start. This is also considered the most beautiful of the Peraheras. The DiyawadanaNilame takes part in the RandoliPeraheras dressed in his full attire. Randoli literally means Queen’s Palanquin. Up to 1775 the palanquins were carried alongside the elephants in the Perahera. Once the DaladaMaligawa 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. Currently 'dewaabarana' is carried in these Palanquins. The RandoliPeraheras are extremely glamourous events and on the last two RandoliPeraheras and on the Perahera held during the day; the tusker that carries the casket with the tooth relic walks on carpets. The RandoliPeraheras is truly a glorious event and is the zenith of the Kandy EsalaPerahera, which is one of the most important events for Buddhists in the country.

There are a number of traditions and rituals associated with the Perahera. The Tooth Relic casket should be carried by a tusker accompanied by two other tuskers. All officials of the Temple of the Tooth take part in any of the Peraheras after obtaining blessings from the DiyawadanaNilame. The PeremuneRala (the one who goes in front at the Perahera) obtains his 'lekammitiya' and gajanayakaNilame (head of the group of elephants) received his 'ran ankusa' from the DiyawadanaNilame.

The DaladaPerahera takes to the streets as per auspicious times. These are all traditions that have been passed from one generation to the next. Travellers from across centuries from Fa Hien to Robert Knox to Dr. John Devy have all recorded these activities and over the centuries little have changed.

According to tradition; a shot is fired to prepare for the parading on the streets. A second shot is fired to announce that they are ready to take to the streets and a third shot is fired to show that the Perahera has returned to the Temple of the Tooth.

The main attraction of the DaladaPerahera is the royal tusker carrying the casket. A tusker has to meet several criteria for it to carry the casket. The royal tusker must have perfect pair of tusks and his body must touch the ground at seven places. The tusker’s back should be flatter than a normal elephant’s to ensure that the casket can be securely tied. A royal tusker must also be gracious, obedient and intelligent.

The tusker wears a magnificent dress and generally looks more colorful then the other elephants that take part in the Perahera. The decorated ransivige is placed on the back of this tusker and the relics casket is placed inside it on, a velvet cushion, by the Nilame. After the Nilame and the MahanayakeThero strew jasmine flowers on the casket the tusker arrives at the wahalkada followed by the Nilame.

A short time before the auspicious time for the Perahera to start, the evening rituals and gilanpasapooja is finished. DiyawadanaNilame and others must arrive at the room where the Tooth Relic is deposited. The selected monks start chanting 'sethpirith' andKariyaKorale and WattoruRala (Temple of the Tooth officials) wash the hands of the DiyawadanaNilame with scented water. Then DiyawadanaNilame's hands are covered with an embroidered garment. The MahanayakeThero will place the relics casket on the velvet cloth embroidered with gold and silver, held by both hands by the Nilame. The responsibility of placing the casket on the royal elephant now lies with the DiyawadanaNilame. These rituals can only be seen by officials of the DaladaMaligawa. Those at the four devales are also ready to join the main body now. When the auspicious time comes, KariyaKorale places a garland of jasmines on DiyawadanaNilame and invites him to join the Perahera. The MuthuKudakaru (person entrusted with holding a special umberella over the DiyawadanaNilame) hold the MuthuKudaya over the DiyawadanaNilame. This too is a tradition.

When the casket is placed on the royal tusker, all those who take part wear white garments. Those entrusted with chanting songs that bless the Perahera do so when the DiyawadanaNilame accompanies the casket to be placed on the elephant.

Heneya (an official) places carpets for the royal tusker to carry. KariyaKorala ensured that everything is done according to tradition. The royal tusker arrives at the Wahalkada (entrance from the road) accompanied by two people bearing torches and traditional music. The royal tusker then moved to the Sanda Gala (moon stone) and then joins the Perahera.

Traditionally the royal tusker is accompanied by two other tuskers. These two accompanying tuskers also wear magnificent clothes. Four men travel of these accompanying tuskers. The person wearing the white traditional Kandyan costume wears a red hat. He also carried a jasmine flowers. They are entrusted with spreading jasmine flowers, on both sides, to honour the Tooth Relic and they have to do so throughout the journey. The others on these accompanying tuskers are there to protect the casket.

Then there are two others who carry decorated umbrellas (muthukuda). They are entrusted with protecting the casket from rain. In the past the actual tooth relic was paraded. The decision to carry only the casket was taken during the Colonial period. However the two men carrying umbrellas to protect the relic has continued.

The other person on the accompanying tuskers has a brass instrument moulded like the head of a cobra. This is attached to a wooden arm that is decorated with laksha techniques. These instruments are carried for a specific reason. In the past it was generally accepted that the king's legitimacy rested with his possession of the Tooth Relic. There were also bids to steal or take the relic to undermine the king. Throughout history invaders of Sri Lanka attempted to secure the Tooth Relic and its protection was a prime concern of the kings. If any attempts were made to grab the Tooth Relic during the DaladaPerahera, the persons with brass instrument moulded like the head of a cobra could cover the relic so that another person can securely take away the relic. Although now only the casket is carried this tradition lives on.

At the forefront of the procession are the Whip Crackers. The cracking of whips all the way from the very beginning to end of the chosen path of Perahera signifies the approach of the procession. Immediately following the whip crackers are the Flag Bearers carrying standard flags and flags of the different Provinces and the Temples in single file on both sides of the road. The official called Peramunerala riding on the first elephant follows next carrying the register of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth at Kandy.

Next on the procession are the Drummers playing an array of traditional drums and blowing traditional flutes. While the drummers play in explosive style, the teams of traditional dancers create magic with their leaps and moves. The groups of drummers and dancers are followed up by the officer in charge of the elephants, of course mounted on a caparisoned and decorated tusker. During the ancient and medieval times of Sri Lanka, the officer in charge of the King’s stable had been a high ranking minister of the king. To date the officer in charge of the elephants called the GajanayakaNilamecarries the silver goad called Ankusa that symbolize his authority. Following the GajanayakeNilame is another officer of the temple mounted on a tusker: the ‘Kariyakorawnarala’, is the officer in charge of drummers and dancers. He is also responsible for minor functions at the Sacred Temple of the Tooth. Arrival of the Kariyakorawnarala sets the stage for the center of attraction: the Maligawa Tusker who is caparisoned, robed and illuminated, walks majestically in supreme grace and great pride carrying the resplendent golden casket called the ‘Karaduwa’ sheltered with a canopy. The golden casket contains the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha.

The beast’s sense of the solemnity of the procession and the reverence in which the Sacred Tooth Relic is held could hardly be bettered even by a human itself. Held high over the Tusker is a canopy while the Tusker’s walking path is covered by a ream of white cloth called pavada. The devotees, spectators, foreign tourists and all distinguished guests stand steadfast while the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha passes them. The Tusker is followed by two long chains of vibrant dancers, on each side of the road, facing each other with a team of drummers in the middle forming another column. At the end of the retinue is the Custodian of the Temple of the Tooth titled DiyawadanaNilame, dressed in traditional regalia of the high officials of kings, who reigned at the medieval kingdom of Kandy. DiyawadanaNilame is attended by Murawadu (lance bearers), Wadanatal-athu (sunshade bearers and umbrella-bearers) as well as the other officials of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth.

After the final Perahera four Perahera’s from the four ‘devales’ head towards the steppingstones of the GetambeMahaveli River near Peradeniya. The chief ‘kapuralas’ (priests) of the ‘devales’ then wade into the middle of the river. One of the ‘kapuralas’ marks a circle in the water with the point of a ‘golden’ sword. Then the priests’ empties the water into the river that is held in the ‘golden ewer’ (ran kendiya) which they had filled with water at the same spot the year before.

Then they fill them up again with fresh water (The ewers thus filled will be emptied and refilled here at the end of The EsalaPerahera the following year). This ritual is known as the ‘diyakapeema’ (water cutting), which takes place on the morning of the last day of the festivities.

Then the four Peraheras start marching back to Kandy. On their way they stop at the ‘PulleyarKovil’ (SelvavinayagarKovil) at Katukelle. Next at an astrologically calculated auspicious moment they proceed to the AdahanaMaluwa, where they join the MaligawaPerahera. The five Peraheras parade along the D. S. Senanayake Street and King Street three times. Finally the MaligawaPerahera enters the Maligawa and the devalePeraheras wind up at their respective temples, bringing the annual Kandy Esala Pageant to an end.

- Mahinda Kumara Dalupotha (lecturer and folklorist.)

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