WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Dedicated to different deities

By: Florence Wickramage

The Weekend Express - Saturday 24th - Sunday 25th, July 1999

Amidst the wafting fragrance of the golden-hued Esala flowers, the Esala full moon will once again herald in a season of splendour, unequalled to nay other such season anywhere else in the world. The Esala season which goes into the annals of Sri Lankan history as a period dedicated to festival connected with different deities, is unique, in that the whole nation involves itself in these festive Esala celebrations.

Lanka is a land where all the major religions of the world are practised. Therefore it could be surmised that this is a blessed land. According to Buddhist belief Lanka is known as the thrice-blessed land due to the "Tun Saranaya".

Associated with the Esala Full Moon, are several Buddhist festivals. However, festivals connected with other religions too coincide during this season. The Esala Full Moon Poya is of special significance to Buddhists, because it was on such a poya day that the Buddha preached his first sermon, 25 centuries ago, according to the reckoning under the Buddhist Era 544 BC.


Certain festivals held during this season are dedicated to different Gods such as Skanda, Vishnu, Natha, Paththini and Saman. But the crowning glory of all these festivals is the Sri Dalada Perahera, held in the charming hill capital and culture city Mahanuwara (Kandy). (Incidentally the Colonial rulers called it Kandy for Kanda in Sinhala, meaning a hill).

The colourful 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 colourful carnival. The entire nation looks forward to this event which spells out in full measure, the grandeur and beauty of traditional Sinhala culture.


Festivals dedicated to various other deities are held in several parts of the country. The Esala festival of the Seenigama Devalaya down South, held in September is dedicated to God Devol.

This temple is situated at the 59th mile post on the Colombo-Galle road. The history of this devalaya dates back to 235 BC.

In the southernmost point of Sri Lanka known by more than one name, is Dewi Nuwara. In the olden days it was called Girihelpura and in recent times, Dondra or Devi Nuwara. The Esala festival here is held in honour of God Uppalavanna. It is held during July/August as an expression of gratitude to the devas and particularly to God Uppalavanna or Shri Vishnu. Esala festivities also take place in the historic Natha Devale in Dodanwela in Yatinuwara. Dated back to its inception beyond the Portuguese period, the festivities of this temple are held in honour of God Natha.

In the Sri Saman Devalaya at Deraniyagala, Esala festivities held in July in honour of God Saman begins with the traditional kap situveema. The festivities are brought tot a close after the water cutting ceremony at the Sitawaka Oya. History reveals that this devale too has a unique history and had been built by King Rajasinghe of Sitawaka.

Taking pride of place among Esala festivities dedicated to gods is the festival at Kataragama. Situated behind seven hills and nestling within sylvan surroundings on the bank of the Menik ganga is a devale dedicated to the warrier God Skanda. Kataragama become hive of activity during the festival season when people from all walks of life and religion flock to this jungle-shrine, to pay their homage to God Skanda.


Unlike attending other festivals, people attending to festivities at the Kataragama devale, according to tradition, first take a dip in the cool waters of the Menik ganga, before proceeding to the devale. The Kataragama Esala perahera season begins with the flag-hoisting ceremony at the mosque in the premises attended to by both the Chief Priest of the mosque and the Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama devalaya. Commencing with a perahera from the Kataragama devale to Valli Amman kovil, the festivities end with a fire-walking ceremony.

Dedicated to Lord Skanda are the festivities at the Sri kataragama Devale in Ganegoda. The festivities lasting fourteen days take place in September. N Lunawa, the Esala festival is held in August and the relics of the temple are taken in procession.

Similar Esala festivities take place in many other temples and kovils in the island. But taking a different turn is the Bellanwila temple festivities which are normally held in July. Since 1951, Esala festivities at this temple had also been held annually and begins with the chanting of pirith. According to Bodhivamsa, about 2200 years ago, in the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, a sapling of the sacred Bo-tree at Bodh Gaya was planted at Anuradhapura. It is that 32 saplings sprang up from its seeds and one of these plants was said tot have been planted at the Bellanwila temple premises.

The Esale festivities at the ancient temple of Yapahuwa are also unique in that the perahera is held in homour of the sacred Tooth Relic. These festivities date back to the reign of King Bhuvaneka Bahu I, but the perahera had been continuously held annually from 1969.

Festivities coinciding with the Esala season are also held at the famous Munneswaram temple dedicated to Godess Kali. The nearly month-long festivities include "Rambadeema" where devotees shoot at a banana tree specially erected near the temple for the festival, and then eat pieces of it. This act denotes Godess Kali's victory over evil. At the culmination of the festivities, two chariots of the Gods are taken through the city streets to the Deduru Oya and the statues are immersed in the waters before they are ceremonially taken back tot he temple.

Giving pride of place to the harvest season are the Esala festivities at Udappu. Held in July/August, the festivities retain symbolic associations with primitive fertility rites. Here too the festivities conclude with a firewalking ceremony.


While coinciding with the Esala moon, and held during this festive season are several Christian (Catholic) festival. Among them the most popular are the Feasts of Madhu and the Feast at St.Anne's shrine at Talawila. In keeping with the festive season, people from all walks of life, together will devotees flock to these shrines to pay homage to Our Blessed Mother and Saint Anne.


With all these and many such religious festivals taking place during the Esala season, it could be said that the Sri Lanka nation is a religious one striving amongst temporary setbacks, to live up to and maintain the high ideals of peace, love and harmony preached by the religious leaders of the faiths they profess.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka