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Walli Yak mangallaya

The final of the Kandy Esala Perahera

by: L. B. Senaratne

Kandy - 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.

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.

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.

In Kandy, following on the Day Perahera, a 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 centre of the forecourt of the Dewala and on the first night dances on the Ata-Mangalla drawn with rice offered by the Dewala.

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 Dewale.

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 Dewala 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.

Now, who is really Gara Yakka? According to legend, he 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 Dewale, 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.

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