Sri Dalada Perahera of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte
by A. M. Gunawardhana (LL.B)
Asst. Secretary Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya Dayaka Sabhawa
06Aug2005 / The Island
An event of great cultural and historical significance takes place annually in the hill capital of Sri Lanka in the month of Esala. This is followed by several such events right throughout the country. One such event is the historic Sri Dalada Perahera of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya held in memory of and to pay obeisance and to honour the Sacred Tooth Relic as the kingdom of Kotte was once the abode of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
The Dalada Perahera has a long history. It dates back to the time it was brought to Sri Lanka during the reign of king Kithsiri Mewan also known as Kirthi Sri Meghawanna (303-331) who was the son of king Mahasen. The Dalada was brought to Sri Lanka concealed in the tresses of princess Hemamala daughter of King Guhaseeva of Kalinga who was accompanied by her husband prince Dantha whose father was the king of Udeni, the prince and his party were disguised as Brahmins and disembarked at the Illangathurai Harbour in the Kottiar pattu of Trincomalee. It was then known as Lanka Patuna and the oldest temple was Samudragiri Viharaya the fate of which is worth examining.
The king who received the good news overcame with joy received the Sacred Tooth Relic paid homage to it by offering the whole island of Sri Lanka to the tooth relic of Lord Buddha at that moment radiant rays depicting the colours of the Buddhist flag scattered over the area from the relic followed by many wonderful events.
The Sacred Tooth Relic was taken to the capital Anuradhapura deposited it in a casket made of precious stones and placed it in an elaborately constructed Dalada Maligawa which was close to his own palace for protection. Foreign Theros Fa Hien and Hiu San who bear witness to this has also reported same. The King held a festival to honour the Sacred Tooth Relic and ordered that similar festivals should be held annually. The possession of the Sacred Tooth Relic was transferred from Megagiri to Abhayagiri for obeisance and this could be mentioned as the beginning of the Dalada Perahera.
These annual festivals were followed by all the Kings and it became part of their duty to do so. The people believed that the person who possessed the Sacred Tooth Relic was the king of the country as such it became a symbol of royalty.
The Sacred Tooth Relic is intimately woven with the History of Sri Lanka. It is said that when there was a drought during King Upatissa’s reign in 370 A.D. he led a procession with a gold image of Lord Buddha, the bowl relics and the Sacred Tooth Relic and that it brought down rain ending a severe drought. The same event occurred during the rule of the British invaders where the country experienced a severe drought and the reason adduced was failing to hold the annual Perahera as the British rulers ordered our people not to hold the Perahera. After great persuasion permission had been given mockingly on condition that if no rains come further permission will not be granted. However after the Perahera there had been torrential rain, which led to severe floods and after that the Britishers never refused permission to hold the Perahera and the water which poured from the heavens for weeks was known as "Dalada Wathura".
With the Chola invasion King Mahinda (982-1029) was killed by them and the Bhikkhus removed the Sacred Tooth Relic to Ruhuna Prince Keerthi who overcame the Chola invaders and became king and was known as Maha Vijayabahu (1055-1110) and continued the Sinhalese Dynasty. King Keerthi Sri Nissanka Malla (1187-1198) realized the bondage between the Buddhists and the Sacred Tooth Relic and he constructed a palace at Polonnaruwa out of granite with intricate carvings to place the sacred tooth relic and it is said that the work was completed within a short period of sixty hours.
When Magha the chola invaded Sri Lanka again the Sacred Tooth Relic was taken to Pusulpitiya, Raja Maha Viharaya at Kotmale for safety. Magha blinded and killed Parakrama Pandu (1212-1215) who was the ruler at that time. Vijayabahu III defeated Magha and reigned from Dambadeniya (1232-1136) and brought the Sacred Relic to Dambadeniya after him his son Parakrama Bahu II (1236-1220) became king. During his reign the Sacred Tooth Relic had performed a miracle as stated in the Maha Wansa.
"The Sacred Relic Rose to the sky like a ray of the moon from the hand of the king which depicted a lotus exhibited the true image of the Buddha with several rays of resplendent colours emanating from the Buddha image lighting the entire vicinity bringing immense happiness to the king pleasing him and came down from the sky and settled on the hand of the king."
From Damradeniya the Sacred Tooth Relic was taken to Yapahuwa, from there to Kurunegala, Gampola and then in 1415 it came to Kotte during the reign of king Parakrama Bahu VI (1415- 1472) He ruled the entire land from the Kingdom of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte. His era is known as the ‘Golden Era’ of Literature. Several books of great repute were written during his rule as he encouraged scholars to write such books. Lots of invaluable books of literature such as Lo Vada Sangarawa, Elu Attanagalu Wanshaya, Chula Bodhi Wanshaya, Hansa Sandeshaya, Kokila Sandesaya, Gira Sandesaya, Selalihini Sandesaya, Parevi Sandesaya, Kavya Shekeraya, Guttilaya, Perakumba Siritha, Kuveni Asna, Daham Geta Malaya, Wayanthi Malaya by great scholars such as Weedagama, Maitriya Thero, Thotagamuwa Sri Rahula Thero and Weedagama Thri Sinhala Kavithilleke.
Kotte Perahera was started in 1415 by Perakumba VI under the Auspices of Weedagama Thero with the participation of about 500 caparisoned elephants and had paraded on a road which was 30ft. in width and 8ft. in height constructed on the rampart. The reign of Kotte which began on 1372 with the reign of Buvenekabahu V (1372-1408) ended in the year 1597 during the reign of Don Juan Dharmapala (1550-1597) who was a puppet king under the Portuguese.
The abandoned Kingdom was swallowed by thick jungle and later rediscovered in 1813 by Ven. Pilane Buddha Rakkitha Nayake Thero who discovered the ruins of the present Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya. From this day the temple Rose from its ashes like a phoenix. The temple is presently the Head quarters of the Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha where the annual ordination of Bhikkhus take place in the famous Poya Ge.
The Perahera was started in 1901 by Ven. Embulgama Wimalatissa, Thero. Today it is the leading cultural pageant of historical significance in the low country. The necessary support to make the perahera a success is shouldered by the residents of Kotte, Mirihana, Pagoda and Beddegana. Well wishers throughout the country help in many ways to complete the Perahera successfully.
The Perahera begins with the chanting of Seth Pirith and then the ‘kap planting’ ceremony is held at an auspicious time. This is a vow made to the gods promising to hold a kumbal perahera, Three Mal peraheras, pavada perahera, weedi perahera, randoli perahera, maha perahera and diya keppema perahera.
The final perahera to be held on Saturday is the gem in the crown of the entire pageant where several caparisoned elephants participate. The entire surroundings reverberate to the sounds of low country upcountry, Sabaragarnuwa drums and also the rhythmic beat of Kavadi drums which adds an electrifying atmosphere to the neighbourhood. The tinkling of bells jingling anklets, twinkling lights enhance the beat of drums. Dancers of all hues from upcountry, low country and Sabaragarnuwa adds colour and rhythm to the entire perahera.
The Diya Kepeema is performed at Etul Kotte on the waters of Diyawanna Oya and all rituals related to the Perahera is performed by the Chief Kapu Mahattaya A. D. Chandrasena J.P. and his followers. Thereafter the kap plant is sent floating down the river.
After the ceremony the residents of Etulkotte under the guidance of the chief priest of Perakumba pirivena named after the legendary King Perakumba VI and the members of the Dayaka Sabha give a ‘Deva Dana’ to those who call over at the temple including those who participated in the Perahera and convey merits ‘to gods.
After the ‘Deva Dana’, the Perahera returns to the Raja Maha Viharaya Bo Maluwa bringing the water obtained from Diyawanna Oya, after the water-cutting ceremony.
From the Bo Maluwa the casket containing the relics is carried in procession by the Secretary and Asst. Secretary of the Dayaka Sabha and is placed in the Maligawa. The Sacred ornaments brought in the Perahera follow the casket is placed in the respective Devalayas after the performance of rituals.
Finally the ‘Gara Yak Shantiya’ is performed to drive away all evil and to bless the Nayaka Thero, resident Theros, all members of the Dayaka Sabha, all those who participated in the perahera and the residents of Kotte, Pagoda Mirihana and Beddagana. All ceremonies are conducted under the guidance of Ven. Aluthnuwara Anuruddha Thero, the chief incumbent. He is given all the assistance by the resident monks led by Ven. Pandit Pitigala Jinasiri Thero.