The Duruthu Perahera is held in January to commemorate the visit of the Buddha to Kelaniya
The annual Kelaniya Duruthu Maha Perahera will be held this month, heralding the new year. A grand procession of drummers, dancers, torch-bearers, elephants and acrobats make this perahera the most colourful and popular low-country procession of its kind in Sri Lanka. The Duruthu Perahera, inaugurated in January 1927 is in commemoration of the traditional belief that in the eighth year after Buddhahood, on the full moon day of January, Buddha visited Kelaniya.
A variety of religious festivals take place for a week, culminating in the colourful Duruthu Perahera. A festive air prevails in and around the Kelaniya Temple premises as numerous stalls selling a wide range of goods are built in the vicinity of the temple. Prominent among them are the clay utensils and other decorative forms of pottery. Beautiful ornaments made of terra-cotta, and handpainted and glazed earthenware jugs and decorative jars are also found in abundance at these stalls.
The focal point of the Duruthu Perahera, or the Kelaniya Perahera as some prefer to term it, is the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, (Kelaniya Temple) built in close proximity to the Kela-niya river. The earliest historical records note that it was King Yala-tissa, who reigned in the 3rd century BC, who first built the city of Kelaniya and along with it its temple. The original paintings on the shrine walls have been added during the reign of King Voharikatissa. In 1213, an invasion from South India led by Kalinga-Maga, resulted in the destruction of many of the shrines and temples in the island including the Kelaniya Temple. However, King Vijayabahu III rebuilt almost all the temples, and the Kelaniya temple was returned to its former glory.
The temple was destroyed again in the 16th century when the Portuguese conquered Sri Lanka, and again it was rebuilt in 1767 by the reigning King of Kandy, Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe. The temple received further attention in 1888 by Mrs. Helena Wijewardena who, saddened by the derelict state of the temple buildings, commissioned the famous temple artist Solius Mendis to restore the interiors of the buildings to its former glory. For more than 20 years, Mendis painted frescos depicting events in the life of the Buddha and scenes from Buddhist history in Sri Lanka. He also added geometric ceiling paintings to the temple hall.
Many legends surround the Kela-niya Temple, among them the story of King Kelanitissa who, in the 2nd century BC, angered over a love affair between his wife and his brother, executed a Buddhist monk by burning him alive in a cauldron of oil. The story continues that the guardian deities of Sri Lanka were angered by this rash act and the sea began to encroach the land. Kelaniya, which was then seven gawwas (45 km) away from the sea was reduced to less than six. The Kelaniya Temple is a splendid example of Buddhist architecture and art, among the best found anywhere on the island. At the temple entrance one finds the 'Makara Thorana' (archway), constructed during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe. The Makara is a symbol of protection in local mythology, and is a stylized depiction of animals combined into an elaborate pattern. The 'Makara' has the trunk of an elephant, the body of a fish, the feet of a lion, the ears of a hog, the teeth of a monkey and the tail of a swan.
The main shrine at the Kelaniya Temple, built on a rock platform a metre high, consists of two sections. The outside of the shrine has three rows of carved figures. The first of stone swans, the second of dwarfs known as Bahiravayo who seem to be holding up the entire edifice have grimaces on their faces, and the third row of elephants. Above these rows of figures on the outside walls are statues of Hindu deities hewn into the rock surface. They are of Gana, Goddess Ganga, Vishnu, Vibeheshana, Maitri Bodisatva, King Maniakkika and Skanda.
The traditional 'Sanda Kada Pahana' or (moonstone) found at the entrance to the temple, is an ornamental stone slab in the shape of the half moon, artistically carved with figures and flowers. Stone steps from the moonstone lead to the shrine entrance flanked by two 'Gajasinghe' images, with the body of the lion and the head of an elephant.
Inside the two long halls, the influence of South Indian forms of painting on these temple paintings is evident. Solius Mendis has set the incidents of the stories into the wall spaces with a remarkable talent and eye for life-like representations of the characters of the stories. These series of historic panels represent 'Jathaka' stories from the life of the Buddha, and also myths and legends, including that of King Kelanitissa executing the Buddhist monk in his fit of rage.
The eight metre or daha ata riyan long reclining statue of the Buddha is the main focus of the darkened hall, where during the day the only light is that which streams in from the open entrances to the shrine. There are also statues of the Buddha in meditation posture, and statues of several deities at the feet of the reclining Buddha statue.
Adjoining the shrine is a dagoba, built in the shape of a heap of paddy, is the best existing example of the Dhanyakkara style of dagoba. This dagoba is said to mark the place where the Buddha, at the request of King Maniakkika, sat on a gem studded throne to preach. This golden throne inlaid with precious stones is believed to be enshrined in the dagoba.
To the left of the shrine, on a high stone platform, is a Bo tree, of the same species of tree which gave the Buddha shelter during his meditation.
The Kelaniya Temple, being close to Colombo has drawn many a visitor to explore its eastern architecture and stylized buildings, its remarkable frescos and statues, and to learn of the many myths and legends which surround this religious site. This month on 20th, 21st, 22nd, it will draw thousands to experience and to participate in the Duruthu Perahera.
For further information contact the Kelaniya Temple on tel: (94 1) 911505