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Sri Lanka

25 July 2020

Kandy Esala Perahera

Sri Lanka: Kandy Esala Perahera, 25 July 2020. Images from eBay and SL Post Stamps.

Technical Specifications:

Bulletin # 987
Date of Issue: 2020-07-25
Denominations: LKR 10.00, 2x 15.00
Dimension of Stamps: 41mm x 30mm
Dimension of Souvenir Sheets: 107mm x 55mm
Perforations: 12 x 13.25
Sheet Composition: 20
Last Date of Sale: 2024-03-31
Print Color: Four process colours
Shape: Horizontal
Print Quantity: 300,000 each stamp; Rs10.00 souvenir sheet: 30,000; Rs15.00 souvenir sheets: 25,000 each

Rs10.00 – The Diyawadana Nilame

Rs15.00 – The Tusker Carrying the Casket Entering through the Mahawahalkada

Rs15.00 – The Tusker Carrying the Casket Walking on Carpet That Are Laid on his Path

The Kandy Esala Perahera (the Sri Dalada Perahara procession of Kandy) also known as The Festival of the Tooth is a festival held in July and August in Kandy, Sri Lanka. This historical procession is held annually to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, which is housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. A unique symbol of Sri Lanka, the procession consists of traditional local dances such as fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances, in addition to the elephants who are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional diya-kepeema ritual, a water cutting ceremony which is held at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, Kandy.

The Esala is believed to be a fusion of two separate but interconnected “Peraheras” (Processions) – The Esala and Dalada. The Esala Perahera, which is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC, was a ritual enacted to request the gods for rainfall. The Dalada Perahera is believed to have begun when the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India during the 4th century CE, eight hundred years after the passing away of Lord Buddha.

According to tradition, the Tooth Relic was taken in procession to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala & Prince Dantha.

Ceremonial Tusker carrying the Sacred Casket

It was also through the efforts of Upali Thera that the Kandy Esala Perahera came into being. This procession was originally focused on honor to Hindu deities, particularly those incorporated into Sri Lankan Buddhism. Upali Thera believed this to be inappropriate in a Buddhist nation, and his influence led to the king declaring that “Henceforth Gods and men are to follow the Buddha”.

After the Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British in 1815, the custody of the Relic was handed over to the Maha Sanga (the Buddhist Clergy). In the absence of the king, a chief lay custodian called the “Diyawadana Nilame” was appointed to handle routine administrative matters concerning the relic and its care.

The Kandy Esala Perahera begins with the Kap Situveema or Kappa, in which a sanctified young Jackfruit tree (Artocarpus integrifolia) is cut and planted in the premises of each of the four Devales dedicated to the four guardian gods Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and the goddess Pattini. Traditionally it was meant to shower blessing on the King and the people.

A photograph of the Esala Perehera festival in Kandy, taken around 1885.

For the next five nights, the “Devale Peraheras” take place within the premises of the four Devales with the priest of each Devale taking the pole every evening, accompanied by music and drumming, flag and canopy bearers, spearman and the Ran Ayudha (gold Armaments), the sacred insignia of the Gods.

On the sixth night, the Kumbal Perahera begins and continues on for five days. Initially, the Devale Peraheras assemble in front of the Temple of the Tooth, which is Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist Shrine and where the Buddha’s Sacred Tooth Relic has been kept since the 16th Century, with their insignias placed on the ransivige (a dome-like structure) accompanied by the Basnayake Nilames (the lay custodians of the Devales).

Dancers at the Esala Perahera

The relic casket, which is a replica for the Tooth Relic, is placed inside the ransivige affixed to the Maligawa Elephant, the Maligawa Perahera joins the awaiting Devale Peraheras and leads the procession. Whip-crackers and fireball acrobats clear the path, followed by the Buddhist flag bearers. Then, riding on the first elephant, is the official called Peramuna Rala (Front Official). He is followed by Kandyan Drummers and Dancers who enthrall the crowd, and are themselves followed by elephants and other groups of musicians, dancers and flag bearers. A group of singers dressed in white heralds the arrival of the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic. The Diyawadana Nilame (traditionally required to do everything in his power to ensure rain in the correct season) walks in traditional Kandyan-clothed splendor after the tusker.

The second procession is from the Natha Devale, which faces the Sri Dalada Maligawa and is said to be the oldest building in Kandy, dating back to the 14th Century.

The third is from the Vishnu Devale (Vishnu being a Hindu god), also known as the Maha Devale. It is situated in front of the main gate of the Natha Devale.

The procession of Katharagama Devale

The fourth procession is from the Katharagama Devale (dedicated to the God of Kataragama deviyo, identified with the warrior god Skanda) which is on Kottugodalle Vidiya (a street in Kandy). This procession includes Kavadi, the peacock dance, in which the pilgrim-dances carry semicircular wooden contraptions studded with peacock feathers on their shoulders.

The fifth and final procession is from the Pattini Devale (Pattini being a goddess associated with the cure of infectious diseases and called upon in times of drought and famine), which is situated to the West of the Natha Devale. This is the only procession that has women dances.

The following important times are announced by the firing of cannonballs, which can be heard all across Kandy.

  1. The commencement of the Devale Peraheras
  2. The placing of the casket on the tuskers back
  3. The commencement of the Dalada Perahera
  4. The completion of the Perahera
Elephants at the Esala Perahera. Apparently if the elephant raises his tusk in front of you it means good luck.

The Randoli Perahera begins after five nights of the Kumbal Perahera. Randoli refers to palanquins on which the Queens of the ruling Kings traditionally traveled. 2018 Kandy Esala Maha Perahera (Randoli Perahera) was held on 25 August 2018, the full moon poya day with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people.

After a further five nights of the Randoli Perahera, the pageant ends with the Diya Kepeema, which is the water cutting ceremony at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, a town a few miles from Kandy. A Day Perahera is held to mark the ceremony.

The rituals connected with the Tooth Relic are conducted by Monks of the Malwatte Chapter and Asgiriya Chapters of the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka. It is the duty of the Diyawadana Nilame to organize the Perahera and thus he summons the large number of officials of the Temple of the Tooth and entrusts them with various ceremonial duties connected with the conducting of the Perahera. He first gets the auspicious time from the Nekath Mohottala, the advisor on astrological matters. The task of organising the different types of drummers is handed over to the four officials known as the Panikka Mura Baarakaruwo.

President William Gopallawa receiving the sannasa in 1973.

The Maligawa officials also meet the owners of the elephants due to take part in the Perahera (most elephants are privately owned). The dance troupes are given time to prepare. The Basnayake Nilames (the lay custodians of the Devales) are then told to organise their processions.

On completion of the Perahera, the Diyawadana Nilame would lead a procession consisting of the Nilames of Sathara Maha Devalas and the Nilames of rural devalas to the President’s Pavilion carrying a sannasa (formal letter) known as the Perahera Sandeshaya to the President stating the successful completion of the annual Esala Perahera. The President would meet and receive the sannasa at the entrance to the President’s Pavilion.

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