Monday, August 26, 2013

Travel Monday: Blessings from Kandy Esala Perahera August 2013 - Part 2

This is Part 2 of my Travel Monday blog on the Kandy Perahera. In this second part, I focus on the actual Kandy Perahera, my thoughts and some of the things I learnt from people speaking with various people. I have both photos AND videos to share! biggrin

Part 1 can be found at Travel Monday: Blessings from Kandy Esala Perahera August 2013 - Part 1. It sets out my overall travel experience, including the journey, logistics, preparation, and observations.

As you will have read from my first post, I had a pretty fair idea of what to expect from my research and reading. However, nothing really prepares you for nightfall, the twinkling lights around Sri Dalada Maligawa, and the sound of the cannon being fired to signal the departure of the procession from the Temple. The start usually coincides with the auspicious time.

What was astounding by the end of the Kandy Esala Perahera, was the sheer size of the procession. This year more than 1,200 performers (including dancers, drummers, whip crackers and more) and over 50 elephants took part.

I attended the Randoli Perahera considered as the most colorful Perahera in Sri Lanka which includes the Kumbal Perahera (usually held during the first week of the Kandy Esala Perahera) accompanied with palanquins (randoli) of the four guardian deities Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini. The procession lasts more than three hours.

The Randoli Perahera is meant to signify the offering of gold, particularly royalty, in traditional times. Even lay people would collect their valuables and make offerings.

My account will also include some explanations of the religious meaning and symbolism behind some of the dances, movements and rituals. I collected these as part of my research and discussions with various people.

I tried to find out the meaning of "Perahera" from some linguists to understand the origin of the celebrations. Some have indicated it primarily means procession or parade. However, I have come across an alternative meaning of "qualities from ancient times" from one of the Buddhist monks.

If you come to participate, perform or attend the Kandy Esala Perahera, the blessings are in abundance. As a Buddhist you strengthen faith, gain merit, as well as, receive blessings to remove any obstacles from your spiritual path. As a non-Buddhist you receive blessings of good wishes, peace, harmony and well-being.

The order of the main Perahera procession, which is maintained throughout, consists of five separate Peraheras:
  • Dalada Maligawa Perahera
  • Natha Dewala Perahera
  • Maha Vishnu Dewala Perahera
  • Katharagama Dewale Perahera
  • Pattini Dewale Perahera

Dalada Maligawa Perahera

The Dalada Maligawa Perahera commences with the whip crackers who lead the procession from the Temple. The crack of their whips is meant to announce the approach of the Perahera procession. Apparently, they did not form part of the traditional Esala Perahera.

The whip is known as "kassa" and makes a big sound as it is cracked. This is meant to signify how we can bicker about small things which can then lead to bigger arguments and fights.

The torch bearers and performers tossing and spinning fire balls then follow the whip crackers. The fire balls are known as "ginibola" and are meant to signify "kilesas" or defilements due to "avijja" or ignorance.

The spinning of the fire balls symbolizes our predicament of being caught in the "wheel of samsara" or the Buddhist belief in the repetitive cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Greed, hatred and delusion fuel this wheel of samsara.

I sat near quite a few kids (who were in attendance with their families) and they were completely mesmerized by the Perahera. It was quite a thing to observe. Some were swaying with the drums and horns, while others clutched their parents or each other and watched in perfect stillness.

There are people walking on stilts as part of the procession.The performers on stilts are also meant to signify and remind us of the quality of conceitedness as they are conspicuous and attempt to behave in a prominent manner above others.

The flag bearers follow the torch bearers. The flags are the standards of different provinces and temples.

An official, known as the Peramune Rala, sitting atop an elephant follows the flag bearers. In traditional times he carried the mandate from the King giving permission to hold the Perahera. Elephants have been historically included within the Perahera. I have been by told by friends elephants have been included in the Perahera as they have traditionally symbolized conceitedness. A person who lives their life with a "swollen head" mentality thinking they are bigger than what they are can potentially be reborn as an elephant.

Kandyan drummers and dancers follow the Peramune Rala. This part of the procession reveals the intricate and elaborate costumes of the performers. I read in one of the newspapers there are more than 30 dancing teams, from remote areas like Polonnaruwa, Ampara and Anuradhapura, participating in the Kandy Esala Perahera. Most of these dancers come from families who have participated in the Perahera going back more than four generations!

At one level, it is all rather breathtaking to take in. However, there is more to the festivities than the external grandeur, dazzling performances and hypnotic sounds.

As the procession keeps moving past you hear the repetitive sounds of drums and horns which are quite hypnotic. 

Drummers use a variety of drums such as dawulas , tammettams and beres. The drums are meant to signify the bombardment of our senses in samsara and the importance of not getting caught up or enslaved to our sense desires.

The sound of the five different horns are apparently meant to signify the sound of the Truth of the Dhamma or truthfulness; Brahma sounds and also the sound of the Buddha's charisma.

There are also many traditional dances with intricate hand gestures. It is said some of the hand gestures have a way of purifying and bringing more light, thus dissolving negative rays or energies. When hand gesture shows movement towards the ground it is as if one is breaking toxic rays and sending them to the ground.

The dance shown in the image below was fascinating and I later heard it symbolized the tangles of life, of samsara. Throughout the dance there are collisions and entanglements. With each collision you get further entangled which ultimately leads to eventual destruction. 

I also have a short video of this dance that I took towards the end of the procession when I went to the back entrance of Sri Dalada Maligawa.

The main highlight of the Perahera comes next - the Maligawe Tusker carrying the Perahera Karanduwa (golden casket) containing the Buddha's Sacred Tooth Relic. Apparently, the Sacred Tooth Relic is no longer taken in procession. As part of the process, a white cloth precedes the Maligawa and is is spread in front of its path as a mark of respect for it to walk on. In addition, a canopy cover is is held over the Tusker and golden casket. The Maligawa Tusker is also flanked by two other companion elephants. 

When the Maligawe Tusker is about to come past everyone stands as a mark of respect. Looking around at the crowds of people around me I was struck by the sense of faith and reverence, as well as a gentleness to everyone's faces. Mine was probably the same. 

At the time, I remember feeling a general sense of quietness come over me and some tingles as I gazed at the Maligawe Tusker and the golden casket. Each person will have their own individual experience, but for me, it was a significant heartfelt moment.

The Maligawe Tusker is followed by dancers and drummers in the center followed by the Diyawadana Nilame. He is attended by lance bearers, sunshade bearers and umbrella-bearer, as well as minor temple headmen.

This marks the end of the Dalada Maligawa Perahera.

Peraheras of the Four Guardian Deities

There are Peraheras for the four gaurdian deities - Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini that follow. Each is distinct, though smaller than the preceding Dalada Maligawa Perahera. There is much devotion and faith demonstrated towards these deities. The Natha Dewala Perahera follows the Dalada Maligawa Perahera. The Natha Dewala is given precedence over the other deities because it is believed this deity is a future Buddha.

The Maha Vishnu Dewalae Perahera comes next. The traditional history of the Maha Vishnu Dewale is that this deity was entrusted with the protection of Buddhism in Sri Lanka by the Chief of the Gods, Sakra Devendrayo. It is also said Sakra Devendrayo is in the line of succession after Natha as a future Buddha.

The Katharagama Dewala Perahera follows next. Katharagama is supposed to be the General of Sakra Devendrayo and is believed to be all-powerful in war. His assistance was invoked by the kings before battle. I have heard this deity had previously taken an oath to protect Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and is therefore much-loved by Buddhist laity.

The Pattini Dewale Perahera, comes last of all. Pattni is a goddess who is supposed to exercise control over diseases and health issues. Apparently, she is included in the Perahera to placate and honor her.

The end of the Kandy Esala Perahera

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had the good fortune to walk out of the Sri Dalada Maligawa enclosed area towards Raja Veediya and the back entrance of the Temple, where the procession was ending.

I managed to capture some images and videos as part of the Dalada Maligawa Perahera was returning to the Temple.

I managed to video a few of the different traditional dances, drums, and elephants.

This last video of dancing baby elephants was really hypnotizing!

And finally I got to see the Maligawa Tusker for a second time as well!

I hope you have enjoyed my account, in two-parts, of the 2013 Kandy Esala Perahera. And, I share the blessings and good wishes I received from attending the Kandy Esala Perahera in August 2013 with everyone.

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