Historic, religious splendour of low country
Sri Dalada Perahera of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte:
An event of great cultural and historic 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
Raja Maha Viharaya held in memory of and to pay obeisance to the Sacred
Tooth Relic as the kingdom of Kotte was once the abode of the Sacred
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). Kithsiri Mevan is the grandson
of Gotabhaya and son of King Mahasen the builder of the Minneriya tank
who is worshipped as ‘Minneriya Deiyo’.
The Dalada was brought to Sri Lanka concealed in the tresses of
Princess Hemamala, daughter of King Guhaseeva of Kalinga, 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 Trincomalle. It was then
known as Lanka Patuna and the oldest temple was Samudragiri Viharaya,
the fate of which is worth examining. This was destroyed by terrorists
and a Kovil was built at this site. Now the Army has built a Dagaba at
the site and is now open for public worship.
The spectacular Kotte perahera
The King who received the good news overcame with joy, and paid
homage to Sacred Tooth Relic by offering the whole island of Sri Lanka
to the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. At that moment, radiant rays
depicting the colours of the Buddhist flag scattered over the area
followed by many wonderful events.
The Sacred Tooth Relic was taken to the capital Anuradhapura
deposited in a casket made of precious stones and placed it in an
elaborately constructed Dalada Maligawa close to his own palace for
protection. Foreign Buddhist Monks Fa Hien and Hiu San who bear witness
to this has also reported the 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 the Buddha,
a bowl of relics and the Sacred Tooth Relic and 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 came 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 and the
Bhikkhus evacuated the Sacred Tooth Relic to Ruhuna. Prince Keerthi who
overcame Chola invaders and became King. He 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 60 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
King Vijayabahu III defeated Magha and reigned from Dambadeniya and
brought the Sacred Relic to Dambadeniya. After him, his son
Parakramabahu II became King. During his reign, the Sacred Tooth Relic
had performed a miracle as stated in the Mahavamsa.
“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, came down from the sky and settled on the hand of the king”.
From Dambadeniya, 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 Parakramabahu VI (1415-1472). He ruled the country
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. Many of invaluable books of literature such as Lo veda
Sangarawa, Elu Attanagalu Wanshaya, Chula Bodhi, Wanshaya, Hansa
Sandeshaya, Kokila Sandeshaya, Gira Sand-eshaya, Selalihini Sand-eshaya,
Parevi Sandeshaya, Kavya Shekeraya, Guttilaya, Perakumba Siritha, Kuweni
Asna, Daham Geta Malaya, Wayanthi Malaya by great scholars such as Ven.
Weedagama Maitriya Thera and Weedamaga Thri Sinhala Kavithilleke.
The Kotte Perahera was started in 1415 by Perakumba VI under the
auspices of Ven. Weedagama Thera with the participation of about 500
caparisoned elephants. It had paraded a road which was 30 feet in width
and eight feet in height constructed on the rampart. The reign of Kotte
which began in 1372 with reign of King Buvenekabahu V (1372-1408) ended
in 1697 during the reign of Don Juan Dharmapala (1550-1597) who was a
puppet king under Portuguese.
The abandoned kingdom was swallowed by thick jungle and later
rediscovered in 1813 by Ven. Pilane Buddha Rakkitha Nayake Thera. The
Thera discovered the ruins of the present Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya. From
that day, the temple rose from its ashes. The temple is presently the
Headquarters of Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha where
the annual ordination of Bhikkhus takes place in the famous Phoya Ge.
The Perahera was started in 1901 by Ven. Embulgama Wimalatissa,
Thera. Today, it is the leading cultural pageant of historical
significance in the low country. The support to make the perahera a
success is shouldered by residents of Kotte, Mirihana, Pagoda and
Beddagana. Well wishers throughout the country help in many ways to
conduct the Perahera successfully.
The Perahera begins with the chanting of Seth Pirith on August 17 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 today is the gem in the crown of the
entire pageant decorated by several caparisoned elephants. The entire
surroundings reverberate with the sounds of low country, upcountry,
sabaragamuwa drums and also the rhythmic beat of kavadi drums 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 Sabaragamuwa add colour and
rhythm to the entire perahera.
Water cutting ceremony
The Diya Kepeema is performed at Etul Kotte on the waters of
Diyawanna Oya and all rituals related to the Perahera is performed by
Chief Kapu Mahattaya A.D. Chandrasena and his followers. Thereafter, the
kap plant is sent floating down the river.
After the ceremony, 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 offer a Deva Dana to
those who call over at the temple including those participated in the
Perahera to invoke 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
From the Bo Maluwa, the casket containing the relics is carried in
procession by the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of the Dayaka Sabha
and is placed in the Maligawa.
The sacred ornaments brought in the Perahera which follow the casket
is placed in respective Devalayas after performing the rituals. All
rituals related to the Perahera is performed by the Chief Kapumahattaya,
and his assistants under the guidance of Ven. Aluthnuwara Anuruddha
Finally, the Gara yak Shantiya is performed to drive away all evil
and to bless the Nayaka Thera. Resident Theras, 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 Chief incumbent Ven. Aluthnuwara
He is given all assistance by the resident Bhikkus led by Ven. Pandit
Pitigala Jinasiri Thera.