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Spirituality redefined

Esala Perahera of Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya

Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city life of the busy capital, Colombo, it is just five minutes’ drive from the Dehiwela junction and also from the Boralesgamuwa junction. Located midway in the calm and serene atmosphere, no Buddhist can miss the sacred holy spot – a proud landmark in this area giving the pilgrims the true taste of a sanctified Punya Bhoomi. Its popularity has spread island-wide and worldwide too, well known for its exceptional miraculous powers drawing massive crowds daily, not only on Poya days but every second, every day, of the year.

Conveniently located in scenic and serene surroundings this fascinating powerful temple is among the oldest dating back to the most glorious period in Lankan history – the Anuradhapura period. Among the early chronicles, the only existing primary source of information is Bodhiwamsa which speaks of 40 places where the Bo saplings from the original were planted and Bellanwila is clearly stated in the list, adding to its sanctity.

There is also a mass of legend, fables, folktales and oral tradition handed down by early inhabitants which one believed to this day. After the dark ages, subsequent to the Portuguese conquest the original temple had received the royal patronage of Sri Sanghabodhi Parakramabahu of Sri Jayawardhanapura Kotte – a generous supporter of Buddhism.

History reveals that the modern era begins with the re-discovery of the temple by Thera Thengodagedara from the thick jungle exposing a tale of divine creation. It speaks of very powerful deities making it their abode in ancient times providing safety to the sacred premises. It is believed that the deities had made various offerings venerated the Bo tree and Sakyamuni the Enlightened One.

This supports the view of the existence of some supernatural power – the power of Sakyamuni to safeguard the place, plus the divine blessings. However, the tradition reveals that the temple – Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara which stands out for its exceptional miraculous powers is directly connected to the most sacred Bodhi at Bodhgaya with the dawn of a new era with overwhelming peace the President declared the Punyabhoomy as a world heritage site.

By virtue of the greatness of the temple, the area in and around greater Colombo has become a pious and powerful stronghold of piety and sanctity.

Traditional Perahera - Festive spirit

Preparations for the sacred event commences long before the due date. The chain of activities prior to the traditional pageant is carried out in perfect order, giving a very good message to the Buddhist world. The elaborate programme includes a week-long Pirith desana, held to invoke blessings on the devotees at large. This annual Pirith ceremony attracts large crowds from in and around Bellanwila and greater Colombo. The idea of religious harmony is well depicted extending their wholehearted support and utmost reverence to the sacred site. The entire premises is also beautifully decorated with Buddhist flags and illuminations after colour-washing and painting done already to mark the occasion annually. There are over a million (if one is to count) mini bulbs encircling the Bodhiya temple buildings and on the road at the entrance to the temple, making it more glamorous than ever before. The perahera route along the highway too gaily decorated giving prominence to conventional and traditional customs. It is a wonderful job well done by the organizers.

The elegance of the pageant

Bellanwila Esala Maha Perahera is inaugurated with the Kap planting ceremony followed by Devadutha, Kumbal, Mal, Pavada and Ransivili peraheras culminating with the Randoli Maha Perahera on the final day. These are held daily and terminates with the water cutting ceremony and the almsgiving held subsequently. According to tradition, the water cutting ceremony is held at the Boralesgamuwa ferry. The festival concludes after the almsgiving, is offered to the deities at the temple. The entire festival is held in the month of August every year. The month of August, therefore, is the most joyous, exciting and the most sacred month for the residents of the area. Now referring to the perahera it is the most sought after the cultural pageant in the region. It is really amazing to see the tuskers playing a major role in this eventful religious performance. They are well cared for in the vicinity in preparation for the spectacular event.

Gorgeously decorated tuskers, drummers, dancers, trumpeters, flags and torchbearers add glory and pomp to the pageant. The cracking of whips in the air is an eye-catching item while traditional music gives life to pompous parade along the streets in the neighbourhood. The other paraphernalia of the procession includes decorated items specially prepared for the occasion. It is truly an unforgettable experience for the temple participants, devotees and pious pilgrims who perform with deep veneration. This eye-catching elegant sacred perahera may last forever serving humanity.

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