Divine Nights, Spectacular Sights | Daily News
Ratnapura Esala Perahera:

Divine Nights, Spectacular Sights

Among the four major rivers that flow from Samanala Kanda, the Kalu River, sometimes, flows calmly and, sometimes, violently. It becomes calm as it passes the Kalu River valley. Located in the beautiful Kalu River valley, the Sabaragamuwa Maha Saman Devalaya is a sacred place revered not only by the people of Sabaragamuwa but also by all Sri Lankans. Many people have a strong faith and an unwavering devotion to the Maha Saman Devalaya in Ratnapura.

All arrangements have been made to hold the 796th Esala Festival, which is held annually at the Sabaragamuwa Maha Saman Devalaya, in a grand manner this year as well. However, the public will not be permitted to witness the Perahera due to prevailing COVID-19 restrictions and the curfew.

The Esala Festival is a great religious festival held in our country amidst ancient customs and traditions. There are three main Esala Peraheras in the country – Kandy (Sri Dalada Maligawa), Kataragama (Ruhunu Kataragama Devalaya) and Ratnapura (Maha Saman Devalaya).

The cultural values built on the beliefs in the Gods and divinity are displayed in this procession. According to historical sources, the Sabaragamuwa Devalaya was built about 796 years ago. That was during the reign of King Parakramabahu II, a great King who lived in the Dambadeniya era.

According to historical chronicles, Chief Minister Arya Kamadeva who was in the ministerial retinue of King Parakramabahu II took the initiative to build this sacred place. King Parakramabahu II had entrusted this Minister with the task of strengthening the State Treasury through gem mining on lands in what is now called Sabaragamuwa Province.

Accordingly, Minister Arya Kamadeva had arrived in Sabaragamuwa. The first thing he did was to make a vow to God Saman on behalf of the King for the success of his duty. According to ‘Saman Siritha’, he promised to make a three-storeyed palace if he was given a precious gem. The gem mining programme was very successful and found a lot of very precious gems. King Parakramabahu II was very happy to know this. Then he fulfilled his vow to God Saman. The statue of God Saman, which was brought by Minister Arya Kamadeva from Ganga Siripura to Siripa Padma, was later brought to the Saman Devalaya by the King himself.

Today, the Saman Devalaya is a complete Devalaya. It has elements of the Shanti Mandapa, the Diggeya, the warehouse and a kitchen. The Devalaya is built of granite and clay walls. The walls are about two feet thick. The roof is made of slate tiles. The boundary of the Devalaya starts from the Kotambe ferry on the Ratnapura side via Panadura. On the Panadura side, it is near the Berawella Bridge, on the other side, the Kalu River and on the other side is the Ganegoda Bridge.

Saman Devalaya has been assigned lands for maintenance and staff has been appointed for its service and care. A long description of the Saman Devalaya after the Dambadeniya period is given in the ‘Saman Devalaya’ inscription of Parakumba VI during the reign of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte. During the reign of King Parakumba VI, 26 fiefs belonging to the Thunu Saman Devalaya have been set aside and several positions such as Nayake, Basnayake, Attanayake, Mudannayake and Vannathu have been created for the protection of the Devalaya. The Bandaranaike, treasurer position of the Devalaya has been handed over to Neelaperumal. These positions that have been handed down from generation to generation and are still the same. Apart from this, a village called Gilimale has been named to obtain betel for the rituals of the Devalaya. This village is now famous for the Sinhala saying Gilimaleth atha datha suddo meaning that even in betel-chewing Gilimale, there are villagers who have radiant white teeth.

The posts of Basnayake, Ratnayake, Mudannayake and Mohottala in the past are still held as Basnayake Mohottala, Vidane, Secretary and Kankanama in charge of the Perahera as well as the administration of the Devalaya. Among the ancient monuments on the grounds of the Saman Devalaya, the stone slab is 48 inches high and 32 inches wide. This carving depicts a soldier in Portuguese army uniform holding a sword to the right and a shield to the left, trampling a man with his left leg. The four-headed Yaksha image Throne House, the Atamethura Bemma, the Korawakgala and the oldest artillery in the Saman Devalaya occupy a special place among the artefacts.

This artillery was used about 400 years ago to repel enemy threats. Today this artillery is used to communicate the auspicious time of the annual procession to the Devalaya. The mouth of the artillery is 1.5 inches in diameter. The artillery is held in place by a support structure. Another speciality here is that it is a locally manufactured piece of artillery. The rathageya, handagala, patthirippuwa, the stone doorway, the old well, dragon pantheon, ancient dagoba, and the Buddha Shrine have brought historical value and beauty to this sacred place.

The Esala Perahera at the Ratnapura Maha Saman Devalaya, which is related to the cultural values as well as the value system of our country, begins with the planting of Kap according to ancient customs. The Esala Perahera at the Maha Saman Devalaya has three processions. Accordingly, the Kumbal Perahera, secondly, the Devela Perahera and finally the Maha Perahera are held. The Maha Perahera is one of the most spectacular features of the Saman Devalaya Peraheras.

It features Udarata, Pahatharata and Sabaragamuwa dances, (in fact, it is the only Perahera in the country to feature all three dance forms) elephants and the Mahababa Kolam. This beautiful procession takes to the streets at night for five days. A special feature of this procession is the arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic which is placed in the silver casket on the ‘Wasana’ elephant.

This year’s procession commenced with an all-night Pirith sermon on September 6 and the alms were offered on the following day to the Maha Sangha. After planting the Kap on September 8, the Kumbal Perahera, the street Perahera was conducted on September 12. The Maha Perahera paraded the streets on September 16 and the festival will end with the water cutting ceremony on September 21.

All arrangements have been made for this noble cause under the kind patronage of Sabaragamuwa Governor Tikiri Kobbekaduwa, and the supervision of Ratnapura District Secretary Malani Lokupothagama and the Basnayake Nilame of the Sabaragamuwa Maha Saman Devalaya, Migara Jayasundara.

The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited is the print media sponsor of this year’s Esala Perahera of the Ratnapura Maha Saman Devalaya.

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