Sri Dalada Perahera of Kotte


By A.M Gunawardhana (LL.B)

The sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha is the all-encompassing symbol of the Sinhala nation and has been so ever since it was brought to the island by Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala. It has always brought consolation, sanctity and security to the nation. It was the premier significance of legitimacy for the sovereign. Monarchs staked their lives in safeguarding it and would-be usurpers of the throne coveted it. Even today, the mere thought of the Tooth Relic safe inside the Dalada Maligawa in Mahanuwara infuses a feeling of security among the devout, that as long as it exists, things will not degenerate beyond the point of no return. It tells us that the teachings of Lord Buddha are alive and therefore that the Enlightened One himself is among us, protecting us with the Dhamma.

Today, the Tooth Relic is invariably associated with the Esala Perahera. Traditionally, however, the "perahera" was done wherever the seat of royal power happened to be. And so it was that almost six centuries ago a "Dalada Perahera" was held in Kotte, the capital during the reign of Parakrama Bahu the sixth. During his reign, from 1415 to 1467, it is said, the Tooth Relic was placed in a three storied palace, the location of which is yet unknown.

After the reign of Parakrama Bahu VI, Wijeyabahau II alias Weera Parakrama Bahu (1467-1472) who was the son of Ulakudaya devi daughter of king Parakramabahu VI succeeded him. The famous warrior chieftain "Sapumal Kumaraya" who brought the rebellion of Jaffna under control and the creator of the famous Nallur Kovil of Jaffna succeeded Wijebahu II as Sri Buvanekabahu VI (1472-1480) his son succeeded him as Panditha Parakrama Bahu VII (1480-1484) he was succeeded by the brother of "Sapumal Kumaraya" as Weera Parakramabahu VIII (1484-1503) and was also known as "Ambulagala Kumaraya". His son Dharama Parakramabahu XI (1503-1519) succeeded him. The portugue se landed in Sri Lanka during the reign of this king. It was during this period that the famous saying "Parangiya Kotte Giya" came into the folk lore. He was succeeded by Wijeyabahu VI (1519-1521). This king was killed by his own sons and this was known as the famous "Wijeyaba Kollaya" the reason was that the king wanted to give the kingdom to the son of the queen of his second marriage and the king was his step father. His own sons rose against him due to this unreasonable decision. He was succeeded by the eldest son of his first marriage king Buvenekabahu VII (1521-1550) he was murdered by the Portuguese in a very secretive manner whilst on an inspection tour to Malwana fort. He was succeeded by Don Juan Dharmapala (1550-1597) whose father was the famous warrior Veediya Bandara who was married to the king’s daughter. He was a puppet king under the Portuguese and was a very weak ruler. He was baptized by the Portuguese, although he was the king it was the Portuguese who ruled the country and they ransacked all the country’s wealth some of which are yet at Portugal. His period of rule still gives a lot of heartburn to all proud Sri Lankans and it is best forgotten. He spent his years in the Portuguese fort as, he fled Kotte unable to bear the onslaught of King Mayadunne.

The Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya itself is steeped in tradition. It was founded by the Ven. Pelene Dharmakeerthi Sri Buddharakkhita Nayaka Thero in 1813.

The Dalada Perahera was revived in 1901 by Ven. Embulgama Dharmakeerthi Sri Wimalatissa Thero.

The Chief Priests of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya since 1813

1813-1831 Ven. Pelene Buddharakkhitha Thero (Founder)

1831-1872 Ven. Maligaspe Mangala Thero

1872-1897 Ven. Beddegana Attadassi Thero

1897-1917 Ven. Embulgama Wimalatissa Thero

1917-1955 Ven. Galpatha Devarakkhitha Thero.

1955-1984 Ven. Waga Gnanananda Thero

1984-1993 Ven. Batugampola Indrasiri Thero

1993- to date Ven. Aluthnuwara Anuruddha Thero

The Kotte Perahera, conducted by the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya, is thus a re-enactment of a splendid tradition that dates back to the early years of the 15th century.

Then, as now, the perahera was held to bestow the blessings of the sacred Tooth Relic on the country and the people, and also to invoke the blessings of the deities so that the rains will fall on time and in appropriate quantity to ensure a bountiful harvest and therefore prosperity and peace.

Folklore has it that just before the Portuguese destroyed Kotte, the then custodian of the Tooth Relic, Hiripitiye Rala, had a dream where an old person wearing a pure white dress had mentioned the following words, "Kotte kalale kisille datha meda gan Ralay" He interpreted this as follows: "Give up the love for Kotte and remove the Tooth Relic to the central hills." This he did.

The Tooth Relic handed over to the King was moved to the Delgamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya, Kuruwita by king Mayadunne. After 43 years, it was moved once again, this time to Mahanuwara, where it has found a permanent abode and where it receives the veneration of millions of Buddhists, in Sri Lanka and from all parts of the world.

Today, the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya is the headquarters of Kotte Sri Kalyana Samagri Dharma Maha Sangha Sabhawa also known as the Kotte sect of the Siyam Nikaya, controlling over 500 temples.

The Maha Nayakas of the Kotte sect of the Siyam Nikaya

1855-1872 Ven. Dharmakeerthi Sri Maligaspe Mangalabidhana Thero

(Chief priest of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya)

1872-1874 Ven. Beddegana Attadhasshyabidhana Thero

(Chief priest of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya)

1874-1880 Ven. Pepiliyane Sheelawanshabldhana Thero

(Chief priest of Sri Maha Viharaya, Galgoda, Panadura)

1898-1920 Ven. Dharmakeerthi Sri Embulgama Wimalathishyabidhana Thero

(Chief priest of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya)

1920-1936 Ven. Badureliye Dheerananda Thero

(Chief priest of the Sapugoda Viharaya, Beruwala)

1936-1946 Ven. Mangala Dharmakerthi Madiwela Anavamadarshyabidhana Thero

(Chief priest of the Sri Perakumba Pirivena, Etulkotte)

1949-1955 Ven. Kirulapone Wimalabidhana Thero

(Chief priest of the Sri Siddhartharamaya, Walana)

1955-1979 Ven. Vimalakeerthi Indrajothi Ariyawanshabidhana Thero

(Chief Priest of the Molligoda Pravachonadaya Pirivena)

1979-1998 Ven. Rajakeeya Panditha Labugama Lankananda Thero

(Chief priest of the Molligoda Pravachonadaya Pirivena)

1998-2000 Ven. Devahandiye Saddhatissa Thero

(Chief Priest of Jayawardanaramaya, Rajagiriya)

2000- to date Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Thero

(Chief Priest of the Bellana Pirivena)

This year the perahera commences on August 29th with the chanting of all-night pirith and the pageant will reach its zenith with the "Maha Perahera" on September 09. The perahera concludes on September 10th with the "Diya Kapana Mangalyaya" (water-cutting ceremony) at the Diyawanna Oya. After this ceremony, the Dayaka Sabhawa of the Perakumba Pirivena, Etulkotte, will offer alms to the people (Deva Danaya) to invoke the blessings of the gods. The water collected from the Diyawanna will be carried in procession to the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya, where another Deva Danaya will be offered. The entire ceremony comes to a close with the anushasana delivered by the Chief Incumbent of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya, Ven. Aluthnuwara Aurudha Nayaka Thero and the performance of the Gara Yak Shanthiya" to bless all and sundry.

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