The pride and glory of Hill Country

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The Kandy Esala Perahera, also known as the most prominent cultural pageant of Sri Lanka and one of the world’s oldest cultural and religious pageants, is now taking place in Kandy.

It is the sacred festival held in honour of the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, now kept at the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy. As per historical traditions, this festival was first held in the 4th century CE during the Anuradhapura Kingdom and has been held since then to date, continuously.

 The present-day temple at Kandy was built in the early 18th century by King Veeraparakrama Narendrasinghe. After the sacred relic was placed in this temple, it is reported that lavish pageants were held in honour of the relic, with royal patronage.

It is said that this year marks the perahera being held for the 1712th time. This year’s perehara is notable for another reason as it is the first perehera after the demise of the majestic legendary tusker, Nadungamuwe Raja. Nadungamuwe Raja first carried the sacred relic casket in 2006 and since then, he had been the main tusker of the Kandy Esala perahera (except for some years) until 2021.

 As he became popular and loved by the nation, he was the central focus of the entire pageant. Known for his gentle, calm, and wise nature, the tusker used to walk all the way from Gampaha to Kandy to take part in the perahera every year. All through this long walk, he was venerated by the public and he was given special security. He was cherished so much that some locals even uplifted him to a status of a Bodhisattva or an animal who surely had been reborn in heaven after his demise.

However, as he is no more, there were sad poems and notes being shared on social media about how Nadungamuwe Raja will be missed this year.

. This year Kandy Esala perahera will be graced by the rest of the majestic tuskers including Sinha Raja, Indi Raja, Myan Raja, and Buruma Raja. Most probably it will be Indi Raja who will be carrying the sacred relic casket on the final day grand pageant. Indi Raja carried the sacred relic casket in 2020 and he was gifted to Sri Lanka by Rajiv Gandhi when he was only 6 years old.

The other main tusker of this year’s perehra is Sinha Raja. During the civil war in the North, baby Sinha Raja was separated from his herd, lost, and injured in the forests in Vavuniya when he was rescued by the Sinha Regiment. The army brought him to the Peradeniya Veterinary Faculty for treatments. And once he was cured he was gifted to the Temple of the Tooth. Sinha Raja is noted for his intelligence and majestic appearance.

Myan Raja and Buruma Raja, gifted by Myanmar, are two prominent tuskers at the Dalada perahera as the two tuskers that parade beside the main tusker (Dale athun).

(Pix by Manilka Jayasingha)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy