A Magnificent Parade
Almost every major Buddhist Temple in the country conducts an annual Parade, known as “Perehera” in Sinhala. But the perehera held every August in the country’s hill capital Kandy, is the most significant, for it is not simply a procession of dancers, elephants, fire-dancers etc.; it is the public display of a tooth relic of the Buddha.
The Diyawadana Nilame, a layman, is today the custodian of the Tooth Relic, though, until the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom to the British, the Relic was held by the King. The annual display of the Relic was a show of strength and a proclamation of the Kings right to rule.
The word ‘perehera” is believed to originate from the word, ‘parihara’ – which means honouring the Gods to obtain blessings.
Considered to be one of the most important festivals of the Buddhists, it is believed that the public display of the Relic has been a practice ever since it was brought to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century. At the time, the Relic was housed in a structure close to the Palace. That tradition changed with the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom, when the Relic was moved to the Temple; in Kandy it is kept at the Dalada Maligawa also known as the Temple of the Tooth.
The casket holding the Relic is placed atop an elephant when paraded around the streets of Kandy. Though originally the real tooth relic was on display, a replica is carried now, as it is believed to be inauspicious to move the actual Relic, and also for security reasons. This 16 day pageant includes the “Dalada Perehera” which is the display of the Relic and the parades of the four ‘Devales” connected to the Temple, - Natha, Vishnu, Paththini and Kataragama. Beginning with the planting of blessed Jak saplings near the four Devales, known as “Kap Situveema”, the perehara’s progress from Athul, Kumbal, Randoli to Daval and culminates with the water-cutting ceremony, known as the ‘Diyakapana Perehera'.