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On the eve of the Kandy Perahera

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 22 July 2017 00:01

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By D.C. Ranatunga

The hill capital, Kandy, is a hive of activity these days. Kandyan dancers and drummers are displaying their talent at the Dalada Maligawa premises for selection to take part in the annual Dalada Perahera starting on Sunday, 29 July. 

The Maligawa staff is busy with other preparations connected with the Perahera while the police and the local authorities are finalising plans for the convenience of the huge crowds flocking to Kandy during the Perahera season.

The declaration of the Dalada Maligawa premises as a ‘Haritha Punya Bhumi’ – Green Place of Worship – recently saw a move to make it an eco-friendly setting.  

Making the entire temple premises polythene/plastic-free zones, only environmentally-friendly waste bins will hereafter be used inside the premises. With a constant flow of devotees visiting to pay homage to the sacred Tooth Relic throughout the year, the amount of polythene bags used to bring flowers, incense and other offerings is enormous. Recyclable baskets will be given to the devotees at the entrance to offer flowers, replacing the plastic vases that are used for the purpose.

A special vehicle is being provided by the Provincial Councils and Local Government Ministry to dispose of flowers and food materials which have to be constantly moved out of the premises.

Identifying the Maligawa project as the world’s first Green Religious Site, the Ministry says that this is the start of a national program. “The aim of this program is to lessen the difficulties faced by devotees from environmental issues due to the garbage crisis,” Minister Faiszer Mustapha said at the Kandy ceremony.




Delight to explore

The announcement coincided with the global travel guide publisher, The Lonely Planet picking Kandy and the hill country as one of the 10 best places to visit in Asia. 

The Lonely Planet presents Kandy as an ideal introduction to the hill country and mentions that its lakeside location, sacred Buddhist sites and botanical gardens make it “a delight to explore”. 

Kandy, a World Heritage City, is referred to as “the historic and romantic hill capital of Sri Lanka”. 

Writing in ‘A Cultural Guide to Kandy’, Architect Nimal de Silva describes the city. “The city of Kandy lies in a triangular valley surrounded by mountains. Green velvet tea plantations covering the hills, cascading waterfalls and the river Mahaweli, the longest river in the country, appear in most dramatic forms in different parts of the city and its vicinity. The centre piece of the city is the artificial lake four kilometres in circumference and surrounded by a balustrade of grey stone. The rich flowering trees around the lake, the mountains and the blue sky are reflected in crystal form in the waters of the lake.”

Though it has been accepted that Kandy was the last royal capital, there is difference of opinion as to the origin of the Kandyan kingdom. Some historians record that the origin is closely linked with the ending of the administration of the Kurunegala kingdom. 

Kandy has been known as ‘Katupulle bada Senkada nam Siriwardanapura’ (the city of Siriwardana known as Senkada in the area called Katupulle) later developed to be the city of Kandy and the centre of the royal administration of the Kandyan kingdom. A royal personality, Senasammata Wickremabahu (1469-1511) is credited with the establishment of this centre for his administration. The city bounded on three sides by the Mahaweli River and the fourth by the forest cover was named ‘City of Senkadagala’.

Concurrently with Kandy, the kingdom of Gampola was in existence with Gampola as the capital. 

Another version is that Kandy was founded as a city of royal residence by King Vickrmabahu III (1357-74 CE). The 130 years of reign of the first three kings of Kandy ended with the conquest by King Rajaisnghe I (1581-92) of Sitawaka. The second dynasty of 223 years of nine kings began with King Vimaladharmasooriya (1592-1604). Kandy remained the capital of the Kandyan kingdom until the British took the last king, Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe (1798-1815) captive in 1815. That marked the end of independence for Sri Lanka until 1948.


Sacred Tooth Relic

The presence of the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha has given Kandy an exalted position. The most venerated object among the Buddhists throughout the world attracts thousands of devotees daily. The kings have protected the Relic ever since its arrival during the reign of King Sirimeghavanna (303-331 CE) from Dantapura in Kalinga by a princess disguised as a Brahmin. The king received the Telic with honour, kept it in a shrine within the royal palace and arranged for an annual festival at which it was taken in procession to the Abhayagiri Vihara and exhibited for the people to venerate. It has been recorded that this was one of the most important and spectacular of all religious festivals. 

There were periods of uncertainty particularly with rulers from neighbouring India invading the country on and off. The Chola invasion in 947 CE saw the Temple of the Tooth in Anuradhapura being burned down until it was restored by King Mahinda IV. 

During the Polonnaruwa period the Tooth Relic was secretly taken away and hidden in Ruhuna when King Vickremabahu I who was hostile to the Buddhist monks started harassing them. When the Relic was brought back to Polonnaruwa by King Parakramabahu I (1153-86), he organised a great festival of rejoicing and adoration and the Relic was exhibited to the [people in a specially constructed ‘manadapa’ and later deposited in the Temple of the Tooth which had already been built by a previous king. 

It was during the Polonnaruwa period at the beginning of the 12th century that it was established that the possession of the Tooth Relic conferred on a prince the legitimate right for the sovereignty. The Relic chambers built during that time had distinctive characteristics of their own. The Hatadage built by King Nissankamalla (1187-96) is a fine example. 

Dambadeniya and Yapahuva also had Temples to house the Tooth Relic. 

Coming to the Kandyan period, the Temple of the Tooth was first built by King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1591-1604). Several successive kings either restored or built new temples when the earlier one decayed. 

During the regime of the Kandyan kings the public did not enjoy the freedom of venerating the Relic whenever they wanted since access was restricted the Temple being within the royal palace complex. After the British took over there was agitation that the Temple be kept opened for the public to pay their respects. In 1847 the chief prelates of the Malwatu and Asgiri Viharas along with the Diyawadana Nilame were made the custodians of the Tooth Relic. 

The ‘pattirippuwa’ – octagon was constructed by King Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe. It was used by the king to address the public on important occasions – a practice followed in recent years by certain Executive Presidents of Sri Lanka.

Discussing the architecture and other features of the Dalada Maligawa, Nimal de Silva writes: The two-storeyed central shrine with a drumming hall in front and surrounded by other palace buildings form an open courtyard. It is comparatively small but rich in art and architecture. 

The building was basically made out of stone, mud and timber. All possible surfaces on walls, columns, beams, brackets, doors and ceilings are decorated with mural paintings depicting episodes of the Buddha’s life and traditional decorative art. The plinth, steps, columns and doorways made out of hard stone are all beautifully adorned with traditional carvings; timber doorways are decorated by inlaying carved ivory and metal. 

Red, yellow, black and green – the four colours in traditional lac art – were used to decorate the balustrades and columns of the surrounding upper balcony. The dominating double-pitched, timber-framed roof cladded with flat clay tiles to form patterns and crowned with gilded brass pinnacles depict a longstanding architectural tradition of Sri Lanka.

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