January 2019


Kelaniya Duruthu Perahera
January 2019




During the Randoli Perehera, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is brilliantly illuminated

In January, the first full moon of the year is proceeded by the Kelaniya Duruthu Maha Perahera, an exquisite culmination of pristine religion and resplendent culture.


Words: Roomini Wijayarathne
Photography: Menaka Aravinda | BT Images


Revered in the hearts of Buddhist devotees, Duruthu Poya (full moon) commemorates the Buddha's first visit to Sri Lanka. This year, following the decade-long tradition, it would cast its soft glow upon the historic pageant that would yet again consecrate the streets of the spiritual city of Kelaniya.


Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is built on the sacred grounds on which the Buddha set foot on the island for the third time, 2600 years ago. The Viharaya that stands today faced many years of external invasions, disregard and dilapidation, finally to be restored to its sanctity by the Buddhist philanthropist Helena Wijewardena. Her son, D W Wijewardena initiated the Duruthu Perahera in 1927, a reverent endeavour that would further sanctify Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.


Kelaniya Duruthu Perahera in the beginning was a one-day procession that displayed the sacred relics of the Buddha encased in a casket carried by a majestic tusker. As the years passed by, pageants dedicated to the guardian deities of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya - Vishnu, Vibhishana and Katharagama, became significant aspects of the main pageant, and the Duruthu Perahera became a grand procession held across three days.


This year, the Duruthu Perahera parades the streets of Kelaniya on January 19, chasing away the gloom of the night with the elaborate grandeur of the procession.


The preparations for the Perahera commence two months prior. Following Buddhist tradition, the rituals that proceed the Perahera begin with a Dhamma Desana (sermon). For 72 days until January 12, Dhamma Desana are held everyday, late in the evening from 7pm to 8pm to earnest devotees. This is proceeded everyday by a small procession by the students of the Daham Pasala (Sunday School) that circuits the Udamaluwa (Upper terrace area). The youngsters play the traditional drums heralding the Perahera and then the Buddha Pooja (offering) is carefully carried by an adult, followed by more children clad in Lama Sarees (traditional Sri Lankan attire) and sarongs, bearing baskets of delicately arranged flowers.

It is on the third and final day of the Duruthu Perahera that the onlookers would experience the grandeur and the glory that hails from bygone decades.


The series of sermons ends, giving way to a continuous chanting of Pirith for 36 hours, blessing the Duruthu Perahera. On January 15, Pirith is followed by another small procession, Deva Dutha Perahera. It circuits the external boundary of the temple from Udamaluwa, finally reaching the abode of Vibhishana. Deva Dutha Perahera is intended to invoke the deities to descend to the temple premises to accept the blessings of the Pirith ceremony.


On January 17, the Duruthu Perahera begins in earnest. On the first day, the Perahera of sacred relics, called the Udamaluwe Perahera, would trace the route around the Udamaluwa with fireball displays, traditional dancers and drummers, and a few tuskers, one of them carrying the sacred casket. The second day, witnesses yet another modest pageant of the Dathu (relic) Perahera that circles the outer terrace of the temple, carrying the sacred casket.


It is on January 19, the third and final day of the Duruthu Perahera that the onlookers would experience the grandeur and the glory that hails from bygone decades, in the form of whip crackers heralding the procession, and of the fire balls that swirl in rapid succession, lighting up the path for the Randoli Perahera, the most anticipated cultural pageant of its kind in the low-country. The Dathu Perahera is joined by the pageants dedicated to the three guardian deities, and accompanied by cultural dances and the rhythmic beats of the traditional drums, the elaborate Perahera traces the streets of Kelaniya. Randoli Perahera begins at 8.30pm, and travels through the lower terrace area and then moves in all its glory into the streets amidst the fervent chanting of the on-looking devotees. It returns to the temple premises well past midnight, bathed in the soft glow of the full moon, the pious chants of "Saadhu" redolent in the night breeze.


The Duruthu Perahera is a remarkable icon in the history of Sri Lanka that moves towards the future, not merely because it is a religious pageant devoted to one of the most revered grounds of the island, but also because it is an exquisite tribute to the rich culture hailing from the illustrious history of the island nation. Truly a blessing to the dawned new year, the Duruthu Perahera remains, and will remain, a nostalgic reminder of a colourful past, and a blessing for a blissful future.

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    Katharagama Devala Perahera, a tribute to God Katharagama

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    Homage paid to God Vibhishana, a guardian deity of the temple

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    The idol of God Vishnu also joins the Randoli Perahera

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    The caparisoned tusker bearing the Sacred Relics inspire awe and reverence in the hearts of the onlookers

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    'Salu Paaliya', a dance hailing from the southern province

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    Kandyan drummers and dancers in traditional attire

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    Spectators eagerly watch as the Wewal (reed) dancers intricately weave the strands

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    Dhamma School students perform before the procession that bears the Buddha Pooja

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    The Buddha Pooja is taken to the Udamaluwa

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    The spiritual aura attracts large crowds of devotees to witness the grandeur of the Maha Perahera

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