Colombo, March 4 (newsin.asia): Caparisoned and even non-adorned elephants are a major attraction for curious locals, devotees and tourists, during the Nawam Perehera in Colombo’s Gangaramaya Buddhist temple in February every year. Children and adults alike, love to feed them with bananas and pose for pictures with them.
The elephants are carefully and lovingly tended by their “Mahouts” who double up as their guardians and drivers.
On the western side of the Gangaramaya temple is a vast sheet of water called Beira Lake. The paths surrounding the lake become a temporary home for the elephants which are brought to Colombo by lorries from the village temples elsewhere in Sri Lanka.
Upon arrival after a long journey across dusty and uneven rural roads, during which they are confined to the open air lorries and chained to the vehicles so that they do not tumble down, the elephants are given a cold bath by the mahouts. Powerful sprayers are used to shower the elephants to rid them of dust.
The bath is followed by a meal of leaves and logs which are laid before them. Normally, the elephants are expected to feed themselves by tearing the logs into small pieces. But some elephants lose patience if the logs are hard. They give up tearing bits and pieces from the logs and try to swallow whole logs. But when they find it to be too much to swallow, they would drop the logs with a thud. The mahout then obliges them by cutting the logs into pieces and gives them to the elephants.
All this happens in the midst of flowing traffic which can be quite thick and noisily most of the day. The saving grace is the cool breeze wafting from the Beira Lake.
When the streets are somewhat free of traffic, the mahouts take the elephants for a walk around the streets adjoining the lake to the delight of passersby who may include many tourists.
But it is during the actual Perahera that the elephants and their Mahouts assume supreme importance and become the cynosure of all eyes. The elephants are swathed in gorgeous caparisons which are heavy but at the same time very delicately embroidered in rich colors.
The streets around the Gangaramaya temple and the Beira Lake come alive as the Perahera offers a unique pleasure to the visitors. The grand procession is a highly anticipated event for the people in the city, as well as devotees and spectators from all corners of the world.
The casket bearing the Sacred Relics of the Buddha is enshrined within the structure carried by the majestic tusker. A firecracker sets off to mark the moment, and the Perahera officially commences.
Over 3,000 participants and more than 50 elephants set off from Park Street, travelling trough Sri Jinarathana Road and Hunupitiya Lake Road to circle around Beira Lake, returning to the Temple premises.
Whip crackers announce the arrival of the Perahera by cracking their whips on the roads. It is followed by the vibrant dance of the fire jugglers creating elaborate patterns in the air with fire.
Behind them, divided into nearly 150 segments, comes an eclectic collection of dancers who stun the crowds with intricate performances from Kandyan to Sabaragamu to low country dance styles.
Next to arrive are the Hewisi bands, coaxing their Horanewas and Thammattams to create pleasing sounds. Bare-bodied Pantheru dancers recreate the dances that have pleased ancient Sri Lankan kings.
The sight of the Udekki troupe holds the spectators spellbound. More wonders are yet to come as the dignified Ves dancers follow behind. The famous dance amazes the crowds as the dancers somersault into the air, flip and tumble.
Mahasona – a devil – heightens the excitement of the spectators. The monkey king Hanuman and lions are symbolized within the procession, and Kolam dancers never fail to amuse the onlooker.
As the segments pass, everyone is on the lookout for the chief tusker, who is flanked by two bedecked tuskers. As the casket comes into sight, a reverent hush falls over the gathered crowds. Palms clasped in worship, devotees pay homage to the Buddha as the tusker walks measuredly through the streets.
Several dance troupes follow in the wake of the Sacred Relics as the grand procession moves onwards. The Perahera concludes at the temple premises.
The Navam Perahera revived in 1979 by the Chief Incumbent of the Gangaramaya Temple, Ven Galboda Gnanissara Thero will be held on February 18th and 19th at 7 pm.
One the Perahera is over, the elephants and their Mahouts leave Colombo in the night itself as it is better to travel in the night given the extreme heat during the day. The pachyderms and their keeper would surely want to return post haste to their peaceful and serene habitats in rural Sri Lanka.
(The material on the Perahera is taken from an article by Gayathri Kothalawala in Explore Lanka)