Sri Lanka

Kandy Perahera – Remnants of Rituals

Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth Relic), Kandy performances. Painter unknown. via

The Kandy Perahera in Sri Lanka is not only one of the oldest rituals in Buddhism, but one of the oldest surviving rituals in all of Asia. “Perahera” means procession. Parade music and dance are hallmarks of antiquity, as some of the earliest ceremonial processions started with stationary artists moving. What followed were dance steps and sequences, and musical forms, that evolved to accommodate the massively moving crowd. Kandy Perahera is one of the largest human-handling ceremonies on the planet, with elephants, drummers, monks, dancers, swordsmen, musicians, acrobats, firefighters and firecrackers leading the way. This is as old and exotic as one can find Buddhism blended with local beliefs.

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The sacred relic of the tooth of the Buddha is housed in seven jeweled caskets inside this golden stupa. It is taken out and placed in a special coffin carried by elephants on Kandy Perhera.Image courtesy of Buddhaasana, Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs, Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), the most important Buddhist relics are the tooth of the Buddha and the Bodhi tree. Legend has it that the Buddha brought a sapling to Sri Lanka in the third century BC from the branch of the original Bodh Gaya tree in Bodh Gaya. In addition, the left canine of the Buddha is said to have been pulled from his funeral pyre historically, and it became both an important symbol of royal rule and the cause of many conflicts. It is said that the person who owns the tooth of the Buddha is the ruler of the land. As a result of the ensuing conflict, the tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the fourth century AD and has been kept in a particularly sacred temple, relocated as the island nation’s capital was moved. The relic was moved to Kandy in the 16th century at the beginning of the 300-year reign of the kings of Kandy, where it is now housed in a magnificent, stunning temple filled with centuries-old gifts from the Buddhist world buddhist sculpture.

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Temple of the Tooth Relic by Robert Knox. Engraving, 17th century. This photo was published with his article on Kandy Perahera. Knox was held captive by the King of Kandy for 19 years.His essays on Perahera and the Temple of the Tooth join sporadic accounts by other Western authors over the centuries

The living Bodhi tree and the tooth relic, two sacred objects, are regarded as the Living Buddha himself. Both relics – or their symbolic representations – are enshrined in temples across Sri Lanka and form the focal point of Buddhist worship in Sri Lanka.Therefore, many towns and villages in Sri Lanka hold annual That’s itThe grandest of these and the precursor to the Kandy Perahera festival which will be held today on 13th August 2023, is commonly known as “Esala Perahera”. Esala is the name of the lunar month corresponding to July-August, but more importantly, this month is reserved for special veneration of the Buddha’s first post-enlightenment teachings – a reflection of Sri Lankan history, religion and monasticism Theravada Buddhist culture. This connection to early Buddhism is also a hallmark of antiquity.

While Kandy Perahera is the grandest, almost every town and village of the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka has its own That’s it. YouTube has many That’s it Videos from many places. It is extraordinary to see able drummers and well-trained dancers in every town and village. There are traditional dancers everywhere.As a dance form, according to the classical Indian understanding, Kandy dance is classified as Narita, or pure dance, with no story or drama. Of course there are storytelling Kandy dances, but most of them are formal, technical, pure dances. Please enjoy this video with many examples of parade dancing.

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Kandy Weiss Dancer, photographer unknown. Early 20th Century.from the cultural core

It’s easy to forget that Buddhism originated more than 2,500 years ago. From the time we think of as early civilization, religion, royalty, and agricultural practices have continued to this day. Some necessary adaptations allowed Buddhism to gain dominance in Sri Lanka: it is associated with the rulers of Sri Lanka because before the Common Era they were Buddhist and the dominant Sinhalese. Sri Lanka has more ancient links with South Indian cultural and religious forms. The main pantheon of Sri Lanka consists of four deities: Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini. These are Hindu and indigenous deities.older That’s it In Sri Lanka is a Hindu procession. The royal Buddhist Perahera merged with this long-standing ritual sometime after the fourth century to become the Esala Perahera, essentially combining two grand processional ceremonies into a spectacle of ancient splendor rarely seen today.

It is a matter of discussion as to the exact timing of the Hindu and Buddhist processions. The local Sinhalese’s understanding of religious integration is explained like this: All gods, elephants and humans bow to the Buddha, who is the king god above other gods. In fact, Kandy Perahera is dedicated to tooth relics and Hindu deities. In the 16th century, the entire ceremonial procession was moved to Kandy, the seat of government.

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The custodian of the tooth tooth of Kandy Perahera, 2022. The position of Custodian was created after the defeat of the King of Kandy in 1815. Traditionally, kings required access to the teeth, a symbol of their rule. The British occupiers allowed the Guardian to take over the role of the King, so the grand procession continued throughout the period of foreign rule until eventual independence. via

The Kandy Perahera was also designed to reflect the completeness of Sri Lankan society, which is made up of caste, clan and occupation with their specific positions in terms of ritual purity and importance. royal class, knight, is the highest. the next highest caste, it’s a name, as a landlord/peasant. Of the 18 caste occupations, drummers are 14th and dancers 17th; only “lower laundrymen” rank lower than dancers.

Drumming, dancing and music take part in every royal function and occasion in Sri Lanka, except for the worship of the relic, around which dancing is prohibited. Sub-castes were created to make Kandy dancers and drummers exclusively part of the upper caste. A separate 19th caste was created, the Balibat caste, appointed by the royal family to perform exorcisms on behalf of the state. The tradition of appointing clans and castes as administrators of ancient rituals, including Buddhist ones, is widespread in cultures such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Japan. This naming of performers of caste ceremonies is also a sign of antiquity.

In 1919, for the first time in history, drummers attending the Temple of the Tooth were allowed to dance and drum in front of the sacred temple as part of the moving Perahera. Standing still drummers turned dancing devotees surround the elephants and invigorate the crowd in a unique Ceylonian movement style. A century later, Kandy dancers and drummers are the beating heart of the procession.

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Ceremonial Kandy Dance by Clan Family, Essara Perahera, Kandy, 2022. These clan families have been the administrators of these dance rituals for centuries. via

Today, the Kandy Esala Perahera continues its annual performance, albeit with less strict enforcement and representation of the caste structure.older, shorter That’s it Rituals in more remote communities reflect older social structures than towns. The glory of Kandy dance and the splendor of Perahera only increase. Kandy dance is the most important cultural export of Sri Lanka, and the Kandy Aisara Perahera Festival is the most important tourism and pilgrimage event in Sri Lanka. It’s full of superlatives: the oldest Buddhist rituals! The greatest Buddhist ceremony in the ancient world! The longest ceremonial parade in Asia! We can say with certainty that this is the Buddhist ritual with the most elephants, which speaks volumes about its origin and history.

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Fire Handlers, Kandy Esala Perahera, 2022. via

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