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Poya Day – Perahera

February 19, 2008

Helen – Ruki was expecting us late Tuesday afternoon but we surprised her by arriving before 9am.  After the exchanged greetings we headed for the shower and took a nap so we would be ready for the Perahera that evening.

Tom – I took the car back to the rental agency to get repaired and then had them provide me a driver/car to go to the Fulbright office.  I said I didn’t want a loaner because I wouldn’t drive in Colombo anyway due to the parking problems.  Ramya said that the Fulbright Commission wanted me to give an “All Colombo” presentation related to nutrition and exercise physiology in their auditorium.  As usual they really don’t understand the complexity of these areas, so I’ll delimit the topic to one that is workable and interesting for the “sophisticated” audience she said I should expect.

Afterward I went to the bank to get cash to pay for Helen’s ticket to India, the next month rental car fee, our stay in Colombo and next month’s house rent.  I don’t like walking around with $2000 in my pocket but things here are best done on a cash basis.  My next stop was the US Embassy Food Mart where I bought items for our return to Matara.  I got back to Ruki’s had a late lunch and then rested for an hour before getting ready for the Navam Perahera at the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo that is held during the February Poya Day (full moon) each year.  It is the second largest Poya Day festival in Sri Lanka.

Ruki had bought tickets for us ($60 donation to the temple) to sit in the first row on a stand with the dignitaries near the temple.  We were told we had to be there by 6:30pm to make sure we were in our seats by 7pm when the parade started.  Sherry, a Fulbright Ph.D. candidate from Arizona State accompanied us.  Sherry is doing her dissertation analyzing the book covers of 18th century Buddhist manuscripts.  After arriving by Tuk-Tuk we had to go through tight security (frisking, separate stall for women) before we could proceed to our seats.

Island temple in Beira Lake

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Before the start there were prayers and introductions over the loud speaker from the temple.  The American ambassador stated that Buddhism was the fastest growing religion in America!?  Shortly thereafter there was a large explosion and we could feel the shock wave from behind us – I still don’t know what it was, I’ll have to check the newspapers.  The parade started with about five men flicking large whips to chase away the evil spirits followed by Kandyan dancers leading a formal procession of reliquaries the final of which were carried on huge decorated elephants.  It would take a book to describe this parade; I took a series of videos and am hopeful they will turn out.  The following is the official description of the parade:

  • A Caparisoned Elephant (Tusker) bearing the Casket of Relics.
  • A beautiful illuminated Elegant Buddha Image
  • Participation of 500 members of the order of Monks
  • Kandyan Chieftains and Mohottalas
  • Caparisoned Elephants
  • Over 100 Kandyan and Low-country Dance Troupes (each troupe consists of 50 or more dancers)
  • Buddhist Flags, National Flags, Provincial Flags, Sun-bearers, other attractions (2000)
  • The Perahera will be illuminated with Copra Lanterns (500)   

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Gangaramaya Temple and the Peacock Dancers

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The parade made its way three times around Beira Lake and the front of the temple.  There was some excitement about one hour into the procession when an elephant got lose and people started running away in panic.  We started to move ourselves until we saw they got it under control.  I ran my battery down taking so many videos and we left about 9:30 when the procession was starting its third round of the lake.  We got up close to the procession on its second tour in front of the temple which was ablaze with lights.  The parade was still going strong but most people were leaving after they had seen one full procession and we left soon afterwards.  We took a Tuk-Tuk home and got there about 10:45.  We were tired but it was a great time.

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