In Sri Lanka religious faith and fervor manifests in a great display of colour, dance, music and pageantry. This impressive show that salvages millennia-old cultural expressions is called the Perahera. The Gangaramaya Navam Maha Perahera is one that glows through inclusivity and a proud display of diversity.
Colombo, a modern city with few traditions had no perahera of her own till the late 1970s. It was the Ven Galaboda Gnanissara Thero, Chief Incumbent of the Gangaramaya Temple, fondly called Podi Hamududruwo, who gave the city a tradition that connects it to the rest of Sri Lanka. Only the Thero had the creativity to envision a perahera making its way past the grand colonial landmarks of Colombo. In 1979, the first Navam Maha Perahera took to the streets to start a long tradition. Now in its 38th year it has blossomed into a great cultural pageant.
Today thousands in a million hues parade amidst 50 elephants wrapped in finely embroidered cloth set with tiny bulbs. In the seconds before starting, the main elephant, a majestic tusker, waits in front of the Gangaramaya Temple for the casket to be placed on its back. Once the casket with the holy relics of the Buddha is enshrined, a firecracker explodes: the four-hour march begins.
The whip snappers are at the helm. The loud crack of their whips is soon lost amidst the drums and trumpets, thrumming in a beautiful melody. The most classic element is formed by the ves dancers who tumble, flip and somersault, their entire ensemble glittering. Then come the regional dances of Kandy, Sabaragamuwa and the low country followed by performances from folk culture each evoking awe in its own way. There are displays from different cultures and faiths too.
The udekki dancers, eight sets of elephants, a Buddhist flag bearing procession parade. Then the hewisi band, conch shell blowers and aristocratic lay guardians follow. The moment the tempo slows and the mood turns somber you know the climax is coming. This momentous build-up all leads to the sacred centre: flanked by two grand tuskers, the chief tusker, gloriously sways with the casket on his back.
As the Navam Maha Perahera tails off with more cultural acts, then there would be an echoing silence. A clear sign that Colombo had been blessed by the pious show.