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Sri Lanka: Vedi Perahera of the Indigenous People


By Sri Lal Perera

Long before Arahath Mahendra visited this island  with  the Buddha's message ,  and converted the faith of King Devana Pe Tissa (306 B.C. ), it is believed that Gauthama Buddha himself had set his eyes on this island 3 times out of which the 1st time was to  Mahiyanganaya .

At Mahiyanganaya the purpose of  the Buddha's visit it is believed was to  subdue the Yakksas (Yaksa Damanaya - suppressing the devils).

Of the two ancient peoples of this country , the Nagas accepted Buddhism with reverence But the Yaksas refused to accept it and they had to be subdued .

Like the African non believers of Islam were referred to as Kaffirs and the non believers of Christianity were referred to as heathens, the people who did not accept Buddhism were called YAKKU (Devils), the   non- conformists who  have been banished beyond the waters of Mahaveli River and today we see their Sora Bora Weva (lake) abandoned by them as a result .

But to the Vedda people YAKA  means God  and has nothing to do with devil or demon.  To them Ne Yaka means Ancestor God, Bilindu Yaka means Child God and Kande Yaka means God Skander and most important for a community that lives by hunting is Ithale Yaka who is the God  that  guides their  arrows  to their  prey  and as a rule   to keep this deity happy they never pull their bows at a pregnant animal or at a mating pair.

They are not the only people who stick to this definition of the word YAKA. The Ves dancers   who are now called Kandyan dancers too refer to their God as YAKA.  At the overnight ancient  dance ritual of Kohomba YAK Kankariya, the  Kohomba Yaka is invoked by the Yak dessas, the dance priests. This ceremony is a pre Buddhist Shanthi - karma . The inversion   of the word YAKA to mean the opposite would have taken place after the yaksa damanaya and we continue with the confusion that came about since the change. 

At the  Yaksa damanaya, although   the non believers were subdued , one of them by the name Saman Rala was converted to Buddhism and attained sovan , which is the lowest of the four mental levels in the disciplining of the mind in the high path  towards  reaching Rahath-hood (nirvana) . Saman Rala deified is now worshiped as God Saman or Saman Deviyo.  However his sister who had stood with the clan, is referred to as Maha Loku Akka

Vedi Perahera

The ancient Kandy - Baticloa road exists via Mahiyanganaya while passing Binthenna, the Vedda country. Ancient Dutch maps refer to this place as Binthanna or Vinthenna and sometimes by both names for either banks of Mahaveli river.

 Annually,  at the conclusion of a   spectacular  cultural pageant of the Buddhists or at the conclusion of  perahera  conducted by the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara together with the Saman Devale , and also after the   people who come to see the perahera  has disposed, the Vedi Perahera starts around mid-night .  

Congregations of 5 jungle Kovils around five water reservoirs in the jungle, participates in their ceremony. They run round the city hooting away  as a gesture of happiness and not to jeer anybody as we do today. They make their appearance carrying long poles which they thrash on the floor at the entrance of the Saman Devale until its broken into splinters.

To take part in their Vedi Perahera they have to adhere  to a dress code. The debutante is permitted to wear only dried banana leaves to cover their nudity. The middle order participants wear straw for the same purpose and the veterans are privileged to participate, having pasted fluffy fiber of Kapok using bees honey as the adhesive.

Finally they congregate at the Saman Devale of the Raja Maha Vihare  where the sacred shawl  of Maha Loku Akka  who once ruled the locality,  is kept  .  This  shawl of the Saman Rala's     Great Elder Sister ,  is annually brought from their   jungle Kovil  and is deposited in the Saman Devale for the annual rituals . This shawl of the Maha Loku Akka is carried in the perahera inside the Ran Doli Palanquin and is heavily guarded by females on both sides while men carry the palanquin.

Following  morning the Saman Devale devoties  go to the Mahaveli river for the traditional water cutting ceremony but on their return stops at a place called the sinhasanaya or throne where the Basnayake Nilame waits with a tray of oranges which is to be rolled down the hillock for the Vedda people to pick up and while moving in the perahera  throw up and hoot  until they catch it again. However, the vedda people appears only  at their own auspicious time to pilot the water cutting perahera with their own  Dodam Perahera . Until they arrive  the Basnayaka Nilame (custodian of the temple), the Kapu Rala (lay priest) , the dancers ,  drummers ,  flag carriers  and the elephants etc of  the Maha  Saman Devale (temple) Perahera have to wait under the hot sun , to be piloted back ,  to conclude the festivities for the year . At the conclusion of the festival the Sacred shawl is taken back secretly to their jungle shrine.

* The author is a Member of National Trust Sri Lanka and presently compiling information for a publication "Living Legends of Traditional Perahera " by the same organization. He is the Basnayaka Nilame of Ancient Kadadora Pattini Devale, Ruwanwella

Setting up of this website was sponsored by SJ Mets Consultants PTY Ltd of Perth, Australia in memory of J.H.A. Gunadasa & S.T. Jayasinghe, beloved fathers of Sunil and Aruni.
May they attain Nibbana