Kelaniya Temple, locally known as Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is a Buddhist temple, standing majestically on the banks of the Kelaniya River. According to the Mahawamsa, Gautama Buddha visited the place somewhere during the 5th century BC. Following His visit, the dagoba of the temple was built.
According to beliefs, Gautama Buddha visited the place to intervene in the quarrel between two Naga leaders. Chulodara and Mahodara where fighting over a bejeweled throne. After being enlightened by Buddha about how futile their quarrel was, they both offered the throne to him and also converted to Buddhism. It is believed that this jewel encrusted throne is inside the dagoba of the Kelaniya Temple, placed there as a relic.
Unfortunately when the Portuguese invaded the island, they destroyed the temple in 1510 in order to stop Buddhists from continuing with their worship, while the ceilings have paintings of the planetary gods as well as the 12 Zodiac signs. The new paintings and cultures in the temple belong to the 18th and the 20th century. The old paintings that belong to the Kandyan era mostly portray Jataka stories. The new painting however in contrast to most temple paintings, visually depict the birth as well as the progress of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
A festive pageant or procession known as the Kelani Perehera first began in 1927 and to date the tradition continues. Named the Duruth Perehara it commences on the pre-full moon day in January and comprises of 3 separate processions. The first Perahara that takes place in the temple terrace involves the handing over of the sacred casket to the Basnayaka Nilame. The casket is carried by hand, placed on a cushion. The procession is the least grand of the three. During the second Perahara the relic is carried by an elephant. The third and final procession is when the Perahara is celebrated in all its glory. From whip crackers to fire dancers, drummers, traditional dancers and those playing various musical instruments, all parade led by colorfully and magnificently dressed elephants.
Since Kelaniya doesn’t have many star class hotels it is best to drive there to witness the Perahara. The A1 highway makes the drive very pleasant and you can opt for Sri Lanka car rental. There are many reliable outlets offering this service, Malkey Rent A Car being the most popular. They also offer Airport transfers Sri Lanka.