Mr. Don Walter Wijewardene, the Pioneer of the Duruthu Perahera
In the year 1927, a cultural pageant, on the lines of the Esala Perahera of Kandy was inaugurated by Mr. Don Walter Wijewardene. It was named Duruthu Perahera and was held with a duel purpose. The first was to commemorate the Buddha's first visit to Sri Lanka in the month of Duruthu (January). And the second was to mark the commencement of the restoration work at Kelaniya in 1927. The prominent Buddhists in the area were summoned for a meeting. An organising committee called the Dayaka Sabha was formed for the purpose. Mr. Wijewardene got the flags costumes, dressings and other required paraphernalia done at his own expense. Ven. Mapitigama Dhammaakkhiti Thera, the chief incumbent of the Vihara was in close association with Mr. Wijewardene and willingly helped him in this arduous task. The Dayaka Sabha supplied the necessary men and contributed funds to remunerate the dancers and drummers.
Elephants from all parts of the country were sent to Kelaniya by their owners to take part in the procession. Troupes of dancers and drummers belonging to different schools and traditions in the country took part in it. Mr. Wijewardene himself dressed in princely costume, in Indian style walked in the Perahera, as trustee and Chief Basnayake Nilame.
In the new ante-chamber of the temple and behind the glass cubicle of the relic casket, there is to this day a fresco portraying this memorable event. It is indeed worth seeing.
Thereafter this Perahera was conducted every year as an annual feature and came to be popularly known as Kelani Perahera. During World War II it was temporarily suspended due to lighting restrictions, but was resumed in 1944.
Today this cultural pageant of Sri Lanka attracts thousands of devotees from all part of the country and many hundreds of foreigners, tourists and diplomats, in addition.
Since the beginning of the year 1954, the Perahera was conducted under the able guidance of Ven. Wattala Seelaratana Thera. With his competent knowledge of every aspect of the Perahera, he was always able to make this pageant a great attraction. Now Rev. Prof. Mahinda Sangharakkita Thera functions in this capacity. Since his assumption, a number of innovations have been added to make the Perahera amore colourful. (He is ably assisted in this task by Ven. Piyadassi, along with the students of the Daham Pasala or the Sunday school of the temple.)