Wesak, Poson and Esala – Buddhist Festivals of Sri Lanka

05/20/2011 at 10:06 AM (Tradition) (, , , , , , , , )

I guess this is a week late as  the celebration of Wesak – the day Lord Buddha was born, enlightened and passed – was last week. But I think Buddhist rituals don’t get as much publicity as those of other religions so I suppose this post might have something in it you might not have known. I’m just going to stick to the branch of Buddhism I know about within this although I’m aware there are other denominations of Buddhism in Oriental nations. This post is specifically regarding the Wesak, Poson and Esala days in Sri Lanka carried out on the full moon days of May, June and July. The Buddhists here are generally of the Theravadha variety; the Oriental ones are called Mahayana.

The Buddha I pay homage to is this one and he is called Siddhartha Gautama; lots of Western people that have come to know a little about Buddhism tend to confuse him with the Chinese Laughing Buddha. What Buddha means is “one who has achieved a state of perfect enlightenment” and there are several monks who have been bestowed with this title.

Wesak is the start of the Buddhist festival season in Sri Lanka. When I  lived there, my cousins and I made candle lit Wesak lanterns and lighted small oil lamps to decorate our homes. Many older people used to dress in flowing white and meditate at temples from dawn until dusk. I found that tested my patience but ringing the temple bells was more fun. To me, the little places called Dansal that sold food and the Thorana statues that illustrated stories from Jataka in panels were more interesting and were much more successful in gaining my attention.

Poson is a festival on a smaller scale. It celebrates the introduction of Buddhism to the island of Sri Lanka. A famous story about the King Devanampiyatissa and the Buddhist envoy Arahat Mahinda Thera (son of Emperor Ashoka) meeting up on the sacred rock Mihintale is one that has been told many times and religious processions are held in its honour. You can read the story itself here. Also, Sanghamitta – the sister of  Mahinda Thera, is credited with bringing a sapling of the Bo Tree under which Buddha received Enlightenment to the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

Esala is another big festival but most of the festivities tend to be held in Kandy near the Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa). It is thought the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha is held here. There is a big procession held each July called the Esala Perahera. This parade held in honour of Buddha even has his tooth relic casket transported on the back of the Maligawa elephant draped in decorative robes. In addition, the parade has performances by fire twirlers, whip-cracking dancers, stilt walkers and male Kandyan dancers in traditional clothing who beat drums as they walk. This perahera dates back to the time of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who wanted the tooth relic which happened to be the private property of the king to be venerated by the public.

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Tribute to Sinhala and Tamil New Year: Kokis Recipe

04/13/2011 at 2:10 PM (Culture, Festivals, Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Sri Lankan New Year, Tradition) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Sinhalese and Tamil New Year is an annual cultural celebration I partake in because of my Sri Lankan heritage. It is a time we prepare traditional meals and sweetmeats and exchange gifts. For my Theravadha Buddhist family, a season with the spirit of Christmas falls during this week of April. There are New Year customs to adhere, New Year prince and princess pageants and some traditional games. These include feats such as the ones below:

Lissana Gaha (Slippery Pole)

Kotta Pora (Pillow Fight)

Kana Mutti (Blindman’s Pots)

Households that celebrate the Sinhala & Tamil New Year follow various types of traditions and rituals from the past. A fire is lit and milk is boiled according to an auspicious time predicted by an astrologer. Bananas along with traditional food items such as kiribath (milk rice), kavum (an oil fried flour cake) and kokis (crunchy rice flour wheel) are prepared and served out by most households since families visit relatives and friends at this time.

My mum and I prepared Kokis this weekend. You’ll find the recipe below.

1. First of all, you need a kokis mould. It should look like the thing circled in red:

It is hard to find an image of a kokis mould!

2. It is also better to have a fry pan with a curved round bottom. Basically we used a pan akin to a mini wok but you can use a larger one. It could be similar to this:

3. You might also need a wooden scraping stick shaped like a bamboo skewer. I think a wooden toothpick would work just as well.

Tip: Have some oil absorbent paper handy to drain excess oil from the kokis once prepared.

Now the equipment issues are out of the way, here are the ingredients:

  • 500g Rice Flour
  • 2 Eggs (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1 litre of Vegetable Oil
  • 2 teacups of Coconut Milk
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon Salt

If you have access to all those, here is how to make it:

Step 1: Beat the egg yolk.

Step 2: Mix the rice flour, egg yolk and 1 teacup of coconut milk. You can also use coconut cream but you might have to add some water to get the desired batter consistency. Add the turmeric for the deep yellow shade and then the salt and rest of the coconut milk.The batter should be thick as pancake batter.

Step 3: Pour the oil into the wok pan and heat it until it begins to boil.

Step 4: When the oil starts to show bubbles, dip the kokis mould into the batter but without dipping it in completely (if you do, it will be hard to remove once it hardens).

Step 5: Remove the mould from the batter and dip it into the hot oil. Then the batter will detach from the mould but will keep its shape while it is deep-fried. If it sticks to the mould without separating, use the skewer/toothpick to ease it out.

Step 6: As they turn brown and harden, remove the kokis using a spoon. We used a large sieve spoon as it stopped us from scooping up excess oil. Put into a bowl lined with oil absorbent paper.

Step 7: Repeat 4-6 until you finish your batter.

Your finished product should taste crunchy and look like:

Copyright: Krishan Kumar

Post Preparation Tip: If the crunchiness fades after a day or so, heat them up in the oven.

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