There seems to be a belief among the general populace that a perahera is judged by the number of elephants therein. One of the first questions that is asked when one says one has viewed a perahera is: "How many elephants?" A large number is greeted with an appropriate response and a small number is invariably greeted with derision and an insinuation that one has wasted one’s time at that perahera !
Contrary to popular belief and the belief of certain uneducated custodians of temples and organisers of pereheras, a perahera is judged by four main criteria :
(a) The quality of caprasioning (decorating and dressing) of the elephants and dancers.
(b) Adequate lighting and deployment of chulu lanterns.
(c) The quality of the dancing and drumming.
(d) The correct deployment of drum and dance troops in accordance with the traditions of that particular pageant.
Most of the above were completely ignored during the recently concluded Kandy perahera with only one or two of the devales (with lay custodians who know and respect the traditions) having pereheras that would have passed muster in the days of our kings. Bringing elephants from all over the country and putting them together results in unrest among the animals, using animals that are either too old or are carrying sore limbs and wounds or those that are temperamentally unsuited for pereheras and have to be heavily restrained are all caused by the need to impress with a large head count of elephants. This not only constitutes a danger to the viewing public but also causes untold hardship to the animals concerned.
The current system of elections that allow any ambitious social climber to secure the post of a temple trustee by "buying " votes from greedy Divisional Secretaries and despicable monks should be changed. A person wishing to be a temple trustee should be vatted by a board of knowledgeable people and have to have either a paper qualification or experience of managing a large organisation. For the true function of a lay trustee is to manage the affairs of the temple from the lands and sources of income to the labour and the "rajakariya" workers to the disbursement of additional income.
What happens now is very similar to what happens in politics. One spends so much money securing the post that the entire term of office is used to try and recover the expenses and a "small" profit is also welcome. Why have treasures disappeared from temples and even elephants donated to temples vanished into thin air?
A corrupt political system has ruined our culture but what this existing system of appointing temples trustees threatens to do is ruin the last vestiges of the heritage of this thrice blessed land.