|Golden Buddha atop Dambulla Temple, Sri Lanka (the.redhead.and.the.wolf/flickr.com).|
In "Breathe (Reprise)" Pink Floyd sing, "Home, home again/I like to be here when I can...Far away across the field/the tolling of the island bell/calls the faithful to their knees/to hear the softly spoken magic spells." What "spells"?
|Sri Lanka hangs off So. India.|
Sadly, it was the site of the longest civil war in Asia waged between Hindu Tamil extremists and the abusive Sinhalese majority. There where an ancient form of Buddhism survives -- just as in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Malaysia -- there are magical incantations chanted, ward spells (pirit) to preserve the people from dangers in the seen and unseen worlds.
(Priyantha De Silva) Seth Pirith, 23 of the most potent pirit chants by a sangha of Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monks: 1. Dasa Disa Pirith, 2. Atawisi Pirith, 3. Jinapanjnara Pirith, 4. Anawum Pirith, 5. Angulimala Piritha, 6. Nawagraha Shantiya, 7. Rathnamali Gatha, 8. Bojjangha Pirith, 9. Ruwanmali Sa Wandhanawa, 10. Dalada Wandana Gatha, 11. Sooriya Pirith, 12. Dhajagga Sutra, 13. Jaya Pirith, 14. Khandha Pirith, 15. Mora Pirith, 16. Sathbudu Wandanawa, 17. Maha Mangala Suthra, 18. Karaniya Metta Sutra, 19. Narasiha Gatha, 20. Wattaka Piritha, 21. Ratana Sutra, 22. Randenee Gatha, 23. Dutu Gemunu Aarakshaka Gatha
|Famous and much revered pre-Buddhist cave painting from the forests of central Sri Lanka.|
|The Golden Temple at Dambulla, Sri Lanka|
- *The Pirit-Pota is also known by the more honorific designation Piruvana-Potvahanse. For an English translation of the most important texts from this work, see Ven. Piyadassi's The Book of Protection (Buddhist Publication Society, 1981).
|Buddhist Ceremonies (BPS.lk)|
|The ancient Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple of the Tooth is a reliquary of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha's tooth in Kandy with moat next to Borisvoronin reservoir (flickr.com).|
|Pali language chanting app|
|The Book of Protection: Paritta (Ven. Piyadassi Thera, Buddhist Publication Society)|
|Men, monks decorate stupa with lights.|
|Enlightened monastics entering at right, statues of first Buddhist missionaries to arrive from India: Ven. Mahinda and his sister Ven. Sanghamitta (Richard Silver/rjsnyc/flickr).|
(Mahakalu Sinhalayo) Major Pirit (Maha Piritha, මහ පිරිත - තුන් සූත්රය) by Thun Suthraya (MKS)
This invitation is usually extended by the chief householder if it is in a private home. Otherwise, some leading lay devotee does it. One of the senior monastics present accepts the invitation on behalf of the entire Sangha and, in order to make the invitation formally valid, a lay devotee repeats the following Pali stanza requesting the monastics to begin the ceremony:
Vipattipatibahaya — sabbasampattisiddhiya
sabbadukkhavinasaya — parittam brutha uttamam
"Please recite the noble pirit for the avoidance of all misfortune, for the attainment of all success, and for the end of all suffering."
Samanta cakkavalesu Atragacchantu devata
Saddhammam Munirajassa Sunantu saggamokkhadam
"May the divine beings of the entire universe come here to hear the good doctrine of the Best of Sages that confers both heavenly happiness and the freedom of nirvana."
|Gold leaf coating (VagabondTravels/flickr)|
|Ancient Greek deva statues (flickr com)|
This text is called the vihara-asna. Until these preliminaries are gone through, the other monastics keep holding the sacred thread. After this, the monsatic who was appointed to write the message begins to write it while the other monastics retire.
The message contains the invitation -- which is a command from the Sangha (sangha-natti) and therefore not to be turned down -- addressed to all of the deities residing at the religious places enumerated in the vihara-asna to come and partake of the merits of the week's pirit chanting.
|Dancers? Stilt walkers? (AlisonRyde/flickr)|
At the deva-laya, the monastics and the deva-dutaya first go near a Buddha statue and pay respects, after which they proceed to the building where the statues of the devas are and chant the Loving-Kindness Sutra (Metta Sutta). The devas concerned are usually Lord Vishnu and the spirit Kataragama (Skanda). This is followed by ceremonial drumming (magul bera) as an invitation to the devas, and next a monastic reads the message out loud.
The four messages are given to the lay officiating priest or priestess of the deva-laya (known as kapurala) to be hung in the four cardinal directions inside the deva-laya, the abode of the devas. These are meant for the Regents of the Four Quarters (the Four Great Sky Rulers or Catumaharajikas -- Datarattha (east), Viruda (south), Virupakkha (west), and Vessavana (north) -- who are requested to come to the ceremony with their assemblies. The procession now returns.
Until the monastics arrive for the pirit chanting, the messenger or deva-dutaya is kept confined and guarded. Once the monastics arrive and take their seats inside the pavilion, a dialogue takes place between the deva-dutaya and a monastic, the purpose of which is to reveal to the assembled gathering that the task of the messenger, which was to invite the devas to partake of the shared merits, has been done and that all the devas have arrived.
Message read at the threshold
|Bhumi devas in European art (youtube.com)|
The gist of this statement, written in the same kind of stilted language as the vihara-asna referred to earlier, is that all the devas invited have arrived for the pirit ceremony so that they may dispel all misfortune and bring about prosperity to all.
After the dorakada-asna, another monastic standing within the pavilion reads out a similar text called the anusasana-asna, wherein all the devas assembled are requested to rejoice in (approve of, applaud, laud, encourage) the merits of the entire ceremony. This monastic holds a round-handled fan made of the talipot palm leaf, elaborately decorated, a symbol of authority and high ecclesiastical position.
These three ritualistic message texts mentioned -- that is, the vihara-asna, dorakada-asna, and the anusasana-asna -- were all composed during the Kandyan period, the 18th century, when ceremonies and rituals, especially those connected with the devas, became more popular than during the earlier periods (Ven. Kotagama Vacissara Thera, Saranankara Sangharaja Samaya, pp.118-19).
|The golden shores of the Sri Lanka or "Spice Island" (Cyrille Gibot/flickr.com).|
It is also worth noting that this ceremony of dorakada-asna, the message at the threshold, has in addition to its religious and ritualistic significance considerable dramatic and theatrical value. For the whole event, from the preliminaries of the morning to the grand finale of the anusasana in the evening, contains much impersonation, mime, and dialogue.
In this connection we may note that as early as the time of Buddhaghosa (5th century A.C.E.), the greatest of all Buddhist commentators, there were Buddhist rituals with such theatrical features as is shown by the "exorcism ritual" of reading the Atanatiya Sutta described in the Commentary to the Longer Discourse (Digha Nikaya Tika iii, 969-70). [For details of the Atanatiya recital, see below, pp.55-57.]
The recital of the "Verses of the Supreme Blessings" or Jayamangala Gatha, a set of eight benedictory stanzas extolling the virtues of the Buddha, may also be cited as a popular custom partly related to the chanting of pirit. This is usually done on important occasions like the marriage ceremony, when setting out on an important journey, or when inaugurating any venture of significance.
This custom is inevitably observed at what is called the Poruva ceremony when, after a couple to be married ascends a small decorated platform (poruva), they are blessed for future prosperity. The recital is usually done by an elderly person who, for the occasion, assumes the position of an officiating priest.
|May we participate in the Sri Lankan ritual?|
While the origin of these stanzas is shrouded in mystery, it can be stated with certainty that they were composed in Sri Lanka by a devoted Buddhist poet. The earliest available reference to them is during the Kandyan period when they are given in a list of subjects that a monastic should study. This shows that they had become well established during the 16th and 17th centuries; therefore, they must have been composed at least a century earlier. These stanzas are regarded as efficacious because they relate eight occasions, each based on a beautiful story, when the Buddha triumphed over powerful opponents.
The chanting of what is called set-pirit by a few monastics at the inauguration of new ventures or at receptions and farewells to important public personages has also become quite common. The chanting usually consists of a sutra like the Mangala, Ratana, or Metta Sutta, and a few benedictory stanzas.
Set-pirit is broadcast by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation every morning as the first item of its program. More