A rare overnight “pirith” chanting ritual was conducted at East London Buddhist Cultural Centre (Lumbini Viharaya) in Plaistow, London on 17th October 2015 with the intent of blessing the temple, its devotees and the general public. A vast gathering of Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi Buddhist devotees participated for this meritorious event organised under the patronage of Ven Makure Mangala Thero, the chief incumbent of the temple.
This special occasion was graced by the participation of around twenty residential and guest monks representing leading Buddhist temples in Europe and Sri Lanka. They were namely, Ven. Murungagasyaye Gnanissara Maha Thero - chief incumbent of Jethawana Buddhist Viharaya in Paris and the Adikarana Sangha Nayaka in France, Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Maha Thero - Sangha Nayaka of United Kingdom and the chief incumbent of London Buddhist Viharaya, Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi Maha thero - Aggamaha Panditha and the chief incumbent of Kingsbury Sri Saddhathissa International Buddhist Centre, Ven. Mapalagama Buddhasiri Nayaka Thero – Chief Incumbent of the Ratmalana Buddhist Centre in Sri Lanka, Ven.Dr Witharandeniye Kassapa Maha Thero Chief Incumbent of Birmingham Maha Viharaya, Ven. Kamburawala Sri Rewatha Maha Thero –Sangha Nayaka and Chief Incumbent of Glasgow Buddhist Viharaya, Ven. Dediyawala Wimala MahaThero Chief Incumbent of Letchworth Buddhist Viharaya, Ven. Thawalama Bandula Maha Thero Deputy Head Monk of London Buddhist Viharaya, Ven. Akurala Samitha Maha Thero – Chief Incumbent of Dhamma Nikethanaya Buddhist Centre, Ven. Theldeniyaye Amitha Thero – Chief Incumbent of Shanthi Buddhist Viharaya in Nottingham, Ven. Pethigamume Hemarathana Maha Thero – Chief Incumbent of Redbridge Viharaya in Ilford, Ven. Bopaththalave Soratha thero from Birmingham Maha Viharaya, Ven. Ketiyapiye Amithasara thero from Kingsbury Sri Saddhathissa International Buddhist Centre, Ven. Eheliyagoda Dhammapala Thero and Ven. Ramboda Narada Thero representing Themes Buddhist Viharaya and residential monks Ven. Dr. Kabalewe Siri Sumana Maha Thero, Ven. Madugalle Mahanama Thero, Ven. Nuwara Eliye Dheerananda Thero, Ven. Bangladeshaye Prajnasree Thero representing Lumbini Viharaya.
Pirith chanting is an ancient practice. Pirith (paritta in Pali) means ‘protection', usually refers to ‘protection from all directions.' It is a space for chanting the suttas (discourses) of Gautama the Buddha and his disciples such as Arahat Ananda, to ward off various forms of danger, including disease, malevolent planetary influences, interference by spirits, and invocation for worldly fortune and success. Importantly, it also aims to elevate consciousness, clearing delusory states of mind and refining the consciousness of the recipient.
The centre of attraction to this event was a rare sight of a pirith mandapaya (dais or platform for the chanting of pirith), it was a beauteous sight and rightly so for its noble intent.
The mandapaya itself was made by the devotees of the temple surrounding the main Buddha statue inside the dhamma hall representing an octagonal occupying space adhering to tradition. It was decorated with white paper and other materials, intricately designed to incorporate various Buddhist insignia. It was built facing East, the direction in which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
The space represented the Triple Gem-the coming together of the Buddha (the sacred relic casket/Dhathunvahanse), the Dhamma (the pirith potha) and the Sangha (the monks)-a fitting spot for the recitation of such pure teachings. A table was placed in its centre covered with a clean white cloth which held symbolic items and offerings necessary for the chanting as prescribed by ancient scholars. A pot of clean water was also placed on the table, around it was a twisted a three-stranded ‘pirith nool’ (sacred thread). Seating for the monks were arranged around this table and auspicious items like areca nut flowers, betel leaves and twigs and tender na (iron-wood) and bo cuttings-believed to be imbued with the power to absorb and amplify the potency of the pirith suttas-were hung from the interior of the canopy cover.
From late afternoon, the devotees gathered at the temple with majority of them bearing dishes to offer to the crowed during the scheduled intermission. Early in the evening Traditional drummers announced the commencement of the ritual at a pre-determined auspicious time with the transportation of the casket (sacred relic) into the venue in a procession, it was carried by an individual randomly selected from present laity, bearing it on his head, under the protective cover of a ceremonial umbrella followed by other offerings to lord Buddha. Thereafter the residential and distinguished monks entered the pirith mandapaya, in order of seniority and sanctified it by tying strands of thick pirith nool (strings) around its interior before being seated.
Ven. Mangala gave a brief introductory speech describing the purpose and significance of the event while thanking the guest monks for their participation and the devotees for their contribution to organise the event. Most Ven. Gnanissara Maha Thero, before paying homage to the triple gem and administering five precepts (pan sil) , explained the importance and the value of participating in such a rare event specially in this part of the world. Along with the fellow monks, he recited sermons and blessed those who were present. He also stressed that this was the first-time he has participated for such an event with such number of monks present.
Subsequently a member of laity formally welcomed the monks with a tray of areca nuts and betel leaves to begin chanting. Ven. Gnanissara Thero accepted them conferring with the host monks reciting a Pali stanza constituting an invitation to rest of the participating monks to begin the ceremony. Consequently ceremonial drumming began and oil lamps were lit to invite the gods and deities to the mandapaya. The chanting commenced with the recital of the Maha Piritha by all the monks. At the end of this session devotees were served with refreshments and dinner arranged at a tent adjacent to the dhamma hall while the second session continued with the chanting of Ratana Piritha by two senior monks, seated on the central chairs. Monks chanted in relay, taking turns and the chanting continued without any disruption.
Recital ended by midnight after ceremonial drumming marked its conclusion. The divine invitees, along with the regional and local guardian deities, were thanked. The monks cut the pirith nool into short lengths and secure it around the wrists of those who participated. Blessed water from the pot on the table was also distributed to everyone. The monks who attended from distant temples left the pirith mandapaya to take rest arranged at newly furbished temple premises while monks from nearby temples returned to their respective temples.
At dawn a morning meal (alms giving), called 'heel dana', was organised for the monks who were lodging in the temple overnight before they were escorted back to their temples. Small number of devotees gathered to the temple at first light to serve the dana to monks, they were bearing dishes prepared with special care and attention. Prime portions of the food items were offered to the Lord Buddha and
the ceremony was then continued with the rest of the offerings being served to the monks. Thereafter most venerable Gnanissara Maha Thero gave a short speech admiring the rapid development of the temple he has observed over the years, praising the chief incumbent Ven Mangala and rest of the resident monks for their dedication while advising the devotees to maintain a same level of commitment in the future by being a strength to resident monks. Thereafter most Ven. Sri Rewatha Maha Thero commenced the final stage of the ceremony by conducting ‘punyanumodana’ (transferring merits) for the devotees. The ceremony was then concluded with ‘Pirikara’ (offerings/donations) being offered to the participated monks.