The processions start from the premises of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara, which was founded in the mid 19th century. It is located in the southern outskirts of Colombo, in a suburb called Boralesgamuwa. The temple is in only 5 km distance from the famous beach resort Mount Lavinia.
The annual Bellanwila festivals began in the mid 20th century. For many years it was just a local ceremony to invoke blessings on the people and their cattle in order to prevent them from suffering times of famine or epidemic. But Bellanwila Perahera has gradually grown into one of Sri Lanka’s largest processions at all. The Bellanwila festival provides a fortnight long market, too. By the way, Hindus, Muslims and Christians also take part in illuminating the streets by setting up lights in front of their houses.
Bellanwila Perahera attracts crowds not only from Colombo District but from all parts of the country. It's a genuine Sri Lankan event, not any kind of tourist show. Indeed, most tourists travelling to Sri Lanka in August don’t know anything about this spectacular festival, though it involves 50 adorned elephants, almost comparable to the world-famous Kandy Perahera (currently about 70 elephants). Bellanwila Perahera encompasses over 50 traditional dance items, too. In contrast to many other traditional Buddhist Peraheras, the Bellanwila Perahera allows women to take part in the ceremonies.