The Kandy Esala Perahera is an extravagant event that almost every Buddhist Sri Lankan never tends to miss out on each year. This episode unveils everything you need to know about this vibrant festival, from its history to its ins and outs.
Kandy Esala Perahera, also known as Kandy Perahera or The Festival of The Sacred Tooth Relic, is an energetic and colorful procession hosted by the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It is typically held in the months of July or August every year in Kandy, Sri Lanka. This event is held to pay tribute to the sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha and to commemorate its four guardian Gods. You could see amazing performers in this procession accompanied by adorned elephants and tuskers.
Read along to discover more about this beautiful ceremony that lights up the entire hill city!
What Is Kandy Esala Perahera?
Kandy Esala Perahera is actually one of the most spectacular and grandest events taking place each year during the months of July and August in Kandy, Sri Lanka. It is not merely the most vibrant festival in Sri Lanka, but it also holds prominence in entire South Asia as an event that symbolizes the Buddhist heritage and Sinhalese tradition and culture.
The Sinhalese term “Perahera” stands for “parade” in English. This procession lasts up to 10 days in two categories: “Kumbal Perahera” and “Randoli Perahera.” You could be able to experience how the entire city is getting ready from the morning for this elegant event if you visit Kandy during this time. That buzzing vibe is just unique and phenomenal, making a delightful memory in your travel journey.
This beautiful religious festival is hosted by the prime hub of the Sri Lankan Buddhists, The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, along with the “Sathara Maha Devalas” (the four temples of the Gods). The purpose of this event is mainly to pay homage to the sacred Tooth Relic and commemorate the three guardian gods and the goddess- Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha, and Pattini.
While the casket-carrying, majestic sacred Tusker is considered the primary item of the procession, you could witness hundreds of other performers like traditional dancers, reciters, drummers, etc., with over 50 other elephants and tuskers.
Features Of The Esala Perahera
Esala Perahera starts from the Temple of the Tooth, goes around Kandy city, covers many streets, and returns to its initial location. This event contains 11 procession days, including 5 Kumbal Perahera days, 5 Randoli Perahera days, and the last Day Perahera.
The festival typically begins with the first Kumbal Perahera and continues for the first five days. The rest of the days will resume with the Randoli Perahera. Each parade will move along different streets each day. The locals believe that watching the first Kumbal Perahera will bless you with good health and prosperity.
It is also said that Randoli Perahera is more spectacular than Kumbal, with the most colorful and spirited performances. And it is the final Randoli Perahera that attracts many people.
Many government leaders, including the President of Sri Lanka, along with thousands of foreign and local spectators, come to watch the final Perahera. Hence, the performers tend to serve more energetically on this day while being accompanied by more caparisoned tuskers and elephants.
The Day Perahera usually falls on Nikini Poya Day, and you will not witness the colorfulness of the night procession since this session takes place during the daytime. However, the vibrancy and uniqueness of Day Perahera will be the same as Kumbal or Randholi.
A Brief Digging Into The History Of Kandy Esala Perahera…
The Kandy Esala Perahera was first initiated during King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe’s reign, who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom. In fact, the Tooth Relic was considered a private belonging of the king during ancient times, while ordinary citizens never got the chance to worship it.
But King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe summoned to bear the sacred Tooth Relic in a parade for the citizens to witness and pay honor. Henceforth his order, the elegant Kandy Esala Perahera festival has been taking place for hundreds of years until today.
The Kingdom of Kandy ended up without a king when the British reached the Kandyan kingdom in 1815. Thus, a chief lay guardian called the “Diyawadana Nilame” was designated to conduct routine administrative affairs of the sacred Tooth Relic.
Accordingly, he has been the head custodian of The Temple of the Sacred Tooth and is accountable for organizing the Perahera festival. You will catch him accompanying the procession dressed in traditional Nilame (royal) attire, which the higher officials usually wore during the king’s reign.
However, the genuine sacred Tooth Relic is not taken in the Perahera at present. Since it is believed inauspicious to remove the Tooth Relic from its sacred precincts, only a duplicate of the casket is carried along. Besides, removing it would demand special security precautions as it is considered the palladium of Sri Lanka.
What Experience Can You Get At Kandy Esala Perahera?
We would say that the best experience in Kandy would be in your presence at Kandy Esala Perahera! In fact, as we mentioned earlier, this is one of the grandest religious festivals you could witness in entire South Asia. You must have seen certain video clips or photos of this graceful event.
But your entire family could see the beyond-elegance of this colorful event much more closely if you allocate a day to watch Perahera during your stay in Sri Lanka. Each day, the procession begins at different auspicious times and will go on for several hours. Usually, the streets are crowded from the daytime, with locals from all around the country.
So, you will find watching the parade on the streets uncomfortable. Thus, there are plenty of hotels and shops around where you can buy and reserve seats in advance. You will find some street food stalls and temporary snack shops along the Kandy Lake border if you need refreshments while you enjoy the parade.
Moreover, it is important to know that the security within the city is typically higher than usual during the Perahera days. So, you’ll usually be checked at least from one checkpoint. Hence, bear in mind that you will have to cooperate with their duty. While you can film and get close captures of the performers, it will also be thrilling for you and your kids to watch how the beautifully embellished elephants and tuskers dance to the drumbeats and flute tunes!
What Are The Special Features, And Who Are The Performers You Could See In The Procession?
The Kandy Esala Perahera is essentially a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can get. Local performers find it a privilege to participate in this sacred religious festival. Therefore, you’ll see hundreds of skilled adult and child performers in this event, along with young and adult elephants and tuskers. The performers you’ll see in the Esala Perahera include:
- Whip crackers
- Traditional dancers
- Flag bearers
- Flute players
- Fireball dancers
- Elephant parades with the Temple of the Tooth officials (most importantly, the sacred ceremonial tusker)
- The parade of the four Devalas (in order by those of the Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Pattini)
- Kawadi dancers
What Is The Significance Of The Casket-Carrying Ceremony During The Kandy Esala Perahera?
The casket-carrying ceremony is the spotlight and the most highlighted event of this procession. You’ll see how the locals around you will stand up from their seats and pay tribute at the arrival of the majestic ceremonial Tusker.
He will be carrying the golden casket containing the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. This blessed tusker is dressed in an adorned dress and is flanked by two more elegantly embellished tuskers. You could capture how this Tusker steps majestically in supreme dignity carrying the glorious golden casket while a canopy shelters it.
The walking path of the sacred Tusker will be laid with a white cloth called “Pawada” for him to walk on. We are sure that this moment will be awe-inspiring for you to see how patiently and peacefully this blessed Tusker walks right on the white cloth without overstepping it.
What Other Cultural And Religious Events Are Held During The Kandy Esala Perahera?
There are three main other religious events associated with the Kandy Esala Perahera.
01- Kap Situweema
The Kandy Esala Perahera starts with the Kap Situweema ceremony. In this event, a consecrated young Jackfruit tree is cut and planted on the premises of each of the four Devalas dedicated to the four guardian gods.
02- Valli Yak Ceremony
Valli Yak ceremony is a traditional seven-day ritual performed at the Maha Vishnu Devalaya. This was a secret ceremony, and it was only later that the public could see it. The main intention of the Valli Yak event was to ward off the ‘ evil eye ‘ from the elephants, Nilames (high-rankers in the Temple of the Tooth), drummers, and those who took part in the Kandy Esala Perahera.
03- Diya Kapeema (Water-cutting Ceremony)
This is the final ritual of the Kandy Esala Perahera. The water-cutting ceremony usually takes place early in the morning on the Nikini Full Moon Poya Day, after the night of the final Randoli Perahera. On this event, the temple heads go down to the Mahaweli River on the outskirts of Kandy to cut the water using a golden sword while reciting prayers. Then they keep the water in goblets to be carried to each respective temple.
Witness The Grandeur Of The Kandy Esala Perahera!
Now it must be all clear to you why the Kandy Esala Perahera is meant to be one of the most spectacular events that you should see at least once in your lifetime! Adorned with skilled and energetic performers along with well-tamed beautiful Tuskers and elephants, this procession will be a memorable milestone in your travel diary.
So, we hope you’ll indulge in this vibrant festival and never miss it if you visit Sri Lanka during July and August. Use the official website of the Temple of the Tooth to be updated with the Perahera dates each year, so it will help to plan out your trip!