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The Kandy Esala Perahera

Step into the hill capital of Kandy this August to witness the grand spectacle of the Esala Perahera as it parades the streets in a whirl of colour, culture and pomp

© BT Images
The casket where the Sacred Tooth Relic is placed

It is that time of the year again where Kandy becomes the centre of attention holding everyone captive in its grasp as the entire town takes on a vibrant note to herald the Kandy Esala Perahera. Countless visit the town centre, and buildings around the town join in the festivities with colourful decorations. It is truly a festive time!

August 20-24, 2015 Kumbal Perahera

August 25-30, 2015 Randoli Perahera

August 30, 2015 Day Perahera (Water Cutting Ceremony "Diya Kepeema")

Bit of history

Bit of history

The origin of the Esala Perahera goes as far back as the third century BC. However, the current procession has been held annually since the time of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1781). The intent of starting the perahera was to provide the general public with an opportunity to pay homage to the tooth relic of Lord Buddha, which was otherwise kept under lock and key as the sole property of the King. The perahera line-up comprise according to the complex practice of the ‘Rajakariya’ or the feudal duty system, which was solely based on the mutual goodwill of the respective officers who reaped certain benefits from the lands belonging to the temple.  

The beginning

The beginning

Beginning of the perahera is ushered by the kap situveema, planting of a sanctified Jak tree. Afterwards, for five days a series of processions will be conducted at the four devalas of the four guardian deities of the island, namely Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Paththini. These parades will be restricted to the confines of each devalaya and is named the ‘devala perahera’, as it does not go beyond the temple premises. 

However, once the perahera starts to parade beyond the temple grounds, countless devotees and spectators gather to the sides of the streets to witness the pageant and in order to get a prime spot it is better to go early in the day to save a place. However, if you are planning on purchasing tickets to one of the many seating areas, it is better to do so well in advance.

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Kumbal Perahera

Kumbal Perahera

It is after these initial five days, that the true spectacle starts and it is nothing but 10 days of cultural extravagance to tickle the fancy of any culture buff. The first five days of the pageant is dedicated to the Kumbal Perahera, which parades across a limited number of streets. Usually the first night of the Kumbal Perahera is deemed as the most significant and many devotees bring their children along to ward off evil spirits and ill will that may have fallen on them.

Randholee Perahera

Randholee Perahera

The sixth night gives way to the Randholee Perahera, a grander version of the Kumbal Perahera with many more dancers and elephants where at the end of the procession seven palanquins are carried. These palanquins or Randholee are said to represent the traditional mode of transport of Queens in ancient Sri Lanka. 

The last day of the Randholee Perahera, which usually falls on a Poya day is the grandest of all and is paraded through almost every street of the town.

As dusk falls, the temple premises bustles with last minute preparations as dancers, elephants and officials all take their respective places in the perahera. At the auspicious time, a cannon shot is fired to signal that the eagerly awaited pageant has started its journey. 

And the procession goes on

And the procession goes on

The whip crackers lead the way with their ‘snake whips’, and with each crack of the whip the excitement builds up. It is the duty of whip crackers to clear the streets of human and animals so that the perahara can proceed without any hindrance. In keeping with the tradition, men carrying burning copra baskets (wire baskets filled with dried pieces of coconut husks), walk slowly along the sides illuminating the pageant. Conch shells are also blown at the same time, signaling the upcoming acts. 

Then follows a swirl of colour, animation, exhilaration and most of all tradition! Fire dancers, elephants, numbering more than 100, all dressed in colourful attire, dancers keeping in time to the beat of the drummers and officials sitting majestically on elephants make way for a cultural extravaganza unlike any. The highlight of the perahera is the main tusker carrying the golden casket, ushered through by Ves dancers performing traditional Kandyan dances. As the tusker, all decked in its finest, passes by people would stand and chant ‘Sadu Sadu’ paying homage to Lord Buddha. Soon after, Diyawadana Nilame, chief of the Temple of the Tooth along with his entourage follows signaling the end of the perahera of the Dalada Maligawa. But that is not the end of the pageant as the four devala peraheras dedicated to the four guardian deities of the island— gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and goddess Paththini accompany the Esala Perahera. Each of the peraheras take on the representative colours of the gods—yellow, blue, red and again yellow (to showcase the translucent colour of the goddess). 

Once the pageant has toured the streets, another cannon shot is fired to announce that the perahera has entered the premises of the temple, concluding yet another year of tradition. 

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Dawal Perahera

However, the next day yet again people gather on to the streets, to watch the day (dawal) perahera as it makes its way to Getambe to perform the water cutting ceremony, officially ending the Esala Perahera for the year. 

While you wait for the perahera to starts

While you wait for the night to come with bated breath, keep yourself occupied and take some time to explore the town of Kandy or even venture beyond the town limits to discover some amazing sites.

See ten things to do in Kandy

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