One of the oldest and grandest festivals in Sri Lanka, the Kandy Esala Perahera (Parade) is a celebration that will leave you enthralled by its magnificent pageantry.
Organised by the Diyawadana Nilame or chief custodian of The Temple of the tooth, the glittering perahera with its stunning costumery and spectacular dance routines is a unique elephant led parade, through the streets of Kandy.
Considered a unique symbol of Sri Lankan culture, the Esala Perahera takes place from August 8, to August 18. The festival begins with the Kap Situveema ceremony on August 3 in which a young sanctified jackfruit is cut in the premises of each of the four Devales.
It is a custom to bestow blessings on the King and people and marks the start of the processions of the four Devales. These are a collection of parades dedicated to the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Temple’s four ‘guardian gods’; Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the Goddess Pattini.
The official start of the Esala Perahera will begin with the Kumbal Perahera on August 8 and continue on for five days. This particular Perahera commences relatively low key gradually growing in grandeur until the main feature of the colourful Randoli Perahera parades the streets of Kandy from August 13 – 17.
The Randoli Perahera is a wondrous sight, which culminates in a beautiful spectacle on the final Maha Randoli Perahera (August 17).
During this time, cannon fire at 8.30pm sets the procession in motion from the Temple of the Tooth Relic. At this time the streets will be closed and crowds will flank the route. In ancient times torches burning coconut husks were used to illuminate the streets, but this has since been replaced with electric strobe and fairy lights strung from every building to brighten the perahera’s course.
Thousands will display their talents as in the previous minor processions, but on the final day, these Thammattum drummers set the beat performers will also be robed in resplendent costumes. Drummers set the beat for dancers to keep step while fire jugglers awe with their daring moves.
Popular dances performed are Ves, Udekki, Pantheru, and Naiyandi from the traditional Kandyan Dance form. Flag bearers, torch bearers and whip crackers all add colour to the perahera, walking to the tunes of Hevisi drumming with each group having a customary part to play in the Esala Perahera.
In addition to the human entertainers, around 100 elephants join in the parade. They are dressed in ornately bejeweled garments called caparisons and majestically stroll the streets. The Diyawadana Nilame will also travel on one of the elephants.
The 45 year old tusker Kataragama Wasana only parades in The Maha Randoli Perahera, carrying on his back the sacred tooth relic encased in a glowing gold casket. As the relic passes, onlookers worship. In ancient times, the public had no access to the Sacred Relic. During the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe it was introduced to the perahera to give all Sri Lankans a chance to worship it.
The Randoli procession also incorporates the use of palanquins made famous centuries earlier by ancient queens who used it as their preferred method of travel. After livening the streets of Kandy for three hours, the parade returns to the Temple, where traditional customs are observed.
The water cutting ceremony on August 18, follows the last Perehera. The chief ‘kapuralas’ (priests) of the four Devales wade through the waters of the Mahaweli Ganga in Gatambe where they cut the river water with a gold sword. Here water from the ‘golden ewer’ collected the year before will be discarded and replenished with new water thus signifying the end of the Esala Perahera.