Once a year, in July or August, the Esala Perahara (procession) journeys city streets in a wave of colour, beckoning devotees in their thousands from island wide as well as visitors, to witness a procession like no other. The Esala Perahera in Kandy (also known simply as the Kandy Perahera) is the grandest of the country’s traditional festivals. It is organised by the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth Relic) in honour of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the goddess Pattini.
The Dalada Perahara as it was originally called commemorates the time when Buddha’s sacred tooth relic was first brought to Sri Lanka from India, and allows devotees to venerate the Tooth Relic as it is carried through the streets in a casket on the back of a magnificent tusker elephant.
Celebrated from the humblest of Buddhist temples to the most prominent, every temple has its own representation of the Esala Perahera.
This is the time to see elephants cloaked in sheets of colourful garments and bright lights; acrobats, jugglers and dancers from various regions of the country, performing intricate steps to the sound of numerous traditional drums in constant beat; as well as fire-eaters, musicians and singers.
The Esala Perahera’s celebration, an age-old tradition, is believed to date from the 3rd Century BC. Coming to life during the months July or August, in line with the Esala full moon poya day, the Perahera is also considered a ritualistic enactment to summon the rains.