The Esala Perahera in Kandy is one of the oldest and grandest of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka

The Esala Perahera in Kandy is one of the oldest and grandest of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, featuring dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers, and lavishly decorated elephants. This is held in Esala (July or August) which is the month that is believed to commemorate the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. The Kandy Esala Perahera lasts for ten days while various festivities can be witnessed right throughout. The Sinhalese term ‘Perahera’ means a parade of musicians, dancers, singers, acrobats and various other performers accompanied by a large number of caparisoned Tuskers and Elephants parading the streets in celebration of a religious event.

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Kandy’s ten-day Esala Perahera is the most spectacular of Sri Lanka’s festivals, and one of the most colourful religious pageants in Asia.

Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth of Lord Buddha) is one of the grandest festivals in Sri Lanka and in the Buddhist world. It is held every summer in Kandy to honor the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha and to pay homage to old gods of Sri Lanka. For the people of Sri Lanka, it is a time to celebrate the country’s rich culture and history. For travelers, it is a great time to experience the distinctive tradition of this island nation and to have fun!

The Festival of the Tooth is called Esala Perahera in Sinhalese. “Esala” is the name for a lunar month occurring in July or August. The word “Perahera” means a procession or parade.

The Esala Perahera in Kandy is believed to be a fusion of two separate but interconnected “Peraheras” (Processions) – The Esala and Dalada. The Esala Perahera which is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC, was a ritual enacted to request the gods for rainfall. The Dalada Perahera is believed to have begun when the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India during the 4th Century AD.

The procession (perahera) through the streets of Kandy is held nightly throughout the festival: the first five nights, the so-called Kumbal Perahera, are relatively low-key; during the final five nights, the Randoli Perahera, things become progressively more spectacular, building up to the last night (the Maha Perahera, or “Great Parade”), featuring a massive cast of participants including as many as a hundred brilliantly caparisoned elephants and thousands of drummers, dancers and acrobats walking on stilts, cracking whips, swinging fire pots and carrying banners, while the replica casket of the Tooth Relic itself is carried on the back of the Maligawa Tusker elephant.

The Procession

The Kandy Esala Perahera begins with the Kap Situveema or Kappa, in which a sanctified young Jackfruit tree (Artocarpus integrifolia) is cut and planted in the premises of each of the four Devales dedicated to the four guardian gods Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and the goddess Pattini. Traditionally it was meant to shower blessing on the King and the people.

Kumbal Perahera (Kumbal Procession)

The first procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic stars with the Kumbal Perhara. This is the first Kumbal Perhara shown to the infants to drive away Evil Spells and Illwill. It is a tradition that the procession parades the streets of Kandy for five days. But the Kumbal Perahara is popular and remains as an unfinished procession or a semi procession. The reason is that Nilames do not work in this procession. But the Drummers and Tuskers take part without any ceremonial costumes.

Randoli Perahera (Randoli Procession)

This could be seen only with the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic and parade the streets for whole five days which is a tradition. In the days of the Kings the Chief Queen of the Kings paraded in this procession in Palanquins. As the participation of the Queens was not proper to the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic they were stopped but a palanquin is taken in the procession as an honor to the Queen. Today it is taken as the last item of the procession.

Maha Randoli Perahera (Grand Randoli Procession)

The Maha Randoli Perahara is the last Procession. It is the grandest event of the festival. The Tuskers come with garlands and decorated with ceremonial costumes. The Diyawadana Nilame adds a novel glamour to the procession by wearing newly stitched costume.

5 TIPS for the festival

1. Reserve hotels well in advance because it is a peak season during the festival and bookings can be heavy.
2. Though you can watch the great procession in the street with the local people, it is highly recommended that you book a seat (around USD 100 each) in a viewing gallery in advance to get a good view.
3. Bring some drinks and snacks as the procession is long (usually 3-4 hours) and most of the restaurants are close to enable seating to view the parade. Alcohol is not sold on Poya (full-moon day of the month) days. But tea and coffee are available. And Thambili ( king coconut water ) is a safe and refreshing option.
4. The best time to see the procession is on the last two nights when you can see more than a hundred elephants wearing colorful clothes of silk and fairy lights striding amongst the musicians, fire jugglers, and torch bearers. It would be best if you watch the entire ten-night procession though.
5. Be prepared and patient. It is almost impossible to avoid crowds of people during the Esala Perahera. Instead of getting mad about it, you can choose to be calm and maintain a peace of mind.

Kandy Esala Perahera Dates in 2017

1st Kumbal Perahera – July 29th 2017
2nd Kumbal Perahera – July 30th 2017
3rd Kumbal Perahera – July 31st 2017
?4th Kumbal Perahera – August 01st 2017
5th Kumbal Perahera – August 02nd 2017
1st Randoli Perahera – August 03rd 2017
2nd Randoli Perahera – August 04th 2017
3rd Randoli Perahera – August 05th 2017
4th Randoli Perahera – August 06th 2017
5th Randoli Perahera –  August 07th 2017
Maha Randoli Perahera – August 08th 2017