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Kandy Esala Perahera

Updated on February 26, 2016

The Kandy Esala Perahera is a beautiful pageant held in regard to the Esala festival in Sri Lanka. The Pageant is comprehend with various items of traditional dances. The perahera is a grand festival celebrated with elegant costumes and held in the month of August. This is an annual festival where thousands of Buddhists and tourists flock together to see. The Esala Perahera is especially held to pay homage for the sacred Tooth relic of Lord Buddha which is housed in the Temple of Tooth. The pageant is composed of elephants covered in shimmering clothes and dancers adorned with lavish dresses.

The festival ends after the 'full moon poya day" with the ritual of 'Diya kepima'. Where a sword is used to cut the water of the flowing Mahaweli river at Gatambe, and a pot of water is collected and preserved for the next year. Esala Perahera however is considered as a combination of both the Dalada Perahera and the Esala perahera. Back in the 3rd century BC, the Esala perahera was conducted by Sri Lankan's as a request of rainfall. The Dalada perahera on the other hand was a tribute to the sacred tooth relic brought to Sri Lanka from India by princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha in the 4th century.


The modern perahera dates back to Kandyan King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha (1747-1781). During this time period the tooth relic which was the symbol of the right to throne was considered as King's property and the mass was restricted from seeing and worshiping the relic. However king Keerthi Sri Rajasingha who decreed this restrictions, declared that the tooth relic be taken out on streets for the mass to pay homage and thus the kandy Esala Perahera was modernized. After the British capturing Sri Lanka in 1815, the tooth relic was taken into the maha sangha's custody and, a lay custodian named as the diyawadana nilame was appointed for the tooth relic's protection.

Esala perahera begins with festival of kap situweema where, a sanctified young jack fruit is cut and placed in the four devalas (temples of gods) that provide protection names as, vishnu, natha, paththini and kataragama. Traditionally this was considered as a blessing for king and people. After the Kap situweema festival, the four devala's perahera is being proceeding inside the devala premises for next five nights accompanied by music, dancers and the ran ayudha the sacred insignia of the gods.

On the sixth night the kumbal perahera is being processioned. It is said that by watching the first kumbal perahera blessings are showered upon kids. That is why thousands of parents flock to Kandy especially on the first night of Kumbal perahera. The four devala perahera assemble in front of the temple of the tooth with their basnayake nilame (the lay custodians of devala) on tow.

The perahera commences with whip crackers announcing the commencement of the perahera, but today a gun shot is also used to symbolize the relic casket (a substitute for the actual tooth relic) being taken out of the maligawa (temple of the tooth) premises. The next is the fireball acrobats who clears the path and adds a magnificent sight for the perahera. After them comes the flag bearers with the Buddhist flag hoisted with dignity. Followed by them is the first elephant decorated with beautiful satin clothes and colorful light bulbs. On top of it is the official called peramune rala (front official). He is followed by kandyan drummers and dancers who ravishes the spectators. These dancers are then followed by elephants. On either side of the procession are the torch bearers who illuminates the path.

Fireball acrobats

Dancers at the perahera

The most glorious part of the perahera is the maligawa tusker carrying the casket. The tusker walks with elegance and proud and enhance the uniqueness of Sri Lankan culture. The diyawadana nilame who is required to do everything in his power to ensure rain in the correct season walks behind the casket wearing the traditional attire of Kandyan clothing.

The second procession is from the natha devalaya which is considered as the oldest building in Kandy dating back to 14th century. The third is the vishnu devala perahera and followed by the kataragama devala perahera where the kawadi dance with peacock feathers on their shoulders. The fifth and the last comes the pattini devala perahera (a goddess of famine). This is the only perahera where women can be seen dancing.

Diyawadana nilame

After the five nights of kumbal perahera comes the randoli perahera which is also held for five nights. Randoli refers to the palanquins on which the queens used to travel. After those five nights is the diya kapeema. After the diya kapeema dawal perahera (a day time perahera) is held to end the proceedings. However according to folklore it is said that the moment the casket is placed on the tusker for the day perahera it starts to rain symbolizing the importance and power of Lord Buddha. The rituals connected with the tooth relic are conducted by the priests of malwathu and asgiri temples.It is the duty of diyawadana nilame to organize the perahera and he summons all the officials and entrusts the with their respective duties.

However from early times, Sri Lankans considered it a blessing to take part in such a religious festival and these partakers are mostly continuing what their ancestors carried out throughout their lifetime.

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