Kandy Perahera – What a procession!

Kandy Perahera – What a procession!

The amazing spectacle that is the Esala Perahera takes place every August in Kandy. This ten day festival is the most spectacular of its kind in Sri Lanka and dates back to the 18th century although its origins can be traced back to the 4th century. The focal point of the festival is the tooth relic, said to belong to Buddha himself which is housed in the Temple of the Tooth, although the tooth itself has not been carried in the procession since 1848 – its place taken by a replica.

The festival begins with the tree planting ceremony signifying that the vows have been taken and the procession can go ahead. The procession or perahera takes place through the streets of Kandy in the evenings. The first five nights are a precursor to the final five nights, referred to as the Randoli Perahera. Here the scene becomes increasingly frenetic and colourful culminating in the Maha Perahera or Great Parade where up to one hundred brilliantly decorated elephants take part in the proceedings alongside a multitude of dancers, acrobats and drummers. The perahera actually involves five separate processions, which follow one another around the city streets. The leading procession is from the Temple of the Tooth and the remaining four represent the four Kandyan ‘devales’ or shrines dedicated to Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha and Patini. Each devale has an elephant which carries the shrine’s insignia and a plethora of devotees dressed in traditional attire as well as the requisite musicians and dancers who seem intent to make as much noise as is humanly possible – each procession is officially brought to an end with an ear-splitting cannon shot! The whole event is a photographer’s dream with dazzling costumes and exhilarating performers.

Once the final procession has taken place the water-cutting ceremony is performed. Here a priest armed with a symbolic sword walks in to the Mahaweli Ganga and ‘cuts’ the waters with his sword. It is believed that by doing this the area will avoid droughts – incidentally the tooth relic is also supposed to protect against water shortages.