Kandy Esala Perahera: The Most Spectacular Cultural Event in Sri Lanka.

Kandy Esala Perahera
Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera, often referred to as the “Esala Perahera,” is one of the most spectacular cultural events in Sri Lanka.

So, what is Kandy Esala Perahera? It is a grand procession that takes place every year in the city of Kandy. The purpose of the Kandy Esala Perahera is to pay homage to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.

In this article, we will explore the significance of Kandy Esala Perahera and what to expect when you are at the Kandy Esala Perahera. We will also discover some travel tips to know before watching it to make a hassle-free event for you.

The Historical and Cultural Significance of Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera

The history of Kandy Perahera goes back to the arrival of Princess Hemamala, and her husband Prince Dantha to Sri Lanka. They brought the sacred tooth relic of Buddha to Sri Lanka from the Kalinga Desha of India. This was during the reign of King Kirthisiri Meghawanna (305-331 AD).

According to Mahavamsa (chronicle), King Kirthisiri Meghawanna received the sacred tooth relic of Buddha in a grand procession. He also wanted to take the sacred tooth relic in a procession around the city of Anuradhapura. Later it became an annual event in the spring months of Sri Lanka under the orders of King Kirthisiri Meghawanna.

Evidence suggests that the kings who succeeded King Kirthisiri Meghawanna followed this order. The Chinese traveler Fa Hien mentioned in his book on his trips to India and Sri Lanka that he also saw the procession.

Kandy Esala Perahera

However, the sacred tooth relic of Buddha was moved to Polonnaruwa city after the Chola invasions. Thereby, it was moved to Dambadeniya, Kotte, and finally to Kandy where it is enshrined now.

So, evidently, the kings moved the tooth relic as they moved from one city to another. Not only that, they enshrined it in new temples, the current one being the Temple of Tooth.

The Religious Significance of Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera

The grand processions to pay homage to the tooth relic continued even after it moved to Kandy. Although largely Buddhist, this procession included Hindu shrines such as Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama, and Paththini later.

Experts believe such additions happened as a result of the Dravidian influence in Sri Lanka. Especially as the majority of the Kandyan Kingdom’s kings and consorts were from India.

Kandy Esala Perahera

Records reveal that Kandy Esala Perahera as we know it today, with the four Hindu Shrines Peraheras originated in the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha in 1775 A.D.

However, everything changed after the British captured the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815. The Buddhist clergy received custody of the tooth relic. Then the “Diyawadana Nilame” (a head lay custodian) looked after all administrative tasks associated with the tooth relic.

Kandy Esala Perahera Today

Sri Lanka Kandy Esala Perahera today is a spectacular celebration taking place for 10 days, relating to the country’s thousand-year-old culture and religion.

Starting the Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Perahera starts with the ceremonial “Kap Situveema”. This means a young Jackfruit tree is cut and planted on the premises of the four Hindu shrines in the Temple of Tooth.

After that, the Peraheras of Hindu shrines take place for five days. The four Hindu shrines in the Temple of Tooth are dedicated to the Gods Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama, and Paththini. They take place within the premises of the four Hindu shrines accompanied by music and drumming, flag and canopy bearers, spearman, and the Ran Ayudha (gold Armaments), the sacred insignia of the Gods.

The Kumbal Perahera and Randoli Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera

The Kumbal Perahera starts on the 6th day night and continues for 5 days. First, the Hindu shrines peraheras assemble in front of the Temple of Tooth.

Then the tooth relic casket which carries the replica of the original tooth relic of Buddha is placed inside the “Ransivige”. If you are having trouble placing what it is, you can search “Sri Lanka Kandy Perahera elephant” on Google.

You will see that it is a dome-like structure that is fixed to the Maligawa (Temple of Tooth) tusker! Then the Maligawa Perahera (Temple of Tooth Perahera), leads the procession accompanied by the Hindu shrines peraheras. The Randoli Perahera takes place for five days after Kumbal Perahera.

The Water Cutting Ceremony and Day Perahera

The Kandy Esala Perahera ends with the water-cutting ceremony (Diya Kepeema) at the Mahaweli River at Getambe town in Kandy. This is the final day of the Kandy Esala Perahera, which takes place during the daytime.

What to Expect at the Kandy Esala Perahera?

The main Kandy Perahera Festival has four peraheras as follows:

Kandy Esala Perahera
  1. Dalada Maligawa Perahera (Temple of Tooth Perahera)
  2. Natha Dewala Perahera (Natha Hindu Shrine Perahera)
  3. Maha Vishnu Dewala Perahera (Vishnu Hindu Shrine Perahera)
  4. Katharagama Dewale Perahera (Katharagam Hindu Shrine Perahera)
  5. Paththini Dewale Perahera (Paththini Hindu Shrine Perahera)

The main highlight of the procession is the Dalada Maligawa Perahera (Temple of Tooth Perahera). You will see whip crackers (who announce the start of the perahera by cracking their whips), accompanied by flag bearers. The whip crackers are only in the Randoli Perahera.

Kandy Esala Perahera

Then you will see the first official (Peramunerala) riding on a beautifully adorned elephant. He is accompanied by drummers playing Sinhalese instruments like Dawulas, Tammettams, and Flutes! Next comes the Gajanayaka Nilame and the Kariyakorale. You will see the Kandy Perahera dancers, particularly the Kandyan dancers adorned with traditional attires. Their dancing talents are out of the world as they move together in the same rhythms.

After that, you will see the highlight of the Kandy Esala Perahera – the Maligawa Tusker who is carrying the sacred tooth relic of Buddha. All the Kandy Esala perahera elephants are beautifully adorned with lights and colorful clothes. Sometimes you can even see them dancing to the beats of the drums!

Kandy Esala Perahera

The Maligawa (Temple of Tooth) Tusker is also accompanied by dancers and drummers. After that, you can see the Diyawadana Nilame walking in all splendor wearing traditional Kandyan attire, attended by different types of bearers.

This marks the end of the Dalada Maligawa Perahera (Temple of Tooth Perahera). Next is the Peraheras of Hindu shrines, equally beautiful and accompanied by traditional Hindu drummers and dancers. The highlight in this part of Perahera is the peacock and Kavadi dances.

Travel Tips for Kandy Esala Perahera

Traveling to Sri Lanka to watch the Kandy Esala Perahera is a culturally enriching experience. Here are some travel tips to make the best of the event.

  • Check the official website of the Temple of Tooth: https://sridaladamaligawa.lk/kandy-esala-perahera/ before you plan the visit because dates change every year. The Kandy Perahera 2024 dates are also not available yet so check around April/May.
  • So, when is Kandy Perahera? Usually, the Kandy Perahera takes place in late July or early August.
  • There are both free and paid seating options for the Kandy Esala Perahera. When you pay for seats, you will have a better view of the procession and greater comfort than on the roadsides. However, you should book Kandy perahera tickets for sitting in advance as they sell out quickly.
  • As for accommodation, you should book Kandy hotels as early as possible because they sell out quickly too! Homestays are an excellent choice for a budget-friendly stay.
  • The Kandy Esala Perahera begins in the evening, but it is advised to arrive at least an hour early to avoid the crowds.
  •  If you are traveling from another place to Kandy, you can arrive early in the morning and explore Kandy City, the Temple of Tooth, and Kandy Lake.
  • You should dress modestly because the Kandy Esala Perahera is a significant religious and cultural event in Sri Lanka. Don’t wear revealing clothes. You can wear long pants, skirts, and tops with sleeves.
  • The Kandy Esala Perahera lasts several hours, so bring lots of water and snacks. Street vendors will be selling foods but they can be a little pricey because of the event.
  • Be mindful when taking photographs of the Kandy Esala Perahera. Sometimes the flashes of the cameras can annoy the elephants so turn them off when taking photographs.
  • There will be a lot of people in Kandy during the Esala Perahera, so keep an eye on your possessions and valuables even if you’re seated. And it is best to leave everything valuable at your accommodation.

Concluding thoughts….

Kandy Esala Perahera is a spectacular event that showcases the rich cultural and religious heritage of Sri Lanka. It is a must-see event for all those travelers visiting Sri Lanka. So, if you want to see the Kandy Esala Perahera, plan your visit to Sri Lanka around July and August. Remember that this is not only about the grandeur of the procession, with the drummers, Kandyan dancers, and beautifully adorned elephants. It is a story of how the past has seamlessly connected to the present even after many centuries! So be a part of the Kandy Esala Perahera on your next visit to Sri Lanka.