It is no secret that Sri Lanka is a splendid island that amazes any who visits it. Let it be the spectacular landscapes, pleasant weather and climate, the grandeur of history, cultural heritage, food culture, and yes, the list goes on! However, apart from all these things, there is one more aspect of this beautiful land that offers anyone with a series of memories to cherish a lifetime. Of course, it is none other than the delightful festival celebrations in Sri Lanka. To be specific, Sri Lanka is a land of wonderful festivals. Whether it is Vesak, Poson, Christmas, Ramadan, Maha Shivaratri, or any other festival, all of them hold a unique value, and an exceptional sense of beauty. Besides, the exclusivity, and the delight of the Kandy Esala Perahera stands out from the rest. Hence, we thought of sharing with you its fascination through this read!
What is Kandy Esala Perahera?
Kandy Esala Perahera is the grandest and the most important festival that honours the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. In fact, according to the Buddhists, the tooth relic of Lord Buddha is his living evidence. Thus, they respect it and pay homage to it with much devoutness throughout their lives. Accordingly, a number of rituals, especially ‘Poojas’ daily take place at the Temple of Tooth Relic in Kandy, which houses this valuable treasure. However, out of these, the Kandy Esala Perahera is the most significant. Also, this is the most ancient Buddhist festival of Sri Lanka. Besides, it is indeed a highlight, revealing to the world the grandeur of the cultural heritage of this beautiful island.
Besides, paying tribute to the four guardian gods, Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Goddess Pattini is also another motive of this fascinating celebration. In fact, there is a belief that this Esala Perahera has the power of attracting their blessings on the country to obtain timely rain for the cultivation of crops, and to enrich the lands of the ancient Kingdom of Kandy. Thus, apart from honouring the tooth relic and the deities, yearning blessings on behalf of the country, has also been a main reason behind celebrating this wonderful festival.
When is Kandy Esala Perahera?
Esala Perahera festival takes place in the month of July or August. That is parallel to the Esala Full Moon Poya day, which commemorates the first teaching of Buddha after enlightenment. Probably, the Kandy Esala perahera celebration lasts for ten days with a number of interrelated rituals and festivals.
Where is Kandy Esala Perahera?
Unlike many of the other festivals in Sri Lanka, this is not an event that is celebrated across the island. Being a procession festival, it only traverses around the streets of the sacred city of Kandy. Of course, this festival has been a major reason for attracting a high number of tourists towards this city. Thousands of visitors in Kandy during the months of July and August simply prove this fact.
Accordingly, this festival indeed has become a vital factor that impacts the tourism industry of the country. It is true that Kandy has always been a favourite destination of visitors owing to its relaxing climate, spectacular surroundings, and the historical and cultural heritage. However, the delight of this wonderful procession festival further enhances the importance that this city already holds.
The Origin of Kandy Esala Perahera
Of course, there is nothing wrong in mentioning that the exact history of the Kandy Esala Perahera is a mystery. Still, the legends that reveal the history of the country, and the certain books of the popular Chinese Pilgrim ‘Fa Hien’, reveals certain facts about the presence of this wonderful festival even then.
Accordingly, it was during the 3rd century BC that Sri Lanka got this tooth relic. Further, it was during the era of Keerti Sri Raja Singhe (1747-1780) that this pageant celebration began. As per the historical records, centuries back, the relic had been taken around the sacred city of Anuradhapura once a year. However, following the colonization of the island, a number of interruptions have come along the way impacting the continuity of this procession. However, the rituals continued, and the history reveals that the efforts of Upali Thera are significant when considering the history of this festival.
Besides, after the fall of the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815, following the British invasion, the custody of the Tooth relic was handed over to the Buddhist clergy. The absence of the king was observed and then Diyawadana Nilame was appointed to handle the daily routine administrative matters at the Temple of tooth relic.Thenceforth, the person who is appointed as ‘Diyawadana Nilame’ held the responsibility of the tooth relic, and the rituals performed, and this tradition still remains the same even in the present.
Who Organizes the Kandy Esala Perahera at Present?
The Diyawadana Nilame of the Temple of Tooth Relic is the main responsible person who oversees the organizing procedure of the festival. Apart from that, the monks of the Malwatte chapter and Asgiriya Chapter of the buddhist clergy who perform the daily rituals on behalf of the tooth relic, as well as many other officials hold various ceremonial duties related to the festivities.
According to the traditions, the person who bears the position of ‘Nekath Mohottala’ who advises on astrological matters, sets the auspicious times for the festivities. Next, the dates and the auspicious times of the festivals are announced, and the real organizing process begins. Accordingly, the officials contact the traditional drummers, dancing troops, the other performing teams, the elephant owners, etc. and inform them about the proceedings, and the types of performances that they should get ready for.
How is Kandy Esala Perahera Celebrated?
In celebrating this colourful festival, the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha is carried through the kandy streets with much festivity. In brief, it is more like a pageant with a number of alluring events, and the bond that rhythm, colours, light, and dance have with this grand celebration is indeed significant. A number of traditional dancing troops, singing groups, drummers, jugglers, fire-breathers, musicians and lavishly decorated elephants join this procession, coloring the streets with wonderful shades, and illumination. From the past, up to now, this astounding delight of this festival has never got any less, and this beautiful procession still remains as the main feature of this wonderful ritual. Owing to this reason the Kandy esala perahera happens to be one of the most beautiful pageants in Asia.
The Procession of Kandy Esala Perahera
The Kandy Esala Perahera consists of a number of processions, and several wonderful features. To be specific, it consists of five processions of which four are dedicated to the four shrines of Hindu Gods and the Goddesses, namely the Shrine of God Natha, The Shrine of God Maha Vishnu, The Shrine of God Katharagama and finally the Shrine of Goddess Pattini.
However, the Kandy Esala perahera begins with the ‘Sap Sitveema of Kappa’, where they cut the sanctified young Jackfruit and plant it in the premises of each of the for devalayas dedicated to the guardian gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the Goddess Pattini. These processions are traditionally meant to yearn the blessing on the king and the people of the country in the past, and now to bless the country as a whole.
The Perahera of the Temple of Tooth Relic
By now, you clearly know that the Procession of Kandy Esala perahera has various features, and yes, it is a process of a long time that comes into action on that night. At dusk, on the day of the Perahera festival, at around 8 p.m. to be exact, the Perahera of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, takes the lead and joins with the four processions of the hindu shrines.
The second in the parade is the procession from the shrine of God Natha. Next in line is the procession from the Shrine of God Vishnu at the Maha devale. The fourth procession is from the Kataragam Devale, which is dedicated to the God of Skanda from Kataragama. Of course, all these processions are dazzling and alluring, yet the fourth procession has some unique highlights such as the Kavadi, and Peacock dance, where the pilgrim dancers carry semicircular wooden contraptions with a collection of peacock feathers on their shoulders. Then the final procession is from the Shrine of goddess Pattini, which is located in the west of Natha devale.
Other Festivities of Kandy Esala Perahera
As you might already know, the Kandy esala perahera is a collection of so many features and festivities celebrated within that season. Some of the festivities that take place in connection with this grand procession are as follows.
- Kumbal Perahera
- Randoli Perahera
- Devala Perahera
- Diya Kapeema and Day Perahera
Of course, you might be wondering what these festivities are. Take it easy, because the following sections will enlighten you with regard!
The Kumbal Perahera
Setting the start of the festive season of Kandy, the ‘Devale Peraheras’ from the four shrines mentioned earlier, takes place. The priest of each Devale plays the main role of these festivals, and these processions are held for five nights. These parades also comprise music, and drumming events along with canopy beares, spearmen and flag bearers. However, on the sixth night of the festivities, begins the Kumbal Perahera, and it continues for five days.
The Randoli Perahera
This parade begins upon completion of the five nights of the Kumbal perahera. The word ‘Randoli’ means the planquins on which the queens travelled in the past. However, following the Kumbal Perahera, five Randoli Peraheras take place, out of which the final one is the grandest. And yes, it is the significant attraction which is famous as the ‘Kandy Esala Perahera’, and some of its highlighting features are as follows.
It is the whip crackers that set the start of the procession. As the sounds of the crack the whips spread around, the audience gets to know that the procession is nearby. Thus, they are more like the messengers of this grand procession.
One might not imagine the beauty the flag bearers add to the procession. Still, how they carry the Buddhist flags, and many other flags of the different provinces or temples in lines, is simply a wonderful sight to see.
Another attraction of these processions are the brilliantly draped, and illuminated tuskers. The person bearing the position of ‘Peramune Rala’ rides the first elephant, and then there are few more tuskers taking part in this wonderful parade. However, the tusker who carries the register of the sacred temple of the tooth is the highlight of the procession. Besides, how these giants walk majestically, stepping to the rhythms of the drummers, is indeed delightful to observe. Moreover, the grandeur they bring to this procession is simply indescribable. Also, not every tusker gets the chance of taking part in this parade. There are certain groups of tuskers, selected to take part in this parade. They arrive at the temple a few days earlier to take part in this most honourable festival of Buddhists.
Traditional Drummers and Flute Players
Of course, it is these drummers that add the feet-tapping beats to this elegant parade. Moreover, it is the flute players that add the melodious harmonies to this wonderful festival. The drummers play an array of traditional drums. Besides, the rhythmical movements they follow meanwhile, further enhances the fascination that they create.
Two long chains of vibrant dancers follow the tuskers. Besides, there are many other troops of dancers, in several parts of the parade as well. Most of them are traditional dancers who take part in this procession from generations. How they blend with the traditional drummers in bringing out the splendours of their art, is simply amazing. Moreover, these dancing troops represent various Sri Lankan traditional dancing styles. Thus, this event is also significant as it creates opportunities to pass these genres to the next generations. However, the leaps and the fascinating movements of these traditional dancers are certainly magical. Further, the glamour they add to the Kandy Esala Perahera is indeed impressive.
Diyawadana Nilame and the Officials
Diyawadana Nilame holds the custody of the Tooth Relic. Thus, the role he plays in overlooking the protection and rituals of the tooth relic, organizing festivals related to the temple of the tooth relic, and above all, overlooking every aspect of the Perahera celebration is indeed immense. Hence, he holds a special place in this parade. Accordingly, Diyawadana Nilame, together with his officials, who dress in the traditional regalia of the high officials of kings of the medieval Kingdom of Kandy, walk with pride in this parade.
Diya Kapeema and the Day Perahera
Following the five Randoli Perahera festivals are the rituals ‘Diya Kapeema’ and the Day Perahera. In brief, ‘Diya Kapeema’ is a ritual that has a close connection with water. Moreover, it annually takes place at the Mahaweli River at Gatambe, which is a few miles away from Kandy. Following this ritual, is the Day Perahera. It is a less glamorous festival, which is more like a ritual. Yet, it is important as it solemnly marks the end of the Esala Perahera festivities.
After all the festivities of the Esala Perahaera concludes, a document that states the successful completion of the festivities is handed over to the president of Sri Lanka. Yes, this ritual is known as the ‘Perahera Sandeshaya’. The president accepts the ‘Perahera Sandeshaya’ at the President’s pavilion. The Diyawadana Nilame, Nilames of the four shrines, and some other Nilames from shrines in rural areas join this function.
Schedule of the Kandy Esala Perahera 2021
The Kandy Esala perahera 2021 is to be held abiding by the health and safety guidelines, imposed due to Covid-19. It begins on Saturday, the 13th August, 2021 and ends on Tuesday, the 23rd August 2021. The following table would provide you a detailed schedule of the festivities that last for ten days.
|13th to 17th of August 2021||Kumbal Perahera daily|
|18th to 21st August 2021||Randoli Perahera daily|
|22nd August 2021||The Grand Parade of Kandy Esala Perahera (5th Randoli Perahera)|
|23rd August 2021||Diya Kapeema and the Day Perahera|
The Bottom Line
All these facts prove to you again and again that the procession of the Kandy Esala Perahera is a festival like no other. In fact, how it shades the beautiful city of Kandy, with a colorful wave of brilliance is simply impressive. Besides, the historical grandeur, and the unique cultural values it exhibits are second none. Moreover, how the charm of these celebrations couple with the solemn of the most honoured Buddhist values are simply delightful. So, there is no wonder in having a huge audience of locals and tourists to witness this elegant parade that has the superpower of alluring any. Thus, if you are ever visiting this splendid island of Sri Lanka, why miss this dazzling celebration? Yes, plan your next trip to this paradise to witness the delight of this wonderful celebration, and it would certainly be a decision that you never regret. Happy and Safe Travelling!