Where: Kandy, Sri Lanka.
The colorful festival of ‘Esala Perahera’ is the most famous & spectacular religious festival in Sri Lanka, celebrated in the beautiful city of ‘Kandy’. Regarded as the world’s one of the most impressive festivals, ‘Esala Perahera’ is the oldest & the most beautiful festival of Buddhist in Sri Lanka. The festival lasts for ten days & features outstanding processions of amazingly decorated elephants, astounding fire jugglers & dancers, drummers & of course, pious Buddhist monks & excited onlookers.
Throughout the ten days of the festival, the picturesque hill city of Sri Lanka gets filled with the overwhelming joy, zest & devotion. For the festival, which is organized every year in honoring the tooth relic of Lord Buddha & four guardian gods, thousands of visitors from all over Sri Lanka flock this city to witness this one of the most vibrant festivals in Asia!
Why They Celebrate?
Today’s Esala Perahera has conceived from the blend of two separate but interconnected traditions- the ‘Esala’ & ‘Dalada’. ‘Esala Perahera’ is being celebrated right from 3rd century BC with the purpose of appeasing the gods for adequate rainfall in order to avert the drought. On the other hand, ‘Dalada Perahera’ is being celebrated from 4th century AD when the ‘Holy Tooth Relic’ of Lord Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India in the reign of King Kirtisiri Meghawanna.
However, due to the fall of ‘Anuradhpura’- the kingdom of the king Meghawanna & an unending series of invasions from Dravidians, Tooth Relic’s pitiable days were started along with its unsecured journey around the Island. The Tooth relic, soon lost its importance in the processions, though Esala processions continued to prevail, even during the Kandyan dynasty in the 17th century.
The fortune of the tooth had changed in 1775, when the Kandyan King Kirthisri Rajasinghe ordered that the Tooth Relic should be given the most important position to head the processions. The modern day look of the festival is hugely based upon the formation laid by the King Rajasinghe. With the fall of the Kandyan dynasty in 1815, the Tooth Relic was handed over to the ‘Maha Sanga’ (the Buddhist Clergy). The Tooth Relic is currently housed in ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’ (Temple of the Tooth) & was taken for the procession for the last time in 1848. Its position in the procession has been taken by its replica kept in a casket.
How They Celebrate?
The ten day festival begins with the ‘Kap Tree Planting’ ceremony, during which the parts of jackfruit tree are planted in the four ‘Devales’ (temples) dedicated to four guardian gods- ‘Vishnu’, ‘Natha’, ‘Katharagama’ & the goddess ‘Pattini’.
Next five days are known as ‘Kumbal Perahera’ wherein the processions take place in the premises of every temple on every evening, featuring music, flags, insignia of the gods & the priests carrying the pole. For the next set of five days, the festival starts coming into its own as the most spectacular rituals are performed. The processions on these five days are known as ‘Randoli Perahera’.
However, the final day proceeding of the festival called as the ‘Maha Perahera’ (Great Procession) is the cherry on top which features massive crowd participating in the stupendous procession of the casket of the Tooth Relic mounted on the back of giant ‘Maligawa Tusker’ elephant! The ‘Maha Perahera’ is the combination of five separate processions that follow each other along the entire procession route through the city. One procession represents the Temple of the Tooth whereas remaining four represents each of the four ‘devales’ of deities- ‘Natha’, ‘Vishnu’, ‘Katharagama’ & ‘Pattini’.
Every procession is gathered around the amazingly decorated elephants carrying the insignia of the respective temples. Richly ornamented &brilliantly textured silk cloak clad elephants steals the show by their spectacular attire. The processions are well supported by myriad artists like drummers, fire juggler & dancers whose splendid performances take the celebration to the great level. The whip-crackers lead the procession path as they clear the evil spirits from the path by their hard whiplashes! Although the spectators seldom participate in these proceedings, their absence is greatly complemented by the sparkling parade in the night wherein local as well as visitors participate in large numbers making it even more dazzling than the morning processions.
On the next day following the last perahera i.e. procession, the ‘Water Cutting Ceremony’ is held before the dawn at a venue near Kandy. The priest dabbles into the river- ‘Mahaweli Ganga’ & draws a sword through the water to cut it in two parts in order to separate pure from impure ensuring the bountiful supply of water throughout the year!
The magnificent sight of hundreds of decorated elephants, eye catching lighting in the night procession & joyous crowd converts this blissful city into a fairytale world. No doubt, why this festival is regarded as one of the most spectacular celebration in the Asia!