The annual 'Esala Perahera' in Sri Lanka is a moment of crowning glory. Captivating, enigmatic and utterly spectacular, the traditional parade is revered worldwide. A popular tourist attraction, booking of hotels for this occasion happens months well in advance in order to secure vantage spots. Incidentally, it may have started out as a celebration sacred to 'Maha Vishnu' the Lord of Sri Lanka. As years moved on, the festival of the Gods was later entwined with the festival of the Tooth Relic which can be seen today.
Inauguration of the perahera begins with the planting of 'kap' at the four 'devales' or temples. These are Natha, Maha Vishnu, Katagarama and Pattini with the inauguration taking place on the day following the new moon. This event involves planting of selected tree stumps facing east at an allotted space in each of the devales. Whilst modern times have seen a shift in the type of tree used to Jak, the original tree stumps used for this purpose is the 'Esala' tree which can be seen in full bloom during this time. The trunk is sliced into four stumps and placed in each of the holy places. The ritualistic placement of the stumps at each of the temples is accompanied by traditional drumming.
Once this is accomplished, the perahera embarks on its journey for ten continuous days over a given route following the main streets of Kandy. On all ten days, the peraheras of each individual devale gather at the entrance to the 'Dalada Maligawa' (temple of the Tooth Relic) and then proceed collectively to give us the Esala Perahera we have come to know today. The perahera is divided into two phases; Kumbal perahera and Randoli perahera where the latter is a display of gilded palanquins belonging to each of the four devales viewable across the next five nights.
One of the most prominent features of the perahera is the 'Diyawadane Nilame' dressed in extravagant robes of silk and tunic. He has approximately twenty yards of this wrapped around his waist complemented with a magnificent four cornered golden coronet for head gear. The Diyawadane Nilame is usually accompanied by what is known as the three 'Basnayake Nilames' from the devales along with Kandyan chiefs to walk in the procession. They can be seen slowly making their way in sedate, stately steps exuding dignity and pomp.
The sound of whips in the distant is the signal for the start of the perahera and as it nears you, the whips will be considerably louder indicating that the perahera is nearing. The sacred elephant is abundant in all peraheras across the island, however none sees a bigger gathering than at the Esala Perahera. Dressed in resplendent robes individually crafted for each, the colossal Dalada Maligawa tusker is delegated with carrying the Tooth Relic enshrined in a golden howdah known locally as the 'ransivige'. The perahera also puts on displays of folk plays, kandyan dancing, acrobatics amongst others. The crowds are astounding making it a good reason to pre-plan your vantage point especially if this is your first time witnessing this grand spectacle.
The Kandy perahera is a link to Sri Lanka's opulent heritage dating back to the Kandyan monarchy when the King himself personally made the perahera arrangements. It was also a time for the public to get a glimpse of His Majesty as he would seat himself on at the octagon of the Dalada Maligawa known as 'Pattiruppuwa'. The Esala perahera, just as all others in Sri Lanka are annual celebrations of a devalaya dedicated to one of the Gods.
Definitely one for your travel log, if you are planning travels around the month of August to Sri Lanka make sure you schedule this!