Honoring the tooth relic of the Buddha, this festival makes you feel you've been transported to a tribal gathering hundreds of years ago, only now there are cameras, and you'll want to take plenty of photos.
Esala Perahera was once described by the famous British poet and novelist, D.H. Lawrence, as a "Perpetual fire-laughing motion among the slow shuffle of elephants." Due primarily to the decadently dressed dancers, incessant drumming, the intoxicating scent of incense.
Legend has it that 1,700 years ago one of the Buddha's teeth was stolen from his funeral pyre and smuggled into Sri Lanka. Today, the relic is a sacred symbol for Sri Lankans and housed in the country's most sacred temple, Dalada Maligawa. Also known as the "Temple of the Tooth".
In its current form, Esala Perahera incorporates Hindu deities into its festivities, as four of the parades now start at Hindu temples. There's a parade for every night of the festival, 10 in all, with the processions getting longer, more intense and increasingly colorful as the festival gets underway.
The parades are a sensual spectacle for event goers and travelers where they can inhale wafting incense, jasmine and frangipani bouquets, sway along to the perpetual drum beats, stare in delight at the elephants and dancers adorned in exotic costumes, and gasp in awe and entertainment excitement as fire eaters swing burning coconut husks from chains and men crack whips to scare away demons, only inches from people's faces.
The ceremonial cutting down of a jack tree blesses the beginning of the festival, and the first five nights, known as "Kumbal Perahera", host intimate gatherings at shrines and small processions just off Kandy Lake. The last five nights, known as "Randoli Perahera", get progressively larger and more intense until the last night, on the full moon, when you'll witness one of the most feverishly energetic parades ever.
While the procession has a reputation for running long, you know the climax is coming when the Maligawa Tusker, a carriage with a replica of the Buddha's tooth, arrives. Before you know it, there's a parade of enormous elephants decked out in their finest silk costumes swaying to the drumbeat.
© 2023 Travelers Today. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.