8th – 18th August 2016, Kandy
Sri Lanka’s largest and most popular festival, the Kandy Esala Perahera, is less than one month away. A ‘perahera’ is a celebration unique to Sri Lanka, where religion, tradition and the arts all come together in a vibrant, energetic cultural procession of lights, music and dance. Several types of this ancient historic ritual are conducted by Buddhist temples across the country at different times of the year, but the Kandy Esala Perahera has become the most famous.
This annual festival takes place in Kandy, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capital cities. It pays homage to the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha, which has been housed in Sri Lanka since 4th century AD. A sacred and priceless trophy, the tooth was tirelessly protected from invaders, shifted from Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first ancient kingdom, to Polonnaruwa, then moved between a succession of ephemeral capitals before it finally came to rest in Kandy.
The relic played such an important role in ancient politics because it was believed that whoever held the relic held the governance of the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a UNESCO world heritage site partly due to the Temple of the Tooth, which was constructed to enshrine the relic. Usually, the tooth is shielded from view by an elaborate golden casket, but this is opened during August for the perahera, allowing visitors, pilgrims and worshipers to see the relic up close.
This ten day festival is mainly comprised of striking processions which feature: scores of glittering elephants dressed in finery; Kandyan chiefs in traditional royal attire; Buddhist monks; whip-crackers and fire-breathers; flag-bearers, and thousands of dancers of various types, the most iconic being the Kandyan dancers and drummers. The vibrant colors and myriad of lights make this a spectacular show to see.
The festival culminates with the parading of the tooth. On the full moon day – this year 17th August – this sacred relic is removed from the Temple of the Tooth and placed on the back of an elephant, a dramatic finale to these lengthy celebrations. This unmissable event is considered one of the most spectacular festivals in Asia and is a particular favorite of children. If you are interested in attending the Perahera, booking well in advance is recommended as it is extremely popular.