Santani Journal

Experiencing the Kandy Esala Perahera Sri Lanka

Step into the heart of Sri Lanka and witness the captivating spectacle of the Kandy Esala Perahera. This annual festival explodes with vibrant colors, rhythmic drumbeats, and the majestic grace of elephants. More than just a celebration, it’s a journey through Sri Lanka’s soul, honoring a sacred relic and showcasing centuries-old traditions.
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The Kandy Esala Perahera, one of Sri Lanka’s most dazzling and significant festivals, is held annually as a grand display of the island’s cultural and religious heritage. This iconic procession, which takes place in the historically rich city of Kandy, is celebrated with vibrant cultural performances, including drumming, dancing, and fire-walking; and is rooted in centuries-old traditions that commemorate the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, making it a vital religious observance for Buddhists. The festival holds deep historical, cultural, and religious significance, drawing both local devotees and international visitors. Read on to delve into the rich history of the Kandy Perahera, get insight on the glorious cultural performances, understand the importance of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and learn some practical tips for attending the festival.

History and Significance of Kandy Esala Perahera

According to sources, the Dalada Perahera is believed to have begun when the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India during the 4th Century AD. Over the centuries, the festival evolved into a grand procession dedicated to the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, which is housed in the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy. The Tooth Relic holds immense religious importance in Buddhism, symbolising the living presence of the Buddha.

Historically, the Esala Perahera in Kandy has played a crucial role in the cultural and religious life of Sri Lanka. It serves as a vibrant display of the country’s rich heritage and artistic traditions. The festival not only reinforces the Buddhist faith among the local community but also attracts thousands of international visitors, offering them a unique opportunity to witness and participate in this unique spiritual celebration. The procession has continued to showcase Sri Lankan culture, having been celebrated for centuries despite colonisation and other various challenges.

Cultural Performances at Kandy Esala Perahera: Drummers, Dancers, and Fire-Walkers

The Sinhalese term ‘Perahera’ means “a parade of musicians, dancers, singers, acrobats, and various other performers accompanied by a large number of caparisoned Tuskers and Elephants parading the streets in celebration of a religious event.” Traditional drummers, known as “hevisi,” lead the parade with rhythmic beats that echo through the streets. These drummers are followed by dancers, adorned in elaborate costumes and intricate jewellery, performing age-old dances that reflect the rich cultural tapestry of Sri Lanka. These dances are characterised by graceful movements, vigorous jumps, and rhythmic footwork, each telling stories of myth, legend, and history. The Ves dancers, with their distinctive headdresses and white costumes, are particularly iconic, symbolising purity and religious devotion.

According to Lakpura, “this is the only Perahera in the world which is held for ten days along with more than fifty Elephants and Tuskers, hundreds of drummers, dancers, singers and elegantly dressed pilgrims and spectators.” The cultural performances have expanded over the years to make this perahera more grandeur than previous years featuring jugglers, fire-breathers, and lavishly decorated elephants.

A central and awe-inspiring element of the Kandy Esala Perahera is the majestic elephants and tuskers that play a pivotal role in the procession. Elephants have long been revered in Sri Lanka as symbols of auspiciousness and power. In the Perahera, elephants are not mere participants but revered as sacred beings, embodying the noble qualities attributed to them in Buddhist tradition. Each elephant is meticulously decorated with intricate designs and adorned with elaborate attire, reflecting the reverence with which they are regarded. The participation of elephants in the Kandy Esala Perahera not only enhances the visual spectacle but also reinforces the deep cultural legacy and spiritual significance of the festival.

The Tooth Relic of Buddha in Kandy Esala Perahera

At the heart of the Kandy Esala Perahera is the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha, housed in the Temple of the Tooth, known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa, in Kandy. The Sacred Tooth Relic, revered as a profound symbol of Buddha’s teachings, was concealed in the hair of a princess during its journey to Sri Lanka to safeguard it. The Tooth Relic holds immense religious significance, believed to possess the power to bring prosperity and protect the nation. During the Perahera, the relic is paraded through the streets in a golden casket, accompanied by a majestic procession of elephants, dancers, and musicians. The rituals and ceremonies surrounding the Tooth Relic underscore its revered status and the deep spiritual connection of the festival.

A Guide to Attending Kandy Esala Perahera: Tips and Tricks

  • To fully experience the Kandy Esala Perahera, it is essential to plan your visit carefully. The festival usually takes place in July or August, lasting for about ten days. The best time to visit is during the final nights, known as Randoli Perahera, when the procession is at its grandest. This year, the Perahera is from the 10th of August to the 20th of August. The full schedule can be found here.
  • Pack necessities like water, comfortable attire suitable for warm weather, snacks, and a camera to capture the spectacle.
  • Finding the best viewing spots is crucial for an unforgettable experience. Arrive early to secure a good vantage point, as the streets get crowded quickly.
  • Prepare for large crowds and prioritise safety by staying vigilant and aware of your surroundings throughout the event.
  • Be mindful of the presence of elephants in the procession; respect their space and avoid any form of provocation.
  • Adhere to local customs by dressing modestly and avoiding behaviours that may be deemed disrespectful. Recognize the religious significance of the festival and participate with reverence.
  • Beyond its splendour, the Kandy Esala Perahera holds profound religious importance, symbolising traditions that date back centuries and hence must be treated with respect. Understanding and appreciating these cultural aspects will enrich your experience and deepen your connection to Sri Lanka’s heritage.

Staying at Santani During Kandy Esala Perahera

For those seeking a serene retreat amidst the excitement of the Kandy Perahera, Santani offers an ideal escape. Amidst the lush hills of Sri Lanka, Santani is an eco-luxury resort that combines modern comforts with a serene natural environment. Our proximity to Kandy makes it a convenient base for attending the festival while enjoying a peaceful retreat.

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We provide a range of wellness and relaxation options, including spa treatments, yoga sessions, and other wellness activities designed to rejuvenate the mind and body, ideal after experiencing the vibrant energy of the Kandy Perahera festivities. Our wellness packages range from treating stress, addictions, weight loss to enhancing sleep, rebalancing bliss and immune boosting detox.

The Rasa Haya philosophy of Ayurveda guides the dining experience at Santani and is a personalised experience where meals are crafted to your needs. Rasa Haya, meaning six tastes, ensures one’s body receives nutrition based on its needs served in delicious meals. Drawing on these principles of Ayurveda, we meticulously incorporate the six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent – into every dish, tailored to your body’s dosha for optimal nutrition and well-being. This approach not only delights the palate but also supports holistic health and harmony, ensuring guests feel nourished and revitalised throughout their stay.

The Kandy Esala Perahera stands as a vibrant testament to Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage. This grand festival, with its rich history, cultural performances, and the veneration of the Sacred Tooth Relic, offers an insight into the island’s Buddhist traditions. Attending the Perahera is an unforgettable experience, providing a unique opportunity to witness the blend of history, religion, and culture.

For a truly memorable and comfortable stay during the festival, Santani offers the perfect blend of luxury, tranquillity, and proximity to Kandy. By experiencing the Kandy Esala Perahera in Sri Lanka and staying at Santani, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and the enduring significance of Buddhism in the island.

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