The world-famous Kandy Esala Perahera is the most vibrant and colourful annual festival in Sri Lanka and demonstrates the harmonious blending of Buddhism & Hinduism.
It was held annually to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha as well as to 4 Hindu gods namely Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama, and the goddess Pattini. One of the longest processions anywhere (taking 4 hours!), it includes fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances in addition to the 100+ “dressed and lighted” elephants clothed with lavish garments.
The 10-day Perahera is divided into 2 parts. The original Esala Perahera (dating back to 3 BC) was a rainmaking ritual to enrich the lands of the kingdom. The later 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 CE, eight hundred years after Lord Buddha’s passing. According to tradition, the Tooth Relic was taken in procession to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala & Prince Dantha.
It was also through the efforts of Upali Thera that the Kandy Dalada Perahera came into being. This procession was originally focused on honouring Hindu deities, particularly those incorporated into Sri Lankan Buddhism. Upali Thera believed this to be inappropriate in a Buddhist nation, and his influence led to the king declaring that “Henceforth Gods and men are to follow the Buddha”.
After the Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British in 1815, the custody of the Relic was handed over to the Maha Sanga (the Buddhist Clergy). In the absence of the king, a chief lay custodian called the “Diyawadana Nilame” was appointed to handle routine administrative matters concerning the relic and its care.
The modern Perahera focusses on displaying the Buddha’s Tooth Relic during 10 nights of colourful celebrations attracting thousands of pilgrims and tourists to the sacred Unesco hill city of Kandy. They come not only to pay homage to the sacred relic and Hindu gods but also to see Buddhist art, culture, the ritual of thewawa and the display of Kandyan dancing that is so unique to this Perahara.
In some ways, a Festival is an ultimate way to experience a country’s culture, so join us for this gorgeous and unique pageant!