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Join the Procession of Esala Perahera

Published by Mona Rae, Writer

Country: Sri Lanka

The Experience

The Esala Perahera Festival in Kandy, Sri Lanka, is an exuberant celebration marked by many cultural dances and even the odd dashes of fire. The origin of the Esala Perahera Festival (Festival of the Tooth) dates back several centuries. It’s believed that the Sacred Relic of the tooth of Buddha was brought to the country somewhere in the third century, and ever since, the Esala Perahera Festival has been celebrated. The tooth believed to be the left canine of Buddha, smuggled from his funeral pyre, is now venerated in these grand processions lasting ten days in August or July. Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist country so most of the festivals held here revolve around Buddha.

Esala Perahera is one of the grandest festivals celebrated in Sri Lanka. In fact, the Festival of the Tooth has become the symbol of Sri Lankan tourism. The procession involves whip dances, fire dances, Kandian dances and many other cultural performances. A legend says that the Esala Perahera was celebrated to please the gods and give them rains. However, it actually began when the sacred tooth of Buddha was brought as a relic to the country from India.

The modern day Perahera dates to the Kandyan King, when the tooth relic was actually the private property of King Rajasinghe. One day he agreed for the relic to be paraded so that the people could worship it. The British Empire took over in the 18th century, and the relic was then handed over to a Buddhist clergy, and Temple of the Sacred Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) was built to honour it. If you can't make it to Esala Perahera you can still visit the Dalada Maligawa to venerate the sacred relic of the tooth.

The Perahera procession is made up of 5 separate processions. First come the whip dancers, followed by the flag bearers, then come the elephants. The grand parade of ornately decorated elephants is a highlight for many. The colourful costumes and lights are well worth the time spent finding the perfect seats. During this time the Maligawe Tusker who carries the golden casket which contains the relic also is paraded down the street, bringing spectators to their feet.

After attending the Esala Perahara procession you can visit the local attractions of Kandy. Several people speak English across Sri Lanka since it was once a British Colony, and you will not have any problems getting information as the locals are very friendly.

Sri Lanka is mostly filled with coastal cities. It is a narrow country with coastlines on all sides, and the weather is mostly warm during July and August. Sometimes it also rains in these months, and the rain in Sri Lanka can be very heavy so it is best not to venture out during a downpour.

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When to Go to Esala Perahera

Typically held in July or August for ten days, the Esala Perahera Festival dates shift depending on the late summer's full moon. Be sure to verify the dates before booking your tickets.

Odds n' Ends

The weather is mostly warm during the months of July and August, so carry beach clothes. It is also pretty humid, so try to keep yourself in the cooler zones or shaded parts.

Keep in mind that the Esala Perahera Festival draws a lot of tourists, be sure to book your hotel in Kandy prior to arriving. It's also not a bad idea to book your flight to Sri Lanka in advance either to be sure your preferences met.

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