Esala Perahara, Kandy

The Esala Perahara (Sri Dalada Perahara) is also known as the festival of the tooth, is a beautiful event which annually held in July and August in Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

This grand procession held every year to pay homage to the sacred tooth of the Lord Buddha. During the perahara, the sacred tooth relic is carried around the streets of Kandy city with its four guardian gods, Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Goddess Pattini, to honor.

History of Esala Perahara

The Esala Perahera, in 3rd century BC, was a ritual enacted to request blessings of the gods to make rainfall for the cultivation of crops and to enrich the lands of the kingdom.

Esala month is also considered to be the beginning of the rainy season (Vassana). Also, this month is the period when ritual performances to the protective divinities are held, as an example, Pattini puja.  

In the 18th century, at the time of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, the four Devala Peraharas and Dalada Perahara were incorporated and were made series of Peraharas. The procession is a complex procedure in which various customs are involved. In 1815, the custody of the Relic was handed over to the Maha Sanga (the Buddhist Clergy), a chief lay custodian called the “Diyawadana Nilame” was appointed to handle routine administrative matters concerning the relic and its care.

Sri Dalada Maligawa
Sri Dalada Maligawa

The Procession

The Esala Perahera begins with the Kap Situveema. A sanctified young Jackfruit tree (Artocarpus integrifolia) is cut and planted in the premises of each of the four Devales dedicated to the four guardian gods Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and the goddess Pattini. Traditionally it was meant to shower blessing on the King and the people.

Kumbal Perahera

The first procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic starts with the Kumbal Perhara. It is a tradition that the procession parades the streets of Kandy for five days. Kumbal perahera is led by the ‘Maligawa Perahera’ and joined by the other four devale peraheras, respectively, from Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Pattini.

Randoli Perahera

Randoli Perahera begins and continues for five nights after the Kubal Perahara. Randoli perahara could be seen only with the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic and parade the streets for the whole five days, which is a tradition. Randoli refers to palanquins on which the Queens of the ruling Kings traditionally traveled.

Maha Randoli Perahera

The Maha Randoli  Perahara is the last procession, which takes place on the 5th night of Randoli Peraheras. It is the most beautiful, spectacular, and grand of all the peraheras taking place at the festival. The Tuskers come with garlands and decorated with ceremonial costumes. The Diyawadana Nilame adds a new glamour to the procession by wearing a newly stitched costume.

The Order of the Procession

The Golden Casket

In order to start the perahera, three rounds of shots are fired.

The first sound is for the parades of four devales to line up and join the parade of Maligawa.

The second sound indicates that the golden casket, which contains the Sacred tooth relic, is placed on the back of Maligawa tusker.

The third sound, the parade sets off.

Whip Crackers (Kasakaruwo)

Whip Crackers
Whip Crackers

The very first in the parade of the Esala Perahara is thirty whip crackers. It is believed that the noise of the whips depicts thunder and lightning.

Buddhist Flags and Provincial Flags

Buddhist Flags 1
Buddhist Flags 1

Buddhist flags are taken in the Kumbal Perahra, and Randoli Perahahra is to indicate the Buddhist rituals. According to the traditions of the Kandy era, the provincial flags are also added to the procession. This denotes the power of the temple of the tooth relic over the lives of Buddhists around the country.

Sword Carriers

Sward Carriers
Sward Carriers

The sword bearers resemble as the guardians of the Sacred tooth relic. The swords which were raised to prevent hostilities are remembered by these sword bearers in the procession. They walk with raised swords along the path of the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Fire Ball Dancers

Fire Ball Dancers
Fire Ball Dancers

Fire ball dancers are known as ‘Pandampaliya’ and they symbolize the glow of lighting.

Front Runner (Peramune Rala)

Front Runner
Front Runner

‘Peramune Rala’ (front runner) rides an elephant wearing a traditional white robe, carrying the set of documents of tailpots containing the religious activities of the procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic as well the duties with regard to the properties of the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

First Hewisi Group

Hewisi
Hewisi Group

The first Hewisi Group contains four extraordinarily talented and experienced hewisi men of the temple.

Gajanayake Nilame

Gajanayaka Nilame
Gajanayaka Nilame

Gajanake Nilame’, is the officer who in charge of the elephants of the temple of the tooth relic.

Drummers

Drummers
Drummers

These hereditary Drum Beaters beat their drums as a religious ritual to the Sacred Tooth Relic. Start of the beat, Welcoming beat, Walking beat, Walinada beat is performed at the perahara.

Trumpet Players (Horane karuwo)

Trumpet Player
Trumpet Player

The trumpet is a well-tuned instrument.  The traditional tune of Gajaga Wannama plays throughout the procession. It has been popularized as the sound of Dalada Perahara.

Coconut Flower Dancers

Coconut Flower Dancer
Coconut Flower Dancer

Coconut Flower is a symbol of prosperity.  The purpose of the Dalada Perahara is to wish prosperity to the country. To symbolize this, dancers carry coconut flowers in their hands.

Traditional Kandyan Dancers

Traditional Kandyan Dancers
Traditional Kandyan Dancers

Traditional Kandyan dancers, dressed in the elegant Kandyan dancing suite, dance to the music of drums.

Traditional Kandyan Dancers I
Traditional Kandyan Dancers

Then the most awaited moment of Esala Perahara is the arrival of the tusker of the Kandy Perahera on Pavada (a ream of white cloth covering the walking path) and under a canopy. It is the Maligawa tusker decorated in enlightening clothes walking majestically in supreme grace and pride. It carries the golden casket (the Karanduwa).

Maligawa Tusker
Maligawa Tusker

After the maligawa tusker, two long lines of Kandyan dancers can be seen, and they dance traditional Kandyan dance, in accordance with the drum music provided by a line of drummers.

Diyawadana Nilame
Diyawadana Nilame

They create a vibrant scene while laying the path for the Diyawadana Nilame. Diyawadana Nilame is the custodian of the temple of the tooth relic dressed in traditional Nilame costume. (attire warn by the high official rankers in the court of the Kandyan king).

Then follows the parades of each devala. First comes the parade of Natha Devale. Next, the parade of Maha Vishnu devale. Subsequently, we see the parade of Katharagama Devale. Then the final parade is the parade dedicated to the goddess paththini, where we can witness female dancers.

Best places to watch and the main route plan

Kandy Perahera starting time usually is after the sunset, at around 6.30 pm to 7.00 pm. Queens Hotel, Dalada Veediya, Yatinuwara Veediya, are some of the best places for you to watch the Esala Perahera. The Day Perahera can be viewed from the D. S. Senanayake Street and King Street. Usually, the procession goes on for about 4 – 5 hours.

Hotels near Kandy

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