Kataragama Esala Perahera is an annual festival that takes place in July and August at Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Dewalya in Kataragama. This religious and colorful festival is celebrated to commemorate the romantic union of Skanda and Valli Matha.
The Kataragama Esala Perahera begins with the Kap Situveema. The priests go into the forest and find two forked branches of a sacred tree. The branches are then immersed in the local river and kept at the shrines dedicated to Kataragama deviyo and Valli amma. Kataragama Perahara festival begins 45 days after the Kap Situveema. According to the auspicious times, the Kataragama Esala festival will hold 15 to 16 days.
When the Kataragama Esala Perahara festival begins, the Yantra representing the deity is retrieved from its storage location, paraded through a street on top of an elephant, and carried to the Valli shrine. After two hours, it will return to the main shrine. The procession parades the streets for 14 to 15 days as per the auspicious time.
It is a tradition that during the last three days of the festival, the Yantra (Kataragama Deviyo) will be paraded to the Valli amma shrine, secretly to Thevani amma (Goddess Thevani). On the last day of the festival the Yantra is left overnight at the Valli shrine and brought back to the main shrine. The priests conduct the rituals in silence, covering their mouths with a white cloth.
There will be plenty of traditional events, which are dedicated to God Kataragama during the festival. Firewalking is the main tradition of the Kataragama festival. Firewalking arranged by a master of the ritual. Hundreds of devotees participate in fire walking, as a gratitude in return for vows made or favors sought.
The beautiful Kataragama Perahara procession starts with whip-crackers. Then a parade of elephants with glittery clothes and a procession replete with dancers, drummers, torchbearers, devil-dancers, stilt-walkers, flame-dancers, and incense-bearers.
Kavadi (burden) Dancing is the dance of the peacock, the vehicle of God Skanda. It is a famous dance in the parade. The prop used for the Kavadi (burden) Dancing is a 2-piece arched structure attached to a cross pole and can weigh up to 30 kgs. This is done to demonstrate gratitude to the Kataragama Deviyo.
Devotees of all religions join in the Katharagama Perahara festival, including the aboriginal Veddahs of Sri Lanka. They cleanse themselves in the Menik River, Kataragama, and make their offering to the shrine. Some Sri Lankans perform excruciating acts such as swinging on hooks pierced to their skin; some roll barely clads on hot sands near the temple to show their faith and dedication to God Kataragama. The Kataragama Perahara festival will end with the Diya Kapeema ceremony(Water Cutting Ceremony).