Esala Perahera

Alight with flames dancing through the air, of the deafening cacophony of drums and trumpets beating in your ears, the night is a promise of colour and a beacon of lights, all wrapped up in a spectacle of pomp and pageantry. One of the longest standing Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, the hill capital Kandy comes alive in celebration of the renowned ‘Esala Perahera’: a pageant held to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.

The perahera is held in the month of Esala (July or August): a month believed to commemorate the first teaching of the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. The term ‘Perahera’ signifies a procession of acrobats, dancers, musicians and decorated tuskers, parading the streets in a spectacular fashion.

Revel in the grandeur of the ‘Festival of the Tooth’, where locals journey to from far off places and foreigners gather on the illuminated streets of Kandy for an experience you don’t want to miss.

Why You Should Go

Cannon shots ring out signifying the start of the pageant followed by 30 whip crackers, whipping the air with all their might. Bask in the glow of fire balls rotated in blazing circles, courtesy of fire dancers. With the dancers clad in traditional red and white which hints of the royal past of Sri Lanka, the night comes alive in a blaze of colour. Cue the drummers: generations of drum beaters, beating away with renewed fervor

You haven’t seen the best yet. Clad in a resplendent fusion of colourful silk and fairy lights, ceremonial tuskers sway to the beat of the drum, silent yet awe-inspiring, a spectacle of twinkling lights. A parade of flag bearers carry a number of Buddhist flags, symbolic of the very religion.

Acrobats whirl past and stilt walkers tower over the masses, taking the exuberant spectacle to new heights. In a blast of Sri Lankan culture, devil dancers gyrate wildly to the beat of the drum. With an explosion of fireworks illuminating the night sky, Kandyan dancers dance away to a synchronized routine whilst the haunting melody of the trumpet entices every man, woman and child to encounter the event in all its splendour.

Interesting Facts

  • The ‘Esala Perahera’ dates back to the 3rd century BC
  • The pageant is a request to the gods for rainfall: an annual ritual performed by carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic through the streets of Kandy in a grand procession
  • The perahera starts several days after the ‘Esala Full Moon Poya’ and ends with the ‘Nikini Full Moon Poya
  • The ‘Festival of the Tooth’ is a fusion of two interconnected peraheras: the ‘Esala’ and the ‘Dalada’ Perahera
  • The end of the pageant is marked by the ‘Diya Kepeema’ or ‘water cutting ceremony’, where priests from the 4 temples ‘cut’ a circle in the water of the Mahaweli river and collect water from within the circle
  • The Sacred Tooth Relic is housed at Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth.
  • At the first shot fired the 4 Devalas line up, the 2nd signifies the casket being put on the ceremonial tusker and the 3rd signifies the start of the pageant
  • The perahera begins with the ‘Kap Situveema’, in which a young jack fruit tree is cut and planted in four Devales in the belief it would shower blessings
  • The ‘Esala Perahera’ comprises of the ‘Kumbal Perahera’, the ‘Randoli Perahera’ and the ‘Maha Randoli Perahera’ and the ‘Day Perahera’
  • At the start of the year, the astrologer associated with the Sacred Tooth gets ready to prepare an auspicious time for the start of the pageant
  • Humans themselves cannot better the manner in which the tuskers, sensing the solemnity of the occasion, behave accordingly and carry the Sacred Tooth Relic
  • The ‘Kumbal Perahera’ is believed to get rid of evil and is shown to infants
  • A total of 4000-5000 participate in the procession ( fire dancers, costume and Kandyan dancers, acrobats, musicians, officials of the temple etc. ) complete with 50-80 tuskers

Helpful Tips

  • Book your tickets months in advance for, due to the prestige of the event, the tickets are likely to be sold out fast. Tickets would not be available at the ‘Temple of the Tooth’, however, the tickets could be found online, from tourist offices, hotels or shops in Kandy, etc. (Refer the i-tabs for a few sites, approved by SLTDA, listed for your convenience in alphabetical order). The norm is to book as early as 5 or 6 months in advance. The earlier you book, the more able you are to find a better viewing spot.
  • On the day of the event, people sit on the sidewalks from morning in a bid to reserve the best seats. Despite the crowds flocking to the sidewalks, should you like to mingle and indulge in local culture, you could reserve your spot by placing a plastic bag on the street: take note, should you leave your spot, it’s likely to be filled soon
  • Galleries are set up from which VIP seats could be purchased at prices ranging from $50-70, as well as seats in front of shops and cafes on the sidewalk. However, you can walk around and get advice from shopkeepers and people in the vicinity as to what the best viewing places might be. It’s possible to negotiate and find a decent seat
  • With the weather forecast predicting a likelihood of rain and a small chance of thunderstorms, it’s best you carry an umbrella. However due to the unpredictability of forecasts, it’s possible for there to be no rain at all
  • Should you be claustrophobic, owing to the large turnout as is the norm, a hotel room or a balcony with a view of the pageant might be ideal
  • Once the perahera starts, it would be difficult to move around as it would be crowded therefore make sure you bring your own food or at least get something a bit earlier on, from the passing vendors and shops in the vicinity
  • The ‘Esala Perahera’ is known to start at night and extend up to midnight in some cases. It’s probably not ideal for children, especially due to the late and long wait
  • The prices of tickets are usually higher months before the event, and cheaper when it draws near so book early if you want to snatch up the best seats in the house
  • Should you arrive a little before the event were to start, you won’t be able to get near the perahera for police would block all entrances, making it difficult for you to roam and find last minute seats or parking spaces
  • With hotel bookings skyrocketing during this time, make your reservations months in advance. If you don’t mind a 30-40 minute drive to the pageant, rates are lower in hotels located just outside Kandy city limits (take note, however, parking might be a problem)
  • Throw caution to the question of whether street food might be hygienic or not. Should you be vegetarian, that limits your choices as well. Ensure you pack a sufficient quantity of your own food and drink, for the pageant has a duration of over 3 hours
Title image by: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau

Date and Time

Jul 29, 2017
Jul 30, 2017
Jul 31, 2017
Aug 01, 2017
Aug 02, 2017
Aug 03, 2017
Aug 04, 2017
Aug 05, 2017
Aug 06, 2017
Aug 07, 2017
Aug 08, 2017
Day Perahera


Cultural and Religious

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