Kandy Esala Perahara

by Dulanjaya mahagamage
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Esala perahara

Kandy Esala Perahera (procession) is one of the world’s most attractive oldest pageants held in during the month of August in Kandy city, Sri Lanka. This pageant is significant as a religious festival for the honor of a tooth that remained after the death of the Lord Buddha (founder of Buddhism) as well as a festival connected with agriculture as it is held to invoke blessings of deities to seek rain for a successful harvest. 


The Sacred Tooth Relic

According to the ancient scripts, after the Lord Buddha’s parinirvana (death), his body was cremated in sandalwood pyre in Kusinara (Later Kushinagar), India. Several body parts were saved from the fire at the this crematorium process. The Tooth Relic is also a body part of the Buddha that was saved from this fire. The Tooth Relic is commonly referred to as the left tooth of the Buddha. It is currently housed in the Dalada Maligawa that located in Kandy, Sri Lanka. 


The Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa)

When the tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka from India by Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha in the 4th century, it became an important object among Buddhists in Sri Lanka. It has had such a profound effect on the social politics of Sri Lanka, that in ancient Sri Lanka, one must have the ownership of the tooth relic to prove himself king. There is an ancient tradition that if one acquires the Tooth Relic, he will surely be king. This tradition continues until the last king of Sri Lanka. As a result, many kings have placed the Tooth Relic in their palace with special protective tactics. Many kings also built special shrines for the Tooth Relic. The position of the Tooth Relic has also changed according to the kingdom era. During the Kandyan Kingdom, the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, the Tooth Relic was placed in the king’s palace in Kandy. That is the Sri Dalada Maligawa, where the Tooth Relic is placed in today. 

This Sri Dalada Maligawa was first built by King Wimaladharmasooriya (1592 – 1604 AD). The Sri Dalada Maligawa which he built was destroyed by the Portuguese invaders. The present old two storied palace was built by King Sri Weera Parakrama Narendrasinghe (1707 – 1739 AD). Even the Tamil kings of the Nayakkar dynasty who became as kings developed and preserved the Dalada Maligawa. The city of Kandy, where the Temple of the Tooth is situated, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.


The History of the Perahara


The procession for the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha goes back to the time when the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka. According to ancient texts, King Keerthi Sri Meghavarna (304-332 AD) performed a procession for the Sacred Tooth Relic in the 4th century AD. Since then many kings have performed the procession for the Sacred Tooth Relic, which has evolved to the present day. The processional form and features of the procession have evolved over time, and nowadays it is beautifully blended with the latest technology and held annually.


Perahera Season


The Perahera season is aimed at getting rain at the end of the drought. People in the ancient Sri Lanka assumed that it was possible to get rain by making offerings to the Tooth Relic. As a result of that ideology, the Dalada Perahera has made felicitation to the Sacred Tooth Relic for reaching the rain. The Perahera season held in the month of August (Esela in Sinhalese language) for the auspicious time. This season begins at the August (Esela in local) for the auspicious time. 

The Perahera season begins with a charm ceremony called the Kap Tree ceremony. “Kap Ruka (a tree) ”’ is a divine tree that gives all its resources. The purpose of this ceremony is to pay homage to the gods and goddesses to keep the procession going. 

Thereafter, the Perahera season will be held in several parts such as the Inside Perahera, the Kumbal Perahera, the Randoli Perahera and the Day Perahera.


The Esala Perahara (procession) 

The Kandy Esala Perahera is a celebration of religious, art and political power. Firstly, it reveals the immense reverence, devotion and devotion Sri Lankan Buddhists have to the Buddha, the Tooth Relic and the Goddesses. Secondly, it highlights the artistic talents of traditional artists. The exhibition showcases the dancing and dancing traditions of the Kandyan region for generations. Thirdly, it shows the political power of the king to the people. The Disaves and Nilames who rule the various divisions of the King’s kingdom come to Kandy and show their royal loyalty. Flags from each province are displayed here. Fourth, it imitates the rain. The ancient people thought that to get rain, the rain had to be imitated. Lightning, lightning and rain clouds are seen in this procession before it rains. The procession concludes with a feast of watering down rain.

The Perahara takes place in ten days. The first five-day procession is called the Kumbal Perahera. Then comes the Randoli Perahera. Randoli is the dola of the temples. Each of these temples carry gold jewelries and golden swords of the gods. It is said that the princesses and other ladies accompanied this dola as the ‘golden dolly’ symbolized the king’s queen. As the procession imitates the rain, first come the whip men, which symbolizes the sound of the thunder. The natural torches emit light, similar to that of the increasing lightning flash. Elephants imitates rain clouds in the dark.

After the thunder and the lightning, the rain clouds come. Dark clouds slowly spread across the sky. Elephants moving slowly in the procession were like rain clouds. The rain is more fertile than the rains. As elephants increase, the beauty of the procession increases. Among these elephants, the great tusker is considered to be the tusker that carries the Sacred Tooth Relic. Even though it is a beast, the elephant in the palace proudly walking under the white canopy and on the white carpet as he realized his responsibility. In addition to the tusker who carrying the Tooth Relic, four other elephants walking in the procession with ornaments of goddesses. These are the tuskers of the four Devales (Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini). Two tuskers are also walking by the side of five elephants who carrying a Tooth Relic and ornaments of four Devales. Elephants are adorned in beautiful clothes with decorative electric lights in various colors. There are also names for tamed elephants. The body of an elephant called the Raja, which had carried the sacred tooth for a long time, is now placed in a separate chamber adjacent to the palace for public display. 

The procession is led by over 5000 of Kandyan dancers and drummers beating drums, cracking whips and waving colourful banners. The Esala Perahera also showcases the artistic talents of traditional artists. There will be dances, singing and costumes passed down from generation to generation by caste. In King’s Day artists were paid for these performance by providing Lands. 


A Water Ceremony


On the last day of the procession, there are a water ceremony, occurs before dawn which sees the Diyawadana Nilame and other chief priests wade into the Mahaweli River and use a sword to ‘cut’ the water separating pure from impure. The procession start marching back to Sri Dalada Maligawa and end up back at their respective temples, officially closing the Kandy Festival. After this there will be a Day Perahera on the following day.


End of  the Procession

It was the old tradition to report to the king immediately after the Day Perahara. But since there is no king today, it is now reported to the President, the political leader of the country. The President invariably visits the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. The Diyawadana Nilame and the Basnayakes of four Devalas have inform the President that the procession was end.


Take a Tour! 

Amazing food, an ancient culture, timeless ancient ruins, welcoming people, elephants and so much more to do and see! If you are lucky enough to have time for a longer vacation then definitely explore this beautiful Kandy Esala Perahera. You will never regret about it!.

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