dancers dancing in Kandy Esala Perahera in Sri Lanka

The Kandy Esala Perahera (the Esala procession of Kandy) also known as The Festival of the Tooth. This grand festival celebrated with elegant costumes is held in July and August in Kandy, Sri Lanka. This historical procession is held annually to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, which is housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. A unique symbol of Sri Lanka, the procession consists of many traditional local dances. Fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances are performed. In addition, festival also features elephants who are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional diya-kepeema ritual, a water cutting ceremony which is held at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, Kandy.

The Kandy Esala Perahera begins with the Kap Situveema or Kappa, in which 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.

The Kumbal Perahera

For the next five nights, the “Devale Peraheras” take place within the premises of the four Devales. Priest of each Devale takes the pole every evening, accompanied by music and drumming, flag and canopy bearers, spearman and the Ran Ayudha, the sacred insignia of the Gods.

On the sixth night, the Kumbal Perahera begins and continues on for five days. Initially, the Devale Peraheras assemble in front of the Temple of the Tooth. It is Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist Shrine and is where the Buddha’s Sacred Tooth Relic has been kept since the 16th Century, with their insignias placed on the ransivige (a dome-like structure) accompanied by the Basnayake Nilames (the lay custodians of the Devales).

The relic casket, which is a substitute for the Tooth Relic, is placed inside the ransivige affixed to the Maligawa Elephant, the Maligawa Peraherajoins the awaiting Devale Peraheras and leads the procession. Whip-crackers and fireball acrobats clear the path, followed by the Buddhist flag bearers. Then, riding on the first elephant, is the official called Peramuna Rala (Front Official). He is followed by Kandyan Drummers and Dancers who enthrall the crowd and are themselves followed by elephants and other groups of musicians, dancers and flag bearers. A group of singers dressed in white heralds the arrival of the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic. The Diyawadana Nilame (traditionally required to do everything in his power to ensure rain in the correct season) walks in traditional Kandyan-clothed splendor after the tusker.

The second procession is from the Natha Devale, which faces the Sri Dalada Maligawa. It is said to be the oldest building in Kandy, dating back to the 14th Century.

The third is from the Vishnu Devale (Vishnu being a Hindu god), also known as the Maha Devale. It is situated in front of the main gate of the Natha Devale.

Elephants dressed for the Kandy Esala PeraheraThe fourth procession is from the Katharagama Devale (dedicated to the God of Kataragama deviyo, identified with the warrior god Skanda) which is on Kottugodalle Vidiya (a street in Kandy). This procession includes Kavadi, the peacock dance. In Kavadi, pilgrim-dancers carry semicircular wooden contraptions studded with peacock feathers on their shoulders.

The fifth and final procession is from the Pattini Devale, which is situated to the West of the Natha Devale. Pattini is a goddess associated with the cure of infectious diseases and called upon in times of drought and famine. This is the only procession that has women dances.

The following important times are announced by the firing of cannonballs, which can be heard all across Kandy.

  • The commencement of the Devale Peraheras
  • The placing of the casket on the tuskers back
  • The commencement of the Dalada Perahera
  • The completion of the Perahera

The Randoli Perahera

The Randoli Perahera begins after five nights of the Kumbal Perahera. Randoli refers to palanquins on which the Queens of the ruling Kings traditionally traveled. 2016 Kandy Esala Maha Perahera (Randoli Perahera) was held on 17 August 2016, the full moon poya day with the participation of hundreds thousands people.

Diya Kepeema and the Day Perahera

After a further five nights of the Randoli Perahera, the pageant ends with the Diya Kepeema. This water cutting ceremony is held at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, a town a few miles from Kandy. A Day Perahera is held to mark the ceremony.