Sri Lanka's Esala Perahera

The spectacular festival of Esala Perahera takes place over a 10 day period in either July or August (Esala). It is celebrated to honour both the Sacred Tooth Relic, which is kept in Kandy's famous Temple of the Tooth, and also the ‘guardian' Gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the Goddess Pattini. The origins of the festival date back as far as the fourth century AD when a tooth relic from the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka, from India, and offered to the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. Subsequently it was decreed that the relic should be carried in procession through the kingdom once a year.

Over the centuries the festival has moved from place to place as the kingdoms of Sri Lanka came and went, and ultimately ended up in Kandy -the last power base of Sri Lanka royalty. Primarily a religious occasion, the Perahera was also a time when the incumbent king could show off his power and status. These days it is not just monks, and royalty, who can enjoy the festivities, as a good many tourists now join in with the excited crowds to witness the fabulous celebrations as they get every more elaborate as the festival progresses.

The term ‘perahera' refers to a procession of musicians, drummers, dancers and singers accompanied by a large number of elephants, some of whom are tuskers. The pageant that can be seen today in Kandy includes all of these ingredients with up to a hundred elephants, dressed in colourful costumes, and up to thousand artistes - talented in dancing, drum beating, fireball dancing, whip-cracking - taking to the streets. What starts off as ‘simple procession ' on day one of the festival, with teams of well-trained elephants and fire wielding dancers parading the through the crammed streets of Kandy, culminates in a five hour feast of ‘orchestrated mayhem' on the final night!

If you are travelling to Sri Lanka in July or August please ask how we can include a night at the Esala Pera Hera in your itinerary.