The month of Esala (August), marks a significant occurrence in the Sri Lankan event calendar; The Kandy Esala Perahera. Synonymously known as The Festival of the Tooth or the Sri Dalada Perahera, is a magnificent procession that includes so many gigantically beautiful tuskers, gorgeously dressed dancers and drummers as well as various flag bearers and elegantly dressed officials called Nilames. Both locals and foreigners gather to the city limits of Kandy in thousands to witness the beauty of this procession, each year.

Esala Mangalle

Esala Mangalle is the greatest and the most vivid of the Hatara Mangalle (four major ceremonies) namely; Avurudu Mangalle, Esala Mangalle, Kartika Mangalle and Alutsal Mangalle which are performed annually at the Temple of Tooth. Esala Mangalle, which conjoins the earlier deistic elements of the culture with the Buddhist rituals, is held in July-August. Therefore, both the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the four devalas (shrines of the four guardian deities) called the Hatara Maha Devala play a vital role during the celebrations. Historical documents record that the king and the court, as well as the commoners have taken part in the sacred celebrations.

Preparation to the Perahera

The Kandy Perahera, the historical procession is held every year with the main aim of paying homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha. The Perahera is held according to the advice of the Temple astrologer whose duty is to fix the auspicious days and times for the events related to the procession. Nonetheless, the responsibility of organising the whole ceremony lies upon the shoulders of the Diyavadana Nilame, the lay custodian of the Temple of Tooth. He announces the dates and times fixed by the astrologer prior to the Perahera and especial messages with the relevant information are sent to the four devalas.

Having announced the dates, the procession commences with the planting of the Kapa, a long piece of wood separated from a lactiferous tree such as jackfruit, as a symbol of prosperity. It also mentions that Kapa represents Indra, the god of rain.

The Perahera begins

Then begins the Devala Perahera, which continue for five consecutive nights within the premises of the four devalas, with the priest of each devala taking the pole every day in the evening, accompanied by drummers, musicians, flag bearers and the sacred insignia of the Gods.

On the sixth night onwards, the Kumbal Perahera begins. The four processions of the devalas form in the Deva Sanhinda before the Royal Palace, in order to precedence, namely, Dalada Perhaera in the lead, followed by Natha, Visnu, Kataragama and Pattini peraheras.

At the end of the five nights long Kumbal Perahera, begins the Randoli Perahera, the most gorgeous of all and continues for another five days. The procession is given this name because it was included the carrying of randolis or palanquins on which the queens of the kings traditionally used to travel. The elaborated Randoli Perahera is decorated with whip-crackers who herald the oncoming of the procession to the people, banner and standard bearers, Peramune Rala the frontier officer who rides the first elephant of the pageant, drummers playing hevisi, Gajanayaka Nilame who rides the second elephant, phalanx of elephants dressed up in decorated clothes, troops of dancers and so on. The most vibrant is the Maligave tusker, proud and majestic in appearance, marches upon the white carpet royally, carrying the scared golden casket of the Buddha Relic. It is flanked by two dale tuskers ridden by attendants who bless the casket by showering fragrant jasmines. It is such a sight to witness indeed.

The pageant sees the end after the sixth day of the Randoli Perahera with the Diya Kepeema Ceremony, where the Diyavadana Nilame slashes the water flow of the Mahaweli River at Getambe, a town situated few miles away from the Kandy Town.

The history

In fact, the Esala Perahera is a fusion of two separate ceremonies; the Esala Perahera which had been held in the name of deities with request of rain and good harvest and the Dalada Perahera which had been held to pay homage to the Tooth Relic of Buddha after it was brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha. According to the historical records, it is the Upali Thera who has convinced the king to incorporate the Dalada Perahera to the Esala Mangalle Perahera with the aim of adding a Buddhist approach to the rituals.

By Induwara Athapattu