ESALA PERAHERA, SRI LANKA
Held in Esala around July or August, the grand Esala Perahera is a Buddhist festival celebrated in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The celebration is accompanied by dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers and elephants decorated lavishly. The month of the festival was honoured in order to remember the first teaching given by Buddha after he received enlightenment.
The Esala Perahera in Kandy is celebrated to honour the sacred tooth relic and four guardian gods, Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the Goddess Pattini. The Maligawa Perahera is followed in order by Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini Devales (temples dedicated to these Gods) in the vicinity of Kandy Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth).
History has it that after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom into the hands of the British in 1815, the custody of the Tooth Relic was handed over to the Buddhist clergy. In the king’s absence, a custodian called Diyawadana Nilame was appointed to handle administrative matters. The purpose of the e Kandy Esala Perahera Procession is to seek blessings of the gods in order to obtain rain for cultivation of crops and enriching the land.
The Esala Perahera ritual is performed by the Buddha’s sacred tooth relic through the streets of Kandy city conducted with exceptional panache. It is considered one of Asia’s most beautiful pageants.
A ritual called Kap Situweema, which is an act of planting a sanctified young Jackfruit Tree to commence the rituals, will be conducted in order to start off Perahera. Performed at a chosen auspicious time by astrologers, the tree will be sprinkled with offerings made from 9 different flowers accompanied by an oil lamp with 9 wicks. Sandalwood scented water is also sprayed on the tree while the priest of the Maha Vishnu Devale (Vishnu Temple) recites prayers to the gods.
At the forefront of the procession are the Whip Crackers, who crack their whips signifying the approaching procession, followed by the Flag Bearers carrying standard flags of different provinces and temples on both sides of the path. An official called a Peramunerala will be riding on the first elephant while carrying the sacred Temple of the Tooth. The next are drummers playing traditional drums and blowing flutes while the traditional dancers mesmerise the crowd with their leaps and moves. They are followed by an officer in charge of elephants, mounted on a caparisoned and decorated tusker, carrying a silver goad called Ankusa.
The Perahera features 5 kinds of processions, held by Sri Dalada Maligawa, a Buddhist temple of Sri Lanka and 4 shrines are dedicated to the 4 guardian Hindu gods and goddess. Later, the Maligawa Perahera procession takes over and it’s joined by the 4 Hindu shrines. The second procession is dedicated to God Natha while the third is dedicated to God Vishnu and the fourth is from the Kataragama Devale dedicated to the God of Skanda, the deity of Kataragama. The colourful procession is filled with Kavadi, peacock dances where pilgrims carry semicircular wooden contraptions decorated with peacock feathers on their shoulders. The last procession is dedicated to the goddess Pattini.