The Kandy Esala Perahera also known as the Sri Dalada Perahera has become Sri Lanka’s most popular festival. It’s a must-see if you’re planning on traveling to Sri Lanka in July and/or August. It’s a luxury to witness such an event and it’s definitely something that deserves a spot on your travel bucket list!
The Perahera or parade is held annually in Kandy, the Hill Capital of Sri Lanka. It is called the ‘Esala Perahera’ because ‘Esala’ is the Sinhalese word for July. It was originally started around the 3rd Century BC to honour the Hindu Deities Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini and appeal to the Gods for rain. In 1775, during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha was added to the procession and the Perahera became what we see today.
The order of the 15 day festival
It all starts with the ‘Kapsituvima’ ceremony or the planting of the ‘Kapa’. This is then followed by three days of the internal Devale Peraheras, 5 days of the Kumbal Perahera, 5 days of the Randoli Perahera and finally, the ‘Diya Kepeema’, the water cutting ceremony. The exact dates of the Perahera differ each year based on the full moon Poya days and auspicious times.
What it’s like
There is a buzz in the air in Kandy during this time. Unimaginable crowds of devotees and onlookers who travel from nearby cities as well far away countries flock to Kandy City from as early as 2PM and pick out the best spots on the pavement to view this magnificent parade of bright lights. I have never seen a more patient crowd!
The start of the Perahera is signaled by the sound of a loud cannon being shot. From this point, the roads are closed and the path is cleared (and washed) for the procession and the crowd settles and eagerly awaits the parade in silence. The procession starts with the whip crackers who clear the path inform spectators that the procession is nearing. They are followed by fire dancers and Buddhist flag bearers.
The ‘Peramuna Rala’, the front official, dressed in traditional attire and carrying an Ola Book in his hands rides the first elephant. It used to be a royal warrant for the procession, but now, it is a list of the Temple lands and service tenures.
He is then followed by several groups of Kandian drummers and dancers, elephants of all sizes dressed in colourful, lit up and heavily embellished cloaks, other cultural dancers and flag bearers.
Then, the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic on its back rounded the corner and was followed by the ‘Diyawadana Nilame’, the lay custodian in charge of the relic and the whole procession.
The next four parts of the Perahera are for the four dewalas; Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini, each with its own collection of drummers, dancers, elephants, relics and ‘Basnayake Nilames’ (lay custodians for the Dewalas). The Perahera of Pattini Amma [a female Hindu Deity] is interestingly the only one that has female dancers.
An interesting feature of this Perahera is that people of all ages take part. You can see small kids, around 7 or 8 years old dancing with fire batons as well as old men taking part in the very active Kandian Dance routines.
Facts, Tips and Frequently Asked Questions!
Which type of the Kandy Esala Perahera should you go for?
In my opinion, your first preference should be to go for one of the Randoli Peraheras, because that is the best. Failing which, you should aim to see the Kumbal Perahera.
What is the best place to view the Kandy Esala Perahera?
The procession goes along a route through Kandy City and there are many Perahera viewing gallery options. I would recommend viewing the Perahera from one of the balconies at Queens Hotel. You get a great view of the procession as it comes out of the gates of the Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Tooth Relic. This luxury viewing gallery is a pricey option though, but, I was lucky enough to have been able to experience it first hand and trust me, it’s worth it!
Slightly cheaper options include the Queens Hotel pavilion, the Bakehouse Pub balcony, the Delight Building balcony and the Devon Hotel corridor…
Not willing to pay? The pavement is free and yours for the taking! You need to be prepared to get there by around 2PM to get a good spot and stay there until the Perahera ends, which would be around 11.30 PM. Make sure you take plenty of water, drinks and snacks and plan your bathroom breaks!
What time does the Kandy Esala Perahera start?
There is no exact time that the Perahera starts as it differs each day based on the auspicious times. It’s usually around 6.30/7 PM in the evening. You need to get to your seat before 5.00 PM though because the roads close in preparation.
What time does the Kandy Esala Perahera end?
Once again, there is no set ending time as it differs each day. The Kumbal Perahera usually ends at around 9/9.30 PM and the Randoli is much longer, so it ends at around 11.30 PM or midnight.
When should I book rooms and tickets for the Kandy Esala Perahera?
The earlier the better as most places are fully booked months before! I would say around January that year is a good time to start making your travel plans for the Perahera Season. Get in touch with us and we’ll custom design a tailor made holiday around the Kandy Esala Perahera for you.
How can I book rooms and tickets for the Kandy Esala Perahera?
Get in touch with us and we’ll custom design a tailor made holiday around the Kandy Esala Perahera for you, inclusive of hotels, transport and tickets to a viewing gallery…
Where can I have dinner during the Kandy Esala Perahera?
We recommend booking a place that offers dinner during the Perahera. If you’ve booked a place that doesnt provide food, then make plans to take a packed dinner with you.
Is alcohol available at the Kandy Esala Perahera?
There is no alcohol available in Kandy City for the 15 days of the Perahera. You could BYOB, but you should refrain from drinking if you’re watching the procession as it is a very sacred religious ritual.
Do the viewing galleries have Disability Access at the Kandy Esala Perahera?
Most viewing galleries do not have disability access. Do get in touch with us if this is a requirement and we will arrange something specially for you.