The Perahera Festival, also known as Kandy Esala Perahera, is celebrated in a grand manner every year in the city of Kandy, located in Sri Lanka, in the month of July and August.
People are seen to wear elaborate costumes during the celebration of this festival and takes part in a grand procession.
The procession constitutes of many types of traditional dance performances like whip dances, Kandyan dances, fire dances and various other local and cultural dances.
Lavishly adorned elephants also take part in this procession which comes to an end with diya-kepeema ritual, a traditional water cutting ceremony, held every year at Mahaweli River at Getambe in Kandy. The procession is held in the honor of the sacred relic of the tooth of Lord Buddha which is kept at Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandy.
The word “Perahera” means procession and it is believed the Esala is a fusion of two different Peraheras, the Esala Perahera and the Dalada Perahera, which are interconnected. The Esala Perahera is believed to have started in the 3rd century BC as a ritual to appease the Gods and request for rainfall.
However the Dalada Perahera is thought to date back to 4th century CE, when the sacred relic of the tooth of Lord Buddha was brought from India to Sri Lanka around 800 years after the death of Lord Buddha. It is believed that the scared tooth relic was carried to Sri Lanka in a grand procession led by Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala.
However the modern Perahera is believed to have begun from the time when Sri Lanka was under the reign of Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, the Kandyan king who ruled from 1747 to 1781. During this period, the sacred tooth relic was king’s private property and thus the general people couldn’t worship it. However, the King commanded that the tooth relic could be taken out during the procession so that the public could get a glimpse of it and worship it. In 1815, when the British took over Sri Lanka and the Kandyan Kingdom fell, the tooth relic’s custody was given to the Buddhist Clergy or the Maha Sanga.
The celebration begins with the ritual called Kappa. In this ritual a young and sanctified Jackfruit tree is cut into four parts and then each of it is planted within the premises of four devales which are dedicated to the four Gods and Goddesses, namely Vishnu, Natha, Katharagama and Pattini.
It was an ancient belief that this practice would shower the blessings of these guardian Gods and Goddesses on the King and the general mass. This is then followed by the Devale Perahera which continues through the next 5 nights. It takes place inside the premises of the Deavles and the priests of the each of the four Deavles takes the pole which is accompanied by canopy and flag bearers, drumming and music, Ran Ayudha and spearman, every evening.
Kumbal Perahera starts on the sixth night and continues for the next five days. At the beginning, the Devale Perahera gather in front of the temple of scared tooth, the most significant Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka where the tooth relic of Lord Buddha is kept, and their emblems are placed on Ransivige which is a dome-shaped structure. The substitute of the sacred tooth relic, which is the relic casket, is put inside ransivige and attached to Maligawa elephant.
The Maligawa Perahera gets together with the Devale Perahera and leads the grand procession. The fireball and whip-crackers acrobat clear the path for the flag bearers and then comes the first official riding on the elephant known as the Peramuna Rala. After him comes the Kandyan dancers and drummers who entertains the crowd and they are followed by musicians, elephants, flag bearers and more dancers. After this a group of musicians and singers, all dressed in white, ushers the Maligawa elephant carrying the tooth relic of Lord Buddha.
Diyawadana Nilame walks right after the elephant wearing traditional clothe. The second procession comes from Natha Devale which is considered to be the oldest building in Kandy and dates back to the 14th century. The third procession goes from Vishnu Devale which is also called the Maha Devale and is located in front of the Natha Devale’s main gate.
The fourth procession starts from the Devale of God Kataragama and this procession has peacock dance in which the pilgrims carry a semicircular contraption made out of wood and decorated with peacock feathers and dances with it. This special dance is known as Kavadi. The fifth procession starts from the Devale of Goddess Pattini and is located on the West-side of Natha Devale. It is the only procession which consists of dancing by women. After Kumbal Perahera begins the Randoli Perahera and the festivity comes to an end with the water cutting ceremony, Diya Kepeema.