“ESALA Perahera is the most spectacular of Sri Lanka’s festivals,” says the 5th edition of the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, “and one of the most colourful religious pageants in Asia.”
The 10-day event takes place in Kandy, in the cool green hills in the centre of the island, 110 kilometres northeast of Colombo. The Kingdom of Kandy was the last part of Sri Lanka to fall to invading Europeans, absorbed by the British in 1815. It’s managed to keep its own customs and culture, “which live on today in its unique music, dance and architecture.”
The festival’s origins go back to the fourth century A.D., when a tooth of the Buddha was brought to the city and became a major religious relic. Today the largest parade (perahera) of the festival begins at the Temple of the Tooth, and is joined by four others that snake through the town like “a kind of religious conga, with elephants.” There are as many as a hundred elephants, “and thousands of drummers, dancers and acrobats walking on stilts, cracking whips, swinging fire pots and carrying banners.”
The festival is held during the lunar month of Esala, usually falling in late July or early August. (In 2016, 8-18 August.) Parades in the first days of the festival can be watched for free from the roadside, but later the streets become jammed: “you’ll probably have to arrive four or five hours in advance and then sit in your place without budging.”
Instead, the guidebook suggests having your guesthouse or hotel reserve a seat for you, at a cost of $20-$50 or more.
The website http://daladamaligawa.org has more on the festival’s dates.
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