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    Posted May 5, 2013 by
    Kandy, Sri Lanka
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    Esala Perahera, Sri Lanka

    I timed my 2012 trip to Sri Lanka specifically around the last two nights of the annual Esala Perahera (Festival of the in Kandy, Sri Lanka. I really wanted to see the procession of elephants and performers!

    Visually, the Esala Perahera festival is about a parade of dancers, drummers, fire performers and magnificent elephants adorned in the finest of costumes but as one can expect, there is purpose and reason behind the festival. In fact, the Esala Perahera is deeply rooted in the Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka.

    According to tradition, after Buddha died, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre by the Ascetic Arahat Khema and given to King Brahmadatta of Dantapura in Kalinga (the present Orissa in India) in the 3rd century BC.

    A belief grew that whoever possessed the Sacred Tooth Relic had a divine right to rule the land. Wars were fought to take possession of the Tooth Relic.

    Upon the death of King Brahmadatta, Prince Guhaseeva became King. When his enemies waged war against him, he directed his daughter, Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha to take the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka and hand it over to the King Kirthi Sri Meghavarna , who was ruling the country at that time, for protection. After an adventurous journey, they reached the ancient Sri Lankan city of Anuradhapura where they gave the Tooth Relic to the king.
    Ever since it was brought to Sri Lanka, the Tooth Relic has been venerated in the form of ritual ceremonies. As the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka moved from one capital to another, the Tooth Relic was also moved to various temples but the pageant has continued through to present day becoming ever more colorful and ornate over time.

    Ultimately King Vimaladharmasuriya the Second (1687 -1707 AD) brought the Tooth Relic from Labugama and deposited it in the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), in the hillside city of Kandy, where it still lies today.

    Continuing the age old traditions, the Tooth Relic is revered by way of various ritualistic ceremonies throughout the year. Among the many festivals, the most extravagant of them all is undoubtedly the Esala Perahera which takes place July/August of every year in Kandy. The Esala Perahera is a 15 day festival and every night there is a parade featuring acrobats, dancers, drummers and elephants. The processions that take place on the14th and 15th nights (also known as the 4th and 5th Randoli Peraheras) respectively, are the grandest with over 100 elephants and 1000 performers participating. It is also on these two nights that the Tooth Relic is paraded around atop the most magnificent of the elephants who holds the title of “Maligawa Tusker”.

    The procession does not have a specific start time but it does take place after night fall. Everyone just waits to hear for the boom of the cannon that signals the parade is about to begin.

    Before the parade begins, men carrying flames torches line the parade route which is several kilometers long. Then, you hear the sound of what you would think are fire crackers but in fact, it’s the whip crackers, thrusting their leather whips against the pavement who are creating the firecracker sounds. They lead the parade of performers.

    A small contingent of fire acrobats, dancers, drummers and flag bearers follows the whip crackers.

    Then the elephants make their way down the parade route. Each adorned with a beautifully embroidered robe complete with a lit headdress. Each elephant is preceded by its own contingent of performers. It’s truly a spectacle to see!

    When the Maligawa Tusker finally arrives, the crowd rises to its feet out of respect for both the elephant and the precious cargo that it carries. The Tooth Relic is housed in a small casket that sits atop the Maligawa Tusker. No one rides on the lead tusker as a mark of respect for the Relic.
    Two more elephants accompany it on either side and the three magnificent elephants create a breathtaking scene.

    From start to finish, the parade was several hours long but for me, it seemed like it went by in a flash! It was truly a spectacle and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to experience it!
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