🇱🇰 Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera is a Buddhist procession and Festival featuring thousands of dancers, musicians, elephants and performers to honor the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha.

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    When is Kandy Esala Perahera?

    Kandy Esala Perahera is celebrated annually in the month of Esala, which on the Sinhalese calendar is a month that falls between July and August. Esala is the month that is believed to commemorate the first teaching of Buddha after he became enlightened.

    When is the 2023 Kandy Festival? The 2023 dates for Kandy Esala Perahera starts on July 23 – August 2, 2023. 

    Where is Kandy?

    Kandy is the second biggest city in Sri Lanka, after the capital Colombo and is about 3-hours North of Colombo. It is located in and the capital city of the Central Province. It was the home of the last monarchy that existed in Sri Lanka and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO back in 1988.

    What is Kandy Esala Perahera?

    kandy festival

    What is the Kandy Esala Perahera? The Esala Perahera in Kandy also known as the Kandy Festival or the Festival of the Tooth. It is an ancient Buddhist festival that commemorates Buddha’s first teachings after he achieved enlightenment.

    The festival runs over ten nights and pays tribute to Buddha’s sacred tooth relic that is housed in the at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Every year almost a million people come for the Kandy Festival that is full of colourful and lively processions and ceremonies.

    ‘Esala’ is the name of a lunar month on the Sinhalese calendar and the word and ‘Perahera‘ in Sinhalese means a parade or procession of dancers, musicians, singers, street performers and elephants for a religious celebration.

    The Kandy Festival

    kandy festival

    Every year around July/August in Sri Lanka, in the picturesque hilly city of Kandy, majestic elephants walk the streets in gorgeous costumes, sparkling fairy lights decorate the city and beautiful costumed performers dazzle the eye everywhere you look.

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    This means only one thing and that is that the Perahera has begun in Kandy. Every year for ten magical days the city comes alive.  Sri Lanka is home to many colourful festivals, but none as spectacular as the Kandy Festival, one of the most spectacular festivals in all of Asia.

    How is the Kandy Festival celebrated?

    kandy festival

    The Esala Perahera in Kandy is celebrated to honor Buddha’s Sacred Tooth Relic as well as the four ‘guardian’ Gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Goddess Pattini.

    Esala Perahera in Kandy is ten days that are filled with grand processions featuring thousands of dancers, musicians, drummers, fire dancers, jugglers, acrobats, fire-breathers, singers, hundreds of elephants and gorgeous traditional costumes.

    The Kandy Festival’s celebrations get bigger and better with every passing day. The first five nights are known as Kumbal Perahera and the last five as the Randoli Perahera. There are also numerous traditional ancient ceremonies performed.

    What is the history of Kandy Esala Perahera?

    How did the Kandy Festival originate? The origins of Kandy Perahera is a hot topic of debate. The majority believe that it is a combination of two different yet interconnected Perahas (processions) – Esala and Dalada.

    The Esala Perahera dates back to the 3rd century BC when pagans would perform ceremonies to ask the gods for rainfall to ensure a good harvest. The Dalada Perahera on the other hand began in the 4th century when the sacred Tooth of Buddha was brought from India to Sri Lanka.

    The Sacred Buddha Tooth

    kandy festival

    What is the Sacred Buddha Tooth? Legend has it that when the Buddha – Siddhārtha Gautama died, his body was burnt. However, one tooth remained from the ashes of Buddha’s cremation and this tooth was saved and kept as a royal possession.

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    It was believed that whoever owned the tooth had the divine right to rule. This of course made the tooth a valuable possession and for the next 800 years many wars were fought, and kingdoms destroyed in pursuit of this tooth, however the tooth miraculously survived all wars.

    Back in the 4th century around 305-331 AD, 800 years after Buddha’s death, the tooth travelled from India hidden in the hair of and Indian Princess to Sri Lanka, a place the Buddha had described as being a safe haven. The King of Sri Lanka welcomed the sacred Buddha tooth and its bearers with open arms and recognized that the ancient Buddha tooth relic was a symbol of spiritualism.

    A temple was built to protect and enshrine the Sacred Tooth Relic where it has remained ever since. The ruling Sri Lankan King decided to commemorate the day it arrived in Sri Lanka by declaring a decree that it would be paraded through the streets once a year for the people to see, which is how the Esala Perahera began.

    Kap Tree ceremony

    The Kandy Festival starts with a Kap Tree known as a Jackfruit tree being planted. A priest will then recite prayers and dedications to the different gods who follow Buddha. This includes Pattini the goddess of chastity, Vishnu the god of protection, Kataragama the guardian deity and Natha the embodiment of compassion.

    The Processions – Perahera

    kandy festival

    The Kandy Perahera features five nightly processions which get bigger and better with every passing day. Each procession starts individually and merges into one as they follow the parade route around the city.

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    The main procession begins at the Temple of the Tooth and the other four begin at the other four temples of the Hindu gods.

    The Temple of the Tooth Perahera which is called Maligawa Perahera or the Procession of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth leads the way whilst carrying a replica of the sacred Tooth relic. The other four processions also carry their individual temples insignia. Each procession has a different performance depending on which god they are honoring.

    The second procession is dedicated to the God Natha. The third procession is dedicated to God Vishnu. The fourth procession is dedicated to the God of Skanda and includes a special peacock dance. The last procession is dedicated to goddess Pattini and mainly features female dancers.

    Maligawa Perahera – Parade of the Tooth Relic

    kandy festival

    The Parade of the Tooth Relic features over 5000 dancers, drummers, whip crackers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers and over 100 decorated elephants. Every performer wears beautiful elaborate costumes. Even the elephants wear outfits that featuring fairy lights which create an enchanting atmosphere.

    The main attraction is the golden casket that sits on top of an elephant carrying a replica of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha. The path is covered by white cloth and all the devotees and spectators stand while the Sacred Tooth Relic passes them.

    A water ceremony

    On the last day of the celebration a water ceremony, occurs before dawn which sees the chief priests wade into the Ganga River and use a sword to ‘cut’ the water separating pure from impure. The Peraheras start marching back to Kandy and end up back at their respective temples, officially closing the Kandy Festival.

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    How to get to the Kandy Festival?

    The nearest international airport Bandaranaike International Airport is about 105 kilometres and if you are coming internationally this is your closest option. However, if you are coming from domestically, Sri Lanka has an excellent transportation network with plenty of buses, trains, taxi and shuttle companies that can get you to Kandy.

    Accommodation for the Kandy Festival?

    Book hotels in Kandy well in advance because accommodation fills up quickly! Remember this is not just one of the biggest events of Sri Lanka but it is also a very important Buddhist Festival. There are accommodations for all budgets from luxury hotels right through to hostels and plenty of nice guest houses around the city.

    Check out Booking.com some of the best offers on accommodation for your visit to Kandy, or anywhere in the world, here.

    Book your Hotel and Flight for the Kandy Esala Perahera

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    How much does the Kandy Festival Cost?

    kandy festival

    It is free to see the procession, but you will be fighting with big crowds for views. So, if you wish to be more comfortable there are thousands of seats set up in the windows and balconies overlooking the parade you can buy tickets for.

    How much are tickets for the Kandy Esala Perahera? Tickets can cost anywhere from $20 -$50US but make sure you negotiate as they prices can vary widely for the same seats.

    Travel Tips for the Kandy Festival

    Here are some important Kandy Esala Perahera top travel tips:

    • The Kandy Festival gets bigger and better every single day with the last two nights particularly the final night having the biggest and best parades
    • To get a good view of the parade you will need to get their early. The processions start between 8-9pm
    • Avoid public displays of affection as it is not appreciated by the locals
    • Bring drinks and snacks as the procession are long and most restaurants are closed to provide seating for the parade.
    • Be patient as it will be crowded and there is absolutely nothing you can do to avoid this
    • No alcohol is served at all during the whole ten days of the Kandy festival
    • Security is tight you must pass through a screen before you can enter the festivities
    • There are toilets available but prepare for big queues and bring your own toilet paper
    • There is a lot of smoke around coming from all the fire dancers
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