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A Guide to Kandy Esala Perahera – A Festival Honoring Buddha’s Tooth
25th July 2020
4th August 2020
- 1 The Kandy Festival
- 2 What is Kandy Esala Perahera?
- 3 When is Kandy Esala Perahera?
- 4 How is the Kandy Festival celebrated?
- 5 What is the history of Kandy Esala Perahera?
- 6 The Sacred Buddha Tooth
- 7 Kap Tree ceremony
- 8 The Processions – Perahera
- 9 Maligawa Perahera – Parade of the Tooth Relic
- 10 A water ceremony
- 11 Where is Kandy?
- 12 How to get to the Kandy Festival?
- 13 Accommodation for the Kandy Festival?
- 14 How much does the Kandy Festival Cost?
- 15 Travel Tips for the Kandy Festival
- 16 Take a Tour!
- 17 Is Kandy Safe?
The 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.
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.
What is Kandy Esala Perahera?
What is the Kandy Esala Perahera? The Esala Perahera in Kandy is 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.
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 2020 Kandy Festival? The 2020 dates for Kandy Esala Perahera begins from 25th July to 04th August 2020 . The dates for the Kandy Festival change every year so that the festival will end on a full moon.
How is the Kandy Festival celebrated?
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
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.
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 Budda tooth and its bearers with open arms and recognised that the ancient Budda 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
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.
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 honouring.
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
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 feature 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.
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.
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. To get a quote for a flight click here.
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 some of the best offers on accommodation for your visit to Kandy, or anywhere in the world, here.
How much does the Kandy Festival Cost?
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 2019 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
For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.
Take a Tour!
Amazing food, an ancient culture, endless beaches, timeless ancient ruins, welcoming people, elephants, rolling surf, tea plantations and so much more to do and see! If you are lucky enough to have time for a longer vacation then definetly explore this country! There are so many amazing itineraries for you to choose from on Tour Radar. If you are in the 18-35 range then check out Gap Adventures.
Is Kandy Safe?
While there are certainly some precautions that travelers need to take when visiting Kandy, it is generally quite safe. Just make sure to avoid the back alleys of the town centre after dark as they can house some shady characters. Solo women travellers can sometime be hasseled around the lakeside after dark.
The most common crime is petty theft like purse snatching and pickpocketing, especially during carnival when there are big crowds and it is easier to get your stuff stolen. So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. If you have to take your phone out with you, don’t have it on show for long.