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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for Top 5 things to know about the Kandy Perahera – A procession filled with colours, festivities and devotion!
Joanna James Joanna James
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Top 5 things to know about the Kandy Perahera – A procession filled with colours, festivities and devotion!

The Kandy festival or the Kandy Esala Perahara is one of the biggest religious pageants in South Asia. Here are 5 things that'll help you understand the importance of this festival and how it happens.


What is it?

It's a sacred festival that celebrates the first teaching that Lord Buddha's imparted after attaining enlightenment. The word 'pererhara' when translated into English means 'religious procession.


How did it start?

The history of this festival goes back to 4 AD, the year that sacred tooth relic was brought to soils of Sri Lanka from India. The prevailing ruler of Kandy decided that on a day of each year, the sacred tooth relic would be paraded around the city so that devotees could worship it and pay their respects.

In 1775 Kirti Sri Rajasinha, the 2nd Nayak King of Kandy, who was known for bringing back Buddhism to Kandy after years and years of interference from colonisers, placed the tooth relic as the centrepiece of the four-temple procession. In 1848 it was decided to parade a replica of the sacred tooth relic as it was believed that the bad omens would be caused if the original tooth left its shrine.


How is it celebrated?

The ceremony happens over a period of 10 days and consists of musicians, drummers, firebreathers, majestically decorated elephants, crackling whips, torch bearers and dancers performing different styles and forms of dances. The first five days of the festival are called the "Kumbal Perahera" and the subsequent five days are known as the "Randoli Perahera". The climax of the festival that occurs on the last day which is called the "Maha Perahera", is the grandest parade of all. The Maha perehara involves thousands of performers and an elephant that parades the casket on which the sacred tooth relic is mounted on.


How does it begin?

The festival is kicked off by extracting sprouts from the blessed jackfruit tree and planting them at Kandy's 4 main "devales" – 4 temples. On the last day of festivities, the 4 head priests of each of these temples go to the middle of the Mahaweli river and use a sword to "cut" the water; a gesture which symbolizes separating purity and impurity. A small parade is held during the day to commemorate this ceremony.

The procession that happens during the night is made up of 5 individual parades that unite into one large procession that follow a trail around the city with the procession that carries the sacred tooth relic in the forefront while the other processions will display their temples insignia. The processions can also be differentiated by the order of their performers and their attire which honours the God they worship. For example, the procession that worships Pattini, the goddess of chastity comprises mainly of female performers.


When does it happen?

The festival falls every year during the month of Esala in the Sinhalese calendar, i.e. July-August according to the Gregorian calendar. The start of this 10-day celebration is decided every year based on the fool moon. Hotels in Kandy which are in the vicinity of the parade Earl's Regent for example, offers exclusive packages that provides you with a front row seat to witness the festivities.

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