Kandy Esala Perahera from 05 to 15th August 2019

The Esala Perahera in Kandy is one of the oldest, grandest & most sacred of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, as well as the entire world!

The Sinhalese term ‘Perahera’ means a parade of musicians, dancers, singers, acrobats, and various other performers accompanied by a large number of rich & decorative Tuskers / Elephants, children in costumes and various other performers that parade through the streets in celebration of the religious event.

When observing, it’s always a feast for the eyes. Whether you are an adult or a child, the eyes soak up everything around them. On a day like the Esala Perahera in Kandy, also known simply as the Kandy Esala Perahera, the visual senses would be steeped with visual stimuli, so it can get overwhelming. This is the grandest of the country’s traditional festivals, nestled in between mountains of cool air.

Depending on where you are travelling from, you’ll need to make a small walk towards where the procession will pass by. This is no easy feat as thousands of people from all parts of the island, in addition to other foreign visitors, will crowd every little nook & cranny.

If you’re in a location where the lodging offers a window or balcony view you have the best viewpoint. You can laze back and see the streets get crowded not needing to plan and get caught up in pushing through crowds to get to your seats.

The most annoying time for some can be the wait for the procession to start. Even though it’s pitch black above and getting cold, what would help the body would be a shock of excitement at the commencement of the Kandy Perahara. However, one must be patient till the auspicious time comes around, and just when you thought you’d fall asleep, as your heavy eyelids gently shut, Bang goes the first cannon shocking you with a much-needed jolt of excitement.

Though it’s chilly, the new injection of excitement keeps your mind off it. You continuously try to imagine using past experiences to come up with some sort of expectations of what is in store. But if it’s your first time seeing a Perahara in Sri Lanka, you’ll never be able to set any expectations to match what is coming your way.

The air is filled with a click you don’t immediately take notice of until you know that the sound shouldn’t be brushed off as simple background noise. It seems rhythmic as it gets louder and seems to serve a purpose as it gets even louder. The Kasakaruwo, the whip crackers, are the first participants you would see. The crisp night air is pierced by the leather whip; the sound it produces makes sure to leave an impression on you.

The children would surely be confused by what transpired, but what would come next wouldn’t be as confusing to them. An assortment of flags flown in the procession, from Buddhist flags to Kandy provincial flags, are very colourful and easily appreciated by children.

Next, both adults and children alike can get excited to point and shout, “Look swards!”. As they make their way down the street, a parade of swords which are raised, having no other theatrics except being freshly polished and gleaming like jewels, captures everyone’s attention.  

As every minute goes by, so does the temperature, getting ever so chilly. Yet your heart warms with the sight of an orange glow. Swirling, flaring, spinning, & spitting flames. As they get closer and closer, it’s as if you are right next to the performer and their fire-bearing instrument. You can feel the flames lick your face as they pass you by. You’re in awe that if you can feel the flames from a distance, how it must be for the performer and the fire-breathers, yet they pass by as if it’s a simple exercise. In their wake, they leave a fragrance of smoke and burnt kerosene oil. Nothing unbearable but different from the smells of a wood fire, yet oddly pleasant to smell for a short time as the gentle breeze wafts away and clears the smoke & scents to make way for the next procession in the Kandy Perahara. 

Another crowd-pleaser is the tuskers, on top of them carrying the most sacred artefacts of the procession. Both tuskers and elephants are adorned with sheets of colourful garments and bright lights. They also have a rider who is also majestically dressed in a colourful costume. You soon forget about your surroundings and believe you have been transported to a time before the age of technology, to the time of the great kings, queens, princes and princesses. They are a sight to behold, and if you are unlucky, they leave an aromatic aroma if they decide to toilet, if said in the most discrete and child-friendly way. Cleaners with brooms quickly push to the side to clear the elephant’s dinner to leave a clean wake for the performers to follow behind. Yet the smell hasn’t left and lingers on to keep you awake and alert.  

If the smell resembling strong vinegar quite didn’t keep you up, try getting by the sound of fast-paced, very loud ceremony drummers who play the tunes pertaining to their own tribe. These professional musicians perform with great pride and honour.  

Equally as loud to follow are the Horanekaruwo, the trumpet blowers.  Their attire, a white dress, red cotton belts and bare chests, make up the trumpet blower’s costume. The music is different from anything you’d hear in the Western world, yet it draws you in to know that in this part of the world, unusual beats are considered music. You find yourself relating to a snake and why the snake goes into a trance, as you find yourself doing the same as the Perahera performers pass by. So much is going on, with lots to see. You also have long forgotten the strong perfume of vinegar that penetrated the air a while back, which no longer seems to be there.  

My favourite and a very beautiful site to see in the Kandy Esala Perahera is the children of all ages, the smallest from preteens to teenagers. All up at this hour taking part in the procession, who put you to shame if you seem exhausted by now. They are alive and dressed in bright, beautiful & intricate costumes, performing traditional dance moves. The reciting verses, the accompanying laughter and enjoyment without a parent in sight are quite impressive. You feel glad to be a part of the procession, seeing them having so much fun that you, too, want to join. But remind your children they have to be stuck with their parents. 

As the children leave, another different set of drummers will play, this time the drum tied around the waist and with unusual oval-shaped ending sticks that will get everyone’s attention if not seen before to beat up a fast-paced rhythm. The hands and feet are free, allowing them to both dance and play the drum at the same time easily. Their costumes also much like the trumpet-blowers, are made of white and red cloth.

The Perahera will feature many more performers ranging from dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers, more parade animals and lavish decorations, which we will leave you to discover on your own and to leave a bit of apprehension & excitement with you. So come book your Kandy Esala Perahera services through us here at Total Travel Solution. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t miss out! Contact us at inquire@totaltravelsolution.com

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