Kandy Perahera (Esala Perahera)
When:30 Jul – 9 Aug 2006 (annual)
As the August moon waxes in the Buddhist month of Esala, the streets of Kandy erupt in a ten-day-long pageant. Young men mortify their flesh while fulfilling vows to the Hindu god of Skanda by walking in harness with spikes in their backs, accompanied by a fabulous procession.
The procession includes fire-juggling acrobats, sumptuously-decorated elephants, traditional dancers, oboe-tooting musicians, banners, palanquins, whip crackers, torch bearers and thousands of barefoot pilgrims and swordsmen. To top it off, all this has happened every year since about 300 AD.
The action is made even more mesmerising because it happens at night. The old cannon booms after dusk and the Perahera (paraders) take to the streets for ten nights, with the parades growing ever longer each night until the final night of pageantry, when the parade is at its finest.
The festival is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and is dedicated not just to Skanda but also to Buddha. It is held to invoke the blessings of the gods for rain, fertility, successful crops and good health. Elephants feature heavily as they are symbols of abundance and fertility – the clouds who walk the Earth, instrumental in attracting the vital rains for harvest time.
The most treasured item in the procession is a copy of a golden reliquary said to hold a tooth of the Buddha. Legend has it that the Buddha’s tooth was brought to Sri Lanka in the third century AD, hidden in the tresses of a princess. Pilgrims flock to visit the golden temple, Sri Dalada Maligawa, situated beside a tree-lined lake, every day of the year to catch a glimpse of the golden casket which holds the venerated molar.