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Kandy Esala Perahera, known as The Festival of the Tooth, unfolds annually in Kandy, Sri Lanka, showcasing a vibrant cultural mosaic steeped in religious reverence. Centered around the veneration of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa, this historical procession fascinates with its elaborate costumes and profound spirituality.

Kandy Esala Perahera is a grand religious and cultural festival celebrated in Sri Lanka.

Tradition comes to life through a procession featuring traditional Kandyan dances, including the mesmerizing fire and whip dance. Elephants, adorned in opulent garments and lights, majestically march in unison. The highlight is the replica Tooth Relic, placed on an elephant and paraded through the streets, symbolizing a fusion of two ancient festivals – the Esala and Dalada.

Learn about the Buddhist Festival of the Tooth

Kandy Esala Perahera

The Esala festival, dating back to the 3rd century BC, originated as a rain-request ritual. Meanwhile, the Dalada festival emerged in the 4th century AD, marking the arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka from India.

Buddhist literature reveals that the concept of grand pageants for Buddha gained prominence during the reign of Emperor Asoka of India. The Kandy Perahera epitomizes this tradition, intertwining Buddhist and Hindu customs while showcasing the profound cultural heritage of the Sinhalas.

The event takes place in the month of Esala (July/August) as per the lunar calendar. The 10-day festival unfolds each night with a distinct segment of the mesmerizing procession.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Torch carriers evoke ancient mystique at the festival as they gracefully navigate the festivities casting an enchanting glow.

Esala Perahera, steeped in centuries-old traditions, offers a unique and authentic experience…

Flames leap and twirl in the air as skilled performers showcase the traditional Kandyan fire dance.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Kandy Esala Perahera
Established in 1775 during King Kirti Sri Rajasingha’s reign (1747-1778 AD), the modern form of the festival emerged, shaping the vibrant celebration we witness today.

Rooted in history, the perahera pageant draws inspiration from the “Dantha Dhathu Charitha” or “Dalada Siritha,” a manuscript from the reign of Parakramabahu IV. This ancient text outlines 38 statutes that dictate the proper conduct of a perahera pageant. It mandates the cleaning of the Shrine Room at an auspicious hour, the exquisite decoration of canopies with silk clothes, and the offering of rice, flowers, and oil lamps on the seventh day morning. As evening falls, the city transforms into a celestial spectacle, adorned in sacred splendor.

Kandy Esala Perahera – paying homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha

Witness the vibrant performance of Sri Lankan traditional upcountry dancers as they grace the streets of Kandy.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Witness a majestic parade featuring beautifully adorned elephants, a central spectacle in the Kandy Esala Perahera procession. Adorned with colorful lights and decorations, the elephants add a magical touch to the evening processions, captivating the spectators.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Skilled mahouts, or elephant handlers, guide these majestic creatures through the procession, showcasing the harmonious relationship between humans and elephants.
Kandy Esala Perahera
The involvement of elephants in the festival also highlights ongoing conservation efforts to protect and preserve them in Sri Lanka.

Elephants, adorned in opulent garments and lights, majestically march in unison. 

Kandy Esala Perahera
These gentle giants carry the symbolic casket containing the replica of the Sacred Tooth Relic during the nightly processions.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Lasting ten days, the festival hosts various festivities throughout, offering a celebration of cultural richness.
Sri Lankan traditional upcountry dancers perform on the streets of Kandy during Esala Perahera.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Kandy Esala Perahera
The elephants represent veneration and protection, embodying a connection between Buddhism and the reverence for nature in Sri Lankan culture.

As the evening falls, the city transforms into a celestial spectacle, draped in splendor with profound religious significance.

The procession, led by the chief priests of the Uttara Mula Sect and personnel of the Ganavesi and Kilin castes, moves the Sacred Relic casket with utmost veneration. Esala Perahera, steeped in centuries-old traditions, offers a unique and authentic experience, transporting attendees into the heart of a cultural extravaganza that transcends time.

Kandy Esala Perahera
The festival, with its majestic elephants, is a major cultural and religious spectacle that attracts tourists from around the world.
The processions at Kandy Esala Perahera seek blessings from the gods for rain and a bountiful harvest.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Organized by Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Kandy Perahera includes five processions and four shrines dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses.

The Grandeur of The Festival of the Tooth in Kandy

Kandy Esala Perahera
Davul and Thammattam players performing at the festival.
A Chinese pilgrim ‘Fa Hien’ provides the most revealing account of the festival dating back to the 5th century AD.
Kandy Esala Perahera
In Sinhalese, ‘Perahera’ signifies a parade of musicians, dancers, singers, acrobats, and caparisoned Tuskers, all celebrating a religious event.
Thammattam players (Thammattam Karuwo) perform along a street during the Buddhist festival of Esala Perahera.
Kandy Esala Perahera
The elephants carry the sacred Tooth Relic replica through the streets of Kandy, symbolizing strength, wisdom, and grace.

According to Sri Lankan legends, after the Buddha died in 543 BC, his disciple Khema retrieved his left canine tooth from the sandalwood pyre at Kushinagar.

Kandy Esala Perahera

Kandy Esala Perahera transcends cultural boundaries, opening its vibrant celebrations to the public and attracting a diverse audience. Every year, tourists from around the world visit Kandy to witness its grand festival, while locals participate with religious reverence.

Kandy Esala Perahera
Kandy Esala Perahera
A davul player at the Kandy Esala Perahera procession.

The festival is a significant cultural event in Sri Lanka that represents the country’s diverse religious traditions and historical heritage. It showcases common customs and festivities across the region, promoting cultural understanding and unity. Kandy Esala Perahera is a remarkable opportunity that provides visitors with a distinctive chance to experience and cultivate cultural understanding.

The torchbearers of Esala Perahera gracefully carry torches through the night, casting a radiant glow on the vibrant procession.

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It all began in my late teens with my father’s Mamiya 35mm SLR camera. Back then, learning photography and becoming a photographer in the traditional sense wasn’t my objective. What truly fascinated me was the power of capturing and preserving moments, allowing me to revisit them later.

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