This is why Sri Lanka’s Kandy Esala ceremony 2018 should be on your bucket list
The term Kandy Esala ceremony comes to fore again in the island with the nearing of full moon day of August. The annual event of Kandy Esala ceremony, which will come to climax on the full moon day of August, is one of the most beautiful cultural events in the island. Kandy Esala ceremony is full of the dancer, drummers, musicians, acrobats, and nicely decorated elephants. Kandy Esala ceremony is a magnificent display of traditional dancing, music, chanting, puppetry, fire-eating and drumming.
August is one of the best months to travel to the island of Sri Lanka, due to the favourable weather for outdoor activities in August. Usually, the tourist arrival to the island comes to a virtual standstill with the beginning of south-west monsoon. The arrival of foreign tourists hit the rock bottom, especially from European countries, in the month of may due to the unfavourable weather and continues through June and July. A sharp increase in tourist arrival witnessed again in the month of August and majority of those tourists do not forget to witness the pageant of the Esala ceremony of Kandy. The majority of eyeballs gathering to witness this pageant are from Sri Lanka and they are gathering to Kandy from all parts of the country representing all religious groups and ethnic groups.
The historical importance of the Esala ceremony
This historical and religious event is known as Esala ceremony and its beginning goes back to 2nd century AD. July and August are the main Perahera season of the country, during which Perahera is organized in many parts of the country. If you choose July and August for the sri lanka weather, sri lanka rain eason, then you have the best chance of witnessing one of these beautiful traditional events. This colourful pageant can be seen in Kandy, Kataragama and Colombo. The venue for the grandest Perahera or procession of the island is Kandy, the temple of the tooth.
In general, Perahera also celebrates one or several gods such as God Ganesh, God Vishnu, Saman, Goddess Pattini, and God Kataragama. Each of these Gods and goddesses believed to be capable of helping with certain areas of life.
The Kandy Esala ceremony is the most important ceremony of the tooth relic temple of Kandy and it has a very high religious significance. The ceremony is a merit making activity for participants as well as for spectators and especially the people and performers participated in the procession strictly adhere to the certain customs and rituals. As the beginning of the Perahera draws near, the participants must observe certain customs and rituals and dedicate to the god. The houses are whitewashed, sins are forgiven and people stick to the five precepts of the teaching of Buddha, they refrain from eating fish, and any form of meat.
The Kandy Perahera or Esala ceremony attracts nearly one million audiences during the event (10 days). The event takes place for ten consecutive days in the city of Kandy. The most colourful days of the event are the last two days of the Perahera, which known as Randholi Perahera. Randholi means Queens Palanquin. Large gathering can be seen during the Randholi Perahera.
The chief participant of the Perahera is known as “Diyawadana Nilame”, the caretaker of Temple of the Tooth. He wears the traditional Kandyan court dress in white colour and walks in the parade. He is accompanied by the caretakers of the Sataramaha Devala, rest of the temples that participate in the Procession. The chiefs are the symbol of the vestige of the Kandyan kingdom, the last capital of Sri Lankan kings.
The significance of Kandy Esala ceremony
The whole event is evolved around the tooth relic of Buddha and a copy of this sacred object is taken around the temple during the Perahera. A magnificently decorated tusker is carrying the distinguish object, which is deposited in a golden casket. All the bystanders pay their respect to the tooth relic by standing from their seats when the tusker passes by.
The Perahera is an event with importance for the Sri Lanka history, customs, rituals and traditions and the event enhances the faith of people on the sacred object. Artistically the Perahera improves the creative talents of Sri Lankan performing artists. Perahera is a good reason for artists to practice their dance form throughout the year. It is a reason for making new artists on behalf of the older artists, to represent the families that are privileged by the king to participate in the event.
Taking part in Esala ceremony is believed to be a great honour and a merit-making act for the participants. Hence it is an opportunity not to miss. The Perahera passes the all aspects of Sri Lanka life from one generation to another. Hence it is a cultural inheritance for the coming generations that should be preserved by the current generation.
The route of the procession
The route of the procession varies on day by day. The procession getting longer each day and longest procession can be seen on the Last day of the festival, which is the final Rnadholee procession. The procession begins at the temple of the tooth relic and parade on the main road around the temple before it ends at the same venue.
Starting from Kumbsal perahera the procession parade on the street for 10 consecutive nights. The perahera or precession of first 5 consecutive night is called KUMBAL perahera. During the Kumbal perahera, the procession parade on the main road around an anthill, the name of the KUMBAL is taken from the local name for the anthill ‘KUMBAL’ .
The start of Randholee procession or perahera takes place on the 6th night of the Esala ceremony. The chieftains of each temple dressed in official attire (Kandyan court dress ) and walks in the procession. Starting from the 1st Kumbal perahera the beauty of the pageant get grander. On each night the number of elephants and performers increased and the procession gets longer and longer each day. As the procession gets grander, more colourful and longer the route of the procession is also changed.
When does the ceremony start?
The performers of the procession and the elephants hit the street at an auspicious time, which is decided by the temple’s astrologer. Therefore the beginning of the processions (10 processions on 10 consecutive days) largely varied each day and starting time of the procession is declared in advance. Consult your travel agent to get to know the starting time of the procession before you heading to Kandy.
Can I buy a seat during the ceremony?
As the procession takes place, the spectators gather on either side of the street and enjoy the traditional music and performances of the dancers. The final Randholee procession lasts around 5 hours and it would be a tedious task to standing all the while. In fact, there is a large concentration of people on the road to take a closer look at the tooth relic. It will be very uncomfortable to stand in the highly crowded pavement of the road.
If you wish to avoid the inconvenience and avoid the crowd the only possibility is to buy a seat. The prices of the seats differ depending on the crowd usually the rates for the seat is at its highest on the last day of the pageant, which attracts the largest number of eyeballs on all 10 days. Usually, The seats are arranged in building on both sides of the road, on which the dancers and elephnats parade and the seats command betters and clear view of the pageant. Therefore buying a seat allows you to have comfort as well the clear view on the Perahera. There is a high demand for seats on the annual Esala ceremony and therefore it is highly advisable to book seats in advance.
Accommodation in Kandy during the Perahera season
The city attracts more than half a million people from Sri Lanka as well as foreign travellers during the Esala ceremony. Therefore the city is extremely crowded. The organizers of the Festival arrange the facilities required by the spectators such as toilet facilities, security, etc. But the travellers who headed to Kandy have to find the accommodation their own.
The cost of accommodation rises sharply during the festival due to the high demand. Some properties increase their rates by more than 100% and it all depends on the demand. Almost every hotel impose a supplement on every room during the Esala ceremony and most hotels increase their rates sharply as the availability of rooms reduces.
It will not be possible to get a room at the last moment during the festival season, even if it is possible to get a room at the last moment the travellers have to pay far more than the average rate. The best advise we can give you is to book your accommodation in advance if you are hoping to witness the procession. Thereby you can avoid paying the unworthy amount of money for the accommodation.
The Kandy Esala ceremony consists of 5 major parts, as below
- The procession tooth relic temple
- The procession Natah devala
- The procession of Vishnu devala
- The procession of Kataragama devala
- The procession of Pattini devala
The proceedings of the Kandy Perahera (Procession)
- whip crackers march at the beginning of the procession and they are the announcers of the approaching procession. They crack their whip, which is a sign of approaching procession. Whip crackers can be seen only in the Randholee perahera (during the last 5 days of the procession).
- The flag carriers follow the whip crackers. They march in 2 rows on either side of the road. The flags they carry symbolize the different administrative provinces and temples.
- The peramuna rala is the official that appears in the procession after the flag carriers. he rides an elephant. The peramune rala carries the lemak Mitiya (ola manuscripts), which is the official document of the temple that holds the records of the tenants and services due by them as well as the lands belonging to the temple.
- Drummers are the participants of the esala procession after peramune rala.
- The spectators can see gajanayake nilame after drummers, he is another official of the temple and rides an elephant.
- The Gajanayake nileme is followed by kariyakorale, who will be appointed as the Diyawadana nilame after the present Diwadana Nilame. He is the temple official, who overlook all activities related to the Esala ceremony of Kandy.
- Next in the row is the Maligawa tusker and this elephant carries the Golden casket, which contains the sacred tooth (today a replica of tooth relic taken on the procession). This tusker walks on Pavada (white cloths are laid as it marches) and the canopy is held over the casket.
- The spectators can witness two rows of dancers after the tusker, that carries the tooth relic. The dancers are lined up in 2 rows on either side of the road. Dancers are last performers of the procession.
The city is isolated largely during the ceremony, for instance, if the ceremony begins at 06.30 pm all the shops and eateries are closed before 0630 p.
Book your accommodation in advance and avoid overprice.
The most roads in the city are closed just before starting the pageant and therefore it is advisable to reach the venue before the closure of the roads.
If you can reach the venue at least 1 hour before the start, you will be able to position yourself in a good place so that you can have a closer look at the pageant.
Book a seat in order to avoid the crowd.
Have some snacks and water bottles with you, the procession lasts around 5 hours.
There is a clear upbeat price of accommodation, food, transport and all other services in the city during the Esala ceremony. Try to reduce purchases as much as possible in the city to save money.
Kandy Esala ceremony video
The program of Kandy Esala ceremony 2018
- Inauguration of the 2018 Kandy Esala ceremony is marked by the planting of ‘Kap’ on an auspicious time on 12th August 2018. The procession is held within the temple borders for five consecutive nights with the planting of ‘Kap’.
- On 16th August 2018, today is the sixth night of the ceremony, starts the Kumbal perahera (procession) 2018 Kandy Esala ceremony, this is the first procession of the raw conducted outside of the temple.
- 17th of August the second Kumbal precession 2018 Kandy Esala ceremony
- 18th August, the 3rd day of the procession of Esala ceremony
- 19th August, the 4th day of the Esala ceremony
- 20th August, the 5th day procession parade through the city of Kandy, Last Kumbal Perahera
- 21st August, the 6th day of the Esala ceremony marks the start of Randholee perahera
- 22nd August, the 7th day of the Eesala ceremony, and 2nd Randholi perahera
- 23rd August, the 8th day of the procession, 3rd Rrandholee perahera
- 24th August, the 4th Rrandholee perahera
- 25th August, the last day of the Esala ceremony and final Randholee Perahera
Useful link to learn more on Kandy Esala ceremony