The Kandy Elephant parade in Sri Lanka (Perahera Festival)


The Kandy Elephant parade in Sri Lanka (Perahera Festival)

Once every month when the full moon rises, it’s a Poya day in Sri Lanka. Every Poya day is a holiday and because it’s a religious holiday, its impossible to buy a beer anywhere in the country. So keep that in mind when you are visiting the country.These full moon Poya days are holy days in Buddhist beliefs and they have been celebrated traditionally every month in Sri Lanka since forever. Local Sri Lankans visit the temple on a Poya day and, in Kandy, the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka, there is a majestic elephant parade with traditional music and dancers.

The Kandy Elephant Parade

In Kandy, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, a popular celebration takes place during the monthly Poya day. This celebration is called the Kandy Perahera, or festival of the tooth.

The Kandy Perahera basically is an elephant parade with traditional Sri Lankan music and dancers. One of the elephants in the parade wears a very decorated, beautiful relic with the holy tooth of Buddha inside of it.


Kandy elephant parade. Elephant carrying tooth of Buddha -unnavigated The Kandy elephant parade (perahera). Elephant carrying tooth of Buddha.

Normally, the relic that contains the tooth of Buddha is being kept safe in the Kandy Temple of Tooth, which is the starting point of the Kandy elephant parade.


Kandy Esala Perahera

The Kandy elephant parade is celebrated most exuberantly during Poya days in the summer months of  July and August.
In the religious and social life in Kandyan atmospheres, there is nothing more resplendent than the Kandy Esala Perahera in the summer.

The Kandy Esala Perahera is a grand Kandy elephant parade festival celebrated with elegant costumes and is held annually in July and August.


Kandy elephant parade. Dancers with traditional music -unnavigated The Kandy elephant parade (perahera). Dancers with traditional music


The historical procession of the Kandy esala perahera is held to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, which is housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, A unique symbol of Sri Lanka. Sri Dalada Maligawa is also known as “the temple of the holy tooth” in Kandy.

The parade consists of many traditional dances such as fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances. These dances are accompanied by traditional Sri Lankan music, made by native drummers.


Kandy elephant parade. - unnavigated The Kandy elephant parade (perahera). A dressed up elephant with lavish garments.

The elephants in the Kandy elephant parade are usually adorned with lavish garments. They walk in the parade while being ridden by Local men in traditional Sri Lankan outfits.

The Kandy elephant parade Esala Perahera festival ends with the traditional diya-kepeema ritual, a water cutting ceremony which is held at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, Kandy.


Kandy elephant parade. Sri Lankan flag - unnavigated Kandy elephant parade (perahera). The Sri Lankan flag.

During these celebrations on every Poya day in Sri Lanka, a decorated parade with flag holders, cultural dancers and dressed up elephants marches through the courtyard of the temple of the tooth onto the streets in Kandy.

Poya day in November

I experienced the Perahera Kandy elephant parade on a Poya day in November 2016. It was in the rainy season and I actually didn’t know about the Kandy elephant parade at first. It was rather a lucky coincidence for me that I was passing by at the moment. I saw some elephants getting dressed for the parade at the temple of the tooth of buddha in Kandy. When I was walking to the entrance of the temple of the tooth area, I urgently joined the crowd that seemed to be waiting for the parade to pass by. I was lucky to take some quick pictures of the grand show during that rainy day in November. Luckily it only started to rain heavily 2 hours after the elephant parade was over.

Kandy elephant parade. Another picture of traditional dancers with traditional Sri Lankan drums. - unnavigated The Kandy elephant parade (perahera). Another picture of traditional dancers with traditional Sri Lankan drums.


Some of the elephants in the Kandy elephant parade were dancing, others were carrying people and one elephant was carrying the holy tooth of buddha. What a spectacle it was.


The perahera Kandy elephant parade is a recommended thing to visit if you happen to be in Kandy on a Poya day (full moon day) during your holiday trip to Sri Lanka. The traditional dances, music and elephants are interesting to watch.

When you are in Kandy, also consider to take a look at the central market hall in the center of the town. This local market is only a 5-10 minute walk from the temple of the tooth in Kandy and is a great place for buying some lovely souvenirs.


Kandy elephant parade goes onto the main road. -unnavigated The Kandy elephant parade (perahera) goes onto the main road.

Read this article for another great description of the Kandy Elephant Parade.

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