Once every month when the full moon rises, it’s a Poya day in Sri Lanka. Every Poya day is a religious holiday and its impossible to buy any alcohol anywhere in the country. So keep that in mind when you are visiting the country if you usually enjoy a beer now and then. These full moon Poya days are holy days in Buddhist beliefs and they have been celebrated traditionally every month in Sri Lanka since ancient times. Sri Lankans visit the their temples 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 religious celebration takes place during the monthly Poya day. The event is called the Kandy Perahera, or festival of the tooth of Buddha.
The Kandy Perahera basically is an elephant parade with traditional Sri Lankan music and dancers. One of the elephants in the parade wears a beautiful relic with the holy tooth of Buddha inside of it. When the relic isn’t featured in the Kandy elephant parade, it’s 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 that is held every year in July and August.
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.
Usually adorned with lavish garments, the elephants in the Kandy elephant parade are wonderful to see. They walk in the parade with Sri Lankan elephant riders 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.
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 a rather lucky coincidence that I was passing by at the moment. When I was walking to the entrance of the temple of the tooth in Kandy, I saw some elephants getting dressed for the parade. I urgently joined the crowd and I was lucky to take some quick pictures of the grand show on that rainy day. Luckily the heavy rain only started 2 hours after the elephant parade was over.
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. Quite a spectacle.
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 quite interesting to watch.
When you are in Kandy, also consider taking 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 to take home with you.