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Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth relic) is a grand festival of Esala held in Kandy. It is very majestic with elegant costumes of the participents and the elephants. Esala perahara holds in July or August .It has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and nicely decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually decorated with lavish costumes. The festival ends with the traditional 'diya-kepeema'.
The Esala procession is believed to be a combination of two separate but interconnected "Peraheras"– The Esala and Dalada. The Esala Perahera which is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC, was a ritual enacted to request the gods for rainfall. The Dalada Perahera is believed to have begun when the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India during the 4th century B.C.The Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala & Prince Dantha.
Modern Perahera
The Modern Perahera dates back to the reign of the Kandyan King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747–1781). During these times, the Tooth Relic was considered private property of the King and the public never got a chance to worship it. However, King Rajasinghe decreed that the Relic be taken in procession for the masses to see and respect.
After the Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British in 1815, the custody of the Relic was handed over to the Maha Sanga (the Buddhist Clergy). In the absence of the king, a lay custodian called the "Diyawadana Nilame" was appointed to handle routine administrative matters.
The Procession
The Kandy Esala Perahera begins with the “Kap Situveema” or Kappa, in which a blessed young Jakfruit tree is cut and planted in the premises of each of the four Devales dedicated to the four guardian gods Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and the goddess Pattini. Traditionally it was meant to shower blessing on the King and the people.
For the next five nights, the "Devale Peraheras" take place within the premises of the four Devales with the priest of each Devale taking the pole every evening, accompanied by music and drumming, flag and canopy bearers, spearman and the Ran Ayudha, the sacred insignia of the Gods.
The Kumbal Perahera
On the sixth night, the Kumbal Perahera begins and continues on for five days.The relic casket, which is a substitute for the Tooth Relic, is placed inside the ransivige affixed to the Maligawa Elephant, a the Maligawa Perahera joins the awaiting Devale Peraheras and leads the procession.
The Randoli Perahera
The Randoli Perahera begins after five nights of the Kumbal Perahera. Randoli refers to the Queens of the ruling Kings traditionally traveled.
Diya Kepeema and the Day Perahera
After the Randoli Perahera, the pageant ends with the Diya Kepeema, which is the water cutting ceremony at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, a town a few miles from Kandy. A Day Perahera is held to mark the ceremony.
Kelaniya's Duruthu Perahera
In Sri Lanka Peraheras are a regular event. Every month there is a perahera somewhere in the island. The Duruthu Pererahera in Kelaniya, which just concluded is the first perahera in the year.
Compared to the other Peraheras, the Kandy Esala Perahera, the Saman Devala Perahera in Ratnapura and the Devundara Esala Perahera, Kelaniya's Duruthu Perahera is new. It has a very short history, not yet 100 years old.
This Perahera was started in 1926 to mark the renovation of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, by Mrs. Helena Wijewardene, mother of the Founder of Lake House, D.R. Wijewardene. It is said that it was one of her sons, D.W. Wijewardene who had suggested that a perahera be held to mark the occasion.
The Kelani Vihara has a long and proud history, which goes back to the time of Vihara Maha Devi and even beyond the eighth year of the Buddha's Enlightenment. The grandeur of the Vihara is recorded in Sri Lanka's poem the 'Selalihini Sandesa'. All that was destroyed by the Portuguese who were out to erase the worship of the Buddha from the island.
The preparations for the perahera include two months of religious activities and seven days of continuous pirith chanting.
On this occasion 1.5 million, of people from all parts of the country, and hundreds of foreign tourists trek their way to the temple purlieu to witness this spectacular pageant.
The four-day pageant begins with the Dewadhootha Perahera on January 5, followed by the Udamaluwe Perahera, Pahalamaluwe Perahera and Maha Perahera held on the three consecutive days. The Maha Perahera is held on the final night with some 3000 participants and 50 elephants.
The procession displays the ancient traditions and the cultural heritage of the country. It shows to the world the age - old traditional folklo re, folk music and the rhythmic dance forms and drum beats which have developed throughout the ages around Buddhism and Buddhist practices in the island. A grand procession of drummers, dancers, torch-bearers, elephants and acrobats make this perahera the most colourful and popular low-country procession of its kind in Sri Lanka.

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