Beautiful elephants infront of Kandy temple

Kandy Perahera—One of the most dazzling festivals in Asia

  • Kandy temple with lights
    The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy right before the festival.

Tanja writes about seeing the extravagant opening night of Sri Lanka’s Kandy Esala Perahera festival:

Around August in Sri Lanka, there’s usually one thing that people can’t stop talking about—the Kandy Esala Perahera festival, one of the most spectacular festivals in Asia. I went to Kandy last Thursday with some friends to see the opening night of this year’s festival (which will conclude on August 30). Here are my unforgettable travel highlights:

Beautiful elephants infront of Kandy temple

Kandy Esala Perahera is a must-see in Sri Lanka.

Day 1 Afternoon

We arrived in Kandy early in the afternoon and checked into a charming hilltop hotel about 20 minutes by car from the city. Because it’s the festival season, everything was fully booked and highly overpriced. We were lucky to find a room at a charming guest house that came with a 5-star price tag.

View from hotel in Kandy

The view from our hilltop guesthouse.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city, which was busy prepping for the festival processions. We went to the Temple of the Tooth to buy tickets for a seat inside the premises (the streets get really crowded and it’s difficult to see anything through all the bodies). The temple was super busy. People were setting up seating areas and there were uncountable numbers of elephants getting dressed for the event. There was also a simple kitchen they’d set up to make rice packets for all the participants. We hung around here until sunset.

Kandy temple with lights

We went to the Temple of the Tooth to buy tickets.

Elephants in the temple premises

Elephants inside the temple premises.

Monk in Kandy temple

Monks at the temple before the festival.

Elephant getting dressed

Getting dressed for the big night!

Day 1 Evening

After nightfall, the much-awaited festival began. We had an excellent view of the processions from our little pedestal on the side of the road. It was all very fascinating. The festival began with thundering whip crackers who made way. They were followed by loud drummers and traditional dancers dressed in glittering outfits. After the dancers came these incredible acrobats. It was all very unique and unlike anything else I’ve seen in Asia.

View from our seat

The view from our reserved seat.

Kandy perahera fire dancers

Crazy fire twirlers!

The best part is of course the elephants. Their outfits were illuminated by fairy lights so they looked amazing in the night. Some elephants danced to the music! The young ones flapped their ears and shook their heads from side to side to the drums!

Kandy Perahera Elephant

Illuminated elephants were the best part!

The highlight of the procession was the majestic tusker carrying a replica casket of the tooth relic housed at the temple we visited earlier. This tusker was bigger than all the other elephants and walked carefully on a white cloth laid out in front of him. There were two other elephants accompanying him. All three were stunningly dressed.

Elephant in costume in Perahera

The tusker with the tooth relic casket.

Elephant in the dark

The elephants were stunning against the night!

After the elephants, there were dancers and acrobats who went through painful ordeals to show reverence to the gods. Some danced with their feet on fire and some had pierced their skin with spikes!

Fire-eater Kandy Perahera

A fire eater that came after the elephants.

After the festival died down, we returned to the hotel. We were so hyped it took us a long time to go to sleep.

Day 2 Morning

During breakfast we couldn’t stop talking about the festival the night before. There’s a long history attached to it, so it’s better to take a guide with you to explain all the stories and meanings of the parades and so on.

Elephant in costume

I will be back for the festival next year!

Around noon, we were back in Colombo. If I’m in Sri Lanka next year, I’d definitely go back to see this incredible festival again!