Fêting Buddha’s Tooth

The Kandy Esala Perahera, also known as the Festival of the Tooth, is Sri Lanka’s most elaborate and revered festival. The Perahera, or procession, is said to date back to the 3rd century BC. Originally a request to the Gods for rainfall, the Perahera was adapted to celebrate Lord Buddha’s tooth, a relic said to have been brought to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century. The modern Perahera remains dedicated to that concept, and Kandy’s four main temples - all Hindu or Buddhist - participate in nightly grand ceremonies that last hours (this parade clocked in around 7 hours). The host town of Kandy typically sees 1-2 million visitors from all over Sri Lanka for a week in July or August each year. Bribing a cop (kinda), and paying a shop owner for a seat on his balcony, I managed to catch the last night of the festival’s procession - the famed Maha Randoli Perahera. On display are elaborate costumes, fire twirlers and whip-dancers, and hundreds of elephants adorned with intricate blanketing and lights.

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