Mystery, Monkeys and the Kandy Perahera

Parade scene

Parade scene

Kandy PeraheraWednesday, August 5th was a travel day that consisted of two events. The first was participation in a discussion with university professors from the University of Peradeniya in the central mountain city of Kandy. The second was attendence at the Kandy Esela Perahera, Sri Lanka’s most important festival and parade of the year.

We went to the university just after lunch.  The format and content of the discussion was a mystery to us as well as our host. We were just guessing it would be a round table or something like that. I jokingly mentioned to my roommate, Dov Wilker, that we would probably get there and find out we would be serving as panelists in a room full of people. That is exactly what happened.  We all introduced ourselves and organizations. Discussions that resulted compared civic engagement in the U.S. and Sri Lanka and well as the differences in our systems of government. It was quite an interesting discussion which lasted about 2 1/2 hours. On an amusing side note, when I arrived the name on my tent card had been misspelled.  I’ve seen it spelled in numerous ways, but this version was a first. The second “a” in Daman missing!

We returned to the hotel to relax a bit before the evening’s event. Dov and I were sitting near the window of our room. At one point we glance outside and saw a bunch of monkeys running around on the neighbors roof! People around here apparently have to be really cautious about keeping a watch on their windows and doors. The monkeys are known to be excellent thieves.

One of the Sri Lankan participants from last March who owns a computer/cell phone shop on the parade route met and took us there at about 8PM. His shop is further down on the route so the parade wasn’t supposed to be there until between 10:30 and 11PM. We had a lot of opportunity to meet his family which was cool. The sidewalks were packed with Sri Lankan with no other westerners in sight. It was such an amazing scene. All the street lights were off. Some of the shops had strands of lights on them in honor of the event, and a few businesses had lights on inside. The parade was lit, however, by torch barers. They were shirtless with red scarves wrapped around their heads with all but their eyes covered. This was apparently so the ashes and coals of the kerosene soaked coconut shells wouldn’t fall and catch their hair on fire. We had to look out to make sure none of them landed on us. The scarves also help them keep from inhaling the fumes and smoke which made me a slight bit nautious after two hours of parade.

The parade started with men dressed in regalia with long whips. People would throw change into the street which the men would collect, then get in a row and loudly crack their whips. A police officer was a little too close once and got nicked. The next performers to come along were older boys with balls of fire at the end of cords which were attached to their hair. The cords seemed to be around 6 or 7 feet long, and they would spin them round and round with their heads. I’m telling you, you had to see this stuff to believe it. All of the costumes throughout the parade were very detailed and well made. We later saw guys with spoked wheels about 6′ across with fire at each spoke. They spun them with gave the appearance that the fire was continuous. There were three men on stilts doing the same. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There were 60 elaborately dressed elephants throughout the parade including the largest which carried a replica of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The Palace of the Tooth keeps what is supposed to be a tooth of Buddah (refered to as the Sacred Tooth Relic) which is the reason for the entire event.

The Perahera went on with continued amazement. Words just can’t fully describe all that I saw. Drums were beaten, songs sung. The instrument I enjoyed the most was the snake charmer’s horn which sounds a lot like a high pitched bagpipe. We saw young men pulling others with 4 lined metal hooks piercing the skin of their backs. It was performance, dance, costume, decorated elephant, and song after another. I could go on and on. Never have I seen such a spectacular event as the Kandy Esela Perahera.

Check out my YouTube video at



2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Melissa said,

    I can’t wait to see the video! We love and miss you!

  2. 2

    Dan said,

    I am a Sri Lankan myself and I greatly enjoyed reading how my own cultural aspects were interpretted by someone who does not share the same culture.

    I have a small question; what are the names of the professors who took part in that political discussion ? I am very curious because I was born and raised in Kandy ( Peradeniya ) and I studied at political science and Economics at University of Peradeniya before I came to the US

    Thank you

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