Esala Perahera elephant festival in Kandy, Sri Lanka

I knew it was a must see. I wouldn’t have missed for the world a parade with more than 100 elephants covered in colored costumes and thousands of dancers, drummers, whip crackers and fire jugglers. All celebrating Buddhist traditions and beliefs I barely knew before going to Sri Lanka.

DSC_6118DSC_6061I arrived at Kandy during the sixth out of the ten-day festival. Quiet afternoon at the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth), where the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is held. Mahouts walk their four-ton elephants like dogs in the streets. Huge puppies. My head doesn’t even reach the height of their chests. One sees the water hose, lies on his back, legs up and groans with pleasure when his caretaker scratches him with a coconut shell. Then he takes his favorite toy: a coconut trunk the size of a scooter. People smile, take a photo and walk away.

DSC_6491 (2)DSC_6497Inside the temple, other mahouts ignore the hordes of tourists and verify, piece by piece, the hundreds of colored lights on each elephant costume. They will come to life and spread magic light in just a few hours.



It’s 4pm and all the seats along the convoy route are already taken, although the show doesn’t begin until 7pm. Tens of thousands of people have come from all over the world to see this unique parade. One seat costs USD 100. The rest of the people crowd behind fences and fight for a better view. Some get angry.

We don’t have tickets and there is none to buy. What to do? Make friends with the local policemen, of course. In return for a small “gift” and the promise of sending them a photo with us at the festival, our new “friends” allow us to stay in the very front, before the fences, next to the official photographer.

At 7pm it begins. The biggest elephant I’ve ever seen, its tusks crossed as a sign of good luck, carries the fake relic of Buddha’s tooth. Other elephants covered in bright, colored costumes, surround him. Then the drumming starts. Hundreds of men, dressed in shiny, brass costumes, with large earrings, bracelets and hats, dance in the crazy rhythm of the drums. Then other elephants follow, covered in colored lights. And other dancers. With other costumes.

The noise of drums is deafening, the rhythm is overwhelming. I am so close to the elephants that one almost steps on me.
















It goes on like this for three hours. At the end, I am dead tired. It was amazing. My feet still dance by themselves. I wouldn’t have had such an experience if I had bought the official tickets and stayed behind fences. I heard the policemen thought I was with the Russian press.  Who knows, maybe they know something I don’t. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Magda Munteanu