Those of you who’ve followed TWLG for a while will have heard me enthuse about the Kandy Esala Perahera, describing it as the most thrilling parade on earth. Some have speculated whether it’s possible to eclipse Rio’s Mardi Gras? Well, of course not! Mardi Gras is Mardi Gras, after all!
Kandy’s perahera takes itself seriously – it is a serious undertaking. Certainly the thousands of devotees who journey to Sri Lanka’s hill capital from across the country would describe it in tones of reverence and wonder. City folk or villagers, people stand, hands clasped in prayerful awe as the clouds – the caparisoned elephants carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic and the relic caskets of the four devales – pass by.
For those not susceptible to temples and flowers and bathing elephants, or the joyous jostling of holiday crowds, immune even to the magical twinkling of a myriad lights, as the short tropical dusk claims the day, or the growing excitement in a crowd as a canon fires out the countdown – sit back, relax, and just see what happens. I’ll bet it’s a bit like the first Star Wars. You’ll be amazed: somehow, despite your intention not to be impressed, engrossed or moved, at some stage you’ll realise you are!
In a sudden silence there’s the sound of a single whip cracking somewhere in the distance. The buzz around you soon becomes a rumble. You’ll notice the tempo of your heartbeat increase in time with the insistent beat of the drums – felt through the soles of your feet. There’s fire, circles and pillars of fire, drums, drummers, dancers. And then, the first phalanx of clouds appears in the distance. Who could fail to be bowled over as that glittering blue line of disembodied elephant faces advances out of the darkness?
I must admit the clouds – ahem, excuse me, the elephants! – do tend to steal the show with their portable lighting effects, on top of which, they are gorgeously cloaked in costumes of gleaming silk and jewel-encrusted velvet. How can anything compete with such majesty? It’s all in the hats, my dears, and the shoes, the pantaloons, the richness of priceless embroidered velvets and brocades, intricate lacy breastplates, fantastical collars and jewellery, and the ever-white of traditional lunghis and skirts. Drawn from history, memory and a little stage magic, the costumes of the thousands of human participants create a perpetual kaleidoscope under the glow of burning coconut husk fire baskets.
From 173 must-see perahera costume shots I’ve narrowed it down to just twelve. I trust you’ll be grateful? Click on the baby elephant in its first, baby-size costume, to activate the gallery I’ve put together in response to Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week: Costumes.