How Can They Compete with the Clouds?

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. Reverence and WonderCity 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.

Perahera Related Posts:
A Close Up of Temple Street and Palace Square During the Perahera
Rhythm of the Perahera
Through the Window – the Clouds and the Stars of the Perahera
Circles of Fire

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31 thoughts on “How Can They Compete with the Clouds?

  1. When you add the action, the voices of the crowds, and music, one can only imagine such feast for the senses. Really remarkable, but then so many of your photos look like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, Meredith!

  2. Wow! What an amazing sight that must be in person and on the ground! I had to grab my husband to show him the elephants, and he ended up enjoying all the photos. 🙂

  3. I’m totally in awe, Meredith! the shoes, the pantaloons, the embroidered velvet, lacy jewellery… all are too beautiful!

  4. What a magical and beautiful event. I can’t help but think of not only the work that goes into such a festival but the honor it must feel to be a participant be it a drummer, dancer,etc. or entering on an elephant, all eyes on you . You describe this so well.

  5. These photos are beautiful, Meredith, as are the Perahera-related links you shared. I can only imagine how incredibly wonderful it would have been to witness the parades. How lucky for you to have 173 such photos. They will only increase in value as the years pass.

  6. Astonishing. It takes dressing up to a whole new level. I particularly like the one all in pink and gold. The scale of the effort and preparatory work means it must be a very serious business. And I’ve learnt something new (again), so thank you!

  7. Meredith, I’ve never read any description of Esala Perahera as appealing as yours. I’ll make sure the next time I go to Kandy I won’t miss this festive celebration.

  8. Dear M…I think this is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen…As I have told you, it must be like being inside of one of Salgari´s adventures…Music, smell, costumes, lights…Life!!!!

  9. I love your Perahera photos and stories. They are magical. Somehow they seem more majestic and spiritual than I imagine Marti Gras to be. To me that would be just one big chaotic party…not that there is anything wrong with that. I just see them as different.

    • You’ve hit the nail right on the spot, Michelle! It’s all become a little muddled over the centuries, kings and colonial administrators and latter day leaders all highjacking the affair to trumpet their power, but still, they’re organised by the temples, centred around the temples and conform to ancient cultural customs and traditions. Interestingly, no alcohol is served in the city for the ten days of the perahera, nor is an animal slaughtered for human consumption.

    • Did you ever dress up the cat? It’s not so easy now to watch them dressing the elephants, but it always makes me think of dressing the cat – so patient, going along with all this foolishness … Though I think many of the elephants enjoy it – the parade anyway – being the centre of attention, the lights and excitement – real stars, many of them. The previous Maligawa Tusker – the elephant that carries the (copy of the) Tooth Relic was given a state funeral and a stamp when he died.

  10. I’m not sure which entices me most, your narrative or the pics… only 12… ok, a sparkling, colourful, wondrous 12 🙂 Competing with the Clouds2 pic is just amazing – the contrast of size of elephant to the people.

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