Category Archives: Sri Lanka


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The Perehera commences on Esala Full Moon Poya Day on the month of July and Concludes on Nikini Full Moon Poya Day on the month of August. (click link to see source)

Esala Perahera is the grand festival of Esala held in Sri Lanka. It is very grand with elegant costumes. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and richly-decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional ‘diya-kepeema’.

The significance of this great event is to invoke blessings of the gods to give the farmers rain to cultivate their crops. This ritual is performed by carrying the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha through the city streets which is done with great ceremony.

(click on the photos below to see full size)

I first traveled to Sri Lanka in 2003 on a private tour for a meditation retreat and to visit ancient Buddhist sites. That's when these photos of the Perehera were taken during 2 night parades and the final day light parade. I went back in January 2005 to assist with rebuilding after the 26 December 2004 Tsunami. Although I have made many related trips since, including to Kandy, I have not attended this fantastic event since. Maybe next year.

The tooth relic was brought to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the year 310 AD and the first perehera was performed in Anuradhapura the first capital where the sacred relic was housed. Even as the capitals were shifted for security reasons due to invasions, the tooth relic went with it too and was much revered and always in the custody of the king. Finally finding a permanent resting place in the hill capital of the last Sinhalese kindom Kandy, It lies in the ?Dalada Maligawa? (Palace of the Tooth Relic) which was built by king Wimaladharma suriya in the 16th century. This three-storey building erected solely for the purpose of housing. The Sacred Relic still stands and is the most visited and important temple of Sri Lanka.

The ritual of the Perahera (Esela Perahera) continues in Kandy with more and more people attending each year to watch majestic tusker proudly parade the streets of the ancient Sinhalese kingdom followed by over more than a hundred elephants with the custodians and other officials dressed in the traditional Sinhalese attire of chieftains riding them. The sound of blowing conch shells and whip cracking starts off the excitement or the approaching perahera. The beating of at least three types of traditional drums, the Kandyan dancers, Acrobats, and other artists that perform in the light of flame torches certainly would take you back in a time machine.

In Memoriam

26 December 2012,  marked the 8th anniversary of the devastating Tsunami that took untold lives around the Indian Ocean. After 4 weeks of fund raising here at home, I arrived in Sri Lanka in early February to join friends there and from Singapore to help rebuild lives and homes for a small village on the southwest coast. The photo above is of a mass burial site. With hundreds dead from ‘my’ village and over a thousand from an inundated train nearby, large burial pits were hastily dug with bulldozers. Buddhists monks did their best to perform last rites as body after body was placed in this pit and covered with beach sand. This grave, on a narrow strip between the coast road and the ocean contained hundreds of bodies. Later, many were exhumed and reburied more traditionally.

The earthquake was caused by subduction and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters (98 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. Imagine the effects of Hurricane Sandy multiplied a full 1000 times.

I went on to spend a total of 2 months there in 2005 and another 4 months over the next 5 years. So each Boxing Day my thoughts turn there. Through a computer school and internet center that I helped set up, I still stay in touch with some of the villagers. The village is doing better now but it can never be the same. If you are interested to know more, I created a website to report back to donors and chronicle the progress of the project. I haven’t updated it in several years but you can find it here:

Yes, We Have No Bananas.

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(click to enlarge)

Fruit seller in an Ambalangoda market.

There are about two dozen banana varieties in Sri Lanka. Some are as small as my thumb and as sweet as candy. They grow wild around most of the island and are a ubiquitous snack food, appearing on practically every table top and counter in the country. The title of this post isn’t about the song of that name but about the South Asian practice of shaking the head “no” while saying “yes”. It still confuses me after all these years.