Grand elephant parade at the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya enthralled Sri Lankans

Colombo, September 1 ( On August 29th, as the sun was setting, a historic Buddhist temple, the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya located in the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, held its annual “Perahera” or public festivities which included a grand procession of richly decorated elephants accompanied by dancers, musicians and entertainers.

It was the first “Perahera” with public participation in Sri Lanka after the lifting of the country-wide lockdown which had been imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Kathakali dance from Kerala in the Kotte Rajamaha Vihara Perahera. Photo: Tang Lu

Over 20 elephants wearing colorful caparisons participated in the Kotte Perahera. The dancers performed the traditional fire dance, whip dance, the Kandyan dance and also Kathakali, a dance form associated with Kerala in South India. Pipers playing plaintive tunes and drummers executing intricate rhythmic patterns entertained a large crowd of common people.

The brightly lit canopy on the elephant covers the Buddha’s relics. Photo: Tang Lu

The elephant parade is an annual religious-cum-cultural event in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist temples. Each major temple has elephants in its stables. The largest and the most famous of these elephant parades are held by the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in Central Sri Lanka. The festivities in the Temple of the Tooth last for more than ten days, and at least 50 elephants participate in the procession.

Kandyan drummers herald the appearance of another elephant.Photo: Tang Lu

Every elephant parade has an ornately decorated lead elephant, which has the privilege of carrying a huge canopy on its back housing the Buddha’s relics. White cloth is spread on the path of the procession as a mark of respect to the relics.

Varying designs in the decorations kept audience interest up.Photo: Tang Lu

In order to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, the Sri Lankan government had first restricted such religious celebrations. But as the threat from the virus thinned, the government gradually eased the restrictions, while insisting that the public abide by health guidelines which included wearing masks.

(The photograph at the top is by Tang Lu)

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