Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Day Trip to Kandy, Sri Lanka During Esala Perahera

At first I thought it was a joke. An ancient “tooth” relic in “Kandy”? “I’ll bet it’s got one heck of a cavity!” I laughed heartily.

Rukman’s facial expression did not concur. In his almost perfect English he stated, “We will go to the Esala Perahera today. It is your last chance before you go back to the States. We are having reservations on the express train.” I silently pondered the sentence. Using “are having” in reference to reservations started to seem logical since we were still having them until they were used. His accent reminded me of my friend Mody from Pakistan.

“Esala Perahera?” I asked.

“It’s like Mardi Gras Sri Lankan style.” he smiled calmly. “It goes on a few weeks every year in July or August. Depends on the moon. Supposedly the tooth is Buddah’s canine smuggled into Sri Lanka by a princess. I don’t particularly ascribe to that version but it is quite an event anyway.”

“Sure,” I shrugged my shoulders. Still chuckling to myself about the irony of the worship of an ancient tooth in a town called Kandy. Rukman was quiet and I wondered if perhaps I had gone to far with my careless joke.

The train from Colombo to Kandy took a little less than three hours. Then just a short albeit packed bus ride to the temple from the train station.”So what religion do they follow here? Muslim?” I asked.

“There are a few Muslims and Christians. Some Hindus…but most of us are Buddhist. Buddhism is not really a religion though. It is more a code of life. You have to do the work in your head.” I recalled where I had heard about Buddhism before. My mind wandered to the movie about Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” There is a scene where she is chanting and somehow that gave her the power to take on her abusive husband and the strength to eventually leave him. Rukman continued, “It’s philosophy with a twist of Do-it-Yourself. You Americans like DIY don’t you?” He smiled.

After walking through the temple we wandered through the city then went to the parade route for the Esala Perahera. I wanted to get there early so I could be right up in front against the barrier. The crowd grew around us within the next hour until Rukman and I were pressed in against the barrier, which was nothing but a string of bicycle racks lined up along the curb. As the day darkened into evening we could hear drums approaching. The crowd began to bustle and we could see twirling flames nearing us from down the street. The flames turned out to be men twirling fire on the ends of sticks, followed by stilt walkers, dancers in elaborate costumes and elephants draped in luxurious fabrics, jewels and lights.

I began to feel cramped and nauseous, the drums were becoming too loud for me.”There is the tooth!” called Rukman in an excited tone.The procession came to a standstill while the deafening beat of drums continued. We turned to look at the elephant just in front of us shaking his head up and down, trunk in the air. I wondered if he was dancing to the rhythmic beating of drums but then immediately recalled mad elephant footage I had seen once on the nightly news where an elephant killed its trainer – using its front legs to pin the poor man and then headbutting him into the pavement. The sensation of my hair standing up felt strange in the warm humidity of the evening and my legs stiffened, ready to bolt through the crowd. I backed up and stepped on someone’s foot “Uh…sorry.” I turned back, to look at the elephant again, his head was still bobbing. I desperately searched for a quick way out of the crowd but I was trapped against the barricade. The only quick way out would be to climb the barricade which would only put me closer to the bobbing elephant. Just before panic overtook me completely, a man on stilts walked over to the elephant and patted his head. The procession began to move again.

Rukman had noticed my discomfort and was amused. “Those rich adornments usually blind tourists to the elephants’ plight.” He said. “They are not always as happy and tame as they look. There is a shortage of tame elephants but the Esala Perahera is becoming a great tourist attraction. So elephants are illegally poached or bought on the black market, many times by those inexperienced and unqualified to care for them. There are certainly a few half-wild ones in there.” He laughed.

Gazala Anver; “The Hunt for a Stolen Elephant” The Sunday Leader; September 25, 2011
Ruwini Jayawardana and Asela Kuruluwansa; “Finding Elephants for Perahera a Jumbo Issue” Sri Lankan News; August 2, 2011
Rathindra Kuruwita; “Elephants not Mated; now for Illegal Logging” Lakbima News; January 22, 2012
Jayantha Jayewardene; “The Care and Management of Domesticated Asian Elephants in Sri Lanka” Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations; 2002
Ravi Nessman; “Buddhist Festival Parades are Sri Lanka’s Answer to Mardi Gras” USA Today, July 25, 2008
Sri Dalada Maligawa Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic Website; copyright 2012

Labels: A Day Trip to Kandy, Sri Lanka During Esala Perahera

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