Suitcase and World: The Esala Perahera. The 5th Randoli.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Esala Perahera. The 5th Randoli.

Oh, I was so excited for tonight to roll around. We spent the day sightseeing and it was fun and all but I couldn't wait to return to the viewing stand at the Queen's Hotel to see the final night time parade of the Esala Perahera. More performers! More elephants!

As with last night, Chandana was not about to risk us not making it to the parade on time....well ahead of time actually. So, just around 4:30pm, we left the house. The streets were already packed with spectators who had arrived earlier in the day to claim their spots along the parade route. The Queen's Corridor and the viewing stand for local officials were the prime spots because they are situated at the start of the parade route....just a few feet from the entrance to the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple (aka Temple of the Tooth) which hosts the annual parade. Chami patiently drove towards the hotel and soon deposited us off nearby.

 Repeating what we did yesterday, we got our seats in the viewing stand. This time, we were in Section A, as opposed to K where we were yesterday. You might think that would mean that we were sitting at the start of the route but we weren't. Just adjacent to us, they had erected a tented area that probably sat 50 (?) or so people. Those folks had the prime viewing spots. Our seats weren't bad as far as watching the parade went but there were a lot of vertical poles i.e., supports for the tent that blocked me from getting nice photos. So, very lucky to have gone two nights because between the two, I managed to get some decent shots!

There was an empty seat next to me so I encouraged Chandana to sit down.  He could leave when someone claimed the seat but seeing how things went the night before, I don't think there actually assigned seats with the exception of the ones that are either numbered or named.  This seat was unmarked so I was betting it was a free spot.

In any event, this time my brother and I were much better prepared. He dressed lighter and I brought more water.  We had at least two hours to wait and so we just kicked back, watched the world go by before us and chatted.  I have to admit that I'm not much of a talker when I travel - I'm too absorbed trying to soak in everything that is going on around me and this was most certainly true in this case.  The world that was passing before me was just so captivating.  All sorts of people walking by.  Quite a few monks and nuns passed us by, heading towards the Sri Dalada Maligawa temple. They were all dressed in robes in varying shades of red and orange so it was obvious they were not with the same order.  According to Chandana, monks and nuns can attend the festival free of charge and they are provided inside the temple grounds.  They have the best view and rightly so!

In time, Chandana left us to get us dinner....our favorite masala dosai.  We (okay, I) had enjoyed it so much the night before, that he decided to go back to the same place and get us a second one.  The thing is so big that my brother and I could easily share one and each be full.

All around us, seats started to fill up.  My brother soon had a young Australian man and his Sri Lankan wife sitting next to him and Chadana had a pair of young women.  Everyone was busy chatting and eating.  Time was passing by.  Chandana was talking in English to both the young women only to find out that one was Dutch.  He had spent his college years in the Netherlands and spoke Dutch fluently so the next thing I know, I'm hearing Dutch in my left ear and English in my right ear!

Lo and behold, because we were sitting at the front of the viewing section, who should we see walk by us but Nigel and Louise....yes, the same Nigel and Louise that we had met up with in Dambulla.  They were headed further down and eventually seated in some very good seats.  I should have asked Louise who she bought her tickets from.....for future reference :-)

Soon enough, the road was blocked off to traffic and the truck came by to wet down the street.  Dusk was settling quickly and the parade would be starting.  The viewing stand was now packed with people and no one had come by to boot out Chandana so we figured he would be seated with us for the parade.  Yay!  It was good to have him with us as I was hoping he could help answer what who are these guys, walking in the opposite direction i.e., heading towards the temple?  I hadn't noticed them last night......hmmmm.

According to Chandana, they are headed to the temple to present a offerings on behalf of the town (?).  I don't know if that is really true or not but it sounds like a reasonable explanation to me especially since they were carrying baskets that seemed to hold offerings of some sort.  My thought was that after they do whatever they have to do at the temple, the parade will begin after that.

BOOM!  There it was!  The sound of the cannon; the signal that the parade was about to start.

With a small police car leading the way, I could see the whipcrackers heading towards us.  Pop, pop, pop!

Then came the fire performers.  These guys are so entertaining and from the roar the crowd, they were obviously very popular as well!


And after them, the flag bearers.

And with that, the procession of elephants begins!!  Kicking it off is a tusker that carries a rider who holds a proclamation declaring the start of the parade.  Yes, it was really nice having Chandana explaining things as last night, we had no clue!

A contingent of Kandyan drummers came next.....

And finally, the elephants!!  As with last night, the Sri Dalada Maligawa contingent leads off the procession.

Since my brother had so my difficulty using his camera to take videos, I did the filming duties tonight.  Here's a snippet of the start of the elephant parade.

Kandyan dancers, a pair of younger elephants, more performers, a pair baby elephants, drummers and larger elephants.  I know I saw the same thing last night but I'm telling you, it's such a spectacle that I was completely captivated by it all!

One group of performers and elephants after another passed by before us.  I was just so blown away by the sights and sounds of it all!

In this short snippet, you can see a group of performers with what looked like connected strands of bamboo.  It all happened too quickly for us to figure out exactly how they were connected to each other and at the same time how they managed to not get tangled up in each other!

There's a large population of elephants in Sri Lanka but it's not easy to transport and house the elephants for the Esala Perahera so it's not uncommon for the same elephants to come back year after year.  In fact, the former elephant, that held the title of Maligawa Tusker, had been in the parade for 50 years straight!  That's quite a record, if you ask me!  In this video snippet, there's a pair of blue robed elephants who are swaying to the music.  They are obviously veterans and seem to be enjoying themselves.  Seeing them having a good time made me smile.

According to Chandana, Esala Perahera elephants start marching when they are just babies and we saw quite a few of them in the parade.  They are trained to not be afraid of the lights and commotion going on around them. If they were scared, none of them showed it.....not a flinch from any of them. I think it helped that they were walking as a group. The little ones looked so cute in their smaller sized robes and of course, they walked alone as they are too tiny to be carrying a rider.  On one time, I even caught glimpse of an ID badge hanging around its neck.....even the elephants need ID :-)

But nothing could beat the splendor of the large tuskers with their riders sitting high and holding up banners.

Then, the star of the show makes his appearance, the outline of the lights of the casket that he carries, atop his back, gives him away.

As the Maligawa Tusker nears the viewing stands, people begin the stand up to pay their respects to both the elephant and the precious cargo that he carries in the casket.  He wears the most elaborate of robes and a headdress that sets him apart from all the other elephants in the parade.  His tusks are capped in gold and silk tassels drape of the tips. He's a magnificent sight to behold!

The current elephant has held the title for the past eight years and Buddha willing, he will do it til he passes away. At the appropriate points, along the parade route, he stopped for the crowd who clapped and cheered in return.  It was exhilarating moment to experience!

The Maligawa Tusker was the last of the Sri Dalada Maligawa Tuskers to parade by.  Next, were the Yellow Temple elephants, as we referred to to them.  Officially, they are the elephants of the Natha Devale, which is a Hindu temple thatfaces the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple.  Natha Devale is said to be the oldest building in Kandy, dating back to the 14th century.

Here's a snippet of the Natha Devale elephants coming down the parade route.

The Natha Devale Tusker also carried a symbolic casket, presumably also in honor of the Tooth Relic.

Between the elephants, there were plenty of Kandyan performers to keep us entertained.

The constant,  pulsating beat of the drummers kept the rhythm going and you could see people tapping to the beat. I couldn't get over the performers' beautiful costumes - every group wore outfits of different designs and all the costumes were all equally stunning. 

The Blue Temple Elephants were next.  These were the elephants belonging to the Vishnu Devale (also known as the Maha Devale), a Hindu temple located close by to Natha Devale.

Recognize the casket?  By now, between the two Randolis, we had seen eight elephant contingents.  We had long gotten the pattern down but it was still exciting to see.  So much happens that I think you could watch this parade countless times and each time find something you hadn't seen before.

Here's a snippet of video of the Vishnu Tusker approaching the viewing stands.  Another magnificent elephant!

....and as the Tusker passes by the spectators in the viewing stands, people rise to their feet and bow their head in respect.

After Blue came Red; the elephants of the Katharagama Devale.

More Kandyan dancers, drummers, singers, musicians.....and of course, elephants.  I never tried to count the number of elephants.  Pretty certain we were well into the dozens by now.  For some reason though, I didn't take any video of the Katharagama Tusker.

Last but not least were the performers and elephants from the Pattini Devale, another Hindu temple located near Natha Devale.  Pattini is the goddess associated with the cure of infectious diseases and is called upon in times of drought and famine.

Pattini Devale was the only temple with a procession that featured young women doing the dancing.

Pattini Devale had a very small contingent of elephants but in my opinion, its Tusker was the most impressive looking next to the Maligawa Tusker.

After the Pattini Devale passes by, the parade was over.  Even before the last of the dancers left our view, people were already getting up from their seats, getting ready to leave.  We did the same.  After several hours of sitting, it was nice to stand up and stretch our legs.  We bid farewell to the folks we had been chatting with, wishing them well on the rest of their trip through Sri Lanka.  I wondered if we would see any of them again like we had with Nigel and Louise.  As my brother says, it's a small island and everyone pretty much travels the same circuit!

Chandana had given Chami the night off.  Apparently, his family lives near by so he was spending the night with them.  A good break for him.

We joined the sea of people, all heading home.  The route that would have been the most direct path for us was jam packed with people so Chandana  took off in another direction, zig zagging his way through the crowd.  We followed him.  Side streets, main streets, we walked whichever ones we could that would take us in the right direction but were not crowded.  Soon enough, we were back on a main road and Chandana was looking to flag down a tuk-tuk.  The three of us piled in for the short ride back to the house.

It had been a long day and tonight I was tired.  Ready to go to bed the moment I arrived back at the house.  But first, I had to let the adrenaline leave my body so I have just enough energy left in my body to write this posting.

I'm still pinching myself that I got to experience the Esala Perahera.  Thanks to my colleague, Neil, for telling me about it, to Chandana for arranging it for us and to my brother for coming with me.  From my brother's perspective, seeing it one night was enough but I'm glad I booked both nights.  First of all, if for some reason, we missed the first night, we would have had the second one to make it up.  Second of all, I had no idea that both nights were essentially the same though for me, I did have very different experiences.  The first night, I was taking photos so I saw the parade in bits and pieces as I kept moving the camera around to take shots.  The second night, I was taking video and so I had to focus on the parade in longer snippets.  If you decide to go to the Esala Perahera, keep some of these thoughts in mind and then decide whether to go one night two.....oh and you do get a wee bit of a discount on the cost of the tickets if you go two nights.  My recommendation is to see either or both the 4th and 5th Randoli.  Whatever you end up doing, it will be fabulous.

The Esala Perahera.  Truly a very memorable parade! Goodnight from Kandy!