The culturally resplendent Duruthu Perahera marks the beginning of the Island’s Buddhist calendar. The culturally resplendent Duruthu Perahera (procession) by the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya marks the beginning of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist calendar. It is one of the grandest pageants in the country, having begun in 1927 and since then accumulated more reverence and glamour. Duruthu, or the January full moon Poya day, was always special for the Kelaniya Temple. It was on this day that the Buddha hallowed this ground on his first visit to the Island. The historical significance, alive in the minds of Sri Lankan Buddhists, adds zest to the perahera.

The perahera on the first day is called the Uda Maluwe Perahera, a low-key pageant with a few participants that circles the upper precincts of the temple three times and then retreats. The sacred tooth relic casket, resting on a cushion, is at the heart of the pageant. The second day procession is more magnificent, and to the main tooth relic perahera is added the exuberant processions of the three gods who have shrines within the main temple: Vishnu, Kataragama and Vibishana.

The final and grandest perahera is the Randoli Perahera. As the drumming throbs at dusk on this day, excitement mounts among the thickly congregated crowds. Lights flare up and vendors line the streets. It is the cue for the pageant to stream out in their hundreds: whip- crackers, drummers, dancers, torch-bearers, elephants and acrobats all putting up a show of colour, artistry, music, dance and tradition.

Altogether 3,000 participants swirl and move to the beats of ancient music. Over 50 elephants sway majestically, clothed in the brightest colours, embroidered in gold and silver and shimmering jewels. It is a celebration of the unique and vibrant culture Sri Lankans have inherited through millennia.

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