Kandy is known to most Sri Lankans as Maha Nuwara, “The Great City.” And great it is. The sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha is housed here in its own temple, and is paraded around the city in one of Asia’s most celebrated festivals, the Kandy Perahera, held during July-August. The monasteries of Sri Lanka’s two leading Buddhist sects have long been established in the city. Traditions of Sinhalese music and dance, such as Kandyan dancing, are kept alive in Kandy, as are many arts and crafts. Little wonder, then, that Kandy was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The best season to visit Kandy is in August when the event Kandy is most famous for takes place – the Kandy Esala perahera or pageant. Hosted by the Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) which houses the most sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, this event spans over two weeks, taking on festival-like proportions and equally charged preparations. At this time of the year, hotel occupancy in Kandy is completely saturated and to accommodate guests and visitors to Kandy even private homeowners are known to open their homes to strangers. The perahera is a rich concoction of the best of Buddhist and Sinhala culture. The procession displays various traditional dancers, martial artists, flag bearers and musicians depicting the various pre-colonial districts coming under the jurisdiction of the monarchies both of the ‘up country’ or hills as well as the ‘low country’ or plains of the island. The procession takes on a carnival atmosphere with its stilt-walkers, traditional drummers, whip dancers and fire stunts. These occupations requiring immense skill and perfection are handed down from generation to generation, in service of the Temple. The highlight of the event and what most visitors, especially children, come to see is the procession of decorated elephants.