Monday, Aug. 31, 1959

The Elephants of Perahera

One of the biggest religious festivals in Ceylon is Esala Perahera, held each year for centuries in honor of the tooth of Buddha, which is enshrined in Kandy, Ceylon. While the densely packed pilgrims from all across the Orient press close, torchbearers and musicians swirl round a procession of painted elephants. Last week's Perahera drew a crowd of 100,000 Buddhists—and twice it turned into a milling nightmare.

The terror began when one of the 100 elephants in the procession stepped on some live coals dropped by accident from a torch. Trumpeting with pain, the huge beast charged its keeper, who daringly managed to catch it. chain the injured animal to a lamppost. The crowd closed in, jeering and taunting. Someone tried to shorten its chain, instead freed the maddened elephant, which this time charged the tormenting crowd, stomping with legs like tree trunks, flailing, smashing. A woman and child fell under its feet. The fleeing mob trampled eleven more people to death and injured 316 before the elephant was brought down by police bullets, crushing a car as he died.

Next day another elephant stumbled to his knees. The frightened crowd panicked again, and 33 were injured.