SRI LANKA STEPS ON TUCSON TITLE

Feels so wrong: Longest no-motor parade not ours

2010-02-24T00:00:00Z 2014-09-05T15:02:17Z Feels so wrong: Longest no-motor parade not oursPhil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2010 12:00 am  • 

If you want to see the world's largest non-mechanized parade, you'll have to wait until summer and go to Sri Lanka.

Herb Wagner, spokesman for the 85th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade, said the parade accompanying the Sri Lanka festival Esala Perahera - held annually in July or August - is the world's largest and longest-running non-mechanized procession. The parade includes dancers, drummers and ornately dressed elephants.

Thus, Tucson's rodeo parade, which for years billed itself as the world's largest, non-motorized procession may be just the largest in the United States. That is, unless anyone tells Wagner of a longer parade in Des Moines or Newark.

"It doesn't matter," Wagner said. "It's our intention to continue the tradition of Western heritage here in the Southwest, celebrating the combination of cultures here."

The rodeo parade, which goes 2 miles - down from its traditional 2.5 mile length - starts Thursday. Wagner says he believes the Esala Perahera route is 5 miles.

James "Big Jim" Griffith, a storyteller, musician and folklorist who is the grand marshal for this year's parade, is taking the parade's demotion in stride.

Calling itself the world's longest non-mechanized parade "was just something that they could say," Griffith said. "I don't think that makes it any less of a parade. It's a great parade, just not the longest non-mechanized."

He added, jokingly, "it's still the longest non-mechanized parade without elephants."

The Esala Perahera is a Buddhist celebration that commemorates the bringing of Buddha's sacred tooth relic to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century. The tooth was believed to have survived Buddha's cremation in 483 B.C. and is thought to be enshrined in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka - south of India.

Thursday's parade may lack teeth and tusks but boasts a tradition all its own, Wagner said.

"It's just going to be very colorful," he said. "The reports are that the weather is going to be wonderful. It will be a nice day for a parade."

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com

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