Religion: 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...