Highlights of Sri Lanka - Popular Festivals
Sri Lanka is active with events and festivals all year around as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians celebrate religious and national occasions. So whenever you visit you are likely to encounter some form of festival or celebration.
Every month on the day of the full moon, it is a poya day in Sri Lanka. Of these there are several poya days where Buddhist temples throughout the country host pereheras at different times of the year.
One of the most spectacular festivals in the world is the renowned Kandy Esala Perehera.
The Esala Perehara in Kandy is one of the most famous religious festivals in Sri Lanka. It proudly presents the replica of Lord Buddhas tooth relic in a golden casket mounted on a grandly adorned tusker. This festival which takes place in July/August is spread out over a series of ten days with full of splendor. Colourful Kandyan dancers, beat of drums that echo the streets, beautiful dressed elephants, whips cracking the air, fire torches lighting the path, creates a beautiful timeless journey. The main Maligawa Perehara ( Palace Procession) is followed by the procession of the four Kandyian Shrines devoted to deities Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini.
The Perehera started in the 2nd century AD by King Gajabahu who won a battle against South Indian enemies. He ordered a victory parade honoring the deities of the Island; Natha ( Buddha in waiting), Vishnu ( Guardian of Sri Lanka) and Kataragama ( God of war) and Pattini ( Goddess of Chastity). A tradition well preserved by his successors, this splendid pageant of culture, tradition and religion enjoys worldwide fame.
The Kelani Rajamaha Viharay hosts a perehera for Duruthu Poya in January. This full moon festival celebrates Lord Buddha’s visit to Kelaniya.
Also in January the Hindus celebrate the harvest festival of Thai Pongal. Cleaning houses, decorating, preparing tasty dishes, bathing and adorning of farm animals are amongst the traditional activities.
The Perehera held in February at the Gangarama Temple premises is another star attraction celebrated in lieu of Navam Poya.
The month of April is full festivities, song and dance as the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is celebrated. Also known as the festival of the sun, New Year dawns as the Sun passes from Pisces to Aries.
As May dawns, fervent celebrations for Vesak Poya spreads throughout the country. Marking the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha, it is the most important religious festival for Buddhists.
Vesak lanterns (Kuudu) and lights emanate a multitude of colours on streets, buildings and households throughout the island. Great colourful pandols (paintings) adorned with lights stand tall in street corners, narrating stories from Lord Buddha’s life. Choral groups, folk singers, drummers and clowns set up stages in the village or suburbs to entertain the crowds. Nearly a week long celebration offers visitors a chance to experience the religious and cultural splendor that is Vesak.
In June comes Poson Poya, which is celebrated with great passion as it marks the initiation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka that took place in Mihintale during the 3rd century BC.
Coinciding with Esala Poya (July) which celebrates the Lord Buddha’s first sermon and the Kandy Esala Perehera is the Kataragama Perehera. Kataragama is an ancient Hindu pilgrim site dedicated to God Skanda ( God of War) venerated by Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. Ornamented elephants, devil dancers, drummers, stilt walkers, flame dancers liven up the procession as the perehera reaches its climax.
Deepavali (also known as Diwali by Indians) is one of the holiest Hindu festivals. Celebrated in November it is also known as the Festival of Lights, where lamps are lit in households signifying the triumph of good over evil. It celebrates Lord Rama’s victory over demon King Ravana.
Celebrated roughly every 11 months, Muslims celebrate Ramazan as the fasting month comes to an end.
Christmas and New Year are celebrated widely throughout the island. Indulge in the aroma of the festive season as the city streets are a blaze with lights and decorations.