There’s something warm and inviting about festivals in Sri Lanka, be it a respectful honoring of tradition or a religious observance. Getting involved in one always brings about a feeling of nostalgia when you think back to it. Sri Lanka is one country that is not short of such festivals. Festivals in Sri Kanka brings together the entire country enhancing its appeal in partner with fairy-lit streets and an overall cozy appeal. These are some of Sri Lanka’s festivals that are worth visiting while on the island.
When? Full moon day in May
Where? Entire island, especially in Colombo
Celebrated due to cultural and religious reasons, the festival marks the birth, enlightenment and of Lord Buddha. It is nicknamed as the festival of lights because of the vibrant and colourful decorations that adorn almost every corner of the island making it as grand as Easter and Christmas put together. The festival is celebrated for an entire week in all parts of the country. The devotees don white clothes and visit temples to take part in fasting, praying and other religious rituals. From houses and shops to streets and buildings, all are decorated with many vivid lanterns made of bamboo sticks covered with colorful papers and filled with lights known as Vesak kuudu by locals. Streets in villages are lined with lit small clay lamps and roads in cities like Colombo, Galle, Kandy, etc are lit up with fairy lights. There are Pandals (known as thoranas in Sri Lanka) which are electrically illuminated and assembled with elaborately decorated panels relating the events that occurred during the life of Buddha which is taken from the Jataka tales. Many individuals get together and create life-size extraordinary vesak lanterns of various shapes and sizes which are displayed on the streets. Another ritual that makes Vesak even more exciting is the arms giving which provides passerby with food. These dansalas or food stalls serve people with everything from ice cream and drinks to a full meal, all complimentary. vesak is anticipated by Sri Lankan citizens of all religions because it transforms the streets of Sri Lanka, especially those of Colombo into a twinkling wonderland.
When? Full moon day in June
Where? Entire island, especially in Mihintale and Anuradhapura
The Poson Poya Day is a celebration that has both religious and historical significance to Buddhists. It is celebrated across the island to mark the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the 3rd Century BC. It is one of the second most important festivals for the Buddhist community after Vesak. Similar to Vesak, poson is also celebrated with vesak kuudus (lanterns), thoranas (pandals) and dansals (food stalls). Devotees wear white clothes and go on pilgrimage to sacred sites, most commonly the Mihintale rock temple in Mihintale (where Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka) or the temple in Anuradhapura.
- Sinhala and Tamil New Year
When? 13th or 14th April
Where? Entire island
Just as the name suggest, this festival is celebrated by Buddhists and Hindus of Sri Lanka with much grandeur. The festival marks the conclusion of spring and the harvest season. The entire island takes on a cheerful vibe as people get ready for the celebration by cleaning and decorating houses. Traditional sweets and other celebratory dishes are prepared to distribute among family and neighbors. Rituals that are followed during the New Year day include wearing new clothes, lady of the house lights the hearth and enjoy the first avurudu meal with the family. The parents anoint their children’s head with oil as a sign of blessing, children take part in lighting firecrackers and other types of fireworks and take part in many games. During the Avurudu day and the following week, avurudu celebrations and games are held publicly for the entire community to take part and enjoy the festivity.
- Esala Perahera
One festival that is held at high esteem by the Sri Lankans is the Esala Procession or Esala Perahera as known by the locals. It is a traditional ritual that honors the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha and also showcases the harmonious link between buddhism and hinduism. Regarded as one of the most illustrious heritage events by UNESCO, it is known as the festival of lights and showcases a wealth of tradition, custom and heritage. The perahera attracts hordes of pilgrims and travellers to the cultural capital of Sri Lanka – the hill city of Kandy – to pay homage to the tooth relic and observe the buddhist rituals combined with the expressive Kandyan performing arts and vibrant festivities. This entertaining historic pageant harmoniously blends history and religion with the country’s culture. The month of Essala also marks the beginning of the rainy season.
The procession starts with 30 whip crackers who announce the beginning of the event. This is followed by Buddhist flag bearers and provincial flag bearers. Following close behind are the sword bearers who depict the swords that were raised against the hostilities and hazards the temple had to face when the relic was placed in it. Next is the thrilling and mesmerizing performance by the fire ball dancers. This is followed by the leader on top of a well-decorated elephant then by drummers, trumpeters and coconut flower dancers. The processions last for a total of 12 days making it one of the grandest celebrations in the entire Asian continent.
- Gangaramaya Navam Maha Perahara
The Gangaramaya Temple, which is where the procession starts, is one of the most popular temples of Colombo and is located near the picturesque Beira Lake. It houses an extensive and remarkable collection of Buddhist artefacts and texts from around the world and was created 120 years ago as a place of worship and learning. This has gained the temple international recognition for buddhist learning. Buddhists give special importance to the Navam Poya Day and the temple has been hosting colorful and vibrant peraharas to celebrate this day since 1979. People of different religions and races gather to view the festivities of this 2 day celebrations. The highlight of the festival is the richly decorated elephant carrying the Sacred Relic Casket followed by mask dancers, Kandyan dancers, stilt walkers, sword dancers, drummers and many other performing artists. Dance performances are a huge aspect of the perahera made up of the sabaragamuwa, upcountry and lowcountry performance arts with different costumes and dance styles. The entire place is lit up not only by the decorative lights but also by the flaming torches. The Gangarama Perahera is definitely a vibrant festival that transforms the commercial capital of Sri Lanka into a colorful land of culture and tradition.
So, if you are planning a trip to Sri lanka and you happen to be a culture buff with a love for festivals plan around any one of these and you won’t be disappointed. Sri Lankans do festivals just like they do food. Let us know what you think about Festivals in Sri Lanka. Also if you have any questions about the festivals