Festivals in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, being a culturally diverse island, celebrates number of festivals throughout the year. Many of these festivals revolve around four major religions including Buddhism, Hindu, Christian and Muslim.
These cultural events are an expressive way to showcase glorious heritage, beliefs, customs, and traditions. They are intended to rejoice special moments and emotions in peoples’ lives and connect with their families.
These festivals offer visitors a great chance to experience the intriguing values of Sri Lankan local society. Here are some of the best festivals in Sri Lanka which are really worth knowing and experiencing.
Sinhala and Tamil New Year
Where: Across the Island
Sri Lanka celebrates Sinhala and Tamil New Year which is also known as “Aluth Awurudu” to mark the end of the harvesting season. This festival is mainly based on the sun’s movement from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pieces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries).
The New Year mostly prioritizes varied beliefs, customs, and religious practices associated with auspicious time. Both Buddhists and Hindus celebrate Awurudu according to their own cultural rituals. The Sinhala and Tamil New Year takes place at the beginning of the year, usually, falls on the 13th or the 14th of April. The whole country will be turned into a festive mode as people get ready for celebrations by cleaning and decorating houses, preparing traditional dishes and sweets, etc.
The New Year comes with such a long history where it is the best season to experience the Sri Lanka’s core traditions and at the same time engage in fun Awurudu games that you cannot experience anywhere else. The New Year rituals start on 13th with a ritual called neutral period or Nonagathe. During this time people keep off from all the work and do nothing but engage in religious activities to get the blessing of their religion to prepare for the New Year.
During the very day, people will wear newly bought clothes and involve in various activities, such as setting off firecrackers and fireworks, lighting the hearth (usually by the lady of the house), enjoying the first meal of the New Year with families, exchanging plates of sweets with neighbors, and taking part in various fun-filled games and activities.
Where: Across the Island
Vesak is the main religious festival observed and celebrated by Buddhists,in Sri Lanka. Vesak poya commemorates the three significant milestones in Buddha’s life; birth, attainment of enlightenment and the passing into nirvana. This festival falls on the month of May and continues for a week.
Vesak week is entirely dedicated for spiritual activities which attached with temples. Many observe sil at temples and practice other meditation activities. Vesak is known as the festival of light, as almost all the decorations are in the form of illuminations. Vesak highlights the colorful lanterns decorated with vibrant bulbs. Pandols are another beautiful expression of respect to Lord Buddha. These are huge structures with illustrations of Jataka Katha or folk tales associated with Buddha’s life story. Additionally, Dansal or alms-giving stalls are another popular sight all over Sri Lanka during Vesak. These roadside stalls offer any food from soft drinks, ice cream, coffee, rice and curry to noodles etc, all free of charge.
Where: Anuradhapura & Mihintale
Poson poya festival is the second most important Buddhist holiday among the festivals in Sri Lanka. This occasion holds a prominent importance as it commemorates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Mihintale rock outcrop is believed to be the place where Buddhism was first introduced in Sri Lanka after a meeting between the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa took place. During this poya day, thousands of white-clothed pilgrims ascend the 1843 steps to the mountain peak temple to worship.
Like Vesak celebration, Poson also has lantern lighting, pandol decorations and food stalls. People spend this day listening to Buddha teachings at temples.
Kandy Esala Poya Perahera
Kandy Esala Perahera is a festival associated with Kandy Dalada Maligawa. It is celebrated by more than just Buddhists, as the festive performances bring people together. This festival is to pay the homage for the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. The festive celebrations go on for ten days in either the month of July or August. During this Buddhist festival, there will be a unique various traditional and cultural local dances and many elephants take in the perahera exquisitely adorned with beautiful garments and gems.
This experience is an unmissable if you are in Sri Lanka during this time.
Kataragama Festival in Sri Lanka
When: July & August
Kataragama Festival is a mostly Hindu festival held annually in the southern town of Kataragama. People from different religious groups will participate in this event. These pilgrims including Hindus, Muslims and Veddas gather in the town to fulfill their vows or to seek knowledge and guidance from Lord Kataragama. As a part of the parade, some devotees also walk on fire. Devotees also offer garlands of red flowers to Skanda, the son of Shiva.
Where: Across the island
Deepavali (or Diwali) is a festival of lights, one of the most popular festivals observed by the Hindu community, in Sri Lanka. The festival celebrates Lord Rama’s defeat of Ravana which signifies the defeat of light over darkness, good over evil and hope over despair.
The celebration comprises of many traditional aspects of Deepavali, such as fireworks, a large meal, family reunions, singing and dancing, exchanging gifts and visit to Hindu temple to perform puja. During the festival, millions of lights are shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, along the streets, and around temples and other buildings.