Festivals and Events
Home to four major religions on the island, Sri Lanka has many festivals religious in nature, following the lunar calendar as many countries in Asia tend to do. For this reason the dates vary year to year with 25 public holidays to contend with. The country can grind to a halt at these times of year though if planned properly a coinciding visit can be made extra special by attending these special events. Here's our selection of some of the best.
Taking place on the day of a full moon, Duruthu Poya celebrates Buddha's very first visit to Sri Lanka some 25 centuries ago. It was at this time that Buddhism began to take a hold in Sri Lanka and today Buddhists celebrate with a parade at the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo. It's also a public holiday and marks the beginning of Adam's Peak pilgrimage season.
Another Buddhist event held on the day of a full moon, Navam Poya marks the day Buddha appointed two chief disciples, proclaimed a code of fundamental ethical precepts for the monks and announced his impending death. It's celebrated with a major perahera at the Gangaramaya temple in Colombo featuring over elephants, dancers and musicians.
Sinhalese and Tamil New Year
For the Sinhalese and Tamils the new year starts with the beginning of the astrological cycle as well as the the start of the southwest monsoon and the end of the harvest season. Celebrated by both Buddhists and Hindus, it's a colourful event with large family dinners held at home and parties and fireworks out on the streets.
This is the most important of Sri Lanka's Buddhist poyas
to celebrate Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. The country comes alive with lamps outside homes, streamers attached to cars and buses and decorated platforms erected in towns and cities. While devout Buddhist mediate and fast, free food is handed out from roadside stalls. For six days the sale of alcohol, meat and fish is prohibited. Vesak Poya also marks the end of Adam's Peak pilgrimage season.
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Marking the arrival of Buddha's Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka, Esala Poya is best experienced in the hill town of Kandy
where an extravagant procession takes place each year with highly decorated elephants and performers. Celebrations have occurred in various forms for centuries to honour this event though today's traditions date back as far as 1775 and the Esala Perahera Festival season usually kicks off a few weeks after the day of Esala Poya.
Hikkaduwa Beach Festival
Held over five days between July and August this festival brings together international DJs, dancers and musicians on the sun-kissed beaches of Hikkaduwa for nights of music and dance. Dates are usually announced within a few months of the event.
The remote holy town of Kataragama is home to one of Sri Lanka's largest Hindu festivals with devotees walking across hot coals and using hooks to pierce their skin in ritualistic self-mutilation. Thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage to Kataragama each July/August when the festival is held.