The never ending list of festivals and events makes Sri Lanka, a traditionally and culturally rich country, an extremely popular tourist destination. It is often claimed that the island hosts more festivals than any other country in the world! Most festivals here are religious in nature and are based on the lunar calendar.
- Sinhala-Tamil New Year
Celebrated in the month of April, the Sinhala-Tamil New Year is a popular cultural festival in Sri Lanka. Originally a harvest festival, the traditional New Year in Sri Lanka is celebrated with much pomp and show across the length and breadth of the country. The two-day festivities are marked by traditional feasting, lighting of the ‘herth’ and enjoying the sound of ‘rabana’.
Usually celebrated in the month of May, Vesak is one of the most sacred Buddhist festivals celebrated in Sri Lanka. Popularly known as ‘buddha purnima’, the festival marks important events in the life of Buddha. Popular traditions of the festival include offering prayers in temples, giving alms, and lighting colourful lanterns outside houses.
- Duruthu Perahera
Marking the beginning of the Buddhist Calendar in Sri Lanka is the popular festival of Duruthu Perahera. Having begun in 1927, the festival is a historical, cultural and traditional celebration in Sri Lanka. The festivities start at night with the releasing of sacred caskets. One can see many elephants carrying these caskets from the temple door to the main shrine.
- Navam Maha Perahera
Held in Colombo, Navam Maha Perahera is one of the most colourful and prestigious festivals celebrated in Sri Lanka. Bringing together different cultures and communities, the festival is celebrated with colours, dance and music. Elephant parades at different corners of the city are one of the biggest highlights of the festival!
- Maha Shivarathri
Referred to as the ‘Great Night of Lord Shiva’, Maha Shivarathri is one popular Hindu festival celebrated in Sri Lanka. The festival celebrates ‘overcoming darkness and ignorance’. Worshipping Lord Shiva or paying visits to famous Jyotirlingams is a tradition attached to the festival.
- Vel Festival
Vel festival is one of the most prominent Hindu festivals celebrated in Sri Lanka. The ancient festival celebrates the victory of Hindu war god Skanda over the evil. During the celebrations, devotees organize parades and processions on the streets.
- Poson Poya
Celebrated in the month of June, Poson Poya is a religious festival celebrated in Sri Lanka. The popular festival marks the introduction of Buddhism on the island. A mountain known as ‘Mihintale’ is one of the key symbol of the festival. Traditions and practices of the festival include the lighting of lotus shaped intricate paper lanterns. Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and the Kelaniya Temple are key spots for Poson celebrations.
The harvest festival, Pongal is celebrated with much gusto in different parts of the island. Also known as the ‘First rice festival’, the festival is celebrated by worshipping the sun god. A huge pot of sweetened rice is ceremoniously cooked and offered to the god. The two-day festivities are marked by decorating the house with rangoli or Kolam and feasting.
- Kataragama Festival
Celebrating the 6 headed, 12 handed warrior God Skanda, Kataragama is a popular Hindu festival celebrated in Sri Lanka. The 14 day long celebrations are characterized by fire dancers, torch bearers and elephants. At the commencement of the festival, devotees flock to temples to offer prayers to the deity.
- Esala Poya
Celebrated in July/August, Esala Poya is another popular Buddhist festival. During the festival, pilgrims and devotees celebrate Buddha’s first sermon under the holy tree. Decorating houses and the surroundings is one major attraction of the festival.