3 Most popular festivals of Sri Lanka

In today’s era, people get busy and stressed out with their day to day life, businesses and household chores and hence it gradually becomes monotonous. That’s why people need to overcome their stressed lives by enjoying various places and their respective cultures. It is rightly said, “The greatness of a culture can be found in its festival”, and when it comes to festive vibes, then you should come to the country of Sri Lanka. Its history says about the multicultural traditions which celebrates many different astonishing and sensational festivals. There is no doubt that the country is the home for many religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, therefore people must visit and let themselves enjoy the festivals celebrated over here at least once in their lifetime. The 3 major and wonderful festivals of this linguistic country are:

Vesak (May)

As the name suggests that it’s the “Festival of Lights”. According to the local people, Vesak is the Poya festival and it’s one of the most renowned and eminent Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, which is also celebrated all over the world. The main reason for celebrating this festival is to acknowledge the three important phases of Buddha’s life- his birth, enlightenment and nirvana (cycle of death and rebirth). Coming to the first phase where the Queen Maha Maya gave birth to the prince Siddhartha Gautama (Lord Buddha) at Lumbini in Nepal, under the shade of Sat trees on Vesak Poya day. The father of Siddhartha Gautama was King Suddhodana. Buddhists back then, believed that Siddhartha Gautama accomplished 5 inquiries which are right time, right area, right continent, right caste and right mother. Unfortunately, after 7 days of giving birth to the prince, Queen Maha Maya passed away. The second phase was the Attainment as Lord Buddha, where he was trained by many teachers in various skills but it only disenchanted him that they do not have truth for which he was looking for. Therefore, he directed his mind towards medication, peace and searched for actual truth. After years he attained enlightenment and conquered the world by understanding and helping people with their sorrows. The last phase, Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana where he announced his passing at the age of 80, which took place at night under the Sal grove of Malla Royal family on Vesak Poya day.

In this festival, Vesak lanterns, which is also known as Vesak koodu are used to light up every home of the local people on this auspicious day. In this way, Buddhist monks pay tribute to Buddha who delivered the message of “Dhamma”. In ancient eras, for illumination people used clay oil lamps for lightning. Many sponsors and associations organize various competitions on Vesak lanterns creation and the creators who do the splendid job in creating unique lantern is awarded with valuable prizes. Apart from this, many other traditional and local activities such as Sil campaigns, Dansala (freely giving foods, coffee, tea from locals), Bakthi Gee(Vesak devotional songs) and Thoran(Pandols). The Buddhist wear white dress and spend most of their time in temples, ensuring their determination towards Buddhism and teachings of Buddha.

One of the most important things in the Vesak week is the prohibition of selling of alcohol and flesh, with abattoirs also being closed. ‘Dana’(alms giving) plays an important role in this holy day.

This festival falls on full moon of April(first) or May-June(last) and is celebrated throughout the island, but in Colombo it takes place in a large scale. The other names given to this festival are Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima or Buddha Day,Vesākha, Vaishakhi, Vaishakhi Purnima and Buddha’s Birthday. So, people, come here and embrace yourself with this religious and alluring festive of Sri Lanka.

Sinhala & Tamil New Year (13-14 April)

One of the most special things of this country is that it envelopes itself every year around mid-April with the festive atmosphere to mark the Lunar New Year. This day is considered as public day in Sri Lanka and is usually celebrated on 13th April or 14th April. This is not only celebrated by the Sinhalese, but also many other religions like Tamils and Hindus in the country. Therefore, Sinhala & Tamil NewYear is also known as Aluth Avurudda and Sinhala and Hindu New Year. It is celebrated with great solemnity all over Sri Lanka to mark the end of the harvest season and spring.

Let’s go back to the ancient period of Sri Lanka history to know more about this interesting festival. History says about various beliefs and rituals associated with this festival like most the ancient people thought that celebrating new year is the change of thoughts whereas several others believed that the fertility of harvest give rise to numerous customs and rituals. When it comes to Hindus, new year got its different meaning, which is based on Hindu literature. According to Hindus, the prince of peace called Indradeva, descends to earth and grants everyone peace and happiness. Modern era believes are that this new year celebration is a complex mixture of various traditions of indigenous people along with Buddhist and Hindu.

People celebrates this festival by cleaning and decorating their homes, lightning oil lamps, enjoying meals and also prepare delicious traditional sweets. Not only this, the celebration also includes consecrating children with herbal oils, bursting firecrackers and organizing numerous tough and competitive games. Kokis(crisp and light sweetmeat) and Konda Kavum(small oil cake) are main dishes which are eaten all over the island. Some communities involve women playing Raban(type of a drum) to announce the developing change in the new year and the advent of the Avurudu Kumaraya. The beautiful blossoming of flowers of tree Yak Erabadu is associated with the origin of the new year. For farmers, the new year is nothing but “Festival of Harvest” as it tends to coincide with the paddy harvest seasons. All the families carry out rituals in their suitable timing according to the astrological calculations like making of Kiribath (milk rice) and entering into business of initiations or transactions. The unpropitious time is known as “Nonagatra” which means no Neketh (auspicious times).

Another ritual of this festival is viewing enlarge moon. People and relatives exchange gifts, thus forgiving each other’s old ill feelings and quarrels. Children get dressed in new clothes with prescribed colors. In Sri Lanka, the cuckoo(the Asian koel) has a strong association with this festive as it foretells the dawn of New year. It is this bird who heralds the new season called as Wasarelreya because their mating period coincides with this season and thus the mating call of male is considered as the heralding of the new year. In Sinhala language,the bird is called as “Koha”. If you want to hear the melodious tune of this bird throughout the island and want to enjoy the rich culture and traditional delicacies, then attend this festival once in your lifetime.

Poson Festival (June 12)

The second most important festival amongst the Buddhist is the Poson festival which is celebrated throughout the island but most important ceremonies are held at Mihintale and Anuradhapur parts of Sri Lanka. It is also known as Poson Poya(full moon) and is an annual festival celebrated by the Buddhist monks for the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka at 3rd century due to which it holds a great significance in the history too. Just like the Vesak Poya, the celebrations include pandals and alms-stalls in true spirit of Buddha’s teachings and Buddhism traditions. It begins and ends in early June, where the Poson day is held at June full moon day. It commemorates the beginning of Buddhism brought by the Buddhist monk Arahat Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka of India, in Sri Lanka at the time of 3rd century, probably 236 BC. The Buddhist monastic complex on the mountain of Mihintale, is the main point of this religious festival, where Mahinda sermonized the Buddhism to one of the kings of Sri Lanka.

Special vendors known as Dansala give free foods and teas to the needy one whereas other locals celebrate it by telling stories, music and dancing. There will be a fascinating view of long lines of devotees and Buddhist disciples dressed in white(indicates peace) who climb many steps to reach the temple in order to spot where Arahat Mahinda delivered his initial discourses of Buddhism, which is located at the top of Mihintale hill and then proceed to dagobas that embellish the nearby hillocks.

Now it’s up to you to get your bags packed, so you can go and enjoy these festivals in person. But before you leave for your trip, make sure to check out the German website from Backpackertrail. There you can find more information on what to expect on your journey to Sri Lanka.

List of other major festivals

  • January-Duruthu Full Moon Poya, The Initial Aluth Sahal Mangallaya, Patti Pongal, Patti Kiri Ithirima
  • February-The National Day (Independence Day), Navam Full Moon Poya
  • March- Maha Shivaratri, Milad-Un-Nabi, Medin Full Moon Poya, Good Friday, Easter
  • April- Bak Full Moon Poya, National herbal oil ceremony, Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, music and art festival at Kalpitiya
  • May-May Day, Watching the new moon for the new Solar year, Vesak Full Moon Poya (Vesak)
  • June- Poson Full Moon Poya, Ramazan Festival
  • July-Esala Full Moon Poya
  • August-Nikini Full Moon Poya, Esala Perahera
  • September-Binara Full Moon Poya
  • October-Vap Full Moon Poya
  • November-Full Moon Poya, Haj Festival
  • December-Unduvap Full Moon Poya, Christmas

Ruth Hill