Festivals and Events

In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a home for many cultural & religious people. This means there are a lot of festivals and events to celebrate each year. Most of these festivals and events are celebrations that can be enjoyed by everyone. Therefore, the country is also a land of never-ending festivals and events celebrating all facets of life. Here’s a list of Sri Lanka festivals that you must witness at least once in your life.

Sri Lanka Festivals And Events

Sri Lanka Independence Day

The independence day of Sri Lanka is a great national occasion celebrated with parades and pageants combined with the spirit of patriotism and national pride. The celebrations begin with the hoisting of the national flag and singing the national anthem, followed by the traditional lighting of the lamp ceremony. Subsequently, there are various cultural programs as well as serving of refreshments.

This national day holds much significance for the people of Sri Lanka as it reflects the history of great sacrifices made by many Sri Lankans in the Attainment of its freedom. It is the day to pay tribute to the armed forces that played a major role in the country’s freedom struggle.

Nawam Maha Perahera

The Colombo Nawam Maha Perahera is one of the most important religious and cultural events in Sri Lanka. Mi1lions of people view this spectacle every year including an estimated 10,000 Tourists. Seating accommodation for 1,000,000 persons is provided without charge on both days. The Perehara revives the ancient forms drawing dancing troupes from all parts of the country and providing an occasion to display their prowess. The beneficiaries of events such as these are the traditional Dance Troupes, who now enjoy a revival of interest in their dance and forms of entertainment. The Perehera thus has a direct relevance to the preservation of Sri Lanka ancient Cultural Heritage.

Good Friday / Easter Sunday

On Good Friday Christians remember the day that Jesus was killed on the cross. He was nailed to a wooden cross by Roman soldiers. This is the reason why the cross is an important sign for Christians today. The Catholic Church treats Good Friday as a fast day, which in the Latin Rite of the Church is understood as having only one full meal (but smaller than a regular meal) and two collations (a smaller repast, two of which together do not equal one full meal) and on which the faithful abstain from eating meat. In countries where Good Friday is not a day of rest from work, the afternoon liturgical service is usually put off until a few hours after the recommended time of 3 p.m.

Sinhala & Tamil New Year Festival

Celebrated by all Sinhalese and Tamils, the traditional New Year celebrations fall on between 12 to 14 April. It is to celebrate the Sun God’s passage from Pisces to Aries. It is a harvest thanksgiving and is mainly celebrated by the villagers in true traditional style. A colourful and extravagant festival, this season is usually a holiday for the whole country. The Aluth Avurudu (New Year) is a time for friendships and family and many traditions are observed according to the litha (astrological time). New clothes are worn, milk boiled and traditional milk rice with sweets fill the tables. The youth spend the day engaged in various traditional games such as climbing a greased poll, pillow fighting, breaking a pot blindfolded and the girls plating swinging. The women also fill the air with Raban padha ( traditional drum instrument) dressed in their new year costume.

Vesak Festival

Wesak, the most hallowed of Buddhist festivals commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha is held on the full moon day in May and the day following it. Starting at dawn, Buddhists dressed in white start to make their way to the temple to observe sila, in which they spend the day meditating, reading religious texts, and listening to sermons. At night the temples are crowded with devotees bringing flowers and offerings. Nevertheless, Wesak is a joyous occasion and is celebrated with verve and imagination. Among the many striking decorations are intricate Wesak paper lanterns of different shapes and sizes, and the thousands of little clay coconut oil lamps ( pol-thel pahana) that flicker throughout the island.

In Colombo the celebrations are unsurpassed. Enormous pandals (bamboo frameworks) hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha are erected in the streets, illuminated by a myriad of flashing coloured electric light bulbs. Another special feature of Wesak is danselas (alms booths). These are temporary sheds, set up by the roadside with tables and chairs by local people, at which food and refreshment are given free to sightseers and pilgrims. In addition, puppet shows and open-air theatre performances telling Buddhist tales are held throughout the island.

Poson Festival

A temple situated above the town of Mihintale, 11km from Anuradhapura, which is accessible by train from Colombo (206km).

The Poson Festival commemorates the conversion of Sri Lanka to Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. Illuminations and processions take place all over the country, but the best place to see the festival is at Mihintale.

It was here in this ancient city that Sri Lanka’s king was converted to Buddhism by Arahat Maha Mahinda, the son of King Asoka (Emperor of India). As the king was hunting deer, Mahinda appeared to him in a grove and asked him a riddle about a mango tree (Ambasthale means mango tree). After the king had answered the riddle, he apparently agreed to follow the teachings of the Buddha and declared it state religion.

The Ambasthale Dagoba is a temple, which towers above the city of Mihintale, accessible by 1840 steps and built over the very spot where Mahinda is said to have appeared before the king.

Kandy Esala Perahera

Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth) is the grand festival of Esala held in Sri Lanka. It is very grand with elegant costumes. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and nicely decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional ‘Diya-Kepeema’.

Kataragama Perahara Festival

Important Hindu event takes place in the town of Kataragama with two weeks of celebration the festival culminates in spectacular performance of devotees walking over burning coals. Devotees, dressed in their dhotis and ceremonial markings, turn up with huge earthenware vessels on their heads. The festival highlight is the grand procession at night with the participation of colorfully dressed dancers, elephant and hundreds of devotees.

Navarathri Festival

Every year, Hindus throughout Sri Lanka join communities around the world in celebrating the nine-day Navarathri festival. To commemorate the nine days and nights that Goddess Durga fought the Asura, she is worshipped in all her innumerable forms, signifying the triumph of good, piety and devotion over evil. Also referred to as Dasara, prayers are held for first three nights for Goddess Thurgai (bravery), second three nights for Goddess Lakshmi (wealth) and the final three nights for Goddess Saraswathy (education). In temples throughout the world, including the Veera Pathirakaali Amman Temple in Rajagiriya, Goddess Durga’s blessings are invoked. At home, a doll exhibition calledkolu is arranged. Ladies visit each other’s homes to see the kolu, bearing sweets, savory items and other gifts.

Sri Lankan Airlines Golf Classic

The Sri Lankan Airlines Golf Classic is an amateur tournament held annually at the beautiful Victoria Golf Club, just outside Kandy. Attracting the cream of Sri Lankan Golf and enthusiasts from around the world, the event offers participants the opportunity to test themselves on a truly competitive golf course.

The tournament is open to male and female golfers with a CONGU (Council of National Golf Unions) or other recognized handicap. The competition consists of two 18 hole Stable ford rounds and each competitor must play an round on two consecutive days. The competition will be played under R&A rules.

The Victoria Golf Course has been rated amongst the 100 most beautiful courses in the world by Golf Digest. It is blessed with both a splendid undulating terrain and a spectacular scenic backdrop of hills and lake. The greens are built to USGA specifications and are of the highest quality.

Vel Festival

Beautifully decorated wooden carved cart left the Colombo Sammaankodu Sri Kathirvelaayuthaswamy temple in Sea Street left in the morning and reached the Sammaankodu Sri Maanikka Vinayagar temple at night.
The colourful procession paraded through the main streets in Colombo. Traditional musicians playing the Thavil and Naathaswaram led the procession.

The festival wended through many main streets in Colombo after a lapse of 16 years. The colourful procession started from Pettah and travel through York Street, Echelon Square and Galle Road to Bambalapity, which has been the route for the annual Vel festival for more the 100 years.

Deepavali Festival

Sri Lanka is on the extreme southeastern point of India. Related to the epic of Ramayana, Diwali holds special importance for the people here. The festival is marked by illumination, making of toys of enamel and making of figures out of crystal sugar popularly known as Misiri. The sugar crystals take the place of sweets. Hindus light oil lamps to invite the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Burning of crackers in the evening of the festival is a common practice of this festival.

Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) Pilgrimage

Adam’s Peak also known as Samanalakanda (butterfly mountain), and Sivanolipatha Mala is a 2,243 meters (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. These days the pilgrimage season begins on poya day in December and runs until Vesak festival in May. The busiest period is January and February. At other times the temple on the summit is unused, and between May and October the peak is obscured by clouds for much of the time. During the pilgrimage season a steady stream of pilgrims (and the odd tourist) makes the climb up the countless steps to the top. They leave from the small settlement of Dalhousie (del-house), 33km by road southwest of the tea town of Hatton, which is on the Colombo-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya railway and road. The route is illuminated in season by a string of lights, which look very pretty as they snake up the mountainside. Out of season you can still do the walk; you’ll just need a torch. Many pilgrims prefer to make the longer, much more tiring – but equally well-marked and lit – seven-hour climb from Ratnapura via the Carney Estate, because of the greater merit thus gained.

Christmas Celebrations

The 25th of December, the commemoration day of the birth of “Jesus Christ” is a public bank and mercantile holiday. The festivity spreads through all shopping centres all over the island. Even the small wayside boutiques in the heart of the country come out with their small festive decor.

Christmas trees decorated and lit up are a common sight in shopping complexes and every Christian home. even non-Christians make Christmas trees for their children and let them enjoy the lovely Christmas.