Sri Lanka, being the home for several ethnic and religious groups, it has been able to amaze the world with its multi-ethnic legacy. Moreover, the diverse shades that these varying ethnicities and religions bring to Sri Lankan culture, make it second to none. In brief, this marvelous and highly admirable culture of Sri Lanka is shaped by having Theravada Buddhism as the main, along with the cultural aspects of other communities such as Hindus, Catholics, Christians, and Islams. However, it is true that the cultural and religious attractions in Sri Lanka depict the delight of Sri Lankan culture. Still, going beyond that, the festivals in Sri Lanka take the grandeur of the Sri Lanka heritage, as well as the beauty of the Sri Lankan culture to another level.
Of course, Sri Lanka is a land of festivals. You can always spot some kind of an enchanting festival celebrating some sort of facet of culture on this island. Indeed they are colorful and attractive and going beyond that, they also symbolize the rich artistic traditions of Sri Lankan culture. Moreover, almost all the traditions and rituals that are in line with these festivals, hold a significant sense of morality, as well as devoutness. Therefore, we can assure that the majority of the festivals in Sri Lanka, are unique in style, preserving their values at its best.
Considering these facts, we would suggest that these festivals in Sri Lanka, which are celebrated in great fervor should never be missed. Indeed, they are worth experiencing. While going through these descriptions, you should now be wondering what these festivals are. Excited to know about them? Take it easy, since we are ready to provide you with a full overview of these amazing festivals in Sri Lanka.
The Amazing Festivals in Sri Lanka
By now, you already know that the island of Sri Lanka is a land with never-ending festival seasons. Since you already have a good idea about how wonderful they are, without further exaggerations, let us get to know what the most amazing festivals in Sri Lanka are. The below list would help you with it!
- Duruthu Perahera
- Thai Pongal Festival
- Navam Perahera
- Maha Shivaratri
- Sinhala and Tamil New Year
- Vesak Festival
- Poson Festival
- Esela Perehara
- Ramadan Festival
- Vel Festival
- Nallur Festival
Excited to know what they are? Check our below sections to get to know everything about each of them.
A Full Overview on the Festivals in Sri Lanka
Considering your ease, we have lined up the festivals in Sri Lanka according to the time period in the year that they are celebrated. So, shall we check them one by one? Here we go!
1. Duruthu Maha Perahara
The grand procession of the Duruthu Perahera is happening in the month of January each year, having Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya as the main focus. Moreover, it happens to be the first festival in the calendar of Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka.
Duruthu Perahara commemorates Lord Buddha’s first visit to this splendid island. There is a belief that Lord Budhdha arrived in Sri Lanka, after nine months of the Enlightenment, in order to settle a confrontation between the Yaksha and Naga Tribes. This incident which happened almost 2500 years ago, is still celebrated with devoutness each year.
This glorious traditional festival of Duruthu Perahara focuses on Duruthu Poya Day (the poya in January). Normally, its celebration continues for three days, the first day being comparatively formal and decent. The grandest and the most attractive is the celebration that takes place on the final day, that is the third day. It creates a magnificent spectacle with a number of cultural aspects showcasing the grandeur of the Sri Lankan heritage.
Several groups of singers, dancers, drummers, and fire jugglers that take part in this ceremony make it colourful and attractive. Moreover, the decked up and jeweled elephants enhances the majesty of the festival taking its beauty to another level.
Obviously, the traditional touches of this celebration make it unique and these kinds of celebrations are rare in the foreign countries. Thus, it is not only the locals that gather to witness the delight of this Duruthu Perahera, but also the tourists from all over the world.
- Season: Three days focusing the Poya day in January
- Focused Location: Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya
- Highlight: A buddits festival where groups of singers, dancers, drummers, fire jugglers and the decked up and jeweled elephants showcase the beauty of the Sri Lankan culture, while enhancing its glamour.
2. Thai Pongal Festival
Thai Pongal is one of the main festivals of the Hindus, and this celebration has a history of more than 1000 years. Indeed, it is an extremely colorful and glamorous festival. The season of Thai Pongal is decided upon the Traditional Tamil calendar. Accordingly, the first day of their first month, which they call ‘Thai’ falls in mid January. Thus, this festivity starts on a day around 15th January, and goes on for two days in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the celebrations go on for almost four days, in the other countries where Hinduism is practiced.
Thai Pongal is famous as a harvest festival, which is celebrated after they get their first harvest. The simple motive behind this festival is to pay tribute to the main resources that assist them in getting the harvest. Accordingly, in the course of this festival, they honour the sun god ‘Surya’ as well as cattles, who play a major role in cultivating their harvest. However, this celebration of Thai Pongal begins with decorations. Hindus decorate their homes with banana leaves and colourful kolam patterns, showcasing the impressive artistic values of their culture. Next, they also share milk rice and the traditional sweets between their relations and neighbours further strengthening their bonds. Finally, on the second day they bathe their cattles, decorate and paint them with various colors, feed them with the special sweets, and honour them with garlands.
The festival of Thai Pongal also marks the start of the sun’s six-month journey northbound. Besides, this festival happens to be an attractive and significant celebration of Hindu culture, which highlights their morals, and glamour.
- Season: Two – four days in mid January
- Focused Location: Hindu houses across the country
- Highlight: A colourful hindu festival for honouring the sun god and cattles, after their first harvest.
3. Navam Perahera
As you might already know, the Gangaramaya Temple, is one of the main cultural and religious attractions in the city of Colombo. And this Navam Perahera is a grand procession that is focused around this Gangaramaya Temple.
The term ‘Navam’ means the month of February in Sinhalese. And this procession takes place focusing on the poya day in February. Thus, this simply reveals how this festival got its name. Moreover, the main aim of this celebration is to commemorate the significance of the ‘Navam Poya Day’.
The history of this festival runs back to the year 1979. Thenceforth, this festival has been held, and through advancements, it has now become the most significant parade in Colombo. This festival takes place over two days. Further, this procession creates a perfect platform for the Sri Lankan cultural and traditional talents to showcase their impressive skills. Accordingly, the traditional dancers, drummers, stilt walkers, fire jugglers enhance the delight of this ceremony while proving their unique granderus. Apart from that, the Sacred Relic Casket on the elaborately adorned main tusker happens to be a significant highlight of this procession. All these features together make the Nawam Maha Perahera one of the most significant and attractive festivals on this island.
Therefore, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist Sri Lankans, as well as tourists gather around this area to experience the splendor of the Navam Perahera. Hence, it not only holds value as a symbol of Sri Lankan culture, but also as a symbol of unity among Sri Lankans.
- Season: Two days focusing the Poya day in the month of February
- Focused Location: Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo
- Highlight: A buddits festival where groups of traditional talents, along with the tusker with sacred relic casket showcase the beauty and the delight of Sri Lankan culture.
4. Maha Siva Rathri
Maha Siva Ratri, or the ‘Great Night of Shiva’, is indeed another fascinating festival of Hindus. Of course, there is a Shivaratri in every luni-solar month of the Hindu Calendar. Still, the festival of ‘Maha Siva Rathri’ is celebrated once a year, specifically on a day in February or March. However, the history of this festival is unpopular. As the name suggests, this festival celebrates the existence of Lord Siva. Besides, there are many reasons behind the celebration that they commemorate this Lord. To have a better overview, let us have a quick glance over these beliefs.
- Lord Shiva married Parvati on this day.
- Once in history, Gods and demons swirled the ocean to get the ambrosia that lay in its depths. At that instance, a pot of poison emerged. Afterwards, Lord Shiva consumed this to save the world. This is commemorated on this day.
- The incident where Lord Shiva released Goddess Ganga on the Earth preventing destruction is remembered on this day.
Having all these facts in mind, Hindus solemnize this festival with great piousness. Besides, prayer, meditation and celebrations are all common during this festive season. Some of the devotees have a tradition of staying awake all night. Meanwhile, some groups of devotees dress colourfully and visit Shiva temples and participate in the celebrations there. Wherever they are, they make sure to chant prayers, meditate and remember the virtues of Lord Shiva. Going beyond, most of the Hindus even follow a one-day fast, to increase the solemnity and get the blessings earnestly.
- Season: A day in February or March
- Focused Location: Hindus all across the island
- Highlight: A colourful Hindu festival that celebrates the existence of the Lord Shiva in merriment.
5. Sinhala and Tamil New Year
Indeed, as the name proves, this festival itself is a symbol of unity among Sri Lankans. The main motive behind this festival is to commemorate the movement of the sun from Pisces to Aries. However, both the Sinhalese and Tamils, celebrate this festival with much delight.
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is celebrated on the 13th and 14th of April each year. Still, the Sinhalese and Tamils get ready for this festival from a longer period. Further, children get school vacation during this month.Thus, this certainly happens to be a festival that is celebrated with much excitement and enthusiasm.
One of the main significance of Sinhala and Tamil New Year is that the whole community performs several activities at the same time, following a schedule of auspicious times. Accordingly, stoving fire to prepare the New Year meal, having the New Year meal, starting work for the new year, and many more activities happen at the same time in each house.
Besides, it is not all the people that get ready for this festival, but also the environment as a whole. The surroundings would turn colourful with vibrant flowers and fruits, and the songs of the Koha bird, further enhances the delight of this season.
Moreover, this festival also highlights the strong association with religious places, and rich cultural values. Visiting relations and enjoying, sharing meals with relations, and festivals that feature traditional games and culture events tend to be common in the course. Considering all these significance, Sinhala and Tamil New Year can be known as a festival that brings the whole community together.
- Season: 13th and 14th of April each year
- Focused Location: Buddhists and Hindus all over the island
- Highlight: A cheerful celebration that highlights the Sri Lankan traditions, and the cultural values.
6. Vesak Festival
Vesak is the main religious festival of the Buddhists, celebrated on the full moon poya in May each year. As the history reveals, the birth of the prince Siddhartha, enlightenment and the Parinibbana of the Lord Buddha happened on a day as such. Accordingly, Buddhists in Sri Lanka involve themselves in several activities with devoutness, in order to celebrate these incidents.
Almost all devotees around the island arrive at temples to memorialize these incidents, and many observe sil. Moreover, virtuous deeds such as giving alms, helping the people in need, Bodhi Pooja, and conducting sermons and meditating programmes are common within this season. While reaffirming the Buddha’s teaching through these activities, Buddhists also never forget to add a charming glamour to its festivity. Accordingly, pandols symbolizing the Buddhist values (thoran), singing of vesak devotional songs (Bhakthi Gee), and colourful vesak lanterns and decorations play a significant role with regard.
While the main religious activities are focused on the Vesak Poya day, its festivity remains for a week or two. Therefore, buddhists as well as non-buddhists spare some time of their bustling lives to witness the charming grandeur of the vesak festival. Moreover, non-buddhists also join hands with buddhists in activities like vesak decorations, bhakthi gee and alms givings as well. Thus, Vesak not only showcases the exclusive religious aspects of Buddhism, but also the unity among Sri Lankans.
- Season: Full moon poya day of the month of May each year
- Focused Location: Buddhists all over the island
- Highlight: A charm and a decent festival that celebrates the birth, enlightenment and the parinibbana of Lord Buddha.
7. Poson Festival
Poson is yet another main religious festival celebrated by the Buddhists in Sri Lanka, in the month of June. Further, it is the festival that commemorates the establishment of Buddhism within the Territory that occurred around 250 BC.
Ven. Mahinda thero and six others including monks came to the country on the purpose of spreading the religion. King Devanampiya Tissa who was the then ruler of Sri Lanka was going on hunting by the time of the arrival of the missionaries. According to history, Mahinda thero posed several questions to the Sri Lankan king in order to scrutinize the intellectuality of the Sri Lankan ruler. King Tissa answered the very questions cleverly. It gave Mahinda thero an obvious depiction of the high intelligence level of the Sri Lankan ruler and its countrymen which convinced Mahinda thero that Sri Lanka is an ideal place to establish Buddhism as there are intellectual enough people to grasp the depth of the religion.
This is the main incident that Budddhists admire on the Poson day, and since the Mahinda Thero and his group were on the top of Mihinthale when they encountered King Tissa, hundreds devotees annually visit Mihintale on Poson day.
Same as in Vesak, people involve themselves in religious activities and meanwhile, make illuminated lanterns and pandols to celebrate this festival. Thus, there’s no doubt that you may have heard how colorful and merry the celebrations of the Poson festival are like. Besides, although Poson is majorly celebrated by Buddhists, it is seen that other ethnic groups also join hand in hand with them to enhance its values.
- Season: Full moon poya day of June each year
- Focused Location: Buddhists all over the island
- Highlight: A charm and a decent festival that celebrates the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
8. Esala Perahera
Indeed, Esala Perahera is one among the most alluring and eye catching festivals held in Sri Lanka, and even in the world. Basically, it is the annual procession held in Kandy to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Further, it is held in the months of July and August. Since the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka, Esala Perahera has been held in the country. According to history, the Tooth Relic was a sign of Royalty of this island and it was mandatory for the ruler of the country to possess the Tooth Relic. So, through this processing, the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha is ceremonially displayed and carried through the streets. Moreover, there is a belief that this calls blessings of the Gods to enrich the lands of this island.
This gorgeous procession consists of a lot of people related to different fields. Significantly, there are whip dancers, fire dancers, and dancers belonging to various dance styles in Sri Lanka. It isn’t unfair to say that fire dancers become the main cynosures, especially among foreign spectators thanks to its uniqueness. The parading tuskers clad in illuminated costumes create a mesmeric atmosphere for this seductive procession. The prestige portrayed in the procession is beyond question when each and every part of Esala Perahera overwhelms with colorfulness.
Certainly, Esala Perahera is one hell of a festival that every person in the world must definitely witness for real before it’s too late.
- Season: July and August
- Focused Location: Kandy
- Highlight: A charming and spectacular procession held in Kandy to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.
Simply, Ramadan is a season at a glance. Specifically, a holiest month with emotional excitement. It starts at the beginning of the 9th month in the Islamic calendar, and goes on for nearly 30 days. There is no exact day for Ramadan festival to begin as per the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the authorities announce the exact time period of Ramadan annually.
Muslims spend a more traditional lifestyle during this season. In brief, they get up before dawn everyday, and have a good meal prior to their daily fast. This early morning meal is known as Suhoor, and after Suhoor, Muslims pray. However, reciting the Quran, and praying happens to be frequent in the course. This daily fast ends with a special meal that is specially prepared for the breaking of the fast.
The number of muslims attending the prayers at mosques is considerably higher than the other periods. Some mosques even arrange special areas for women to pray even at nights. Apart from involving in these religious-activities, muslims make it a perfect season to help the poor. Accordingly, most of them distribute their Zakat money among those who are in need during this time period.
The grand Id’ul Fitr festival marks the end of the Ramadan season. On that day, muslims dress with new clothes, and attend religious activities at mosques with piousness. Thereafter, they greet and bless each other, and begin their celebrations of the day. Accordingly, people get together at their parental houses, enjoy delicious meals, exchange gifts, and share the joys of the festival at its extreme.
- Season: Throughout the 9th month of the Muslim calendar
- Focused Location: Muslims all over the island
- Highlight: A gleeful celebration at the end of the period of the ‘Ramadan’, after fasting daily for a month.
10. Vel Festival
Vel festival is one of the most significant Hindu Cultural festivals in Sri Lanka, that create breathtaking sights. It usually takes place during the months of July or August each year. Yet, this celebration is not that common across the island of Sri Lanka. To be specific, this festival mainly focuses on a procession, which starts from Pettah in Colombo and ends at Bambalapitiya.
In brief, Vel festival celebrates the victory of war-god Skandha over evil forces and honours his trident (vel). Of course, you guessed it right! That is how the festival got its name. However, the main attraction of the procession happens to be the God chariot which carries the God Sankadha’s vel. Moreover, hundreds of devotees in white simple clothing with white ash on their faces, pull the chariot through their strength. Indeed, their strength amazes the spectators. Apart from that, the group of cultural singers, dancers, and musicians add more shades of fascination to this Vel Procession. Not only that, the sounds of the bells and drums, fragrance of incense and florals, enhance its festivity vibe furthermore.
When compared with the other processions happening around Sri Lanka, the Vel festival is highly unique and significant. The pietism of the participants of the processions, and the cultural aspects they showcase, are just second to none. Thus, many of the Hindus, across the island, as well as non-Hindus gather around the path of this procession to witness its enchantment.
- Season: During the months of July or August
- Focused Location: Colombo
- Highlight: A fascinating procession to celebrate the victory of war-god Skandha over evil forces and to honour his trident (vel).
11. Nallur Festival
The amazing Nallur festival is one of the long running, yet amazing cultural festivals of Hindus. Simply, it is a 35 day long commemoration that happens focusing on the Nallur Kovil in Jaffna. However, admiring the god Murugan, it creates a celebration of holy marvel, creating a spectacle for the Hindus islandwide.
The festival begins with a flag hoisting ceremony, and afterwards religious observances take place. Accordingly, festivities of varying shades take place throughout the season of the Nallur Festival. With regard, devotees carry the images of God Murugan around the streets of the Jaffna city with honour. The 24th day of this season is the most significant. It brings a vibe of high festivity to the Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple in Jaffna. Of course, the temple premises is flooded with colourful shades on this day.
Thousands of devotees from all the corners of the island arrive at Nallur Kovil, to take part in this grand celebration. Moreover, men would come in white sarongs and ladies in dazzling elegant sarees. This day is also famous as the day of the Chariot festival. Hundreds of men pull this chariot, which carries a sacred image of the god Murugan. Apart from that, the rhythms of drumming, dancing, and chantings add a unique sense of the holy spirit to this procession. The festival ends on the following day, with the parade of the devotees who display self-mutilation by driving skewers through their bodies. Of course, it is a festival worth witnessing, as it reveals a series of untouched cultural aspects of Hinduism.
- Season: During the months of August or September
- Focused Location: Focusing the Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple in Jaffna
- Highlight: A 35 day long commemoration of Lord Murugan, which also includes a fascinating procession on its 24th day.
Surely, you may have heard the word ‘Diwali’. As a matter of fact, Deepavali is another term for Diwali, but in Sri Lanka, the word Deepavali is more popular. This is one of the most significant festivals of Hinduism, and it means the festival of lights. So, all the Hindus in Sri Lanka celebrate Deepavali in a glamorous way.
This is mainly a worship ceremony where Hindus worship Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth. Further, it is notable that Hindus decorate their houses during this season attractively, and they wear the best clothing items they’ve got. Simultaneously, they illuminate their households with oil lamps and candles symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. It is the belief of Hindus that the lamps they have lit would guide all the good spirits to their households.
Within the Hindu community, family feasts are common during this season. Moreover, Hindus share sweets and gifts among Hindus and even with other ethnic groups. Also, they visit their relatives with the sweets they have prepared.
The most attractive parts of this festival are dazzling oil lamps Hindus place forming a pattern, and the ‘Kolam’ patterns drawn on floors using dyed rice flour. Thus, Deepavali is a time that any person’s eyes can feast on, for its colorfulness.
To be specific, as most of the Hindu people reside in the Northern part of the country, much of the celebrations take place in those areas. In a nutshell, Deepavali is a festive season of endless celebration, which might definitely enthrall you in all means.
- Season: During the months of October or November
- Focused Location: Hindu families all over the island
- Highlight: A worship ceremony where Hindus worship Goddess Lakshmi, decorating their houses with oil lamps, ‘Kolam’ patterns.
Of course, there cannot be at least a single person who is not aware of Christmas. Indeed, a vast portion of the world celebrates Christmas, and so as Sri Lankans. As you might know for certain, this is the festival that commemorates the birth of Jesus Chist. Yet, you might have a keen interest to know as to how Sri Lankans celebrate Christmas.
Although the majority of the country are Buddhists, there is a considerable amount of Catholics and Christians in the country. Hence, the people of Sri Lanka celebrate Christmas on a grand scale.
Making Christmas trees and decorating houses are quite common whereas all the Catholics and Christians attend the midnight mass. Nevertheless, People organize carol services and Christmas parties in abundance. People share gifts and visit their relatives, neighbors, and friends in order to show love and compassion towards one another.
Just like in any other country, all the kiddies love this festive season and they expect gifts from Santa Clause. However, they enjoy the delight of true joys when they receive gifts from their elders, and when they get the chance to attend Christmas parties and have fun. All the churches in the country look fascinating with the decorations and illuminations during this season. So, it is indeed very colorful.
However, you can witness the best Christmas celebrations especially in areas such as Colombo and Negombo where there are lots of Catholic and Christian people. From the recent past, it has been a trend to organize Christmas zones. If you go to a Christmas zone, well, you might get the feeling ‘It is all about Christmas’.
- Season: 25th December each year
- Focused Location: Across the island
- Highlight: Catholics and Chirstians commemorate the birth of Jesus Chist with much festivity.
After all, you will certainly feel that it is not only the scenic beaches, amazing cascades, wonderful wildlife, the pleasant weather and climate that make reasons for millions of tourists to visit Sri Lanka. But also these festivals in Sri Lanka, that leave you awestruck and mesmerized. However, if you are planning to visit Sri Lanka, to witness their amusement, there are few things that you need to keep in mind. Below are some of them.
- Exact celebration dates from the Gregorian calendar cannot be given for the festivals that are celebrated according to other traditional calendars. The calendar on the website of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Sri Lanka, might help you get to know the exact date of such celebrations of a certain year.
- Most of these celebration days are public holidays, except for Nallur and Vel festivals. Therefore, if you are planning to witness these two festivals, it is better to pay special attention to your travel mode, since the streets might be busy.
- All these celebrations take place annually with high festivity. Still, unexpected occurrences and natural disasters might affect the nature of the celebration. So, make sure to check on the country’s situation, if you are especially aiming for any of these festivals when you plan your trip.
Indeed, these gorgeous celebrations along with their sacred vibes, take the beauty of Sri Lankan culture a step ahead. Thus, they create an interrelated identity for Sri Lanka that is simply inseparable. If you witness the beauty of these celebrations even once, ‘Festivals in Sri Lanka’ is the very next group of words that would come into your mind once you hear the words: Sri Lanka. They are that amazing. So, make sure you witness their grandeur if you ever be in Sri Lanka!