Sri Lanka’s festivals offer visitors the chance to experience the diverse cultures that shape the island's identity. The festivals are an integral part of life here, from the Buddhist festival of Kandy Esala Perahera – one of the country’s grandest traditional festivals – to the Catholic Madhu Church Festival, and from the Hindu Vel festival to the series of events marking Ramdan; the country’s major religions are all represented here.
If you happen to be visiting Sri Lanka when any one of these spectacular festivals is due to take place, make sure to leave some space in your itinerary to witness something a little out of the ordinary.
It is believed that over 2600 years ago the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Great Teacher, the Supreme Buddha occurred on a day like this. Sri Lanka celebrates Vesak for almost a week in the month of May and the whole country will be lit up for the festival. Streets and homes across the Island are decorated with beautiful lanterns and almost every town has a grand pandol depicting a Jataka story. On Poya day Buddhists visit the temple to obtain sil and meditate on the philosophy of the Great Teacher. Flowers are offered in remembrance of the Buddha’s teachings on impernance. Accumulating merit is also considered, therefore charity or giving is an important part of Vesak and Dansal (alms stalls) are organised. At night, the entire week, crowds experience the mesmerising atmosphere.
The holy day starts with Buddhist families in immaculate white wending their way to temples where they will attend and obtain sil, which means staying in the temple till noon or night, abstaining from any vices or indulgences that whole day. The biggest Vesak festival in Sri Lanka is the Buddha Rashmi 2017, Vesak Kalapaya organised by the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo 2, the brainchild of the Venerable Galaboda Gnanissra thero. The centre of attention will be the Beira Lake. There will be pandals and competitions where hundreds of creative lanterns will be showcased, and bhakti geetha and cultural shows. President Maithripala Sirisena together with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, will declare open the Buddha Rashmi 2017, which will go on for five days from May 10 to 14. This year, Sri Lanka has the great honour of being the focus point of the UN Buddhist celebrations, and a great number of foreign dignitaries from as many as 100 countries, also the Premier of India, Narendra Modi, are to attend. From May 12 to 14, the UN Vesak Celebrations will see 400 delegates partaking in a Buddhist symposium and a cultural show. It is also a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka to showcase her unique cultural significances. It is believed that Vesak is the day when all good instincts come out; and the most exemplified is generosity, which is apparent in the number of dansal or free food stalls that mark the roads every few metres. They can provide anything from a parcel of fried
Fasting is observed to commemorate the event of Almighty Allah revealing the Holy Quaran to Prophet Mohammed. All Muslims from the age of 12 fast from dawn to dusk where eating and drinking is prohibited and all thoughts be focused on religious merits. The days fast is offset by a nightly meal known as the Ifthar. Fasting is believed to cleanse the body and mind and it is done to remind oneself of the plight of the less fortunate. This process is followed for a period of one month at the end of which there is much celebration and feasting.
The second most important full moon day in Sri Lanka is Poson. The focal point of the main full moon, Vesak, is Colombo, all lit up for nearly a week. But on the Poson day, the attention shifts to the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura. Buddhism was introduced there, on that day, more than two thousand years ago. In commemoration of that event, people flock to these ancient plains in June. For once a year the old glory of the old kingdom is relived: pilgrims worship at the stupas and bathe in the reservoirs – although the old buildings of course are ruins. But the renovated buildings of Anuradhapura, however whitewashed or redone they maybe, are viewed as hallowed places not a bit devoid of their original sanctity, just like those that remain ruins. Gratitude is a great virtue extolled by the Buddha, and the Poson celebrations display the gratitude of a whole nation. The main historical figure who receives this gratitude is the emissary who brought Buddhism here: the Great Mahinda Thera. Mihintale was where he landed. Situated a few kilometers from Anuradhapura proper, this is a great mountain, the pinnacle of which, a rock called ‘Aradhana- Gala’, is the holy of holies on Poson day. From here the emissary made his first oration, starting with a brainteaser to ascertain that his first listener is intelligent enough to understand the doctrine about to be preached. The rest is history, and Sri Lanka to this day is the bulwark of traditional Buddhism. One manifestation of the i