Major festivals in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's colourful festivals will transport you to a rich world of culture and rituals unique to the island
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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.

Things to do, Festivals

Festivals

August marks many significant festivals, including Bellanwila Esala Perahera, Feast of St Anne’s Church, Thalawila, Festival of Maviddapuram Kandaswamy Kovil, Jaffna, Esala Perahera, The Feast of Our Lady of Madhu, Hajj, Nikini Poya, Munneswaram Sivan Kovil Festival, Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Festival and Festival of Captain Garden’s Kovil. 

Our lady of Madhu Church
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The annual Feast of Our Lady of Madhu

Long considered to be the holiest place of Roman Catholic worship in Sri Lanka, the Shrine of Our Lady of Rosary in Madhu is a beacon of hope and faith. All year long Mother Mary’s life is celebrated here but the grandest celebration of all is held in August, which coincides with the Feast of Mother Mary’s Assumption to heaven. With the flag hoisting starts the nine-day preparatory period before the Feast of Our Lady of Madhu. Situated in Mannar, one can reach the holy premises via the secluded road stretching through the Madhu Sanctuary. Blue flags flutter high in the wind and adorn the church precincts, almost blending with the skyline. The solemn structure in blue and white comes into sight, upon entering the sacred grounds. The miraculous statue of Mother Mary holding the infant Jesus at its altar has an intriguing history and much of its past has been lost with time. The initial abode of Our Lady of Madhu is said to have been in Mantai, situated a short distance away from its present place. According to the annals of history, a woman named Helena is said to have been instrumental in building the first shrine in Madhu. A time-honoured tradition, camping in the church grounds is a ritual of the Madhu pilgrimage. Some set up makeshift tents while others will reside in small houses, which is an alternative to camping. The benevolent statue of Our Lady of Madhu, has for years offered solace, blessings and refuge to the ones who come to experience her divine presence. Fo

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Things to do, Festivals

The Pulsating beat of the Esala Perahera

At dusk, the streets surrounding the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic glow with a thousand lights that illuminate the surrounding darkness to reveal a procession of pulsating action. The sound of whips cracking heralds the start. Men in white walk in procession carrying the Buddhist flag. The first elephant bears the Peramune Rala, a distinguishable presence, as he carries the perahera sannasa on both hands, which contains the religious activities of the procession and the duties with regard to the properties of the Temple. Dancers, drummers and performers gleam in colourful costumes as they move to the rhythm of the drums. Elephants, guided by mahouts, saunter respectfully to the delight of onlookers. The streets reverberate with the pounding of drums as the ‘horanewa’ – traditional horn provides the melody to the dancers; some manoeuvring balls of fire, others performing various stunts. The Esala Perahera is divided into several seg- ments. The observances begin with a ritual, kap situwima – planting of a sanctified young jackfruit tree. The first processions of this festival are in honour of the four devales, situated around the Tooth Relic Temple, whose deities are regarded as the guardians of the Sacred Relic. The Kumbal Perahera that follows, a mini procession prior to the grand finale, parades the streets for five days. The majestic tusker bears the all Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha when the Randoli Perahera takes to the streets. This was the procession that w

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Nallur Festival – A magnificent adoration of Lord Murugan

With origins dating back to the reign of Aryachakravarthi’s rule during the 13th century, the Kovil has a remarkable history. Since the re-emergence of the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil during Dutch colonisation, the kovil has flourished under the custodianship of the Maapaana Mudaliyar family, where the traditions of Shaivism and worship of the Divine Child – lord Murugan are strictly upheld. The simple brick structure built for the ‘Vel’ in the early days still remains as the Sanctum Sanctorum, preserved amidst the Dravidian and Hindu architectural characteristics added over the centuries. All worshippers are treated equally and it is the only Kovil in Sri Lanka where archanai or personal pooja is offered at one rupee. The Custodians have over the years ensured that time is upheld as sacred, and all customs, pooja and even festivals are held on time. The Mahotsavam also called Nallur Festival is the grandest and most venerated with processions and elaborate festivals. It commences with the Flag Hoisting Festival on August 16 and concludes with Vairavarshanthi on September 11. Some of the main festivities include Mancham (Aug 25) when lord Murugan and his consorts are taken in procession in the outer (premises) Prakaram of the Kovil. During the Kailasa Vahanam (Sept 4) pageant, worshippers are filled with awe amidst the astounding chariot representing Mount Kailash in the Himalaya range. Lord Murugan and his consorts are mounted on elaborate horse chariots for the Orumuga (Sept

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