Sri Lanka, the tiny teardrop-shaped isle, offers many experiences ranging from world-class cultural and historical sites to amazing beaches, verdant tea plantations and spectacular national parks with great wildlife. Celebrated with great fervor and enthusiasm, festivals in Sri Lanka offer the perfect chance to witness and be a part of this beautiful country’s culture and traditions. Here’s a list of the best ones you don’t want to miss.
1- Sinhala & Tamil New Year
The first festival is happening in a bit more than a week from now, as usually around mid-April every year the entire country is involved in a festive atmosphere to mark the Lunar New Year. Amongst all festivals in Sri Lanka, the Sinhala & Tamil New Year is especially celebrated to mark the end of the harvest season and spring. People get busy cleaning and decorating their homes, preparing traditional sweets, enjoying meals with the family and showing off their new clothes. The celebrations also involve anointing children with herbal oils, bursting firecrackers and organizing competitive games to add to the fun quotient.
When: 13-14th April
2- Poson Poya Festival
Another grand festivity is Poson Poya, which is the celebration of the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and it usually takes place during the full moon in June. There are celebrations all over the island but the main festivities for Poson Poya are at Mihintale. The Mihintale rock outcrop is believed to be the first place that the Buddhist monk Mahinda talked about Buddhism with King Devanampiyatissa. To get to Mihintale you can take a train to Anuradhapura and a car from there. The company Lakpura LLC has a great facebook page with really good tips that can help you navigate the country.
When: full moon day in June
3- Kandy Esala Poya Perahera
Another huge celebration is the Esala Poya Perahera in Kandy. Esala Poya is the day that celebrates the arrival of the Buddha Tooth Relic to the famous Temple of the Tooth. Perahera means procession in Sinhalese. Peraheras take place on small scale in Colombo and other places around the island, but none compare to the week-long celebrations in Kandy during Esala Poya. With a Perahera procession every day for a week, the experience is unbeatable. Dancers, musicians, dressed elephants, rituals and more, every day until the last night which is the biggest Perahera of all. They have a really good website with information on how to get there, about the festival and pictures and videos from previous years.
When: full moon of July or August
4- Kataragama Festival
Kataragama Festival is a predominantly Hindu festivity held annually mainly in the remote southern town that it takes its name after, one of the holiest towns in Sri Lanka. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from the island’s main faiths over a two-week period. These pilgrims including Hindus, Muslims and Veddas gather in the town to fulfill their vows or to seek knowledge and guidance from Lord Kataragama. There is also a procession with elephants, regional dancers, singers, musicians, fire eaters, acrobatics and jugglers performing to the beat of thundering drums and chanting, which is truly not to be missed. For more information, go check out their official website.
When: usually in July or August, at the same time as Kandy’s Esala Perahera
5- Deepavali Festival
Deepavali (or Diwali) is a Hindu festival of lights, one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, which spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. It is celebrated widely in countries with significant Hindu populations. In Sri Lanka, it is celebrated by the Tamil community and it includes many traditional aspects of Deepavali, such as fireworks, a large meal, family reunions, singing, and dancing. Traditionally, people wear new clothes, exchange gifts, perform puja and visit to Hindu temple. Hindus light oil lamps to invite the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and to banish all evil. In the evening, they burn firecrackers. During the festival, millions of lights are shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, along with the streets, and around temples and other buildings in the communities.
When: Usually between mid-October and mid-November
In case this made you curious about life and culture in Sri Lanka and you have the chance to work remotely, the country offers great places to work such as the Colombo Cooperative and Likuid Spaces, both coworking spaces with very affordable prices.