SINHALA & TAMIL NEW YEAR
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is Celebrated in April each year and the Sinhalese and Tamil nationals place great importance in the observation of rituals and traditions during this New Year. Auspicious times are allocated for formal procedures such as the bathing, lighting of the hearth, anointing of the oil and partaking in a feast of traditional Sri Lanka treats. New clothes and gifts are exchanged and friends and family members rejoice in the celebrations by participating in game contests held in lieu of the New Year. Much fun is had and the celebration ends with fireworks and quality time spent with loved ones.
Vesak commemorates the three significant events that took place in Lord Buddha’s life, namely his birth, enlightenment and demise. Vesak is Celebrated in a grand way, each May in Sri Lanka and streets are endowed with vibrant lights, elaborate lanterns are and Colorful pandols depicting the many lives of Lord Buddha. A stroll among Colombo during Vesak is a magical and enriching experience.
The ideal of Vesak is to bring happiness to all and stalls offering free food and beverages line roads. Buddhist temples organize religious discussions, activities and volunteer sessions and devotees flock to places of worships, dressed in serene white attire.
Reknown as Sri Lanka’s grandest event, the Esala Perahera is held in the hill capital of Kandy every July / August in honor of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha that is preserved and protected in the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa). This prestigious religious festival dates back to the 18th Century and the Sacred Tooth Relic is encased in a glimmering gold casket and paraded around Kandy on the back of the most majestic elephant known as the ‘Tuker of the Maligawa’.
The Esala Perahera is a fascinating whirlwind of lights, colour and sound that will leave you mesmerized. Hundreds of dynamic Kandyan dancers, fire dancers and folk dancers move to the beat of the drums, accompanied by close to a 100 elephants clothed in glittering garments, flag bearers, acrobats and dignitaries dressed in traditional Kandyan attire. Spectators can turn up early and book a free space to view this magnificent spectacle or buy tickets beforehand or at the venue.
THE KATARAGAMA FESTIVAL
The Kataragama Festival takes place over two weeks from July till August and Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims alike gather to honor the Hindu war-god skanda, also known as Murugan. Devotees don pristine garments and walk up to the Kataragama Temple to make ritualistic offerings of fresh fruit, partake in remarkable performances, one of them being self-mortification for the atonement of sins and their bodies and suspend from hooks that pierce their skin, all ardent acts of faith.
The grand procession takes place every night and is undoubtedly the highlight of the festival. Religious chanting along with the frenzied drum beats, flutes and fire dancers accompany the devotees as they carry earthen vessels containing holy ashes on their heads. The temple officials join the parade, carrying the golden casket of the God on the back of an elephant. The holy casket is carried to the three Amma Devale before it is taken back to the Maha Devale. On the final day of the festival, the ‘Water-Cutting Ceremony’ takes place, during which the holy casket it dipped into the sacred waters of the Menik River.
DEEPAVALI & THAI PONGAL
Known as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali celebrates the triumph of good over evil and banishes the shadows and spirits of the world with Deepavali lamps. In Sri Lanka, Deepavali is celebrated in October with lavish meals, the exchanging of gifts, abundant fireworks and vibrant lights and lamps galore. Hindu temples organize numerous puja’s and celebrations to commemorate this significant event.
Celebrated in January, Thai Pongal is dedicated to nature and the sun for contributing towards a bountiful harvest.
The ritual of waking up before sunrise and donning new clothes are observed and a traditional sweet rice called ‘Pongal Rice’ is prepared. The entrance to Hindu homes are adorned rice and produce from the harvest is used to prepare an array of delicious food to share with family members and friends.
The Sacred Shrine of Lady Madhu in Mannar, believed by the Roman Catholics, to contain miraculous healing powers, is a place of worship for Tamil and Sinhalese Catholics as well as Sri Lankans of all faiths and walks of life. The Madhu Festival observed for over 400 years in Sri Lanka, takes place every August and during this time thousands of devotees will visit the pilgrimage site and participate in prayers, hymns, services and celebrations.
Eid celebrates the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. During Ramadan, the Muslim Sri Lankans will fast from down till sunset, an act which expresses their ardent faith and gratitude. The importance of charity is also stressed during this time and many families give food to the poor and homeless. When the month draws to an end, a grand feast of biryani, meat curries, savory snacks and sweets are prepared and family and friends gather to celebrate Eid in August. Gifts and money are exchanged and new clothes are bought and worn during the celebrations.
DURATION : JULY – AUGUST
Christmas is celebrated on a large scale in Sri Lanka every December, even though the majority of citizens are Buddhists. The rule of the European colonies has instilled the customs and traditions of this joyful period within Sri Lankan culture. Relatives and friends are invited to homes and lavish spreads are prepared malls, hotels, restaurants and houses of Colombo are decorated with bright Christmas lights and Christmas trees are sold along the streets, filling the air with a festive aroma.
Most Churches hold Midnight Mass and carol services to celebrate the birth of Christ. Fireworks erupt, families gather to decorate the Christmas tree and happy carol singer’s travel from door to door. Most families, churches and charitable organizations help to spread Christmas cheer by donating gifts and food and organizing Christmas celebrations for the less fortunate. Hotels and restaurants hold Christmas Eve and Christmas Day specials, offering a feast of traditional Christmas favorites such as turkey, stuffing, eggnog and Christmas pudding.