Sri Lanka is one of the countries that are never free form lively festival a whole year round. Visitors will have an exceptional experience for witness its bright and colorful tradition of Sri Lanka if they stumble on the festive period. Most festivals in Sri Lanka are related to religion and depend on the lunar calendar, encompassing Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian festivals. Apart from the religious holidays, Sri Lankan people also enjoy their national holidays, proving well the entertainment -lover-mind of people in this country. The followings are some major festivals of each religion in Sri Lanka.
Over the years, popular Buddhism has absorbed a number of Hindu customs together with a galaxy of local gods. The awesome of these deities is the god Skandha or Katharagama whose shrine is in the deep south. Katharagama is a terrifying figure, and he exacts a heavy price from those whose petitions He grants. Those who have been cured of grave illnesses, or whose prayers for children have been answered, must redeem their vows with an offering of pain. Sometimes they have to walk across burning coals, but the most common penitence is to be dragged around the streets swinging from a bar to which they are attached by savage iron hooks struck into the flesh of their backs.
In fact, any single day in the Buddhist calender is of equal importance to the Christmas day in Christian calender, it has to be the day of Wesak. All over the country, temples in the villages and cities announce the dawn of Wesak, with peals of bells and drum beats. Shops selling large and small lanterns, candles, various electric lighting sets, and papers of any imaginable color abound. The devout, clad in pure white, with no make-up or jewelry, make their way to the temple to spend the next twenty four hours in quiet contemplation. No solid food is taken after mid-day meal on this day.
New Year , which is celebrated about the 13th - 14th of April, is a very special time in Sri Lanka. The larders are full since the harvest has just been collected, the trees are full of flowers, the homes are freshly painted and it is time for festivities. Everything during this time must be performed at precise times (nakatha), and in the prescribed way. The lighting first fire in the hearth, start of work, first transaction, first application of oil to hair, first meal, to name a few.
Since Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist country, Buddhist festivals are more frequent. In fact, full moon day of every month is regarded as a religious observance for the Buddhists; it is called Poya Day. However, the main full moon days reminiscent to the religious important events are:-
Duruthu (January): The full moon day of January marks the first visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. In memory of this visit, a procession consisting of well-decorated elephants, dancers, and drummers is held for three nights at Kelaniya (10 kilometers from Colombo).
Vesak (May): This full moon day is a day of the great significant for the Buddhists around the world for it marks the Birth, Enlightenment, and Decease of the Buddha. The Buddhist houses on the island are decorated with bright Vesak lanterns. The alms halls offer free meals to passer-by and Buddhists go to temples or shrines for religious observance.
Poson (June): Poson commemorates the day Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka by Arahat Mahinda. There are processions held in many parts of the country in reminiscence to this celebrated Buddhist apostle who took Buddhism to the Island. But the celebrating centers on this day are at Anuradhapura and Mihintale.
Esala (July/August): July to August is a month of religious celebrations in several parts of the country, but the biggest and most famous is the Festival of the August Moon or Kandy Perahera at Kataragama in the eastern part of the country. In Kataragama, colorful processions are held for two weeks with an amazing "fire walking ceremony" to express respect and sacrifice to the God Kataragama, regarded the Warrior God.
Unduvap (December): This full day is a memorial day of Sangamitta, Asoka's daughter, who brought a sapling from a scared Bodhi Tree in India to Sri Lanka. The tree grown from that sapling still stands in Anuradhapura today.
Hindu festivals also fill the festive periods in Sri Lanka with its distinctly colorful ceremonies, making the Hindu shrines across the country full of emanating faith and happiness of people. Major Hindu festivals are:-
Vel (July/August): This Hindu festival is held to honor the War God Skhanda in Colombo. The city's main streets are used for the magnificent processions of colorfully decorated chariots, accompanied by music and dance.
Also known as the festival of lights, Deepavali festival takes place in late October or early November. Thousand of oil lamps will be lit to celebrate the victory of good over evil and the return of Rama (the legendary character of the Hindu epic Ramayana, believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu) after his period of exile. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is worshipped on the third day of the festival.
Muslim community is quite isolated from other ethnic group, their celebration are not then displayed to public. Most of Muslim festivals are also closely connected to religion. The main Muslim festivals are the Milad-un-Nabi or the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in December, Id-ul-Fitr marking the end of the holy fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the Haj festival when Muslims make their pilgrimages to the holy Muslim shrine in Mecca.
When it comes to national festivals, the most expecting, most colorful, and most vibrant festivals of the nation is the traditional New Year Festival. The festival is when the two major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and the Tamils jointly celebrate this happy time, but in different styles according to their original tradition.
Although the conventional New Year is the 1st January, traditional New Year (Avurudu) of the Sinhalese and the Tamils occurs in the 13th or 14th April each year according to their lunar calendar.
The precise days and times of celebration of the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year are determined by the astrologers. The auspicious time is marked by the entry of the Sun from the zodiac sign of Pisces (the last phase of the Sun cycle) to Aries (the first phase of the Sun cycle). The festive period continues for about a week. The festival also coincides with the end of the harvest season and the beginning of new season. People enjoy the brand new day of the New Year by cleaning their house, buying their new clothes, and eating special meal in a union of family members. Unlike the long, continual Sinhalese New Year celebration, Hindu Tamil New Year is confined to the first day of the Year and is over within hours.
*culled from www.silkroadgroup.com