Hindus all over Sri Lanka pay tribute to the sun in gratitude for bountiful harvests by celebrating Thai Pongal. The festival falls on the 1st day in the Hindu calendar (Thai month), which usually coincides with the 14th January in the Gregorian calendar. Although a celebration most close to the hearts of those in agriculture, other Hindus celebrate the efforts of all those involved in farming. The day commences with each household (or family) boiling a clay pot of milk. Visits to the temple, meeting with friends and relatives while enjoying all types of sweet meats are all part of this grand festival.
If you visit Sri Lanka in January, we can help you immerse yourself in Thai Pongal celebrations, thus allowing you the opportunity to experience one of Sri Lanka’s ancient and rich cultures.
Galle Literary Festival
The Galle Literary Festival is a celebration of literature, visual arts, culinary, architecture and theatre. It is held over a period of 5 days in Galle and Jaffna. The highlight of the Festival is that it features renowned international authors and also showcases Sri Lankan talent. If you are a fan of the finer arts, or even a professional in any of the disciplines mentioned, the Galle Literary Festival is the place to be.
When visiting Sri Lanka in January, be a part of the Galle Literary Festival and add that extra ‘oomph’ to your holiday!
If you are travelling to Sri Lanka in February, do not miss the refreshing combination of culture, tradition and festivities of the Navam Perahera. The fascinating pageant in Colombo which winds its way around the Beira Lake comprises of a number of colourfully decorated elephants, Kandyan dancers, acrobats, fire dancers, Buddhist monks and drummers. The procession makes its way slowly make their way along the streets, starting from the Gangaramaya Temple. The large tusker carrying the tooth relic on it back is truly a sight to behold, and is the integral aspect of the procession.
Check with us to get the exact timetable of the event and we can also help you secure the best accommodation spaces that will place you within close proximity to all the action.
Sinhala and Tamil New Year
The 13th & 14th of April marks one of Sri Lanka’s most joyous celebrations – the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The festivities are so widespread, the whole country celebrates for over a week! During the days leading up to the New Year, strolling along the streets of Colombo or any major city or town, you will encounter numerous discounted offers on pretty much anything. The celebration itself is sees people starting ‘afresh’ by cleaning their homes, indulging in plenty of shopping, preparing delicious sweetmeats, partaking in religious observances and indulging in various games. Some of the New Year delicacies you must try out are Kavum, kokis, pani walalu, murukku and laddu.
As a tourist, you can still be a part of this special time. Most, if not all, hotels in Sri Lanka celebrate the New Year with their guests and staff, sharing with you a rich dose of Sri Lankan culture during your holiday.
The sacred of all Buddhist celebrations, Vesak, occurs during the month of May. The day is considered thrice blessed as it commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha. Among a host of activities, observing ‘sil’ at Buddhist temples is the primary order of the day, with devotees affirming their faith in Buddha’s teachings. A celebration of devotion and light, all of the island is lit up during Vesak, with people setting up a plethora of lanterns of various designs. ‘Going to see Vesak’ is an important of any Sri Lankan’s diary as people crowd into the main cities to check out various decorations. Stop by a number of ‘dansals’ or stalls that distribute free food and drinks to passersby.
Poson in Mihintale
Poson, the second most important Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka (after Vesak), is celebrated on the Poya day of June. It is said that Poson Poya was the day Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka during the period of King Devanampiya Tissa (307 BC – 267 BC) by Arahat Mahinda Thero. On this auspicious day, devotees take part in various religious activities , with the entire nation going into celebration mode. Poson is celebrated grandly in Mihintale with devotees climbing the mountain, where Mahinda Thero first appeared thousands of years ago, to pay homage. You will see a spectacle of light and colour with many large structures (‘thoran’) depicting various tales from Buddhism are on display in Anuradhapura and Mihintale.
As a visitor to the island, you can experience Poson by mingling with the locals who set up various stalls on the streets and freely distribute food, drinks, ice cream etc to passersby – an experience not to be missed!
Vel Festival in Colombo
The annual Vel Festival in Colombo takes place during the month of July and has been celebrated for over a hundred years. The celebration’s birth is attributable to the Kataragama deity’s triumph over evil forces and it is celebrated parallely in Colombo as well. During the Vel celebration a beautifully decorated cart (‘ther’) is drawn by devotees through the streets of Colombo, starting from the Sammangodu Sri Kathirvelayutha Swamy Temple in Pettah. The colourful procession consists of dancers, devotees and musicians with some devotees displaying extreme levels of worship by suspending themselves via hooks attached to their bodies.
Esala Perahera (Kandy Perahera)
During August for 10 days, the former Hill Capital of Sri Lanka is the scene of a religious spectacle like no other in Asia. The Esala Perahera decorates the streets of Kandy, marrying culture, heritage, colour and celebration into a single magnificent event. It attracts thousands of devotees to witness the grandest of all the island’s festivities. The festival dates back to the 3rd century BC and is held on the month’s Full Moon Poya Day (Esala). To venerate the sacred tooth, it is placed in a golden casket, set on a magnificent tusker elephant and carried through the streets of Kandy. The procession consists of up to 100 elephants, all decorated in colourful garments and bright lights, accompanied by dancers, acrobats, fire eaters, drummers, musicians and singers.
Kite Festival in Colombo
The Kite Festival is organised by Kite Sri Lanka, the country’s leading association spearheading the movement to popularize kite flying as a sport. The festival is held at the Galle Face Green in Colombo and will attract hundreds of kite enthusiasts from around the country and overseas. Some of the awards presented are the most Creative Kite and the best Fighting Kite. The festival also promotes the use of eco-friendly materials to make the kites and is a fantastic platform for enthusiasts to express their creativity and kite-flying skills. Do not forget your cameras as the skies over the Galle Face Green will be a spectacle of colour during the festival.
Nallur Festival in Jaffna
The Nallur Kandaswamy Temple is a fascinating place to visit at any time, but becomes unforgettable during the latter stages of the annual Nallur Festival, which runs for 25 days. Men dress in fresh white sarongs, while ladies don their best saris, transforming the entire temple complex into a vast sea of intense blues, reds and greens. Held on the 24th of the 26 days, the Ther festival is the biggest, when an enormous chariot is pulled around the town by huge crowds of sarong-clad men. On the following day, enthusiastic devotees mortify themselves by driving skewers through their bodies in honour of the God, dancing their way to the shrine accompanied by drumming and piping. Many carry a kavadi, the distinctive symbol of Murugam (or Kataragama), a semicircular yoke, placed across the shoulders.
Colombo International Book Fair @ BMICH
The Colombo International Book Fair, as its name implies, is a celebration of all things books. It takes place over a week in September at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo 7. The largest of its kind in Sri Lanka, the event features over 40 international and 160 local publishers in over 300 bookstalls – any booklover’s dream come true. During this period, most books are on sale at special prices, with discounts ranging from 10%, all the way to 50%! The book fair does tend to get pretty crowded with locals as well as tourists, so your best bet is to visit on a weekday rather than the weekend.
September / October
As evening creeps in, the view over the massive Minneriya Reservoir and the lush greenery surrounding it make for a view that’s nothing short of spectacular. However, it gets better… Gigantic shadows emerge from amid the foliage from every direction, making their way to the water. Every year, continuing a centuries-old tradition, hundreds of elephants head towards the ancient Minneriya reservoir at the Minneriya National Park. This is called the “Elephant Gathering”, the only one of its kind in the world, and possibly the world’s largest pool party, featuring over 300 elephants. A safari through the Minneriya National Park during the months between July and November is the ideal time to see these majestic creatures.
Christmas / New Year season
Missing home during the Christmas / New Year season? Colombo city is a beehive of activity during the last couple of weeks leading to Christmas and then the dawn of the New New Year. Similar to other parts of the world, Colombo too rejoices during this period with a plethora of parties and events that are a treat to the soul. Treat the shopaholic in you by indulging in extensive retail therapy at a range of malls and boutiques. The city itself is adorned with Christmas decor. Following Christmas day, you will have a range of New Year Eve parties to look forward to. Star class hotels and nightclubs, all have something going on to appeal to whatever mood you may be in.