As a part of celebrating our heritage and culture, we would like to celebrate a special event every month and share the joys of our multi-cultural heritage with you all. Join us on a monthly journey as we look through events that make a remarkable and significant change in our society.
Duruthu Perahara – January
In Sri Lanka Peraheras are a regular event. Every month there is a perahera somewhere in the island. The Duruthu Pererahera in Kelaniya, which just concluded is the first perahera in the year.
Many believe that this perahera marks the Buddha’s visit to Kelaniya on a Duruthu Full Moon Day. This month which is known as January in English is the 10th month in the Sinhala calendar. The Buddha did visit Lanka on a Duruthu Full Moon Day, but it was not to Kelaniya. He came to Mahiyangana in Uva, in the Badulla district. He came to bring peace to two Yakkha tribes who were at war.
The Buddha did visit Kelaniya. It was on the Vesak Full Moon Day in the eighth year after his Enlightenment. It was his third visit, the second was to Nagadeepa, three years earlier.
Independence Day – February
Prior to the year 1972, Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon. For more than a century Sri Lanka was a British crown colony but on 4 February, 1948 the country achieved its independence to officially become the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Don Stephen Senanayake became Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister.
The independence day of Sri Lanka is a great national occasion celebrated with parades and pageants combined with the spirit of patriotism and national pride. The celebrations begin with the hoisting of the national flag and singing the national anthem, followed by the traditional lighting of the lamp ceremony. Subsequently there are various cultural programs as well as serving of refreshments.
This national day holds much significance for the people of Sri Lanka as it reflects the history of great sacrifices made by many Sri Lankans in the Attainment of its freedom.
It is the day to pay tribute to the armed forces that played a major role in the country’s freedom struggle.
Sinhala Tamil New Year – April
Sinhalese New Year, generally known as Aluth Avurudda in Sri Lanka, is the new year of the Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka. It is a major anniversary celebrated by not only the Sinhalese people but by most Sri Lankans. The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The festival has close semblance to the Tamil, Thai, Bengali, Cambodian, Lao, Thingyan in Myanmar and Oriya New Year festival in India. It is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. It is generally celebrated on 13 or 14 April.
According to Sinhalese astrology, year begins when the sun moves from Meena Rashiya (the house of Aries) to Mesha Rashiya. It also marks the end of the harvest and spring.
Vesak Festival – May
Vesak is the main Buddhist religious festival in Sri Lanka. During this time, people celebrate the triple anniversary of Lord Buddha – his birth, his attaining of Enlightenment and his passing away into Nirvana.
Colourful bamboo-framed lanterns adorn the interior of every home and luminous displays decorate the streets of most towns. Visit Bhauddoloka Mawatha, the main street in Colombo, to catch this glowing spectacle in full glory.
Vesak marks the first month of the Buddhist Calendar. This is a day spent in reflective prayer as people cease worldly pursuits and engage themselves in religious activities. Devoted Buddhists pray in temples from dawn until dusk. As the sun sets, devotees partake in processions and return to the temples in the evening to hear monks read stories from sacred texts.
Roadside stalls distribute free refreshments to passers-by and there are mime and street theatre performances, staged on tall platforms near temples in cities and towns throughout the country.
Kataragama Perahera Festival – July
Kataragama hums with activity at the time of pujas (offerings or prayers). Devotees laden with offerings move lightly, barefoot, up the temple steps. From inside comes the sharp sound of breaking coconuts as worshippers begin their devotions. It’s just after six in the evening, not long now to the evening puja. A queue snakes round the shrine’s inner walls; the people stand patiently, clutching plates heaped with fruit and flowers and decorated with brilliant red garlands made only for Skanda, son of Shiva and the god of war and wisdom, for whom the main shrine in Kataragama is dedicated. It is said that Skanda rested on the mountain at Kataragama after defeating an army of demons.
The Kataragama shrine is ancient. Legend has it that it was built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC, but it is apparently even older than this. There is an old pilgrimage route to Kataragama that starts in Jaffna and runs down the east coast, passing through Yala. Because of the war, this route is sadly too risky to undertake. But pilgrims still make the trek up the mountain. At dusk you can see the lights from the shrine on the mountain from the precincts of the Kataragama shrine.
Kandy Esala Perahara – August
Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth) is the grand festival of Esala held in Sri Lanka. It is very grand with elegant costumes. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and nicely decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional ‘diya-kepeema’.
National Kite Festival – September
A festival of color and life, the National Festival of Kites is the place where creativity soars to the heights unreached as people from all age groups and backgrounds display their handiwork and paint the skies, each with a different shade. Kite festival Competitors could be any person, group or organization but the festival is open to all. Kites are in all shapes and sizes and are usually made with dried leaves and colorful papers and sarees. There usually competitions for longest kite or the most innovative kite with natural resources among many others.
Adam’s Peak – December
Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada as known in Sri Lanka, is a mountain (2243 m) located in the south of the central highlands. The mountain features a rock formation that is considered as the footprint of Buddha for Buddhist, Shiva, for Hindu and Adam for Muslims and Christians.
The 1400 m ascent means a significant difference in temperature as you reach the top, and this is exacerbated by the wind. It is not a hard climb but especially on the way down, leg muscles will be overexerted.
The Jan – March period is particularly busy time to climb. Other months see less traffic, and therefore the many stalls lining the path are not open during the “low” season. So bringing food and especially water is important. Many people attempt the ascent in the early hours of the morning, with the goal of seeing the sunrise, others climb in the afternoon to see the sundown. In either cases, torches are needed to see at night, even with full moon. Travelling in groups is always advisable.