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Updated by Joanna James on Jul 13, 2023
Headline for 5 Festivals Not to Miss in Sri Lanka - A glimpse into the vibrant cultural tapestry of the teardrop island
Joanna James Joanna James
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5 Festivals Not to Miss in Sri Lanka - A glimpse into the vibrant cultural tapestry of the teardrop island

A cultural melting pot in South Asia, Sri Lanka is home to four main ethnicities—Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Christians—making the country vibrant throughout the year with a host of colourful festivals. If lucky, you just might experience one on your holidays on the idyllic island.


Kandy Esala Perahera - The Festival of the Tooth

The week-long Kandy Esala Perahera is arguably the biggest, most colourful and oldest religious and cultural festival in the island nation. Taking place in the cultural capital of Sri Lanka—the picturesque Kandy city—in the months of July or August, Perahera—meaning procession—is where the Sacred Tooth Relic, which is enshrined in the world-renowned Temple of the Tooth, is processioned around the streets of Kandy in a grand manner. Musicians, fire-dancers, Kandyan dancers, whip-dancers, drummers, and most importantly, exquisitely adorned elephants—the experience is like no other.


Sinhala and Tamil New Year - The Sri Lankan New Year

Taking authenticity to new heights, the Sri Lankans, specifically the Sinhalese and Tamils, celebrate the new year in mid-April, the 13th or 14th to be precise, contrary to what almost the rest of the world celebrates. The rather bizarre new year is associated with the conclusion of a harvesting season that is believed to have been followed by the island nation's ancestors in ancient history, which is based on the sun's movement from the House of Pisces to the Aries. Come the month of April every year, the country is full in festival mode, lighting firecrackers, taking part in folk games and cooking the traditional staple, milk rice.


Vesak Poya - The festival of lights

As a majority Buddhism nation, the great mass of the country's public holidays is dominated by Poyas—a religious festival of Sri Lankan Buddhists that falls on the full moon day of every month. However, no Poya is as important as the Vesak Poya in the month of May, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha. The festive season of Vesak is arguably the most vibrant period of the year, where countless colourful Vesak lanterns light up all across the country.


Diwali - Lord Rama's defeat of Ravana

The Hindus in Sri Lanka also have their fair share of festivals just as the Buddhists do, and Diwali is considered the most significant. Diwali—or Deepavali, as it is known locally—is the celebration of Lord Rama's defeat of Ravana, which the festival symbolises as the defeat of light over darkness, giving it the local moniker, "the Hindu festival of lights".


Ramadan - the Islamic festival of cleansing and fasting

Ramadan is one of the most common cultural festivals around the world that is, with no exception, celebrated by Muslims in Sri Lanka as well. According to information sources with the likes of Events and Festivals Blog, Ramazan—as it is known commonly in the local vernacular—is a month-long festival, which begins at the first sighting of the new moon.