Over the course of many travels I’ve realized that the best time to visit a country, city or even village, is festival time. There’s no better way to soak up the sights and sounds, indulge in a little culture and find out more about how they live their lives. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka around December, one of my friends lamented being unable to see the land in full swing, which led me on a trail to discovering what was so special about Sri Lanka and its festivals. The land is quite a religious one, with a number of festivals that I’d rush down for. Here are a few that stand out from the rest.
The full moon festival is a great time to visit Sri Lanka, which means you should book your tickets for May this year. It’s a Buddhist festival celebrated all around the world, but with more pomp and grandeur in Sri Lanka than anywhere else. You’ll be treated to good food and a splash of colour as you walk around; the houses are filled with vibrant hues, lamps, lanterns and all things festive. And if you’re strolling through to get a feel of the island country, you shouldn’t forget to stop at the stalls for some of the free refreshments!
Kandy Perahera (July/August)
You have to know about Kandy Perahera, whether you’ve been traversing through travellers’ tales and looking through stories of Sri Lanka tourism or not. There’s no way you’ve missed hearing about the biggest festival in the country, unless you’ve been walking around with your eyes closed. This is why one of the best times to visit the place is during July/August. Apart from the ten-day pageant, there are enough indigenous activities to keep you entertained through your trip, events, festivities galore and traditional costumes that you have to try on. It’s almost like the Mardi Gras of Asia, with its torch bearers, dancers and processions.
Sri Lanka is all about religious festivals and there’s absolutely nothing more religious than celebrated the day religion really began for the little island. This June based festival includes big processions and is vibrant, vigorously celebrated and a lot of fun, but what is more interesting for me and anyone who wants to get to the heart of culture here is that it’s the day Buddhism was first introduced to the land. It’s rich in historic, cultural and religious significance, so you know you’ll come away from this one enlightened.
So, if you love listening to tales of valiant warriors, this one is definitely for you. Complete with chariot processions and temple visits, the festival is dedicated to the War God Skandha. Catch hold of a local, learn the history and celebrate with the islanders to get the full blast of this one.
Kataragama Perahera (July/August)
Yes, try saying that one in a hurry! It might be a mouthful, but it’s a good enough festival for you to start thinking of how to reach Sri Lanka come July, which is when it opens, with a flag hoisting ceremony. It’s more of a pilgrimage, but definitely worth it. The processions, fire walking (which is considered to be a sacred duty) and thousands of devout followers – if you’re interested in the culture and want to soak up the religion, the best way to do it is by visiting the jungle shrine with the rest of Sri Lanka’s religious devotees.
The full moon day of Duruthu is celebrated in January to commemorate the first visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. A procession is held for three nights at Kelaniya, 10 km. off Colombo. Getting to the festival is easy, thanks to regular on sale flights to Colombo easy to come by. This is a colourful occasion with elephants, dancers, drummers and whip crackers entertaining the spectators.