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Premlanka Hotel
Dickwella Beach, Southern Sri Lanka


Photo: Caparisoned Elephant, Kataragama Perahera
Elephant, Kataragama Perahera.

Sri Lanka – Festival Calendar

Sri Lanka is said to have more public holidays than any other country:

Sri Lankans celebrate the Buddhist festivals as well as many Christian, Hindu and Muslim festivals. On many of these festivals, there are colourful public displays and processions.

Because many of these festivals are linked to lunar or solar phases, their exact dates change from year to year.

We can arrange for you to experience these festivals.

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Muslim Festivals:

The dates of most Muslim festivals are based on the Islamic Calendar. This religious calendar has about 354 days, rather than the approx. 365 days in the international civil Gregorian Calendar. So, the dates of most Muslim festivals change by about 11 days from year to year.

Poya Days:

The full moon (poya) day of each month marks the start of the new month. Each of these days has a distinct religious significance and is known by its traditional name. Devotees make offerings (pujas, pujahs) at the temples.


January

Duruthu Poya:

Signals the start of the three-month pilgrimage season to Sri Pada (The Footprint of Buddha) or Adam's Peak (the footprint of Adam - the first man in the Koran and Bible, as Sri Lanka is believed to be by some - the Garden of Eden). Celebrates the first of the Buddha's three legendary visits to Sri Lanka.

Thai Pongal (Makar Sankranti, Sankranthi, Sankaranthi):

Hindu. January 14/15. Celebrates Surya, the Sun god; Indra, the bringer of rains; and the cow.

This two-day "Harvest Festival" is celebrated particularly by Hindu Tamil farmers. It marks the first rice harvest of the year. Old things are thrown-away, new things bought; houses are cleaned, painted and decorated for the festival. Decorations often include banana and mango leaves, together with decorative patterns drawn on the floor using rice flower. On the first day, a special sweetened rice dish is cooked with milk in a clay pot, and allowed to boil-over, symbolising abundance. On the second day, (Mattu Pongal) the cattle are honoured: Bulls are bathed, their horns are painted and they are sometimes decorated or given saris.

Duruthu Perahera (Kelaniya Festival):

A colourful religious festival at the Kelaniya Temple about 10km inland from the city of Colombo. This festival commemorates the third visit of Buddha to Sri Lanka. There are actually three separate, increasingly colourful and impressive processions of caparisoned elephants, torch bearers and traditional dancers:

  • The First Perahera—"Udamaluwa Perahera"
  • The Second Perahera—"Pahathamaluwa Perahera"
  • The Third & Final Procession—"Randoli Perahera"

February

Navam Poya:

Marks the Buddha's announcement of his approaching Parinirvana .

Independence Celebration:

4th February. Sri Lanka commemorates 4th February 1948 when Britain granted independence to its former colony of Ceylon. A great patriotic and national occasion celebrated with colourful parades, pageants, games and dances.


March

Medin Poya:

Marks the Buddha's first visit following his enlightenment to the palace of his father King Suddhodana, to show his relatives the path to enlightenment.

Maha Sivarathri:

Hindu. Feb/March. Honours Shiva. Devotees fast for a day and hold an all-night vigil.


April

Bak Poya:

Celebrates the Buddha's second legendary visit to Sri Lanka.

Sinhala & Tamil New Year:

13th/14th April. The Sinhalese and the Tamils celebrate the traditional New Year with a family festival, wearing new clothes, performing rituals such as making kiribath, exchanging presents. People observe traditional customs with merrymaking, fun, games and lavish hospitality.

Good Friday:

Christian. Marks the crucifixion of Christ.


May

Vesak (or Wesak) Poya:

The most important Buddhist poya: Thrice blessed day for Buddhists throughout the world; Commemorates the birth of Prince Siddhartha, his attaining enlightenment and passing away into Nibbana (Nirvana) as Gauthama Buddha. Also celebrates the Buddha's third legendary visit to Sri Lanka. It is a day of great sanctity devoted to religious observances and charity. Devout Buddhists fast, meditate and visit temples. Vesak marks the end of the Adam's Peak pilgrimage season.

The day is also celebrated with festivity, with colourful decorations, illuminations and pageants. Buses and cars are decorated with streamers. Decorative lanterns are hung in front of houses and huge panels decorated with scenes from the life of the Buddha – pandals (thorana), – are erected. After dark, many of these pandals are transformed by thousands of coloured light-bulbs, displaying complicated sequences of traditional patterns. Wayside stalls distribute food and refreshments to the pilgrims and passers by.

Beliatta, near Dickwella, usually has a beautiful Thoron. Families come from miles around to marvel at it and to visit the nearby fairground with its variety of stalls.

Labour Day:

1st May. May Day bank holiday.

National Heroes' Day:

Honours soldiers killed during the civil war.


June

Poson Poya:

Second in importance only to Vesak poya: Marks the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. The day is celebrated with religious observances and festivals, especially at Mihintale, about 10km east of the ancient northern city of Anuradhapura, where the Buddhist doctrine was first preached by Arahat Mahinda, son of the great Emperor Ashoka of India. Apart from religious festivals there are illuminations and decorations and processions in various parts of the island.


July – August

Esala (Asala, Asalha) Poya:

Marks the Buddha's first sermon and the arrival of the sacred Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka.

Esala Festivals:

Esala (July/August) is the season of festivals in Sri Lanka and the full moon day of Esala is the climax of some of the festivals. The exact dates of the Esala Peraheras and of the other festivals are announced only during the first quarter of the year.

Kandy Perahera:

The most famous of these festivals is the Kandy Esala Perahera. A spectacular medieval day pageant is held for 10 nights climaxing with the Kandyan dancers and drummers in colourful traditional costumes. Kandyan Chieftains in medieval court dress, more than one hundred caparisoned elephants, whip crackers, torch bearers etc., draw large numbers of devotees and visitors... so is very crowded.

Dondra Perahera:

1st week of August. Close to Dickwella in southern Sri Lanka, 160 km from Colombo is the shrine dedicated to God Vishnu at Dondra. The annual Esala Festival includes colourful perahera processions featuring troupes of dancers and drummers in colourful traditional costumes; torch bearers and caparisoned elephants.

Dondra is the start of a traditional pilgrimage route to Kararagama: For centuries, pilgrims have arrived by sea and then followed the route by land, stopping at temples each night. This pilgrimage culminates with the Kataragama Perahera.

Kataragama Perahera:

Although less famous outside Sri Lanka, the Kataragama festival is a major Esala Festival, lasting up to 14 days and culminating with the Maha Perahera at the July full moon. Kataragama in the South-East corner of the island is a jungle shrine dedicated to the God Skanda (Kartik), depicted as a six-headed (Shanmukha), twelve-handed (Dvadasakara) warrior riding a peacock (Paravani). Kataragama is a popular pilgrimage centre for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and the Vedda. Many follow a special 45-day pilgrimage route from Jaffna, or from Dondra, visiting many temples and shrines, culminating in this festival. Pilgrims take a sacred bath in the Manik Ganga (Menik or Manika Gangai, River of Gems).

These 14-days of pageants include whip crackers and fire dancers; with troupes of dancers and drummers in colourful traditional costumes; torch bearers and many, many caparisoned elephants. There is fire walking.

Diya Kaepima (Water-Cutting):

The Water-Cutting ceremony is held at an auspicious time, early in the morning after the final Perahera procession. At Kataragama a Pandal (special decorated, ceremonial enclosure) is built in the Manik Ganga river. The high priest enters this, and performs the ceremony at the auspicious moment. Afterwards, Hindu and Buddhist devotees bathe in the Manik Ganga and fill containers with sacred water, especially just downstream of the special enclosure. Traditionally, Ap (water) is one of the "five great elements." This ceremony helps to keep it in balance, promoting fertility and prosperity for the coming year.

Munneswaram:

1st week of August. About 75 km north of Colombo (3 km from Chilaw) is a Hindu shrine dedicated to God Siva where a colourful temple festival with fire walking takes place during the Esala Festival time. This is a popular pilgrim centre for both Hindus and Buddhists.

Nikini Poya:

Buddhist monastic communities start a period of fasting and retreat to commemorate the retreat of the Bhikkhus three months after the Buddha's death, to hold the first convocation.

Vas (Vassa, Rain Retreat):

On the full moon day of Esala, Buddhist monastic communities start a three-month period of fasting and retreat. The Buddha's disciples living near the Ganges, were confined to one place and forced to observe this retreat because of the torrential monsoon rains.

Vel Festival:

Sri Lanka's main Hindu festival. Celebrates Skanda/Kataragama (Kartik); ornate processions feature the god's chariot and vel (spear).


September

Binara Poya:

Celebrates the Buddha's journey to heaven to preach to his mother and the celestial multitude. Also the establishment of the Bhikkhuni (nun's) Order.

Dussehra (Dasara, Durga Puja, Akal-Bodhan):

Hindu. September/October. Important festival honouring the Mother Goddess Durga (Chamundeshwari) – who is usually portrayed carried on a lion – and her victory over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura; symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.

Originally a Spring festival, Rama moved it to Autumn and was rewarded with his victory over Ravana, king of the demons, rescuing Rama's wife Sita; as described in the "Ramayana."

Especially in Bengali communities, this festival spans the last five days of Navaratri. It's also a time for gifts, wearing new clothes, decorated houses and ornate Pandals.


October

Vap Poya:

End of the Vas Retreat, the Buddhist period of fasting: Commemorates the Buddha's return to earth.

Pavarana Day:

End of the Vas (Vassa) "Rains" Retreat, the Buddhist period of fasting. Katina (Kathina) ceremonies are held within the month following this day.

Katina (Kathina) Ceremonies and Cheevara Maasa (Month of Robes):

Katina ceremonies are held during the month after the end of the Vas (Vassa) Retreat: From the full moon day of Vap until the full moon day of Il. New robes are offered to the Sangha (communities of monks). There are public and house to house collections of money, gifts and clothes for the monks.

Deepavali (Divali, Diwali, Dipavali):

Hindu Festivals of Lights commemorating the return of Rama from exile and the triumph of light over darkness; good over evil. Celebrations include the lighting of lamps and the wearing of new clothes.


November

Il Poya:

Commemorates the Buddha's ordination of sixty missionary Arahats (disciples) to spread his teachings.


December

25th Christmas Day:

Christian. Celebrates the birth of Christ.

Unduvap Poya:

Marks the arrival in Anuradhapura of the true sapling of the sacred Bo-tree under which Gauthama Buddha attained enlightenment in India. The sapling of the Bodhi tree was brought by Arahat Theri Sangamitta, sister of Arahat Mahinda and daughter of Emperor Ashoka.


Dickwella is a coastal market & fishing town, between Matara and Tangalle; Sometimes spelt Dikwella or Dikwalle; Also called Dikwella South.

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