Religious Festivals

Sri Lanka being a predominantly Buddhist Country Buddhist festivals are more frequent. Full moon day of each month, called Poya day, is a day of religious observance for the Buddhists. On every Poya day there is some form of festival in the village temples. However the major full moon days are Duruthu (January), Vesak (May), Poson (June), Esala (August) and Unduvap (December) observed with greater pomp and pageantry.

Important Hindu festivals are Thai Pongal (in January), Vel (in July/August) and Deepavali (in November).

Muslims celebrate the Ramadan, Haj and Milad-un- Nabi festivals.

Christmas and Easter are celebrated by the Christians in Sri Lanka.

January - Duruthu Poya

Lord Buddha first visit to Sri Lanka – 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. This is a colorful occasion with elephants, dancers, drummers and whip crackers entertaining the spectators.

January - Thai Pongal

A festival of gratitude – This harvest festival is celebrated by Hindu community to express their regard for the Sun God. ‘Pongal’ word in Tamil means boiling over. People offer worship at a Hindu temple. Then a pot of rice is cooked in spicy, sweetened milk which is left to boil over. The dish is consumed as the prasada of the Sun God.

January - Whales and Dolphin Watching.

Sri Lanka holds the spotlight for best whale and dolphin watching in the world, on beautiful locations known as Mirissa and Kalpitiya. In the warm ripples of the Indian Ocean, you will be able to see pods of Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Bryde’S Whales, Striped Dolphins, Sperm Whales, Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins, Risso’s Dolphins and sometimes even Killer Whales. The best seasons to go whale and dolphin watching in Sri Lanka would be as follows.

  • South West Coast from November to March
  • East Coast off Trincomalee from June to September

February – Nawam Festival

Be ready for the rhythmic dancers, traditional music and the drummers, as the streets of Colombo come alive on the full moon poya day of the Annual ‘Navam Perehara’. Most magnificent and colorful procession, as elephants in their traditional attire glitter as they take part in the honor of Lord Buddha. It is an amazing site to view, an event to capture the traditional and cultural aspect of Sri Lanka.

February - Independence Day

Sri Lanka celebrates its Independence day on the 4th February every year. This day the Sri Lankans attained independence from British rule.

March - Hot Air Balloon festival

The Hot Air Balloon festival is held in March and gives ballooning enthusiasts a chance to fly over the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, witnessing the beauty of the natural environment. Organized by the Ceylon Airship and Balloon Club, the balloon ride goes around Sigiriya, Hambanthota and Colombo. The attraction of the hot air balloon lies not only in the scenery but also in the art of ballooning; the precision required to adjust the height to the ever-changing winds is a great attraction for disciplined balloonists.

April - Sinhala and Tamil New Year

Sinhalas and Tamils celebrate Bas as their new year. It marks the ending of the solar circuit and considered auspicious by Buddhists and Hindus. People wear new clothes, spend time with families and meet friends. Special dishes are prepared and consumed collectively. People play various indigenous games to make the occasion a fun-filled event. Several rituals are also observed..

May - Vesak Poya – The festival of Lights

For Buddhists all across the world, Vesak, a full moon day, is an occasion of paramount significance. The day marks the Birth, Enlightenment and Last Breath of the Buddha. Adherents of Buddhism bedeck and illuminate their houses with electric lamps and specially Vesak lanterns. They also visit places of worship to offer players. Towns wear a totally different outlook on the day. Colorful pandals with numerous electric jets are erected. Free meals are offered to passers by.

May - Galle Literary Festival

The Galle Literary Festival is Sri Lanka’s foremost literary festival held annually in January. Founded in 2007, it is an international literary festival held in the historic city of Galle, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2016, the festival was announced to be held in Kandy and Jaffna as well. Comprising of over 70 events, the program includes book launches, debates, discussions, plays, concerts, Gourmet dinners and children’s events among many others.

June - Poson Poya

Buddhism was introduced on this day in Sri Lanka. This was the day when Arahat Mahinda arrived in Sri Lanka. He introduced Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The festival is celebrated more vigorously in Anuradhapura and Mihintale. Large processions are taken out in both cities.

July - Esala Poya and Kandy Esala

Grand festival of Esala is celebrated in many parts of the Island specially Kandy. History of the festival dates back to 3rd century BC. Colorful large processions are held for several nights. This is the biggest festival in the region and is celebrated for ten nights. At Hindu shrines Vel festivals are held during this month.

July - Ramadan – Festival of breaking the fast

Ramadan – ‘Eid-ul-Fitr’ is the “festival of breaking the fast” celebrated by Muslims the world over, bringing to an end the Islamic holy month of fasting..

July – Hikka Beach Festival

Commonly referred to as Hikka Fest, Hikkaduwa Beach Fest is one of Sri Lanka’s most happening parties. Spread out over 5 days during July/August, the Beach Fest is made up of many events such as kite festivals, DJ parties and ladies’ only nights. Attendance by world-renown DJs, famous dancers and musicians draw enormous crowds of locals and foreigners.

July/August - Kataragama Perahera

Katarangama is located in the eastern part of Sri Lanka. Biggest festival in Kataragama is Perahera. Processions are held for two weeks in the months of July/August every year. The devotees do the daring act of fire walking to please God Skandha, the Warrior God..

October - Deepavali Festival

Hindu community celebrates Deepawali or the ‘festival of lights’ to welcome Lakshmi the Godess of wealth. They illuminate their homes with oil lamps and lights. Deepawali signifies victory of good over evil. People wear new clothes, distribute sweets and indulge in pyrotechnics..

December - Unduvap Poya Day

Groups of pilgrims climb Adam’s Peak, a hill considered sacred in Sri Lanka, for various religious activities. Giant footprints can be seen at the summit of the hill. People express their regards for these sacred footprints.

December – Christmas Festival

Christmas in Sri Lanka is a joyous event, with the festive atmosphere shared by the entire country. Christmas is celebrated throughout the month of December and the 25th is a public holiday. Sri Lankan Christmas traditions began under Portuguese rule in 1505 AD and evolved under the Dutch and British into the uniquely local celebration it is today.