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JANUARY

Duruthu Perehera
A popular religious and cultural event, the annual “Duruthu Perahera” celebrates Lord Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka and is marked by a huge procession and festival. The parade makes its way through the streets of Colombo on a route towards the Kalaniya Rajamatia Viharaya, the sacred temple in the west of the province. The festival was first held in 1927 and continues to be one of the region’s most popular pageants and religious festivals.
Galle Literary Festival
Set in and around the UNESCO World Heritage city of Galle, Sri Lanka’s inaugural literary festival provides visitors with the opportunity to appreciate the work of Sri Lankan and international authors, engage in literary discussions and partake in a wide range of intellectual and artistic activities.By day, the festival features writing workshops, panel discussions, and topical debates, poetry readings, cooking classes, theatre workshops and literary lunches. By night there are poetry slams, jazz performances, late night movies, art showings and photographic exhibitions. There is even a comprehensive children’s programme that focuses on art and eco workshops, creative writing and debating. Galle Literary Festival 2009! – From 28th January – 1st February 2009 we will gather again in Galle for an international celebration of writing. Festival planning is underway and we are drawing together an exciting line-up of authors and events. The first announcements will be made here in September 2008.

FEBRUARY

Nawam Perahara
The Nawam Perahera, to be held in February is an annual event, which has been held uninterrupted since 1979. The streets of Colombo transform under the weight of 100 colourful elephants during February’s full moon. The Navam Perahera, which started in 1979, attracts more than a million spectators every year to the Gangaramaya Temple, at Hunupitiya on the banks of the picturesque Beira Lake.

The event usually has as many as 1000 performers. The fearsome kas karayas inaugurate the processions by cracking their whips in the air, while schoolchildren scurry behind, carrying colourful flags. Plenty of noise is contributed by percussion bands, conch shell blowers, stilt-walkers, flautists and drummers, but the real guests of honour are the elephants, visiting from all over the island.

National Day
Achievement of independence from the British on Feb 4 1948 is a major event in the annals of history. Sri Lanka Celebrates its independence marked with various cultural and religious activities throughout the country.
Elephant Polo Tournament
International teams head to Sri Lanka’s southern seaside town of Galle to partake in the sixth annual Elephant Polo Tournament. This extraordinary game is played beside the equally impressive historical ramparts of the town’s World Heritage Fort. The tournament is hosted by the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association (CEPA), an organisation founded by Geoffrey Dobbs, the man who brought elephant polo to Sri Lanka.

Elephant polo was first played in India as a pastime of the Maharaja’s Harem, around the turn of the 20th century. The first games were played with soccer balls but these were soon replaced with standard polo balls, due to the elephants’ tendency to puncture them. The sticks are made of bamboo and have a standard polo mallet on the end.

The elephants are brought from all over Sri Lanka and are specifically trained for the game. The aim is to hit the ball with a long stick from the top of an elephant into the goal. Three elephants and three players are used per team and each game consists of two seven minute “chukkas” of playing time. Each elephant is accompanied by a mahout, who sits on the elephant’s neck and guides it with the use of his legs, while the player sits on a rough-hewn saddle on the creature’s back. To ensure fair play, the elephants, mahouts and ends are changed at half time.

Maha Shivarathri
Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva. It is also known as padmarajarathri. Alternate common names/spellings include Maha Sivaratri, Shivaratri, Sivarathri, and Shivaratri. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. It is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha month of the Hindu calendar. Since many different calendars are followed by various ethno-linguistic groups of India, the month and the Tithi name are not uniform all over India and Nepal. Celebrated in the dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha(waning moon) of the month of Maagha according to the Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama or Phalguna according to the Vikrama era. The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil. All through the day the devotees, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord “Om Namah Shivaya”. In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life’s summum bonum steadily and swiftly. A week-long International Mandi Shivratri Fair held at Mandi in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh every year is one of the major tourist attractions in the state.

In Nepal,Millions of hindu attend shivaratri together from different part of the Globe at Famous Pashupatinath Temple. Thousand of devotees also attend Mahasivaratri at Different Famous Shiva shakti peetham of Nepal.

On Mahashivratri, Nishita Kala is the most perfect time to observe Shiva Pooja. On this day, in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Lingodbhava puja is performed during this time.

MARCH

Medin Full Moon Day
The Medin full moon Poya day is one of the 12 Poyas in the Buddhist calendar. This particular occassion commemorates Buddha visiting his home to preach to his father King Suddhondana and other relatives, revealing the path to enlightenment and final deliverance. On this day, Buddhists in Sri Lanka cease worldly pursuits and engage in religious activities.

APRIL

Sinhala And Tamil New Year Festival

When the sun moves from Pisces to Aries, the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka join forces to celebrate Aluth Avurudda – their mutual New Year. This also coincides with the time when the harvest ends, so the colourful fruit from the trees is collected in bulk to fuel the week-long celebrations. Festivities are prepared well in advance and most of the country grinds to a halt as hundreds travel home to be with their families and stores close down in their wake – it can be impossible to track down the simplest of things just before it all starts. The rituals begin with the cleaning of the house and lighting of an oil lamp, and women congregate to bash on the raban (drum) to warn others of the incipient change in the year. If you fail to hear this, a storm of firecrackers is bound to hammer the point home. Families indulge in a variety of rituals which are carefully determined by astrological calculations – from lighting the fire to making the kiri (milk rice) bath, to entering into the first business transaction and eating the first morsels.

Once these are done, the partying really begins as families mingle in the streets, homes are thrown open and children are let out to play. The ubiquitous plantain is dished out alongside celebratory feasts of kaung (small oil cake) and kokis (crisp and light sweetmeat, originally from the Netherlands). Aluth Avurudda has become an important national holiday for both the cultures of the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Hindu Sri Lankans, and is unique as such, as it is not celebrated elsewhere in the world. Indeed wealthy Sri Lankans make it an excuse to come home from wherever they are to make it a long holiday season. Those who can’t handle the heat of the pre-monsoon season in the south escape to the cooler hills and indulge in the expensive pastimes of the elite – such as polo, golf, tennis and motor racing. Understandably, prices for rooms soar in this area, if you can find any that aren’t already booked.

Bak Full Moon Poya Day

The Bak full moon Poya day is one of the 12 Poyas in the Buddhist calendar. This particular occassion commemorates the second visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, which took place in the fifth year of his Supreme Enlightenment. On this day, Buddhists in Sri Lanka cease worldly pursuits and engage in religious activities.
Good Friday

Good Friday is a religious holiday observed primarily by Christians commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover. It is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday, though the latter properly refers to the Friday in Easter week.

Based on the details of the Canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (the day before the Sabbath) (John 19:42). The estimated year of the Crucifixion is AD 33, by two different groups, and originally as AD 34 by Isaac Newton via the differences between the Biblical and Julian calendars and the crescent of the moon. A third method, using a completely different astronomical approach based on a lunar Crucifixion darkness and eclipse model (consistent with Apostle Peter’s reference to a “moon of blood” in Acts 2:20), points to Friday, 3 April AD 33.

MAY

Vesak Festival
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. Also known as the Buddhist Festival of Light, colorful bamboo-framed lanterns adorn the interior of every home and incredible 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 wordly 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. Stalls on the roadside distribute free refreshments to passers-by and there are some fantastic mime and street theatre performances, staged on tall platforms near temples in cities and towns throughout the country.

JUNE

Walk The World
Armed with the slogan “Peace and Equity to Fight Child Hunger”, Walk the World is a global event hosted by Fight Hunger to raise awareness about child hunger. Every year, it culminates in a walk through Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. Kandyan dancers add colour to the 5km walk and are joined by locals, visitors and children from around Sri Lanka. Aside from the public walk from Royal College to the Ladies College, activities include an arts competition, an exhibition for young people and a cultural show. Activities in Sri Lanka are led by the World Food Programme country office in partnership with the Sri Lanka United Nations Friendship Organisation (SUNFO). Fight Hunger, organisers of Walk the World, run several campaigns that are united in their objective of ending child hunger by 2015. In 2007, more than 550,000 people in 300 locations worldwide participated in the campaign. Please visit the Fight Hunger website for full details.
Poson Festival
The Poson Festival commemorates the conversion of Sri Lanka to Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. Illuminations and processions take place all over the country, but the best place to see the festival is at Mihintale. It was here in this ancient city that Sri Lanka’s king was converted to Buddhism by Arahat Maha Mahinda, the son of King Asoka (Emperor of India). As the king was hunting deer, Mahinda appeared to him in a grove and asked him a riddle about a mango tree (Ambasthale means mango tree). After the king had answered the riddle, he apparently agreed to follow the teachings of the Buddha and declared it state religion. The Ambasthale Dagoba is a temple which towers above the city of Mihintale, accessible by 1840 steps and built over the very spot where Mahinda is said to have appeared before the king.

JULY

Esala Festival
The annual Esala Festival at the Kataragama Shrine in Sri Lanka’s southern jungle honours the variously named Kataragama God with two weeks of celebrations, culminating in a spectacular performance of devotees walking over burning coals. Kataragama is one of the 16 principal places of Buddhist pilgrimage, and is also an important shrine for other religions – the Kataragama God pre-dates the Buddha of 2500 years ago, and was originally inherited (in some form) from the indigenous Vedda forest dwellers. To confuse things further, there’s a Muslim shrine tucked among the foliage, and the Tamil Hindus revere the site as the home of their own warrior God, Skandha. At festival time the jungle transforms under the weight of serious religious frenzy. The festivities begin on the first night with a flag-hoisting ceremony. Each following night, after the ritual puja, white-clad Kapurala shaman-priests perform a complex, carefully choreographed ritual in which the Kataragama God is depicted as emerging from his Maha Devale residence. He then rides in a grand torch-lit procession upon a beautifully-decorated elephant to visit his sweetheart, the jungle princess Valli, and returns without being seen.

Hundreds of devotees, dressed in their dhotis and ceremonial markings, turn up with huge earthenware vessels on their heads. Constant shouts of “Horo Hara” remind everyone of their presence. The holy ash and camphor inside these pots is carefully emptied out onto the floor outside the temples, for them to roll around in (and to be washed off later). Things get even more colourful towards the end of the two-week festival with the “water-cutting” ceremony, which is enacted after the ritual puja. A holy casket (believed to contain the secret of God’s birth) is dipped in the Manica Ganga sacred river, followed by thousands of pilgrims who submerge themselves – with their arms raised and to the shouts of “Hora Hara”. At about 4am when the river ablutions are complete, the area in front of the main temple is cleared and laboriously covered in a layer of burning tamarind firewood. Hundreds of cleansed pilgrims slowly make their way, barefoot, across the burning ash. No one is burned. In 2008, the fire-walking should be taking place during the early hours of 15 July. While we do our best to source the most accurate dates possible, it’s best to liaise with the local authorities before travelling. Mayurapathy Chariot Festival – Sri Paththirakaali Amman Temple, Colombo. The chariot festival of the Mayurapathy Sri Paththirakaali Amman temple is held in Colombo every year. The Hindu procession starts in the morning from the temple and continues all day.

AUGUST

Vel Festival
To mark the beginning of Vel Festival, an ornate silver plated chariot drawn by a pair of snow-white bulls carries a statue of Lord Murukan from the Pettah Kathiresan temple to the shrine at Bambalapitiya. Held in honour of Lord Murukan, Vel is Colombo’s answer to Kandy Perahera and commemorates the victory of Sri Murukan over the forces of evil. A day or two before the water-cutting festival of Kataragama, a procession of multi-coloured umbrellas, caparisoned elephants, dancers and oriental musicians snakes through the mass of worshippers and sightseers. Drums resound, bells tinkle and the Tanjore band plays as a Bhajana party follows the chariot in a wave of divine songs. Once at the temple, thousands of devotees pay their homage to Lord Murakan by smashing coconuts, lighting joss sticks and burning camphor. This spectacle invigorates all the senses and attracts the religious and non-believer alike. In the temple precincts and along both sides of the Galle Road, traders sell food, clothes, brass utensils, camphor, beads, bangles, toys, earthenware, sweetmeats and pictures. Sip on sugarcane juice from one of the street stalls and immerse yourself in the festive spirit. As the chariot makes its return trip on the evening of the third or fourth day, the climax is reached at Galle Face Green. Fireworks displays and shouts of “Haro Hara” fill the air as people from distant villages flock to see their war-god taking a drive through the city. The exact date of Vel, Esala Peraheras and other festivals are only announced during the first quarter of the year.
Kandy Perahara
As the August moon waxes in the Buddhist month of Esala, a ten-day-long pageant takes over Kandy, Sri Lanka. Men fulfil vows to Hindu god Skanda by walking “in harness” with spikes in their backs, accompanied by a fabulous procession. The procession includes fire-juggling acrobats, sumptuously-decorated elephants, traditional dancers, oboe-tooting musicians, banners, palanquins, whip crackers, torch bearers and thousands of barefoot pilgrims and swordsmen. To top it off, all this has happened every year since about 300 AD. The action is made even more mesmerising because it happens at night. The old cannon booms after dusk and the Perahera (paraders) take to the streets for ten nights, with the parades growing ever longer each night until the final night of pageantry, when the parade is at its finest. The festival is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and is dedicated not just to Skanda but also to Buddha. It is held to invoke the blessings of the gods for rain, fertility, successful crops and good health. Elephants feature heavily as they are symbols of abundance and fertility – the “clouds who walk the Earth”, instrumental in attracting the vital rains for harvest time. The most treasured item in the procession is a copy of a golden reliquary said to hold a tooth of the Buddha. Legend has it that the Buddha’s tooth was brought to Sri Lanka in the third century AD, hidden in the tresses of a princess. Pilgrims flock to visit the golden temple, Sri Dalada Maligawa, situated beside a tree-lined lake, every day of the year to catch a glimpse of the golden casket which holds the venerated molar.

SEPTEMBER

National Festival Of Kites
The National Festival of Kites is held annually to encourage the creativity of Sri Lankan children and adults. Every September, large crowds gather to admire a sky filled with kites made from colourful sarees and dried leaves. In 2006, Mount Lavinia Beach provided an idyllic setting for Sri Lanka’s National Festival of Kites. Around 180 participants took part, with competitions for both children and adults. First prize for the creative category was awarded to B G Ratnasri who used palm leaves and bird feathers to make an owl kite.
Navarathri Festival
Every year, Hindus throughout Sri Lanka join communities around the world in celebrating the nine-day Navarathri festival. To commemorate the nine days and nights that Goddess Durga fought the Asura, she is worshipped in all her innumerable forms, signifying the triumph of good, piety and devotion over evil. Also referred to as Dasara, prayers are held for first three nights for Goddess Thurgai (bravery), second three nights for Goddess Lakshmi (wealth) and the final three nights for Goddess Saraswathy (education). In temples throughout the world, including the Veera Pathirakaali Amman Temple in Rajagiriya, Goddess Durga’s blessings are invoked. At home, a doll exhibition called kolu is arranged. Ladies visit each others homes to see the kolu, bearing sweets, savoury items and other gifts. In days long gone by, King Dhruvasindhu was killed by a lion when he went out hunting. Preparations were made to crown the prince Sudarsana. But, King Yudhajit of Ujjain, the father of Queen Lilavati, and King Virasena of Kalinga, the father of Queen Manorama, were each desirous of securing the Kosala throne for their respective grandsons. They fought with each other. King Virasena was killed in the battle. Manorama fled to the forest with Prince Sudarsana and a eunuch. They took refuge in the hermitage of Rishi Bharadwaja. The victor, King Yudhajit, thereupon crowned his grandson, Satrujit, at Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala. He then went out in search of Manorama and her son. The Rishi said that he would not give up those who had sought protection under him. Yudhajit became furious. He wanted to attack the Rishi. But, his minister told him about the truth of the Rishi’s statement. Yudhajit returned to his capital. Fortune smiled on Prince Sudarsana. A hermit’s son came one day and called the eunuch by his Sanskrit name Kleeba. The prince caught the first syllable Kli and began to pronounce it as Kleem. This syllable happened to be a powerful, sacred Mantra. It is the Bija Akshara (root syllable) of the Divine Mother. The Prince obtained peace of mind and the Grace of the Divine Mother by the repeated utterance of this syllable. Devi appeared to him, blessed him and granted him divine weapons and an inexhaustible quiver.

The emissaries of the king of Benares passed through the Ashram of the Rishi and, when they saw the noble prince Sudarsana, they recommended him to Princess Sashikala, the daughter of the king of Benares. The ceremony at which the princess was to choose her spouse was arranged. Sashikala at once chose Sudarsana. They were duly wedded. King Yudhajit, who had been present at the function, began to fight with the king of Benares. Devis helped Sudarsana and his father-in-law. Yudhajit mocked Her, upon which Devi promptly reduced Yudhajit and his army to ashes. Thus Sudarsana, with his wife and his father-in-law, praised Devi. She was highly pleased and ordered them to worship her with havan and other means during the Vasanta Navarathri. Then she disappeared. Prince Sudarsana and Sashikala returned to the Ashram of Rishi Bharadwaja. The great Rishi blessed them and crowned Sudarsana as the king of Kosala. Sudarsana and Sashikala and the king of Benares implicitly carried out the commands of the Divine Mother and performed worship in a splendid manner during the Vasanta Navarathri. Sudarsana’s descendants, namely, Sri Rama and Lakshmana, also performed worship of Devi during the Sharad Navarathri and were blessed with Her assistance in the recovery of Sita.

OCTOBER

Sri Lankan Airlines Golf Classic
Kandy The Sri Lankan Airlines Golf Classic is an amateur tournament held annually at the beautiful Victoria Golf Club, just outside Kandy. Attracting the cream of Sri Lankan Golf and enthusiasts from around the world, the event offers participants the opportunity to test themselves on a truly competitive golf course. The tournament is open to male and female golfers with a CONGU (Council of National Golf Unions) or other recognised handicap. The competition consists of two 18 hole Stableford rounds and each competitor must play a round on two consecutive days. The competition will be played under R&A rules. The Victoria Golf Course has been rated amongst the 100 most beautiful courses in the world by Golf Digest. It is blessed with both a splendid undulating terrain and a spectacular scenic backdrop of hills and lake. The greens are built to USGA specifications and are of the highest quality.

NOVEMBER

World Spice Festival
The culinary delights of the World Spice Festival draw on a fusion of Sri Lankan spices and cooking methods as well as the talents of visiting chefs and the signature spices from their home countries. With mouth-watering recipes from Africa, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia, visitors and locals savour every last spicy bite. The 2006 event was held in Colombo and featured top signature chefs from countries that have a tradition of spicy food, alongside local chefs from leading hotels and specialty restaurants in Sri Lanka. First held in 2005 and organised by Sri Lanka Tourist Board, events take place in various restaurants and hotels throughout the city. There is also a spice bazaar held on the banks of the Beira Lake each evening.

DECEMBER

Christmas Celebrations
Sri Lanka is home for many Christians who celebrate Christmas in grand style. The festival season is marked by street decorations in many places of the city. Christmas carols are common and most of the major corporate companies customarily throw Christmas parties, especially on the eve of Christmas. City hotels plan Christmas programmes ahead and hold gala dinner dances on the eve of Christmas. Most of the churches also hold mid-night mass on the eve of Christmas. It is a public and bank holiday.