Sri Lanka is home to numerous festivals, both religious and non-religious that take place throughout the year. Local festivals provide a fascinating insight into the culture and heritage of any country. Plan your holiday to coincide or if you have already booked, then be sure to visit these local festivals as part of your Expressions Holiday to Sri Lanka.JanuaryThe Galle Literary FestivalAward winning writers, historians poets and biographers and literature enthusiasts converge upon the world heritage city of Galle to participate in four days of solo and panel discussions, workshops, concerts and events in laid back surroundings. There are al fresco lunchtime concert picnics, gourmet lunches and dinners and late night revues and readings. Nobel, Booker, Orange, Whitbread, Commonwealth and Gratiaen Prize winners will rub shoulders with young, talented, upcoming, and as yet unknown writers, and mingle with an audience keen to ponder over and question their works. Past guests have included Vickram Seth, Gore Vidal, Alexander McCall Smith and William Dalrymple.AprilSri Lankan New YearThis is a non-religious festival, originally a harvest thanksgiving, celebrated by the whole population. The precise (auspicious) timings are decided upon astrologically and New Year commences not when the old one ends, but a few hours later. The interval between the old and the new is a neutral period, during which all activities cease. When the New Year commences, fresh activities begin: a fire is lit and new clothes are worn, then money is exchanged and the festival culminates when oil is mixed with an herbal paste and a respected elder anoints the head of each family member. Traditional games such as kotta pora (pillow fighting) and havari hengima (hiding the wig) are played in homes and villages, bringing together families and communities. Many shops are closed for up to a week over New Year as people travel en-masse with gifts and specially prepared festive food to offer to family and friends.MayVesakVesak Poya marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away (Pariniwana). It is the most important Poya ‘full moon’ day of the year for Buddhists. Large pandals (bamboo structures) hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha are erected in the streets, illuminated by flashing coloured light bulbs. Roadside dansalas (stalls) offering free food and soft drinks to passers-by are notable features of the event. Little clay coconut oil lamps (pol-thel pahana) flicker throughout the island and the intricate Vesak paper lanterns adorn every Buddhist home, business and temple. This is a fascinating and moving time to visit Sri Lanka.JunePosonPoson Poya is second in importance to Vesak since it commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 247BC. The focus of this festival is the ancient capital of the country, Anuradhapura, and the mountainous Mihintale Temple, reached by 1,840 steps, where King Devanampiyatissa was converted to Buddhism in the third century BC. During Poson, the mountain is illuminated and devotees climb the steps in their thousands to pay homage to the event. Visitors will see roadside dansalas, people praying at the Buddhist temples and decorations everywhere. July/AugustKandy Esala PeraheraSri Lanka’s most prominent festival is the magnificent Kandy Esala Perahera, held in the hill capital of Kandy over 10 days in late July to early August and climaxing on Esala Poya Day. The Perahera’s origins date back to the third century BC, but the modern event originated in the mid-18th century when the Kandyan king decreed that once a year the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, kept at the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth), should be displayed in a procession for the people to venerate. Today, thousands flock to Kandy during this dazzling ten-day festival, where, under a star-studded moon-filled sky, the streets flow with colour, dancers, pulsating drummers, stilt walkers and acrobats, flaming torches and enrobed and light bulb-encrusted elephants led by the Maligawa Tusker bearing a gold casket containing the relic. The processions grow in size as each day goes by. OctoberDeepavali FestivaThe Hindu festival Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights (known in India and elsewhere as Diwali) celebrates an aspect of the epic poem, the Ramayana - the homecoming of the hero, the Indian Prince Rama, after a 14-year exile in the forest following his victory over Lanka’s evil King Ravana. In the legend, the people welcomed Rama by lighting rows of lamps, and that’s exactly what happens today. Devotees all over the country wear new clothes and cook sweet dishes.Poya Days – Every full moonPoya holidays are observed on the day of each full moon. In general, Buddhist and Hindu festivals are declared according to local astronomical observations and lunar and solar phases and it is often only possible to forecast the approximate time of their occurrence.
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