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Most Popular Cultural Festivals in Sri Lanka that You Shouldn’t Miss

This traditional Hindu festival is celebrated by the Tamil community on the tenth month of their calendar. The Thai Pongal festival honours the Sun God Surya, and the Rain God Indra, with prayers to express gratitude for a good harvest. A special dish called Pongal is made, using rice, jaggery and lentils. People decorate their houses with colourful kolams and rangoli, made of powder or rice paste, and families join together with music and dance to celebrate.

Vesak is one of the most significant festivals commemorated by Buddhists in the country. It marks the birth, death and enlightenment of the Lord Buddha. Celebrations take place during the full moon and continue for a week. Houses are decorated with colourful Vesak lanterns, and the streets are adorned with brightly-lit pandals, representing scenes from Jataka tales. Devotees offer prayers, take part in processions and give alms to the needy.

The Maha Shivarathri festival is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is one of the most important, sacred festivals for Hindus. Hindu devotees fast and visit Kovils to offer prayers throughout the night. Hymns and chants are sung in honour of the god, and the temples are decorated with splendour, as devotees make offerings of milk to Lord Shiva.

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year brings together families from all across the country, as people exchange gifts and follow age-old traditions and rituals. It is a spring festival of sorts, marking the end of the harvest season. Auspicious times are observed, such as the lighting of the oil lamp and meal times. Traditional instruments like the Rabana, a hand-played drum, are played, and lively games are conducted. Sweetmeats and milk rice are traditional foods prepared and served during this time.

The Kandy Esala Perahera is also known as the festival of the Tooth. It is a grand cultural festival held in the country’s old hill capital, Kandy. Though the parade draws in many Buddhist devotees, it attracts people of every faith. Visitors come to witness the magnificent Kandyan dancers, the colourfully decked-out elephants, vibrant performers, and flag bearers. The procession bears the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, said to bring prosperity to the country. Tourists who visit this historic town can choose to stay in high-class boutique hotels such as the Jetwing Kandy Gallery, which offers butler services, a relaxing pool, and spa facilities.

This is another well-known festival, drawing in both Hindu and Buddhist devotees. The Kataragama festival celebrates the god Skanda, the Hindu god of war. The festival is colourful and elaborate, and visitors can observe fire-walkers, dancers and acrobats. Devotees practice self-mortification, as a form of atonement. There are also beautifully decorated elephants, in a combination of indigenous and Hindu cultural traditions.

Don’t miss out on the chance to experience Sri Lankan festivals to gain an insight into the country’s rich culture.

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