Some claim that Sri Lanka has more festivals than any other country, and its four major religions certainly play their part in creating a full festive calendar. Among the pick of the bunch are Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, Vesak, a vibrant full moon Buddhist festival, and the Sinhalese New Year, which is celebrated nationwide.
January 13-16 annually
This four-day Tamil harvest festival, known as ‘Thai Pongal’ or simply ‘Pongal’ is held annually in order to give thanks to the Sun and appreciate it as an invaluable source of energy. Tamils across both India and Sri Lanka decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves, and use flour to draw beautiful patterns on the floor.
January 15 annually
Duruthu Perahera is an important day for Sri Lankan Buddhism, as it is said that this was when the Buddha made a visit to the island country. Head to Colombo for the best taste of celebrations, where you’ll find locals performing rituals at Buddhist temples alongside lively parades in the streets creating a carnival atmosphere.
February 14-15 annually
Both locals and tourists come to Colombo every year for Navam Perahera Festival. Perahera - meaning parade - is the focal point for all to see, with elephants, dancers and entertainers taking to the streets across two days. It’s held every full moon in February near the glorious Gangaramaya Temple that overlooks the Beira Lake.
Every year for about 10 days in March, hot air balloons take to the skies above Sri Lanka, following a route covering Sigiriya, Kandy and the capital, Colombo. Participants come from all over the word to fly their colorful and unusual hot air balloons over the gorgeous Sri Lankan countryside.
April 1-14 annually
During the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year period, when the heat is at its worst, many of Colombo’s residents head to the hills for a break. This tradition, stretching back to the British colonial times, is comprised of two fun-filled weeks of sport, car rallies, flower exhibitions, music and parties that go on well into the night.
April 14 2016
Aluth Avurudda festival marks Sinhalese New Year, and is celebrated throughout Sri Lanka by both Sinhalese and non-believers. It coincides with many New Year events across Asia, falling on the 13th or 14th of April. On the first day of the new year, there are mass housecleaning sessions along with fire lighting, dancing and music.
May 21 2016
This week-long festival is one of the most important dates for Buddhists in Sri Lanka and globally, marking the full moon of Vesak (usually in May). The event is an opportunity for huge cultural displays with food, light and lanterns all in abundance. Locals also enjoy partaking in various acts of 'goodwill' throughout the week.
Arugam Bay, one of the top ten surfing destinations in the world, welcomes thousands of surf pilgrims, particularly during the months of June and July when the conditions are at their best. This surfers’ paradise on the southeast Sri Lankan coast hosts competitions and events along its several challenging point breaks.
From May to December, the turquoise ocean water and tranquil lagoon of Kalpitiya plays host to local and international kitesurfing enthusiasts. Many visit this northwestern town for its various events and competitions held between June and August. Beginners are also welcome and there’s several training centers scattered around.
July 2 2016
This important Hindu festival takes place in the pretty pilgrimage town of Kataragama in the south of the island. On the day/night of the full moon in July, devotees subject themselves to various ritual torture techniques in a bid to appease their deities. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but certainly an unforgettable spectacle.
An incredible spectacle happens every year during the end of August/start of September when around 300 elephant all converge on the banks of the Minneriya Lake, in the north of Sri Lanka. The phenomenon, known as ‘the Gathering’ is one of the highest concentrations of these Asian Elephants to be found anywhere in the world.
July 29 - August 07 2017
One of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular and colorful festivals is Esala Perahera, a ten-day event in the central city of Kandy. Held to commemorate an ancient Buddhist tooth relic, this festival features processions through the streets, dancing, and music. It all ends with a peculiar ‘water cutting’ session (with swords) in the river.
July 28 - August 3 2015
Vel Festival sees the ceremonial chariot of the God of War, Skanda, pulled between two of Colombo’s major Hindu temples. Over two to three days, body painting and colorful outfits can be seen alongside painful displays of religious devotion, where participants dangle themselves by piercing their skin on their backs with metal hooks.
October 30 2016
Celebrated across Asia, Diwali (also known as the "festival of lights") is one of the most important festivals for Sri Lanka’s large Hindu community. Celebrations over five days really heat up on the night of the main day, with many donning their best outfits to light lamps and candles. A big family feast and fireworks follow later on.
Every year, thousands of pilgrims make the lofty journey to the summit of Adam’s Peak, or Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain). Starting from Poya Day (in December) and running all the through to Vesak Festival in May the following year, worshippers don their walking boots for the grueling 7,000-foot climb to the peak’s Buddhist temple.