The Indian subcontinent is known to practice the most elaborate activities and uphold unique religious traditions and culture. This is quite evident in the country of Sri Lanka. The culture and festivals in Sri Lanka represent the local color and uniqueness of the region.
Sri Lanka culture began with the Yaksha and Naga tribes, which used civilized agriculture and irrigation systems way before 300 BC. Historical proofs reveal that these tribes observed an already established set of traditions and cultural practices. Through the years, Buddhism and other foreign influences have shaped Sri Lanka, its festivals and people to what they are today. Sri Lankans love to smile and are known to have a humble yet very artistic and entertaining culture. In more recent history, Europeans introduced democracy, education, commerce and the legal system that modernized the island, but did not in any way lessen its hold of its ancient ways. Today, a Sri Lankan national is anyone from a computer software geek in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, USA to a traditional farmer in a Sri Lankan jungle.
Meanwhile, the country has several traditional festivals each month throughout the year. A major religious festival in January is Duruthu Full Moon Poya, which celebrates the Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka about 2,500 years ago. It takes place on January 22 at the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo and participated in by hundreds of thousands of devotees, observers and tourists. Businesses and shops are closed, and alcohol and meat are forbidden. “Poya” in Sinhalese means a full moon day. Other January festivals are Thai Pongala, Hajji Festival and Saint Ann’s Feast.
February is important for Sri Lanka’s Independence Day or National Day of Freedom from European control. Other February events are Navam Full Moon Poya, Maha Siva Rathree and Nawam Perahara. In March, Christians and Catholics celebrate the Lent while local Buddhists observe Medin Full Moon Poya. This poya commemorates Buddha’s journey from Rajagriha to Kimbulwathpura to meet his father, relatives and friends. He made the hike with 20,000 disciples.
April is the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and New Year’s Eve. This month’s poya, Bak Full Moon Poya celebrates the Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka. May celebrates a non-religious event for a change, the National Heroes Day or May Day. May Day, which is also International Workers’ Day and Labor Day, is a national holiday observed on May 1.
June commemorates the second most important poya, Poson Full Moon Poya. Sri Lankan Buddhists gather to celebrate the introduction of Buddhism and establishment of the Buddhist Dispensation in the country about 2,550 years ago. The celebrations are held all over the country but are focused on the ancient Mihinthalawa mountain sanctuary in the sacred city of Anuradhapura.
The next poya festivals are Asala Full Moon Poya in July, Nikini Full Moon Poya in August, Binara Full Moon Poya in September, Wap Full Moon Poya in October, Il Full Moon Poya in November, and finally, Unduwap Full Moon Poya in December. Christian traditions have also made their way into the local culture and festivals in Sri Lanka, which is why Christmas is now also a major event in this largely Buddhist country.