Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization endows the island with a legacy of colorful festivals relating to the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian religions. Furthermore these are commemorated with the flair of a people with a genius of pageantry at ritual.
Every full moon day is a public holiday known as poya. The most important is in May – Vesak Poya – which marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away. Worth seeing are the illuminated pandols (Bamboo frameworks), hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha.
Sri Lanka’s most tourist-oriented festival is the Kandy Esala Perahera, held in Kandy over 10 days in late July to early August and climaxing on Esala Poya Perahera means “procession” and that’s exactly what occurs nightly – a magical passing by of drummers, dancers, whip-crackers, acrobats and robed elephants. A caparisoned tusker carries the reason for the festival, the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha for the people to venerate.
Hundu festivals include Vel, held in Colombo in July, in which God Skanda’s silver-plated chariot and vel(spear) are paraded acros the city, and the Kataragama Festival in the deep south, also connected with Skanda, in which fire-workers participate.