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Sri Lanka's festivals
In Sri Lanka, festivals are an integral part of life and culture; with a population composed of many races and religions and given its long, ancient history – they are never short of celebrations. Here are a few of the significant festivals:
Celebrated in January, the Tamil festival of Thai Pongal celebrates the abundance of harvest. Farmers give thanks to the rain, sun and farm animals – the rest of the people pay their thanks to the farmers for the production of food. During the festival, pongal (which is a preparation of rice cooked in milk and sweetened with jaggery) is served and shared from family to family.
Also in January is the Buddhist festival of Duruthu Perahera that commemorates the traditional belief that eight years after Buddhahood Lord Buddha visited Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. This is a vibrant festival with bursts of colour and is rich in traditional culture, with beautifully adorned elephants, fireworks, traditionally dressed dancers, drummers and much more.
Taking place in February, Navam Perahera is a traditional full moon festival held over two nights in Colombo. Performers and musicians parade the city, accompanied by brightly decorated elephants, masked dancers, acrobats, torch bearers and monks. It is the grandest parade in Colombo –colour and music fill the streets and the spectacle draws tourists and visitors from across the country and further afield.
In May, the Buddhist festival of ‘Versak’ is celebrated throughout the country. The birth, enlightenment and finally the demise of Gautama Buddha is marked on a full moon ‘poya’ day. Buddhist homes are decorated with vibrant lanterns and the people observe traditions dating back centuries, such as prayer ceremonies, free food and drink distribution, songs of praise and wearing white to symbolise purity.
The Esala Perahera in Kandy (also known as the Kandy Perahera) is a grand traditional festival celebrated in July or August to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. The procession tours the city streets in a wave of colour with dancers, jugglers and lavishly decorated elephants filling the roads.
Kataragama Perahera festival takes place in honour of the god Skanda and usually takes place in July or August. Elephants are paraded through the streets, accompanied by dancers, fire walkers, musicians, acrobats and jugglers. This festival is interwoven by many cultures and is a mesmerising event which runs for about two weeks.
Diwali, also termed the festival of lights, symbolising the victory of good forces over evil. It takes place in October or November (determined by the position of the moon) and involves many rituals of lighting small lamps to destroy shadows to ensure a prosperous future. For practising Hindus, it is one of the most anticipated festivals of the year with the festival celebrations taking place throughout the country, but mostly concentrated in the north.
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