A month by month list of famous festivals in Sri Lanka
Please note that the festival calendar give here can vary according to the lunar month for certain religious festivals.
Duruthu Perehera or Procession celebrates the first voyage of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. It takes place at the sacred temple of Kelaniya near Colombo. Hundreds of thousands of devotees and visitors throng to witness the colourful pageant comprising of decorated elephants, dancers and musicians. The Randoli Perehera, the magnificent finale, is held the day prior to the January full moon.
Galle Literary Festival
The Galle Literary Festival is an international literary festival held annually in Galle. In recent years the festival has increased its global notoriety with attendances by many internationally acclaimed writers.
This is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). The word “pusam” refers to a star that is at its zenith during this feast. The festival is mostly popular in Jaffna and Kataragama where devotees pull chariots with silver hooks attached to their backs as an act of faith.
Thai Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamil people at the end of the harvest season. Pongal is a four day festival which usually takes place from January 13 to 16 in the Gregorian calendar that corresponds to the last day of the Tamil month of “Maargazhi” to the third day of Tamil month of Thai. This is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Sri Lankan Tamil community.
Celebrated on 4th February to mark Sri Lankan independence from British rule.
Between end February and early March, the Hindu community celebrates the “night of Shiva” to commemorate the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
The Navam Perehara takes place on the occasion of the full moon in February. It is celebrated in honour of the two main disciples of Buddha. The spectacle comprised of more than a hundred decorated elephants from all over the island attracts great many crowds to the Gangaramaya Temple, at Hunupitiya near Colombo.
Galle and Jaffna Music Festivals
The Jaffna and Galle Music Festivals take place in alternative years with the participation of musicians from all over the island. They have always managed to bridge different cultures through music for a period of two days. Passion, harmony and creativity mix together irrespective of language or religion.
Two-mile sea swim
The annual two-mile sea swim is held off the coast of Mount Lavinia near Colombo. It is organised by the National Amateur Aquatic Sports Union (NAASU) of Sri Lanka and has a history dating back to 1937. Participants numbering more than 500 are of all ages including girls and women.
Sinhalese New Year
Generally known as Aluth Avurudda, this is a major anniversary celebrated by not only the Sinhalese people but also by most Sri Lankans. The timing of the New Year coincides with the new year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South Asia and resembles to the Tamil, Thai, Bengali, Cambodian and Lao New Year celebrations. It is generally celebrated on 13th April (14th April on leap years) and is a public holiday in Sri Lanka.
Vesak is the main Buddhist religious festival in Sri Lanka. Vesak celebrates the triple anniversary of the important events in the life of the Buddha : his birth, his attaining of Enlightenment and his passing away into Nirvana. Buddhists celebrate it in prayer and attend rites in shrines all over the country. The whole country is vibrant in festivities during Vesak.
The Poson Festival commemorates the introduction of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. Visitors are treated to illuminations and processions all over the country. The most impressive celebrations are held at Mihintale, where Sri Lanka’s king converted to Buddhism after listening to the words of Arahat Mahinda, the son of Indian Emperor Asoka.
Nallur Kandasamy Temple Chariot Festival
The Nallur Kandasamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil in Jaffna is one of the most significant temples in Jaffna district. The festival is spread over a period of twenty-six days and involves a huge chariot pulled by devotees in the streets of the town. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims all over Sri Lanka attend this event.
Kandy Esala Perehara
Probably the most famous of the festivals in Sri Lanka that attracts tourists from all over the world. On the full-moon day of August of each year, the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, encased in a golden casket, is paraded on a tusker in the streets of Kandy. The colourful procession with torches, decorated elephant musicians is a big crowd puller.
Hikkaduwa Beach Festival
Every summer the beach resort of Hikkaduwa organises it beach festival known as Hikka Fest. The concerts, fiestas, surf competitions and parties bring together the young and old of Sri Lanka and the world over to celebrate beach life.
Colombo Adivel Festival
The Adivel Festival is another Hindu festival in honour of Lord Murugan. During the festival, devotees to draw idols of gods and goddesses on a silver plated chariot followed by musicians and devotees singing in praise of Lord Murugan. The procession in Colombo starts from the Kathiseran temple in Pettah district and goes up to the Bambalapitiya shrine on Galle road. Many devotees have their bodies pierced with vels (tridents) and hooks. The spectacle can be very impressive to the new comer.
Kataragam Esala Perehera
The Kataragama Perehera is a two-week long festival that honours the God of Kataragama worshipped by Buddhists and Hindus. Some worshippers come on foot from the north of the island on pilgrimage.
Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority celebrates the end of the month of Ramadan that is dedicated to prayer and fasting.
Ascension of Our Lady
Christians on the island celebrate this festival on August 15th of each year. The Our Lady of Madhu Church in Mannar is a special place to which believers flock in great numbers. The St. Anne’s Roman Church located in Kalpitiya peninsula, dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary, is another place where festivities are in full swing.
In Munneswaram, close to Chilaw, to the north of Colombo worshippers of Sri Lanka’s three main religions converge for a feast that last for 27 days between August and September. The festival begins with the hoisting of the temple flag followed by 13 days of internal temple processions conducted in the outer pathways of the Shiva temple.
Colombo International Book Fair
The Colombo International Book Fair marks the literary calendar of the country in a grand way. Organised by the Sri Lanka Book Publishers Association, this is Sri Lanka’s largest book exhibition.
Colombo Kite Festival
Between September and October, the skies of Colombo are coloured with spectacular kites of all sizes and colours competing in the kite festival. Creativity and dexterity mingle to offer a wonderful spectacle to admirers from around the world.
Deepavali is the Hindu “festival of lights” that celebrates the victory of good over evil. Each Tamil house is lit with oil lamps in honour of the Goddess of wealth and success, Lakshmi. Crackers are also burst in the evening of the festival.
Galle Children’s Festival
The Galle Children’s Festival initiated in 2011 has become a national hit among children around Sri Lanka who can attend it completely free of cost. Various artists regularly feature different shows, exhibitions, workshops, excursions, field trips and parades over four days.
The two main events of this month are Christmas with night masses in Christian churches and the start of the annual Sri Pada pilgrimage that involves climbing Adam’s Peak.