Pilgrimage Sites and Festivals

Sri Lanka prides itself with a rich Buddhist culture and history; there are many significant religious and historical sites as well as important festivals all over the country.

Every full moon day (poya day) is an auspicious time for Sinhalese Buddhists, who visit temples for worship. During poya days, shops and businesses are closed, and sale of alcohol and meat is forbidden. Vesak is the full moon day that occurs in May; this marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha, and is a day devoted to charity and religious observances. Buddhist homes are decorated with colourful Vesak lights and lanterns; towns and cities are lit up with pandals illustrating life stories of Lord Buddha, and food and refreshments are given out freely at stalls called dansalas.

During the full moon in July/August, another important Buddhist festival is celebrated in various parts of Sri Lanka – the Esala Perahera. The biggest festival is held in Kandy, where the relic of Lord Buddha’s tooth from the highly revered Temple of the Tooth is paraded through the streets along with dancers, drummers, elephants, fire twirlers for ten consecutive nights. Simultaneous festivals are held in other parts of the island including Kataragama and Kotte. The Kataragama Perahera, held in the south east corner of the island, attracts thousands of Hindus and Buddhists who make the pilgrimage over two weeks.

Adam’s Peak is a tall mountain located in central Sri Lanka that attracts followers from various religions, who pay respects to a sacred footprint near the summit. Buddhists believe the footprint belongs to Buddha, Hindus think it belongs to Shiva, and Muslims believe it is Adam’s footprint. Other pilgrimage sites include Anuradhapura, which is home to the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree; Dowa Temple, which houses a 38 foot Buddha sculpture and Kalutara Vihara, a beautiful hollow stupa with intricate paintings.