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Celebrate Exotic Festivals and Events in Sri Lanka
Article by Larry Austin
Sri Lanka’s long colourful history of ancient civilisations and colonialism has resulted in a multicultural society celebrating exotic festivals and events. Mostly of religious and customary origin these festivals are spread through out the year.
Celebrations of any form bring Sri Lankans together in an enthusiastic display of rejoicing. With the festivity mood throughout the year, the colourful extravagance and vivid traditional rituals are bound to keep visitors to the island enchanted.
The year begins with the colourful Thai Pongal Festival. A harvest festival celebrated by the Tamils in Sri Lanka, its one of the merriest festivals. This family oriented festival starts with the boiling of a clay pot of ‘Pongal’ rice at the dawn of the day. This sweet rice pudding is offered to the Sun God as thanksgiving and is then shared and eaten at a family meal. Colourful ‘Kolam’, a form of sand painting drawn with rice powder depicting a prayer, is used to decorate the front of their homes.
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year, or simply termed ‘Avurudu’, is celebrated during the month of April. Originated as a harvest thanksgiving, the festival is in complete harmony with Mother Nature; newly blossomed flowers adorn trees and the season is heralded by the cooing of the ‘koha’, the koel bird. Country kitchens are busy preparing an assortment of sweet aromatic local sweetmeats and colourfully clad locals can be seen taking part in various activities such as drumming the ‘rabana’, an enormous one sided tambourine, playing games, singing and merrymaking.
The month of May brings the ‘Vesak’ celebrations, the single most important celebration for the Buddhists in the island. Encompassing the birth, Enlightment and passing away of Gautama Buddha, Vesak is a religious and cultural festival celebrated on the full moon of the month of May. Homes and streets are decorated with colourful lanterns, electrically lit ‘pandols’ illustrating the past lives of Lord Buddha are erected in towns to add to the glamour, people gather to sing Buddhist devotional songs and Buddhist devotees organize ‘dansal’ to provide free food and beverages to passers-by. During the Vesak period alcohol is usually prohibited and most people get involved in religious activities.
One of the most glamorous cultural processions in the world is held in Kandy during the month of August. Lasting 10 consecutive nights, the ‘Esala Perahera’ is an annual event being celebrated since the 3rd century AD organised in order to allow pilgrims to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. The event is embellished with more than 100 elephants adorned in elegant and colourful costumes, hundreds of drummers and dancers clad in traditional costumes, and hundreds of torch bearers lighting up the pageant – transforming the town in to one big carnival.
Whilst the dancers and drummers take to the streets in Kandy the streets is Colombo boast the colourful Vel celebrations – a religous celebration of the Hindus. Held in honour of the Lord Sri Murukan, God of War, Vel is an annual festival celebrated in most parts of the island. Celebrated on a bigger scale in Colombo, a colourful ornately decorated Vel chariot carrying the weapons of the god are paraded from one temple to another – the Muthuvinayagam Swami Kovil in Sea Street, Pettah, to the Kathiresan in Bambalapitiya or Wellawatte.
With the festival of lights the Hindus welcome Lakshmi during the month of October. The Divali festival involves the lighting of small clay lamps signifying the triumph of good over evil. This also marks the beginning of the financial year for the Hindu business community hence the goddess of wealth ‘Lakshmi’ is welcomed to their homes with ‘Kolam’, lighted lamps and sweets.
The year ends with the celebration of Christmas. A festival mainly for feasting, Christmas is much looked forward to by all Sri Lankans. The main cities transform into magical kingdoms as this commercialised festival lights up the whole country. For most people it’s a time for shopping, Christmas treats and holiday, as they celebrate the end of a calendar year, which of course had been quite hectic with all the merrymaking.
About the Author
Larry Austin is a freelance journalist who writes on travel related topics such as hotel and destination reviews etc. He is currently working for roomsnet.com which offers visitors the option of world wide hotel bookings. roomsnet.com offers many last minute Sri Lankan hotel deals for holidaymakers.
Article by Muditha Premarathne Thebuwana
Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka – Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Sri Lanka can certainly live up to the name of “Pearl of Indian Ocean” as one of the most beautiful island destinations that is full of wonder and unique diversity. If you wish to visit the awesome sunny, sandy beaches, or the lush green hills of the mountains, Sri Lanka offers you some of the top tourist locations in the world. Rich with a recorded history that dates back over 25000 years, this is a wonderland for those who are interested in learning of ancient heritage of the country. Sri Lanka proudly boasts of seven heritage sites that are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, due to their special cultural significance. Each of these sites provides visitors an opportunity to delve deeply in to the ancient history of the country and the progression of society and culture over thousands of years. This post brings to you the 1st heritage site – the Sacred City of Anuradhapura
The Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura, which lies 205 km from its current capital city, Colombo was the first capital of Sri Lanka. The ancient city, built 1300 years ago, was one of the most rich and proud cities of the Sri Lankan royal history, but was later reduced to rubble during an invasion in 993. This is one of the central religious locations of the country, as it was in Anuradhapura that Priest “Mihindu”, the son of King Dharma Asoka from India, who first preached Buddhism to then king Devanampiyathissa. Since then, Sri Lanka has been a country with over 80% of the population being Buddhists.
World Renowned Sacred Bo Tree – Sri Maha Bodi
Having instilled Buddhism in Sri Lanka with the peace mission headed by his son, Mihindu, the neighboring King Ashok bestowed Sri Lanka with the Sothern branch of the scared Bo Tree (Sacred Fig tree), under which Lord Buddha attained the status of Buddha. This was sent in the hands of his daughter, Sangamittha to AAnuradhapura in 249 BC. This “Bo” tree still stands erect as a flagship of Buddhism, and as the oldest historic tree in the world. Thousands of Buddhists and even other devotees visit this location daily, and it is one of the epicentres of various religious festivities, marked every month as a “Poya” holiday falling on the full moon.
Anuradhapura Kingdom’s Glorious Ruins
This heritage site is rich with ruins that mark the glorious saga of the Anuradhapura royal lineage. Rich with monasteries, religious monuments, parks, ponds and palaces, this is an era in civilization, that boasts of engineering marvels in structural engineering and hydro power management. The era of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, marks one of the most prosperous periods of the ancient Sri Lanka, where the country had enough grains to even export to the other Asian countries. The canals and irrigation systems built during this period are still in use, making Anuradhapura one of the most productive of rice growing regions even today. The murals carved out of rocks, as well as, statues and various structures, demonstrate exquisite craftsmanship and sound architecture. The Lover’s statue and rest of the murals in “Isurumuniya” will be exquisite findings for the visitors who are interested in historic artifacts. The brazen palace is another unique historic location where the entire roof is crafted with intricately crafted brass.
Religious Monuments in Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura holds religious significance as the place where Buddhism was instilled in Sri Lanka, with the conversion of the King Devanampiyathissa and his followers to Buddhists. The Kings of Anuradhapura embraced Buddhism and paid homage to the religion by building large scale monuments as Buddha statues and “Stupas” across the lands spanning the kingdom. The “Thuparama Dagaba” ,which was built by king Tissa, is believed to house the collarbone relic of the Lord Buddha. In addition, the Ruwanveli Seya built by king Dutugemunu, is another ancient relic which should not be missed. The sight of these “Stupas”, reaching up over hundreds of feet towards the sky, may make you wonder of how they achieved these great feats of architecture thousands of years ago, with no mechanical equipments to help in the construction.
So, if you are a person who is interested in discovering world heritage and exploring the wonders of archaeological sites, then the sacred city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka will no doubt be a thrilling and fulfilling experience for you. Book your next exploration holiday ticket to Sri Lanka and mark this UNESCO heritage site in your travel itinerary. It will be just one of the many treasures you will discover in this tiny island full of beauty and charm.
Seven Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a history rich with heritage, culture, religion and this is certainly an archaeological treasure trove for those who are interested in such exploration in exotic locations across the world. The oldest book of Sri Lankan history, the “Mahawansaya” translates to the “Great Dynasty”, which is a chronicle that covers the Sri Lankan dynasties over 23 centuries, from year 543 B.C. to A.D 1758. This book, written in ancient Pali language, holds ample recorded evidence to the awe inspiring history which the country stands for proudly. These records in this chronicle proved invaluable in discovering buried cities and salvaging lost artifacts and archaeological sites around the country. Salvaged from such rich history, stand seven UNESCO world heritage sites, encompassed in this island nation, which are must sees for those who travel to Sri Lanka in search of heritage.
Sigiriya – The Lion Rock Declared as one of the 8th wonders of the world, this spectacular fortress was home to King Kasapa in 4th century AD. This awe inspiring fortress, built as a citadel on top of a rock, juts up 180meters above ground level. The relics and artifacts, as well as, left-over architecture, bespeaks of all the amenities that the king enjoyed, while watching for advancing enemies. There are beautifully and elaborately landscaped water gardens, the Sigiriya frescoes, mirror wall with graffiti, the lion platform, and finally the summit, which will provide a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. The landscaped water gardens were intricately inlaid with a network of complex underground water distribution systems, which provided water to the Royal Baths and the beautiful fountains, which are spread out through the rock. The Sigiriya frescoes are 500 pictures of damsels, which are painted on the rock face, of which only 22 remain. These are probably the portrayals of beautiful courtiers and royal ladies, which hint at the King Kasapa’s hedonistic life-style. The mirror wall is not exactly a mirror, but will give you the distinct impression of a mirror, as it is coated with a mirror-smooth glaze. The lion’s paws, which are about halfway up the rock, were once a full figure of a lion. You were supposed to enter through the paws and climb to the summit, and exit through the lion’s mouth. However, all that remains in the present day is the lion’s paws. This engineering marvel remains one of the most sought after tourist destinations, with both locals and visiting tourists from around the world.
Sacred City of Kandy Kandy is a hill capital, which is full of lush green mountains and diverse culture. It was the last stronghold and capital. The Dalada Maligawa, or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha, is a site which should not be missed if travelling to Kandy. Situated 115km from Colombo, this hill capital provides its visitors the ability to visit other religious sites as well. These include the Hindu Shrines, the Malwatte and Asgiriya Temples, for example. The Royal Botanical Gardens are also a must-see. It is a beautiful park, full of numerous tropical foliages and trees that are many centuries old. This garden was a pleasure garden of a Kandian Queen and was home to Commander Earl Mountbatten during the Second World War. The world renowned “Esala Perahara”, the annual Pageant of the Temple of Tooth Relic, is a colourful affair with tusk elephants, dancers, drummers, and fire carriers lighting the streets of Kandy during days that falls in between the July – Aug period.
Kingdom of Pollonnaruwa Pllonnaruwa became the second capital of Sri Lanka after Anuradhapura. Reigned by King Vijayabahu I, Pollnonaruwa is synonymous with his grandson Parakramabahu, who made Sri Lanka so prosperous with agricultural success he spawned and with the creation of large reservoirs and canals to irrigate the land, even during arid dry seasons. The most important sites to see in Pollonnaruwa are the Aukana Buddha statue, which are the largest Sri Lankan Buddha statues. Carved out of a rock boulder, this statue stands at 11.36 meters. Built by an unknown sculpture, this statue portrays the serenity and purity of the Lord Buddha. You will not miss the vast water reservoir built by King Parakramabahu, which is 100% man-made and is considered to be larger than that of the Colombo harbour. This heritage site is rich with most amazing stone carvings, statues, “sel Lip”, or chronicles written in stones in ancient languages, as well as, a vast number of religious sites.
Galle Fortress from the Era of Dutch Rule Situated in the South West tip of Sri Lanka, the Port town of Galle was occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century. This natural harbour town is a location which blends European architecture with South Asian traditions. Galle and the Southern coast were occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, and then the British. This harbour town has its very own character and charm, combining all the remnants of colonial influence and its own Southern Sri Lankan charm. Galle Fort is one of the most impressive of architectural and heritage leftovers from this era. Built initially for the Dutch Governor and his staff, the fort is one of the most polished and exclusive properties in Galle.
The Rock Temple of Dambulle The Golden Rock Temple is a well-preserved cave temple. The ceilings of the caves are painted with intricate religious patterns and are resplendent with images of the Lord Buddha, along with various gods and goddesses. In addition to this wonder, the sight of the 150 serene statues will also take your breath away. The gilding of the interior of the caves and statues in gold paint, earned the Golden Rock Temple of Dambulle, its name. This is a site which will show the dedication of the artists of the past era. They worked tirelessly without any modern means, to create the paints from natural ingredients, to paint and mould these murals and paintings to pay homage to their religion.
Singharaja Forest Reserve Avid bird watchers and wild-life fanatics should not leave Sri Lanka without visiting the Singharaja Forest Reserve. One of the few protected areas in Sri Lanka, the Singharaja covers an area of nearly 19´000 hectares. Described as a Tropical Low land Rain forest, it is a treasure trove of nature, which is full of diverse habitats and species which are not found anywhere else in the world. Singharaja, translating into lion king, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1989.
The Sacred City of Anuradhapura Anuradhapura, which lies 205km from its current capital city, Colombo was the first capital of Sri Lanka. Lord Buddha’s fig tree was first brought to Anuradhapura by Sanghamitta in 3rd century BC. This proud city is one of the strongest kingdoms of Sri Lankan dynasties and is rich with religious monuments and cultural sites to enjoy. The city of Anuradhapura will showcase some of the most amazing historical art that you will ever witness in the world. Next time you feel the need to explore the past eras in history and the progression of civilization over time, consider Sri Lanka; so rich with archaeological sites that are world recognized for their heritage significance. The charm of the Sri Lankan people, mingled with the tropical climate, fantastic food and scenery, will be added bonuses to bring pleasure to your cultural holiday experience.