festivals in Sri Lanka
Asia,  Destinations,  Sri Lanka,  Travel

Festivals in Sri Lanka

Why go to festivals in Sri Lanka

As if Sri Lanka doesn’t have enough going for it, the festivals are a whole new experience! Festivals in Sri Lanka offer an amazing blend of spirituality, cultural traditions, communal celebrations and of course food.  

They provide a unique insight into the rich tapestry of Sri Lankan culture and are a fantastic opportunity for worldschooling as well as embracing local experiences. So put down the surfboard, walk away from the beach and read our guide to the best Sri Lankan festivals. 

Sri Lanka Festival calendar- a month by month guide to the festivals of Sri Lanka


Thai Pongal Festival  

This festival celebrates the harvest with special gratitude given to the Sun God for a bountiful harvest. A special dish called ‘Pongal’ is made, using freshly harvested rice, lentils, and jaggery.

They decorate entrances to houses with colourful kolams, (decorative patterns made with rice flour), and families come together to offer prayers and celebrate with traditional music and dance.

Where is Thai Pongal celebrated?

Everywhere but there are bigger celebrations in Colombo, Kandy and Batticaloa.

Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, has a large Tamil community and is a major hub for Thai Pongal celebrations. The city’s streets are decorated and filled with food stalls serving traditional Thai Pongal dishes. The main event of the festival in Colombo is the Grand Thai Pongal Procession, which takes place on the fourth day of the festival, features floats, dancers, and musicians, and it finishes with a bonfire.

In Kandy, the city’s Hindu temples are the focus of the festival, and there are rituals and ceremonies taking place throughout the four days. 

Batticaloa, a coastal city in Eastern Sri Lanka, the city’s beaches are lined with stalls selling traditional Tamil food, and there are performances taking place throughout the four days. The highlight of the festival is the Grand Thai Pongal Firework Display, on the final night.

Sri Lanka festivals with kids
Festivals in Sri Lanka are well worth a visit


Navam Perahera 

This Sri Lankan festival is one of the grandest Buddhist processions. It takes place in Colombo and features traditional dancers, drummers, flag bearers and sometimes decorated elephants

Where is Navam Perahera celebrated?

The procession starts at the Gangaramaya Temple and winds its way through the streets of Colombo, ending at the Seema Malaka Temple on the Beira Lake. This festival is a celebration of Buddhism and Sinhalese culture, and it is a major tourist attraction.


Maha Shivarathri 

A Hindu festival filled with devotion. Even the littlest ones will be captivated by the hymns and beautifully decorated temples. It’s a spiritual experience for the whole family.

Maha Shivarathri, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is a significant Hindu festival celebrated in March. Devotees observe fasting and visit temples to offer prayers throughout the night. The atmosphere is filled with devotion, as hymns and chants reverberate through the air. The temples are beautifully decorated, and devotees often carry pots of milk as an offering to Lord Shiva.

Where is Maha Shivarathri celebrated?

Most Hindu temples will have a celebration but notable places are;

Ketheeswaram Temple, Mannar: One of the holiest Shiva temples in Sri Lanka, the celebrations here are unparalleled.

Naguleswaram Temple, Mullaitivu: A sacred Hindu pilgrimage site, comes alive during Maha Shivaratri. 


Sinhala and Tamil New Year 

This festival is all about creating lasting family memories. Families come together for traditional games, special meals, and festivities, marking the beginning of the traditional New Year in Sri Lanka. 

The celebration includes rituals like lighting an oil lamp and the auspicious first transaction for the New Year. Celebrated by Buddhists, Hindus, and most Sri Lankans, this significant festival occurs around the 13th or 14th of April, signifying the end of the harvest season and spring. 

Across the island, people prepare by cleaning and decorating homes, making traditional dishes, and wearing their best clothes. On the day itself, activities range from setting off firecrackers, enjoying the first meal of the New Year with family, to participating in fun-filled street games and activities. It’s a very community centred celebration.

Where is Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrated?

 This festival is celebrated throughout Sri Lanka.

Visit a Sri Lankan festival during your visit.
The sights and sounds of a Sri Lanka festival.


Vesak Poya Festival 

Vesak Poya, also known as Buddha Purnima, commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Lord Buddha. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the lunar month of Vesak which is usually in May, lasting a week,  and is one of the most important festivals for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Temples and homes are decorated with lanterns (which signify the light of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha), and devotees gather for processions, prayers, and acts of generosity. 

You will find food stalls specially constructed by Buddhist devotees on the roadside offering free food and drinks. The devotees wear simple white clothes and visit their local temples to spend the day performing religious observances, fasting and praying.

Where is Vesak Poya Festival celebrated?

 Island-wide, mainly in Colombo


Poson Full Moon Festival 

June brings Poson Poya, a chance for kids to learn about the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the third century BC. It commemorates the arrival of Arahat Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to the island. Devotees visit ancient sacred sites such as Mihintale and Anuradhapura, where special religious ceremonies are held. 

The festival emphasizes the teachings of Lord Buddha and promotes spiritual reflection and enlightenment.

It is the second most important festival for Buddhists right after the Vesak. Similar to the Vesak Festival, there are also lanterns, thoranas and food stalls. Buddhists dress in white pilgrimage to sacred places for religious activities. Many choose to climb the many steps to the top of the Mihintale rock in Mihintale, which is popular as the main center and landmark in Anuradhapura during the festival.

Where is Poson Full Moon Festival celebrated?

Island wide but bigger celebrations are held in Mihintale and Anuradhapura.


Kataragama Festival 

With firewalking, colourful processions, and acts of devotion – the Kataragama Festival, is a vibrant religious celebration dedicated to Lord Skanda, the Hindu God of War. Devotees from various religious backgrounds come together at the sacred Kataragama temple complex in the southern part of Sri Lanka. The festival includes firewalking, acts of self-mortification (maybe not one for the kids), and colourful processions. It is a unique fusion of Hindu and indigenous traditions. There is also a procession with elephants, regional dancers, singers, musicians, fire eaters, acrobatics and jugglers performing to the beat of thundering drums and chanting, which is not to be missed.

It attracts thousands of pilgrims from the island’s main faiths over a two-week period. These pilgrims including Hindus, Muslims and Veddas gather in the town to fulfill their vows or to seek knowledge and guidance from Lord Kataragama. 

Where is the Kataragama Festival celebrated?

 Kataragama town in the south of Sri Lanka.

Colombo Aadi Vel Festival 

The Aadi Vel Festival is a significant Hindu festival dedicated to Lord Murugan. The festival takes place in Colombo with  processions carrying the “Vel,” a sacred spear-like weapon associated with Lord Murugan, to commemorate the victory of Skandha over the force of evil and venerate Skandh’s trident/vel. Colourful chariots, traditional music, and dance performances create a festive atmosphere during this event.

 The procession, consisting of devotees, caparisoned elephants, dancers and musicians, snakes at a snail’s pace across streets and towns and through the mass of worshipers. The sound of drums, bells, and divine songs, together with the aroma of Jasmin flowers and burning incense, adds the sacredness of the occasion.

Where is the Colombo Aadi Vel Festival celebrated?

Colombo- The procession starts at the Sea Street Temple in the Pettah district, and proceeds to a temple in Bambalapitiya or Wellawatta in the south of Colombo, and back, taking a whole day.


Pada Yatra Pilgrimage 

The Pada Yatra Pilgrimage is considered the oldest in Sri Lanka, involves pilgrims walking from Jaffna in the North to Kataragama in the South, a distance of 400km. The pilgrimage lasts for several weeks and is a test of devotion and endurance with participants receiving support from locals. 


Deepavali (Diwali) 

Deepavali, also known as Diwali, is the Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus in Sri Lanka and around the world. One of the busiest festivals in Sri Lanka, it usually falls in November, and symbolises the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair..

Homes are decorated with oil lamps, lighting them to invite the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and to banish all evil. Fireworks illuminate the night sky and there is lots of singing and dancing. Families exchange sweets and gifts, and prayers are offered to deities, invoking blessings for prosperity and happiness.

Where is the Deepavali (Diwali)celebrated?

Deepavali (Diwali) is celebrated all over Sri Lanka, but it is particularly popular in the northern and eastern parts of the country where there is a large Tamil Hindu population.

Which Festivals in Sri Lanka are good for families?

Our personal favourite has to be the Kandy Esala Perahera. Book accommodation early, find a spot on the night and get ready for a parade like no other.  The atmosphere is alive with traditional dances and the beats of drums, colourful outfits and elephants adorned with fairy lights. It is an amazing festival in Sri Lanka to attend and we highly recommend it.

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is another perfect festival for kids. Focused on family, there is a lively atmosphere and usually lots of community run experiences, games and activities. Joining in with cultural rituals, such as lighting an oil lamp, is an exciting experience for the kids.

Northern Sri Lanka with kids
Sri Lanka is a great worldschooling destination

Safety at festivals in Sri Lanka

The main concerns for safety when attending a festival in Sri Lanka has to be the crowds. Keep your eyes on the kids, arrange meeting points or a plan of action if someone gets lots. Our experience with Sri Lankan people is that they are incredibly kind and welcoming so speak with the locals if you need help. 

What to wear in Sri Lanka for the festivals

Remember to dress appropriately, (covered knees and shoulders is generally a good rule of thumb) be respectful of customs and traditions, and embrace the opportunity to experience the local celebrations.

Sri Lankan Festivals –2024 and 2025 Dates

Festival2024 Date2025 Date
Thai Pongal Festival15 January 202414 January 2025
Navam Perahera16 July 202415 July 2025
Maha Shivaratri25 February 202424 February 2025
Sinhala and Tamil New Year14 April 202413 April 2025
Poson Full Moon10 June 20248 June 2025
Kataragama Festival28 July 202427 July 2025
Colombo Aadi Vel28 July 202427 July 2025
Pada Yatra16 July 202415 July 2025
Kandy Esala16 July 202415 July 2025
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil10 August 20249 August 2025
Deepavali27 October 202426 October 2025
Festivals in Sri Lanka 2024 -2025

Tempted? I don’t blame you, Sri Lanka is an awesome place to travel with kids and we can’t wait to go back someday.

You can read more on Sri Lanka here

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Meet the author

Lisa is the founder of Boston Tribe Travels. She has lived and travelled abroad for the last 15 years, visited more than 30 countries and has done most of that with her husband and two children. As a full time travel family, they like to travel slow, worldschool and seek new adventures. From living in Borneo for 5 years to backpacking South America, Lisa shares a wealth of travel experience to empower more families to travel and learn together.