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Esala Poya & Kandy Esala Perahera

Esala Poya is the night in which the Bodhisattva was conceived in the womb of his mother Queen Maha Maya. Esala Full Moon Poya is also the day in which Prince Siddhartha renounced his royal lifestyle. Esala Poya falls in the month of July and is a very important day for Buddhist devotees. Esala Poya is a holiday in Sri Lanka and families visit the many Temples situated around the island to offer flowers and pay homage to Lord Buddha, who preached many valuable sermons about the ideal way of life for all living beings.

Queen Maha Maya and King Suddhodhana did not have any children for twenty years. One Esala Full Moon night she dreamt that she was carried by Devas to a lake where they bathed and anointed her with perfumed oils. Then a white elephant with six white tusks and carrying a white Lotus flower in its mouth appeared and circled the Queen three times after which he entered her womb from her right side. The Queen awoke then and realized that she had been given a very important message. Ten months later she gave birth to Prince Siddhartha who went on to attain Enlightenment and become the Buddha.

It was on yet another Esala Full Moon day that Prince Siddhartha, at the age of 29, renounced his royal title along with his luxurious lifestyle and left his father’s palace seeking the truth and searching for a means to end universal suffering. Accompanied by some of his followers he led the life of an ascetic and strove to attain Enlightenment. He subsequently returned to the palace seven years later as the Buddha. The day he left the palace was also the day his only son, Prince Rahula was born.

Another important event in the life of Lord Buddha which is commemorated on Esala Full Moon day is His first sermon delivered two months after attaining Enlightenment. Known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta ( the wheel of Dhamma), this sermon was delivered to His five disciples Kondangna, Wappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assaji at Isipathanaya in Benares (Baranasi). In this sermon He told them that there are two extremes of living – one is a “Life of Pleasure” and the other a “Life of Self-mortification”. The Blessed One advised them to follow the middle path which consists of purity, virtue and righteousness.

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Poson Festival

Marking the birth of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Poson poya day is much celebrated event and dates back in 3rd Century BC when king Devanampiyatissa was converted to Buddhism by Arahat Maha Mahinda, the son of King Asoka, the Emperor of India, after which Buddhism was declared the State religion.

The entire country celebrates this significant milestone, but it all culminates at Mihintale, known as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, for it is believed to be there that the conversion took place. In fact it is in the Ambasthale Dagoba, the temple in Mihintale, accessible by 1840 steps, that it is in believed that the historic encounter took place.

On Poson poya day, many devotees make their way to temple to spend reflective hours in meditation while there are also several sil campaigns, Dan Sal, Poson devotional songs and pandols among others.

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Vesak Festival

Vesak is the main Buddhist religious festival in Sri Lanka. During this time, people celebrate the triple anniversary of Lord Buddha – his birth, his attaining of Enlightenment and his passing away into Nirvana.

Also known as the Buddhist Festival of Light, colorful bamboo framed lanterns adorn the interior of every home and incredible luminous displays decorate the streets of most towns. Visit Bhauddoloka Mawatha, the main street in Colombo, to catch this glowing spectacle in full glory.

Vesak marks the first month of the Buddhist Calendar. This is a day spent in reflective prayer as people cease wordly pursuits and engage themselves in religious activities. Devotees Buddhists pray in temples from dawn until the dusk. As the sun sets, devotees partake in processions and return to the temples in the evening to hear monks read stories from sacred texts.

Stalls on the roadside distribute free refreshments to passers-by and there are some fantastic mime and street theatre performances, staged on tall platforms near temples in cities and towns throughout the country.

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Sinhala and Tamil New Year Festivals

Date: 13/14th April

Venue: Around the country

Sinhala and Hindu New Year, one of the most celebrated festivals, symbolizing prosperity and ethnic harmony in the country, is the time of joy and renewal for Sinhala and Tamil population in Sri Lanka. April 13th marks the journey of the Sun from Meena to Mesha (from Pisces to Aries) in the Zodiac advocating the dawn of a new year for Sri Lankans according to the Sinhala calendar. The New year vibe spreads all over the island since the beginning of the month of April although celebrated on 13th and 14th of April. New year festivals are held around the island throughout the month, comprising of different traditional games where both children and adults take part in to cherish this joyful period of the year.