Poya Day in Sri Lanka is not just a single day, but a series of holidays that are observed to mark the occurrence of a full moon. In accordance with the Buddhist lunar calendar and moon-phase marking system, there are around a dozen Poya Days celebrated every year. As Buddhism is the predominant religion in Sri Lanka, Poya Days hold immense religious significance for the majority of the population.
The rationale behind celebrating full moons lies in the fact that it is during this time that the moon appears at its largest and brightest. In Sinhalese, the term “poya” is derived from a word meaning “fast day.” This explains why many Buddhists observe fasts and visit temples on Poya Days.
On Poya Days, Sri Lankan workers are legally entitled to a paid day off, unless they receive time and a half from their employers for working during Poya Day hours. Most businesses remain closed, and the sale of alcoholic beverages and meat is prohibited until the Poya Day concludes.
Each full moon and its corresponding Poya Day are associated with specific events that commemorate important milestones in the life of Buddha and the development of Buddhism. These events include Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment, sending of disciples as missionaries, personal visits to Sri Lanka, the introduction of Buddhism to the country by Mahinda, and the first Buddhist Council held after Buddha’s passing.
Want to explore Sri Lanka on a Poya Day? Here are four exciting things you can do:
Celebrate Vesak Poya Day
If you’re in Sri Lanka during Vesak Poya Day, which is considered the most important of all Poya Days, you’ll witness bustling streets adorned with colorful lights and decorations. In honor of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death, you’ll find alms houses lining the roads, and food stalls serving authentic Sri Lankan dishes and desserts.
Experience the Esala Festival in Kandy
For an unforgettable experience, visit Kandy during the August Poya Day. It’s during this time that the magnificent “Esala Festival” takes place. You’ll witness mesmerizing fire-walking performances, extreme acts of penance, grand cultural parades, traditional dancers and musicians, and even domesticated elephants.
Visit the Temple of the Tooth
Irrespective of the Poya Day, a visit to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy is highly recommended. This temple is believed to house a tooth of the Buddha himself. In the past, possession of this holy relic bestowed the authority to govern the Kingdom of Kandy. Adjacent to the temple, you’ll find the majestic royal palace of Kandy.
Explore the Sri Mahabodhi Temple in Anuradhapura
Head to the Sri Mahabodhi Temple in Anuradhapura to witness a sacred bodhi tree, said to be a direct descendant of the original tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment in India. Bodhi trees, which have heart-shaped leaves, are regarded as a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhism. The Sri Mahabodhi Temple is one of the few places where you can find a sapling of the “original” bodhi tree.
Celebrate Poya Days in Sri Lanka and immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Buddhism. Whether you witness grand celebrations or seek solace in the tranquil temples, Poya Days offer a captivating experience for all.
To plan your Sri Lankan adventure, visit DHPL Travels now!