When in Colombo during the full moon of May, consider yourself very lucky! In honour of the festival of Vesak the city will be at its most beautiful. In an enchanted backdrop of lanterns and lights twinkling, Sri Lankans celebrate three main events in the life of Buddha: his birth, his enlightment and his passing away into Nirvana.
Vesak is about doing good to others so that good will come to you. Devotees participate in many religious and alms-giving activities for about one week, during which the selling of alcohol and meat is prohibited.
While daytime is spent in the temple and used for reflective prayer, pilgrims from all parts of the country flock to the beautifully decorated streets of Colombo after sunset. Particularly in the area around Gangaramaya Temple and South Beira Lake they enjoy huge electrically-lit pandals or thoranas. Each of these eruptions of brightly lit images illustrate a story from an earlier life of the Buddha. The story always has a moral to it and is therefore explained via a sound system to benefit the people.
Another popular activity is to gaze at the küdu; large lanterns surrounded by tiny lanterns decorated with birds, flowers and straws. Each kuduwe is handmade and unique and the creator of the most beautiful lantern can be rewarded with a valuable prize when joining in one of the many Vesak lantern competitions held during this time.
Handing out free snacks
Last but not least, all are welcome in a dansal; a stall providing free food or drinks. Participating in a dansal is considered one of the most meritorious acts one can engage in during the Vesak festivities. Food - ranging from soft drinks, ice cream and rice and curry - is bought and distributed using donations of private people or businesses and handed out to the people.
If you want to enjoy Colombo at its best, come watch the Vesak lanterns sway in the breeze as the full moon reflects on Beira Lake. Enjoy a free snack given to you out of the goodness of one’s heart in one of the dansala stalls. It’s an experience that literally lights up your life.