Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kandy: The Hill Capital of Kandy was the last bastion of the Sinhala kings and is a charming city offering a living record of a magnificent past. Centre of attraction in Kandy is the Dalada Maligawa, the temple housing the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Kandy Lake enhances the charm of the City. Kandy is a romantic city any time of the year, but in August, this ancient capital becomes the venue of one of the most legendary festivals in Asia, the Festival of the August Moon when thousands of people from all parts of the country and from foreign countries throng to the Hill Capital to witness the magnificent spectacle. The King's palace, audience hall, King's bath, the archaeological museum must not be missed by any visitor to Kandy.

Ayubowan !!This is the customary greetings of the Sri Lankans and means 'May You Live Long' With palms of the two hands held close together against the chest this is a greeting that denotes welcome, goodbye, respect, devotion or loyalty to suit the occasion. It is our fervent wish to bring to you the warmth of Sri Lankan hospitality in this Resplendent Island which was Tambapanni to Emperor Asoka of India before the written era, Taprobane to the Greeks and Romans, Serendib to the Arab seafarers, Hsi-lan-ch'ih to the Chinese, Ceilao to the Portuguese, Ceylaan to the Dutch, Ceylan to the French and Ceylon to the British. Now it is Sri Lanka - the Resplendent Island. Sri Lanka, the Isle of Serendipity is a tourist paradise with an abundance of attractions as listed below:

Traditionally celebrated at harvest time, it is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest by thanking the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest. In villages, new clothes are worn and people owning cows find this festival important. Pongal is celebrated by the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, USA, Canada and Singapore. The festival is at least 1000 years old although some believe that the festival is more than 2000 years old. As per epigraphic evidence, it used to be celebrated as Puthiyeedu during Medieval Chola empire days. It is thought that Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year. [1][2][3] People of all religions celebrate the pongal festival.[4] Sweet pongal rice. Tamils refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunal" (meaning "the festival of Tamils"). This festival originated in Tamil Nadu. The saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" (தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்) meaning "the birth of the month of Thai will pave the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival Usually, the festival takes place January 12 — 15 (on the Gregorian calendar). The festival is celebrated four days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi (December — January) to the third day of Thai (January — February). The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old Thai and the emergence of the new Thai.
The second day, Pongal, is the main day, falling on the first day of the Tamil month Thai (January 1415). Also known as Sarkarai Pongal or Veetu Pongal, it is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel. This tradition gives Pongal its name.[3]

Kolam decorations in front of house during Thai Pongal
The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Ponggalo Ponggal!" and blowing the sangu (a conch), a custom practiced during the festival to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings. For Tamils, it is considered a good sign to watch it boil over, since it means that good luck and prosperity is forthcoming. Then New boiled rice is offered to the Nature during sunrise, a gesture which symbolises thanks to the sun and nature for providing prosperity. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murrukku, payasam and visit each other and exchange greetings.
The third day, Maattu Pongal, is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmer in different ways for agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. Some people decorate the horns with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming the wild bull contest, is the main event of this day and this is mostly seen in the villages.
During the final day, Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum means "to view") people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season, but in the cities this day is synonymous with people flocking to beaches and theme parks to have a day out with their families. They also chew sugar cane and decorate their houses with kolam. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. Although it started as a farmers festival, today it has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins, caste or even religion. It is as popular in urban areas as is in rural areas.

Polonnaruwa : The glory of mediaeval Sri Lanka is seen at Polonnaruwa, the mediaeval capital of the Island about 216 km, south east of Anuradhapura. Polonnaruwa used by the Sri Lankan kings as a 'country residence' from the 7th century became the Island's capital in the 11th century AD. Within the ramparts of the Royal Citadel are the ruins of the King's palace,the Council Chamber and the Royal Bath. The Buddha images at the Gal Vihara or the Rock Temple are masterpieces of stone sculpture. Parakrama Samudra or the Sea of Parakrama is a giant man made irrigation reservoir. A visit to Polonnaruwa is incomplete without visiting the new archaeological museum opened by the Central Cultural Fund where the ancient gloryof the city has been recreated in scale models.

Sigiriya: A city, palace and a garden complex centering a 200 metre high rock, Sigiriya, is a glowing tribute to the vision of King Kashyapa who created this 'Palace in the Sky' in the 5th century AD. On the summit of the Sigiriya rock (meaning the 'Lion Rock') that is over 1.5 hectares in extent are the remains of a large palace, the earliest surviving royal palace in Sri Lanka, with several chambers and a bathing pond. In a sheltered pocket of the giant rock are the celebrated paintings of 5th century AD, a few that is remaining from around 500 paintings that once covered the rock surface. Meticulously planned water gardens at the foot of the rock are the earliest such gardens found in Asia. The boulder gardens are a fine example of landscaping while conserving the environment. The Mirror Wall, which had been exposed to elements for over fifteen centuries still carry some of the original sheen that has given it the name. This archaeological site unparalleled in South Asia has been declared a World Heritage Site.
Sinhala Hindu New Year Festival

In April (the month of Bak), when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the celestial sphere; Sri Lankans begin celebrating their New Year or Aluth Avurudhu (in Sinhala) and Puththandu (in Tamil). It marks the end of the harvest season and also coincides with one of 2 instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. On the day of celebrations, the sun is directly above Koggala (where a sun devale can be found). A new year of the Saka era begins with each festival.
However, unlike the Western celebration of the new year at midnight on December 31st, the Sri Lankan New Year begins at a time determined by astrological signs. Also unlike western traditions; the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart from one another (this span is determined by astrology as well) - this period is, aptly enough, referred to as the nona gathe (neutral period). During this time Sri Lankans are, according to custom, encouraged to refrain from material pursuits, and engage solely in religious activities and traditional games.
The date upon which the Sri Lankan New Year occurred, while determined by astrological signs, also tends to coincide with the end of the harvest season - for this reason, many farming communities celebrate the new year while gathering fruits that have fallen from their trees.
Cultural rituals begin shortly after the beginning of the new year with the cleaning of the house and lighting of an oil lamp. In some communities, women congregate to play upon on the raban (drum) to warn others of the incipient change in the year.
Families indulge in a variety of rituals which are carefully determined by astrological calculations - from lighting the fire to making the kiribath, (milk rice) to entering into the first business transaction and eating the first morsels.
Once these are done, the partying really begins as families mingle in the streets, homes are thrown open and children are let out to play. The ubiquitous plantain is dished out alongside celebratory feasts of kaung (small oil cake) and kokis (crisp and light sweetmeat, originally from the Netherlands).
Aurudu has become an important national holiday for both the cultures of the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Hindu Sri Lankans, and is unique as such, as it is not celebrated in the same manner elsewhere in the world (some countries do celebrate a similar festival on the same date or a near date) .