Heading to Sri Lanka on a holiday? Then it is advisable to have a look at its holiday calendar. The island has a staggering number of holidays and most of these have religious significance. One key holiday is the Poya holiday which may happen up to 12 times a year. And because it has religious, cultural and practical considerations it is good to be aware and prepared.
What really is a Full Moon Poya Holiday?
A Poya day is the name given to the Buddhist full moon holiday called ‘Uposatha’, and is celebrated monthly in recognition of the moon being at it’s the fullest point. This usually means that a Poya Day falls once a month, however, there can occasionally be two Poya days in one month depending on the lunar calendar. This additional Poya is given the prefix “Adhi”, meaning extra. What all this also means is that Sri Lankans are lucky to have a holiday every time the moon is full! If and when a Full Moon Poya holiday falls on a weekend a holiday in lieu of it will not be given. However, there have been instances where this has happened and usually applies to the most sacred holidays of them all, the Vesak Full Moon Poya.
How does one celebrate a Poya Holiday?
All Poya days are recognized by the Sri Lankan Government and so are marked with both a civil and bank holiday, throughout Sri Lanka. All practising Buddhists within Sri Lanka meditate, reflect and put particular importance on the five precepts of Buddhism. These five precepts are to abstain from: harming living beings; sexual misconduct; stealing or theft; deception or lying and intoxication – whether from alcohol or drugs. If you are visiting Sri Lanka during a Poya holiday you can see most people visit temples dressed in white. However, since this is a Buddhist holiday the other religions continue with their normal lives. Also, not all Buddhists practice the rituals and rights associated with a Poya to the fullest.
How will Poya impact your holiday?
A Poya holiday applies to all sectors of work and business in Sri Lanka. This means all schools, banks and government offices are closed. So are most private businesses. There is also a ban on the sale of meat, fish, alcohol and cigarettes. Serving these items are also prohibited. It has been noted that those not following this holiday will usually stock up on the previous day.
Why does each Poya have a different name?
The Sinhalese have given a name to each month and this name is tied to that month’s Poya holiday. Each Poya also relates to an important aspect of Buddhism or a significant event in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist history. For example ‘Vesak’ Poya happens in the month of ‘Vesak’ (May) which is the first month in the Buddhist calendar. And on this Poya holiday Buddhists all over the world commemorate the triple anniversary of Lord Buddha – the birth, enlightenment and passing away. ‘Poson’ Poya in the month of ‘Poson’ (June) commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
Here is a list of Poya holidays and their meaning in brief.
Vesak – May: Birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha
Poson – June: Introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka
Esala – July: First sermon to the ascetics. (Also corresponds with the Esala Perahera/festival of Kandy which may happen in July or August)
Nikini – August: First Dhamma convocation
Binara – September: Buddha’s visit to heaven to preach to his mother and the celestial multitude
Vap – October: Conclusion of Buddha’s preaching of the Abhidhamma
Ill – November: Obtaining of Vivarana
Unduvap – December: Arrival of the Bo-tree sapling to Sri Lanka
Duruthu – January: Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka
Navam – February: Entrance into the order of two leading disciples of The Buddha (Sariputta and Maha Moggalana).
Medin – March: Commemorates the visit of The Buddha to his home to preach to his father King Suddhodana and other relatives.
Bak – April: It commemorates the second visit of The Buddha to Sri Lanka. The Sinhala and Tamil New Year also happens during this period.