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Thai Pongal - A festival of harvest

2021 have graced with hope and confidence, including Sri Lankans embraced 2021 with optimism and determination for prosperity. If discovering and exploring exotic destinations be one of New Year’s resolutions, then come explore Sri Lanka.
Every month of the year remarkable different to other. However, month of January has a significant importance for couple of reasons. It's the month of a new year and for Sri Lankans, it has a cultural importance as we welcome Thai Pongal ceremonies.
Thai Pongal is essentially a festival of harvest celebrated by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, south India and across the world at large.
Thai Pongal which often falls on the 14th of January in every year and celebration of which dates back to centuries, is dedicated to the Surya, the Hindu God of the sun and it coincides with the Makara Sankranti which refers to the sun's transition to Capricorn. Here the sun starts its six months long journey towards the north after the end of the winter solstice.
The Thai Pongal celebration signifies thanking nature specially the Sun God, rain, soil and even cattle for contributing to the agricultural prosperity. Once the bountiful agricultural harvest is reaped, in the Thai Pongal celebration, a traditional dish known as Pongal dish is prepared from the new harvest of rice boiled in milk with jaggery in a new clay pot often garlanded with leaves or flowers, sometimes tied with a piece of turmeric root or marked with a traditional hand-drawn pattern artwork known as "kolam" and then it is first offered to the gods and then even to cattle after they have been bathed and nicely decorated, and finally shared by the family. Furthermore, in this celebration, the ritual goes on to offering prayers in the home, Hindu temples or Kovils, and getting together with the family and friends while gifting them as a means to renew and strengthen family bonds and friendships.
A festival of paramount importance in the Tamil Hindus' calendar, the Thai Pongal celebration in Sri Lanka portrays the cultural diversity of the country. In Sri Lanka, it is mainly celebrated in the Colombo city, Nuwara-Eliya district, northern and eastern provinces.

Duruthu Full Moon Poya and Mahiyangana Buddhist Temple

Duruthu Poya usually falls in January which is the first month of the calendar year and hence the observance of Duruthu Poya is the first Buddhist event of the calendar year. It was on a day like this, exactly nine months after the Enlightenment that the Gautama Buddha, set his foot in Sri Lanka. The Duruthu perahera of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is also conducted on this day. This Religious Cultural pageant has evolved over the years to become the country’s most elaborate and grandest low country pageant in its category .
Legend has it that Lord Buddha stood before the gathering of Yakkhas radiating a halo of rainbow-hued light from his body. They however thought he was an invader and their soldiers took up arms.
It was through His supreme supernatural powers that peace was brought about and the Yakkhas were subjugated.
Then the Blessed One preached the message of peaceful coexistence to those who flocked to hear his words. One of them was Sumana Saman who attained Sotapanna (Sovan) (the first of the four paths / stages that lead to Nirvana) and he begged Lord Buddha for a relic to pay homage to once He had left them. Some locks of Lord Buddha’s hair (Kesa Dhathu) were laid in a gold casket which Sumana Saman enshrined in a small stupa built at the site where all this occurred, now known as the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara. This monument enters the annals of this country’s history as the first stupa built in Sri Lanka.

Yala National Park

January is also a peak month in the island's tourist season. As the north eastern monsoon still continues towards its end in January, the south and west coasts remain attractive for tourism. The Yala National Park is a popular tourist attraction located about 300 km southeast of Colombo. The national park mostly receives rains during the north eastern monsoon and January is a good time to visit the park as it remains lush and verdant while most of the fauna inhabiting the park can be sighted.
The most popular national park in Sri Lanka, Yala is the second largest national park in the country consisting of contiguous wildlife parks including the Ruhuna National Park and the Kumana National Park. With an area of 979 square kilometres, the national park extends over two provinces in a dry fairly arid climatic region hosting an array of ecosystems consisting of moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, marshes, marine wetlands and sandy beaches.
Yala is an enjoyable place to watch elephants and leopards as they are often being spotted roaming the park.
Rich in flora and fauna, the Yala national park is home to 215 species of avifauna, 7 of which are endemic to the island while 90 are waders consisting of migrants, 44 species of mammals that include Sri Lankan elephant and leopard, 47 species of reptile fauna, 6 of which are endemics, 18 amphibian species, 21 species of freshwater piscifauna and a considerable number of invertebrates. Today, the national park is unfortunately threatened by poachers, gem miners, cattle herders and hunters.
Located contiguous to the Yala national park is the Kumana national park which is essentially a bird sanctuary highly attracted by birdwatchers from around the world. Large flocks of migratory waders can often be sighted in shallow watery locales of the park. This is undoubtedly a birders' paradise.

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