Wesak weirdness – A Buddhist celebration!

While we were in Polonnaruwa we discovered that Wesak would soon be upon us. Wesak is a celebration of the birth of Buddha – basically his birthday. Where we were they were celebrating it for two days, but when we left and went to Trinco they were still doing it for another three days!

The theme of Wesak seems to be lights, lights, lights. Strings of lights, LED lightstrips, coloured lights, and festive lanterns of all shapes and sizes but actually mostly one shape.

Our hosts told us that in the next town to the east, Kaduruela, there would be a big celebration in an open field, so we decided to go check it out. We tuk-tuked into town, passing the field on the way, and had a quick rice-and-curry and then walked back to the fair-ground ( no longer an open field, with flags and kiosks and people streaming in) as the sky was darkening and the lights were lighting up.

We got in there and saw many sheds containing light displays similar to this:

These are all hand-made, they turn, and most of them seem to depict the story of Buddha’s life or some period of his life.

The Other Side of Wesak

Then there was another shed. A low shed with camouflage netting over it and a looong lineup in front. There’s no way we’d wait in such a line without knowing what’s going on, so we slid around the line to try and see what was up.

When we got to the front, some lady accosted us and dragged us to the front of the line. She seemed very insistent that we go right around the line and in first, and was pushing other people out of the way. We rolled with it and in we went, me carrying Zoe and Vero with Elliot in her arms.

Holy smokes. Weirdness. Budget gruesome graphic torture scenes. Real people getting fake impaled, stabbed, boiled… NOT appropriate for children! Fortunately both kids had the good sense to not look at any of it and hid their faces the entire time.

Now, what was that horror show all about? Seemed to me like a depiction of hell ( is there a Buddhist hell? yes). Why would you send kids in there? I don’t know, cautionary tale? Scare them straight? They really were prioritizing people with kids at the entrance.

We looked around a bit more and then headed back to the hotel. There were so many people headed into the fair by car, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, tractor, and even Army troop carrier. We had to walk 2 km before we could get a tuk-tuk.

That was definitely the weirdest thing we have seen Sri Lanka so far.


I am a world-travelling, long distance runner previously disguised as a high-voltage engineer and now masquerading as a travel blogger.

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