Poya Day is not a single day but a name for any holiday in Sri Lanka that is held to mark a full moon. The table below shows Poya Days for 2019 and 2020.
|2019||20 Jan||Sun||Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day|
|19 Feb||Tue||Navam Full Moon Poya Day|
|20 Mar||Wed||Madin Full Moon Poya Day|
|19 Apr||Fri||Bak Full Moon Poya Day|
|18 May||Sat||Vesak Full Moon Poya Day|
|19 May||Sun||Day following Vesak Full Moon Poya Day|
|16 Jun||Sun||Poson Full Moon Poya Day|
|16 Jul||Tue||Esala Full Moon Poya Day|
|14 Aug||Wed||Nikini Full Moon Poya Day|
|13 Sep||Fri||Binara Full Moon Poya Day|
|13 Oct||Sun||Vap Full Moon Poya Day|
|12 Nov||Tue||Ill Full Moon Poya Day|
|11 Dec||Wed||Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day|
|2020||10 Jan||Fri||Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day|
|8 Feb||Sat||Navam Full Moon Poya Day|
|9 Mar||Mon||Madin Full Moon Poya Day|
|7 Apr||Tue||Bak Full Moon Poya Day|
|7 May||Thu||Vesak Full Moon Poya Day|
|8 May||Fri||Day following Vesak Full Moon Poya Day|
|5 Jun||Fri||Poson Full Moon Poya Day|
|4 Jul||Sat||Esala Full Moon Poya Day|
|3 Aug||Mon||Nikini Full Moon Poya Day|
|1 Sep||Tue||Binara Full Moon Poya Day|
|1 Oct||Thu||Vap Full Moon Poya Day|
|29 Nov||Sun||Ill Full Moon Poya Day|
|29 Dec||Tue||Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day|
There are around a dozen Poya Days every year, in conformity with the Buddhist lunar calendar and moon-phase marking system. As 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, most of the population celebrates each Poya Day as of religious significance.
The fact that the moon is largest and brightest when it is full is the rationale behind full moons being occasions for celebration. In Sinhalese, “poya” is derived from a word meaning “fast day,” which explains why many Buddhists go to temple and fast during Poyas.
On Poya Days, Sri Lankan workers are legally guaranteed a paid off-work day, unless they are paid time and a half by their employer during Poya Day hours. Most businesses will be closed, and alcoholic beverages and meat are not allowed to be sold until the Poya is over.
Each full moon, and each corresponding Poya Day, has its own name and specific events it is meant to commemorate. These will be events related to Buddha and Buddhism. Some of the key events remembered on Poya Days include: Buddha’s birthday, Buddha’s enlightenment, Buddha’s sending out of 60 disciples as missionaries, the personal visits Buddha made to Sri Lanka, the bringing of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Mahinda, and the first Buddhist Council held after Buddha’s death.
Four ideas for things to do in Sri Lanka on any of the various Poya Days are:
- If in Sri Lanka for the Vesak Poya Day, which is the single-most important of all the Poya Days, you will see the streets crowded with people and colourful lights and decorations on every hand. In memory of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha, you will see alms houses lining the roads and food stalls with authentic Sri Lankan dishes and desserts there as well.
- For the August Poya Day, visit Kandy in the centre of the island. there, the “Esala Festival” will be in full swing. You will see fire-walking, extreme acts of “penance,” gigantic cultural parades, dancers and musicians, and some truly amazing domesticated elephants.
- For any Poya Day, visit the Temple of the Tooth, which purportedly contains a tooth of the Buddha himself. The possessor of the tooth of Buddha was once thought to give authority to govern the kingdom that Kandy was the center of, and the royal palace of Kandy is right next to the temple.
- Visit the Sri Mahabodhi Temple in Anuradhapura, where you can see a bodhi tree thought to be directly derived from the bodhi tree in India under which Buddha was first enlightened. “Bodhi” is a word meaning “enlightenment,” but the tree itself is a kind of a fig tree. Every Buddhist temple has a bodhi tree planted by it, but only a few claim to have a tree from a sapling of the “original” bodhi tree. Bodhi trees have heart-shaped leaves and are represented in much Buddhist artwork as well.
Should you be in Sri Lanka while the moon is full, you will notice that a day of celebration ensues. Some of these Poya Days are large and bring in celebrants from other religions besides Buddhism, while others are not as noted except by the Buddhist devout. You will find there is plenty to explore as far as Buddhist history and culture and that there are often events to attend on Poya Days.