Nallur Kandaswamy Temple is a fascinating place to visit at any time, but becomes unforgettable during the latter stages of the annual Nallur Festival, which runs for 25 days, finishing on the poya day in August. The crowds of festival-goers rival those at the far better-known Kandy Esala Perahera, and many Jaffna expatriates return for the celebrations. Men dress in fresh white sarongs, while ladies don their best saris, transforming the entire temple complex into a vast a sea of intense blues, reds and greens. Held on the 24th of the 26 days, the Ther festival is the biggest night, when an enormous chariot is pulled around the town by huge crowds of sarong-clad men; on the following day, particularly enthusiastic devotees mortify themselves by driving skewers through their bodies in honour of the god and making their way to the shrine accompanied by drumming and piping, stopping periodically to dance en route. Even more extraordinary are the devotees who, using skewers driven through their backs, suspend themselves from poles. These poles are then attached to the front of trucks and tractors, and the devotees are driven through town to the temple, dangling in front of their vehicle like bait on a fishing line. Supplicants who perform these self-mortifications believe that the god will protect them from any sense of pain. Many also carry a kavadi, the distinctive symbol of Murugam (or Kataragama), a semicircular yoke, placed across the shoulders, with peacock feathers at either end.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Sri Lanka features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The truth about elephant tourism in Asia

The truth about elephant tourism in Asia

Elephants are born free, but are everywhere in chains – and it’s tourism which is increasingly to blame. Riding an elephant used to be on every visitor’s …

25 Nov 2016 • Gavin Thomas insert_drive_file Article
16 evocative pictures of Sri Lanka

16 evocative pictures of Sri Lanka

After a couple of weeks travelling across Sri Lanka, photographer Nori Jemil shares why this Indian Ocean island is a perfect subject. Here are 16 of her favour…

04 Oct 2016 • Nori Jemil insert_drive_file Article
10 Sri Lankan foods you need to try

10 Sri Lankan foods you need to try

The tear-shaped Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka is a true culinary treat. Through years of colonisation and trade, many cultures have influenced its cuisine, c…

12 Jul 2016 • Sarah Gilbert insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month