Early this month, Sri Lankan Hindus in the capital, Colombo, celebrated the Vel Hinduism festival, which commemorates the victory of Sri Murugan, the Hindu god of war, over the forces of evil. Celebrations are scheduled to continue for several weeks.
The festival begins with Sri Murugan’s silver-plated chariot and spear (vel) being pulled by snow-white bulls. The chariot is followed by hundreds of devotees dressed in white, smeared with ash and burning incense sticks. The event draws tens of thousands of people, including devotees who sing songs in praise of Murugan, and smash coconuts to ward off bad luck and usher in prosperity.
The chariot is eventually taken to a Hindu temple, where adjacent streets are filled with merchants selling food, sweets, beads and other items. There are also elephant processions, dancers, musicians and fire walkers.
In Sri Lanka, ethnic Tamils are the main followers of Hinduism and the major minority on the island of 20 million people.
Sri Lanka is emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic conflict that claimed as many as 100,000 lives as the now-defunct Tamil Tiger rebels fought for a separate state for the Tamil minority.