Sri Lanka is one of the few countries with a very proud and rich cultural diversity. The culture is itself very unique and thereby contributes to the Sri Lankan identity. Sri Lankan culture contains a lot of customs and rituals, which date to more than 2000 years which were handed down from generation to generation. The most prominent feature of the Sri Lankan is its colorful festivals, which is one of the main tourist attractions. Religion plays an important role in molding the Sri Lankan culture and traditions.
Sri Lankan culture if often reflected by the use of art, architecture, sculptures, and even food. Some people would say that Sri Lanka has a more conventional culture which is obviously influenced by the prominent religions prevailing the country such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity etc. The Sri Lankan way of life is very simple and filled with humility and happiness, this is one of the reasons why the Sri Lankans have a very great sense in appreciating the simple things in life such as nature.
One of the main features of the culture is its Indian and European influence. Sri Lanka was a colony of three different countries. Between 1517 and 1638, the island was under Portuguese rule. Many words in Sinhalese sound like Portuguese words and some food, like short eats are reminiscent of that time. The Portuguese Kandyan King asked the Dutch for help at the beginning of the 1600s. The Dutch-Portuguese war raged for years, ending in a Dutch victory and subsequent takeover of part of the island. The Kandyan King kept his place in Kandy. The descendants of the Dutch settlers are called Burghers and are still a considerable group in Sri Lanka. After the disastrous Dutch take over, it was not difficult for the British to take over the island in 1796. There are many reminiscent British customs still in practice, like
high tea. Sri Lanka became independent in 1815. Being colonized by three different cultures has influenced the culture of Sri Lanka to the point that all three are still present in the country today. Not only that, most of the time Sri Lankan kings married Indian princesses they incorporated Indian culture
into ours but still preserving the unique Sri Lankan identity. Hospitality is also one of the noteworthy characteristics of the culture, making Sri Lankans one of the friendly nations in the world.
Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
“Cultural Triangle” is an area spanning across several cities in the center of Sri Lanka and includes 6 out of 8 of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the ancient capital of Anuradhapura, the ruins of Polonnaruwa, the rock citadel of Sigiriya and the sacred city of Kandy.
Anuradhapura was the first ancient capital of Sri Lanka and still it’s the sacred Buddhist religious center of Sri Lanka. Buddhists and pilgrims visit Anuradhapura to worship the well preserved temples including Sri Maha Bodhi, Lovamahapaya, Abhayagiri Stupa, Thuparamaya, Ruwanweli Stupa, Isurumuniya, Mihinthale, Elephant pond, Twin ponds, Aukana Buddha statue etc. Anradhapura was named as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982, because of its historical value.
This city is the second most ancient city of Sri Lanka. It was the second capital of Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982 because of its well-known attractions incliding the Statue of King Parakramabahu,Polonnaruwa Vatadage, Rankothvehera, Gal Viharaya and Statues, Sathmahal Prasada.
Kandy was the last kingdom of Sri Lanka and now it’s mainly known as the home of Temple of the Scared Tooth Relic.National Meuseum, Royal Botanical Garden,Knuckles Mountain Range,Udawaththa kele,Kandy Lake are the main attractions in Kandy. Kandy became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988.
Sri lankan Cusine
The most essential part (for all the food –lovers) that dominates our culture is our mouth-watering, exotic food. The recipes might have a bit of Indian influence but very unique in its own way.
Food in Daily Life
Sri Lanka’s main meal is a large serving of rice accompanied by up to twelve different side dishes of vegetables, egg, meat, or fish stewed together with peppers, spices, and often coconut milk. This rice and curry meal is traditionally eaten at midday, although it may also be served in the evening. The traditional morning and evening meals are usually composed of a traditional starchy staple, such asstring hoppers(fresh rice noodles),hoppers(cup-shaped pancakes),roti(coconut flat bread), orthosai(sourdough pancakes), served with a sambol(a mixture of hot peppers and other vegetables, served cool) and one or two curries. A variety of snacks and beverages are also eaten periodically throughout the day. Strong, sweat tea, usually with milk, is drunk alone or following a small serving of finger food or sweets, especially at mid- morning and late afternoon. Curd,a yogurt made from the milk of water buffaloes or cows, is often served as a dessert with palm syrup or sugar. A rich variety of fruits is available year-round.
Sri Lankan Martial Arts
There are two styles of martial arts native to Sri Lanka, these are Cheena di and Angampora. Chenna Di is more popular of the two whereas Angampora shows a decline in students each year due to the fact of the length of time to master the art.
Sri Lankan handicrafts
If you are looking to grab some authentic souvenirs and learning about the traditional Sri Lankan industries, take a look at some of the most traditional arts and crafts including masks, sculptures and potteries of Sri Lanka. If you hope to travel around the ruin cities including Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa & Kandy, you will see to large number of paintings and sculptures on display. Some earliest works that they have carved on rocks. Sigiriya, Dambulla temple, Kandy temple of the tooth relic are very famous for frescoes and paintings. Mostly Sri Lankan arts are originated from religious beliefs. Sri Lankan traditional clay pottery and wooden handicrafts also remarkable. These industries can be mostly found in hill country. Traditional masks can be found adorning the walls of local houses. But these handmade masks commonly found in cultural festivals like Kandy Esela perahera festival on dancers with their colorful facades, odd shapes and intriguing history. They also make excellent souvenirs. There’s a well-known city for wooden mask making industry, called Ambalangoda which belongs to south western costal belt in Sri Lanka.
Handloom and batik
Batik industry is originated in Indonesia and introduced to Sri Lanka by Dutch in 19th century. Now it has developed in to a unique form of textile art exclusive to the country. Simply, it’s a method of decorating a piece of cloth by creating pattern on it with wax and coloring rest of the piece of cloth, creating a vibrant mosaic with colored and uncolored areas. These batik clothes, Sarees, tablecloths, wall pictures, beach clothes, pure cotton and silk, men’s and ladies’ wear and bed covers are popular as a reminder of a visit to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan handloom industry also centuries old. When Indian Prince, Vijaya arrived on the island, Kuveni from the indigenous race of Yaksha was spinning yarn. Clearly, Sri Lanka’s handloom weavers carry a rich legacy of culture and hereditary skills. A range of designs and colors, individual and
innovative designs, craftsmanship, color combination and patterns are handed down from generation to generation. This handloom clothes, sarees, wall pictures, men’s and lady’s wear, bags, purses, table cloths are usually used because of their nature inspired forms and mosaic patterns.
The architecture of Sri Lanka displays a rich variety of architectural forms and styles. Buddhism had a significant influence on Sri Lankan architecture. However techniques and styles developed in Europe and Asia have also played a major role in the architecture of Sri Lanka.
Concept of dancing in Sri Lanka originated in fear of natural power which people regarded as the supernatural building. Dance was then initiated in Sri Lanka during the 4th century B.C for the purpose of expelling natural disasters, sickness and so on. At the end of Polonnaruwa period (15th century A.D.), South Indian influence came into Sri Lanka and was adopted in Sri Lanka folk dancing. Nowadays, there are three principal dancing forms that can be seen in Sri Lanka.
Kandyan dance describes the scenes of Ramayana drama or stories of kings and heroes and each movement of a dancer is exactly vivid, imitates the movement of animals such as peacock, elephant which are supernatural animals in Sri Lanka. The dancers ‘costumes are striking; male dancers dress a skirt- like a garment with their naked chest with silver regalia and their head wears a spectacular headgear like a peacock and takes drum GataBeraya which is used especially for Kandyan dance.
Low country dance
When performing the Low Country Dance, the dancer wears masks to describe different creatures such as demons, birds, reptiles, etc. to show the killing by the Gurula of Cobra. Besides, the dance is also performed as a ritual ceremony to turn out evil spirits and a method of psychiatric treatment that is the reason why Low country dance is called devil dance.
The dances are usually performed in Ratnapura, relating to the worshipping of God Saman much revered by local people. According to the legend, the origins of the Kandiyan dance lie in an exorcism ritual known as the Kohomba Kankariya, which was originally performed by Indian shamans who came to the island of Sri Lanka.
Cultural festivals in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, the tiny teardrop shaped island is home to four main religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Because of that Sri Lankan people celebrate many festivals.
Sinhala and Tamil Hindu New Year celebration
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year marks the beginning of the Lunar year. It usually takes place on 13th and 14th in April. Festivities are colorful and fun all around the island. Just like the Poya holidays, all formal or government businesses close and the island takes on a relaxed festive state.
Vesak poyaday celebration (Buddhist)
Vesak is the Poya festival that falls on the full moon of the month of May. According to the Buddhist moon calendar, it’s the first full moon of the New Year. Vesak Poya is a triple celebration of Buddha. It is on this day that Buddha was born, found enlightenment, then many years later passed away. Festivities are charm but colorful. People hang lanterns and some of the temples including Temple of the Tooth Relic are specially decorated.
Kandy Esela Perahera Festival
Esala Perahera is considered one of the most beautiful of such processions in all of Asia and is held yearly to beseech blessings of the gods to obtain rain for the cultivation of crops and to enrich the lands of the kingdom. Procession itself signifies rain and different items in the procession subsequently brings life to the phenomena of rain, creating a spectacle of highest quality and grandeur to the onlookers. During the Kandy Esala Perahera, the sacred tooth relic is carried around the streets of Kandy city to honor it as well as its four guardians, Gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Goddess Pattini with dancers, flag bearers, elephants and all. Plan your visit to Sri Lanka during the Perahera season to witness this amazing festival of the sacred tooth, which attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.
Another grand Buddhist festival which is held in month of June every year. Buddhists celebrate the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in this Poson full moon Poya day. Festivities are focusing the Mihintale rock outcrop which is believed to be the first place that Buddhist monk “Mahinda” sermonizing dhamma to king ” Devanampiyatissa”. People arrange arms giving stalls to celebrate this poson festival.
Deepawali/ Dewali (Hindu)
Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights, it is the celebration of Lord Rama’s defeat of Ravana, symbolizing the defeat of light over darkness. Sri Lankan Hindu people celebrate this festival in November in every year by lightning lamps, wearing new clothes, giving each other gifts and sweets.
Ramadan and Eid (Islam)
Ramadan is the month long Muslim festival of cleansing and fasting. The festival begins at the first sighting of the new moon.
Even though only about 20% or less of the population in Sri Lanka is Christian, Christmas is still a big celebration on the island.Most of the stalls, offices and houses are colourfuly decorated with Christmas trees, lights and garlands when the month of december begins every year.