Culture / Religion
The culture of Sri Lanka dates back over 2500 years. It is influenced primarily by Buddhism and Hinduism. Sri Lanka is the home to two main traditional cultures: the Sinhalese (centred in the ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centred in the city of Jaffna). In more recent times, the British colonial culture has also influenced the locals. Sri Lanka claims a democratic tradition matched by few other developing countries.
The first Tamil immigration was probably around the 3rd century BC. Tamils co-existed with the Sinhalese people since then, and the early mixing rendered the two ethnic groups almost physically indistinct. Ancient Sri Lanka is marked for its genius in hydraulic engineering and architecture. The rich cultural traditions shared by all Sri Lankan cultures is the basis of the country's long life expectancy, advanced health standards and high literacy rate.
Food and festivals
In April, Sri Lankans celebrate the Buddhist and Hindu new year festival. Esala Perahera is a symbolic Buddhist festival consisting of dances and decorated elephants held in Kandy in July and August. Fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances are integral parts of the festival. Christians celebrate Christmas on 25 December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Tamils celebrate Thai Pongal and Maha Shivaratri, and Muslims celebrate Hajj and Ramadan.
Visual, literary and performing arts
The movie Kadawunu Poronduwa (The broken promise), produced by S. M. Nayagam of Chitra Kala Movietone, heralded the coming of Sri Lankan cinema in 1947. Ranmuthu Duwa (Island of treasures, 1962) marked the transition cinema from black-and-white to colour. It in the recent years has featured subjects such as family melodrama, social transformation and the years of conflict between the military and the LTTE. The Sri Lankan cinematic style is similar to Bollywood movies. In 1979, movie attendance rose to an all-time high, but has been in steady decline since then.
An influential filmmaker is Lester James Peiris, who has directed a number of movies which led to global acclaim, including Rekava (Line of destiny, 1956), Gamperaliya (The changing village, 1964), Nidhanaya (The treasure, 1970) and Golu Hadawatha (Cold heart, 1968). Sri Lankan-Canadian poet Rienzi Crusz, is the subject of a documentary on his life in Sri Lanka. His work is published in Sinhalese and English. Similarly, naturalized-Canadian Michael Ondaatje, is well known for his English-language novels and three films.
The earliest music in Sri Lanka came from theatrical performances such as Kolam, Sokari and Nadagam. Traditional music instruments such as Béra, Thammátama, Daŭla and Răbān were performed at these dramas. The first music album, Nurthi, recorded in 1903, was released through Radio Ceylon (founded in 1925). Songwriters like Mahagama Sekara and Ananda Samarakoon and musicians such as W. D. Amaradeva, H. R. Jothipala and Clarence Wijewardene have contributed much towards the upliftment of Sri Lankan music. Baila is another popular music genre in the country, originated among Kaffirs or the Afro-Sinhalese community.
There are three main styles of Sri Lankan classical dance. They are, the Kandyan dances, low country dances and Sabaragamuwa dances. Of these, the Kandyan style, which flourished under kings of the Kingdom of Kandy, is more prominent. It is a sophisticated form of dance, that consists of five sub-categories: Ves dance, Naiyandi dance, Udekki dance, Pantheru dance and 18 Vannam. An elaborate headdress is worn by the male dancers and a drum called Geta Béraya is used to assist the dancer to keep on rhythm. In addition, four folk drama variants named Sokri, Kolam Nadagam, Pasu, and several devil dance variants such as Sanni Yakuma and Kohomba Kankariya can be also observed.
The history of Sri Lankan painting and sculpture can be traced as far back as to the 2nd or 3rd century BC. The earliest mention about the art of painting on Mahavamsa, is to the drawing of a palace on cloth using cinnabar in the 2nd century BC. The chronicles have description of various paintings in relic-chambers of Buddhist stupas, and in monastic residence.
Theatre moved into the country when a Parsi theatre company from Mumbai introduced Nurti, a blend of European and Indian theatrical conventions to the Colombo audience in the 19th century. The golden age of Sri Lankan drama and theatre began with the staging of Maname, a play written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra in 1956. It was followed by a series of popular dramas like Sinhabāhu, Pabāvatī, Mahāsāra, Muudu Puththu and Subha saha Yasa.
Sri Lankan literature spans at least two millennia, and is heir to the Aryan literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rigveda. The Pāli Canon, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, was written down in Sri Lanka during the Fourth Buddhist council, at the Alulena cave temple, Kegalle, as early as 29 BC. Ancient chronicles such as the Mahāvamsa, written in the 6th century, provide vivid descriptions of Sri Lankan dynasties. According to the German philosopher Wilhelm Geiger, the chronicles are based on Sinhala Atthakatha (commentary), that dates few more centuries back.The oldest surviving prose work is the Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya, compiled in the 9th century.
The greatest literary feats of medieval Sri Lanka include Sandesha Kāvya (poetic messages) such as Girā Sandeshaya (Parrot message), Hansa Sandeshaya (Swan message) and Salalihini Sandeshaya (Myna message). Poetry including Kavsilumina, Kavya-Sekharaya (diadem of poetry) and proses such as Saddharma-Ratnāvaliya, Amāvatura (Flood of nectar) and Pujāvaliya are also notable works of this period, which is considered to be the golden age of Sri Lankan literature. The first modern-day novel, Meena, a work of Simon de Silva appeared in 1905, and was followed by a number of revolutionary literary works. Martin Wickramasinghe, the author of Madol Doova is considered the iconic figure of Sri Lankan literature.
Religion in SriLanka
Sri Lanka is a multi-religious country. Buddhists comprise 70 percent of the population, with the Theravada school being predominant. Most Buddhists are of the Sinhalese ethnic group. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BC by Venerable Mahinda. A sapling of the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka during the same time. The Pali Canon (Thripitakaya), having previously been preserved as an oral tradition, was first committed to writing in Sri Lanka around 30 BC.
Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominately Buddhist nation, with the Sangha having existed in a largely unbroken lineage since its introduction in the 2nd century BC. During periods of decline, the Sri Lankan monastic lineage was revived through contact with Thailand and Burma. Buddhism is given special recognition in the Constitution which requires Sri Lankans to "protect and foster the Buddha Sasana".
Hinduism is the second most prevalent religion in Sri Lanka and predates Buddhism. Today, Hinduism is dominant in Northern, Eastern and Central Sri Lanka. Hindus are mainly Tamils.
Islam is the third most dominant religion in the country, having first been brought to the island by Arab traders over the course of many centuries, starting around the 7th century AD. Most Muslims are Sunni who follow the Shafi'i school. Most followers of Islam in Sri Lanka today are believed to be descendants of these Arab traders and the local women they married.
Christianity reached the country through Western colonists in the early 16th century. Around 7.4% of the Sri Lankan population are Christians, of which 82% are Roman Catholics who trace their religious heritage directly to the Portuguese. The remaining Christians are evenly split between the Anglican Church of Ceylon and other Protestant denominations.
There is also a small population of Zoroastrian immigrants from India (Parsis) who settled in Ceylon during the period of British rule, but this community has steadily dwindled in recent years. Religion plays a prominent role in the life and culture of Sri Lankans. The Buddhist majority observe Poya Days each month according to the Lunar calendar, and Hindus and Muslims also observe their own holidays. In a 2008 Gallup poll, Sri Lanka was ranked the third most religious country in the world, with 99% of Sri Lankans saying religion was an important part of their daily life.