Culture of Sri Lanka
of Sri Lanka has moved through several phases in the course of history. It
is a rich amalgamation of diverse cultural patterns. So many of the cultural
strains of Sri Lanka are indigenous while several of them have been derived
by the influences of migration, trade, religions and western colonisation.
Culture of Sri Lanka has always grown under the umbrella of Buddhism, the
Influence of Buddhism
Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka more than 2300 years ago. Before the arrival
of Buddhism Hinduism was practised in the country. Influence of Hinduism did
not vanish completely despite the coming of Buddhism. In Buddhism Sri Lankan
society had accepted a religious philosophy based on the rational, where
tolerance played significant part. Buddhism did not develop in Sri Lanka as
a state religion. It was liberal in its philosophical content to let other
winds flow into the country. Sri Lanka has adopted the Hinayana or Theravada
sect, which is regarded as the tradition coming down Buddha's own disciples
Influence of Other Religions
Neighborhood to South India assisted Hinduism, but influence of
Buddhism did not lessen. There was lesser influence of Islam,
Zoroastrianism, and Christianity, in addition to the pre-Buddhist worship of
deities and animism. Some of ancient ways of worship still remain in the
traditions and rituals of Sri Lanka. Trading relations with the Arabs, after
the rise of Islam, saw the country coming in contact with Islam. From the
early 16th century, Sri Lanka came under strong influence of the Christians,
who came in search of its much valued spices, peacocks, gems and elephants.
Gradually they also became rulers of the country.
Construction Work and Architecture
Rulers of Sri Lanka undertook lot of construction work and, in the process,
promoted architecture. The science of hydraulics achieved new heights.
Rulers encouraged the construction of "dagabas" or relic chambers
for the spiritual upliftment of the people. They always gave importance to
the Buddhist clergy. Great irrigation works were also undertaken to take
care of the temporal needs of the country.
Evolution of Arts
All types of arts, especially sculpture and painting evolved in Sri Lanka.
. The temples, palaces and gardens of the ancient Anuradhapura period (3 BC
- 9 AC) and the later Polonnaruwa period (10 - 13 AC) have some of the best
examples of architecture and sculpture in the South Asian region.
Polonnaruwa also proves that Buddhist and Hindu traditions existed
simultaneously in Sri Lanka. Buddhist temples were embellished with
paintings. The most renowned specimen of the finest Sri Lankan art are the
frescoes seen at the rock fortress at Sigiriya, (6th Century AD). Elegant
frescoes have been painted on the face of a rock. It is now a UNESCO
recognized site reminding us of the artistic heritage of Sri Lanka.
People of Sri Lanka always believed in simple livelihood. Festivals
coincided with the collecting of the harvest, and the important events in
the Buddhist calendar. Pageantry cannot be kept apart from the cultural
traditions of Sri Lanka. Most renowned event globally is the "Kandy
Perehera", the religious-festive procession held in Kandy in
July/August each year, in honour of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. It is
known as the festival of sight and sound. Sri Lanka is basically an
agriculture based society.
Musical Traditions and Dances
Music traditions in Sri Lanka vary from folk music to religious chants.
North India has left easily recognised influence on the music conventions of
the country. In northern part of Sri Lanka, impact of Karnataka music of
South India is obvious. As for the dances they have been developing from the
very ancient days. North and South India, both have had their own influences
on Sri Lankan tradition of dances. In modern days western ways have also
influenced Sri Lankan traditions.