Culture of Sri Lanka

General

The island is the home of 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 a British colonial culture was added, and lately Sri Lanka, particularly in the urban areas, has experienced a dramatic makeover in the western mold. Until recently, for example, most Sri Lankans, certainly those in the villages, have eaten traditional food, engaged in traditional crafts and expressed themselves through traditional arts. But economic growth and intense economic competition in developed countries has spilled over to most of Sri Lanka, producing changes that might variously be identified as progress, westernisation or a loss of identity and assimilation.

Literature

The largest part of Sri Lankan literature was written in the Sinhala language, but there is a considerable amount of works in other languages used in Sri Lanka over the millennia (including Pāli, Tamil and English).

Up to the present, short stories are a very important part of Sri Lankan literature; the output of Sinhalese short story writers is greater than that of the Tamil and English writers combined and has elicited a greater measure of critical analysis.

Art

In many ways Sri Lankan arts is an inspiration for its long and lasting Buddhist tradition which in turn absorbed and adopted countless regional and local traditions for thousands of years, evolving to be a unique variant of Sri Lankan arts. Unsurprising, most of Sri Lankan arts originated religious beliefs, represented in many art forms such as painting, sculpture, architecture, and so on.

Buddhism’s introduction to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC became the core of Sri Lankan culture ever since. Sri Lankan artistic style varied from kingdom to kingdom along its historic lines, each of which has successively added some characteristic elements to Sri Lankan arts, becoming the completely priceless inheritance we can see today.

Music & Traditional Dance

The two single biggest influences on Sri Lankan music are from Buddhism and Portuguese colonizers. Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka after the Buddha’s visit in 300 BC, while the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century, bringing with them cantiga ballads, ukuleles, and guitars, along with African slaves, who further diversified the musical roots of the island. These slaves were called kaffrinha, and their dance music was called baila. Traditional Sri Lankan music includes the hypnotic Kandyan drums – drumming was and is very much a part and parcel of music in both Buddhist and Hindu temples in Sri Lanka.

The earliest music came from the theatre at a time when the traditional open-air drama (referred to in Sinhala as Kolam, Sokari and Nadagam). In 1903 the first music album, Nurthi, was released through Radio Ceylon. Also Vernon Corea introduced Sri Lankan music in the English Service of Radio Ceylon.

In the early 1960s, Indian music in films greatly influenced Sri Lankan music and later Sri Lankan stars like Sunil Shantha found greater popularity among Indian people. By 1963, Radio Ceylon had more Indian listeners than Sri Lankan ones. The notable songwriters Mahagama Sekara and Ananda Samarakoon made a Sri Lankan music revolution. At the peak of this revolution, musicians such as W. D. Amaradeva, H.R. Jothipala, Milton Mallawarachchi, M.S. Fernando, Annesley Malewana and Clarence Wijewardene did great work.

A very popular type of music is the so-called Baila, a kind of dance music that originated from Portuguese music introduced to the island in colonial times.

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