The culture of Sri Lanka mixes modern elements with traditional aspects and is known for its regional diversity. Sri Lankan culture has long been influenced by the heritage of Theravada Buddhism passed on from India, and the religion's legacy is particularly strong in Sri Lanka's southern and central regions. South Indian cultural influences are especially pronounced in the northernmost reaches of the country. The history of colonial occupation has also left a mark on Sri Lanka's identity, with Portuguese, Dutch, and British elements having intermingled with various traditional facets of Sri Lankan culture.
The country has a rich artistic tradition, with distinct creative forms that encompass music, dance, and the visual arts. Sri Lankan culture is internationally associated with cricket, a distinct cuisine, an indigenous holistic medicine practice, religious iconography such as the Buddhist flag, and exports such as tea, cinnamon, and gemstones, as well as a robust tourism industry. Sri Lanka has longstanding ties with the Indian subcontinent that can be traced back to prehistory. Sri Lanka's current population is predominantly Sinhalese with sizable Sri Lankan Moor, Sri Lankan Tamil, and Indian Tamil minorities.
Sri Lanka has a documented history of over 2,000 years, mainly due to ancient historic scriptures like Mahawamsa, and with the first stone objects dating back to 500,000 BC. Several centuries of intermittent foreign influence have transformed Sri Lankan culture to its present form. Nevertheless, the ancient traditions and festivals are still celebrated by the mostly conservative Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil people of the island, together with other minorities that make up the Sri Lankan identity. The Tamils, primarily Hindus, claimed the northern section of the island and the Sinhalese, who are predominantly Buddhist, controlled the south.
The architecture of Sri Lanka displays a rich variety of architectural forms and styles. Buddhism had a significant influence on Sri Lankan architecture, since it was introduced to the island in 3rd Century BCE. However techniques and styles developed in Europe and Asia have also played a major role in the architecture of Sri Lanka.
Many forms of Sri Lankan arts and crafts take inspiration from the Island's long and lasting Buddhist culture which in turn has absorbed and adopted countless regional and local traditions. In most instances Sri Lankan art originates from religious beliefs, and is represented in many forms such as painting, sculpture, and architecture. One of the most notable aspects of Sri Lankan art are caves and temple paintings, such as the frescoes found at Sigiriya, and religious paintings found in temples in Dambulla and Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy. Other popular forms of art have been influenced by both natives as well as foreign settlers. For example, traditional wooden handicrafts and clay pottery are found around the hilly regions while Portuguese-inspired lacework and Indonesian-inspired Batik are also notable.
Sri Lanka is famous around the Indian Ocean for Kandyan dancing.
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, the ukulele, 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 of music in both Buddhist and Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. Most western parts of Sri Lanka follow western dancing and music.
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 color. In recent years, Sri Lankan cinema has featured subjects such as family melodrama, social transformation, and the years of conflict between the military and the LTTE. Their cinematic style is similar to Bollywood movies. In 1979, movie attendance rose to an all-time high, but a gradual downfall has been recorded since then. Undoubtedly, the most influential and revolutionary filmmaker in the history of Sri Lankan cinema is Lester James Peiris, who has directed a number of movies which received global acclaim, including Rekava (Line of destiny, 1956), Gamperaliya (The changing village, 1964), Nidhanaya (The treasure, 1970), and Golu Hadawatha (Cold Heart, 1968).There are many cinemas the city areas.
The cuisine of Sri Lanka is influenced by of India, especially from Kerala, as well as colonists and foreign traders. Rice is usually consumed daily, and it can be found at any special occasion, while spicy curries are favourite dishes for lunch and dinner. A very popular alcoholic drink is toddy or arrack, both made from palm tree sap. Rice and curry refers to a range of Sri Lankan dishes. Sri Lankans also eat hoppers (Aappa, Aappam), which can be found anywhere in Sri Lanka.
Much of Sri Lanka's cuisine consists of boiled or steamed rice served with spicy curry. Another well-known rice dish is kiribath, meaning milk rice. Curries in Sri Lanka are not just limited to meat or fish-based dishes, there are also vegetable and even fruit curries. A typical Sri Lankan meal consists of a "main curry" (fish, chicken, or mutton), as well as several other curries made with vegetable and lentils. Side-dishes include pickles, chutneys and "sambols" which can sometimes be fiery hot. The most famous of these is the coconut sambol, made of scraped coconut mixed with chili peppers, dried Maldivian fish and lime juice. This is ground to a paste and eaten with rice, as it gives zest to the meal and is believed to increase appetite.
In addition to sambols, Sri Lankans eat "mallung", chopped leaves mixed with grated coconut and red onions. Coconut milk is found in most Sri Lankan dishes and it gives the cuisine its unique flavor.
As noted above many of Sri Lanka's urban areas are host to American fast food corporations and many of the younger generation have started to take a liking to this new style of cuisine although it is rejected by many, particularly the more traditional elder members of the community.
Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. The best known is cinnamon which is native to Sri Lanka. In the 15th and 16th centuries, spice and ivory traders from all over the world brought their native cuisines to the island, resulting in a rich diversity of cooking styles and techniques. Lamprais rice boiled in stock with a special curry, accompanied by frikkadels (meatballs), all of which is then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked as a Dutch-influenced Sri Lankan dish. Dutch and Portuguese sweets also continue to be popular. British influences include roast beef and roast chicken. Also, the influence of the Indian cooking methods and food has played a major role in what Sri Lankans eat
Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their dishes and typically do not follow an exact recipe: thus, every cook's curry will taste slightly different. Furthermore, people from different regions of the island (for instance, hill-country dwellers versus coastal dwellers) traditionally cook in different ways. Sri Lankan cuisine is known to be among the world's spiciest, due to the high use of different varieties of chili peppers referred to as amu miris (Green chilli), kochchi miris, and maalu miris" (capsicum) and in Tamil Milakaai, among others. It is generally accepted for tourists to request that the food is cooked with a lower chili content to cater for the more sensitive Western palette. Food cooked for public occasions typically uses less chili than food cooked at homes, where the food is cooked with the chili content preferable to the occupants.
Being one of the largest producers of tea in the world, Sri Lankans drink a lot of tea. There are many tea factories around mountainous areas. Many Sri Lankans drink at least three cups a day. Sri Lanka is also one of the best tea-producing countries in the world and the Royal Family of the United Kingdom has been known to drink Ceylon tea. Tea is served whenever a guest comes to a house; it is served at festivals and gatherings or just for breakfast.
Sri Lanka's culture also revolves around religion. The Buddhist community of Sri Lanka observe Poya Days, once per month according to the Lunar calendar. The Hindus and Muslims also observe their own holidays. Sri Lankans are very religious because the history of the island has been involved with religion numerous times. There are many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka which date back to antiquity. In the middle of the temple, there is an old Boho tree. It is known that once Lord Buddha had meditated here, so in honor of Lord Buddha, people walk around the tree with (Ping) water. After 4 rounds, they pour the water on the tree where Lord Buddha meditated. When they walk around the tree, they pray. The Ping water has flowers and some powder (natural, vanilla smelling powder) in it. This is no harm to the tree, of course. The trees are worshiped heavily. The religious preference of an area could be determined by the number of religious institutions in the area. The Northern and Eastern parts of the island have several notable Hindu temples due to the fact that the majority of the population living in these areas is Tamil. Ethnic conflict has severely affected other communities living in these areas during the times of LTTE strife. Many churches can be found along the southern coastline because of former Roman Catholic and Protestant colonial heritage. Buddhists reside in all parts of the island, but especially in the south, the upcountry, and the western seaboard. Buddhists are the largest religious group in Sri Lanka.
While the Sinhalese people speak Sinhala as their mother tongue, the Tamil people speak Tamil. English is also widely spoken. Sinhala is spoken by about 17 million people in Sri Lanka, more than 14 million of whom are native speakers. It is one of the constitutionally recognized official languages of Sri Lanka, along with Tamil.
In the Sri Lankan culture Birds are very special. Almost every home in villages keeps a nest for home sparrows. They are considered as fortune when residing in your home. The most popular bird in Sri Lanka is the peacock the sacred bird of God Kataragama.
Gira Sandeshaya (Parrot Message), Hansa Sandeshaya (Swan message), Mayura Sandeshaya (Peacock Message), Salalihini Sandeshaya (Myna Message) are great ancient literature works.
There are many stories about birds, society and people. Birds were always considered as sacred and people believed that local gods travel on them.
The King Ravana story involve a wooden air craft call Dandu Monara (Wodden Peacock), in which he flew to India to abduct Seetha causing a huge war among Rama and Rawana.
Most of the Ancient flags represented symbols of birds. some of them are,
• Two Swans Flag Dalada Maligawa, Kandy
• Walapane Disawa Gangaramaya, Kandy
• Maha Vishnu Dewala Flag Kandy
There are the Art and craft focused on birds. and some of them are,
• Sewul Kodiya Kundasale Vihare, Kandy
• Birds in Kandyan Dress
• Birds in Sandakada Pahana Rock Carving
• Ancient temple Painting
• A Special Brass Kendiya Made in the Shape of Bird used in Marriage Ceremonies
The uniqueness of Sri Lanka with its lengths of beautiful beaches, welcoming people, famous tea and affordable prices has attracted many people to the country. For example, visitor numbers are steadily rising year by year - with some 133,000 tourist arrivals in March 2014 compared to 113,000 in March 2013
As with any influx of tourism there are of course a number of negative influences that can arise. Sri Lanka’s natural areas have, for instance, been affected by increased pollution with discharges into the sea and natural habitat loss, as well as the depletion of natural resources, which have arisen because of excessive water use in hotels, golf courses and swimming pools - which consume unnaturally large amounts of water. In response to this, the Department of Forest Conservation (Sri Lanka) and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (Sri Lanka) have instigated a number of protected areas of Sri Lanka - there are currently 32 forests under their protection - and in total - a little over 25% of the island is now a protected area. Emerging trends in the tourism industry in Sri Lanka points the way to tourists seeking more traditional experiences over conventional ideals such as tours and resorts. Consequently, these tourists seek out cheaper accommodation where they can be exposed to authentic villages and richer more rustic experiences - this gives indigenous identities a chance to be preserved and not overtaken as tourism takes hold in the more remote areas, with Sri Lankan indigenous people taking their place as a part of the attraction for tourists and are thus protected and provided with support.
Part of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict development process is to build on the ever-growing tourism industry - this has meant refurbishing hotels, building new hotels and the country-wide revival of traditional handicraft industries, as well as traditional cultural displays - such as traditional dances of Sri Lanka, like the Kandyan Dances (Uda Rata Natum), Low Country Dances (Pahatha Rata Natum), Devil Dance, and Folk Dances which are now a common sight in hotels and villages that are keen to entertain tourists with traditional and ‘authentic’ cultural displays. Because of this, much of the modernization of the tourist industry is taking place in and around the capital Colombo, with one-thirds of the estimated 9000 new hotel rooms being built in Sri Lanka in 2013, concentrated in the Colombo area.
This kind of construction comes at a cost though - with a number of environmental concerns - the most pressing of which is Deforestation in Sri Lanka. In the 1920s, the island was almost 50% (49%) covered by trees but by 2005 this number had already fallen by 20%. The most badly hit area is the northern tip of the island - largely due to pre-existing environmental protection schemes in the south of the island. This is not all because of tourism, but also because of making way for new developments - hotels and resorts, and much of Sri Lanka’s forests have been removed to make way for agricultural land and plantations (especially tea plantations, which require a substantial amount of land) to provide fuel and timber. An area where excessive building of hotels has already shown negative impacts is the Yala area - where there are serious concerns about too many visits of the Yala National Park. Though a more positive side to the influx of tourists can be seen at the Esala Perahera festival in Kandy - which has grown substantially in size over the years, incorporating colorful parades and processions into what was already one of Asia’s most prolific religious festivals. Traditional cultural dress is also rising in popularity - with chic hotels using formalized versions of traditional costume for their hotel staff, and foreigners marrying in Sri Lanka are incorporating traditional dress codes into their wedding attire.