Culture of Sri Lanka
As in much of Asia, 'culture' is very much a part of everyday life for most people in Sri Lanka. Beautifully carved and painted old temples like the Temple of the Tooth, Gadaldeniya Temple and the Sita Eliya Temple nestle next to Buddhist viharas (monasteries) on the one hand and old Dutch or Portuguese bungalows and forts - on the other.
There are plenty of examples of Sri Lanka's rich cultural tradition to be seen all around - marketplaces are flooded with beautiful handloom cloth, batik work, traditional jewellery, carved and painted wood masks and elephants and a lot more. Native dances, music and theatre thrive, not just on stages in tourist resorts, but also in processions and celebrations. The spectacular 'Perahera' festivals, combining dances, elephant marches and religious ceremonies are just one of the many instances of cultural activity.
Sri Lanka produces quite a lot of beautiful handicrafts from indigenous materials, using local as well as foreign techniques and patterns. Among the most widely produced handicrafts are the vibrant, colourful painted wooden masks which are used in ceremonies and as good luck charms to ward off the evil eye.
Other than masks, handloom cloth, batik, leatherwork, coir goods, lacquer ware, jewellery, brassware, and earthenware are also major handicrafts. A certain amount of work is also done in ivory and tortoiseshell, but elephants and tortoises being endangered species, it is definitely not advisable to buy such items.
People and Society of Sri Lanka
The bulk of Sri Lanka's population comprises of Sinhalese and the most commonly used language is Sinhala. Drawn largely (like most other languages of the Indian subcontinent) from Sanskrit, Sinhala (fortunately for the foreign tourist, and especially the English-speaking one!) has many words that are similar to their English equivalents. English is widely spoken and understood, especially among the middle and upper classes. A wide section of the population has Tamil as its first language.
Food in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan food is quite similar to Indian, but has a flavour all its own. Considering the fact that one of Sri LankaÃ¢ÂÂs major agricultural products is pepper (along with a host of other spices), it isn't surprising that most local cuisine is very fiery. Rice forms the staple diet, and is consumed in vast quantities, either boiled or steamed, or as different types of hoppers (a form of toddy fermented rice pancakes). Red, hot curries of fish, beef, poultry or vegetables are eaten along with the rice. Most coastal areas have some excellent seafood on offer. For afters, yoghurt and a spectacular range of fruits are available. Sri Lankan fruit is a fine example of the best the tropics can offer - rambutans, pineapples, mangoes, passionfruit and the ubiquitous coconuts.
Religion in Sri Lanka
With 70% of the Sri Lankan population following Buddhism, it is worthwhile to touch upon this religion, even if briefly. Buddhism is not a religion as such, in the sense that it centres round a code of morality and a philosophy of life, rather than a god. Based mainly on the teachings of Gautam Buddha 'The Enlightened One', Buddhism stresses on the belief that to reach a state of enlightenment is within the scope of every human being. The main stream of Buddhism followed in Sri Lanka is known as 'Hinayana' Buddhism, which is based on the belief that ultimate nirvana is possible for everybody, but one must work towards it, by leading a life of austerity and virtue.
Buddhism came to Sri Lanka through its ties with the Indian Emperor Ashok, whose son Mahinda brought the religion to the island kingdom. Since then, Sri Lanka has come to be regarded as the stronghold of Hinayana Buddhism.