National festival ... Sinhala - Tamil New Year
Culture of Sri Lanka
Unique and very rich
Culture of Sri lanka is very unique like it's beautiful places, ancient ruins, weather conditions, etc. Though the Culture of Sri Lanka society is more than 2500 years old, it is really Buddhism that was the most influential civilising force of the country. People got delimite ideas about what is right and wrong, beneficial results of good deeds in this life itself and vice versa. Lives of the Buddha and his noble disciples had a good impact on the people. People were taught to be sincere, kind, truthful, harmless and to help the downtrodden etc. Buddha’s teachings that emphasised the equality of man and the idea that man is noble not by birth but by his behaviour and actions, helped to make the caste system which was prevalent in India so rigid very much less severe here.
Culture is a way of life according to social scientists. Culture differs from one nation or society to another. Customs beliefs, art, architecture, sculptures, music, drama. Languages, social values on one hand and how people live, behave, think, speak, dress, work, eat, drink on the other all join to form a particular culture. Culture could be enriched with the assimilation of certain features of another without loosing the identity of the forever.
Buddhism was one of the influential forces of culture of Sri Lanka
With the introduction of Buddhism, Pali works Tripitaka, Pali literature came to Ceylon and the Sinhala language was supplemented with Pali words without much difficulty for the language spoken by the people here was much similar to Pali. A vast literature in Sinhala derived influenced by Pali tripitaka. Pali commentaries and other literature brought from India and the Pali works were translated into Sinhala. With the growth of Mahayana and vast literature in Sanskrit, place of Pali was taken over Sanskrit and the Sinhala language.Really became a mixture of Pali and Sanskrit languages Sanskrit literary works as Meghaduta, Ramayana, Maharasrata were studied and their structure was followed in Sinhala prose and verse.
Aryans when they came to Ceylon brought the system of farming and irrigation but most probably not a religion nor art, architecture, sculpture, literature etc. All these were introduced with the advent of Buddhism. Monasteries and temples and other religious edifies were built first of stone and later of brick and mortar as residences for the bhikkus huge stupas were constructed to enshrine the scared relic of the Buddha and his noble disciples. These religious edifies were embellished by a rich legacy of sculptural forms. Interior of the Viharas were decorated with images of the Buddha later with Bodhisattvas, various scenes from Buddha’s life. With divinities etc. when you take all these into the account we could say that there Mahinda not only introduced noblest religion in the world but also a culture of a much advanced form. Introduction of Buddhism and arrival of Aryans to Sri Lanka not only helped socially but helped to enhanced culture of Sri Lanka too.
Aryans first introduced the village system government when they arrived in Lanka. According to historical sources, Vijay’s followers established themselves as chiefs of villagers as indicated by the names Anuradhagama à village of Anradha, Upatissagama à village of Upatissa and so on. They chief most probably captured the adjuring villages and set themselves as rulers or rajas of the area. With the introduction of Buddhism these rulers became more humane for they were expected to rule according to the DasaRajaDhamma – 10 kingly virtues (giving, morality, liberality, straightness, gentleness, self-restriction, non-anger, non-hurtfulness, forbearance and non-opposition. At the beginning kings were not looked upon as gods but ordinary men go=given the leadership to work for the welfare of the people under him according to Buddhist principles. Thus the main duties of the Rajas were to develop agricultures by building tanks and canals to protect the people and lands from foreign invaders, plunderers, robbers etc. and also to protect the religion and build religious edifies and grant land for their upkeep.
Thus Ceylon had a culture based on self-sufficiency. There was actually the barter system prevailing in ancient Lanka. Only the kings could trade with foreigners and transact money. Farmer gave some of his products to the villages potter, smithy, traders on cloths, fancy goods etc. in exchange for pots & pans mammoth blades, axes, fancy goods etc. and as such there was no need for the ordinary man to possess money but he and his family had enough for their sustenance unlike people of the contemporary medieval Europe and England where the 8 years, 10 years old worked as slaves in the work, house, in coal mines in stables for a mere pittance..
This culture based on self sufficiency in Lanka as changed into an export – import oriental economy based on export crops as team rubber, coconut, cinchona, cinnamon, canbamousetc. with a damaging influence to sustainable agriculture which declined at a fast rate with the arrival of the Europeans – Rice was exported and the lands were handed over to the Europeans planters for a mere pittance as the farmers could not produce the “so – call deeds” for the land they cultivated for the time immemorial. Thus money became the pivotal factor upon which everything depended. Family relationships, religious practices, ancient customs receded to the background with a new culture based on money.
New resurgence of former cultural traits is to be seen with the gaining of independence in 1948 and the emergence of national heroes as Walisinghe Harischandra, Angarika Dhrmapala, More and more people became aware of their past cultured heritage and began to take a new interest in ancient customs, classical music, dancing etc. which were fast disappearing features of our cultural heritage. One of the most important is the pride of place given to the sheaf of betel or the “bulath hurulla” This had been an important item in religious and marriage ceremonies, functions, festivals etc. Parents, teachers elders are respected with a shelf of betal at Sinhala New year times and at important functions. This has a power of healing differences among parents and children, relations etc. With betal comes habit of our people having the quid of betal of course with certain other ingredients as obecanuts, bit of chunam, camphor, cardamons, nutmeg, mance, etc. it is said that ours kings had a special officer to prepare the squid of betal for him. In our ancient residences the tray of betal with a spittoon nearby (to empty the reddish saliva from the mouth) could be seen which had gone out of fashion today. Even the upper class ladies of yore had the habit of chewing the quid of betal while gossiping or at leisure or playing indoor games. It is said that in India this habit of chewing the quid of betal is not looked up on down but it is fast disappearing from our society instead the poisonus cigarette has taken its place.
Various types of folk art which should get the pride of place seems to be fading away. One such is the various types of decorations made with the young coconut fronds – gokkola- which is endemic to Sri Lanka for it comes from the coconut tree, At folk – dancing, devil dancing ceremonies, Bali performances, Pirith ceremonies, weddings, funeral & decorations done with gokkola are given prominence in rural areas. Special pavilion made for the Pirit ceremony, Poruwa at a wedding for the couple to stand on, Punkalasa (symbolof propriety) etc. decorated with gokkola are slowly dying away giving place to artificial decorations.
New Year Customs and traditions are key features in culture of Sri Lanka
One noteworthy feature of Sri Lanka culture are the New year Customs and traditions commending with looking at the moon for the old year and bathing, observing the new moon for the new year, lighting the hearth, partaking the first meal for the new year and anointing oil on the head all done with punctuality. Children, relations from afar joining the parent’s ands elders refreshing their relationships. New year is a good period to revive the folk games as panchi damima (game with cousry shells), eluvan gamine (Children game) depicting a flock of goats protected by the gathered but the tiger comes and manages to seize a goat), going in the swing reciting folk songs etc..
Well developed system of music seems to have prevailed from pre Aryan times. On the day that Vijaya spend the night with Kuveni in Tambapanni, he heard the sound of music and dancing and inquired form from Kuveni about it, according to Mahawansa (CH VII 30) there were the folk music Jana gi intervened by Buddhist environment and largely based on day to day activities as agriculture, various occupations etc. These verses were recited at various stages in farming – goyan kavi, nelum kavi time – when engaged in heavy work, workersused to recite form lines verses or sivu pada – quatrains – when climbing a mountain with a heavy load in the double bullock cart when working inside a plambago mine etc. There are other types of songs sing during children’s games too.
Important feature of our rural culture of Sri Lanka was the ritual theatre that existed from the pre Buddhist era
Rural drama music is associated with the ritual performances coming down from the ancient times.
Important feature of our rural culture was the ritual theatre that existed from the pre Buddhist era. It is not a really a theatre in the modern sense of the their but only a temporary shed or a platform or an open space like the thrashing floor. These were connected with agriculture purists, diseases and distress caused by divinities, planetary deities, demons, spirits etc. bali performance with the use of images each representing a planetary deity, devil dancing to propitiate the god Kohomba Sokari too is a Kandyan performance connected with the pattini cult. Kolam is a dance ferna performed using a number of masks.
Another folk drama of much recent development is Nada am which is really Tamil origin and sponsored by the Catholic Missionaries is a dramatic form. These became very popular in the Western and coastal areas. Nada am was later discovered and noted as a form of theatrical source by our scholars. First drama of the Nadagam style was developed by Dr. E R Sarachandra using Buddhist Pataka stories and historical events. Two of these are the Maname and Sinhabahu.
Hindustani classical music was followed in the aftermath of the visit of R Tagor to Sri Lanka and many music lovers went to India to study music. Mostly the Tamil community follows South Indian Karnataka music. Music for earlier Sinhala films was copied from Indian film songs. Sir Lester James’ Rekhava was the first Sinhala film produced with Sri Lankan music – those who went to India to learn music after coming back composed light music in Sinhala. Ananda Samarakoon, Sunil Shantha is two distinguished pioneers who did not stick to Hindustani music and developed music in Sinhala on their own.
Western music became quite popular with the English speaking class and piano music became well liked by the young girls of the English speaking homes. Later it became popular with the upper and lower middle class families. Too.
Three types of classical dance forms in Sri Lanka today.
Ruhunu or Low country dancing
These differ in their style of dancing, movements, consumes of the dances and the drums used. Gate bera is used in Kandyan dancing, Yak bere in the low country dancing and Davula in Sabaragamuwa dancing, low country dancing wear masks and today Kandyan dancing has become world famous.
Like architecture and sculptures are and painting had come a long was from ancient times. Though rich legacy of ancient art and painting has come down culminating in the Sigiriya fortress of the (5 AD and there is little evidence of the earlier period. After Sigiriya murals oif Tivanka image house at Polonnaruwa are the noteworthy example of paintings found belonging to the 12 AD Painting of Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa and Kotte periods have been lost.
Paintings of the Kandy period are found in many a temples today. Early (20 paintings and the indemnity of the (20 painter could be seen in the drawing and paintings in the present day Buddhist Viharas such as Kelaniya raja Maha Viharaya and Gotami Viharaya former by Sollius Mendis and the latter by George Keyt. It is said that Sollius Mendis prepared his paint by using natural substances as stones, clay, leaves, herbs, barks of tress etc.
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