|Traditional Customs in Sri Lanka|
Customs and traditions are deeply ingrained in Sri Lankan society and have been safeguarded, from one generation to the next, over its rich 2,500 year old history. These traditions are intertwined with day to day life of the island’s four ethnic groups – the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, and Burghers – and its religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.
In Sri Lanka, you will be greeted with clasped palms, as if in prayer, and a head nodded in welcome; the words “Ayubowan” – “May You Live Long” – forming on each islander’s lips. The equivalent greeting in Tamil is “Vanakkam”, whilst the Muslims will say “Assalamu Alaikum”.
From Birth and Beyond
The traditions found below are an intrinsic part of the lives of primarily the island’s Sinhalese and Tamils. From birth, important rituals are conducted around culturally significant milestones such as the Naming Ceremony and a child’s first feeding of solid food.
The ‘Nam Tebima’ or Naming Ceremony is an important ritual in traditional Sinhalese society. An Astrologer, based on the time of birth, provides a selection of letters with which to name the child (usually, a selection of letters with which both the first and middle name should start with is given).
Sri Lankan law requires a newborn to be registered within 90 days of birth.
First Meal of Solids
Traditional Sinhalese families celebrate a child’s maiden feeding of a meal of rice in this ‘Idul Kata Gema’ ceremony.
Dances of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has three schools of traditional dance forms – Kandyan dance, Low Country dance and Sabaragamuwa dance. These are performed at rituals held in temples, villages and homes. Folk dance is another popular form of dance, held during harvest time and other lay occasions.
There are four types of Kandyan dance – Pantheru, Ves, Naiyadi, and Udekki. In addition, there are 18 Vannamas (representation in dance of animals and birds), which include the Gajaga Vannama (Elephant) and the Mayura Vannama (Peacock). Under the Kandyan kings, this dance form became an integral part of the Kandy Esala Perahera, the 10-day long magnificent festival held to honour the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha and invoke blessings from the gods for abundant rainfall.
Sarong - is a garment consisting of a length of printed/plain cloth wrapped about the waist. Sarongs are the standard garment for most men in rural and even some urban communities. In cities, you will see a mix of Western clothes and the traditional sarong.
Sari - usually consists of six yards of often brightly coloured cloth wrapped around the body. In cities, you will see a mix of Western clothing as well as the traditional sari.
Diyareddha - is a widely used bathing costume by women. It is a piece of cloth similar to a sarong, and is tied just above the swell of the breasts, reaching down to the knees.
Before the birth of Buddhism, Asian ascetics would cease worldly pursuits and engage in religious activities on full moon (Poya) days. Today, practising Buddhists observe Poya day by visiting a temple for the rituals of worship and adhering to the Eight Precepts. Every full moon day is a holiday in Sri Lanka and liquor is not for sale anywhere in the country. Many religious festivals are held on full moon days.
The traditional Sri Lankan wedding ceremony is a beautiful exchange of vows and symbolic gifts that dates back to 300BC.
Choose the time and date: Traditionally the bride and the bridegroom set the wedding date with the assistance of an astrologer, who identifies the most auspicious date and time for the wedding.
Arrival at location: Bride and the groom are escorted to the wedding location by drummers and Kandyan dancers and then to the `Poruwa`, a beautifully decorated wooden ceremonial platform where the wedding takes place.
Offer to the gods: The bride and the groom offer seven betel leaf bundles to the Gods with a request that protection is provided to the seven generations that originate from the marriage.
Sharing of the ring: Sharing of the ring: A ceremony of exchange of rings and the bridegroom dresses also presenting the bride with a gold necklace that was provided by the groom.
Chanted blessing: Six girls bless the marriage with a beautiful `Jayamangala Gatha` chant .
Exchange of gifts: Gifts are exchanged between the bride and the groom`s family as well as guest gift and bless the newly weds.
Gold thread: While the chanting continues the couple`s small fingers are tied together with gold thread to symbolise the bond and unity. Holy water is poured over the fingers.
Breaking of coconut: Breaking of coconut:As the couple steps down from the Poruwa platform a coconut is broken as a symbolic gesture to drive away evil spirits
Registration: The registration process, overseen by a government marriage registrar and two witnesses, commences.
Lighting of brass oil lamp: A brass oil lamp - one of the enduring images of Sri Lanka - must now be light to signify the start of a bright new future together.
Cutting of the cake: The final stage of the ceremony is the cutting of the cake.
Funeral Rites in Sri Lanka
Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims observe different funeral rites. After a funeral is over, Buddhists offer 'Dana' (alms) to priests on the seventh day as well as on the third month and twelfth month anniversary. The merits gained through these offerings are hoped will help bring about a good re-birth and deliverance from any woeful states to which the deceased may be born.