The Culture of Sri Lanka

Cailin O Neil July 15, 2014 0

Located off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is home to over 20 million people of various ethnicities and religions. The country has two official languages; however, many more are spoken in the country, with English being the lingua franca of education and commerce.  Over 70 percent of the country is Buddhist, and religion plays a strong role in their life and culture.

Sinhalese and Tamil are the two main traditional cultures that are celebrated in Sri Lanka, dating back as far as 2,500 years, if not further. In more recent times, Sri Lanka has also been slightly influenced by Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial culture. Wherever you travel here, its diverse culture changes from region to region.

Here are some of the main things that make Sri Lanka so culturally intriguing:

The Food

Sri Lanka is one of the largest tea producers in the world, and Sri Lankans themselves can’t get enough of the stuff, drinking at least three cups a day on average. Tea is served at breakfast, when a guest comes to someone’s home, at festivals, and at social gatherings. The most popular Sri Lankan tea is known as Ceylon Tea and is grown all over the country.

Sri Lanka is also known for its spices, with cinnamon being the most popular. Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their cuisine and often feature curry and other food influences from India.

Tea fields in Sri Lanka. Photo by P Dobrovsky.

Tea fields in Sri Lanka. Photo by P Dobrovsky.

A spice shop in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photo by M Savage.

A spice shop in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photo by M Savage.

The Festivals

Many festivals are celebrated throughout the year in Sri Lanka, the most popular being the Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s festival, held every April. The New Year is rung in with religious activities and traditional games, and the locals often don traditional dress. In August a popular festival is the Esala Perahera festival, a Buddhist festival with lots of cultural dancing and fire dancing, along with decorated elephants in elaborate costumes.

Fire dances at the Esala Perahera Festival. Photo by S Baker.

Fire dances at the Esala Perahera Festival. Photo by S Baker.

Religious and Historical Sites

Sri Lanka is home to eight different UNESCO World Heritage sites, with the most popular one being Sigiriya, site of a massive rock that stands 201m (660 ft) tall. Sigiriya was once the home of a palace and was covered in colorful frescoes. Later, the site was used as a Buddhist monastery. Today, it is a popular destination for travellers and a prime example of ancient urban planning.

Being 70 percent Buddhist, Sri Lanka is also home to many different Buddhist Temples. Locals and monks pray at them daily, and many are open for visitors to respectfully explore.

Rock fortress Sigiriya Sri Lanka

Rock fortress Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Photo by L Norah.

Dembulla Temple Sri Lanka photo credit motumboe copy

The Dambulla Temple. Photo by M Lazzaroni.

portrait of sri lankan tea harvester - female.

Tea harvester. Photo by Internet Society.

Getting There

Let G Adventures take you to to Sri Lanka on our Cultural Sri Lanka tour. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this amazing country as you’ve never seen it — check out our small group trips to Asia here.

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