Sociology Index

Social Customs And Traditions In Sri Lanka

Social Customs And Traditions

Ancient Traditions & Rituals of Sri Lanka

Rituals and customs enriched ancient Sri Lanka. Customs and rituals have been part and parcel of the Lankan society from ancient times. Social Customs and Traditions in Sri Lanka have been handed down from generation to generation spanning over the 2,500 year old history of the country. Most of these customs and rituals are connected with the day to day lives of the people in the social and religious spheres.

'Eka-ge-kema' : The Sinhalese custom of fraternal polyandry where a wife would be shared in common by several brothers has long fascinated those interested in local society and culture. The practice euphemistically referred to as 'eka-ge-kema' or 'eating in one house' is no longer legal, though it is possible that it may still be surviving in some remote areas.

Kandyan Marriage Laws - In Sri Lanka, several legal systems govern the law of family relations. The General law is the main system applicable to every one except if they are governed by the personal laws. There are three other parallel systems of personal laws in Sri Lanka, which include Kandyan Law, The Thesavalamai and the Muslim Law.

Wedding rituals in the 16th Century - Lunch, called the "adara batha" or the meal of love, lasted for over three hours. The bride and the groom seated at the head of the table ate from the same plate.

Traditional & indigenous music Drums in Sri Lanka - The low-country beraya (drum), is cylindrical in shape and is similar to the Kandyan drum, but is of a uniform width along the cylinder. This drum is used at many religious festivals, and also in all low-country dance and music. It is also called the Ruhunu beraya, Dik beraya or Yak beraya.

Ankeli Puja and the Pattini Cult - The offering of ankeli puja to the Goddess Pattini. Ankeli puja in the villages in the hill country was almost an annual event some decades ago.

Kohomba Kankariya - Fighting the devil - According to legend, the origin of this ritual dates back even to King Panduvasudeva's era in which it was born.

Sri Lankan Amulets and charms - People believe that by wearing of amulets and charms one can keep away misfortune. Magic and superstition were the products of the ages of ignorance. The Veddhas of this country are famous for incantations to avoid harm which they believe are caused by the dead. Charms and invocations are done by Kattandiyas.

Buddhist Ceremonies & Rituals - The Significance of Poya Days - Even before the birth of Buddhism, Asian ascetics in the ancient times when there were no calendars, made it a practice on full moon days to cease worldly pursuits and engage themselves in religious activities.

The Poya Days - A practising Buddhist observes the poya day by visiting a temple for the rituals of worship and, often, by undertaking the Eight Precepts.

The Bodhi-Puja - The veneration of the Bodhi-tree (ficus religiosa) has been a popular and a widespread ritual in Sri Lanka. The ritualistic worship of trees as abodes of tree deities (rukkha-devata) was widely prevalent in ancient India. 

Bodi Puja: Religious beliefs and practices in relation to the Bo-tree - Lord Buddha is the only religious teacher who said that people of other faiths who lead meritorious lives would be reborn in low spiritual plane or higher spiritual plane depending on the merit gained by them. These beings of low spiritual planes often take refuge in Bo Trees. These beings accept the merit offered to them and gets elevated in the spiritual world. It may be that some of them are capable of granting relief to persons in distress who offer Bodi Pujas to the Bo Tree seeking relief.

The Pirit Ceremony - Pirit-chanting is a very popular ceremony among the Buddhists of Sri Lanka. As the term itself implies it means a safety rune (paritta = protection), the ceremonial recital of which is regarded as capable of warding off all forms of evil and danger.

Katina ceremony : one of the main festivals in the Buddhist calendar - The Katina ceremony was the culmination of the Vas season. At the end of three months a special robe known as the Katina was offered to monks of every monastery which observed the Vas.

Vesak festival - One of the biggest religious festivals of Sri Lanka, Vesak - a thrice-blessed day for Buddhists as it commemorates the birth of Buddha, his attaining Enlightenment and his passing away into Nirvana.

The Vesak pandal (Thorana) - The happiest occasion for children are the Vesak nights when they go out with their parents and friends to view the lights and other decorations in their respective villages and or cities.

Sanghika-dana (Almsgiving) & Mataka-vastra-puja (Funerals) - Sanghika-dana, meaning "the alms given to the community of monks." Such a daana is often preceded by an all-night pirit ceremony. Mataka-vastra-puja is "offering of cloth on behalf of the dead" prior to the cremation or the burial of the body.

Monastic Ceremonies: Vassa and Kattina - The Vassa, a three-month rains retreat, was instituted by the Buddha himself and was made obligatory for all fully ordained bhikkhus.

Bali & Thovil Ceremonies - Bali is the ceremony wherein the presiding deities of the planets (graha) are invoked and placated in order to ward off their evil influences. Thovil or devil-dancing is another ritualistic healing ceremony.
The Gods, Devalayas and Deva Worship - This the worship of deities. In Sri Lanka there are four deities regarded as the guardians of the Buddha-sasana in the island: Vishnu, Saman, Kataragama, and Vibhishana.

Village life: Ceremonies & Rituals
Gam Maduwa (Gam maduwa is a village affair. It is of special interest to the farmers, for whom a 'gam maduwa' would bring in blessings of the gods for success in their agricultural activities. Others too believe that it would bring a lot of good to the village. It falls into the category of rituals known as 'shanti karma' and is a ritual with mass participation.

The Sinhala & Tamil New Year festival: The Aluth Avurudda
Introduction - In April (the month of Bak) the islanders (Sri Lankans) celebrate their National New Year Aluth Avurudhu in Sinhala and Puththandu in Tamil. The sun moving from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) signals the dawning of the Sinhala/Tamil New Year.

Avurudu Rituals - Sinhala and Hindu New Year custom and traditions are mainly based on Ayurveda system of Medicine which has been developed on the Principles of Hindu Philosophy.
Tamils celebrate the New Year by giving thanks to the Sun God and making Pongal. The Hindus always begin by worshipping and offering poojas to Lord Wina Vinayaga to have his blessing in the coming year for prosperity.

Diyareddha - The Diyareddha is the most widely used bathing costume by women of Asian countries including Sri Lanka. It is a piece of cloth similar to a sarong.

Funeral rites in Sri Lanka - Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims observe different funeral rites when it comes to burying or cremating their dead. After the funeral is over, Buddhists offer 'dana' (alms) to bhikkus on the 7th day and on the 3rd month and at the end of one year, which is considered compulsory, and the merits of such offerings are transferred to the dead to release themselves from any woeful state.