Local traditions and culture in Sri Lanka

  • Kandyan dance
    Kandyan dance
    by josephescu
  • Buddist Temple - Colombo
    Buddist Temple - Colombo
    by PierreZA
  • Mini Monks
    Mini Monks
    by Maxus

Most Viewed Local Customs in Sri Lanka

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    Don't Underestimate Road Travel Times

    by DSwede Written Jan 25, 2014

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    In planning of this trip, many maps were consulted. Distances were calculated and routes were laid out. I have traveled extensively in many places with less than developed infrastructure, but I was not quite prepared for the overland travel times in Sri Lanka.

    If you have your own driver, at least you can rest and relax a bit in the back while they stress and fight the obstacles of the road. But regardless, time will be lost. If you calculate time based on other countries, rule of thumb here is to triple the times, or possibly x1.5 if you are familiar with Indian roads.

    The narrow roads, which also become twisty in the mountains, make for slow passage. The short passing lanes, overloaded tucks, slow vehicles, slow speed limits and random obstacles often test the patience of the most people. The pecking order of the street vendors, pedestrians, bicyclists, tuk tuks, motorcycles, cars, vans, buses and trucks on the narrow streets often makes a slow ballet. And this order is often challenged by someone overstepping their place and driving a bit more irrationally.

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    The Ubiquitous Coconut Tree - Food of the Gods?

    by Hmmmm Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    My favourite Tree in the world is the Coconut tree. Its beautiful - Curved and delicate, yet strong as an ox. Its supple, and tropical. I maintain, and always will - that the tropics would not be the Tropics without this beautiful tree that decorates tropical beaches with a sense of the sublime. Now all you tropical beach lover's out there know I am right!

    However the Anthropologist in me, whats to look harder at the aesthetic Cocos nucifera. Yes, and ask Questions? Why is it everywhere? Is it also regarded as beautiful to Sri Lankans? Or is it more?

    So here are some of the answers.

    Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest producer of coconuts. Cocnuts produce coconut cream, milk and powder, vinegar and toddy. Sri Lanka was, in fact, the birth place of the desiccated coconut industry, nearly a century ago. And they are still committed to ensuring we still have it for our Lamingtons and Afghan Biscuits.

    Shell products consist of activated carbon and coconut shell charcoal. Coconut husk is used to produce many products. Coconut fibre is used to make coir, twine, door mats, carpets, brooms & brushes and rubberized coir mattresses.

    In addition to the above advantages coco pith is converted to form coconut briquettes which is now being widely used in the field of horticulture as a growing media while geotextiles turned out of twine are being used for controlling soil erosion.

    Sri Lankans also love coconuts as a delicious drink, a split to have with Arak which is made from coconut, a cream to add to cooking, oil for frying and in regard to my aesthetic question - many Srilankans i asked thought the coconut tree to be very beautiful.

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    HINDU TEMPLES

    by mtncorg Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Both in Colombo and in the Tamil areas of the country, you can find elaborate Hindu temples scattered about. Hinduism is a very complex religious system that is very simple at its core, but gets extremely complicated fast. Similar to Catholicism, Hinduism’s success can be attributed to how it can be morphed into encompassing the local belief system. This has led to the existence of many gods - though technically, they are all one and the same. There seem to be as many subgroups within Hinduism as there are gods. Some do not acknowledge Hinduism as a religion, but more as a way of life in the similar fashion of Buddhism. The temples themselves are very dramatically represented and painted. Even the smallest local temples take on a surreal appearance to the non-initiated.

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    Meal to GO--Wrapped in BANANA LEAF

    by ViajesdelMundo Written Jul 9, 2010

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    'LAMPREIS' (also spelled 'Lampries') The name is originally Dutch, and is a labor-intensive meal usually of a mixed-meat curry, plus spices, over a short grain rice and steamed in the banana leaf, tightly wrapped; most often used for a large group, or as a meal that can be taken away on a special occasion, so that no one has to do the cooking on site........good, too, as a local picnic meal.

    All my friends seem to thoroughly enjoy it! seen here at a family gathering after church, picked up en route. You will see signs where they are available at food concessions, or can be ordered at restaurants ahead of time.

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    Religious Diversity

    by PierreZA Written Jan 2, 2010

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    Buddhism is the most commonly practised religion in Sri Lanka, followed by Hinduism. Christians and Muslims make up the rest of the religious diversity.

    It is quite common to find a church, Buddhist Temple, Hindu Temple and a Mosque all in close proximity.
    I have met and had great conversations with Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Muslims and Hindus on my trip. `

    Remember to dress appropriately when visiting places of worship!

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    Sri Lankan friendliness

    by PierreZA Written Jan 2, 2010

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    The smiles of the Sri Lankan people is most probably the thing I ‘ll remember most of my visit to this country.

    The people are very friendly and do like to talk.

    The fact that South Africa is a cricketing nation, made conversations much easier – as the Sri Lankans love cricket.

    I also found the people I met to be very well educated and informed.

    English is widely spoken.

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    Sweets/Deserts

    by PierreZA Written Jan 2, 2010

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    There are many sweet shops in Sri Lanka.
    I was the most impressed with wattalappam. It has a consistency similar to crème caramel, but coconut, jaggery and cardamom gives it its distinct taste.
    The other very nice sweet I had is called kitul hakuru – which is almost like a fudge – but much nicer!

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    Rice and Curry with . . . .

    by PierreZA Written Jan 2, 2010

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    You have to have Rice and curry when in Sri Lanka. It is an elaborate meal with quite a variety of dishes (sambals, chutney etc).

    The curry tend to be very spicy and hot – but has a great taste to it. Although many different varieties of rice are on sale in the markets, it seems that the short grain variety is most popular.

    You can buy Sri Lankan Curry mix in supermarkets like Keells and Cargills.

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    Local Beer

    by PierreZA Written Jan 2, 2010

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    Lion Lager and Three Coins are some of the local beers you will find in Sri Lanka. The Lion lager also comes in a “Strong” which has more than 8% alcohol.
    The local beers are not expensive at all.

    You can also get Carlsberg and other international beers.

    I got the idea that arrack (?refined toddy) is more popular with the locals than beer.

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    Who Lives Where?

    by Maxus Written Jan 23, 2009

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    You can hazard a guess at who lives in a village by the livestock you see around the place, if it’s just chickens it’s probably a Buddhist community, if there’s goats it may mean Muslim people but if its pigs it’s likely to be Christians.

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    Religious Diversity in Sri Lanka

    by Maxus Updated Jan 22, 2009

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    Diversity is the name of the game in Sri Lanka and this is certainly true with regards to faith. Take the small town of Rakwana for example, in addition to the Buddhist and Hindu Temples there is a Mosque and two Churches (one Anglican and one Roman Catholic).

    Approximately 69 percent of the Sri Lankan population is Buddhist, 15 percent Hindu, 8 percent Christian, and 8 percent Muslim.

    Buddhists tend to live in the west and south of the island and the Hindus in the north. Other areas are often mixed but individual villages or neighbourhoods tend to be one religion or another, for example, Negombo is predominantly Christian, Beruwala Muslim and Bentota Buddhist. People do mix, a Buddhist friend of mine recently became engaged to a Christian boy, they are both Sinhalese (other matches are not so common) for the most part there is a symbiotic relationship between faith and cultural identity in Sri Lanka.

    In the west, Hindu Gods are often worshiped in a special area of Buddhist Temples, this is not the case in certain parts of the north. Visitors are welcome to attend Christian services (if you are there at Christmas midnight mass can be magical) and you are also welcome at Buddhist Temples, there is sometimes a different approach at the Mosque.

    Off the beaten track you can take a guess at the religion of the village you are passing through by the animals running around the place, if it is just hens and the odd dog you are likely to be in a Buddhist area, goats usually means Muslims and if there are pigs there are Christians around somewhere.

    If you want to know more about religion in Sri Lanka have a look at the U.S. State Department website below.

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    Men Holding Hands

    by Maxus Updated Jan 22, 2009

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    Friends of either sex will often hold hands in Sri Lanka but this has absolutely nothing to do with sexual preference. It is simply a cute custom quite common in Asia. I recently saw two prison officers leaving the main gaol at Colombo hand-in-hand and I wouldn't have argued with either of them.

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    Monks and Modesty (but not meekness)

    by Maxus Updated Jan 22, 2009

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    Buddhist Monks have a special place in Sinhalese society and should be treated with respect, tourists or introduced. When you do speak try not to be too familiar and always show deference for the Monk and what he represents.

    Young women should be particular careful of getting too close to a monk, this is not quite as sexist as it might appear, women play a full part in Buddhist observance but the monk should avoid distractions, including sex, so a young woman sitting next to a Monk on a bus for instance is a no-no.

    Having said this, Monks are not meek in the western sense of the word nor are they as shy and retiring as they might seem. Some senior Buddhist clergy are heavily involved in national politics; they are fiercely proud of their tradition and are by no means a soft touch.

    The more senior the Monks the more comfortable they can appear in dealing with outsiders and they will often have connections with Buddhist communities in the west. Incidently, once you become friends with a Monk the formality stops but its still good to show respect in public.

    Anyone is welcome to visit a Buddhist temple, if this is new to you please read my tip on the subject.

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    Blowing your nose in public

    by Maxus Updated Jan 22, 2009

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    Don't do it! In particular don't blow your nose into a hankie or tissue and stick it back into your pocket, I'm told it’s regarded as gross. You can sniff and snort all day and barf like a jackal when you’re cleaning your teeth, but not the hanky business.

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    Clothing advice for tourists

    by erikdr Written Dec 27, 2008

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    Trousers for non-teenage women are quite okay nowadays in Lanka. It's not that they are offending anyone that the older local ladies are not wearing them, it's more a matter of 'modern' vs. 'traditional'. And even in our Colombo neighbours and family at times ladies > 50 wear trousers!

    Same for T-shirts. The main limitation is when visiting temples and other religious places. Then men _and_ women are supposed to have covered legs (--?> trousers or long skirt), and solely women also covered arms; men can still wear T-shirts there though no tanktops. But this can easily be solved by bringing something extra, and for men in shorts there are even sarongs for hire at the entrance of popular temples.

    Moreover take care which fabric you take. In the extremely high humidity there, linen and cotton are much more comfortable than clothes with a high polyester/nylon component.

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