Majority of Sri Lankans belong to the Sinhala community and others are of Tamil and Muslim groups.
Sinhalese people are identified as a separate community because they speak a different language and they have a different culture. The culture of Tamils speakers (not Muslims) is not totally different from that of Sinhala speakers, because of the fact they both are of Indian origin. The culture of Sinhala speakers contains a multitude of traditions and customs. Some of them are very old and some of them are comparatively new.
These customs cannot be clearly separated or distinguished from habits or manners. Some of these habits or manners are considered desirable and constructive. Sometimes they come under ‘etiquette’.
The customs of a particular society are meaningful when they are studied in their contexts. If we take them out of the context, many of them do not have any cultural value.
Customs represent moral values of a community is addition to their communicative meaning. The religion plays a significant role is shaping customs and habits of various societies. Customs differ from place to place, and from society to society. They differ from time to time as well.
Customs – definition
‘A customs usually means to something which has been done for a long time by a whole society.
The word denotes what people do day after day and particular action is respected. Customs are always positive and they should be observed. (= charitra)
When a Sinhala speaker greet a person he says Aayuboovan ‘may you live long’.
Sometimes he does it with joined hands. In the some way those people who appreciate
Western culture they shake hands and they says ‘Good Morning.’ Tamil speakers says vanakkam occasionally they use Namaste, like Indians do.
When as elder, a respectable person or a visitor comes in usually the house-holder stands up and invites the visitor in and ask him to take a seat and offers him beverages – (tea, coffee etc.).
Sinhala speakers usually do not say ‘Thank You’ but they show their gratefulness by giving a broad smile.
When a Sinhala speaker, visits someone, usually the other receiving party says ‘ha kohomada enna, vaaDivenna’ ‘How are you? Come is, take a seat’. At the beginning, he does not say why he came in but he says just I dropped in. Nikan aava’. But later he discloses why he came in.
When he leaves the place – or the known person, usually he says ‘gihin ennam’ ‘See you’. Some provincial people say ‘budu saranavi’ ‘Many the refuge of the Buddha’.
When youngsters leave the residence, they salute their parents and elders by bending down and worshiping with joined hands. Elders very frequently touch their heads and wish them ‘good luck’, saying ‘May the refuge of the Buddha.”May the help of gods.’
Almost all customs change in time. The social contact will make it speedy. The arrival of western world people exerted more influence on the Sinhala culture. Usually people observe customs by imitating. Those individuals who accepted the western culture think that the local culture including the language is inferior.
The betel leaf the or the sheaf of betel leaves plays a prominent place in Sinhala
culture. In accordance with the traditional story betel leaves were brought to this world by a cobra. As a result, even today, those persons who chew betels remove the both ends of the leaf before they start to chew it. They think those ends of betels are
In a way Sinhala people think the betel leaf is ‘holy’. When those people who receives invitees to a function by offering a sheaf of betels.
In urban areas, to a certain extent, this custom has gone out of use. The school children, is rural areas. when go to school after the vacation salute their teachers by offering them a sheaf of betels.
Sinhala people start their festivals or functions making to beat festive drums and
lighting the oil lamp. This oil lamp is brass and is well polished. On the top of the lamp their is a figure of a rooster made of the same metal.
In almost all festive occasions sweet oil cakes (kavum) and milk-rice (kiri-bath) are served. Alcoholic beverages are condemned. However, it has crept into certain functions.
It is a Buddhist – Hindu/Sinhala – Tamil festival. Almost all participants observe auspicious times a this festival. It falls on April 13/14 every year. People douse the fire of the hearth. They never get engaged is cooking until the dawn of the new year. There is a period called ‘nonagata’ between the end of old year and the beginning of new year and it is related to planetary system. The sun moves from Pisces (mina) to Aries (mesa). It is limited only for about six hours. Those individuals who observe these rituals engage is religions activities. They call this festival surya mangalle ‘the festival of the sun’.
With the down of the new year, the lady of the house-hold light the hearth at the auspicious time and prepare milk-rice. They lay on the table with all sweet-meats which were prepared for the celebration of the occasion. The house-holder feed the lady and the children of the house at the auspicious time. The new year celebrations end in oil anointing ceremony. It is also held is an auspicious time.
This is a ritual and it marks a change in a person’s social or sexual status. Rites of passage are often ceremonies related to events such as
- Child birth
- Menarche = coming of age, puberty, initial
These rites exist in all historically known societies. It mark the passage from are social status to another.
Sinhala speaking people when they start a new activity – putting up a house or starting a new business – they do it is an auspicious time. They avoid the time of the dragon (rahu Kaalaya) and they believe this period of dragon very unlucky.
The astrologer plays a prominent role everywhere in the Sri Lankan society. Buddhist, Hindus and Christians (to a certain extent) consul astrologers when they are in need. Almost all have horoscopes.
Horoscope – Astrologer.
It is believed the birth time decides the destination of a Child and the horoscope is able to predict it. There are a number important junctures is the life of a child.
- First feeding of solid food.
- Introducing letters of the alphabet.
- Commencing to go to school.
The females are respected is Sri Lankan society. They are kept well covered at all times. They are expected to refuse alcohol and tobacco. They refrain from direct physical contact with men. However, between the members of the same class and with children, there is a great deal of physical contact that emphasizes closeness. At meals, women, usually eat last. First they serve men and children of the house-hold. Visitors are served first regardless of gender. Consuming food, they usually use fingers of the right hard.
A ritual related is females. It happens usually at the age of 12-14. The particular girl is not allowed to come out of the home for a period of seven days. The astrologer is consulted is this occasion as well. By the end of seven days, there is a function of relatives and friends.
In ancient times the marriage is not soluble. There are two types of marriages – diiga and binna. The ‘diiga’ marriage is respected. In this case the bride is going to live with the groom. In ‘binna’ marriage it happens the other way round. The bride and bridegroom should be of the same social class.
Arranged marriages – Love marriages
In arranged marriages, parent consider horoscopes with help of astrologers. The wedding ceremony is held at an auspicious time.
Poruwa ceremony – The ritual conducted by ‘silpaadhipathi’. The master of
- Buddhist monks
- Orations – by monks and laymen
- Vote of Thanks
- Going three round of tomb
Funeral food – on the same evening of the burial day.
- After seven days.
- After three months.