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Culture of Sri Lanka

The peoples inhabiting Sri Lanka, created very rich and distinctive culture. Its development was greatly influenced both by the centuries-old ties between these peoples, and by the features inherent in various regions of the island.

The layout of Sinhala villages in different parts of the country is not the same. On a narrow stretch of the western and south-western coasts of the island, along the highway of PuttalamColombo and GalleHambantota, the urban suburbs of the capital and other cities merge with the villages that stretch continuously. It is difficult to distinguish between the end of the city and the beginning of the village.To the east of the coast, in the wet zone, the villages do not merge together. There, the house-estates are at a certain distance from each other. They are picturesquely located near rice paddies on elevated plots in the shade of coconut palms. In the arid zone, the villages are usually sparsely populated, also stand apart from each other at considerable distances. More compact villages in the Hill Country and Kandy areas. They, as a rule, are located on gentle slopes or in valleys of mountain rivers.
 
Houses in Sinhalese villages in different parts of the country differ little in their layout from each other. Rectangular houses are built on an elevated platform, whose height is 10-30 cm. It protects the dwelling from the streams of water during rains. The most common type of house is a one-story adobe hut. It is adjoined by a wide open veranda along the facade, facing the street and surrounded by an adobe wall up to one meter high. On the veranda practically the whole life of the inhabitants of the house passes; here they often take guests. The gable roof hangs over the house and darkens it. As a roofing material used made from leaves of a palm tree mats, rice straw, reed, less often tile. The walls of houses are whitewashed with chalk or painted in yellow. The entrance to the room at night is usually covered with a canopy. In a peasant's house, depending on the wealth, there can be from one to three small rooms apart from the kitchen. Sometimes the kitchen is located outside the house. Furniture is usually not, sleep on mats. In each house there are many various pottery, often decorated with a complex, beautiful ornament. Recently, in the life of the Sinhalese, metal and glass dishes are penetrating ever more.

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Lankan Tamils at Jaffna Peninsula live in large communities. Some villages have up to 2-3 thousand inhabitants. Due to the fact that the peninsula of Jaffna is poor in clay, it is often possible to find houses built of stone. The construction of houses is reminiscent of the construction of the state of Tamil Nadu in India.

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The main food of both Sinhalese and Tamils is rice and curry with various spicy seasonings: vegetable, fish, meat, and with a constant chilli (red capsicum). The role of bread is performed by the apple — a kind of flat cake or pancake made from rice flour and coconut milk. In the cities, the demand for wheat bread is gradually increasing. The second place in the nourishment of the Sinhalese occupy coconuts. It is believed that a good hostess can cook from a coconut hundreds of dishes.

The caste system still exist in Sri Lanka, but the influence of castes is not as noticeable as in India and has less severe and wild forms as in India. Possession of land is often determined by the status in caste, and large landowners — mudaliers and Buddhist monasteries are greatly influenced. It is the landowners — and the more lands they own, the higher the status is — and more elite status in the caste hierarchy. Some peasant families from the «low» castes, once attached by the Kandy rulers to Buddhist monasteries, still retain considerable dependence on them.

From the ancient social institutions among the Sinhalas, the caste system proved to be the most stable, which was especially clear and finished in its time in the Kandian state. In functional terms, the Sinhala caste system has much in common with the Indian one, but in the structural one it is not enough. As we know, while denying in principle caste differences in their organization (sangha), Buddhism never actively opposed the caste system as a whole.

The most «high» caste among the Sinhalese is the caste of farmers (goiwanse). At the same time, it is the most numerous: it includes 80-90% of all Sinhalese. This caste includes both ordinary farmers-members of the community, as well as large landowners-mudaliers, who form the highest podcast at the govans.

The Sinhalese have a little more than 20 castes, some of which are typical only for Kandiyan areas, and others — for coastal. In the Sinhalese caste hierarchy, the following three castes follow the meaning and numbers following the goiwanse: karawa (fishermen ), salagama ( collectors of cinnamon) and durawa (collectors of flower juice from coconut palms). Members of these castes live mainly in coastal areas. All of them of South Indian origin and relatively late entered the Sinhala-Buddhist social structure.

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A special position in the Sinhalese caste system is occupied by the so-called rodiyas — a few Lankan «untouchables». Their name was given to the word «roda», which means «unclean, dirty».

The caste system of the Sinhalese as a whole is somewhat milder than that of the Indians, but the caste partitions still exist and influence the public and private life of the population. The most consistent principle of caste membership is observed when concluding marital unions.

Sinhalese lack the custom of women's seclusion, as well as the prohibition of secondary marriages with widowhood. Legally (basically, in fact) there is a monogamous family. All other forms of marriage are prohibited by law. But in the Kandiyan regions, polyandric marriages are still encountered, which in the past were not considered reprehensible. At the present time, the desire of the newlyweds to separate from their parents is observed everywhere, if not immediately after the wedding, at least after the birth of the first child.

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Buddhism in Sri Lanka, as in other countries, is a complex phenomenon. He absorbed many pre-Buddhist folk religious ideas. Particularly stable is the belief in various good and evil demons. Only with the help of the ritual ceremony of the tovil performed by a special priest, it is possible, in the opinion of the Sinhalese, to drive out the demon. During the ceremony, the dancers wear brightly painted masks, each of which embodies a demon.

A special place in the religious views of Sinhalese is the belief in 9 planetary gods. With the protective function of these gods is associated rite bali, which is performed by an astrologer — baliedur. Bali begins with the fact that he addresses the Buddha with a welcoming verse. Ritual rituals consist of dancing under drumbeats, reading poems in which the god is asked to protect. The image of the god is brought by betel, flowers, rice. Some elements of these rites have organically entered the folk art.

Giant irrigation facilities, carefully planned cities, temples, statues — all this indicates a high level of ancient and medieval Sinhalese civilization. Its flowering dates back to the 4th century. BC. e. before the XIV century. n. e. and is associated with the ancient capital cities: Anuradhapura and Polonnarwana. In Sri Lanka, a kind of style of Buddhist religious buildings, called dagoba, arose.

A remarkable monument of Sinhalese painting is the rock painting of the fortress palace Lion's Rock in Sigiriya, which refers to the V century… The frescos of Sigiriya are deeply original. It is interesting that the murals depict only two belt female figures, but in different poses. The art of Sigiriya, which is the legitimate pride of the people of Sri Lanka, has influenced the further development secular painting in the country.

In the territory of the Kandiyan state a peculiar architectural style, known as the Kandiyan style, arose. The Kandiyans were skilful wood carvers and achieved high perfection in the use of wood for construction purposes. Of particular interest is the temple Sri Dalada Maligawa, for the sacred Tooth of Buddha, built in the XVIII — early XIX century, where the harmonious combination of stone and wood is gathered together.

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Temple painting is one of the oldest forms of fine art. It was done by experienced masters, among whom the art of painting was inherited. Artists usually depicted scenes from the life of the Buddha, while copying samples of the murals of earlier temples. But they inherited and gradually developed the traditions of folk ornament, which were widely and skillfully used to fill empty spaces in the painting of walls and ceilings.

Invasion of the European conquerors contributed to the decline of the Sri Lankan culture. The so-called colonial style began to dominate in architecture. By the XIX century. The fine art of the Sinhalese is in decline. National traditions have survived only in the construction of a few religious buildings and folk dwellings, as well as in applied art — murals of wooden products, ritual and theatrical masks, painted images of gods for the «bali» ceremonies.

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A powerful impetus to the development of culture gave the country the achievement of independence. In Colombo, the Art Gallery, which exhibits contemporary art and applied art, began to function. In 1950 the State School of Arts was opened. Modern painting of Sri Lanka has a pronounced national character. The theme of most works is everyday work and everyday life of ordinary people. Reflected in painting and traditional customs and rituals, as well as ancient legends of the Sinhalese.

Among the peoples of Sri Lanka, like most of the world's peoples, no event, be it joyful or sad, can do without music, dances and songs. Sinhalese dances and songs are associated with ancient folk beliefs, as well as with magical rites. Until now, the beginning and the end of agricultural work is celebrated by festivities dedicated to certain folk deities.

The most popular musical instruments — percussion, especially different drums. The most common cylindrical drums are birch. Wind instruments are few. A classic example is the Saka, whose shell is attributed to magical properties; it is only blown in the temples and during the processions. Only one wind instrument has a relatively wide distribution — a flute (horanawa). String instruments are represented by Weenawa, similar in nature to Indian Veena.
Singalese folk dances are a vivid example of national culture. To date, for castes of olives and grapes, dances and music are a professional occupation. In dances reflecting the processes of labor, men and women participate, but they never dance together. Women's dances are such as «rice harvesting», dance with clay jugs, etc. These smooth, slow tempo dances are accompanied by music, as well as singing. There are many labor dances, they can be seen during any public holiday.

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Ritual dances are performed only during the ceremonies of Bali and Towil. In Bali, calm, slow dances predominate. In Towil, the dancer acts as a demon. The expression of these dances is so great that the performer often comes to a frenzy.

A special place among the Sinhala dances is occupied by the Kandiyans. This is the name of the ancient classical dances, which are prevalent mainly in the central regions of the island. They are deeply national in character, close to such highly developed South Indian dance forms as Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. Being by origin folk, they were associated with certain religious rituals. In the Middle Ages, Kandiyan dances were performed at the royal court. There are three kinds of Kandian dances known: Udekki, panther and weight. Udekki is the most difficult of them. He is danced and simultaneously sings, accompanying himself on a small hand drum. Before Kandiyan dances were performed only by men, but in the 40s of the XX century. and women were allowed to perform them. Now almost all Sinhalese schoolboys and schoolgirls are studying these dances.

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The Sinhala Folk Theater arose a long time ago. Elements of dramatic art are contained in such ancient rituals as Bali and Tovil. Now in Sri Lanka there are 4 kinds of folk theater: Kolam — theater of masks, Sotri — theater of pantomime, Nadagama — musical drama and Rukada — puppet theater.

Kolam is a theater of a comedy direction, where a significant role belongs to the leading comedian — Kawataya. The actors play in brightly colored masks. It is interesting to note that the theater of Kolam is closely connected with the Tovil ceremony. Many images of demons along with their masks migrated at some historical stage from a mystical ceremony to a theatrical spectacle. Accordingly, of course, the attitude toward these characters has changed.

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Sokari received its name in the name of the heroine, whose life and misadventures are an unchanging theme of the theater's performances. In the Sokari, as well as in the Kolam, the actors play in masks, but sometimes without them. The pantomime theater is mainly distributed in Kandy and is not much known in other parts of the country.

Nadagama as a form of dramatic work is known for a long time. The text of the play is sung. There are also many dances in the nadagam. A significant part of the content of the play is explained to the audience by the presenter. The content of the plays is very diverse, but still prevails historical genre.

Among the population the puppet doll theater enjoys great love. His repertoire is very diverse: from classical plays translated from Sanskrit to miniatures deriding local moneylenders and European colonizers.

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In 1950, a small amateur student group began the movement for the creation of modern Sinhala plays, which would take into account the traditions of the folk theater, organically combining singing and dialogue, comedy and melodrama. Numerous cultural figures supported the initiative of the youth. In 1960, the first festival of modern plays was held. One of the ways in which the Lancian theater is going is the short adaptations of European plays (mostly classical ones) adapted to local customs.

The ballet troupe, which was organized and led by the famous dancer and choreographer Chithrasena, is well known. In his productions, he closely connects elements of traditional Kandiyan dance and folk music with modernity.

There is a tradition in the Lankan theater of mass popular performances during national holidays. For example, a presentation on the history of Vijaya's landing on the island or the national hero of Keppetipola, who led the anti-British uprising in the last century.

Tamils brought to the island classical Sanskrit drama forms.

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The folklore of of Sri Lankan folks is rich and diverse. Sinhalas do not distinguish between stories, legends, myths and fables, but they are called the general term Katha (story). The theme of the story is usually cases of peasant life, love stories, family quarrels, relationships between spouses. There are dramatic dramatic situations in these narratives. These stories, simple in form, imbued with the philosophy of life of the peasants and rude humor.

Very popular in folklore is the figure of the simple wise sage Mahadanamutta (Great Adviser). He and his five disciples are heroes in many folk tales. On this folklore lies a distinct imprint of irony: Mahadanamutta and his disciples personify the rulers of the ancient Sri Lanka, over the ridiculous manners and dubious wisdom of which the people like to laugh.

IX-XV centuries — the classical period of Sinhalese literature. During this time there is a particularly profound influence of Sanskrit and Tamil literature. However, this influence had a greater impact on the form of the works than on their content, which continued to be Buddhist.

In Kotte at the beginning of the fifteenth century, during the reign of Parakramabahu (1410-1462), a group of prominent writers advocated reform of the literary language and said for bringing it closer to the people's language. The most outstanding poet and prose writer of that period was Sri Rahula Sthaweera, better known as Thotagamuwa. He left a huge inheritance, including a number of scientific works.

The enslavement of Sri Lanka by the colonizers led to a prolonged decline and stagnation of Sinhalese literature. Only in the state of Kandi, which retained its independence, literature continued national traditions. This time is called the Candian period of development of Sinhalese literature. At the beginning of the XVII century here lived and created the famous poet Moha-Talla.

At the turn of the XIX-XX centuries. in connection with the growth of national self-consciousness and the emergence of the first political organizations, the rise of Sinhala literature begins. It was already qualitatively different literature, which the medieval traditions of feudal society did not suit and established literary norms. The new literature reflected the development of capitalist relations, the emergence of new classes and the growth of national liberation movement. The most outstanding among the first writers of the new trend was Piyadasa Sirisena (1875 — 1946). He is called the «father of the Sinhalese novel».

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The modern Sinhalese writer-realist Martin Wickramasinghe (1891-1977) was one of the first to address such an urgent issue as the life of the Sinhalese village. In the novels «New Village» and «Changing Village», Wickramasinghe showed the plight of the peasantry, the process of class stratification in the village, the disintegration of the rural community associated with the development of capitalist relations, and the struggle of the peasants to improve their situation. The last novel in late 1963 created one of the best movies in the country. In 1974, Sri Lanka established the President's Award for a major contribution to the development of Sri Lanka culture. The first of its winners was Martin Wickramasinghe.

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