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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan

Geography & Topography

Capital: Colombo

Population: 21 283 913

Area: 65 610 km2

Language: Sinhala, Tamil, English

Religion: Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim

Currency: Sri Lankan rupee



Sri Lanka

Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a tropical island lying close to the southern tip of India and near the equator that has attracted traders and travellers for centuries. Despite its smallness, it has garnered a plethora of names such as Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma and the Pearl of the Orient. This collection of names reveals the land’s richness, beauty and intensity of affection towards its visitors. It is indeed a land of great cultural diversity. Religion pervades many aspects of life and constitutes a basic element of this diversity. Buddhist and Hindu temples, as well as mosques and churches, with their own colourful rituals are the most prominent features of the cultural landscape.

Sri Lanka’s traditions in architecture, sculpture and painting extend far back into the ancient times. While many ancient works which were restored and preserved reflect Indian influences, many of them were also inspired by teachings derived from Buddhism. These influences have also extended across classic literatures which often revolve around Buddhist themes and India’s stylistic approach. However, since the 20th century, with the literati being exposed to European literature, local creative writing has acquired greater diversity in style and has become more secular in content.

Performing Arts


Buddhism, Indian classical music and the Portuguese colonizers were the three biggest influences on Sri Lanka’s music. The Theravada sect of Buddhism has influenced Sri Lankan Music since its arrival in Sri Lanka two millennia ago. Portuguese colonizers arrived in the mid-15th century, bringing with them cantiga balads, ukuleles and guitars; as well as descendants of Africa (historically referred to as Kaffrinhas), who brought with them a style of music which is now referred to as baila.

The classical Sinhalese Orchestra consists of five categories. The drum, however, is the king of local percussion instruments and is indispensable in traditional dances.

The most recognizable instruments in traditional Sri Lankan music are:


Geta Beraya

Geta Beraya

Geta Beraya (Wedding Drum): Because the left of the drum is made of cow skin while the right is of monkey skin, this drum generates two different sounds. It is played with free hands and on ceremonial occasions.

Horanewa: Horanewa or also known as Sri Lanka’s version of the oboe is an instrument made of the elephant tusk with its backend adorned with brass. The base is riddled with small holes to enable varying pitches when played.


Horanewa: Sri Lanka's version of the oboe



Thammattama: A flat, two-faced drum made with either the root of the Kithul tree or any other suitable timber. The drummer strikes the drum on the two surfaces on top with sticks, unlike other drums where sound is produced by drumming on the sides.





All forms of dance in Sri Lanka exhibit small graceful movements combined with vigorous ones, reflecting the complex rhythms of the drum beat.

There are two main dance styles in Sri Lanka which is the dance of lowlands (typically practised in the coastal strip of South Colombo) and that of the highlands, often referred to as the Kandy School. The Kandy school of dance is always accompanied by music from instruments such as drums, cymbals and flutes.

Although both styles exhibit vigorous moments common to all dance in Sri Lanka, the basic difference lies within the rituals performed which require different dance rhythms and drum beats.

Examples of traditional Sri Lankan dances are:

Kandyan Dance

Kandyan Dance


Ves Dance (Kandyan Dancing): A traditional Sinhalese dance form of the highlands. This dance is typically performed at religious processions and ceremonies. The aesthetics of Kandyan dance and its rhythmic vigorous movements and foot work can be really appreciated in its original setting, the “Kohomba Kankariya”, a Kandyan ritual dance performed in honour of the God Kohomba of the Kohomba tree (a tree of medicinal value) and to invoke his blessings. Originally this dance is only allowed to be performed by men but today, women are also able to participate, softening the masculine moves of this dynamic dance form.

Mask Dance

Mask Dance





Mask Dance: A unique dance form that uses masks which are mostly made of wood. It is usually performed in the lowlands, along the coastal belt of South Colombo. This dance has evolved from folk rituals of devil-dancing in the south of Sri Lanka. A combination of mime, dramatic dialogue and impersonations of folk rituals are performed in addition to these dance movements.






Some interesting facts:

  • The Sri Lankan flag is the only flag in the world to recognise different religious groups. The yellow border and Pipal Leaves symbolise Buddhism which is the main religion in the country. The green and saffron bands, on the other hand, represent the country’s Muslim and Hindu Tamil communities.
  • Sri Lanka boasts the highest literacy rate in South Asia which 92 percent of its people being literate.
  •  With an elevation of 2,524 m (8,281 ft), Pidurutalagala is the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. Situated in Nuwara Eliya, it is pretty cold up there but it usually does not snow.
  • Sinhala-speaking people make up 74 percent of the population even though English is widely spoken. Tamil is considered a national language but not the official one.

Sri Lankan Community in Australia:

More Information on the Sri Lankan community: