Local Life and Culture of Sri Lanka
Religion as well as religious festivals, work and aryuvedic medicine are important pillars regarding local life and culture of Sri Lanka. Find here some info to consider before and during your trip.
Religion & Festivities
Even though Sri Lanka is predominately Buddhist (71%), the country also welcomes Hinduism (13%), Christianity (7%) and Islam (9%) as official religions. In our opinion, this is one of the magics of Sri Lanka and a lesson for westerns civilizations on how people can co-habit with their differences, believes and cultures. The island of 21.5 million inhabitants is a melting pot of different ethnic groups such as Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors and Burghers. Sometimes these differences go as deep as inside of one single family: we met a tuk-tuk driver who told us that he was Muslim, his wife Hindu, and his daughter Christian – not even counting for their ancestry of different ethnic groups.
Hence, the way locals live everyday life and festivities differs a lot. Here you can find a list of all the official holidays for each religion and ethnic group. The following two festivities are the most important ones of the majoritarian Buddhist community.
- Poya Day: This literally means “full moon day” in Sinhalese. It is the celebration of the full moon in each month and results in a bank holiday every 29.5 days. A very important date for Buddhist pilgrims around the world, devotees head to the temples to pray. During the day of fasting alcohol as well as meet consumption is forbidden. Most businesses close to enable people to do their offers to Buddha.
- Esala Parahera: Kandy’s festivity is for sure the most famous celebration in Sri Lanka. It lasts around 10 days during the months of July or August. During this festival The Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha parades through the streets of Kandy, strengthening the spirituality and believes of the Sri Lankan people. The procession includes dances, lights, torches, incenses, music and massive elephants properly dressed up for the ceremony. It is a life time event.
Aryuveda is a popular and alternative form of medicine. Locals consider it a form of living and treatment, for tourists it represents mainly a form of relaxation. We tried during our stay in Ella and loved it! At end we felt very light and “oily” but definitely restored! The practice originating in India means “the science of life”. Its aim is to restore the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha, and each are connected to the nerves, digestive and immune system respectively) by using their methods such as
- Ayurvedic Baths: with flowers, herbs and essential oils
- Shirodhara: warm oil dripping down and touching your forehead and clear the “third eye”
- Skin treatments
- Prescription of specific diet and medicines
Voluntary Work and National Animals
Elephants are a big part of Sri Lanka’s culture. However, they are often exploited for commercial purposes! Unless you see them in the wild or randomly crossing a road you should really put into question whether their fair treatment. We found tons of places selling the orphanage slogan and honestly wanted to believe that some of them are legit. Nevertheless, after deep research and chats with locals we were never too sure on how “non commercial” these places really were! Oftentimes elephants are chained and missing proper nutrition.
If you want to get close to elephants our advice is to join a voluntary work program. There are several options from 1/2 days up to a year. This way you know that you are contributing to a fair development and non exploitation of the animal. There are several organizations offering different programs but we consider International Volunteer HQ one of the most reliable ones. Thus you can join other programs such as teaching, restoration or more.
Turtles are another form of of business. Even though tiger sharks and killer wales are big predators, humans are still the “main killers” of adult turtles. Turtles have been traveling to Sri Lanka for centuries in order to leave their eggs. You can easily find some hatcheries but in reality the fact is most of them will keep adult turtles “for educational purposes” as they say. If you are lucky enough to go to their natural habitats (e.g. Hikkaduwa area) we would recommend you to just stay around the beach until late to see turtles coming ashore. You might also ask a friendly local who can take you to the best spots.