Always Smiling: A Guide to Sri Lankan Culture

A Guide to Sri Lankan Culture

Ayubowan: Understanding the Local Way of Life in Sri Lanka

While the island of Sri Lanka is geographically small in size, its diversity is incredibly rich and often surprising. Ancient tradition blends with modern society to create a cultural landscape of powerful depth. This short guide highlights some essential aspects of Sri Lankan culture for travellers who are keen to understand the local way of life.

Nirbana’s Surf & Yoga Retreat Guide to Sri Lankan Culture

Theravada Buddhism

The culture in Sri Lanka has been heavily influenced by the traditions of Theravada Buddhism which trickled down from India ever since the sacred Bo Sapling was brought to the island from the continent. The religious organisation of Buddhism has a heavy influence on society and personal beliefs, particularly in the southern and central districts of the country.

Colonial Past

This tear drop island has been blessed and cursed by it’s a strategic location in the heart of the Indian Ocean and at the centre of Asia’s busiest trade route. For colonial Western Empires, to control Sri Lanka meant controlling the Indian Ocean. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British occupied the island and instated their own styles of government. Politics, cuisine, the economy and many other aspects of cultural existence have been marked significantly by the colonial era.

Contemporary Lanka

The island is rich in artistic tradition encompassing dance, visual arts and music. It is also heavily associated with exports such as cinnamon, tea, spices and gemstones.  Internationally, Sri Lanka is known as an island that is crazy about cricket and distinctly identifiable for delectable cuisine and holistic Ayurvedic therapies.

Rich and Diverse History

With a history that goes back more than 2,000 years, its beginnings are documented through ancient texts such as the Mahawamsa.  The country’s long ties with India go beyond prehistory. The first stone implements used on the island can be traced back to 500BC. The foreign influences of its colonial occupants have also contributed to moulding its culture to what it is today.


Owing to the country’s strong religious roots, the dress sense of many Sri Lankans is that of modesty while it does incorporate western trends. As such, those visiting the island and especially religious places of worship should bear this in mind. Many ladies can be seen wearing saris which are the traditional dress and men are often seen wearing sarongs. The sarong is a skirt like a garment that is wrapped around the waist and fastened with a belt.

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