visual arts, architecture, literature, music and dance of Sri Lanka all bear
the definitive seal of centuries-old Buddhist culture which had hold sway
over the social fabric of the country. Until the coming of the British,
poetry, music and dance were almost entirely ceremonial and devotional
performances. Its only by the mid-19th century that Sri Lanka opened
its windows to the outside cultural influences. This was hastened by the
advent of the printing press.
Sri Lanka did not have a fertile ground for the growth of vernacular
literature particularly because of the conservative Buddhist tradition
coupled with the fierce political repression which followed the leftist
revolts of 1971 and 1987-88 and the ethnic troubles of the 1980s and 1990s.
But still she has her share of home spun literary talent. The best known of
its authors, perhaps, is Michael Ondaatje, who wrote the much acclaimed
novel The English Patient, also a popular screen picture.
Music and Dance
Music and dance in Sri Lanka are still closely intertwined with religious
rituals. Kandyan or 'high country' dance which is accompanied by the complex
rhythms of several drummers has evolved from village dances performed to
appease to local deities. The percussion instrument used is a wooden drum
with leather heads of monkey skin at one end and cowhide at the other. Two
different types of skins make room for contrasting tones. Dancers, usually
women, go through a routine of sinuous poses and flowing arm movements.
Devil- mask Dance:
'Low country' or 'devil-mask' dancing is generally performed with the
motive of exorcism. These are also accompanied by drummers, who use a
special 'demon drum' to enhance the steps and movements of dancers wearing
the grotesque masks representing the 18 demons of disease.
Art and Architecture
Sri Lanka's architectural heritage is very much influenced and shaped by
Buddhist traditions. Prominent among the architectural edifices are the
dagobas which are sighted everywhere in the country. Built in the shape of a
dome, the dagobas often enshrine relics of the Buddha, such as a hair or a
tooth, and is usually massively constructed of brick covered with a coat of
plaster and painted white. Ancient temple sites are featured by statues of
Buddha which are often carved from the living rock of basalt crags and
cliffs. Frescoes like those located at Sigiriya may display beautiful women,
temple dancers or deities.
The pantiled roofs and verandahs which grace many a quaint, old building
are living examples of the Portuguese and Dutch architectural legacy. Many
Dutch buildings are still found in Galle. Kandy and Nuwara Eliya houses many
surviving buildings from the British colonial era.