Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 19 May 2013





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Let's preserve our Buddhist cultural identity

Ruwanweli stupa in Anuradhapura

Even before the Buddha's time, this pearl of pearls in the Indian Ocean has survived with pride. It has been triumphant over the ruins of alien invasion. Stunningly beautiful, gifted with an ideal climate, glistening beaches, eye catching scenery and greenery, located strategically on the major sea routes of the region, this paradise isle is a country rich in culture, tradition and ancient civilisation and its historic legacy.

The history, culture and tradition in Sri Lanka is said to begin with the arrival of the Buddha and it has a very strong and solid historical tradition which dates back to Buddhism. Inspired by Buddhist ideals, our ancient culture is totally attributed to Buddhist heritage.

Buddhist Heritage

Buddhism was a practical guide for peaceful living. The code of morality advocated by the Buddha - Panchaseela laid the foundation of our culture. Besides the spiritual message, the cultural revolution that came about had a great influence on society. It fostered art and architecture, inspired the creation of Dagobas - massive structures in ancient cities such as Anuradhapura and Ruhuna. They became impressive centres of culture. At the same time vast man-made reservoirs and great irrigation systems became a part of our culture.

Gamai Pansalai, Wevai Dagabai was the main theme. This shows that we have wonderfully valuable facts regarding our culture. That the ancient royalty such as Devanampiyatissa, Pandukabhaya, Mahasen, Dutugemunu and Parakramabahu made a great contribution to the country's economic and religious development is no secret. The possession of its own identity was well displayed in the great service they rendered in numerous ways.

Though the popular belief is that the Sinhala race originated with the arrival of Vijaya, it is after the official introduction of Buddhism that our heritage flourished influencing our culture. This unique combination of our economic and religious culture exerted an enormous influence on the continuity of our civilization.


Unfortunately, this cultural upsurge did not last long. Sri Lanka fell a victim to four invasions. Starting with neighbouring South India was subsequently followed by the Western powers. The attitude of the white rulers from Portuguese, Dutch and the British was to enrich their coffers in their motherland.

No wonder it was a dark era for the island endowed with a dignified culture and tradition. The age old indigenous cultural and religious fervour was no more. The change the country experienced cannot be put in black and white.

There was wanton destruction in the religious sphere. The ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are vast eye openers to our cultural past and heritage. The colossal efforts of our rulers which enriched the country in many ways were reduced to ruins. Subsequently, we were strongly influenced by the western culture that colonised us. Out of the three western powers the last and the more refined - the British were gracious enough to consider the plea of our national heroes which culminated in our great day, recently celebrated by the entire country (the day of Independence).

That was the first meaningful step taken by the white rulers in the long process of giving back the dignity of culture, tradition and heritage denied for nearly three centuries of foreign domination.

Then Ceylon, as referred to by them had a deep rooted culture until the western powers took over. It is very clear that the unfortunate situation of the destruction of our glorious culture, lie in the country's colonial past for almost 450 years. Prior to this there were occasional celebrations with pageants and cultural programmes reflecting national pride.


The ancient arts and crafts, architecture, the irrigation engineering which reflected the country's past glory and splendour was revived once more. After independence the cultural triangle was formed. The excavations and preservations of sacred areas were undertaken and at the same time ongoing preservation was expedited to speed up the restoration work, in preparation for the 2600 Sri Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi national religious festival held in Anuradhapura, the sacred city.

The masses were enlightened that the national flag, the national costume and the national Anthem should be honoured and respected.There are lots of things to be added to this national list but one can see how much the alien legacy, the last being British has transformed our society. The general tendency at the time was to glorify and imitate everything western and look down on everything native. They still cling on to western culture.

Modern trend

Long after independence too with the modern trend of globalisation they still embrace western values. Though irrelevant and unsuitable, their way of life is embraced by the social circles in the cities and elsewhere. Billboards, fashion and television advertisements promote lifestyles not suited to the vast majority of the population. Western values continue to shade the young generation's social views including dress code, hairstyles and beauty products.

The social strata is mostly evaluated by the above facts, giving prominence to commercial interests and culture is totally disregarded. Whatever is foreign is upheld with great enthusiasm. Alien mannerisms and speech accents totally unacceptable to our culture are followed by many so-called elite groups. The most amusing is that these are mostly prevalent among people with no proper English education. Alas! What has happened to our culture? That is why we must have our own distinct cultural identity.


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