Let's preserve our Buddhist cultural identity
Ruwanweli stupa in
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
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.
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
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.
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