About Visual, Literary & Performing Arts in Sri Lanka

WALKinLANKA, Steps to pure inspirations

The movie Kadawunu Poronduwa (The broken promise), produced by S. M. Nayagam of Chitra Kala Movietone, heralded the coming of Sri Lankan cinema in 1947. Ranmuthu Duwa (Island of treasures, 1962) marked the transition cinema from black-and-white to colour. It in the recent years has featured subjects such as family melodrama, social transformation and the years of conflict between the military and the LTTE. Sri Lankan cinematic style is similar to the Bollywood movies. In 1979, movie attendance rose to an all-time high, but has been in steady decline since then. An influential filmmaker is Lester James Peiris, who has directed a number of movies which led to global acclaim, including Rekava (Line of destiny, 1956), Gamperaliya (The changing village, 1964), Nidhanaya (The treasure, 1970) and Golu Hadawatha (Cold heart, 1968). Sri Lankan-Canadian poet Rienzi Crusz, is the subject of a documentary on his life in Sri Lanka. His work is published in Sinhalese and English. Similarly, naturalized-Canadian Michael Ondaatje is well known for his English-language novels and three films.

The earliest music in Sri Lanka came from theatrical performances such as Kolam, Sokari and Nadagam. Traditional music instruments such as Béra, Thammátama, Daŭla and Răbān were performed at these dramas. The first music album, Nurthi, recorded in 1903, was released through Radio Ceylon (founded in 1925). Songwriters like Mahagama Sekara and Ananda Samarakoon and musicians such as W. D. Amaradeva, H. R. Jothipala and Clarence Wijewardene have contributed much towards the upliftment of Sri Lankan music. Baila is another popular music genre in the country, originated among Kaffirs or the Afro-Sinhalese community.


There are three main styles of Sri Lankan classical dance. They are the Kandyan dances, low country dances and Sabaragamuwa dances. Of these, the Kandyan style, which flourished under kings of the Kingdom of Kandy, is more prominent. It is a sophisticated form of dance that consists of five sub-categories: Ves dance, Naiyandi dance, Udekki dance, Pantheru dance and 18 Vannam. An elaborate headdress is worn by the male dancers and a drum called Geta Béraya is used to assist the dancer to keep on rhythm. In addition, four folk drama variants named Sokri, Kolam, Nadagam, Pasu, and several devil dance variants such as Sanni Yakuma and Kohomba Kankariya can be also observed.

The history of Sri Lankan painting and sculpture can be traced as far back as to the 2nd or 3rd century BC. The earliest mention about the art of painting on Mahavamsa, is to the drawing of a palace on cloth using cinnabar in the 2nd century BC. The chronicles have description of various paintings in relic-chambers of Buddhist stupas, and in monastic residence.

Theatre moved into the country when a Parsi theatre company from Mumbai introduced Nurti, a blend of European and Indian theatrical conventions to the Colombo audience in the 19th century. The golden age of Sri Lankan drama and theatre began with the staging of Maname, a play written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra in 1956. It was followed by a series of popular dramas like Sinhabāhu, Pabāvatī, Mahāsāra, Muudu Puththu and Subha saha Yasa.

Sri Lankan literature spans at least two millennia, and is heir to the Aryan literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rigveda. The Pāli Canon, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, was written down in Sri Lanka during the Fourth Buddhist council, at the Alulena cave temple, Kegalle, as early as 29 BC. Ancient chronicles such as the Mahāvamsa, written in the 6th century, provide vivid descriptions of Sri Lankan dynasties. According to the German philosopher Wilhelm Geiger, the chronicles are based on Sinhala Atthakatha (commentary) that dates few more centuries back. The oldest surviving prose work is the Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya, compiled in the 9th century. The greatest literary feats of medieval Sri Lanka include Sandesha Kāvya (poetic messages) such as Girā Sandeshaya (Parrot message), Hansa Sandeshaya (Swan message) and Salalihini Sandeshaya (Myna message). Poetry including Kavsilumina, Kavya-Sekharaya (diadem of poetry) and proses such as Saddharma-Ratnāvaliya, Amāvatura (Flood of nectar) and Pujāvaliya are also notable works of this period, which is considered to be the golden age of Sri Lankan literature. The first modern-day novel, Meena, a work of Simon de Silva appeared in 1905, and was followed by a number of revolutionary literary works. Martin Wickramasinghe, the author of Madol Doova is considered the iconic figure of Sri Lankan literature.

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