Sri Lankan society is multi-ethnic and multi-religious since the pre-historic times. The majority ethnic group is the Sinhalese who practice Buddhism. The second-largest group is the Tamils who are adherent to Hinduism. Others are Muslims and Christians.
Sri Lankan society is dominantly marked by the caste system. Caste system
in Srilanka is based on the theory that every person is born into a
particular group which defines his or her fixed position within society
for lifetime. Purity is one of the most basic concepts of caste system.
The person in each caste must preserve their purity by avoiding the
contact with the persons of lower purity. In Sri Lanka, there are two
caste systems, one for the Sinhalese and the other for the Tamils. For the
Sinhalese, although Buddhism discourages the distinction based on caste,
it still exists but is not based on the concept of purity but on the basis
of hereditary roles and functions. For the Tamils, Hinduism is a
perpetuated influence on social division among themselves.
Sri Lanka's classical architecture, sculpture and painting are
predominantly Buddhist. Stupas sprinkle the countryside, and there are
several extravagantly large Buddha's sculptures, notably at Aukana and
Buduruvagala. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa have the most impressive
archaelogical legacy, but Kandy is the most thriving cultural centre
today. Colonial remnants include Dutch forts, canal and churches and
British residences, clubs and courthouses. Galle is the finest colonial
city on the island.
Woodcarving, weaving, pottery and metalwork are all highly developed
crafts, and Sri Lanka is especially renowned for its gems. Ambalangoda is
the best place to see Sri Lankan masks; Ratnapura is the centre of Sri
Lanka's gem trade.
Sinhalese dancing is similar to Indian dance but relies on acrobatics,
nimbleness and symbolism to unfold its narratives. Kandy is a good place
to see 'up-country dancing', but Colombo or Ambalangoda are the places to
witness the ritualistic exorcism of 'devil dancing'. Folk theatre combines
dance, masked drama, drumming and exorcism rituals in vivid recreations of
Sri Lankan folklore.