Sri Lanka, an island country, has been called as a home by numerous ethnic groups of different languages and religions. For many decades now, Sri Lanka has garnered visitors from across the world — experiencing their rich culture and heritage was part of their checklist too.
Sri Lankan weddings are an experience and a ceremony that involves days of preparation. What was once limited to a divine alliance between two individuals has now become an extravagant affair! People from the Indian subcontinent, especially, have made it look grandiose.
When it comes to weddings celebrated with much pomp, the traditional Sri Lankan wedding culture cannot be given a miss.
To go further in time, a Sinhalese marriage had similar laws to those practiced in the Hindu laws. However, as Buddhism expanded on the island in the 3rd century B.C, the marriage laws and customs, and the legal position of women underwent a drastic change and improvement.
Before we take you on a walk down the Sri Lankan Wedding culture, the following groups that reside in Sri Lanka that needs a bit of understanding.
Ethnic Groups Residing in Sri Lanka
Worldometeres.info Ranked as the 58th most populous country in the world, Sri Lanka boasts of various ethnic groups finding shelter across the island.
The largest of all, Sinhalese leads the chart, which is followed by Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims, Indian Tamils, and a few other small communities. Besides, the country currently recognizes Sinhala and Tamil as the official languages.
All that being said, the following are the ethnic groups that Sri Lanka provides shelter to.
Sinhala, which translates to the heart or lion’s blood, are people who are believed to have originated from the times of Prince Vanga. The Sinhalese people were organized in kingdoms, driven by their hereditary kings.
Known for speaking the language of Sinhala or Helabasa, Sinhalese have been recognized by their skills in fine arts, literature, dancing, and plenty of other rituals. For self-defense, this community practices a form of martial arts called Angampora.
Sri Lankan Tamils
Commonly referred to as the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Tamils are genetically linked with Sinhalese. However, they are significantly different in terms of culture. Based on the geographical location, Sri Lankan Tamils are subdivided into three groups – Negombo Tamils, Eastern Tamils, and Jaffna Tamils.
The numbers are staggering; about 80% of Tamil members are believed to be Hindus, while the larger part of the 20% are Roman Catholics.
Sri Lankan Moors
Largest ethnic groups and referred to as Muslims, Sri Lankan Moors, are closely associated with Tamil speakers and other facets of the Arab culture. The Moors have known to have borrowed their tradition from the Arabs, which is consuming large shared plates in wedding ceremonies.
Believed to have been migrated from India during the British colonial period, Indian Moors have a rich history of serving as plantation laborers. The majority comprises of Islam, with the religion defining the traditions. Moreover, Indian Moors have been reduced to a point where they were counted among “others” in the 1981 census.
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Sri Lankan Wedding Ceremonies
During the British rule in Sri Lanka, ‘Kandyan’ was prevalent. The Kandyan Society was extremely unprincipled. Kandyan are the inhabitants of the city of Kandy.
Men and women were given complete freedom to cohabit with whomsoever he pleased. Sexual morality didn’t even matter. Polygamy and polyandry were famous. Group marriages and trial marriages were common too.
Divorce laws were simpler as either men or women could dissolve the marital tie at their will and pleasure.
Sri Lankan-Buddhist Wedding Culture
In Sri Lanka, weddings are more than just social events. The solemn rituals and traditions play a prominent role in the ceremonies. Every Sinhalese-Buddhist wedding ceremony is swamped with customs and traditions passed down from generation to generation.
Although few of the ceremonies have changed over the decades, observing the nekath and Poruwa siritha is mandatory.
Following are the customs, traditions, and culture of a Sri Lankan wedding.
Nekatha – The Auspicious Time
The Nekatha, also referred to as the auspicious time is a very important part of a Buddhist wedding. The date and nekatha of a wedding are usually decided by an astrologer after consulting the bride and the groom’s horoscopes. The time for the ceremonies is usually based on their dates and times of birth.
Once the nekatha for the wedding has been finalised by an astrologer or priest, the Poruwa ceremony commences as per that. A traditional Sinhala-Buddhist marriage ceremony is known as Poruwa siritha.
Since the British formally created register marriages in the 1870s, Poruwa siritha is considered a recognised marriage agreement in Sri Lanka. The ceremony borrows traditions from different Sri Lankan communities and blends together a beautiful wedding custom practiced by Tamils and Sinhala people.
The decorations for a Poruwa ceremony include an elegantly adorned altar that is elevated from the ground. It is generally made of four wooden pillars and an overhanging roof.
As the ceremony starts, the bride and the groom walk up together to the Poruwa, leading with their right feet and facing the guests. The guests are seated separately based on their relationship with the couple. Generally, the bride’s side is seated on the right side while the groom’s side on the left.
The groom is escorted to the wedding location with drummers and typical Kandyan dancers. An elephant is decked up for the groom to sit on for the procession. The bride and the groom greet each other with their palms held together in a traditional manner.
The ceremony is off to a grand start by offering sheaf of betel leaves to the couple, which they hold and then return to be used during the Poruwa.
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The seven betel leaf bundles are offered to God, which is offered as a request to protect the lives of seven generations starting from their marriage.
Much like the Hindu customs, the bride’s father places the right hand of his daughter on that of the groom, as a symbolising gesture of handing over the bride to the groom.
The Ceremony Begins
As mentioned earlier, the Sri Lankan culture of a wedding involves many people – the master of ceremony (the shilpadhipathi), the ashtaka or narrator (who recites religious chants) and the Jayamangala Gatha (a group of four young girls who bless the marriage with religious chants).
There are multiple rituals and traditions that are sacred to Buddhism, each one is conducted due to a specific belief.
At the given auspicious time, the ceremony begins. It often starts with the auspicious seven betel leaves ceremony. The bride and groom take turns and repeat the process. Each one takes a betel leaf at a time and drops it into the Poruwa.
Once this is ceremony is complete, the groom’s brother is supposed to stand with a tray consisting of a gold necklace. The groom, in turn, takes the necklace and places it on the bride’s neck.
The Tying Of the Pirith Nool
Back then, when registered marriages were not prevalent, the tying of the pirith nool (sacred thread), was considered as a symbol of the union of marriage. The gold thread that symbolises unity, is tied by the Master of Ceremonies.
Once the Master of Ceremonies ties the bride and groom’s fingers, he is then required to pour pirith pan (holy water) from a Kandiyan crafted silver jug. This is a prominent ritual in any Sinhalese-Buddhist wedding. The ritual is significant because water and earth are two sacred elements in Buddhism.
Gifting of white cloth
After the completion of the pirith nool ritual, the groom is required to present a white cloth that is about 16mm in length to his bride. After the bride is done looking at the cloth, she hands it over to her mother. A white cloth of this particular length is given to the bride’s mother as an expression of gratitude by the groom to his mother-in-law, for raising the bride since her birth.
Regarded as the most beautiful and heart-warming part of Sri Lankan wedding culture. It is also the time when the groom promises the bride’s parents to take care of their daughter for the rest of his life.
Milk and Kiribath
No wedding is complete without a touch of sweetness. In the western wedding culture, the couple usually cut a wedding cake. Similarly, in a Sinhala-Buddhist wedding, it is the milk rice or kiribath touted as the most special dish among the sweetmeats.
The bride’s mother is required to feed the couple, a mouth of milk rice and then the groom’s mother is required gives them each a sip of milk. The ceremony ends with the bride and groom feeding each other some kiribath.
As the newly married couple steps down the traditional Poruwa, the groom’s family members break a fresh coconut signifying new beginnings.
The moment the couple stepped off the elevated pavilion on to the ground amidst drummers and dancers, is the moment they announce to the world as husband and wife.
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Wedding Dresses in Sri Lanka
Bride Wedding Dress
Whether the Sri Lankan bride is Sinhalese or Malay, her attire is a beautiful blend of eastern and western tradition. From distinctive western-style veils to timeless silk sarees, Sri Lankan brides look unique and eye-catching.
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On her wedding day, the bride usually wears a heavily embroidered silk saree with a peplum style ruffle around the waist and a long blouse. The saree is weighed down with beads, pearls, stones, and sequins. The bridal saree usually boasts of gold and silver thread work. Certain brides also choose blouses with puffy sleeves in order with the royal custom.
Today, in the Poruwa ceremony, several Sri Lankan modern-day Kandyan brides customs have been absorbed in. Exchange of rings just like the western culture is a common practice. Brides who opt for a western wedding ceremony wear a white wedding dress similar to Christian weddings. To add to the look, they cover themselves from head to toe with jewels.
Groom Wedding Dress
The Sri Lankan groom’s wedding outfit is the most unique in South East Asia. The look resonates with the royalty of the 19th century. It includes a plush velvet hat and jacket and a rich fabric of the draped cloth.
The mul and uma are made for the kings and is worn only on special occasions. The groom’s outfit comprises of: hat, jacket, mul and uma, and shoes. From head to toe, the groom’s outfit is heavily embroidered with silver and gold thread. The jacket and shoes match the hat. The groomsmen also wear similar outfits but not as grand as the groom. It is often referred to as Nilame costume.
Bride’s Homecoming ceremony
The homecoming of the bride marks the end of an ostentatious Sri Lankan wedding. It takes place a few days after the wedding ceremony.
At the Poruwa ceremony, a saree and jacket, usually made of red material is handed over to the bride by the groom’s mother. During the time of homecoming, the bride is required to wear this attire and enter her new home.
The Sri Lankan culture of weddings is an epitome of grace and heritage. Every ritual beautifully signifies the beginning of a new stage in life. Besides witnessing the union of two souls, friends and family must look at a Sinhala-Buddhist wedding as a time to witness the traditions and rituals that have been part of the country for a long period of time.
There is nothing like a quintessential Sri Lankan wedding, which is the favorite part cherish that involves the best food with the best people around.
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