Major FAQ's

About Sri Lanka volunteer program (In General)

How long has IFRE been working in Sri Lanka? Whom do you work with? Where are you located? What are IFRE's programs?

IFRE has coordinated our volunteer programs in Sri Lanka since 2007. We work with orphanages, Buddhist monks in Piriven, a turtle conservation project and an elephant orphanage.

IFRE maintains a small office in Galle, a small tourist town famous for its beautiful beaches and nature. Our first week of Language and Cultural immersion is operated here. Galle offers many services: internet access, banks, general shopping and recreational areas. Most of our volunteer projects in Sri Lanka are offered within 20 km radius of our local office, which allows us the opportunity to offer immediate and direct assistance to our volunteers. Our elephant orphanage project is far from our local office in Galle.

Applying for the Sri Lanka volunteer program?

How can I apply? What happens when I apply? Do you guarantee placement? How long does it take to receive confirmation?

Please read IFRE's 4-step application process:

  • There are two options for applying to volunteer in our Sri Lanka programs. You can apply online (http://www.ifrevolunteers.org/apply-now.php ) or you can simply download an application form, fill it out and mail it into IFRE's offices. Participants are required to submit their application with a $299 application fee plus the program fee for the number of weeks you choose. However to simply start the placement process, all that is needed upfront is a $99 deposit which will be deducted from the final invoice.
  • Once IFRE receives your application, we immediately forward it to country coordinator for processing. The in-country coordinator reviews the application carefully to determine the most optimal project for you while you volunteer in Sri Lanka. Decisions pertaining to room and board are made at this time - depending on the location of the project. The vast majority of participants stay in fully immersed in-home stays.
  • IFRE receives the details of the participants' placements from the in-country coordinator.
  • The information is then passed on to the prospective participants along with a final invoice. Final payment is due six weeks prior to departure and, in expedited cases, as soon as possible. The placement details contain local contact information to be used when applying for a visa and/or to get in touch with the local staff and host family.

Preparation for your volunteer vacation in Sri Lanka should include reading about travel to Sri Lanka, immunization, acquiring a travel visa and booking airfare for your volunteer journey to Sri Lanka. If you face any problems, IFRE's Program Manager is always available for any assistance.

IMPORTANT: Once participants purchase airline tickets, we request flight information be forwarded to IFRE's U.S. office by fax or by email. Participants' flight information will then be forwarded to the in-country coordinator in Sri Lanka, who will then arrange an airport pick-up.

Airport and Arrival Information

Who will meet me in airport? What should I do if I am delayed or miss my flight? When should I arrive?

Volunteers should arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) in Colomboa, Sri Lanka. It is located in Katunayake, 35 km (22 miles) north of Colombo where a local staff member will meet you and transport you to your respective accommodation or project.

We ask that you fly with all your important documents, including your volunteer placement, passport, visa and vaccination booklet. Please have them accessible in case you are asked to produce them. Our volunteers join our program with a tourist visa. Volunteers do not need a long term or working visa.

If some sort of delay occurs, including flight delays or missed flights, contact our Sri Lanka office as soon as possible. We will obtain a volunteer’s revised itinerary and reschedule pick-up. If volunteers should miss connecting with our staff at CMB, they should arrange a taxi and travel to the local office in Galle. This information is included in the volunteer’s personal placement documents. Upon meeting the in-country representative at CMB, will transfer to the local office, project or accommodations.

Volunteers coming to Sri Lanka are advised to arrive one day before their program start date. The program fee will cover expenses beginning of the first day of the program (usually first or third Monday) to the last day of the program. If you arrive before the first day of the program and/or stay beyond the last day of the program, expenses will be the responsibility of the volunteer (usually $30 per day for room/food in hostel).

Room and Food

Where do I stay during one-week language program? Where Do I stay during volunteering program? What do I eat? Do you accommodate special diet?

In Sri Lanka, all volunteers stay with well-screened host families (in most situations this is with our in-country coordinator or local staffs). Our host families are socially respected and are well versed in the art of hosting international volunteers. Host families offer a safe home, private rooms (occasionally rooms will be shared with other same-gender volunteers) and shared bathroom facilities with running water and a “local” style toilet. You receive three prepared meals per day. If you will be out of the house during lunch hour, you can request a lunch "to go" that you can take with you or eat out on your own. Host families provide typical meals that are traditional to Sri Lanka. Rooms are shared, as are bathroom and kitchen facilities. For a small additional fee, volunteers can opt to stay in a modest seaside motel. Please note this preference in the initial volunteer application.

Throughout the volunteer project, our local staff stays in contact with volunteers with either face-to-face visits or via email/telephone and volunteers have 24/7 access to our in-country staff. With longer placements, we visit our volunteers every two weeks (when possible) and volunteers are always welcome at the local office. If project placement is local, we request that volunteers stop by the office once a week to keep us posted on how they are doing with their home stay and project. If project placement is very far, then our local staff members maintain communication by either email and/or phone.

Visa

IFRE requires volunteers to obtain a tourist visa before departing for Sri Lanka. Please contact the local Sri Lanka embassy to learn more about the proper steps to obtain a visa, visa fees and visa extensions. It is the sole responsibility of the volunteer to acquire your Sri Lankan tourist visa. Contact our American offices if there are questions beyond what the embassy can provide.

Health and safety

Being informed is your first defense against disease and safety risks. We recommend visiting some of the following websites for health and safety information:

WHO website for international travelers ( http://www.who.int/csr/ihr/en/ )

General Health Tips for volunteer in Sri Lanka

  • Drink only bottled or boiled water or carbonated (bubbly or fizzy) drinks in sealed cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes. If safe drinks are not available, you can make tap or other water safer by both filtering through an "absolute 1 micron or less" filter AND adding iodine tablets to the filtered water. "Absolute 1 micron filters" can be found in camping/outdoor supply stores.
  • Buy bottled water from respectable outlets to guard against upset stomach. Some of the better known brands are Bisleri, Kinley, Aquafina. Make sure that the seal of the bottle is intact.
  • Watch out for spicy dishes, especially at the beginning of your trip. Avoid eating food from road-side stalls. Eat unpeeled fruits and avoid fresh salads, especially in small hotels. If you are forced to eat food at questionable locations, make sure the food is cooked and served hot.
  • Always use an insect repellent if you find yourself in a mosquito laden area. Although Sri Lanka is not a very mosquito infested country, and tends to be pretty average for a tropical country with some mosquitoes (and some mosquito borne illnesses).
  • If traveling in extreme heat, remember to drink enough water, wear hats, sunglasses & SPF/sunscreen. Beware of the health effects that the mid day sun may cause, most importantly SUN BURNS and DEHYDRATION.
  • Be wary of spicy dishes, especially at the beginning of your travels. Stall eating is generally safe and some of the best food in the country can be found at inexpensive market carts. Check the tables, eating utensils, the hands (as well as the personal hygiene of the cook) to decide if they pay enough attention to cleanliness.
  • Pharmacies or chemists are available in every little town and village and you can buy over the counter medication. If you need to see a doctor, ask for help from your in-country coordinator or your host family. The cost of visiting a doctor is low (less than a dollar) when compared to western countries.
  • In Sri Lanka, most modern medicines are available over the counter in drugstores, but it is wise with any prescription drugs you require, bring enough for the duration of the trip. It is advisable that you carry a small health kit, which should include remedy for upset stomachs, some antiseptic cream, mosquito repellant, sun block, band aids, etc.

Vaccination

We use the Center for Disease Control traveler's health recommendations (www.cdc.gov.) Consult your travel doctor about current epidemics.

Entering Sri Lanka, vaccination against the Yellow Fever is legally required. Although, the requirement is only enforced on people traveling from infected areas like Central Africa and parts of South America, volunteers should consult a doctor regarding immunizing for Yellow Fever.

Other recommended immunizations for Sri Lanka travel include Diphtheria & Tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, Japanese B Encephalitis, Polio, Rabies, Tuberculosis and Typhoid. Volunteers should bring malaria medication in case of travel to a high-risk area. A basic personal first aid including bandages, medication and other should be packed.

Money Matter

What is the exchange rate? Where should I change my currency? Can I use my debit card or credit card? Should I bring traveler's checks?

Find the Exchange Rate of Sri Lanka Rupee (INR) http://www.xe.com/ucc/

The local currency is the Sri Lanka Rupee. Volunteers can exchange money upon arrival at Colombo International Airport. There are more than 10 banks in airport. Currency exchange transactions are monitored by the government and are based on the current day's foreign exchange rate. We suggest you change $200 in the beginning as you can change money in any bank (some banks are near to our office).

In Sri Lanka, credit card information is often stolen and used fraudulently just by paying with a credit card. For this reason, IFRE suggests cash and travelers checks to settle your bills. You will have trouble actually paying with traveler's checks, but you will be able to exchange them at local banks. Traveler's Checks are recommended as a safe way to carry money with you, make sure you write down the check numbers and contact information you need to cancel stolen checks. Different brands of traveler's checks work better in different countries so consult your local financial institution regarding which Traveler’s Checks to bring to Sri Lanka.

You can also carry a debit/ATM card that can be used at ATM's to withdraw local currency. An ATM card is the best way of getting money. Vendors are available in major banks and department stores in the cities. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted in some of the large stores and hotels in larger cities but not accepted in smaller cities.

How much money you bring depends on your personal spending habits. Thrifty people can get by on less than $10/day. Your budget should also include money to explore Sri Lanka in free time as well as for your personal use. A good rule of thumb for money management is the 1/3 method, bring 1/3 cash, 1/3 traveler's check and leave 1/3 of your money in your account - plus a credit card for emergencies.

Field Support and supervision

How does IFRE helps me when I am in the field? How can I maintain communication? Do you visit me?

Once your volunteer program begins, our local staff members stay in constant touch with you. We recommend that the volunteers stop by the office once a week, if they are staying/working in the local area, to provide feedback on their home stay and project. Many minor issues can be avoided with a just little extra communication before they develop into major issues. Projects have local staff members in addition to our in-country coordination staff. If your project is located a great distance from our offices, then our local staff communicates by either email and/or phone and visits every 2-4 weeks when possible. IFRE’s in-country coordinator is available 24/7 via mobile phone.

We are available for you at the local office via email and phone for your entire trip. It is our job to make sure that you are safe and healthy.

Communication

How do I communicate with my family? IFRE staff? Is there internet?

We request that volunteers bring a mobile phone. Once you arrive in Sri Lanka, SIM cards can be exchanged and the phone used locally. This is the perfect way to stay in touch with family and IFRE office in Sri Lanka. Internet Café's are available in Galle. Details regarding communication and internet are provided in personal placement documents.

Climate of Sri Lanka

Take advantage of the Web which can bring you current weather and forecasts for your destination:

Sri Lanka is in the equatorial and tropical zone and is influenced by the monsoons, allowing two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The difference of elevation also influences temperature variation; it is always hot in the lowland and it gets cooler when reaching the higher altitudes. The annually average temperature of the country as a whole varies from 26°C-28°C and dips down to 14°C-16°C in the Central Highlands. November to January is the coolest time of the year whereas February through May is the hottest period.

There are two monsoonal seasons in Sri Lanka, making its climate more complex and varied in different regions. In mid-May through October, the Southwest monsoon, called in Lankan language as “Yala season", brings moisture from the Indian Ocean, resulting in the heavy rains in the south and west coasts as well as in the Central Highlands. Some windward slopes receive up to 250 centimeters of rain per month. In this period, the northern and eastern parts of the island are left drier with a little quantity of rainfall as lying in the leeside. When it comes to the Northeast monsoon (" Maha season" in Lankan) which lasts from December to March, the moisture brought from the Bay of Bengal causes downpours in the Northeast region of the island. The northeastern slopes of the mountains may be inundated with up to 125 centimeters of rains during these months.

Source: Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Climate in Galle

Month

Mean Temperature o F

Mean Total Rainfall (mm)

Mean Number of Rain Days

 

Daily Minimum

Daily Maximum

 

 

Jan

73.0

84.2

85.1

8

Feb

73.4

84.2

70.5

6

Mar

75.0

85.8

111.3

9

Apr

76.6

87.1

206.8

12

May

77.9

87.1

290.4

16

Jun

77.4

85.6

188.2

17

Jul

76.6

84.2

163.2

16

Aug

76.5

83.5

185.9

16

Sep

76.5

83.1

255.8

18

Oct

75.4

83.3

322.7

18

Nov

74.3

83.7

321.0

16

Dec

73.6

84.4

176.9

12

Materials to Bring

Most of stuffs of daily use are available in Sri Lanka at a cheaper price. However, we suggest volunteers pack the following things.

  • Camera
  • Mobile phone (you can use mobile phone after changing sim card)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Mosquito repellents
  • Insect repellents
  • Sun-block
  • Working gloves (if you are joining conservation or construction project)
  • Some books about Sri Lanka
  • Map of Sri Lanka
  • Toiletries
  • First aid kit
  • Flash light
  • Electricity adopter/converter
  • Sun glasses
  • Footwear (for work and travel)
  • Towel

Gift for Host Family and Project

What gift should I bring for my host family and/or project?

It is a common courtesy to bring a small gift for your hosts. You are not required to do so, but if you choose to bring a gift keep it simple. We suggest a box of chocolates, a t-shirt with a hometown/country logo, pictures of your family and local post cards.

If you want to bring gifts for your project and if you are working for an orphanage or a school, please bring pencils, pens and paper, art supplies like markers and construction paper pads, as well as games for the children to enjoy. Remember that every child will need these items so you may wish to bring enough for a number of children.

About Sri Lanka

Tourist Information from Government of Sri Lanka : http://www.srilankatourism.org/

Geography

Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean , located to the south of Indian Subcontinent. Sprawling over the area of 65, 610 square kilometers, Sri Lanka with its tear-dropped shape is dominated by the astonishingly varied features of topography, making it one of the most scenic places in the world. Three zones can be divided by its distinguished elevation: the Central Highland , the plains, and the coastal belt.

At the core of the island is dominated by a high plateau in which several highest mountains of Sri Lanka are situated. Among them, the highest pinnacle is Pidurutalagala Mountain levitating at 2,524 meters of its height; Sri Lankan people consider this mountain as the sacred site of pilgrimage. The Adam's Peak lying to the west, at the southern end of the plateau is better known for its spectacular scenery and sacred pilgrimage site with its elevation of 2224 meters.

Then the land descends from the Central Highlands to a series of flat plains between 30 and 200 meters above sea level, dominating the east and the north of the island. Extensive erosion in this area has worn down and deposited the rich soil good for agriculture.

A coastal belt surrounds the island, consisting of scenic sandy beaches and lagoons. Best beaches line along the southern coast, southwestern coast and eastern coast. In the northeast and the southwest, the coasts cut across the stratification of crystalline rocks, cliffs, bays, and offshore islands, creating one of the world's best natural harbors at Trincomalee on the northeastern coast and a smaller rock harbor at Galle on the southwestern coast. In the northwest, Mannar Island which is joined with the mainland by a bridge is almost connected to the southern India by a long chain of sandbanks and islets called Adam's Bridge .

Rivers in Sri Lanka originates in the Central Highlands, near Adam's Peak and flow through the gorges, broad valley and plains and finally empty in the sea near Trincomalee, creating the different landscapes of escarpments, waterfalls and deep gorges. Most of the rivers are short and frequently interrupted by the discontinuities of terrain. The longest river of Sri Lanka is the Mahaweli Ganga River with it length of 335 kilometers. The upper reach of the river is wild and non-navigable while the lower reaches are prone to the seasonal flooding. The river is the most important water necessity for the irrigation system in the northeast region in which natural rainfalls are deficient.

Source: Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Art and Religion

As Sri Lankan population is composed with multi-ethnic group, the religion in Sri Lanka is inevitably diverse. Various communities in Sri Lanka recognize four of the world's major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The majority people of the country, the Sinhalese are adherent to Buddhism while other ethnic groups like Tamils, Moors, Burghers, and others practice Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, respectively.

Experts say that religion in Sri Lanka is syncretism bending elements of Buddhism, Hinduism and spiritual beliefs of indigenous people, creating then the uniqueness of religious character of Sri Lanka . Undoubtedly, religion became an inseparably integral part of Sri Lankan society; it is the basis of social management, politics, as well as the spiritual guidance represented as the caste system, laws, and other traditional rituals. The flourishing culture of the country throughout its history is a result of religion

Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Buddhism among other religions in Sri Lanka seems to be the most important as it was claimed to be the religion of the majority Sinhalese who hold sway the country's power. In Sri Lankan history, Buddhism has played the significant role in the establishment of Sinhalese kingdoms since the early times, dating back to over two thousands years.

The first confrontation of the Sinhalese king named Devanampiyatissaand Arhat Mahinda, the celebrated missionary of Buddhism in 306 B.C. (237 years after the death of the Buddha) paved way for the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka . The Arhat Mahinda was an own son of EmperorAsoka of India . The Emperor had completely converted to Buddhism and consecrated himself as patronage of religion. He intended to establish Buddhism in the island of Sri Lanka ,Arhat Mahinda was then sent for this mission.

When Arhat Mahinda came to Sri Lanka , he brought with him the Theravada canon or orthodox Buddhism,regarded as the most ancient sect of Buddhism using the Pali language unlike the Mahayana Buddhism which embraces Sanskrit. Arhat Mahinda preached the Buddha's teaching not only to rulers but also directly to common people, making Buddhist education spread out rapidly. Together, constant patronage of the succeeding kings allowed Buddhism to flourish throughout the island while the numerous religious edifices soon spotted the island. Among those monasteries, the most outstanding one is the Mahavihara monastery which became the historic center of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka .

Mahinda' s arrival in Sri Lanka marked the significant development of Sri Lankan culture; he brought about not only a new religion, but also the whole civilization of Buddhist India, be it arts, architecture, and literature. Not only culture which was graced by Buddhism, political ideology based on Buddhism had, through the course of times, embedded in the island so profoundly as well. Since the time of King Devanampiyatissa , the political state and Buddhism has been merged together according to the adoption of Asoka' s strategy. The religious and the temporal institutions were closely related to one another that the support of Buddhist monks was as indispensable as that of kings had to offer to the religion. The constitutional position of Buddhism became so strong that the act against the religious institution was treated as a high treason; meanwhile, kings conduct well to gain the monk's favor for the sake of peaceful and successful government.

Buddhism was regarded the highest ethical and philosophical expression of Sinhalese culture and civilization, becoming later the significant influence on national identity among the Sinhalese Buddhists. The consciousness of Buddhist identity of the Sinhalese was so strong that they claimed Sri Lanka belonged to the Buddha, and the Sinhalese people themselves were then designated to be the "protector of Buddhism" according to the most important chronicle of the early Sinhalese-Buddhist in Sri Lanka, Mahavamsa . Particularly, for the kings, they were the "head" as well as the "defender of Buddhism". The suitable king to assert the throne must be Buddhist, and he was responsible for supporting religious institutions while constructing and restoring monasteries and other Buddhist shrines.

In times gone by, the flourishing Buddhism encountered the great change from the foreign occupation which resulted in the savagely persecuted Buddhism and introduction of Christianity into the island. Despite that, the faith in Buddhism steadily grew at the same time of nationalism against the invaders among the Sinhalese-Buddhists.

The movement of nationalism made efforts to assert the Sinhala Buddhist identity and to legitimize Sinhala control over the country's polity by reviving many elements of the "origin mythology" to reconstruct an image of the Sinhala past. The chronicle of Mahavamsa was thus served as the testament of Sinhala rights to reestablish Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony of the island over non-Sinhala and non-Buddhist groups. With the ideology that the Sinhalese were the protector of Buddhism and that Sri Lanka was belong to the Buddha, the animosity towards the foreigners and other minorities was reinforced, leading to a discrimination against non-Sinhalese and non-Buddhist.

Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka itself can be divided into three different sects.

Siyam Nikaya(the Siamese order): In the 18th century, the official line of monastic ordination had been broken since monks at that time no longer knew the Pali tradition. The Kandyan king invited then the Theravada monks from Thailand to ordain Sinhalese novices; it was set up later as a reformed sect that enlivened study and proliferation of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka .

Amarapura Nikaya This sect was initiated by members of rising low-country castes discontent with monopoly over the monastic community by the upper castes in the 19th century. The sect was subsequently slit along the caste lines.

Ramanna Nikaya This sect was established in the late nineteenth century as a result of disputes over some points of doctrine and the practice of meditation.

Hinduism in Sri Lanka

Along side Buddhism, Hinduism is an important element in embodiment of Sri Lankan society. It is practiced by the Tamils in Sri Lanka whose origins trace to south India where Hinduism was predominantly practiced. Around the fifth and the sixth century A.D., the Tamil king from the south Indian kingdom named Chola usurped the throne of the Sinhalese Kingdom and conquered the island, leading to the considerable number of immigrants from south India into the northern Sri Lanka . Undoubtedly, these immigrants brought with them Hinduism to the island. During the reign of Tamil kings, Hindu shrines were widely constructed.

Unlike any other religion in the world which mostly holds monotheism, Hinduism endows a complex pantheon of gods and goddesses. A decentralized religion Hinduism is, it has no hierarchy of clergy and no supreme authority. Hinduism beliefs seem very complicated due to its countless gods and goddesses. However, the core of Hinduism is just simple; it believes in the only one "Supreme God", called Brahman. It is the "Supreme" in which every being in the universe originated; it is one unchanging and everlasting spirit. The soul or the "atman" of every being is part of the "Supreme". Gods and goddesses in Hinduism are also come from the same origin; they were only the attributes of the "Supreme". After death, every soul will reunite with this ultimate soul of the universe that means the ultimate goal of salvation.

Hinduism with the vision of gods and worship regained its popularity in 1000 A.D. after Buddhism has been in its prevalence since the third century B.C. Tamil Nadu State in south India was a major center of Brahmanical culture at that time, leading to the subsequent transmission to the Tamils immigrants in Sri Lanka Island. This type of culture strongly attaches to rituals and worship to the gods, also known as " puja ".

In Sri Lanka , there are several popular gods predominating in many myths, legends, and styles of worships. The major ones are:-

Vishnu : The preserver or sustainer. He is usually depicted with four arms holding a conch shell indicating spread of divines sound " Om "; a discus, a reminder of the wheel of time and to lead a good life; a lotus representing an example of glorious existence; and a mace symbolizing the power and the punishing capacity of the Lord if discipline in life ignore. He is much revere due to his utmost mercy and grace to his devotees. Whenever, his devotees are in difficulties, he descends to the earth in various forms of his incarnations to help them. His incarnations numbered ten, among which the Rama and Krishna incarnations are the most popular. He has a consort named Lakshmi, regarded as the Goddess of beauty and wealth. His vehicle is Garuda, a half-bird half-beast creature.

Shiva : The God of destruction is the second major Hindu Gods and the most important god among the Tamils in Sri Lanka . Shiva is symbolized by the lingam (phallus) which represents abundance. The Lord appears as yoga in meditating posture with a third eye on his forehead indicating wisdom, a serpent coiling around his neck, and a trident in his one hand. He has his vehicle as the bull Nandi. His consort Parvati can take many forms as well. His worshippers envisage him as a comic creator who will save those who pay him totally their respect.

Kali : Known as the "black one", Kali is the most fearsome of the Hindu deities. She is believed to be an incarnation of Parvati, Shiva's consort who provides Shakti, female energy. She is often depicted dancing on Shiva's corpse and garlanded with human skulls.

Ganesh : The elephant-headed god, a son of Shiva and Parvati is much adored among Hindus. He is worshipped as the god of knowledge and the remover of obstacles. In his fours hands, he carries rope, an axe, and a sweet dessert ball; his fourth hand extends to bless people.

Skanda (Kataragama) : The second son of Shiva and Parvati, Skanda is also known as Subramaniam Guha, Shadannana, Murugan, Kartikeya or Sanmukha . He is worshipped as the war God, equivalent to Mars or Ares in western mythology. Skanda bestows the spiritual powers, particularly, power of knowledge. Ironically, he is also regarded as a protective deity by Buddhist Sinhalese; they incorporated him with the battle in ancient times against South India 's Tamils.

Hinduism in Sri Lanka nowadays still exits along with the mainstream of Buddhist majority, the Sinhalese with little interaction. The Hindu shrines and temples in Sri Lanka are separately managed by the Hindu Tamils; the Brahmin priests still play an important role in directing the sacred rituals as ever.

Islam in Sri Lanka

Comprising 7 % of total population of Sri Lanka , Muslims and their Islamic culture have been the integral part of Sri Lankan society for thousand years. History records that Arab traders from the Middle East visited the southern part of Sri Lanka for their business and later settled in the island. The Muslim community in Sri Lanka came to its dominant growth by the 10th century A.D. Muslims in Sri Lanka has preserved the Islam doctrines derived from Arabia while adapting some social conditions of South Asia .

The religion of Islam was founded in the seventh century A.D. by the Prophet Muhammad who experienced a series of messages from God in Mecca , a trading and religious center of Arabia . The word islam in Arabic means "submission" or "surrender"; that means people who are adherent to Islam summit to the law and the will of the only one God, Allah.

According to Islam, the God is eternal, and he endowed both men and women with immortal souls. All human beings have only one life, and at death, their souls go to either heaven or hell depending on their behavior on earth. The decent behaviors for ascending heaven were determined by the God and were sent through his messengers (Prophet) who in turn revealed the divine will for people to follow. The religious text of Qur'an is believed to be the revelations of the God transmitted through Prophet Muhammad. The Qur'an is then not only religious text rich of theology and moral system, but at the same time includes a body of laws and customs for Muslims to follow.

All Muslims share a belief in the five pillars of Islam which are the basic duties: the recitation and acceptance of the Creed (Shahada) (by saying "there is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is His Prophet"; daily prayer (five times a day ideally) ; paying ritual alms (Zakat or Zakah) ; observing the fast of Ramadan ; and making the pilgrimage to Mecca (Haj) .

By the fifteenth century, Arab traders dominated the trade routes through the Indian Ocean and South East Asia . Many of them reached Sri Lanka , and decided to settle down in the Island, making them detaching from Islamic culture in the Middle East , their homeland. Although they still preserved the basic doctrines and Islamic law, they also adopted some local social customs, particularly language. Instead of speaking Arabic language, they adopted Tamil as their spoken language. Probably, Tamil was the language used widely in business and trade along the southern coast of India and northern coast of Sri Lanka during that time; they abandoned their own language for the matter of their trades. Hence, Muslims in Sri Lanka were not part of early Islamic society in the Arabian Peninsula , but developed in its own way under the different circumstances.

The community of Muslim traders was dramatically persecuted when the Portuguese took control over the Island in the sixteenth century. Many of them had to relocate from the southwest coast to the Central Highlands or the east coast, and still retained their religious identity separately from the other ethnic groups. The growing ethnic consciousness during the last two centuries resulted in the Islamic revivalism which appealed for their identity. The movement included an interest in the Arabic roots of the community as the basis of understanding the Qur'an and the separate schools for Muslim children. There emerged occasional agitation among Muslims against the government's attempts to regulate Muslim marriage and inheritance. So far, the conflict of Muslims and the other ethnic groups is still intractable.

Christianity in Sri Lanka

Christianity firstly came to Sri Lanka upon the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Under their rule, Roman Catholicism was spread out in a mass scale of the Island with many Roman Catholic schools for the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The missionary activities ran well, especially among communities on the western coast of the island.

With the attempts of the Portuguese to Christianize native people, Buddhism and Hinduism were severely affected. There were an increasing number of both Sinhalese and Tamils converting to Roman Catholicism, perhaps on one reason of social mobility.

When the Portuguese was driven out by the Dutch, Protestantism and the Dutch Reformed Church was introduced, coming to the prominence particularly in Colombo than elsewhere.

During the British Rule, more conversions could be seen among minor minorities as well. Christian churches were than the normal sight throughout Sri Lanka . However, due to the nationalism movement among the Sinhalese who held sway the political power, Christianity in Sri Lanka was somewhat restricted

Source: Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Festivals

Sri Lanka is one of the countries that are never free form lively festival a whole year round. Visitors will have an exceptional experience for witness its bright and colorful tradition of Sri Lanka if they stumble on the festive period. Most festivals in Sri Lanka are related to religion and depend on the lunar calendar, encompassing Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian festivals. Apart from the religious holidays, Sri Lankan people also enjoy their national holidays, proving well the entertainment -lover-mind of people in this country. The followings are some major festivals of each religion in Sri Lanka .

Buddhist festivals

Since Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist country, Buddhist festivals are more frequent. In fact, full moon day of every month is regarded as a religious observance for the Buddhists; it is called Poya Day . However, the main full moon days reminiscent to the religious important events are:-

Duruthu (January): The full moon day of January marks the first visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka . In memory of this visit, a procession consisting of well-decorated elephants, dancers, and drummers is held for three nights at Kelaniya (10 kilometers from Colombo ).

Vesak (May): This full moon day is a day of the great significant for the Buddhists around the world for it marks the Birth, Enlightenment, and Decease of the Buddha. The Buddhist houses on the island are decorated with bright Vesak lanterns. The alms halls offer free meals to passer-by and Buddhists go to temples or shrines for religious observance.

Poson (June): Poson commemorates the day Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka by Arahat Mahinda . There are processions held in many parts of the country in reminiscence to this celebrated Buddhist apostle who took Buddhism to the Island . But the celebrating centers on this day are at Anuradhapura and Mihintale.

Esala (July/August): July to August is a month of religious celebrations in several parts of the country, but the biggest and most famous is the Festival of the August Moon or Kandy Perahera at Kataragama in the eastern part of the country. In Kataragama, colorful processions are held for two weeks with an amazing "fire walking ceremony" to express respect and sacrifice to the God Kataragama, regarded the Warrior God.

Unduvap (December): This full day is a memorial day of Sangamitta, Asoka's daughter, who brought a sapling from a scared Bodhi Tree in India to Sri Lanka . The tree grown from that sapling still stands in Anuradhapura today.

Hindu Festivals

Hindu festivals also fill the festive periods in Sri Lanka with its distinctly colorful ceremonies, making the Hindu shrines across the country full of emanating faith and happiness of people. Major Hindu festivals are:-

Vel (July/August): This Hindu festival is held to honor the War God Skhanda in Colombo . The city's main streets are used for the magnificent processions of colorfully decorated chariots, accompanied by music and dance.

Deepavali(October/November): Also known as the festival of lights, Deepavali festival takes place in late October or early November. Thousand of oil lamps will be lit to celebrate the victory of good over evil and the return of Rama (the legendary character of the Hindu epic Ramayana, believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu) after his period of exile. Lakshmi , the goddess of wealth is worshipped on the third day of the festival.

Muslim festivals

Muslim community is quite isolated from other ethnic group, their celebration are not then displayed to public. Most of Muslim festivals are also closely connected to religion. The main Muslim festivals are the Milad-un-Nabi or the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in December, Id-ul-Fitr marking the end of the holy fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the Haj festival when Muslims make their pilgrimages to the holy Muslim shrine in Mecca.

National festivals

When it comes to national festivals, the most expecting, most colorful, and most vibrant festivals of the nation is the traditional New Year Festival. The festival is when the two major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka , the Sinhalese and the Tamils jointly celebrate this happy time, but in different styles according to their original tradition.

Although the conventional New Year is the 1st January, traditional New Year (Avurudu) of the Sinhalese and the Tamils occurs in the 13th or 14th April each year according to their lunar calendar. The precise days and times of celebration of the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year are determined by the astrologers. The auspicious time is marked by the entry of the Sun from the zodiac sign of Pisces (the last phase of the Sun cycle) to Aries (the first phase of the Sun cycle). The festive period continues for about a week. The festival also coincides with the end of the harvest season and the beginning of new season. People enjoy the brand new day of the New Year by cleaning their house, buying their new clothes, and eating special meal in a union of family members. Unlike the long, continual Sinhalese New Year celebration, Hindu Tamil New Year is confined to the first day of the Year and is over within hours

Source: Sri Lanka Travel Guide

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