Greeting with a friendly smile and a cup of tea, the people of Sri Lanka represent their 25,000 years of rich cultural heritage. The South Asian Island nation in the Indian Ocean offers awe-inspiring views of contrasting landscapes. Religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism mould the culture and demonstrate a rich blend of the interaction of diverse cultural patterns, both indigenous and derived from trade as well as western colonisation. The Cultural Triangle encompassing the relics of the Sinhalese Kingdom from Anuradhapura, the later capital of Polonnaruwa, and the revered cave temples of Dambulla are a testament to the country’s rich history and cultural diversity.  

Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka - Sheet1
Sri Lanka_©Joana Kruse

Tangible Cultural Heritage

1. Ancient Cities

Sri Lanka is home to many ancient cities declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These cities were once centers of political and religious power, and their ruins offer a glimpse into the country’s glorious past.


i) Anuradhapura- It is the oldest capital of Sri Lanka which lasted for an extended period as the country’s capital. It swiftly emerged into one of Asia’s great cities, with prosperous monastic complexes, hundreds of temples, and an advanced irrigation system when king Pandukabhaya chose it as the capital for the Sinhalese people. It flourished due to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that connected South and Central Asia with the Middle East and Europe.

ii) Polannaruwa – King Vijayabahu I, who defeated the Chola invaders, declared Polannaruwa its capital city. It is one of the finest examples of a planned archaeological relics site.

iii) Sigiriya – Situated on the flat top of the rock are the remains of an upper sky palace, considered the world’s eighth wonder. It has a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate and a lower palace that holds onto the slopes below the rock, and the gardens that extend from the base of the rock.                                                                                                                        iv)Kandy – The last capital of the Sinhala kings is now an important pilgrimage site.

Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka - Sheet3
Sigriya_©Dylan Shaw

2. Religious Sites

Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka - Sheet4
Statues of Lord Buddha_©Eddy Billard

Influential in spreading Buddhism, Sri Lanka has attracted Burmese, Thai, Japanese, and other primarily Mahayanist countries for millennia. The Temple of Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) enshrines the upper canine tooth of Lord Buddha. The sacred relic is worshipped daily, and the entire temple front is lightened up during the Perahera festival. The Golden Temple of Dambulla, one of the world heritage sites, has around 80 caves containing statues and paintings related to the life of Lord Buddha. Though Buddhism is paramount, the charm of the transcendental island known as “Lanka” for Hindu pilgrims cannot be underrated. The Seetha Amman temple is a typical Tamil temple where Sita was held captive and the circular depressions on the rock face are regarded as Lord Hanuman’s footprints.

3. Colonial Buildings

Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka - Sheet5
Galle Fort_©

Sri Lanka was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, and their influence is seen in the country’s colonial-era architecture. Galle was the main port at the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, having 14 monumental bastions. Even today, the fort bustles with life as visitors look at the Dutch bungalows in the street grid system. A world heritage site, it houses a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. Another fine example of a colonial structure is the Old Parliament Building. Built-in the neo-Baroque style, it housed the Presidential secretariat during British Rule. Facing the sea, the building astounds viewers with its magnanimity.

4. Intangible Cultural Heritage

Celebration of festivals in Sri Lanka_©

Predominantly dependent on agriculture and the tourism industry, Sri Lanka has its own tribal, ethnic, and modern social groups with their cultural trait of language, food, art, music, and festivals. Beginning with the Yaksha and Naga tribes, the culture of Sri Lanka is evolving over centuries.

Deeply linked to Sri Lankan folklore, the masks take on a functional role when they are used in healing rites and rituals. Mask carving and painting are hence revered art forms. Fabricated entirely on cotton or silk, crafted by hand, the intriguing designs and combination of hues on batik offer an in-depth look into the picturesque landscapes of Sri Lanka. The wood carving and coir products display skill and attention to detail. The making of traditional drums (Bera) and lacquer products are unique to this region. The Kandyan dance form performed by males focuses on vigor, powerful footwork, whirls, and leaps.

 Sri Lanka has a rich literary tradition, with ancient Buddhist texts in Pali and recent works in Sinhala and Tamil. The country has produced several internationally renowned writers. Culminating the use of various spices integrates the exotic taste of the country. It also has a long tradition of traditional medicine, including Ayurveda, based on natural remedies and holistic healing practices. The Sinhala, Tamil New Year, Vesak, and Diwali are the most celebrated festivals among many other colourful festivals celebrated throughout the year. From the bustling markets to the tranquil countryside, the sights and sounds of Sri Lankan life are a feast for the senses, each moment imbued with unique beauty. The people are a vibrant tapestry of diverse cultures and traditions woven into a rich and colorful society.


  1. Articles

Citations for websites:

UNESCO World Heritage Centre (2010). Sri Lanka– UNESCO World Heritage Centre. [online] Available at:

Embassy of Sri Lanka-France-World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka [Online]Available at World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka | Embassy of Sri Lanka – Paris ([online].Available at:’s%20cultural%20depth%20is,The%20golden%20temple%20of%20Dambulla

Citations for Magazine Articles – Print or Online:

Hansika Sachini. -Cultural Tourism in Sri Lanka[online]Available at:

  1. Images/visual mediums

1 Kruse Joana. (2018) A Mahut with his elephant at Sigiriya, Matale, Central Province, Sri Lanka, Asia


3_Shaw Dylan_Sigriya_

4_Billard Eddy(2019)_Buddha Statues_

5_Galle Fort_©

6_Celebration of festivals in Sri Lanka_©


Ishwari is a budding Architect who loves to explore spaces , cultures, and people. With the countless stories they express, she wishes to unfold them through her writings.