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The Companion to Belief, Culture & Society in Sri Lanka


A, a


Abeysekera, Karunaratne

“Come mild wind and convey my sad feelings,” wrote Abeysekera. Ours too - for the poet song-writer, who died in his early fifties, in 1983, was a much-loved, much-missed literary and cricket all-rounder. Beginning his career at a jejune 20 years old, he went on to write the lines of well over 2,000 songs. His award-winning lyrics underwrote the careers of some of the island’s most popular singers; and called to mind a gentle, kinder world, where there was room enough for emotion, feelings – and, of course, love. “My eyes are closing, and your image alone is seen,” he wrote in one of his most renowned hits. His fascination with cricket won him a place as the first notable Singhala broadcaster on the subject, his agile creativity well up to the task of having to invent cricketing terms for actions then unknown in the Singhala language.

Illustration courtesy of the artist's Facebook Page.


Abrar Mosque

Claimed as the island’s oldest mosque, Beruwala’s Abrar Mosque dates back to 920 CE - but was brutally improved in 1986 by a Provincial Governor. Indeed, over the recent centuries, so much of the ancient mosque has been forcibly renovated that its tangible antiquity is more a whisper than a certainty. But its claims to a deep and real history are strongly grounded, for Beruwala, located on the SW coast of the island, is said to be the country’s very first Muslim settlement, established sometime in the 10th CE by a Somali Sheikh - Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn. A man much given to spreading the word of the Prophet to neighbours near and far, the Sheik was called "the most outstanding saint in Somaliland". The Sri Lankan Moor descendants of these early settlers make up the town’s majority population, and the masjid’s devotees, 3,000 of which can fit into its cool interior at any one time in answer to the shahadah, calling them in five times a day.

Illustration courtesy of the mosque's Facebook Page.



A historical Sinhala term for land that is granted to someone for the duties they render or the office they hold.

Illustration: A Sketch map of Kandy and environ in1815. Public Domain.



A Buddhist country with deep Muslim and Hindu traditions, Sri Lanka could never be accused of minimalizing religion. It is no surprise to learn that this was also said to be the country to which Adam fled when exiled from the Garden of Eden. If so, he may have experienced a sharp sense of déjà vu upon arrival - for if ever there is a natural environment akin to that described in Genesis, it must surely be Sri Lanka. Archaeological or documentary corroboration of the Adam-in-Sri-Lanka myths are, at best, elusive; but it is believed that he left a foot print on the top of the sacred mountain of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak). This is disputed by Buddhists who claim the footlike depression belongs to Lord Buddha. Hindus argue that it was left there by Hanuman or Shiva; whilst other Christians state it is actual a mark made by St Thomas.

But if his eponymous mountain has because a mildly litigious landmark, Adam can also claim the remarkable Adam’s Bridge, the causeway that links Sri Lanka to the rest of the Asian landmass. His association, post expulsion, with super large things is not surprising given that one of Allah’s hadiths have him at sixty cubits tall – some 27 metres high.

Illustration: The Angel of Revelation by William Blake.


Adam’s Peak

Few Sri Lankans, and fewer still visitors, have not taken the trouble to ascend Adam’s Peak, a 7,359 foot mountain in the south of the island, flanked by forest, home to elephants and leopards, glinting with rubies, and sapphires, and the source of three major rivers. So it is unsurprising that no less a tourist than Alexander the Great is said to have made a journey up the sacred mountain. It holds at its top a depression that is claimed by Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus, as – respectively - the footprint of the Buddha, Adam, and Siva.

Albeit somewhat late in the day, Ashraff, a 15th century Persian poet describes the royal visit, proceeded, he says, by obligatory orgies and partying, in his poem “Zaffer Namah Skendari”. A century before, the sweetly-named Arab explorer, Ibn Batuta (“son of the duckling”) describes coming across a grotto at the foot of the mountain inscribed with the word "Iskander," an Asian variant of the name “Alexander.” Fa Hein, a Chinese explorer, describes his trip uphill in 412 CE. and the Italian merchant Marco Polo mentions it in his Travels of 1298 CE. But long before this many a Sri Lankan king has made the ascent, starting with King Valagambahu who apparently discovered the famous footprint in around 100 BCE.

Despite being the country’s second highest mountain, its unique teardrop shape leaves it standing out from the surrounding mountains like a giraffe among a zebra herd, its distinctive shape immortalized in the “Sixth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor” in Scheherazade’s “Thousand and One Nights”. The engaging royal storyteller wrote of “marvels which are indescribable” and that “the mountain is conspicuous from a distance of three days, and it contains many rubies and other minerals, and spice trees of all sorts.” But perhaps what makes it most remarkable is the fact that it is respected as a place of pilgrimage for all the important religions on the island; and has been trouble-free for nearly its entire history.

Three paths lead to the top – the Ratnapura route, the Kuruwita route and the Hatton route. The pilgrim climb, regarded by all as exceptionally meritorious, takes several long hours, and is usually scheduled between December to April, a reliably dry period. More reckless pilgrims visit it out of season, battling heavy rain, extreme wind, and thick mist, more in search of rescue parties than God. The aim of all pilgrims to get to the top just before daybreak so as to witness a glorious sunrise prior to carrying out an variety of religious rites. It is not place for hermits: on weekends it is estimated that 20,000 people make the challenging ascent and up to five people a season die on the journey.

Illustration: A photograph by Unbekannt of Adam's Peak taken in 1926. Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for the chief officer in the Kandyan kingdom. The official was referred to as the first adigar or mahadigar, and took precedence over all other chiefs in the kingdom.

Illustration courtsey of Todd White Art Photography.


Adisham Hall

A comforting cross between the architectural outreaches of Kent’s Leeds Castle; and a cosy Cotswold Cottage, Adisham Hall overlooks the tea plantations around Haputale. Built in 1931, and standing proudly in a gentle time warp created by its architects R. Booth and F. Webster, it is as if the hit song of that year, Noël Coward’s "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" could still be heard drifting down its long green driveway. The house was built by Sir Thomas Villiers, a descendant of Lord John Russell, one of Britain’s most reforming prime ministers - but commerce not social enterprise ran in Villers’ veins – and he was to go onto become one of the principal businessmen of the colony. He retired in 1949, selling up and sailing back to England for the last ten years of his life. By 1963 his home had passed into the hands of The Benedictine Order and the house became Saint Benedict’s Monastery. Within its granite walls, many of the old rooms have been preserved, a Chapel created to house a chip of St Benedict himself; a shop set up to sell jams, cordials, and jellies; and inspirational quotations such as ”Lost time is never found again” dotted optimistically around its grounds and gardens.

Illustration: Adisham Hall courtsey of Diethelm Travel Sri Lanka.

Amana Bank

An Islamic bank founded in 2011 with over thirty branches in the country. At the time of writing, its company reports listed one billion rupees of customer deposits. It claims, “to conduct all its operations under the principles of Islamic banking,” to which end it has a Sharia Supervisory Council to provide advice. It is one of just twenty-four banks licensed to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Amana Bank.



As in most nations, magic and superstition are alive and well on the island, though perhaps not quite as strong as once they were. Integral to this are amulets – those varied charms that keep misfortune at bay. All too easily, demons are thought to manipulate weather, raise storms, direct lightening; determine droughts, or even a woman’s fertility.

The amulet is often a shell or a boar’s tusk enclosed in a case and containing a charm, engraved, or written out on a copper or gold plate or an ola leaf. It is worn as a bracelet or necklace – or even around the waist. The charm is weaponized by incantations. And in such a deeply Buddhist country as this, most children wear a 'Panchauda,' a gold or silver pendant decorated with the symbols associated with Lord Buddha’s life, with the charm incanted over an altar of flowers with incense burning all about. In Tamil Sri Lanka, many wear the Pottu – a mark on the forehead in red or black to protect the wear against the evil eye, a tradition which has also spread into many Buddhist families too. Similarly, the malign effects of the evil eye are also dissipated by animal teeth, cobra hood rings or horseshoes above doors. Prosperity and good fortune is more likely if you wear rings or bangles that enclose elephant hair.

But best of all – for protection against all life’s travails – is the Navaratna ring, made up of 9 types of gems:
Ruby (Sun);
Pearl (Moon);
Emerald (Mercury);
Red Coral (Mars);
Yellow Sapphire (Jupiter);
Diamond (Venus);
Blue Sapphire (Saturn);
Hessonite (Rahu, the ascending lunar position in astrology);
Cat’s Eye (Ketu, the descending lunar position).

And there are also a host of other more specific protection that can be turned to including shark’s teeth, to prevent muscular cramps when swimming; and a piece of iron in a child’s lunchbox to block evil spirits getting at the food.

Image courtsey of The British Museum.


Arankele Forest Hermitage

An illustration of an early 19th century drawing by Captain_Charles_Auber of the Arankele Forest near Kurunegala. Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for forest dwelling monks.

Illustration: Mahamevnawa Buddhist monk courtsey of wallpaperflare.

Arasanayagam, Jean

A renaissance woman who possessed formidably empathic talents, Jean Arasanayagam was one of the country’s celebrated band of Dutch burgers. Born in Kandy in 1931, she died in 2019, her literacy legacy largely drawn from brave, raw poetry that tackled, without the even a hint of pink romantic tincture or bravado, the country’s many tribulations, war, poverty, and loss. Her fiction was a much rarer gift, just as heart-stoppingly lyrical - and almost as gritty. Her most popular fiction is “All is Burning,” published in 1995, was collection of short stories drawn from the lives of Sri Lankans striving for some kind or sense and rationale during the terrible Civil war. Despite the book’s title, hope still, occasionally, shines. Similar themes were followed up in 2000 with “In the Garden Secretly and Other Stories;” and “A Nice Burgher Girl,” published in 2006, an atypical full novel and a most personal one at that, offering a glimpse of what it was like to grow up as part of a minority in old Ceylon. But sadly, much of her most compelling fiction is hard to find, let alone buy, including “Peacocks and Dreams,” “The Outsider,” “The Cry of the Kite,” and “Inheritance.” Perhaps someone, somewhere, in some distant gleaming corporate publishing office in New York or London, could put this to right by sprinkling the most modest of this year’s profits on bringing back to print this much needed important backlist – just for the love of literature? Her poetry alone deserves it. “The Brahmin chants his / Pooja to the gods, camphor / And incense stream out / Of the stone door into the evening light,” she writes in “Other Poems,” truly a pioneer of Sri Lankan writing in English, who did so much to place it on the global literary map.

Image courtsey of Barefoot.

Arudpragasam, Anuk

Reading one of Anuk Arudpragasam’s novels is a like being a fly on the wall above two lovers, or a grandson and his grandmother. His prose is full of intimate currents, so laden with inheritance and family, love, and disposition, and served up with such elegance and precision that it all too rapidly become a drug, better even than whiskey, cigarettes, and long tropical nights in far off places where lorises sing dark songs. Winner of multiple international awards, and translated into most of the more read languages of the world, his first two novels, “The Story of a Brief Marriage,” published in 2016 and “A Passage North”, published in 2021, are so Graham Green like in their shatteringly secretive complexity as to bely the fact that the author was barley thirty when the last of the pair were published. In his debut, “The Story of A Brief Marriage,” a young man caught up in the last bloody stages of the LTTE retreat, discovers that the only way to save a stranger, let alone himself, is to marry her. Five years later in “A Passage North” another young man finds two worlds collide when he heads north to help his bereaved grandmother just as his strangely aloof lover returns, rekindling the political activism they once shared. Despite coming from a wealthy Tamil family and shielded from much of the civil violence that destroyed the world where his family originally came from in northeast Sri Lanka his powers of empathy and imagination take your breath away. The New York Times notes that “Arudpragasam, who has a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia, poses essential, existential questions about how we should live in a world with so much suffering. What are our obligations to others, especially those, like Rani, who have been marginalized and oppressed? The novel offers one answer: We owe them our full attention.”

Image courtsey of Amazon.


Asala Perahara

A Sinhala term for a religious ceremonial procession or important ritual.

Illustration courtsey of



In Sri Lanka it is not just what you do that matters. When and where you do it is just as important. A standard, well-entrenched discipline, astrology is widely used to ascertain the most auspicious time for important events – marriages, housebuilding, elections, company start-ups, naming ceremonies and many religious rituals. The well-regarded Sri Lanka Foundation adult education centre is among many to offer certified courses in the subject, and you don’t have to look far online or down most town streets, ministerial offices, or state buildings to come across one happy to chart your course.

Doing things in the right place at the right time is a matter of great importance. To determine such auspicious facts Sri Lankans turn, almost to a person, to astrologers and fortune-tellers. The starting point is most usually the person’s individual horoscope. This is determined by detailing all the planetary movements over the person’s lifetime and then writing them out on a Tailpot palm leaf.

In this the signs of the Zodiac are of course known by different names:
Aries (Mesha);
Taurus (Vrshabha);
Gemini (Mithuna);
Cancer (Kataka);
Leo (Sinha), Virgo (Kanya);
Libra (Thula);
Scorpios (Vruschika);
Sagittarius (Dhanu);
Capricorn (Makara);
Aquarius (Kumbha);
Pisces (Meena).

Most of the corresponding rituals are based on times calculated according to astrology and often based on agriculture. And it all starts with Mesha, or Aries. New Year begins not at midnight, but at the time determined by the astrologers, and the Sinhala and Tamil New Year only occurs when the sun moves from Pisces to Aries. Its exact calculation set by astrologers a week or so after the start of the year but the key Vesak Festival, which marks the dawn of the Buddhist new year, comes at least another month later. With its focus on this sun (of central importance to a farming community), moving into Aries heralds the Aluth Avurudda Mangallaya – the new rice festival. During this, the first rice is plucked and processed and donated to the temple, especially The Temple of the Tooth. It is typically followed by the Punyakalaya – a period of time devoted to religious duties. This is known as the nona gathe or neutral period - a little gap between the two years - when one is best advised to be wholly preoccupied with religious duties, including cooking Kiribath.

Illustration: Lord Buddha's horoscope picture courtsey of



Past the occasional roadside shop, barber salon and office for Birth, Deaths, and Marriages, and almost lost in the jungle many miles north of Dambulla, the tiny village of Avukana hints at a more glorious past with its stunning 14 metre statue of Lord Buddha. Academics (as they do) argue about whether the statue is 5th or 8th century - but whomsoever wins that fringe debate, there is no argument about the sheer beauty of the piece.

The lofty standing Buddha is captured by his unknown sculptor making a gesture of blessing - but the way in which his delicate pleated clothing clings with astonishing realism to his body indicates that the sculptor was familiar with two key regional art movements - the naturalistic Hellenistic Gandhara school, and the more sensuous Amaravati school. There is - in such records as do exist – a tantalising hint as to its creator. A mere 15 kilometres away, at Sasseruwa, stands an almost exact copy of this statue – almost, but not quite as good; and one fatally left unfinished. The local villagers tell of a competition between a master sculptor and his pupil to finish the commission first; and the master won. Sadly, as the two statues are at least 400 years apart in age, this lovely tale could only have some residual truth in a parallel universe – but it amply shows how rich and ready are local folk tales to help fill in the many gaps in the island’s long and sometimes impenetrable history.

Illustration: the Avukana Buddha statue courtsey of


B, b


As close to each other as the bark is to the tree trunk, or best friends forever, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsery of Men's Tattoos.



An historical Sinhala term for tax.

Illustration: The Hammillava Rock Inscription No 144 Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol II- S Paranavitane during the period of King Mahasen (277-304 CE). This early record ends with the sentence ‘ This is a legal enactment has been promulgated and recorded, having had it written on stone’. The line of this inscription mentions a Maha[ Ka]laka nakara [A revenue agency]. The lines regulate briefly an accounting system. Image courtsey of sirimunasiha.files.

Bank of Ceylon

Indefatigably dedicated to the daily task of proving that Soviet era customer care and service are not yet dead, the Bank of Ceylon is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. It is also its largest bank and one of the largest businesses on the island, with an asset base of more than three trillion rupees. With over six hundred branches, an online service that would defeat Bill Gates, an unshakable faith in form-filling, paper-circulation and closing early, it is also a useful tool for many a Finance Minister, and has, so far, and not unsurprisingly, successfully resisted all calls for the sort of privatization that its future salvation most needs.

Image courtsey of Bank of Ceylon.

Bank of China

The Bank of China has but one branch in Sri Lanka – in Colombo, largely set up it seems to better service China’s much gossiped about financial interests in the country. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka and one of five that coyly offers up[ but a single branch presence. Reading perpendicular Lushi poetry written to the literary standards of Han Dynasty Yuefu verse presents a task marginally simpler than deciphering one of its balance sheet.

Image courtsey of


Like biblical flowers of the field, the island’s banks are a profitable wonder to behold, with numerous independent bodies whose branches bloom like mangos in the remotest of places. Awash with credit cards, loans, savings, deposit and current accounts and numerous other financial services, including Byzantine online facilities, banks are part of the great glue that makes the country work. Some, such as the Hatton National Bank and the Commercial Bank, are keen and efficient. Others, like the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank are entrenched state-owned piggy banks whose colossal reach is slowly being eroded by nimbler competitors. A quarter of the twenty four banks licenced to provide commercial banking have but a single branch in the country, mysterious flag flying redoubts often located in the more agreeable office blocks. A further fifth own to just five or so branches per bank. The most networked eight banks share between them almost two and a half thousand branches – roughly one branch every twenty six square miles of Sri Lanka, a density that would make most Westerners envious as they witness the gradual evaporation of banking branch networks burnt away by online services. The 2023 national bankruptcy that devastated the country - and remains a source of great pressure – led the Central Bank to note recently that the “the financial sector is likely to encounter significant challenges in the face of the current economic environment with the contraction in economic output, sovereign debt restructuring, high interest rate environment, tax revisions and high exposure of the banking sector to SOBEs.” Despite this, the banking sector emerged through the crisis with striking resilience, dexterously navigating it way through treacherous currents and giving the country as degree of robust security without which levels of hardship would have undoubtedly reached wholly intolerable levels. Nearly forty percent of the banks have been able to maintain customer deposits of over five hundred billion rupees a piece, with a several recording deposits in trillions on their glowing balance sheets. The Central Bank list of licensed commercial banks are:

1. Amana Bank
2. Bank of Ceylon
3. Bank of China
4. Cargills Bank
5. Citibank
6. Commercial Bank of Ceylon
7. Deutsche Bank
8. DFCC Bank
9. Habib Bank
10. Hatton National Bank
11. Indian Bank
12. Indian Overseas Bank
13. MCB Bank
14. National Development Bank
15. Nations Trust Bank
16. Pan Asia Bank
17. People's Bank
18. Public Bank Berhad
19. Sampath Bank
20. Seylan Bank
21. Standard Chartered Bank
22. State Bank of India
23. Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC)
24. Union Bank of Colombo

Image courtsey of


Basnayaka Nilame

An Sinhala term for the most important lay officer in a devela, a shrine of gods.

Illustration of Ruhunu Kataragama Maha Devale Basnayake Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dhala Bandara, courtesy of


Bawa, Geoffrey

One of Asian’s most influential architects, Bawa’s buildings radically changed the way in which people lived and worked, his creativity inspiring generations of new architects throughout the region to challenge and transform the built environment.

The Guardian puts it best: "Bawa's portfolio of work included religious, social, cultural, educational, governmental, commercial and residential buildings, and in each of these areas he established a canon of new prototypes. Early experiments in what was known as tropical modernism were tempered by a growing interest in the traditional architecture and building materials of Sri Lanka. This led to the development of an architecture that was a blend of both modern and traditional, of east and west, of formal and picturesque, that broke down the barriers between inside and outside, between building and landscape, and that offered a blueprint for new ways to live and work in a tropical city."

Whilst this observation sets out well the context for his achievements, it has yet to capture the liberating experience of moving about within one of his buildings. His city houses most typically centred around an inner courtyard, one wisely constructed to keep the focus personal - all the better to keep the foolish world at bay. Within its cool quite spaces, there is intimacy, peace; the space to think and live with minimal interruptions. The homes he built in the countryside, not least for himself at Lunuganga, enlist fields, plantations, hills and valleys as extra rooms, the built landscape opening out onto the natural one, a series of interconnected rooms that sometime only seem to end on the horizon. His public buildings were clean massive confident occupations of space, rooms opening into one another, breathing together like a single organic city, a lofty forest of light cement, glass, wood and plants.

A lawyer, who retrained as an architect, Bawa spent much of his younger years partying or studying in Europe, especially the UK. Independence in 1948 brought him more firmly back to the country of his birth. A Burgher mix of Sinhalese, German and Scottish, he came from that slim, rich impossibly lavish section of society that flared briefly with barely a care in the world until the ethic and political demons caught up on the country’s daily life enmeshing it in civil war and economic chaos.

As many of his contemporaries fled, Bawa stayed put, building first his own home in Lunuganga; and then an architectural practice that promoted his new vision of architecture - not just in Sri Lanka but in India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Japan, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore too. His homes in Bentota and Colombo magnetised all who had talent and originality, local or traveller; and his parties and gift for hospitality are still talked about today.

His parents must have done something right for both Bawa and his brother were not just both gay – but also hugely talented landscape gardeners too; and their adjoining country house gardens would put to shame anything better known in Florence, Oxfordshire or the South of France.

Should your week ahead look a little pedestrian, give it some purpose and take a trip round all his surviving Sri Lankan buildings.

The easiest ones to visit are his old office – now the Gallery Café which offers a heart-warming menu of martinis; his old home in Colombo - Number 11; 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Colombo 03 – now a museum, but one you can spend the night at; and his country house, Lunuganga in Bentota; also now a museum cum hotel. The balance of his surviving architecture is:

1948–97 LUNUGANGA GARDEN, Bentota. Open to the public.

1958–62 CLASSROOMS FOR ST. THOMAS’ SCHOOL, Galle Road, Colombo.

1960–61 HOUSE & SURGERY FOR DR ASH DE SILVA In Galle; a private residence.

1960–62 ESTATE BUNGALOW, Strathspey Estate, Maskeliya. By appointment only.

1959–60 OFFICES FOR AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION, Sir Marcan Markar Maw, Colombo.

1960–69 BAWA’S OWN TOWNHOUSE, 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Colombo 3. Admission by ticket.

1961–63 BARTHOLOMEUSZ HOUSE, 2 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3, now The Gallery Café.

1961–62 NAZARETH CHAPEL FOR GOOD SHEPHERD CONVENT, Bandarawela. Open by permission.

1961–63 FLATS FOR MRS. AF WIJEMANNA on Ananda Coomaraswamy Maw., Colombo 7. Private residences.

1962–64 HOUSE FOR CHRIS & CARMEL RAFFEL, Ward Place, Colombo 7. A private residence.

1963–65 HOUSE FOR LEELA DIAS BANDARANAYAKE, Mount Lavinia. A private residence.

1963–64 MONTESSORI SCHOOL FOR ST. BRIDGET’S CONVENT, Maitland Crescent, Colombo 7. By appointment only.

1963–65 ESTATE BUNGALOW FOR BAUR & CO., Polontalawa, By appointment only.

1965–66 CLASSROOM BLOCK FOR LADIES COLLEGE, Ernest de Silva Mawatha, Colombo 7. By appointment only.

1965–66 YWCA BUILDING, Rotunda Gardens, Colombo. A public building.

1966–69 STEEL CORPORATION, offices, & staff housing in Oruwela. By appointment only.

1967–69 HOUSE FOR PIETER KEUNEMAN, now a beauty salon, Inner Flower Road, Colombo 3. Access by permission.

1967–69 BENTOTA RESORT, Railway Station & Tourist Village, Bentota. All public buildings.

1967–73 BENTOTA BEACH HOTEL, Bentota. A public building.

1967–74 SERENDIB HOTEL, Bentota. A public building.

1969–70 PUBLIC LIBRARY, Kalutara. A public building.

1969–71 OFFICE DEVELOPMENT opposite Matara Bus Station. A public building.

1970–72 4 ROW HOUSES FOR FC DE SARAM, 5th Lane Colombo 3. Only two remain, both private residences.

1971–73 HOUSE FOR STANLEY DE SARAM, Cambridge Place, Colombo 7. A private residence.

1972–74 HOUSE CONVERSION FOR MR & MRS H.E TENNAKOON in Bagatelle Road. A private residence.

1973–76 NEPTUNE HOTEL, Beruwala. A public building.

1974–76 AGRARIAN RESEARCH & TRAINING INSTITUTE, Wijerama Maw., Colombo 7. Access by permission.

1975–77 NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MANAGEMENT STUDIES, Vidya Maw., Colombo. Access by permission.

1975–79 OFFICES FOR STATE MORTGAGE BANK, Hyde Park Corner, Darley Road, Colombo. A public building.

1976–78 SEEMA MALAKA ORDINATION TEMPLE, Beira Lake, Colombo. A public building.

1978–80 INTEGRAL EDUCATION CENTRE, Subodhi, Bolgoda Lake. Access by permission.

1978–80 HOUSE FOR LIDIA GUNASEKERA, 87, Galle Road, Bentota. Now a guest house.

1978–79 TOURIST POLICE STATION, Galle Road, Beruwala. A public building.

1978–81 HERITANCE TRITON HOTEL, Ahungalla. A public building.

1978–80 STAFF HOUSING FOR THE MINISTRY OF POWER, Sarana Rd, Colombo 7. Private residences.

1979 THE RATNASIVARATNAM HOUSE, Bhaudaloka Mawatha, Geoffrey Bawa, Colombo .

1979–82 NEW SRI LANKA PARLIAMENT, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte. Access by special permission.

1980–88 RUHUNU UNIVERSITY CAMPUS, Matara. Access by appointment.

1982–83 VOCATIONAL TRAINING CENTRE, Ladies College, Inner Flower Road, Colombo 3. Access by appointment.

1982–83 PILGRIMS’ REST HOUSE, Anuradhapura. A public building.

1984–86 STABLE CONVERSION FOR SUNETHRA, Bandaranaike Horagolla. A private residence.

1985–86 HOUSE FOR RICHARD FITZHERBERT, Dikwella, Tangalle. Now a guest house.

1985–91 House for Cecil & Chloe de Soysa. Off Dharmapala Maw., Colombo 3. A private residence.

1990 REMODELLING & EXTENSION TO SINBAD HOTEL, Kalutara. A public building.

1991–94 KANDALAMA HERITANCE HOTEL, Dambulla. A public building.

1991–95 HOUSE FOR ROHAN & DULANJALEE JAYAKODY, Park Street, Colombo 2. A private residence.

1995–97 LIGHTHOUSE HOTEL, Galle. A public building.

1996–98 BLUE WATER HOTEL, Waduwa. A public building.

1997-98 HOUSE FOR PRADEEP JAYAWARDENE, Red Cliffs, Mirissa. A private residence.

1997–98 HOUSE FOR DAVID SPENCER, Rosemead Place, Colombo 7. A private residence.

Illustration courtsey of David Robson.



A Sinhala term for a monk or priest in a Buddhist order.

Illustration of monks at Polonnaruwa, courtsey of


The flower that blossoms among the brambles, or the righteous stay perfect even when surrounded by corrupt people, a popular Singhala saying.

Image coutsery of CGTN.


It’s like asking for a bone out of one's body when someone is reluctant to do a favour, a popular Singhala saying.

Image coutsery of ABC Kids.


Braund, Allin

A British artist working in the middle of the 20th century. He was especially inspired by the sea and in his many semi-abstract prints conjures up its colours and movement. Born on the North Devon coast, he had spent most of his childhood by the sea. As an adult, in the Royal Marines in the Second World War, he served on Royal Navy ships in the Mediterranean and Ceylon

The illustration is one of eight lithographs known as The Sea Suite, published by the St George’s Gallery, in London during the 1950s and ‘60s. Image courtesy of the artist.


Buddha, Hand Gestures of

Even the most serene and pacific statue of Lord Buddha offers a dynamic lesson in the evangelising of fundamental Buddhist beliefs – but such insight is only readily available to those amongst us who can interpret the gestures he is pictured making with his hands and fingers. For if ever hands can speak, those of Lord Buddha most certainly do. There are at least 11 core messages encoded in such hand signals, known as “mudras,” some with the most subtle of further variants; and most, but not all, in common use in Sri Lanka.

Easiest is all the “Anjali Mudra” - a 1 on 1 respectful gesture of greeting, palms pressed together at heart level, thumbs resting on the chest. At the other end, and not for the faint hearted, is the “Uttarabodhi Mudra.” Here, index fingers touch and point up; all other finger entwin at heart level – a bold gesture of supreme enlightenment, brought about by connecting oneself with divine universal energy. This Murda finds its nearest cousin in the “Jnana” or “Wisdom Mudra” - thumb tip and index finger touching as a circle and facing inwards, representing spiritual enlightenment.

The most popular Mudra is probably the “Karana Mudrā,” made by raising the index and little finger and folding all other digits, to ward off evil, negative thoughts – and demons. And not a hundred miles away from this is the “Abhaya Mudra” – or “gesture of fearlessness," a pose made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, arm crooked, palm facing outward, fingers upright; left hand hanging down at the side of the body. In this pose, Buddha represents protection, peace, and the dismissal of fear. Popular too is the “Bhumisparsha” – or “Earth Witness Mudra.” Here, all 5 fingers of the right hand touch the ground, to symbolise Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree. The left hand - held flat in his lap - symbolises the union of method and wisdom.

The remaining 5 Mudras are more complicated, eclectic, or doctrinal - or, quite possibly, all three.

The “Varada Mudra” is a largely one-handed affair. Here, the left hand hangs at the side of the body, palm open, facing forwards with all fingers extended – a representation of charity and compassion, one finger each for: Generosity; Morality; Patience; Effort; and Meditative Concentration.

The “Dhyana” or “Meditation Mudra” is made with one or both hands resting on the lap and is a gesture of mediation made when concentrating on Buddhism’s substantial body of “Good Laws” and the attainment of spiritual perfection.

The “Vajra Mudra” symbolises the unity of all Buddhist beliefs, the erect left hand of the forefinger being closed into the right fist, the tips of both fingers curled together.

The “Vitarka” or “Discussion Mudra” has the thumb and Index finger touching, the remaining fingers pointing straight, the gesture reflected with both hands and indicative of talking about and communicating Buddhist teaching.

And last of all is the famous “Wheel of Dharma” or “Dharmachakra Mudra.” Here the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle that represents the union of method and wisdom. To really complicate (or enrich) things, the 3 free fingers of both hands are also extended, and carry their own separate meanings. The 3 extended fingers of the left hand symbolize Buddha, the Dharma (the doctrine of universal truth), and the Sangha (the Buddhist monastic order, of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen). Those of the right symbolize the 3 main tools for his teaching – namely: the Hearers - who practice the teachings they listen to and – after 3 lifetimes - achieve "small" enlightenment; the “Solitary Realizers” who cultivate merit and wisdom over a 100 eons to achieve "middling" enlightenment; and the Mahayana or 'Great Vehicle' - collectively, Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices.

Illustration courtsey of


C, c


Capital Punishment

An illustration from Robert Knox's book "A Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon" of an execution by an elephant, published in 1681. Public Domain.

Cargills Bank

Attached to the more famous Cargills Supermarkets, Cargills Bank was started in 2014 and has a little over 20 branches, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing, its last report detailed almost forty five billion rupees in customer deposits.

Image courtsey of Cargills Bank.


Getting cats to take roasted jak seeds out of the fire is when a person is used to serve the purposes of another, a popular Singhala saying.

Image coutsery of Spoonflower.

Chandran, Shankari

“Song of the Son God,” published first in 2017 by the outstanding independent publisher Perera Hussein, kicks off its shattering tale in 1932 Colombo as a boy hears of his beloved younger sister death, just as he witnesses the sight of self-immolating monk. Chandran’s novels are not for the faint-hearted. Like most things Sri Lankan, including the country’s vegetarian dishes, they are a mighty serving because the writer, like her peers, is utterly and thankfully unafraid to take on any subject, however vast or diminutive. By contrast, “Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens,” published in 2023, seems to evoke a calmer, kinder world – yet this quiet suburb of Sydney is home to the residents of a nursery home who recreate the many divisions and divided loyalties that are each one’s separate calling. And proving that form is no obstacle to talent, Chandran’s thriller, “The Barrier,” evokes a world laid waste by viruses and religious wars, a harbinger of what was just around the corner for us all. The child of Tamil refugees and part of the great Tamil diaspora so forlornly and wastefully despatched from Sri Lanka’s shores, Chandran was born in London in 1974 before moving to Australia and then again to London. Her fourth novel, “Safe Haven,” published in 2024, brings her back to many of the familiar and compelling themes of “Son God”.

Image courtsery of The West Australian.


Exchanging ginger for chilli – or getting rid of something bad, only to get gain something worse, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of kimchimari.


Set up in 1979 and with a single branch in Colombo, Citibank Sri Lanka, is a scion of the American bank and is one of just twenty-four banks licensed to do business in Sri Lanka, which it does with uncharacteristic inconspicuousness, one of just five or so banks that has circumvented the notion of branch networks.

Image courtsey of Citibank.

Clarke Sir Arthur C.

Born in 1917, when Zeppelins were still considered the future of aviation, Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1959, by which time he was already renowned as one of the most influential of space writers. His book, “The Exploration of Space” persuaded President Kennedy to send men to the Moon. His 1968 screenplay “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of those creations that will forever define and celebrate the century he lived through. A scuba diver with, at best, an intricate private life, he was just one of a handful of people to be awarded the Sri Lankabhimanya, The Pride of Sri Lanka, the country’s highest honour.

Image courtsey of Amazon.


Colombo Cricket Club

A photograph by Unbekannt of the Colombo Cricket Club Ground in 1912. Public Domain.



An historical term for an administrative division under Dutch rule; sometimes known as a commandery.

Commercial Bank of Ceylon

Publicly listed, the Commercial Bank is the largest private bank in the country and its third largest bank, after the two bombastic state-owned relics, The Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank. With two hundred and sixty-eight branches, it has a strong global reputation, and has been ranked among the top One Thousand Banks in the world for nearly eleven successive years. A child of various mergers and takeovers, it traces its history back to 1920, a depressing year that is otherwise most noted for the ending of the global Spanish Flu – and with it the lives of up to 50-100 million people. Its customer deposit base hit a record of over two trillion rupees in its last reported figures at the time of writing. Its reassuming professionalism makes it the pin up girl of the nation’s banking sector, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image coursety of Commercial Bank of Ceylon.


The whiteness of the crane appears only when it flies, a condition known to those who only realize the value of something only when it's gone, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of Etsy.



A painting (acrylic on canvas) by Lincoln Seligman of Cricket on the beach 2012. Image courtsey of the artist.


D, d


Set up in 1955, the DFCC is a state bank that has moved, like Mata Hari, into the public sector with a spaghetti-like rostrum of shareholders and a cosy, if complicated, relationship with government. At the time of writing, it had one hundred and thirty-nine branches and sees itself as “A Pioneer, Pathfinder and Trailblazer.” Its last records indicate that it has three hundred and ninety-two billion rupees worth of customer deposits. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of DFCC.



A Sinhala term for a religious structure built over a relic, most typically a dome shaped monument.

llustration of The Thuparama Dagoba at Anuradhapura, painted in 1873 byConstance Frederica Gordon Cumming.



An historical Sinhala term for the levy paid on water to the king or to other offices or people who owned the water.



A watercolour by Clive Wilson of Dambulla. Image courtsesy of the artist.

Deutsche Bank

Set up in Sri Lanka in 1980, Deutsche Bank has but one branch in the country – albeit in one of the more opulent office developments in Colombo. Although focused more on the corporate market, its purpose on the island remains a modest mystery but is remains, beguilingly, just one of twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of The



A shrine to Buddhist gods.



Villagers and villages attached to a devale, or shrine to Buddhist gods.

Illustration by the celebrated artist Samuel Daniell -of a village scene between Galle and Matura about Six Miles from Galle in 1801 ( bodycolour over graphite on paper). Public Domain.


Devil Dancers

Illustration of Devil Dancers from a hand-coloured photograph dating to 1900-1920. Public Domain.



A coastal village near Matara, Dikwella is a much loved by sea-seeking tourists; and by those moved by impressive Buddhist temples. The little settlement boasts an 18th century statue of Lord Buddha that is 160 feet high. The statue sits outside a temple, much enlarged from its earliest beginnings 250 years ago. The temple is unusual in the space it gives to celebrating, in uncensored detail, what happens to sinners who fails to follow the path of enlightenment. Being swan into pieces, boiled alive or merely disembowelled are just three of the options available.



A Sinhala term for the provinces of the old Kandyan kingdom, governed by a Disave.



A Sinhala term for the governor of a province belonging to the old Kandyan kingdom. The term was adopted by the Dutch for their maritime provinces; and was later used within the administrative hierarchy for native officials under British rule.

Illustration of A Kandyan Dissava and Priest of Boodhoo, John Davy (1821). Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for property that is granted to individuals employed by the state or its monasteries.



A sketch of a Sinhalese washerman in Kandy from 1898. Public Domain.


Durava Elu

A Sinhala term for the Singhalese caste of toddy tapper.


Durbar, Kandy

Illustration by Henry Payne of The Duke of York and Cornwall at the Durbar in Kandy in 1901. Public Domain.


E, e


The eel that escaped your hands is the biggest one –the greatest lost opportunity, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of The Conversation.


Emblem of Ceylon, The British

A variety of designs, mostly linked to the crown coat of arms, were used by the British in their government of Ceylon, before they eventually settled, close to the end of their occupation of the island, on a symbol unique to the country – that of an elephant, walking, as it had done since 1505 on the Portuguese Emblem, through coconut palms with mountains in the background.

Illustration: Public Domain.


Emblem of Ceylon, The Dutch

The emblem used by the Dutch to administer Ceylon was almost identical to that of of the Portuguese – featuring an elephant walking though palm trees with mountains behind. But they added a key new detail, one that fitted very nearly with their entire economic purpose of being on the island at all – a few bales of the ultra-valuable cinnamon crop that they harvested across the island. More interesting each sub district they governed had its own version of the heraldic arms. In Trincomalee a mercenary soldier from Java is included. In Mannar a plant, hedyotis puberula, cherished for its dyes, was adopted. A fort and a bridge dominate the shield of Matara; and a single fort the shield of Kalpitiya. Ships features on the symbols of Chilaw and Puttalam; and a clay pitcher for Negombo.


Emblem of Ceylon, The Portuguse

From 1505 to 1658 the flag that fluttered over Portuguese Ceylon was identical to the one that flew over Portugal itself, featuring 7 gold castles and 5 blue shields within a red shield surmounted by a crown. But the emblem they used to rule the country was very different, displaying and elephant walking though palm trees with mountains behind.


Emblem of Sri Lanka, The

National emblems differ from national flags in as much as they are used by the state to validate their administration of the country. Sri Lanka’s colonial overlords adopted emblems for the island featuring elephants that they ran alongside their national flags (or in the case of the Dutch, the arms of the VOC). But by 1972 the country has developed an entirely new Emblem, which is still in use today. It was designed by the Venerable Mapalagama Wipulasara Maha Thera, a Buddhist monk and artist and features the traditional lion of the national flag. The lion sits within a round frame of lotus leaves and rice grains, the Wheel of Dharma above his head and Sinhalese sun and moon symbols beneath him.


F, f

Ferrey, Ashok

If every there is an writer to carry your straight into the most private and convincing of all Sri Lankan lives, it is Ashok Ferry. Since 2003 his novels have appeared with – for the committed fan – an regularity that is way to slow, but nevertheless, as close to story tale perfection as it is possible to get. Pick up just one of these and you will soon have the others all on order from Amazon:

1. “Colpetty People” (2003) - probing, funny, loving vignettes about the lives of modern Sri Lankans as they navigate the world between Ceylon and the West.

2. “The Good Little Ceylonese Girl” (2007) - dark stories of love from Sri Lankans around the world – be they admirals, priests, or fake fiancées.

3. “Serendipity” (2009) - a comedy of manners where a young London barrister returns to Sri Lanka to take charge of her family’s share of the inheritance.

4. “Love in the Tsunami” (2012) - four fantastically funny stories about love, humiliation, and triumph.

5. “The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons.” (2016) - ‘I was born ugly. That’s what my mother always said.’ So begins the story of young multiethnic Sri Lankan living in a big family house on the mountain belonging to his father in Kandy.

6. “The Professional (2017) - a maths graduate and an illegal immigrant lives out an increasingly eccentric life on a building site before becoming a love god – of sorts.

7. “The Unmarriageable Man.” (2021) - Grief and love in Brixton, when every girl looks like Princess Diana but not every boy looks like Prince Charles.

Deeply personal, unregimental, and profoundly moving, his books are also extremely funny – satire and humour delivered like the bubbles of champagne, or even lion larger. Like a W Somerset Maugham for the modern world, his powers of compassion and identification, let alone of the ridiculous, are irresistible. What is even more remarkable is the convoluted path that Ferrey took to his craft –doubtless one during which he picked up more material than he would every have time to fully use. Though born in Colombo in 1957 and now living here once more, Ferry was raised in east Africa, and educated at a British Benedictine monastery school before studying pure mathematics at Oxford – a track that first and most profitably took him to become a property developer in Margaret Thatcher’s London. “One of my all-time great literary heroes,” he confesses, “is R K Narayan,” and it is clear that they are ever more indivisible.

Image courtsey of Barefoot.

Festival Calendar, The

Although most people, government workers aside, work on Saturdays, the annual work load is lessened by the fact that Sri Lanka probably has more public holidays than any other country. Taken together, they would add an extra month to the year. To the many Buddhist festivals, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim festivals have to be added – some long ago merged with ancient animist and agricultural ones. It is striking, though not surprising in so religiously-minded a country, that so many of the festivals are also public holiday, regardless of their religious origins. Here is a list of the thirty three most notable ones, each one an opportunity to lay a glittering happening on the otherwise workaday weeks and months of the year:

1. Patti Pongal. A Tamil festival ceremony for gratitude to cows that occurs in January.

2. Duruthu Poya. Occurring in January, this celebrates the first of the Buddha's visits to Sri Lanka – and the start of the three-month pilgrimage season to Adam's Peak

3. The Harvest Festival. A Hindu festival over 14-15 of January to celebrates Surya, the Sun god; Indra, the bringer of rains; and the cow. Observed mostly by Tamil farmers, it marks the first rice harvest of the year. It is seen as an opportunity for decluttering too and houses are cleaned and painted, and floors decorated with the leaves of fruit trees. Sweet rice is consumed in generous quantities and cow horns are painted, with some even wrapped in saris.

4. Duruthu Perahera. Taking place at the Kelaniya Temple near Colombo, this Buddhist festival commemorates the third visit of Buddha to Sri Lanka, with attendant elephants, torch bearers and dancers.

5. Independence Day. On the 4th of January large stands are erected along Galle Face Green for the country’s leading figures to sit and watch the armed forces march past.

6. The New Rice Festival. A Buddhist festival held in January at the Temple of the Tooth.

7. Medin Poya. A Buddhist festival in March that marks Lord Buddha's first visit to the island.

8. Maha Sivarathri. A Hindu festival in February or March to honour Shiva by fasting and all-night vigils.

9. Eid-e-Milad an-Nabi. A Muslim festival held in March to celebrated the birth of the prophet Muhammad.

10. Bak Poya. A Buddhist festival in April to mark Lord Buddha's second visit to Sri Lanka.

11. The National Oil Anointing Ceremony. Organized by the Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Ministry and the Ayurvedic Department and held in April, the festival is meant to ensure good health for the year ahead. Whether many people outside the ministry know about it is debatable.

12. Sinhala & Tamil New Year. Occurring on the 13-14th of April, the festival brings together Tamils and the Sinhalese to celebrate New Year. A cross between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and News Years Eve, it is a time for families, milk rice and parties.

13. Good Friday and Easter Day. A Christian festival with a movable date, held to mark the crucifixion of Christ.

14. Vesak Poya. The Poya held in May is the most important Buddhist poya of the year, cramming in three anniversaries: the birth, enlightenment, and Nirvana of Lord Buddha. Every possible structure is decorated and at night paper lanterns, some of titanic proportions, flicker with gentle lights. Food is shared in huge quantities; the devout meditate and fast and the last pilgrims climb Adam’s Peak.

15. Labour Day. Held on the 1st May and a traditional bank holiday, though given the generous closing hours the banks often give themselves, an extra holiday seems superfluous.

16. Remembrance Day. Held in May, the day has had a significant identity change since it was first created by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to mark the defeat opf the LTTE. It was then called Victorty Day. But within five years, Rajapaksa’s successor, President Maithripala Sirisena had it renamed Remembrance Day.

17. Ramadan. A Muslim festival held in June to mark the Prophet Muhammad visitation by the angel Gabriel.

18. Poson Poya. Held in June this is the second most important poya day of the year and commemorates the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE. Festivals are widespread – but most especially glittering at Mihintale where the event took place.

19. Esala Poya. Held between July to August to mark Lord Buddha's first sermon and the arrival of the sacred Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka.

20. Esala Festivals. Throughout July and August Esala festivals are held at numerous temples, the dates held like poker cards to the chest until the very last moment, but always guaranteed to reach a climax for the full moon. The most famous of these is the Kandy Perahera, a pageant that runs for ten days with elephants dressed in silk, dancers, fire eaters, whip crackers and contented priests marching through the narrow streets of the hill city to crowds of thousands. Notable too is the Dondra Perahera held near Dikwella in southern Sri Lanka, and the fourteen day long Kataragama Perahera centred around the multi religious temple of Kataragama and attracting Buddhist, Hindus, Muslima and the Vedda, many of whom will have pilgrimaged there from other towns, and all of whom will plunge into the Manik Ganga for the cleansing water cutting ceremony.

21. The Water Cutting Ceremony. Held after the last Perehera procession in a number of places on the island – but most importantly on the Menik Ganga. The festival is designed to purify the clothes of the god that may have been polluted by sex. Once the auspicious time is determined - usually early in the morning - the object of veneration is placed in the river, accompanied by priests and even elephants,. People gather just downstream of it to splash and immerse themselves in the water, some of which, they hope, may derive from the holy object themselves. Flasks are filled, and – at least in more agrarian times – the multiple would go home, confident that the harvest was all but guaranteed.

22. Munneswaram. A Hindu festival often also attended by Buddhists that is held in the 1st week of August near Chilaw and dedicated – not least by lots of fire walking - to the God Siva.

23. Nikini Poya. A Buddhist festival moistly observed by monks to kick start three months of fasting in memory of Lord Buddha’s death. It is also known as Vas or Rain Retreat.

24. Vel Festival. The central Hindu festival of the year which celebrates the god Kartikeya (also known as Murugan or Kandhan) with elaborate processions, which feature chariots and spears.

25. Binara Poya. A Buddhist festival held in September to mark Lord Buddha's journey to heaven.

26. Dussehra. A Hindu festival that symbolises the triumph of good over evil that is held over September/October to honour the Mother Goddess Durga’s victory over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura.

27. Vap Poya. A Buddhist festival held in October to mark the end of fasting and the Vas Retreat, and commemorate Buddha's return to earth. It is usually accompanied by Katina Ceremonies (the Month of Robes) when money is donated to monasteries to buy new robes for the monks.

28. Deepavali. The Hindu Festivals of Lights that marks the return of Rama from exile and the triumph of light over darkness. Many people, regardless of religion in Sri Lanka wish that the Central Electricity Board might pay a little more attention to the lessons that derive from Deepavali.

29. Il Poya. A Buddhist festival held in November to mark Lord Buddha’s ordination of sixty disciples to spread his teachings.

30. Hajj. A Muslim festival held in November to kick start the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

31. Christmas Day. A Christian festival to celebrate the birth of Christ.

32. Unduvap Poya. A Buddhist festival of great importance in Anuradhapura which marks the arrival of the sapling of the bo-tree to Sri Lanka from India.

33. The Hakma Dance. An annual Adivasi Veddha festival that lasts two days focused on protecting the community and wild animals from diseases and to ensure a bountiful of bee honey harvest.

Image courtsey of Best Sri Lanka Tour.

Finance Companies, Licensed

The financing of loans to individuals and businesses in Sri Lanka is a topsy turvy world, and was so even before the economic implosion of 2022. The island has a sizable history of bad debt that acts as a significant drag on the economy, and unsurprising the bar to granting loans is tortuous and set up to fail a large number of applications. Even so banks and finance companies continue to push out a snowstorm of advertisements offering just such loans. But they are evenly matched by the effort that also goes into securing savings deposits. All twenty-four of the commercial banks licensed to do business in the country participate in this market – as do over thirty finance companies who operate under a more restrictive licence to accept of deposits and lend money. At the time of writing, these include:

1. Abans Finance
2. Alliance Finance Company
3. AMW Capital Leasing and Finance
4. Asia Asset Finance
5. Assetline Finance
6. Associated Motor Finance Company
7. CBC Finance (previously known as Serendib Finance)
8. Central Finance Company
9. Citizens Development Business Finance
10. Commercial Credit and Finance
11. Dialog Finance
12. ETI Finance
13. Fintrex Finance
14. HNB Finance
15. Lanka Credit and Business Finance
16. LB Finance
17. LOLC Finance
18. Mahindra Ideal Finance
19. Mercantile Investments and Finance
20. Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka and Finance
21. Multi Finance
22. Nation Lanka Finance
23. Orient Finance
24. People's Leasing & Finance
25. People's Merchant Finance
26. Richard Pieris Finance
27. Sarvodaya Development Finance
28. Senkadagala Finance
29. Singer Finance
30. Siyapatha Finance
31. SMB Finance
32. Softlogic Finance
33. U B Finance Company
34. Vallibel Finance

An drawing by Christian Wilhelm Allers of a Moneylender in Kandy in 1898. Public Domain.


The man who has been beaten by a fire-brand dreads the light of even a firefly – the fate of a traumatized person eager to avoid anything even slightly similar, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of Ela Steel.



A pen ink with wash on paper illustration by Lincoln Seligman of Fisherman Sri Lanka 2015. Image courtsey of the artist.



A painting by Andrew Macara of Football in Bentota 1998. Image courtsey of the artist.

Freeman, Ru

Two novels mark out the current highly readable world of Ru Freeman, a Sri Lankan born in Colombo and now a well-known writer and activist whose name pops up regularly in The Guardian, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. Her first novel, “A Disobedient Girl,” published in 2009, tells the coming-of-age tale of Latha, who “ loved fine things and had no doubt that she deserved them…” Her second, “On Sal Mal Lane,” published in 2014 by Penguin, is set in 1979 Sri Lanka down a quiet street that will soon erupt in violence. Despite her modest output of novels her position is the literary world is in no doubt. Lorraine Adams, the Pulitzer Prize winner wrote of this her second novel that “Ru Freeman has written the masterwork of Sri Lanka's bellum civile, a novel that patiently and lucidly witnesses the daily lives of children on a single lane as the violence builds. There are no acronyms, no convoluted battles, no dreary expository detours. This is a civil war about a garden wall, a cricket game, a bicycle ride, music lessons, the shopkeeper that won't sell to you anymore and a teenager choosing between the house of one friend or another's to burn. It distils one of the last century's most complicated wars into what it really was on the ground--the everyday reality of that timeless threat, the neighbour turned killer.”

Image courtsey of Amazon.

Fruit Tree

A fruit tree attracts every kinds of creature – just likes success and wealth , a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel.


G, g



A Sinhala term for the Kandyan kingdom’s royal villages.


Gal Vihara

A photograph by an unknown English Photographer of the Gal Vihara Standing Buddhist Statue dating from 1870-90 . Public Domain.



An historical Sinhala term dating back to the earliest period of the Kandyan kingdom to denote a monk who had been admitted to a monastic order, but was not yet celibate.



A Sinhala term for a village council.

Gooneratne, Yasmine

To be an academic teaching English literature is an almost necessary condition to disqualify you from ever writing perfect novels yourself. Unless you are Yasmine Gooneratne. Thankfully, the angels gave her a long life – almost 90 years, in which she materialised as a poet, short story writer, a leading literary professor, essayist and novelist. Honours piled upon her for all she did, not least in Australia which was also her home. Despite being born into the Bandaranaike family, she had a profound sense of the whole glory of the island, not simply its Singhala heartland. She wrote only three novels. The last of which, published in 2006, “The Sweet and Simple Kind”, is quite possibly one of the greatest novels published in English about Sri Lanka in the past one hundred years. Set in the newly independent nation, this coming-of-age tale of two cousins, Tsunami, and Latha, intertwines with language and religion, politics and privilege, humour, and passion. It is quite simply not a book to start unless you are prepared to stay up all night long to finish it too. Her first novel “A Change of Skies” was published in 1991 and is a story of the diaspora told through an Australian lens. Her second novel, “The Pleasures Of Conquest,” published in 1995 comprises four stories about modern day privilege, and imperialism. Both are deftly worked books, but they pale into insignificance on reading “The Sweet and Simple Kind”, for, in her case, the absolute best was left to last. Excepting that is, some of her poetry. “And even the gone away boy/ who had hoped to find lost roots, lost lovers, / lost talent even, out among the palms, makes timely return giving thanks / that Toronto is quite romantic enough / for his purpose,” she writes.

Image courtsey of Amazon.



A Sinhala term for a caste of farmers, sometimes also known as Goyigama.

Gunesekera, Romesh

Since 1992 Romesh Gunesekera has rightfully won the highest and most successful of literary spaces for Sri Lanka literature across the world. Born in 1954 to a Sinhalese Christian family, he grew up ion Sri Lanka and the Philippines before moving to London. His career began in 1992 with “Monkfish Moon”, a collection of stories about people miles away from the island itself whose lives are most suddenly and utterly disrupted by it all the same. But it was his novel “Reef,” published in 1994 that really placed him dead centre for those who love fiction. “What did they do with the mango-stone I sometimes found in their bedroom in the morning? All chewed up and wasted; rubbed out like a rock smoothed in a desert, or a gift passed from one to the other over and over again, mouth to mouth. Mango for the skin? A body tonic? For the lips? A lubricant for them to live to the full the life of man and woman, or some weird object of shared desire?” The slow burn “Reef” is the story of a young chef so committed to pleasing a seafood-obsessed master, that he is oblivious to the unravelling of his own country. It is one of the island’s outstanding contemporary novels. “It's not what you do every day,” he writes, “but the thoughts that you live with that matter [...] That, after all, is the sum total of your life in the end.” “The Sandglass,” published in 1998, unfolds the mystery of two feuding families set in what one magazine called a “ heady mix of 1990s London and postwar Sri Lanka.” "Powerful—dense, cadenced,” is how The Telegraph reviewed his next novel, “Heaven's Edge,” published in 2002, a vertiginous thriller set in a fallen Eden – not unlike Sri Lanka itself. As if in search of less outside drama, “The Match” came next, in 2006, a story of exile, love and sadness across three continents and 30 years. “The Prisoner of Paradise,” published in 2012 followed, set in 1825 as a Miss Lucy Gladwell heads to Mauritius with her aunt, Mrs. Betty Huyton. Despite corralling the broody companion of an exiled Ceylonese prince to his tale, Gunesekera instead elects, much more brilliantly, to recreate a brutal hierarchical society, a melange of peoples, cultures, and race. “Noon Tide Toll” published in 2013 draws back on the ghosts of the civil war in a set of short stories about the passengers of a hired driver as he ferries his human cargo across the island. “Suncatcher,” published in 2019 and set in 1960s Sri Lanka is a poem of a tale –about two boys growing up and learning how the world really works.

Image courtsery of Reading Matters.


H, h

Habib Bank

A Pakistani based bank licensed to operate in Sri Lanka since 1951, Habib Bank has three branches and is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing, their last audited assets showed a modest figure of 17.8 million rupees.

Image courtsey of Habib Bank.

Hatton National Bank

Beginning life in 1888 amongst the hill station’s tea planters and plantation workers, HNB, grew to become one of the country’s top publicly listed banks, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing,, its most recent reports stated that it has one and a half trillion rupees in customer deposits. Efficient, personable and the winner of many awards, it should not be confused with HNB Finance, a company it grew out of the micro financing Grameen Bank and whose processes and competencies would try the patience of the long dead.

Image courtsey of HNB.

Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC)

In 1892, a year relatively hum drum in international terms (notable for being Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story), HSBC, then still a Chinese teenager, set up its first branch in Sri Lanka. Here, tea, not opium, fuelled its nascent prosperity. With worldwide assets today stated at well over ten trillion dollars, its global expansion has been breathless, though a far gentler cadence has marked its many decades on the island. With just thirteen branches, it has chalked up assets of over four hundred and fifty billion rupees at the time of writing. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Google Street View.

Housing Development Finance Corporation Bank of Sri Lanka (HDFC)

Founded in 1984, the HDFC is a building society that became a bank, albeit one still under majority government control. With thirty-nine branches and fifty billion rupees in customer deposits, it is unlikely to set the financial world aflame despite being one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of HDFC.

Hussein, Ameena

It is impossible to think of Ameena Hussein without also thinking of her genius of a husband, Sam Perera. Together they have done more than any other living creatures, mammalian, auralian or otherwise, to ensure that contemporary Sri Lankan fiction breaks through the gorgeous island shores that first inspired it. Most, if not quite all, the greatest Sri Lankan writers in print today owe to them a debt of gratitude for mentorship, guidance, advocacy, and often first publication too. Their publishing house, Perera Hussein, squeezed into part of a family mansion, the last in a street of once glorious Edwardian mansions, is an incubus of the best of Asia’s independent publishing and an inspiration for all other indies be they in Edinburgh Scotland, or any other Edinburgh from Ohio, and Cannda to Tristan da Cunha. This mission, great for the reading public, is less giving to those who wish to just read Ameena’s books. Busy as an editor, amongst so much else, her fiction is milled in slow exquisite grinders. But of the three adult fiction offerings now out, they have nevertheless been worth the wait. “Fifteen,” published in 1999, is a viby, sparkling collection of short stories about being young, relatively free and female. “Zillij,” published in 2009, digs far deeper, with a story collection revolving around identify and family, history, and the present in modern day Sri Lanka. But it was “The Moon in the Water,” also published in 2009 that brought all her passion and creativity together in a tremendous drama of love and maybe even forgiveness, about a women called back to Sir Lanka by a killing only to uncover still more terrible secrets. Like only the very best and most impossible creative people, she refuses to be pinned down to any genre or publication date - but given other works on erotic fiction, children’s stories, transgenderism, and a book in search of the fabled Moroccan Scholar Ibn Battuta, only the most foolish bookies would take a bet on the subject of her next publication

Image courtsey of PH Publishers.


I, i

Indian Bank

Dating bank to 1906 Madras (now Chennai), the Indian Bank has two branches in Sri Lanka – in Colombo and Jaffna; and what modest trade they do lies buried beneath reports of leaden opaqueness. Despite this, it remains, albeit enigmatically, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Balu Velachery.

Indian Overseas Bank

The Indian Overseas Bank has a single branch in Colombo. “Been here few times,” wrote one Mohamed A in a sorrowful online testimonial, “Silent - and doesn't feel like a bank at all.” Even so, the IOB remains one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Indian Overseas Bank.


Issurumuniya, The

An illustration of The Issurumuniya by Felse taken in 1926. Public Domain.


J, j


Save the remaining piece of jaggery without lamenting over the lost one, or learn to move on after loss, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsery of India Mart.


Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

An early 20th century French illustration of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

Jayatissa, Amanda

A sudden rocket across the literary landscape, Amanda Jayatissa shot to prominence in 2017 with “The Other One”, described by her friends as belonging to the "steampunk” side of si-fi. Enid Blyton was, she claims, her great heroine and in the bold and appealing story lines she creates, it is easy to notice some of the best albeit unexpected parallels. Compelling, commercial, and authentic, her novels pick the cream inherent in any genre to tell their tale. “You're Invited,” published in 2022, begins with a lavish Sri Lankan wedding celebration that not everyone will survive. “My Sweet Girl,” published in 2021 begins with a dead and disappearing body in an overpriced San Francisco apartment, a thriller killer to read at one go. “Island Switch,” published in 2024 brings the Gothic (if ever more was needed) to Sri Lankan folklore, to tell the story of the daughter of a demon-priest.

Image courtsey of Publisher's Weekly.



Illustration by S Shepherd & C Bourne of Jewellers of Galle in 1872. Public Domain.



A 19th century French engraving of Jewish women in Ceylon. Public Domain.


K, k



A Sinhala term for a provincial secretariat.


Kachcheri Mudaliyar

A Sinhala term for a governmental assistant who helps or supports a government agent or the provincial secretariat.



A Sinhala term for the standard coins issued in the 1st and 2nd century CE by the Anuradhapuran kingdom. Also known as kahapana, they were made of various metals and so differed significantly in their weight.



A Sinhala term for the self-selected or appointed headman of a group of labourers in the plantation sector.



A Sinhala term for the Sinhalese caste of fishermen.

Karunatilaka, Shehan

"If a liar tells you he is lying, is he telling the truth?" The question, put out by Karunatilaka in his first novel “Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew” sets the moral landscape for most of his fiction. North, south, east, west – all are never where they are meant to be. For this Sri Lankan writer has done more than bring his country to the attention of the world, he has turned the genre of fiction itself upside down, most notably with his Booker prize winning “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” an epic satire about a dead war photographer, gambler and closet queen, whose afterlife obsession is settle the scores that settled him and release the evidence that will rock war torn Sri Lanka. No book in the past 50 years has been written with such horror, humour, satire, love, and sheer grip. It is a performance more than a novel; and most other books by most other authors strut like meek boffins in the park after this one. The clues were all there in his first novel, “Chinaman,” published in 2011 and missed by most of the reading public until he won the Booker. “I was waiting for my death sentence, when I made my decision,” he writes in “Chinaman;” “The last months of my worthless life would be dedicated to a worthy cause. Or at least a wordy one. Not world peace or cancer cures or saving whales. God, if he exists, can look into those. No. In my humble opinion, what the world needs most is a halfway decent documentary on Sri Lankan cricket.” “The Seven Moons” was first published as “Chats with the Dead” in 2020 but it took a new title and a new publisher to propel it to the top it so richly deserves. In 2022 he also released “The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises”. “It's a simple car bomb, and it's rigged to a busload of schoolgirls. No one knows it is there except for me.” And so it begins, a collection of stories that kicks off with a Sri Lankan president in the back of a London cab. A rock musician born in Galle and educated in New Zealand, Karunatilaka writes across all known and occasionally less known genres from advertising shorts to weighty features, novels to children’s literature and has gone on record as now living “in Colombo and Kurunegala with a wife, two kids, five guitars and fifteen unfinished stories.”

Image courtsey of Amazon.


Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

An illustration of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya taken by an unknown photographer in 1880. Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for a masked drama.



An historical Sinhala term for the administrative unit of a province of the Kandyan kingdom. It was later used under British rule to describe a revenue district, overseen by a Mudaliyar in low country districts or a or Korale Mahaththaya in upcountry districts.



A Sinhala term for the tax applied to erica nuts.

Kretser, Michelle de

An emigree Sri Lankan since her teenage years, Michelle de Kretser is now closely identified as a major Australian Sri Lankan writer. Since first publishing “The Rose Gower” in 1999, a romance-cum-thriller set during the French revolution, she made it clear that her theme was precisely whatever she wanted it to be, unbounded by any duty of heritage or paternity unless so chosen. Her second novel, published in 2003, ”The Hamilton Case” tells the story of a famous beauty "gone native" in the jungle, a girl who once danced with the Prince of Wales. Her utterly unpredictable and brilliant third novel, “The Lost Dog,” published in 2007, semes to be all about a professor searching for his dog in the Australian bush. Except that it isn’t. Her fourth novel, “Questions of Travel,” is a soulful narrative about two people enthralled by traveling, one a publisher, the other an unwilling tourist. In 2014 she released “Springtime: A Ghost Story” set with wonderful éclat in sunny, suburban Australia; but in 2017 she returned to the themes of travel with her novel, “The Life to Come”, set in Australia, France, and Sri Lanka. Her reception and rich success is also marked out by a brilliant track record of literary awards from across the known world.

Image courtsey of Amazon.


Kruys Kerk

An illustration by Cornelis Steiger of the interior of the church in Jaffna Fort, seen from the South side. Public Domain.

Kumarasamy, Akil

Kumarasamy may have only written two books so far, but she is heralded as “spellbinding; “ a singular talent.” Her first book, “Half Gods” was a collection of short stories focused on the civil war and carrying with every sentence profound moral questions that rarely dented the plot or got in the way of character. Her second book, “Meet Us by the Roaring Sea,” published in 2022 begins with daughter’s discovery of her mother’s body star-fished on the kitchen floor in New York. What follows is a complicated masterpiece described as leaving “dangling threads that go beyond the unanswered questions” that mount up, page by page. No easy writer, The Los Angeles Review of Books wrote that “Akil is an unpredictable visionary who is not afraid to try out new forms, genres, and practices,” but one, noted another review who is defiantly worth the trouble, not least because her ”quirky language and wit are dazzling.”

Image courtsey of Amazon.



In the blandest of terms, a Kumarihaami might be cautiously described as an elderly lady who enjoys considerable influence within her family and community. But this in no way captures the degree of social richness, and power - shot through with often obstinate and glittering eccentricity - that is a proper Kumarihaami. A cross between a dowager duchess and an exiled Queen, her word is law and her recommendations ignored at your very considerable peril. Nancy Aster, the Empress Dowager Cixi or the fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham in “Downtown Abby” are all good foreign examples. Sri Lankan examples today can be found in any town or village on the island. Or, better still, on the pages of many a contemporary Sri Lankan novel, not least Ashok Ferrey’s “The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons.”



A Sinhala term for dried fish, most typically sourced historically and in the present day from the Maldives as Maldive fish, and used as a key ingredient in many Sri Lankan dishes.


L, l



An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of Lace Makers in the 1890s. Public Domain.


Of what use is a lamp to a blind man; or why give someone something that they are not capable of using, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of The Deccan Hearld.



A Dutch term for the civil courts authorised by the VOC to rule over all land disputes.



A Portuguese term used in Sri Lanka to mean soldier or guard, and later adapted by the Dutch as lascorijn; and by the British as lascariin or lascar. In its original Portuguese sense it referred specifically to the local soldiers they recruited to overcome their chronic manpower shortages as they fought for control of the Kotte and Kandyan kingdom. Most lascarins were Catholic converts and they made up, numerically, the vast bulk of the Portuguese colonial army. They were notorious for abruptly changing sides, most sensationally at the Battle of Gannoruwa in 1638, a defining moment in the Portuguese withdrawal from the island which left just 33 soldiers alive from an initial force of 4,000. Under Dutch rule these soldiers were organised into groups of 24 led by two or three native headmen. Under British rule these soldiers morphed into ceremonial roles though some were retained as bodyguards for Mudaliyars, the most powerful native families.


M, m

MCB Bank

“What makes us stand apart,” states the MCB Bank, a Shariah compliant Pakistani bank set up on the island in 1994, “is our empathy with you, our customer, a deep understanding of your hopes and aspirations, combined with the ability and willingness to listen to you.” It has a single branch in Colombo, and, at the time of writing, its most recent reports state a modest eighteen billion rupees worth of customer deposits. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of MCB Bank.


Mada Idam

A Sinhala term for the muddy land on which wet paddy (rice) is grown.


Maha Mudaliyar

A British Sinhala term to denote the highest position in the native hierarchy of officials; most typically the chief aide to the Govenor.


Mahadatika Mahanaga, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty seventh monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 9 CE – 21 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne in 9 CE on the death of his brother, Bhathika Abhaya, Mahadatika Mahanaga was to rule with evident obscurity until his death, natural or otherwise, in 21 CE.



A Sinhala term for an epic poem.



A Sinhala term used in the Kandyan kingdom to name the Great Court of Justice.



A Sinhala term for death duties.


You cannot swallow medicine pills without letting the throat know, or rather you can’t hide the truth from yourself, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of The Welcome Trust.



A photogrpah from 1926 (photographer unknown) of the beginning of the stone steps at Mihintale. Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for a chief headman, most typically empowered under British rule as the administrator of a Korale, or revenue district.


Mudra, The Abhaya

Considered to be the most energizing of all Lord Buddha’s mudra, The Abhaya Mudra is known as the gesture of fearlessness, and is said to dispel fear, and invoke peace.

This hand gesture is formed with the right hand raised to shoulder height, arm bent and palm facing outward with the fingers upright and joined. The left hand rests down.

Image courtsey of Exotic India.


Mudra, The Anjali

For those looking to make an easy start on the Byzantium symbolism of the hand gestures of Lord Buddha, The Anjali Mudra is a perfect place to start. Press your palms together at heart level, thumbs resting on the chest – and you have done it, made a 1 on 1 respectful gesture of greeting.

Illustration: The Namaskara or Anjali Mudra, here depicted by a Tibetan Buddha. Image courtsey of

Mudra, The Bhumisparsha

Touching the earth, this mudra is formed when all right-hand fingers extend to touch the ground, so symbolising the Buddha’s Enlightenment. The upturned left hand on the lap signifies the union of skilful means, and wisdom.


Mudra, The Dharmachakra

Quite possibly the most complicated and involved hand gesture ascribed to Lord Buddha, the famous “Wheel of Dharma” takes a little bit of practice.

The thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle. This represents the union of method and wisdom. Next, the 3 free fingers of left hands are extended and symbolize Buddha, the Dharma (the doctrine of universal truth), and the Sangha (the Buddhist monastic order, of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen). So too the right fingers, which, when extended, symbolize the 3 main tools for his teaching – namely: the Hearers - who practice the teachings they listen to and – after 3 lifetimes - achieve "small" enlightenment; the “Solitary Realizers” who cultivate merit and wisdom over a 100 eons to achieve "middling" enlightenment; and the Mahayana or 'Great Vehicle' - collectively, Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices.


Mudra, The Dhyana

Best known as the Meditation Mudra, this piece of symbolic Buddhist hand gesturing is made with one or both hands resting on the lap. It envisages the practitioner meditating on Buddhism’s abundant body of “Good Laws” which can be used to attain spiritual perfection.

Illustration courtsey of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Mudra, The Jnana

One of Lord Buddha’s most winning symbolic hand gestures. Thumb tip and index finger touch as a circle and face inward. In this simple bit of symbolism, you have the signal for wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.


Mudra, The Karana

Bad day? Low self-esteem? Bothersome devils? Not for nothing is this hand gesture of Lord Buddha probably the most used and powerful. Raise the index and little finger and fold all other digits. In one sweep you have made the sign to ward off evil, negative thoughts – and demons.


Mudra, The Uttarabodhi

For those looking to play in the big league, the Uttarabodhi Mudra is one of the most profound symbolic hand gestures made by Lord Buddha. Index fingers touch and point up; all other fingers entwin at heart level. This is the gesture of supreme enlightenment, made possible by connecting yourself with divine universal energy.


Mudra, The Vajra

In this relatively dynamic piece of Buddhist hand gesturing, the erect left hand of the forefinger is closed into the right fist, and the tips of both fingers are curled together. Thus is symbolised, with inimitable simplicity, the unity of all Buddhist beliefs.


Mudra, The Varada

One of Lord Buddha’s more complicated pieces of hand symbolism, but well worth the study. Let your left hand hang at the side of your body, palm open, facing forwards with all fingers extended – and you have a perfect representation of charity and compassion, with each finger donated to a different virtue: Generosity; Morality; Patience; Effort; and Meditative Concentration.


Mudra, The Vitarka

A Buddhist hand gesture that has thumb and index finger touching, and the remaining fingers pointing straight, both hands occupied with the same action. Known colloquially as the Discussion Mudra, this artful piece of symbolism is concerned with talking about and communicating Buddhist teaching.



A Sinhala term for the Kandyan kingdom’s head of revenue, a title later used more widely under British rule within the colonial administrative hierarchy.

Muller, Carl

Muller is to Sri Lankan literature what John Galsworthy’s “Forsyte Saga” is to England or “The Godfather” is to New York. A saga writer celebrated for his wonderful trilogy published from 1993 onwards about the Burghers of Sri Lanka as told through “The Jam Fruit Tree,” “Yakada Yaka” and “Once Upon A Tender Time.” Born in Kandy in 1935, he was the first Sri Lankan writer to publish a book internationally, his path setting a clear road for all who came later. His trilogy unpacks a time when the world was golden, a kinder halcyon life that the later civil war would render almost unbelievable. He wrote several other novels, including a dramatic set piece story of Colombo’s history beginning with the ominous arrival of a Portuguese fleet blown off-course in 1505, which still ranks as one of the best books to settle down with before settling into Colombo itself. “Colombo,”' he writes, “is in the throes of an explosion. Its face changes continuously, its vices are legion, its future as yet obscure and its paths speak of sunlight as well as of shadow.…”

Image courtsey of Penguin.

Munaweera, Nayomi

Exhibiting a lyricism and delicacy that leaves her greatly compared to Michael Ondaatje, Munaweera, first published in 2012 by Perera Hussein is a brilliantly arresting writer, her first novel, “Island of a Thousand Mirrors” was best described by one critic as “prose you may want to eat”. Her second, published in 2016, was “What Lies Between Us” set in the glorious hill country of Sri Lanka and centred on the confession of a woman, driven a terrible past to commit a crime that is unforgivable. Or is it? “Hers are the sort of books that you pass onto friends and family, the sort you read again. The truths and sweeping histories that cradle her characters are addictive dreamscapes, exercises in imagination not quickly forgotten,” wrote one critic.

Image courtsey of Forbes.



An illustration of a photograph by Henry W Cave entitled "Ruined Cities of Ceylon, Moonstone Guardstones and Steps" from 1904. Public Domain.


N, n



A Sinhala term for a play that consists of song and verse.



A tiny pilgrim village – also known as Dalhousie – that is most useful positioned for those determined to climb Adam’s Peak. Its shops are full of such beneficial items as warm clothing and water flasks; and its name comes from the nearby Dalhousie tea estate whose ownership, though not noticeably Scottish, goes back to at least at a Mr F.G.A. Lane in 1885.

National Development Bank

Now a private bank, the NDB began operations in 1979 as a state-owned finance institution, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. It now has one hundred and thirteen branches. At the time of writing, its most recent report stated six hundred and seventy-two billion rupees in customer deposits.

Image courtsey of National Development Bank.


National Flag

The Sri Lankan lion became extinct some thirty-seven thousand years BC, but this has not stopped it dominating the current national flag. Quite possibly an earlier design of the lion flag travelled here as Prince Vijaya standard in 486 BC. It was used thereafter right across the country’s many kingdoms, including those of Sitawaka, Kotte and Kandy – but not by the Portuguese, Dutch or British colonists. It was returned to once again at Independence in 1948 when a simple design of a yellow knife-wielding lion within a yellow frame on a red background was adopted, the cornered decorated with Bo leaves.

Its current design dates to a significant revision in 1972; the lion then being joined by as many symbols as a metaphysical painting. Minorities are represented in the orange (Tamil) and green (Moor) stripe; and the yellow border (Malays, Burghers, Veddas, Kaffirs and the Sri Lankan Chinese). The Singhala occupy the overall maroon background. Four expectant Bodhi-tree leaves highlight the virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and self-control. The saffron border depicts unity. The lion himself is scattered with deeper meaning: intelligence (nose), purity (beard); a non-materialist outlook (front paws), hair (wisdom), and The Noble Eightfold Path (tail hairs). His sword stands for national sovereignty – but also water, fire, air, and earth.

In the height of the Civil Was, in 1987, individual flags were adopted for each of the country’s provinces. A golden bird, lion, and cobra feature on the Western Province flag, decorated with bo tree leaves and the four attributes of Buddhism. A lion with fig leaves dominates the flags of both the Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, and a lion with fig leaves and lotus flowers that of the Central Province. A buffalo with sun, moon and stars is displayed on the North Western Province’s flag; a swan on Uvas’; and a fish, lion and eagle for the Eastern Province. The flag of the North Central Province is noticeably different to all others, featuring the first stupa in ancient Anuradhapura and an image of King Parakramabahu the Great, from Polonnaruwa. A greater degree of abstraction characterises the flag of the Northern Province - blocks of red (Hinduism), white (peace), and green (agriculture) framed by a blue border representing the sea.

National Savings Bank

The National Savings Bank is a useful state-owned bank with two hundred and two branches and a cozy relationship with the sclerotic Sri Lanka Post and its 3,412 sub-post offices. Because it is bound by law to invest a minimum of sixty percent of its deposits in government issued and guaranteed securities, its 1.43 trillion-rupee deposit base has made it a piggy bank for the state finances. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. Its offshoot, the Sri Lanka Savings Bank, is also independently licenced to provide banking on the island.

Image courtsey of National Savings Bank.

Nations Trust Bank

Founded in 1999, NTB now has ninety-six branches and is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing, their most recent reports stated sixty-six and a half billion rupees in customer deposits.

Image courtsey of Nations Trust Bank.



A Sri Lankan Buddhist sect - also known, for its origins, as The Siam – that was founded by Upali Thera and located largely around Kandy.


Number 11

Hidden down the 33rd Lane that turns off Colombo’s Bagatelle Road is Geoffray Bawa’s private town house, a rambling architectural marvel and museum which, whilst not run as a regular hotel, lets out two rooms to visitors. With demand far outstripping supply, getting to stay there can prove tricky – but lucky guests then have the great good fortune of having the entire museum, with its gorgeous assemblage of curios and masterpieces, all to themselves once the day trippers have gone.

Image courtsey of The Geoffray Bawa Trust.



A Sinhala term for an operatic drama which contains a notable proportion of prose dialogue as opposed to just song and verse.


Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, The

A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate entitled "18th Hole and Club House Golf Links Nuwara Eliya Elevation 6200 Feet" dating to 1890-1910. Public Domain.


O, o

Ondaatje, Michael

“You touched / your belly to my hands / in the dry air and said / I am the cinnamon / Peeler's wife. Smell me.” In a field of exceptional talent, Sri Lanka’s Michael Ondaatje, stands out, a multiple award-winning novelist and poet whose novel “The English Patient” catapulted him to global recognition. Despite being seen as a Sri Lankan-born Canadian writer, The Guardian presciently observed that “the more you look, the more dizzyingly kaleidoscopic he seems to become: a Canadian citizen who remains profoundly Sri Lankan.” His first novel, “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid,” published in 1970, is a stunning recreation of the legendary outlaw’ life. Many more novels followed, interspersed with collections of other works including poetry. “Coming Through Slaughter” published in 1976, brings to life the jazz world of New Orleans but it was only in 1982 that he really touched on Sri Lanka with “Running in the Family”, a memoir, finely wrought as any fiction, of the elaborately rococo marvels of his Dutch-Ceylonese family. In 1987 “In the Skin of a Lion” was published – a compelling tale of a man in search of a vanished millionaire beneath Lake Ontario. The 1992 publication and later film of “The English Patient,” put him squarely on world’s literary stage, the novel populated by characters haunted by the enigma of a nameless burned man lying in a room of an Italian villa at the end of World War Two. In 2000 “Anil’s Ghost” came out, one of his most impressive works, a cornerstone for his tremendous reputation, a mystery set in Sri Lanka and riven with love and fear, identity, and antiquity. In 2007 “Divisadero” was published, a deeply private novel set around the hard rural outback of California. “The Cat’s Table,” published in 2011 is set on board a 1950 ship bound from Colombo to London, whose haunting passengers give three boys a journey that will live with them forever. “Warlight,” published most recently in 2018 is set in 1945 London – two siblings who appear to have been abandoned by their parents into the care of The Moth. “"I like to leave the door open,” he wrote – and do he does in books at once captivating, mysterious, and sharply accessible.

Image courtsey of Amazon.


P, p

Pan Asia Bank

Founded in 1995 and now with eighty five branches in Sri Lanka, Pan Asia is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing its most recent reports stated one hundred and seventy-one billion rupees in customer deposits.

Image courtsey of Daily FT.



A Sinhala term for a place of worship, most typically a Buddhist temple.



A Sinhala term for hereditary property, also known as pamunu.



A Sinhala term for the sub division of a korale, which is part of the administrative unit of a province.


Pearl Fishing

Pearl Fishermen - a 19th centuary engraving of the French School. Public Domain.


You pecked at the wrong tree, and got into trouble trying to do something hard, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of Scholastic.

People's Bank

One of Sri Lanka’s main state-owned commercial banks, the People’s Bank was founded in 1961 and now has seven hundred and thirty-nine branches. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing its most recent reports stated 2,565.4 billion worth of customer deposits. It has not been without those standard moments of excitement typical of many state owned enterprises when, in 2019, corruption and mismanagement led to a loss in excess of two billion rupees.

Image courtsey of People's Bank.


Don’t change the pillows to get rid of a head-ache, instead fix a problem by finding its cause, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtsey of UInited Pillows.


Pingo Carrier

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of a Pingo Carrier in the 1890s. Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for almsgiving.



A Sinhala term for a place of education that is attached to a temple.


Pitawala Pathana

A celebration of that most modest of all plants, grass, Pitawala Pathana is found in the middle of the island beyond the road to Matale and north of The Knuckles. Here, at over 1200 metres above sea level grows a grass no taller than 10 mm, across ten square hectares of thin soil. The resulting natural grassland meadows play host to only the hardiest and least demanding species including the rare Marble Rock Frog, so endangered as to be facing extinction full on, with little hope of a reprieve. For those who like their fauna and flora to be on the flasher (Versace) side, Pitawala Pathana will only disappoint; but if subtlety, utter peace, and the road less travelled is your beat, then it will have been well worth the journey to have come here.



A Dutch term to describe the proclamations of the VOC.


Police Vidana

A Sinhala term that most typically describes an unpaid village headman responsible for law and order


Porcupine Quill Boxes

A Victorian favourite made from ebony and porcupine quills, with occasional panels of now forbidden ivory, Porcupine Quill Boxes are the subject of fierce, secretive collectors for they are rarely if ever made today. They became something of a Sri Lankan speciality in the 19th century, with production centred around Galle, Matara and Matura. Given that the porcupine has some 30,000 quills and sheds them with alacrity, it leaves, in theory anyway, plenty to spare for artisan carpenters. It is the quills of the adult beasts that are used as those of the winningly-named infants, the porcupettes, are considered too soft.


You cannot drink porridge without getting some on your moustache - when two alternatives are equally critical, a popular Singhala saying.

Image courtery of kimchimari.

Public Bank Berhad

A large public bank in Malaysia, Public Bank Berhad has but one branch in Sri Lanka – in Colombo – and little discernible evidence of meaningful commercial activities or customer deposits. Despite this, it remains one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Public Bank Berhad.


Purana Village

A Sinhala term that for an ancestral village or a village that has a long and ancient history.



A Sinhala term the very earliest coins – small, oval, oblong and square - in circulation on the island until about the 2nd century CE.


Q, q


R, r



A Sinhala term from the Kandyan kingdom for the service due to a king or temple. Under British rule it came to describe compulsory service to the state more generally.



A small village famous for hosting the country’s longest road tunnel, a 738 foot long structure much feared by claustrophobics along the A5 Peradeniya to Nuwara Eliya highway.



A Sinhala term from the Kandyan kingdom to describe the chief of a district.



Illustration shows a sketch by Edward Lear of a view of Ratnapura from 1874. Public Domain.



An illustration by Pierre Sonnerat of " Ravana demon king of Ceylon" from "Voyage aux Indes" published in 1791. Public Domain.

Regional Development Bank (Pradheshiya Sanwardhana Bank)

A government owned bank founded in 2010, the RDB is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing its reported eight hundred and thirty-three billion rupees of assets lay scattered across a modest branch network.

Image courtsey of Regional Development Bank .


Rubber Tapper

A 19th century illustration of a worker cutting a rubber tree with spiral cutting. Public Domain.


Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, The

Illustration of a photograph of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa. Public Domain.


S, s



A Sinhala term for the Sinhalese caste of cinnamon peelers.



A Sinhala term for an unordained monk.

Sampath Bank

Founded in 1987 and now with two hundred and twenty nine branches Sampath Bank’s most recent reports stated a total of over one trillion rupees in customer deposits at the time of writing. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Sanasa Development Bank

Set up in 1997, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka, Sanasa is a bank modelled on co-operative lines and has ninety four branches on the island. At the time of writing, it last reported customer deposits stood at over one hundred billion rupees.

Image courtsey of



An historical Sinhala term for royal grants, most typically made by inscription on copper plates.



Picture this: a small road, cutting through jungle and hills far north of Dambulla , going nowhere special. In between rocky outcrops and volcanic tree roots lie the many scattered remains of stupas, moonstone entrances to lost sacred rooms, antique inscriptions, cave cells for over 100 hermetic monks; and the many linked buildings and structures for a substantial monastery.

Welcome to Sasseruwa, famous - when there was a collective memory for such things - for its massive (almost 12 metre) standing statue of Lord Buddha. It rises, dwarfed by a vast overhead rock canopy, unfinished, much weathered, but resiliently present, one in a style of increasingly few similar examples of rock-carved Buddhas left around the world since the Taliban decided to blow their own up in faraway Afghanistan. Once so important as to merit one of the actual saplings of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree; a meeting place for kings and armies, a sanctuary for the avenging Anuradhapuran king, Valagamba in the 1st BCE, Sasseruwa is today almost entirely forgotten.

Selvadurai, Shyam

Author of “Funny Boy,” “Cinnamon Gardens” and “The Hungry Ghosts,” the writer Shyam Selvadurai knowns enough about identities to ensure his novels are nothing less than magnetic. Born to a Sinhalese mother and a Tamil father, exiled to Canada, gay, funny, astute, ironic, his lovingly observed books are one of the reasons why Sri Lankan English-language literature is quite as popular as it is all around the world. But on first encountering any of his novels one is immediately faced with that rarest of all literary conundrums: can I sit down at one go and read them all? For that is what they beg, in tones both modest and addictive. Driven from his homeland after the terrible civil pogroms and riots of 1983 when he was just nineteen, it took him barely ten more years to burst back upon the consciousness of his country with “Funny Boy”, a novel described by leading critics as one that “keeps repeating with quiet conviction that the human condition can, in spite of everything, be joyful. You are not alone, it says to the reader, I understand you. I was there. I remember.” In 1998 “Cinnamon Gardens” came out, cementing in (not that any building materials of any sort were ever now needed) a reputation for effortless fiction with a story set in 1920 Colombo and the hatred of splintered families of the elite. The emotions found an (almost) kinder balance in 2007 with the publication of “Swimming in the Monsoon Sea”, a love story to electrify even the most cynical heart, when a teenage fisher boy falls for his Canadian cousin. When he published “The Hungry Ghosts” in 2013, it became immediately clear quite how unfair talent can really be – for this novel surpassed all before it with its depiction of a powerful Sri Lankan matriarch, a wily kumara hari with “an insatiable longing for land, houses, money and control”. And in the publishing of the 2022 novel, “Mansions of the Moon”, he took on with bold and winning subtlety the sixth century BCE story of Yasodhara, the wife and cousin of Lord Buddha. Not all writers make you long for even their next shopping list, still less another novel, but Selvadurai does, time and again. Though, interestingly, and in ways yet to be fully understood, he was most moved in 2016 when he discovered a new spider had been named after him: Brignolia shyami, a small goblin spider.

Image courtsey of Amazon.

Seylan Bank

Founded in 1987, and now with one hundred and seventy-one branches, Seylan Bank overcame so troubling an entanglement with the discredited and bankrupt Golden Key Credit Card Company as to nearly lose its footing on the living world altogether. It has since recommenced credible banking activities and, at the time of writing, its most recent reports state total customer deposits standing at five hundred and forty-nine billion rupees. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka. Its motto, if true, would mark it out as unique among banks worldwide: “The Bank that is Just, Fair and Consistent.”

Image courtsey of The

Silva, Nihal De

Nihal De Silva untimely death on 28 May 2006, by a land mine explosion at the Wilpattu National Park ended the career of one of the country’s rare and most talented thriller writers, winner of many awards and accolades. Sri Lank’s long agony or war and corruption was his most certainly too. His first and greatest book, the war story, “The Road From Elephant Pass” (2003) was also made into a film and together the two forms captured the times like little else, wining a place in the minds of all who followed the story of the LTTE Tamil woman and her Sinhalese army officer. “The Far Spent Day,” published in 2004, tells the story Ravi, returning to Sri Lanka only to be caught up political violence, the ruin of his family and home and the vengeance that this creates. Despite his early death, several more books were posthumously published including most famously “The Giniralla Conspiracy” in 2008. His obituarists rightly mourned the end of a man who wrote “courageously about political parasites and their terminal torture of a nation and its helpless masses..”

Image courtsey of Amazon.

Sindu, S.J.

Bornin 1987 in Trincomalee and now living in America, S. J. Sindu is a wonderfully impossible-to-place writer who has published a hybrid chapbook, gothic short stories, and a graphic novel as well as the two full length novels on which her dazzling reputation rests. The first, published in 2017, “Marriage of a Thousand Lies”, tells the very everyday family story of Lucky and her husband, Krishna, both gay. Humour loss, love, and the marvels of domestic life is the topography she so brilliantly recreates. The plot of the 2021 novel, “Blue Skinned Gods”, is one of futuristic magic realism when a boy with blue skin is born in Tamil Nadu, so kicking off a tale that travels from India to New York’s underground rock scene, encompassing all the best themes as it goes, from ethnicity to gender, love to faith. As one review put it: “Sindu's ferocious yet still eloquently accessible style pierces through the fog to show us slices of human nature at its core.”

Image courtsery of Amazon.


Snake Charmer

An illustration of a photogrpah by Alfred William Amandus Plate of Snake Charmers around 1890-1910. Public Domain.



A Sinhala term for a drama, with the story mostly enacted in mime by mask-wearing characters.


Sports, Blood

Illustration from a London magazine of the 1890s of Elephant_Shooting in Ceylon. Public Domain.

Sri Lankan Novels in English

As a home of outstanding literature, Sri Lanka punches way above its weight worldwide, with writers such as Shyam Selvadurai and Ashok Ferrey and publishers such as PH Books. Here are just nineteen novels to get you started. You will never look back.

1. “A Village in the Jungle” published in 1913 by Leonard Woolf.
“Anyone can be a barbarian; it requires a terrible effort to remain a civilized man.”

2. “Giraya,” published in 1971 by Punyakante Wijenaike.
“She placed a hand on Manel’s shoulder. I could feel those thin, strong fingers dig into my bones as if her hand was upon my own shoulder. I could feel the power of her will bending my will, breaking my strength like the giraya cutting arecanut into pieces. And she would get Lucia Hamy to sweep up the pieces that had once been an individual with a mind of her own, and hide them away in a drawer…… “

3. “The Jam Fruit Tree” published in 1993, the first of Carl Muller’s trilogy novels.
“And so she died, and the shrieks and wailings and the broken sobs of the men were terrible to hear. And only Sonnaboy, dry-eyed but with an ache in his heart that could not be eased, said, ‘Viva never came…Papa, Viva never came…He killed our mama, and he never came.’”

4. “Funny Boy” published in 1994 by Shyam Selvadurai – though you would be a fool not to stay sitting for “The Hungry Ghosts” too.
“I glanced at the sari lying on the rock where I had thrown it and I knew that I would never enter the girls' world again.”

5. “Anil’s Ghost” published in 2000 by Michael Ondaatje, the story of a cathartic return home.
“She realized now that she couldn't remember how many deaths there had been. After a while they all ran together, they all became the same death, the one that no one survived.”

6. “The Road From Elephant Pass” published in 2003 by Nihal De Silva.
“You say the Sinhalese attacked your family … but it wasn’t the Sinhalese nation was it? … It was a gang of men who happened to be Sinhalese … It has to do with confusing ‘all’ and ‘some’ in the minds of people. When you say Sinhalese are vicious murderers, you imply that ALL Sinhalese are like that. Surely that is not true.”

7. “The Hamilton Case” published in 2003 by Michelle de Kretser.
“I think he glimpsed, obscurely, that we were being written by the grand narratives of our age. Nationalism, empire, socialism, capitalism. It was necessary to choose between them.”

8. “Reef” published in 2004 by Romesh Gunesekera, a Sri Lanka’s version of Remains of the Day.
“When it is just yourself you can put things off, you can do away with things; when you have to serve only yourself sometimes you let yourself off: there are no obligations.”

9. “The Sweet and Simple Kind” published in 2006 by Yasmine Gooneratne, a family saga every bit as compelling as Downtown Abbey.
“It did not take him many years of observation to convince him that the cream of his country’s liars and lapdogs, its crooks and con-men, its time-servers, turncoats, thieves and traitors were to be found in its Houses of Parliament.”

10. “Mosquito” published in 2007 by Roma Tearne, an unexpected love story set amidst the civil war.
“Once you have been tortured, you can never belong in this world. There is no place that ever be your home.”

8. “The Moon in the Water” published in 2009 by Ameena Hussein.
“Now as he walked through the devastation nothing prepared him for what he saw. It was worse than a war. It was obliteration of entire communities. It was hundreds and thousands left homeless, destitute, and in shock. It was a disaster of Biblical proportions. Abdullah remembered a quote he had read in the Quran many years ago. We then opened the gates of the sky pouring water, and we caused springs to gush out of the earth. The waters met to effect a predetermined decision.”

11. “A Passage North” published in 2012 by Anuk Arudpragasam.
“He couldn't help thinking, as the train hurtled closer toward his destination, that he'd traversed not any physical distance that day but rather some vast psychic distance inside him, that he'd been advancing not from the island's south to its north but from the south of his mind to its own distant northern reaches.”

12. “The Island of A Thousand Mirrors” published in 2012 by Nayomi Munaweera, a war epic that leaves The Kite Runner in the shade.
“Below me the island glistens verdant green. I imagine all that it holds. Such things of horror and exhilaration as seldom gathered together……..”

13. “On Sal Mal Lane” published in 2014 by Ru Freeman.
“Ru Freeman has written the masterwork of Sri Lanka's bellum civile, a novel that patiently and lucidly witnesses the daily lives of children on a single lane as the violence builds. There are no acronyms, no convoluted battles, no dreary expository detours. This is a civil war about a garden wall, a cricket game, a bicycle ride, music lessons, the shopkeeper that won't sell to you anymore and a teenager choosing between the house of one friend or another's to burn. It distils one of the last century's most complicated wars into what it really was on the ground--the everyday reality of that timeless threat, the neighbour turned killer.” Lorraine Adams, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Room and The Chair

14. “The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons” by in 2016 by Ashok Ferrey”.
‘I was born ugly. That’s what my mother always said.” So begins the story of young multiethnic Sri Lankan living in a big family house on the mountain belonging to his father in Kandy.

15. “Song of the Son God” published 2017 by Shankari Chandran.
“They had once dug the earth for yams and planted seeds and prayed for rain. Now they dug for life and planted the dead and prayed for the end.”

16. “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” published in 2020 by Shehan Karunatilaka.
“You know why the battle of good vs evil is so one-sided, Malin? Because evil is better organised, better equipped, and better paid. It is not monsters or yakas or demons we should fear. Organised collectives of evil doers who think they are performing the work of the righteous. That is what should make us shudder.”

17. “Blue Skinned Gods” published in 2021 by S.J., Sindu.
“Ayya had done so many terrible things, but I’d always been taught that hate wasn’t an emotion gods should have.”

18. “Meet Us by the Roaring Sea,” published in 2022 by Akil Kumarasamy.
“You find a flowery weed in the backyard and begin to pluck the petals: 1. Have baby / 2. Don’t have baby / 3. Place baby in a basket and send it down the Hudson River / 4. Turn into an asexual, womb-less mythical creature / 5. Apologize to baby for your surprise at its existence and all these doubts.” Option six is unprintable in this paper. Option 7: “Have a baby but then you wipe your memory clean so then you too are a baby.”

19. “You're Invited” published in 2022 by Amanda Jayatissa.
“Is Kaavi dead? NOPE!
Does Amaya want to kill Kaavi? NOPE!
Is Spencer a decent guy? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!”

Standard Chartered Bank

Standard Chartered Bank is a child of the Victorian era, its Sri Lankan offshoot expressed through a handful of branches in the better parts of Colombo. It is typical of a British bank that has always looked east not west, with most of its income coming from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Its total customer deposits here are left modestly implicit but it remains one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Standard Chartered Bank.

State Bank of India

The State Bank Of India is India’s largest bank but its five Colombo branches are a sentimental throwback to the days when coffee powered the Sri Lankan economy. It set up here in coffee rush days of 1864 and now modestly pursues the usual activities of a bank no longer fuelled by the boom years that gave it birth, one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of State Bank of India.

State Mortgage and Investment Bank

Set up in 1931, the State Mortgage and Investment Bank is a relatively small bank struggling to break free of its home base in housing and agriculture in order to debut into the wider, richer world of consumer banking, industry, and manufacture. It is one of just twenty-four banks licenced to do business in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of State Mortgage and Investment Bank.



A Sinhala term for a religious structure built over a relic, most typically a dome shaped monument.

Illustration: A full reconstruction of the first stupa in Sri Lanka, along with its later Vatagage which was built over the monument. Known as the Thuparama Stupa in Anuradhapura, today only the stupa remains. The Vatadage structure reconstructed in this model in the main museum of Anuradhapura. Public Domain.


T, t



A illustration from 1892 by an unknown artist for Singer sewing machines. Public Domain.



Talpe is to Unawatuna what Greenwich Village is to Manhattan – a right-next-door sort of place well placed for partial release from the business of the main drag - its coral encased beach dotted with cafes sitting astride the outlet for the Koggala river.


Tea Pickers

A highly romantic illustration from advertisements of tea plantations in Ceylon in the 1960s. Public Domain.

Tearne, Roma

Aged just ten, Roma Tearne moved into exile to London with her Sinhalese mother and Tamil father in 1964. Forty-three years later, she was shortlisted for the coveted 2007 Costa Book Awards first Novel prize with her first novel, “Mosquito.” Since then, she has had little chance to look back, with novel after novel wining prizes, sales and reviews that would cause even a duchess to blush. “Bone China “ published just a year later is a story of escape as the once great de Silva family lose their capacious tea estates and look to desperately into the future. “Brixton Beach,” published in 2009 was her third great novel set when bombs brought London to a halt. In 2010 “The Swimmer” came out – a haunting romance about an illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka who has arrived in Norfolk to taken in hand and love by a women twenty years his senior. In 2012 “The Road to Urbino” was published, an art heist that stretches from Sri Lanka to London and Tuscany that depicts the destruction of the already wrecked and wacked lives of its desperate protagonists. Published alongside it was “The Dark Side of the World,” a set of compelling short sorties weaving Sri Lanka and England together in the world of people hungry for a better life.’ “The Last Pier,” published in 2015 looks back on a chain of devastating family secrets from 1939. Hope is a previous commodity in Tearne’s world, and none more so in her most recent 2017 novel, the dystopian “White City”: “every day when I stand on high ground and look towards the Tower, to where the river used to be, I see it melt a little more.”.

Image courtsey of Good Reads.


Temple of the Tooth

A watercolour by Clive Wilson of The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Illustration courtsey of the artist.



A Sinhala term for gifts.



Forty kilometres north west of Anuradhapura and now so far off the beaten track as to render it firmly backwater, Thanthirimale nevertheless has a most glamorous past. Some even claim it to be the long lost capital of one of the country’s very first kings, Panduwasdewa. Capital or not, it shot to fame when the daughter of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, the Princess Sangamitta, brought a sapling of the original Bo tree to Sri Lanka in 288 BCE. As the princesses disembarked from her ship and travelled south she paused for the night in Thanthirimale, and here the pot with the sacred sapling rested, through ‘rested’ is to understate the botanical energy of the little tree. The villagers insisted that overnight one branch grew separately out from the pot, and this they planted in their village, thereby beating by several days the claims of the famous Sri Maha Bhodi of Anuradhapura to have been the first and original plant sent from India.

As the centuries ticked on, and the terrible invasions that destroyed the Anuradhapura Kingdom erupted, the debates about the tree must have slowly fallen into silence; and all was lost. At some point in the 19th century the place was reidentified, and the ruins of temples and marvellous structures, ponds and statues were gradually uncovered. So too were special caves ear-marked for meditating monks of the 1st century BCE, and decorated with the sturdy scripted letter of Brahmi, one of the most ancient writing systems of South Asia.



A small village north of Trincomalee, Thiriyai is nevertheless more than worth a detour to - for nearby stands what is said to be the island’s first Buddhist Stupa, built to house the hair relics of the Lord Buddha. Constructed around the 4th century BCE by traders from the Pallava Kingdom, the temple, known as the Girihandu Seya, is surrounded by that rarest of architectural forms, and one unique to Sri Lankan Buddhism – a vaṭadāge. This circular structure was typically constructed around a stupa to protect and enhance it, carved with elaborate designs and ascending with concentric columns that supported a wooden roof. Very few of these still exist; that one does so from so long ago is little short of a miracle.



A Sinhala term for a register of land.


Thunhavul Land

A Dutch Sinhala term from the late 18th century that referred to Dutch land grants which mandated that a third of the land had to be planted with cinnamon.


U, u