Cultural Preservation

Department of Fine Arts

Basic introduction of four main traditions

Adivasi Rituals and Cultural Activities

The Sri Lankan Adivasi or Aboriginal community is commonly known as Veddas.The term Vedda originates from the Sanskrit word vyadha,which means hunter. The Adivasis were originally hunters and gatherers. They are known as Wanniya-laettowhich means “forest-beings”. The Adivasis are minoritized indigenous groups in Sri Lanka.

According to popular myth, supported by the historical source of Mahawansa, the ancestors of Sri Lanka's current Sinhalese majority, who came to the island from North-East India in the 5th century BC, brutally destroyed the native Yakkhaand Naga population. According to this myth, the Adivasi people emerged from the offspring of the Indian price Vijaya and a Yakkha woman named Kuveni, while another source states that Yakkhaand the Adivasi are in fact the same indigenous people. However, this myth is refuted by main Adivasi groups in Sri Lanka andthey believe that their history goes beyond these mythical legends.

Traditional Adivasi settlements are in the hilly and heavily forested central part of the island.In the past, the Ratnapura District, a part of the Sabaragamuwa Province, was known to be inhabited by the Adivasi people since the name Sabaragamuwa was believed to have meant “the village of Sabaras” or “primitive forest dwellers”. Terms such as Vedda-gala(Vedda Rock), Vedda-ela(Vedda Canal) and Vedi-kanda(Vedda Mountain) in the Ratnapura district are examples for this. The Adivasis still live in some of the areas including Bintenne in Uva District, Anuradhapura District in the North Central Province, coastal areas of the Eastern Province; however, their habitat is shrunk and currently limited to the following eleven settlements: Rathugala, Pol-lebadda, Dambana, Hennanigala, Laggala, Nilgala, Dalukana, Sorabora, Dimbulagala, Kukulagala, and Vakarai.

Due to the introduction of government development projects and schemes, especially the Mahaweli development project in 1983, many Adivasi families were resettled in different places and as a result, they had to adapt to the changes in their traditional life style caused by settlements.

In his book, The Veddas,C. G. Seligman (1901) categorizes Veddas into three distinctive groups:

  1. Gal Veddas or cave/rock Veddas, living in caves and forests, associated with hunting and gathering;
  2. Gam Veddas or village Veddas, living in mud huts and associated with Chena cultivationand farming;
  3. Muhudu Veddas or coastal Veddas, living in coastal areas and associated with fishing, boating, etc.
Out of three distinctive groups of the Veddas described in literature, the first one is widely seen as the root for the remaining two.

The Culture of Sri Lankan Adivasi People

As an indigenous group, some unique features are visible in their culture. The so-called cultural identity can be seen in their rituals (Shanthi Karma), language, food consumption, birth and marriage customs and in arts. According to custom, the leadership of an Adivasi groupis passed down from father to son. The leader is selected by the elders of the Adivasi peopleand he should respect the rules of the clan and protect the people in the group. The present leader of the Adivasi community is Uruwarige Wannila Attho, who lives in Dambana.

The decisions making body of the clan is called warigasabhawa.The warigasabhawa is called by the leader of the Adivasi group, once a year. All regional leaders have to be present to take decisions and solve problems.

Even though there were 14 sub-groups or clans, only six groups remain at present. Sub groups are identified by their family names. These are:

  1. Uruwarigaya
  2. Thalawarigaya
  3. Moranawarigaya
  4. Unapanawarigaya
  5. Nabudanawarigaya
  6. Embalawawarigaya
These group names have been given to the Adivasi people, by taking their birth places into consideration. For example, if a child was born in an Uruwala(sty), he or she had been given this family name called Uruwarigaya.

Rituals and Customs

Worship of ancestral gods (Ne yakun) is the main ritual or shantikarma of the Adivasi people. To prevent and cure all diseases and injuries, people worship their ancestral gods with ritualistic performances accompanied by dance and music. Some rituals are performed annually and others have no specific period. Hakma dance, Kirikora dance,and Hangala dance,are the main Rituals of the main Adivasi group. All these ritualistic performances are conducted to ward off diseases, to make hunting successful, to acquire a bountiful harvest of bee honey and to protect their chena cultivation from wild animals. Aside from these main rituals, mantras are chanted to ward off evil influences of demons.

  1. The HakmaDance

  2. The Hakma dance is considered the oldest and most significant ritual in the main Adivasi group. It is performed as an annual event for two days. The main purpose of this ritual is to protect the community and wild animals from diseases and to acquire a bountiful harvest of bee honey.

  3. The HangalaDance

  4. This is also a ritualistic performance to invoke blessings in order to ward off diseases.

  5. The Kiri KorahaDance

  6. Kiri Koraha is a ritualistic dance performance practiced by the Adivasi group to invoke blessings from the Kukulapola Kiri amma,and Unapotha Kiri ammain order to increase hunts, to protect cows and new-born babies from deceases. In this ritual, the Adivasi people dance around a clay pot or the korahawith coconut milk extracted from scraped coconut. This bowl is kept on a temporary built wooden stand called yahana.While dancing, the chief priest chants mantras. One drummer plays the Daul (a drum) according to the dance. Then they invite all the nayakunto the yahana. It is believed that the priestis possessed once they arrive at the yahana.

    For this performance an open area is used. However, due to the popularity of this ritual, at present the Adivasi people perform this ritual on stage along with other performances, which are for the most part, commercially-driven. For example, at present the Kiri Koraha ritual is performed around the country as a way of promoting the Adivasi culture.


The language of the Adivasis is called the Vadi Bhashawa.The language is transmitted orally.
1. To denote tings and places, suffix " Pojja" is used

Vavpojja- Lake
Rukulpojja- Home
Bus Pojja- Bus
Tv Pojja- Television
2. To denote names of people, the suffix called " Athto" is used.
AmmilaAthto- Mother
AppilaAthto- Father
OyaAthto- you

As far as the structure of this language is concerned, linguists have pointed out that this language has a close affinity with the Sinhala language. The Adivasis have been compelled to use Sinhala language in social gatherings, whereas they use their language only in official functions within the clan.

The Adivasis living in coastal areas such as Vakarei speaks Tamil, as they have been mixed with the Tamil community and practice Hinduism.

Music (Songs)

The Songs of the Adivasis are known as Vadi Gee.All these songs are considered spontaneous creations of the Adivasi people. All these songs are connected with day to day activities. Lullabies, love songs, bee hunters’ songs, and mantras are commonly sung by the Adivasi people. The Adivasis use such songs and verses to preserve and pass their traditional knowledge to the future generation. However, due to the influence of modern mass media culture, the identity of their music and songs has been changing. They have formed traditional orchestras and perform their traditional music at official functions in different parts of the country.

Musical Instruments

Traditionally, the Adivasi people use the Daul drum to play rhythm. The Daula is the main percussion instrument used in the Sabaragamuwa dance tradition. As far as the historical records are concerned, this drum has been appropriated by the Sabaragamuwa dance tradition, from the Adivasi groups. Along with the daul drum, some rattles are used.

Instrument with Orchestra


People who are living in Adivasi groups create different ornaments as their artefacts such: axe, bow, necklaces using woods and animal bones and teeth.

Some characteristics in the Adivasi culture have been changing since the advent of resettlement and modernization. However, they are struggling to protect and maintain some traditions of their culture. While protecting their cultural identity, they are also compelled to absorb modern social changes to their villages.

Video Gallery

Adivasi Songs

Rituals - Kirikoraha

Documentary on The Vanishing Adhivasi community of Sri Lanka