The Socio-Historical Context of the Christian community in Sri Lanka


v  Christianity before the Portuguese

The island of Sri Lanka, located in the Indian Ocean, and situated at the southern tip of India, has been influenced by many cultures and religions of the world, at least from the era of the Indo, Chinese and Mesopotamian civilisations, the three great civilisations of the world. People, especially traders, travelled to Sri Lanka, due to its geographical location, which gave strategic importance to this country.[1] Archaeological evidence has been found which proves beyond doubt that this island nation was not isolated from the rest of the world in the course of human history.[2]  This shows that many cultures and religions were moving across this island, influencing and reshaping the activities of the country.[3]

A book called Christian Topography (Ancient Greek: Χριστιανικὴ Τοπογραφία, Latin: Topographia Christiana) written in Greek in the 6th century by a person named Cosmos, records the existence of a Christian community in Sri Lanka. According to the author of this book, there was a Church with a Priest, a Deacon and the equipment necessary for the worship of  Christians in Sri Lanka. In this work, first published in the original Greek by a Benedictine, and now translated into several languages, Cosmos says,

“ Even in Taprobane, an island in further India, where the Indian Sea is, there is a Church of Christians with clergy and a body of believers,” [4]

This Taprobane is undoubtedly Ceylon, for Cosmos says,

“It is called Seilediba by the Indians, but by the Greeks Taprobane”. [5]

Referring to this Christian Church, he says again in the Eleventh book, in which he describes Ceylon:

“ The island has also a Church of Persian Christians, who have settled there, and a Presbyter who is appointed from Persia, and a Deacon and a complete ecclesiastical ritual. But the natives and their kings are heathen.” [6]

 There are two archaeological finds in Sri Lanka that may be considered parallel to the above account of the existence of Christians in the country. The first evidence, coming from Anuradhapura, is a Persian cross belonging to the Nestorian Church; archaeologists unearthed this in 1912.[7] A Baptismal font found in Mannar, and presently kept in the Vaunia museum, is the second evidence, and is also an artefact likely to belong to the Persian Nestorian Church. The popular belief is that even if there were Christians they were foreigners who did not have much to do with the affairs of Sri Lanka. But this popular belief is challenged with the discovery of the Mannar baptismal font, which was most probably used to baptise Christians in Sri Lanka.[8]


According to Chulavamsa, the supplement to the Sinhala great chronicle Mahawamsa, a minister called Migara built a temple and dedicated it to a person called Abisheka Jena.  In the Pali language Jena means a person who has conquered himself, and Abisheka is the anointed or the enthroned one. The quotation from the Culavamsa is given below:


The Senapati by name Migara, built a parivena called after himself and a house for the victor Abiseka. He sought (permission to hold) a consecration festival for it even greater than that of the stone image of the Buddha.” [9]


Professor Senarath Paranavithna, the first Sri Lankan Archaeological Commissioner, says that this Temple was dedicated to Christ, which means the anointed or enthroned one in Greek. In the scholarly account of the story of Sigiriya by Professor Senarath Paranavithna, the author shows that this minister, Migara, from South India, was a Christian who laboured to spread Christianity in Sri Lanka.[10]   Migara had served in the courts of both the kings Kashshepa and Mugalan in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Along with these records, among the archaeological discoveries there were Greek, Roman and other Near Eastern objects of Christian influence from the 1st century, found in Sri Lanka. From the 6th century to the beginning of the 16th century there are isolated records that could be connected with the existence of Christians in Sri Lanka.[11] Hence it is clear that Sri Lanka was not isolated from the influence of Christianity before the arrival of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka. Yet unlike India, when the Portuguese arrived here there was no clear evidence of the existence of Christian communities in Sri Lanka.



The introduction of Christianity and its impact  in the context of Western Colonialism -The arrival of the Portuguese


v  Divided and devastated Kingdoms of Sri Lanka


When the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 16th century it was a time of great political instability in this country. During this period Sri Lanka was divided into three kingdoms, namely Kotte, Kandy and Jaffna.[12] However, the goodwill between the kingdoms was not healthy for the integrity of Sri Lanka. Not only between the kingdoms, but also within the kingdoms, there were power struggles which brought the Sri Lankan context into a very much weaker position politically and economically. At the beginning the Portuguese did not have any intention of getting involved in the affairs of the divided and devastated kingdoms of this land. Their two main intentions involved their interest in spices and the spread of Christianity. To win new lands for Christ was a responsibility given by the Pope in the context of the Christian reformation in the west. The official statement issued by the Pope, outlining this responsibility through the Vatican, was called Padroado. Regarding the Padroado and the King of Portugal, F.Houtart has observed,  


“Just as the Papacy had granted to the Portuguese sovereigns the right of conquest, so also it granted to them the right to supervise the ecclesiastical organisation. The king, a political actor, the organiser of the commercial enterprise, and consequently an economic actor, became by this fact a religious actor too” [13]


v  The kingdom of Kotte.


The Kotte kingdom became the most important and powerful kingdom of Sri Lanka during the reign of King Parakrama Bahu VI (1414-1467A.D.). This was a period of revival and of great cultural activity, where agriculture, religion and literature flourished. King Parakrama Bahu VI was called “chakravarti” or the Emperor of Sri Lanka, and other sub-kings or rulers of the other areas paid tribute to this great King and honoured him. After him six kings ruled Sri Lanka from 1468 to 1521. However, none of them were powerful enough to exert power over the other kings and rulers of this country. This was mainly due to the conflicts and crises of the royal families.


After the above historical era one of the main tragedies in the history of Sri Lanka took place during the reign of King Vijaya Bahu (1509-1521). This was the murder of King Vijaya Bahu, and it led to the division of his kingdom into three parts, each ruled by his three sons. Buvaneka Bahu became the King of Kotte, Mayadunne the King of Sitawaka, and Raigambandara, the King of Raigama. Mayadunne was a man who, wanting to expand his kingdom, with one stroke of his sword annexed Raigama and established his power and authority. This made Buvaneka Bahu, a weak ruler, afraid, and so he invited the Portuguese to protect him from his brother Mayadunne.[14] During this era, since the Portuguese dominated the affairs of the Indian Ocean by diminishing the authority of Muslims, they welcomed this invitation gladly. This paved the way for the Portuguese to enter into the internal politics of our country. Ultimately this invitation of Buvaneka Bahu, instigated for a political purpose, became a landmark in the history of the Christian Church in Sri Lanka.[15]


v  The Portuguese and Christianity in midst of political instability in Sri Lanka


When the Portuguese began to understand the great political instability of Sri Lanka, they gradually penetrated the political arena of the country by using this instability as their main weapon. In the midst of this political instability, Portuguese missionaries wisely kept their distance from the power struggle within Sri Lanka. Even though the missionaries maintained this distance, they were supported and protected by the Portuguese colonial power. Portuguese missionaries and their mission were very clearly a part and parcel of the Portuguese colonial expansionism. [16]


v  The impact of Conversion to Christianity


Conversion of the members of the royal family and elite


Though King Buwanakabahu of Kotte enlisted the assistance of the Portuguese he did not become a Christian. This may be due to the fact that he did not want to displease the ordinary Buddhist people of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, he invited Christian missionaries to come to Sri Lanka. As a response to this invitation five Franciscan missionaries came to Sri Lanka and began their work in the kingdom of Kotte. These missionaries were entrusted the task of educating the young prince Dharmapala who was the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Kotte. The King of Portugal enthroned this prince according to the invitation by the King Buwanakabahu. Regarding this enthronement, Silva has observed,


“The embassy despatched by King Bhuvaneka Bahu VII of Kotte entrusting the custody and protection of his grandson Prince Don Juan Dharmapala to the King of Portugal reached Lisbon in August 1541. The envoy carried a royal sannasa or ola requesting that King John III of Portugal be pleased to acknowledge and proclaim Prince Dharmapala as the rightful and lawful heir to the Sinhala Throne after the demise of King Bhuvaneka Bahu. The King of Kotte also sent an effigy of the Prince which was deposited in an ivory casket, the panel of which were carved with historical scenes relevant to the Kingdom of Kotte.”[17]


Therefore the prince Dharmapala had a Christian upbringing right from the beginning of his childhood. This created a new page in the history of the royal dynasty in Sri Lanka. Here we see how a tension between two brothers, Mayadunne and Buwanakabahu, brought into existence a Christian royal court, which became a decisive factor in the future history of Sri Lanka.


In the kingdom of Jaffna at the beginning of the 16th century the King of Jaffna, Pararajasekarm VII, gave the Portuguese freedom to spread Christianity in his Kingdom. He even donated lands to Portuguese missionaries and allowed them to build a Church and a monastery. Although this King of Jaffna did not become a Christian, because of his assistance the missionary work of the Franciscans became successful. The next king of Jaffna, Chekarasasekaram, commonly called Sankili, was against the Portuguese and Christians, because he thought that the Portuguese and Christians were a threat to him and to his Kingdom.[18] Under the above circumstances the son of the former King escaped to Colombo and begged the protection of the Portuguese. From the Portuguese missionaries he received baptism as Don Constantine. Later he went to Gova in India and studied theology, becoing a Roman Catholic priest. He became the first Sri Lankan Franciscan priest, and two of his sisters became nuns in the Roman Catholic Church. These members of the royal family of Jaffna received their baptism on June 18, 1623, in a ceremony organised by the Portuguese[19] . There is a tombstone in Lisbon which can be seen even today of a Prince called Don Joao who became a priest and died in 1642 in Lisbon. With a picture of the above tombstone S.G. Perera has observed,


“ This is the translation of what is inscribed:  “ Here lie buried the bones of Prince of Kandy who built this sacred edifice to Mary.” [20]


According to T. Kolamunne the below mentioned are some of the other members of the royal families in Sri Lanka who received baptism from the Portuguese:


Jayaweera Bandara:  He was the son of King Wickramabahu, the King of Kandy. He was baptised by the Portuguese in order to get protection from king Rajasinghe of Seetawaka.


Karaliyadde Bandara:  Just like his father, King Jayaweera Bandara, he also received baptism from the Portuguese so as to get protection from King Rajasinghe of Seetawaka.


Weerasundara Bandara: Another prince of Kandy who needed the protection of the Portuguese as he was frightened of King Rajasinghe of Seetawaka. He was sent to Gova in India and received baptism as Victor Lepano.


Dona Catarina (Dona Kusumasana Devi):  She was the Daughter of Karaliyadde Bandara. She was baptized as a small child and brought up by the Portuguese in the Roman Catholic faith. Later the Portuguese tried to make her the King of Kandy but failed. Consequently she became the queen of King Wimaladharmasooriya and King Senerath. [21]


Here we see that the conversion of the members of the royal family took place due to various sociological circumstances of that time. In this manner the wisdom of the Christian church began to influence the royal court of Sri Lanka. On the other hand the wisdom of the Sri Lankan royal court was able to influence the Christian church through the members of the Sri Lankan royal court who became priests and nuns of Christendom. [22]


v  Conversion of the ordinary people in Sri Lanka.


At the time of the arrival of the Portuguese, conversion from one religion to another was quite strange to the people in Sri Lanka. During that era almost all the Sinhalese were Buddhist, the Tamils were Hindus and the Muslims believed in the Islamic faith. The caste system among Tamils decided the place of individuals and families in society and religion. They inherited this position by their birth, and no factor, religious or social, was influential enough to change this so-called unchangeable place given to them by their birth. Even in Buddhism, though Buddha vehemently rejected the caste system, caste played a decisive role in establishing the positions of Sinhala people in society. This caste system decided the employment that they should get involved with for their livelihood. Therefore during this period the class structure in society was entirely decided by the caste system of both Sinhalese and Tamils. In both set-ups, farming communities were considered as the highest caste and class in society.[23]


In the light of all this, when Christianity was offered to the people of Sri Lanka, those who became Christians did so due to various reasons. The Portuguese coming from the West paid no regard to the caste system that prevailed in Sri Lanka. They were willing to work with people from any caste, and so this gave a marvellous opportunity for people from the so-called lower castes to step into the main stream of the affairs of Sri Lanka. To have this paradigm sociological shift some people from the so-called lower castes embarrassed Christianity and entered into the main stream of affairs in Sri Lanka.


Regarding the conversion of the Karava caste ( fisher folk of the coastal area),  M. D. Raghavan has observed,


“The readiness to embrace Christianity arose from many causes. Being comparative new comers, the Karava were less enmeshed in the intricacies of the Sinhala social structure. Lesser involvement in the feudalism of the time gave them greater freedom of action.” [24]


This shows that, in the conversion of the fisher folk of the Karava caste, there were two main sociological factors involved. First, they were relative newcomers to the area. Most probably they started migrating from the 11 century AD. [25] On the other hand their lives were not rooted in the agricultural feudal system that grew up with the influence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. These factors made the context ready for these people to embrace Christianity more easily than most of the other people in Sri Lanka, who were well-established in the Sri Lankan feudal set-up. [26]


When the members of the royal family became Christians some ordinary people in Sri Lanka were driven towards Christianity. This was mainly due to the unwritten norm that the people should believe in the religion of the rulers of the country. 


Portuguese Christian missionaries were unmarried celibates who led a simple lifestyle. They came to Sri Lanka, leaving their relations and wealth in their country. They dedicated their lives to the service of the common people. They lived among common people, looking after their needs and wants. Though they were supported and protected by the Portuguese government they did not depend on them entirely. At the same time they did not work for a monthly salary from the government or elsewhere. They always kept the tension and balance with the Portuguese government with regard to religious matters. The above factors brought the common people closer to the Portuguese missionaries, which resulted in some common people becoming Christians. In this set up it became inevitable that the common folk in Sri Lanka compared the Buddhist monks with the Christian priests. It is in the  nature of Buddhism that Buddhist monks depended on the alms given by the lay people. Monks in Buddhism should be respected and venerated by the lay people as the protectors of Dharma. In this manner lay people saw a difference between Buddhist monks and Roman Catholic priests in society.


In Mannar, which was part of the Jaffna Kingdom, there were Christians within the fishing communities even before the arrival of the Portuguese, through the missionary work of Francis Xavier, an effective missionary in India. [27] The main reason for this was the geographical closeness of Mannar to South India. During the reign of King Chekarasasekaram or Sankili, who thought that the Portuguese and Christians were a threat to him, he requested the Christians in Mannar to come back to their former faith, which was Hinduism. When the Christians in Mannar did not listen to the request of Sankili he sent an army to Mannar in 1544 and massacred about 600 Christians including children and women. In  1560 the Portuguese sent once again an army to Mannar and established their power, building a fort there. The Christians whom Sankili had affected and whose relations he had killed welcomed this victory by the Portuguese. These poor fisherfolk, who were very angry with Sankili, became stronger in their Roman Catholic faith and supported the Portuguese. Sociologically, we see how the colonial government of the Portuguese, who were considered as the oppressors, became the saviour of the poor people oppressed by a Sri Lankan King.   Against this background the Portuguese used the Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries to win more people to the Roman Catholic faith.[28]


v  Sri Lankan Spirituality and 16th Century Christianity of the Portuguese rule. 


The Portuguese, at the time of their arrival in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 16th century, had the notion that they were a nation chosen by God to carry His name to the ends of the earth for the extension of His kingdom. Therefore when the Portuguese established their power in other lands it was viewed as a divine work fulfilled by them for God. According to them God was omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, and therefore none could question Him or His activities. With the above context of concepts the Portuguese came to the conclusion that Sri Lanka was a barbarous nation under the power of the devil, and so they tried to bring this nation on to the correct path by abolishing the religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which, according to them, were the sources of the power of the devil.[29] This attitude of the Portuguese was a strange religious phenomenon for the people in Sri Lanka, who found it extremely difficult to understand this. Commenting on the Portuguese influence in the social sphere through Christianity, G. C. Mendis has observed,


“Their main contribution was in the social sphere. They introduced a new form of religion - Roman Catholic Christianity - which differed from Hinduism and Buddhism in organisation, dogmas and doctrines, ritual and forms of worship, while some of their manners and customs adopted by the upper classes who came into contact with them and by the converts to Christianity.[30]


v  Portuguese influences on Sri Lankan society with the Christian values.


With the Portuguese Sri Lankan society received the Gospel of Christ along with the descendents of the Portuguese. With this change Sri Lanka society inherited the Christian churches with new forms of music, and festivals such as Christmas and Easter. This music was powerful enough to create a new form of music called “Kapiricha” which is very popular in Sri Lanka. It is accepted that “Kapiricha” is a combination of Latin church music and folk music of Sri Lanka. Today many scholars accept this form of music as one of the traditional forms of music of Sri Lanka [31]. Even the modern Sri Lankan theatre is greatly influenced by Portuguese dramas, which have been staged on religious themes [32].  Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter have become national events making an impact on the life of Sri Lankan people. Schools and hospitals for the general public and homes for orphan children are permanent institutions that Sri Lankan society inherited from this colonial power of the 16th and 17th centuries through the Christian ethics of that era.


The architecture of buildings, both homes and official building, underwent a drastic change with the influence of the Portuguese. The family life of ordinary people was changed in a number of areas that are very important in the affairs of the country. Marital rites changed with Christian customs and practices, among which the encouragement of monogamy and the registration of marriage became vital. Habits and practices, food and dress, personal names and words in the languages used by people are other areas where the Portuguese have left an inseparable imprint on the society of Sri Lanka. Habits such as having parties with music and dancing, and burying the bodies of dead people in one common place called a cemetery (the root meaning of cemetery being the churchyard) are a few among many practices that Sri Lanka common people inherited from them. Portuguese dress like the skirt and blouse, trouser and shirt have remained in Sri Lanka going through various stages of change.  The eating of the flesh of the pig (pork) and foods such as kokis, cutlets and patties are also some of the food customs that the people of Sri Lanka inherited from them. Many words like dora for door, bitti for walls, pigan for plates and sabattu for shoes got into the ordinary languages of the people of Sri Lanka.[33] Many personal names and surnames became popular under the influence of the Portuguese. Surnames such as Perera, Fernando and Silva and personal names like Peduru, Simiyon and Davith can be identified in this regard.  [34]


Regarding these influences and the social change that they brought about G.C. Mendis has observed,


“…. The Portuguese brought about changes in the areas they occupied and to small extent even outside. They did not look down upon the Sinhalese and the Tamils but mixed with them and intermarried with them. As a result many persons including some of the upper class, followed Portuguese customs and manners. They followed Portuguese forms of architecture in building houses, adopting the broad window called Janela and the round form of tile still commonly used in the island. In their houses they sometimes adopted furniture of the type uses by the Portuguese. Words like janela, mese (table) and almariya (wardrobe) are derived from Portuguese. It became also the fashion to adopt the Portuguese forms of dress. Words such as kamisa (shirt), kilisan (trousers), mes (stockings), lensuwa (handkerchief), alpenetti (pins), bottama (button) are also derived from Portuguese.” *




Arrival and influence of popular and Protestant Christianity in the context of Dutch colonisation


v  The Dutch and Portuguese in the background of European reformation and the impact on the Sri Lankan Christian church.




* Mendis G.C.   -1956- Ceylon today and yesterday P.53, Associated newspapers of Ceylon LTD, Lake House Colombo. 


In the 16th century there was a great renaissance in Europe. In this renaissance there was an awakening in three main areas, these being the passion for new knowledge, inventing new lands, and the rise of nationalism. The main religion of Europe of that time, Christianity, underwent a great change in the context of the European renaissance. Many European countries, including Holland from where the Dutch people came to Sri Lanka, challenged the Pope and the church centred around Rome. In this conflict the first colonial power to Sri Lanka, the Portuguese, took the side of the Pope and the church centred around Rome. The second colonial power, the Dutch, belonged to the Reformed Church, which was against the Pope and the church centred around Rome. Therefore when the Dutch took over Sri Lanka from the Portuguese in 1658 they were not just taking over political power from the previous regime. The Dutch hated the Portuguese who supported the Roman church. At the same time they hated the religious practises of the Portuguese that had became common in most of the reformed churches in the West. [35]


In this particular set-up, after capturing power from the Portuguese the Dutch did all that they could to wipe out all the political and religious influences of the Portuguese from Sri Lanka. The Dutch prohibited the Roman Catholic faith along with the other faiths and destroyed all their churches and institutions. The entire population of Roman Catholic priests was banished from Sri Lanka. Roman Catholic priests who lived secretly were killed, and people who gave protection to Roman Catholic priests were punished. [36] Reformed rites of marriage and baptism were made compulsory. The Roman Catholic children were forced to attend the Dutch schools. Those who did not reject the Roman Catholic faith were isolated from society and were not given any government employment. Under the above circumstances most of the converts to the Roman Catholic faith gave up their new faith. Of these, some embraced the Reformed faith of the Dutch while others went back to their former faiths of Buddhism and Hinduism. Whoever remained faithful to the Roman Catholic faith underwent suffering and persecution under the Dutch. A considerable number of Roman Catholics from the coastal areas escaped to the upcountry kingdom and begged the protection of King Ragasinghe II; they settled in Ratnapura, Ruwanwella, Kandy, Wagoda and Wahakotte. Later these settlements became Roman Catholic villages [37].


These conflicts between the Dutch and the Portuguese could not be understood by the people of Sri Lanka. It was hard for the Sri Lankans to understand why one Christian nation was persecuting another. The influence of these conflicts on the Christian church in Sri Lanka can be analysed from different angles.


The visible numerical growth of the Roman Catholic population in Sri Lanka suddenly decreased[38], but those who remained faithful to Roman Catholicism became integrated into the realities of Sri Lanka. So these people who embraced the Roman Catholic faith due to various reasons during the colonial era of the Portuguese redefined their faith in this new context of persecution.




v  Dutch impact on the life of Sri Lankan people and the Christian Church


When the Dutch people conquered the Island of Sri Lanka in 1658 the coastal areas that were in the hands of Portuguese came under their power. The Dutch did not get involved in as many wars as the Portuguese people did in Sri Lanka, and therefore they had a relatively peaceful stay in this land. Yet in the field of proclaiming their brand of Christianity they were not successful. At the beginning of Dutch rule in Sri Lanka, priests such as Pilippu Baldeus tried to evangelise fisher folk both in Galle and Jaffna, but the fact that they were directly under the Dutch colonial rule and that the Dutch Trade Company was paying them controlled their activities according to the wishes of the Dutch Governor and the high officials [39]. On the other hand, their brand of Christianity was that of a middle class Church that did not have many visual aids in their worship, and because of that the Dutch brand of Christianity could not make a remarkable lasting impact on the life of the people of Sri Lanka.


On the other hand, through their form of Christianity they were able to make an impact, changing the life of Sri Lankan people to a different direction. They had a fairly well-organised school system under their missionaries in Sri Lanka. In these schools Sri Lankans were used as teachers. To train these local teachers and to train pastors for their local congregations they established seminaries in Sri Lanka. In the coastal areas under Dutch power the Dutch imposed a rule making it compulsory to send children to school for their education. The Dutch took steps to introduce a systematic way of registering births, marriages and deaths for the first time in Sri Lanka. It became important in the areas controlled by the Dutch to get these three important events of one’s life registered to become a real citizen of that area. To find employment in the Dutch Government these registrations became a necessary qualification. Under Dutch Government locally trained people called Palliaguru did all these registrations in their Churches or Church school buildings under the supervision of the Dutch priests in Sri Lanka. According to the Christian faith of that time, the registration of birth or so-called Christian baptism was especially the symbolic entry to the Christian Church. [40] Therefore when the Dutch registered a birth or baptised a person they counted that person as a Christian. But when Sri Lanka people received baptism they had a very little understanding of becoming a Christian through baptism, and so the registration of birth or so-called baptism could not make a strong religious impact, although it was able to have an influence on the society of Sri Lanka.


In the Christian church marriage is an important activity of faith. When local people came to church to register their marriage it confirmed the fact that these people had accepted the Christian faith, yet in the minds of most people who came to church to register their marriage it was just another ritual and a way of getting acceptance for their marriages in the new form of Government in Sri Lanka. 


In 1737, for the first time in Sri Lankan history, the Dutch introduced the printing press and made the printed document available. Even this was introduced mainly through the Christian Church. The first and foremost printed documents available in Sri Lanka were the prayer books, hymn books [41] and translations of sections of the Bible for the use of the Dutch schools and churches in Sri Lanka. With the introduction of the printing press it became possible for the Dutch to make documents available in Sinhala and Tamil. Here, for the first time in the history of the Christian Church and the history of Sri Lanka some sections of the Bible were translated into Sinhala and Tamil in the printed form. [42]


The school system, along with the printing press, changed the reading habits of the ordinary people. Through the schools ordinary people learnt to read and write. Printing presses supplied the reading materials for the use of these ordinary people. Roman Dutch Law was another important introduction made by the Dutch people during their rule in Sri Lanka. Even this form of law is a creation of the Christian governments in the West, with the special participation of the Christian priests. These facts have made this form of law in the context and the ideology of the Christian Church.


 Here the important factor to note is that usually laws come out of a particular context for the necessities of that society. In this process the beliefs, practices, thought forms and the way of life of people in that society shape these laws. But in Sri Lanka it was somebody else’s law with Christian beliefs, practices, thought forms and the way of life that became the accepted law of Sri Lanka. Even up to now this form of law, with some alterations, is operative in Sri Lanka.






British colonisation and the Whole Island under British


v  British policies on freedom.


At the end of the 18th century the British became the most powerful nation in the world. In the above set up, in 1796 the Dutch power in Sri Lanka came to an end with the beginning of British rule in Sri Lanka. With this the Dutch-controlled areas fell into the hands of the British Government in Sri Lanka [43]. In 1815, along with the Kandyan Convention, the whole island came under British rule, and for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka the whole island of Sri Lanka came under an outside foreign power. There were two great rebellions against the British Government in 1818 and 1848, by the aristocrats and peasants respectively in Sri Lanka. Britain being the world power of that time could control these rebellions without much trouble and had a fairly peaceful stay afterwards. The British took special steps to prevent this sort of action by Sri Lankan people. The first thing that they did was to establish a good system of both roads and railway, making transport easier and more convenient.


 Just three years after establishing their power in Sri Lanka, in 1799 the first British Governor of Sri Lanka, Sir Fredrik North, gave religious freedom to Sri Lankans to believe in any religion of one’s choice. With this freedom the prohibition imposed by the Dutch on other religions other than the Dutch Reformed faith came to an end. In 1806 the British Governor Thomas Metlend legalised this religious freedom by an official act and announced it officially to all the citizens of Sri Lanka [44]. This attitude of the British towards religion was made clearer in the fifth sentence of the Kandyan Convention, which promised the protection of the Buddhist faith and other faiths of the people. Article 5 of the Convention reads as follows,


“ The religion of Boodhoo professed by the chiefs and Inhabitants of these Provinces is declared inviolable; and its rites, Ministers and Places of worship are to be maintained and protected.” [45]    


When this freedom was given, the British thinking behind it was that the religions of the natives should be tolerated for a smooth and effective administration in Sri Lanka. At the same time during this period there were liberal movements in Great Britain who emphasised that the religion and politics should be separated. Their point of view was that religion is a private matter and therefore it should be left alone for people to practice without any influence from the state. In the above context, when British gave religious freedom, their view was that Buddhism and Hinduism are religions to be tolerated and they should be left alone for people to believe in as a private and personal matter in their respective areas [46].


With the uprising of Sinhala people, first in 1818 by the up-country aristocrats and then in 1848 by peasants, the British came to the full realisation that Buddhism is not just a religion to be tolerated [47].  Gradually they came to understand the same of Hinduism. These religions had become the way of life for the people of Sri Lanka; their behaviour, attitudes, values and priorities in society came out of these religions. Therefore the effort by the British to protect Buddhism and Hinduism as separate phenomena not very connected to their way of life did not become successful. The reason behind this was that in all the actions taken by the Sinhalese and Tamils, whether political, economic or cultural, Buddhism and Hinduism respectively were in the forefront.


At the same time some Christian missionaries protested against the assurance given by the British to protect the religions of Sri Lanka. Their view was that the British colonial government’s undertaking to protect these pagan religions was not appropriate to the Christian character of the British government. With the above circumstances the British government couldn’t fulfil the promise given by them in the Kandyan Convention. On the other hand, although the British colonial government was influenced by the British liberal concept, namely that religion and politics should be separated, it supported and made the environment helpful for Christian missionaries in Sri Lanka. [48]  


v  The various Christians denominations and their behaviour under British rule.


When the British began their rule by defeating the Dutch in 1796,  they did not at once start spreading their brand of Christianity. Even in 1815, at the time of the signing of the Kandyan Accord, with which the whole island came under the control of the British, they were not so much involved with the so-called missionary activities of that era. It was after 1815 that the British fully got involved in these activities by getting missionaries from Great Britain. In the context of the rise of liberalism and religious freedom the British did not limit missionary activities to their own state religion, Anglicanism, but allowed all brands of Christianity that were available in Britain to flow into Sri Lanka. Under these circumstances the Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, the American Missionaries, the Scots Kirk and the Salvation Army denominations were all introduced to Sri Lanka.  These mission bodies functioned under the blessing of the British government. The Anglican denomination, the state denomination of the British, was able to enjoy more privileges than the others. Most of the Dutch Reformed Churches gradually came under the Anglican missions, and reduced their activities to a few churches. The Roman Catholic Church, which underwent heavy persecution under Dutch rule, was able to emerge during this time to become the most successful and largest Christian denomination of Sri Lanka. The religious freedom granted by the British paved the way for the Catholics to invite more religious orders to carry on the mission of the Roman Catholic Church [49].


This situation of so many Christian denominations working in Sri Lanka made missionary activity complicated and confusing to the people of Sri Lanka. At the beginning, when the work began, there was no agreement amongst the different missionary groups concerning the carrying out of their activities in Sri Lanka. At times they had disagreements and tensions occasionally resulting in physical assaults. When a number of Christian denominations worked in the same town or village without having a proper understanding between themselves, yet trying to proclaim the same “Christian Gospel”, it appeared something like a number of companies trying to promote the same product under different trade names. The outward and functional differences that these denominations tried to emphasise had either little meaning or no meaning at all for the people of Sri Lanka. These differences concerned things like the use of visual aids in worship and the importance of preaching and of the sacraments in the faith and life of the Christian Church. Most of these controversies were related to the Christian Reformation in Europe in the Middle Ages, with the result that when these missionaries of various Christian denominations introduced their particular brand of Christianity, the emphasis of their teachings was more on the controversies of the Reformation than the true and authentic teachings of Jesus Christ.      


v  The Revival of Buddhism towards the end of the British rule and its influence on Sri Lankan society.


Right from the beginning of British rule, Buddhists were able to enjoy more freedom than they had enjoyed under the rule of the Portuguese and then of the Dutch. With this freedom, and along with the activities of the Protestant missionary movements enthusiastic Buddhist leaders realised that it was important to reinterpret Buddhism in order for it to survive. Commenting on one of the patterns adopted by the Buddhists, G.D.Bond has observed,


“Protestant Buddhism the response of the early reformers who began the revival by both reacting against and imitating Christianity……….[50]


……This chapter examines those origins and focuses on the early period of the Buddhist resurgence in Sri Lanka. The hallmark of this period was the establishment of a form of Buddhism that Obeyesekere has labeled  “ Protestant Buddhism” because it both (1) derived many of its view points and organisational form from Protestantism and (2) represented a “protest against Christianity and its associated Western political dominance prior to independence. “ Protestant Buddhism, both because it mirrored Protestant Christianity and because it attempted to revive Buddhism and make it relevant to a new context, represented a reformist movement.” [51]


This revival of Buddhism towards the end of the British rule, both imitating and reacting against Christianity, can be identified in many popular practices that have remained as integral aspects of Buddhism up to date. Towards the second half of the 19th century Buddhists understood that within Christianity there are better-organised institutions than in Buddhism. With the revival of the evangelical movement in Europe, in Great Britain missionaries began societies or institutions to propagate the Christian Gospel. Among them was the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) which began in 1840, and which subsequently took a leading role in Sri Lanka. This society used the printed media to propagate the Christian Gospel by attacking the other religions in society.  When Buddhists began the society called “Sarvagna Shashanavurdi Dayaka Dharma Samagama” (in Sinhala); it was an imitation of the above Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.). In 1862 this society established a printing press in Galle called “Lankaupakaraya”, which lasted until the year 1880 [52]. This printing press printed tracts or pamphlets to propagate Buddhism by attacking the life and doctrine of the Christian missionaries of that time. In 1880, with the arrival of Henry Steel Olcott, the establishment of the Buddhist Theosophical Society (B. T. S.) as another institution was a result of the influence of the Christian missionary societies. For example. in the Buddhist Theosophical Society, Olcott prepared a Buddhist catechism using the structure of the Protestant Christian catechism. This was first published in 1881 in Sinhala and mainly used in the schools started by the Buddhist Theosophical Society (B. T. S.) [53].   A few lines of this catechism are given below,


“Q.  And what is that which is most valuable?


 A.  To know the whole secret of man’s existence and destiny… that we may live in a way to ensure the greatest happiness and the least suffering for our fellow men and ourselves. “ [54]


The other important institutions that began with this trend are the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (Y. M. B. A.) in 1898 and the Mahabodhi Society began by Anagarika Dharmapala in 1891 [55].  In the Y. M. B. A., as in the Christian equivalent such as the Y. M. C. A., scripture was given a prominent place; in this organisation the reading of scripture and preaching on scripture was taken seriously. Accordingly in the Y.M.B.A. the preaching of Bana or the preaching of services on Poya [56] days became a common feature. Similarly, the anglicised elite who got involved in these organisations started to read the Buddhist scriptures, namely the Tripitakas (especially a section of tripitaks called Dhammapada), more frequently than ever before [57].


The establishment of Buddhist schools and the Buddhist Sunday schools or Dhaham schools are further developments in Buddhists institutions which began in the context of the Christian missionary schools and Sundays schools in Sri Lanka.[58]  In this regard the Theosophical society started by Henry Steel Olcott was able to establish 63 schools between 1886 and 1896. All of these schools were an imitation of missionary schools such as St. Thomas and St Joseph that were begun by the Christian missionaries. Buddhists, when they founded Buddhist schools, named their schools after important persons and places in Buddhism instead of those of Christianity. Therefore Buddhist schools were given names such as Rahula, Mahamaya and Vishaka. Since these schools were established according to the model of Christian missionary schools, although they gave an outside Buddhist atmosphere, the upbringing and attitudes propagated by these schools were of Christian origin.[59]


Marriage and death are two important life-events in society.  In Sri Lanka, irrespective of religious belief, these happenings are coloured with the customs and practices of the society. Within traditional Buddhism in Sri Lanka the associated rituals are not performed inside the Buddhist temple. On the contrary, these rituals are important in the Christian Church, where they are carried out within the Church.


In the Christian Church marriage is considered as a sacrament and is called Holy Matrimony. The priests inside the church perform this ceremony, and it is  a colourful and attractive ceremony. [60] But in Buddhism, the marriage ceremony is not performed inside the Buddhist temple. According to John Davy polygamy was contrary to the religion of the Sinhalese, but in practice the situation was different. Regarding this John Davy has observed,


“Though concubinage and polygamy are contrary to their religion, both are indulged in by the Sinhalese, particularly the latter: and, it is remarkable, that in the Kandyan country, as in Tibet, a plurality of husband is much more common than Wives. One woman has frequently two husbands; and I have heard of one having as many as seven. This singular species of polygamy is not confined to any caste or rank; it is more or less general amongst the high and low, the rich and poor. The joint husbands are always brothers.” [61]


On the same issue Robert Knox who was a prisoner in Sri Lanka (Ceylon or Zeilon) in the 17th century has also observed,


“But their Marriages are but of little force or validity. For if they disagree and mislike one the other; they part without disgrace.…………… But Women and Men commonly wed four or five times before they can settle themselves to their contentation…………….. In this Countrey (Referring to Ceylon or Zeilon) each Man, even the greatest, hath but one Wife; but a Woman often has two Husbands. For it is lawful and common with them for two Brothers to keep house together with one Wife, and the Children do acknowledge and call both Fathers.” [62]


Both these accounts show that, although the ideal understanding of marriage in the Sri Lankan Buddhist set-up was monogamy, in practice it was fluid.  But in the Christian church it is stressed as a doctrine that one man can marry only one wife and vice versa, and that marriage is a lifelong partnership. A person is free to marry again only after the death of their marriage partner. The breaking of this doctrine, inside the Christian community, is a punishable offence. For instance, those who break with this doctrine are not given important positions within the Christian church.


During the colonial era, until 1868 only certain Christian denominations were given the authority to register marriage.  Only in 1868 was a department established to register births, marriages and deaths as secular events without a religious affiliation.  Until 1868 all Sri Lankans had to go to a church if they wished to register their marriage.


In this context Sri Lankans irrespective of their religion were influenced by the Christian understanding of monogamy, namely that married men and women should live together with their spouses until death separates them, and this gradually became an accepted norm in Sri Lanka.


Even the understanding of divorce gradually shifted in emphasis according to the Christian view of marriage. Regarding divorce E. R. Leach has observed,


“Divorce may be effected as easily as common-law marriage. The couple simply separate and the marriage is at an end.


One consequence of this simplicity is that is rare to come across any adult, either male or female, who does not admit to having been ‘married’ more than once. Individuals who have been ‘married’ five or six times are not thought in any way exceptional.” [63]


In the Christian church, getting married more than once, while the former partner is still alive, and getting a divorce, is an exceptional situation. Those people are looked down upon and not accepted as men or women of sound moral character. In the course of time this Christian value gradually changed the effect of divorce in the Sri Lankan society. Even today in Sri Lanka, those who are divorced are considered exceptional not only in the Christian community but in the other communities (very especially in the Sinhala Buddhist community) as well.[64]


At the same time the marriage ceremonies in churches were more colourful, orderly and attractive than the ordinary Buddhist marriage ceremony that was held in the house of the bride. Even in 1862 for the registration of a marriage the Buddhist and people of other faiths had to go to a Christian Church. Against this background the pro-Buddhist paper, “Lakmini”, requested the Government to appoint Buddhist registrars for the registration of the marriage of Buddhist people. The same paper promoted the poruva ceremony, which was a Hindu practice, to replace the sacrament of Christian marriage and to attract Buddhist people. Here it is very clear that the Buddhists behind this paper tried to react against the Christian marriage ceremony and made an effort to attract Buddhists to another way of marriage ceremony in accordance with the marriage ceremony of Christians [65].


Among the Buddhists in the coastal areas there is found the practice of chanting Vesantara Jatakaya [66] in the funeral houses. These coastal-area Buddhists witness the pasan or the chanting of the Passion story of Jesus by the Roman Catholics in those areas [67]. Buddhists, seeing the example of these Roman Catholics, began the practice of chanting Vesantara Jatakaya in the funeral houses, which practice later became popular all over the island.


In the Buddhist revival the other area of challenge for Buddhists were the attractive music, drama and colourful ceremonies of the Christian church. In Christian worship and in other ceremonies music was used, along with instruments.  In the Christian church dramas were used to propagate the Christian Gospel, especially in the Roman Catholic Church.


During the season of Christmas Christians used to go carol-singing in bullock carts. This was a joyful occasion for Christians where they expressed their faith within society.  Gradually Buddhist revivalists, imitating this practice of the Christians, began to sing Buddhist carols or Bhakthi gee during the season of Vesak to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha. It is believed that the first group of Buddhist carol singers were trained by an Anglican Priest called Laid Beater in 1886 according to a proposal of Henry Steel Olcott. Though in traditional Buddhism musical instruments such as the violin, tabla and serpina were not used, with the influence of Christianity not only music but even dramas were linked with the propagation of Buddhism and other Buddhist activities [68].


In the 19th century Christianity was associating with the promoters of capitalism. This made the Christians rich and wealthy, and so they were able to built attractive buildings in prominent parts of the cities. Where there were Roman Catholics in the cities they put up statues of Jesus and of the saints. This practice influenced the Buddhists to keep statues of Buddha in prominent places in the cities. When a few Buddhist became rich in the capitalistic set-up they also helped to build attractive buildings for Buddhist activities.


The keeping of the pictures of Monk Seevali and the veneration of Buddhist statues within houses are also most probably practices that came into being among Buddhist revivalists under the influence of the Roman Catholic Christians in Sri Lanka [69], because in traditional Buddhism statues of Buddha were kept in high and isolated places out of respect, and people went there to worship them.


One of the most important persons who came under this sort of influence was Anagarika Dharmapala. Commenting on Anagarika Dharmapala and his influence on Sri Lankan society G. Obeyesekere has observed,


“He (Dharmapala) became a Protestant-Buddhist, a reformer of the Buddhist Church, infusing that institution with the puritan values of Protestantism. All these had tremendous influence on a group of people who were in a sense like Dharmapala himself, alienated from the traditional culture of the village, and from the politico-economic system controlled by the British and the English educated elite of Colombo. Though his initial impact was on members of the alienated Sinhalese intelligentsia living in the village, he later had an impact on all Sinhala Buddhists.” [70]


According to G. Obeyesekere these influences of Christianity (especially of  Protestant Christianity) were powerful enough to create another form of Buddhism which became important for the survival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.




v  The Participation of the Christian Westernised elite in the independence struggle of Sri Lanka.


In the era immediately before independence there was a group of Westernised elite who fought for the rights and the freedom of local people in this land. Though the Christian church officially did not take part in these activities there were some Christian individuals from the group of Westernised elite who were actively involved in this regard. They were people like Sir James Peiris and E.W.Perera who were practising Christians of that era. These individuals were different from the other Christians who changed their faith in which they have been brought up, immediately before political independence in 1948. They got involved in national issues as practising Christians in Sri Lanka. These Christians individuals were actively involved with groups belonging to different political ideologies and took part in the various burning issues of that era [71].


When there were Muslim and Buddhist riots in 1915, a number of Buddhist leaders were killed under marshall law. Then Sir James Peiris, a devout Christian, came forward to present the injustice done to Buddhist. Another practising Christian called E.W.Perera hid in his shoe the petition that was prepared to present the facts against the British Governor, and went to Great Britain, risking his own life [72].


The participation of the Christian Westernised elite in the national issues along with the other Westernised elite shows that they also wanted freedom from the British in order to have authority in the matters of this country. Their Christian faith received from the British did not become a hindrance to taking part in these matters. This group of people had an added advantage in these issues, in that as they were close to the British they knew their policies and principles better than the others did, and so they used these same policies and principles against the British rulers of this country to achieve freedom for Sri Lanka. On the other hand it could be viewed that their capitalistic elitist existence was strong enough to work together for the political independence in Sri Lanka irrespective of the religious groups that they belonged to. In this manner these Christians, along with the others who belonged to this elite group, became the main actors in gaining political independence for Sri Lanka [73].






The social impact of Christianity in Moratuwa


v  Social impact on the process of Education through Christianity


The modern system of education became rooted in Sri Lanka mainly through the activities of the Western missionaries who worked in the country. Their schools are a visible reality in each and every village in the Moratuwa area. Beginning with the Dutch in the 17th century, all parents in the coastal belt were encouraged to send their children to school. When the British took over the country in the latter part of the 18th century they developed the school network started by the Dutch. In this regard, Prince of Wales College, which was started in 1876 AD with the guidance of the Anglican missionaries, can be given as an example.  Because of these schools the literacy rate and the education level of the common people in Moratuwa is very high. In the two villages that were the subject of this research, there was not found any children who had never been to school.


As the Christian missionaries started almost all of these schools their value system is still preserved in these schools, mainly within the structure of the school system. There are monitors in every class, and prefects are the general leaders among the students in schools. Games such as cricket are very popular in these missionary-founded schools.


The British colonial government introduced these schools with the help of Christian missionaries for a number of reasons. From the point of view of the colonial government they had to produce a number of categories of people to maintain the colony, while Christian missionaries considered these schools as the nucleus of the future church. In this process the British colonial government was not worried about the dropout rate in this system. Still this is a visible reality in the school system in Moratuwa.


v  Christian influence on language and personal names, and the social outcome.


The language and names used in Moratuwa are greatly influenced by the Christian faith. Among Roman Catholics, the older generation, those who are above 70 years of age, generally have Biblical names of Portuguese or British origin, names such as David Samuel and Anthony Peter. Younger Roman Catholics often have a Sinhala as well as a Biblical name. Among Protestants, as with the Roman Catholics, elders have Biblical names of Portuguese or British origin. Yet in many instances these names are not used in the original form, especially in the rural areas, as people are unable to pronounce them. So, for example, Grace has become Geres, and John has become Juwan.


But nowadays younger people often don’t have Biblical names, but instead have names of Sinhala origin, especially as today people are concerned about the meaning of the names given to their children. Many traditional Christians have surnames such as Perera, Fernando and Silva, which are of Portuguese origin. They also have what is called a Ge name, which is used in front of the personal name of the person. These are traditional Sinhala family names used by these people before they became Christians.  Many people who get involved in the field of carpentry have Ge names that end up with the term ‘Waduge,’ a Sinhala word meaning carpenter or craftsman.


The Sinhala language in Moratuwa is greatly influenced by the hymns sung in the churches in Moratuwa. During the Dutch and British eras many hymns were translated into Sinhala. In these translations an effort was made to keep the original literal meanings and the tune of the hymns. There was no serious effort to preserve the original Sinhala language structure of these hymns. These hymns have been sung over and over again in the churches in services and in other worship contexts. Therefore even today the kind of Sinhala language found in these hymns is commonly used in Moratuwa in day-to-day matters.


In Moratuwa there are many idioms that have come out of the Christian faith. These have become part and parcel of the Sinhala language used in the area.  There are idioms such as “Mahasekurada vagai”, meaning “Just like Good Friday” [74].  This idiom is used when a person has a sad and frustrated face.  Similarly when a person is happy it is said that “ Nattal vagai” which means “Just like Christmas”. In this manner local expressions are fully influenced by the Christian faith irrespective of the religious affiliation of the people.




v  Domestic customs and Christianity.


Christianity is a religion that is fully integrated with the domestic life of the ordinary people. The three most important events of life, namely birth, marriage and death, are especially tied up with the Christian faith. In Kadalana I was told that even non-church-going Christians come to church on three occasions: in somebody else’s hands for baptism as a small child, on one's own feet for marriage, and on somebody else’s shoulders for burial after death. When a child is born into a family the first and foremost thing for Christians is to get the child baptised in church into the faith community. The priest, who pours water onto the child’s head, does this. This custom is not merely a religious duty fulfilled by the faithful but is also seen as a means of protection for the child from harm and danger in society.  Therefore sociologically baptism for Christians is not only how they enter the Christian community but also something that prepares the child to enter into society with the due religious protection accepted by the religious community of that child. At baptism a child becomes a child of the faith community. As a sign of this, the child gets so-called godparents, who, in addition to his or her own parents, function as protectors, guardians and persons who are responsible for bringing up the child in the faith. Accordingly, among Christians in Moratuwa baptism serves the purpose of introducing the child into society as a rightful member of the community. 


Marriage is one of the most important establishments in almost all societies in the world. In Christianity marriage is considered as a sacrament, a sacrament being the performance of some outward symbols with the faith that God grants grace along with them. Therefore it is coloured with many meaningful religious functions in Church and in the homes of Christians. Some Moratuwa Christians exchange a letter before marriage as the first step towards marriage. After this, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches will publish bans during the normal service on three consecutive Sundays before the marriage service is to take place. These three Sundays are very important for the couple getting ready for marriage; they are remembered in prayers on these Sundays in many Churches. Today in many churches couples are advised to have pre-marriage counselling as a preparation for marriage. 


Death is an unexplainable event in the life of human beings. Religion deals with the inexplicable in the basis of faith by consoling the devotees, thereby giving them strength to face the realities of life. In Moratuwa, irrespective of the Christian denomination to which they belong, Christians seek comfort and consolation in their faith, and so, in the event of a death and the practices connected with death, the Christian priest plays a vital and integral role in society by providing psychological support to the members of the bereaved family.   If a person is dying the priest is called to pray and hand over the spirit of that person to God for the final resting-place.  After a death the funeral bell is rung in the church to convey the message to the village. Christians consider this ringing of the funeral bell as an honour to the dead person.  In the Anglican tradition of Moratuwa the funeral bell is rung in different styles to indicate whether the deceased is a male or a female, a child or an adult. Where the funeral rites are concerned, before the burial, hymns are sung and prayers are offered around the coffin while in the house of the deceased. Usually before the burial a service is conducted in church in memory of the dead person, with the mortal remains of that person present. After the service the body is taken to the church cemetery for burial. Sometimes the body is cremated according to the last wishes of the deceased. After the burial, memorial services are held in both the home and the church. The giving of alms in memory of dead people is also a common practice among the Christians in Moratuwa. As a Christian community Christians remember their dead on the 2nd of November, a day called All Souls Day. On this day services are conducted in the cemeteries where Christians pray for the dead and light candles on their graves. 




v  Important Customs, rituals and practices of Christians in society


In Moratuwa Christians greet each other by saying ‘Jesu pihitai’ (Jesus bless you) or ‘Devi pihitai’ (God bless you). Many Roman Catholics and some Anglicans who belonged to the High Church tradition keep statues inside the home and light candles, have lamps or fix an illuminated electric bulb as an object of worship. Other Protestants often keep a picture of Jesus or a cross in their homes. The origin of this difference sprang up at the Western reformation where many Protestants rejected statues as idol worship.


Though it is fast vanishing, a custom still in many houses is the saying of family prayers in the evening. In all Anglican churches the church bell is rung daily at 8 p.m. for family prayers. Some people have a habit of keeping silence at 8 p.m. even if they are not with the family, so as to join in the family prayers in spirit even when they are unable to do so with their physical presence. 


In many Roman Catholic and Anglican churches the church bell is rung at 6.00 a.m., 12.00 noon and 6.00 p.m. for prayers. This is called Angeles where the faithful remember the incarnation of God into this world.  Where the church bell is rung in this manner the daily life of the people is very much connected to this ringing, irrespective of whether the people pray or not when the bell is rung.  This ringing of the church bell affects the life of the area even across religious barriers. Some people get up at 6.00 a.m. to the ringing of the bell while others go to work after ringing of the bell at 6.00 a.m.  At 12.00 noon many carpentry shops stop work for lunch. After ringing of the 6.00 p.m. bell the impression is given that the day is gone and the night has begun. This ringing of the church bell creates a serene atmosphere in the respective areas by dividing the day into three sections from 6.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon, 12.00 noon to 6.00 p.m., and the night time, from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. 


As far as possible Christians try go to Church every Sunday. In this regard Roman Catholics take this more seriously than Protestants in Moratuwa. Today there are many Christians who miss the Sunday service for various reasons such as overtime in the place of work or some other social function. Yet it is an accepted social fact among Christians that it is a good and a helpful practice to go to church every Sunday for the well-being of the community and its individuals. The central act of worship of Christians is called Mass by Roman Catholics, and Holy Communion, Eucharist or the Last Supper by Protestants. In this central act of worship Christians commemorate the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples before he was crucified. During this service Christians share bread and grape juice or some other drink such as a kind of aerated water, these symbolising Jesus’ body and blood respectively, and so imitating what Jesus did on the last day of his earthly life. By performing this act of worship Christians believe that they receive the body and blood of Jesus for their spiritual nourishment and become one body in Jesus Christ.   This ritualistic act of worship binds the Christian communities together in their respective areas.


The Bible, the most important book for Christians, plays a vital role in the life of Christians. Christians take guidance from the Bible for their day-to-day activities,  and are advised to read the Bible daily. What is written in the Bible has a great impact on the social life of the Christians in Moratuwa . For instance, the Ten Commandments in the Bible have a great social impact on these Christians.  From the Ten Commandments they take guidance on issues such as the respecting of parents, adultery, killing, and so on [75].


In Moratuwa, just as in other Roman Catholic areas, statues of Jesus and of the saints are kept in churches and public places as objects of blessing and worship. Protestants use the cross as their object of worship. Roman Catholics and some Anglicans make the sign of the Cross in front of their body as a protection from harm and danger and to symbolise the acceptance of God’s blessing.


v  Employment and Christianity.


In Moratuwa people get involved in various professions for their survival. Carpentry and fishing are the main sources of income for the majority of poor people in the area.  The majority of urban Christians of the middle class are engaged in government or private employment for their livelihood, or run business such as furniture shops. Both the carpentry and fishing trades are closely linked with Christianity in many ways.  First of all the majority of the people who are involved with these professions are professing Christians in their own way. The majority of the fisher folk belonged to the Roman Catholic faith while the majority of Protestants, such as Anglican and Methodists, get involved in the carpentry trade. Though there are hardly any Protestants who are involved in fishing trade there are some Roman Catholics who are involved in carpentry especially in the rural areas of Moratuwa. The fisher folk of the Roman Catholic faith mainly live along the coast, for obvious reasons concerning their trade.   The lives of these people are closely linked with the Church in the local area. They get inspiration for their trade from to the fact that many of the disciples of Jesus were fishermen before they accepted the call to follow him. Jesus was closely associated with the sea. He narrated many stories against a coastal background, and often he preached on the seashore. He challenged his disciples by using metaphors from their former trade, such as “cast your nets into the deep”. Sometimes he even got into a boat and preached. The above background gives these fisher folk security and identity in their Christian faith, making them strong in their trade. It is an accepted sociological fact that many tribal and primitive societies have their own deities from whom they plead blessings and protection. In the same way these people seek blessings and protection from the patron saint of the local church. The illuminated cross on the pinnacle of the local church often becomes their symbol of protection, and it can be viewed from the deep sea as they get go about their trade in the sea.


Many Protestants and some Roman Catholics who do carpentry as their profession also draw inspiration from their faith. The facts that the foster father of Jesus, Joseph, and Jesus Himself were carpenters make them proud in their profession. In a chapel at Kadalana, the rural village of this research area, there is a wall painting of the carpentry shop of the father of Jesus.  The depiction of the carpentry shop is that of one of the typical carpentry shops in the village. This wall painting gives the image of Jesus and His father in their carpentry shop, similar to the Christian carpenters of Moratuwa.


Among Christians there are hymns that explain how Jesus worked in the carpentry shop, especially how he worked in the carpentry shop with honesty and enthusiasm. Through these hymns an impression is given of how they should get involved in carpentry according to their faith.


Where church architecture and decorations are concerned, in Moratuwa many churches have been furnished with various types of attractive woodcarvings and decorations. The Christian carpenters of Moratuwa have done these carvings and decorations as an offering to their God. Even after generations the people belonging to the families of those who did these carvings and decorations are proud to proclaim that the craftsmanship of those carvings and decorations belongs to them.


v  Christianity and social festivals of Moratuwa.


In Moratuwa social festivals are greatly influenced by Christianity. These festivals bring the community together and assure social solidarity in the area. These festivals not only bring Christians together but also bring together the people of the area irrespective of their religious beliefs.  January 1st is the beginning of the social year in Moratuwa. It is the beginning of the Christian year and is also the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet people of the area, irrespective of their religion, get ready for New Year on January 1st by doing things such as cleaning their houses and buying new clothes. Often enemies get friendly on the 1st of January by forgiving each other. Most Christians take part in the watch night service on the 31st of December at about 11.00 or 11.30 p.m, and so are able to enter into the New Year in church with the blessing of God. The 1st of January is always a day of festivity for the people of Moratuwa. On this day whoever comes to the house is welcomed with hospitality and entertained with food. In recent times December 31st dinner dances have become a common feature in many hotels and middle class houses in Moratuwa.


Good Friday and Easter are two other festivals that are important in Moratuwa. On Good Friday, the day when Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, passion songs are sung in Churches with 3-hour devotions. On this day the whole area is covered with an atmosphere of sadness. The Sunday following Good Friday, when Christians celebrate Easter and commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the whole area is covered with a festive atmosphere.  Christmas is the other most important festival of the area, and it brings people together at the end of the year on the 25th of December. On this day Christians celebrate the nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Festivity connected with Christmas begins at the start of December with nativity plays and the singing of Christmas carols.  Christmas trees and cribs are a common sight in the area, creating the Christmas atmosphere. During the Christmas season various groups go from house to house in the evenings singing Christmas carols. At midnight on December 24th a service is held in churches to herald Christmas, and at midnight the sound of crackers keeps the whole city awake, reminding them the birth of Christ.


Especially in the Roman Catholic areas the feast of the local church is a social festival for the whole area. These festivals begin with the raising of the so-called flag tree in front of the church. There are processions held in connection with the feast and the area is decorated for these.  Except on the day of Good Friday, food and beverages, including liquor, are available in many houses and other places, as a common feature of the Moratuwa area.


v  Music, Singing, Drama and Christians


In Moratuwa, especially among Christians, music, singing and drama have become an integral part of day to day life. The main reason for this is the influence of the Christian Church. The worship of the Christian church cannot be separated from music, singing and drama. Irrespective of denomination, in all Christian churches singing is one of the most important aspects of the act of worship. Traditionally, the organ accompanies singing in churches, but today oriental and other Western instruments, such as the serpina, tabla, guitar and drums, are increasingly being used in churches for worship.


In Christian families children are born into an atmosphere of singing hymns and other religious songs. Therefore from their birth they begin to integrate these songs and hymns into their lives.  This makes singing very natural for the Christians of Moratuwa.


Since the playing of musical instruments is encouraged in Churches, this gives the Christians in Moratuwa an opportunity to improve their talent in playing musical instruments. Not only in worship, but even in other gatherings, Christians make it a point to have a singsong, often accompanied by a musical instrument such as the guitar.


Drama is something else very natural to the people of Moratuwa. The central act of worship in church (which is called the Mass, Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper) is conducted in the form of a drama. Architecture inside the church resembles a theatre for drama.  The central act of worship is called the re-enactment of the Last Supper of Jesus. The meaning is that Christians are expected to relive the Last Supper of Jesus and actively participate in that event. At the same time right from the beginning of the introduction of Christianity by the Portuguese, drama was used as a means of the proclamation of the Christian Gospel. Easter dramas are a prominent example of this up to date. All these factors have made drama a common feature in the activities of Moratuwa. In the above background there are many prominent singers, actors and players of musical instruments who have come out of the Christian background in Moratuwa.




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[5] Perera S.G. - 1962 - Historical Sketches (Ceylon Church History) P.9, The literature Committee, Colombo Catholic Diocesan Union, Colombo. - [Quotation from Migne Patrol Grae, Vol.88: J.W. McCrindle, The Christian Topography.]

[6] Perera S.G. - 1962 - Historical Sketches (Ceylon Church History) P.9, The literature Committee, Colombo Catholic Diocesan Union, Colombo. - [Quotation from Migne Patrol Grae, Vol.88: J.W. McCrindle, The Christian Topography.] 

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[8] This archeological object is presently kept at the Vaunia museum and was identified by the Sri Lankan church historian Ven.Dr. D. Kanagaratnum in 1992

[9] Geiger Wilhelm (Translator)  -1953- Culavamsa, Volume I,  P.43, The Ceylon Government information department, Colombo.

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[27] Somaratne G. P. V.  -1992- Sri Lankan Church History (In Sinhala) PP. 19 & 24, Marga Sahodaratvaya, Nugegoda

[28] Somaratne G. P. V.  -1992- Sri Lankan Church History (In Sinhala) PP. 19 & 24, Marga Sahodaratvaya, Nugegoda

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[34] General bibliography - PORTUGUESE ERA   Perera S.G. - 1962 - Historical Sketches (Ceylon Church History) PP.13-184, The literature Committee, Colombo Catholic Diocesan Union, Colombo.

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[51] Bond G. D. -1988- The Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka, P.45, Motilal Banarsidass publishers private limited, Delhi.

[52] Somaratne G. P. V.  -1992- Sri Lankan Church History (In Sinhala) PP. 116 & 117, Marga Sahodaratvaya, Nugegoda

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[55] Somaratne G. P. V.  -1992- Sri Lankan Church History (In Sinhala) PP. 119 & 122, Marga Sahodaratvaya, Nugegoda

[56] Poya is calculated according to the vexing of the moon.

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[61] Davy J. – 1821 reprinted in 1983- An account of the interior of Ceylon and of its Inhabitants with Travels in that Island. PP. 214-215, Tisara Prakasakayo Ltd. Publishers, Dutugemunu St. Dehiwala, Sri Lanka.

[62] Knox R. – 1680/1681 reprinted in 1981- An Historical Relation of Ceylon P. 135, M.D. Gunasena & Co.Ltd. Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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[66] Somaratne G. P. V.  -1992- Sri Lankan Church History (In Sinhala) P. 122, Marga Sahodaratvaya, Nugegoda

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[68] Somaratne G. P. V.  -1992- Sri Lankan Church History (In Sinhala) P. 121, Marga Sahodaratvaya, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka.

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[70] Roberts M. ( Edited) – 1979- Collective identities, nationalism and protest in modern Sri Lanka. P.302, (Chapter VII by Gananath Obeyesekere), Marga Institute, 61, Isipatana Mawatha, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka.

[71] No author given -1967 – Social change in Ceylon, P.65 Christian Workers Fellowship C.W.F. office, YMCA building, Colombo 1.

[72] No author given -1967 – Social change in Ceylon, P.65 Christian Workers Fellowship C.W.F. office, YMCA building, Colombo 1.

[73] Houtart F.  -1974- Religion and ideology in Sri Lanka, PP.370-384, Hansa Publishers Colombo-3.

[74] Good Friday is the name given to the day on which Jesus was crucified.

[75] Holy Bible – Book of Exodus  chapter 20