© 2023 Dr. Margaret Sheppard

Life Cycle Babies Childhood Puberty Engagement Weddings Death


Families play a very important part in daily life with kin giving mutual support at all stages of the life cycle and in day-to day tasks. In rural areas kin usually live in the same area, sharing the same paddy field area and/or fishing boats etc. Or they may work in family groups such as in market trading, building, thatching, general labouring etc with other family members. Typically families go on pilgrimages together, touring around the Holy Sites and Temples. Thus it is important that children grow up to know their kin. The family and its mutual support network is all important in Sri Lankan culture.

From an early age children learn  who their family members are.

Children learn by copying their elders as they do the world over. Young children accompany their mothers everywhere. As they grow older they begin to help with the household tasks - girls assisting their mothers and boys their fathers.

Boys playing with their cousins in 3-wheeler taxi belonging to one of their fathers whilst he is on his lunch break.  They are pretending  to take fares and drive etc.!

Mother with disabled older son and  her younger daughter. Young daughter already learning how to care for him

Pirit for a new house

Observing the final filling of the grave, older boys often help

Walking in burial procession to cemetery

Assisting with the funeral feast

Funerals - children attend all parts - the wake, the service, and the burial at the cemetery

Temple Pujahs and Pilgrimages

On these children learn about their religion, respectful behaviour, and also about different parts of their country. Religion plays a  very important to Sri Lankans of all faiths.

Making Pujah offerings at Temple with school class

School pilgrimage to Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

Family Pilgrimages - Families regularly visit their local Temples to pray and often hire a van or bus to make  group family pilgrimages to Temples and Holy sites around Sri Lanka. They may stay in the Temple Rest House cooking their meals in the pilgrim kitchens. Frequently on these pilgrimages they cook the midday meal for the resident monks thus gaining merit. Children help with the cooking and preparations and learn how to pray and make pujah offerings in the correct manner. When the pilgrims cook for monks, the monks will lead prayers and preach for the pilgrims. Children thus learn the correct Temple practices and behaviours.

Sri Pada/Adam’s Peak at sunrise following overnight pilgrimage climb to the summit

Family Pilgrimage to Kataragama Temple to have tractor

blessed to ensure good business and success at paddy fields

Placing oil lamps  to commemorate Sri Lanka Independence Day

Temples  care for young boys. Some of these children sadly have no parents or their parents are unable to care for them. Other boys may spend time as trainee monks. The temples educate them and take care of all their needs. The boys not only receive religious instruction but also attend school and some may progress on to university. Some remain as monks whilst others return to the laity.

Children accompany their families on these pilgrimages.

As part of the pilgrimages they often cook for temple monks - this gains merit.

Temples care for orphan boys

A family member on a pilgrimage, serves food to the monks for their midday meal. The senior monk sits near the younger boys.

Young monks

On completion of preparations the pilgrims stand respectfully whilst monks process to their meal.

Pilgrims eat only after serving the monks

Children in Kavadi dance at Kataragama

Partaking of Pujah food

Cracking coconuts

Learning respectful Temple and Pilgrimage behaviour

Family outing

With mothers

Pirit party for new home and business

Weddings - children attend these with their families. Close relatives of the couple are chosen to form part of the wedding party - young boys and girls as flower girls and boys. Teenage girls are bridesmaids or as servers and are “on show” to guests as potential future marriage partners, so “correct social behaviour” is important.

Young boys on their way to a family wedding

Attending Traditional Occasions  with their families - learning the culture and accepted way of behaviour. This is primarily learnt in the family and local community.