© 2023 Dr. Margaret Sheppard

Life Cycle Babies Childhood Puberty Engagement Weddings Death


A girl may marry in her sixteenth year and a man in his twenty first year and all marriages  to be recognised must be registered with the civil authorities.  (This is in accordance with Dutch law traditions which still persist.) Marriages are still normally only between couples of the same caste group.

Traditionally marriages were arranged by parents and elders and this is still common practice particularly in rural areas. There are exceptions  such as secret love affairs leading to elopements or even girls being kidnapped. As this can still lead to disgrace for the couple and even ostracism from their family and kin, it is fairly uncommon. However it should be noted that with increasing educational and work opportunities outside the immediate village or area, young couples  increasingly meet each other at work or during study at college or university but still will ensure parental and family approval before marrying.

A girl’s dowry is still an important consideration and its amount and content will be negotiated early on in marriage negotiations. It is still common for matchmakers to be involved in identifying suitable marriage partners, parents typically approaching one when they feel their son or daughter is ready for marriage. The matchmaker will have knowledge of the girl’s dowry and caste and will approach  the families of any suitable prospective marriage partners.  The matchmaker to effect successful outcomes, must have detailed knowledge of all the local families, finances, illnesses , land or property ownership, characteristics etc. This role with all its necessary knowledge is often passed down from father to son, through the generations. Matchmakers are rewarded by both families for the provision of their services so as marriage is still the norm in Sri Lanka, it is a lucrative position.

Although marriages are often still arranged for young people by parents,  they are not forced. When suitable partners are identified (this may be through the services of a matchmaker, or nowadays via newspaper advertisements) the man's family will visit the woman's family. She will remain in a room while initial discussions take place. Then she comes out dressed in a sari and serves tea and refreshments to the visitors. This is so that they can look at her. The prospective couple will then be given some time to talk to each other. If both agree to the prospective marriage then the both birth charts of the prospective couple are then taken to an astrologer who investigates if the couple are suited. They should show a compatibility scoring of between  15 and 20 on a top score of 20,  for the marriage to be predicted as a success.

If this is all satisfactory then the next stage is the formal engagement/betrothal during which the marriage may well be registered with the civil authorities although nowadays this may all be performed at the actual wedding ceremony. Registration may take place at the local Government Registration office or if a party is being held, the Registrar attends the ceremony at e.g. the prospective bride's home. At this stage the prospective marriage becomes public knowledge.

Engagements may be long e.g. 2-3 years. The couple are considered “spoken for” and it is hard to break this off should either change their mind.

In the case of this engagement, the couple had both recently qualified as language teachers and had met at University.

A suitable lucky date with lucky times was chosen by the astrologer for the engagement ceremony which was in November 2013. As 2013 was considered an unlucky year they were in fact married in August 2014. (In fact there were few marriages in 2013 due to this.)

This particular family are from the coconut picker caste. Many of the relatives work abroad as doctors and other professional jobs. However many of the ancient traditional customs are observed.

Now, the siistra-kariya appoints a day for the nuptials. Again the two horoscopes must be consulted, for care must be taken that the wedding is not celebrated on an unfavourable day for either of the partners. Following an old usage, a little bower (porua) of coloured paper is made on the wedding day, generally in one of the more spacious rooms of the house or else under a protective roof which has been constructed in the open air for the solemnities. In it, the young couple sit down. The brother of the girl's mother ties the right thumb of the bridegroom to the left one of the bride with a white thread and covers the pair with a white cloth. A few drops of yellow-root water are poured on to the joined hands from a little earthenware pot, while children of the family recite poems (yaya mangalangata). Then, a banquet is served for which, nowadays, a big wedding cake is baked,

following the English custom.

There is a prescribed lucky time for the groom's family to leave with the bride. She is taken by them either to a hotel for the first night or to her new home. She is welcomed at her new home. Some of her relatives may accompany her to see her safely settled in. They are served with refreshments & then depart for their homes. Again there are lucky times for the couple to step over the threshold of their new home.

The next day the whole process (without the wedding ceremony) is repeated again at the groom's home. This time the bride is dressed in a red sari & all her preparation & clothes are provided by the groom's family. At a prescribed lucky time the bride's family arrive to be entertained by the groom's family. They arrive with the dowry which is unpacked into the bride's new house.

During the next 2-3 weeks the groom's relatives will come to greet the bride & also they will take her around & introduce her to their more distant relatives.

After this period she usually returns for a short visit to her own home as a newly married woman.

Her first child will be born at her own home with her mother taking care of her. Subsequent children are born at her new home where she will be under the care of her in-laws.

Couple with bride’s relatives

“Light” refreshments served after the couple have signed in  front of the registrar

Engagement “feast”. The couple are the first to help themselves. They each serve the other

Then they each feed each other from their own plates