Looking for a bit of the undiscovered? Then Sri Lanka’s magical South is the place to go Part 1: Culture

Yoga Explorers yoga retreat to Sri Lanka - beachfront

Our beachfront yoga retreat to Talalla Beach on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka, undoubtedly ticks all the dream holiday boxes: perfect untouched beaches; leafy coconut palms; wonderful yoga teachers; the warmth of the locals, and delicious organic food! 

And if you are considering a day trip, or even extending your stay to travel further afield, what does Sri Lanka’s South have to offer?

Before the highway from Colombo to Galle was built in 2011, the South rarely featured on travellers’ itineraries and remains relatively untouched by tourism today (although it is on the rise). So if you are looking for a bit of undiscovered magic then we recommend that you go NOW … before everybody catches on!

Because there is so much to see and do, this will be the first of three blogs exploring Southern Sri Lanka, with a focus on history and culture.

Remaining essentially rural, the South is a bastion of tradition. With Sinhalese, Buddhist and Hindu culture found in the wealth of temples, giant Buddha statues, and other ancient sites that dot the coast. 

The stunning Sithulpawwa Temple stands on a 1,300-foot-tall rock in Sri Lanka's south eastern Hambantota district, offering breath-taking views of Yala National Park (see below). This ancient place of worship has a history of over 2200 years, and is believed to have been one of the greatest 2nd century sites of Buddhist scholarship. The name Sithulpawwa is derived from the ancient word ‘Cittalpabbata’, which means ‘the hill of the quiet mind’. 

Yoga Explorers yoga retreat to Sri Lanka - day trip to Sithulpawwa Temple

If a vigorous climb up around 500 steps carved at varying heights into the rock doesn’t put you off, Mulkirigala is another example of a peaceful rock temple. Here a series of caves on five different terraced levels house a number of magnificent Buddha statues, as well as cave paintings. It was here that the ancient manuscripts of the Mahavamsa: the great chronicle of ancient Sri Lanka, were discovered. If you make it to the very top of the rock there is a small dagoba, where you are rewarded with spellbinding views over the surrounding countryside. 

It is said that Sri Lanka has more festivals than any other country in the world, boasting a festival a month. Religious pageantry that is guaranteed to serve diverse culture and colour galore. Most of these follow the lunar calendar, so exact dates vary from year to year. In November ‘II Poyo’ will commemorate the Buddha’s ordination of sixty disciples, when Sri Lankan Buddhists traditionally make offerings at their local temples. The less devout have been known to celebrate with a drink or two and a dance! These Poyo festivals occur throughout the year, and are often official bank holidays.

The Hindu festival of lights, Deepaavali or Diwali, also takes place in late October/early November (7th November this year). Although largely centred in peoples’ homes, the thousands of flickering oil lamps that are lit to celebrate Rama’s return after his period of exile, and to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, are a beautiful sight to behold. Symbolic of the triumph of light over dark, knowledge over ignorance, hope over despair, and good over evil.

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Frances HUbbard