The writer Paul Bowles, who lived in Sri Lanka in the 1950s, described the people there as tone deaf. Many Sri Lankans take offense to this and argue that their country has a rich musical history. The two main forces in traditional Sri Lankan music has been dance- and festival-accompanying drumming and Buddhist chanting.

Homegrown Sri Lankan music has its roots in agricultural work songs, Buddhist temple music and chants, and court music. Sri Lanka’s location on major trade and traveling routes meant that was open to influences from the outside. The Portugese left behind some of their musical instruments and their tradition of sad ballads. The African slaves they brought with them introduced some of their rhythm styles. [Source: Rough Guide to World Music]

Ravindranath Tagor, a Bengali from Calcutta who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, visited Sri Lanka with a group in 1934 and performed a drama and laid the foundation stone for “Sri Pali” at Horana and later introduced music, Art and Dancing. His visit to Sri Lanka made a big change and the awareness in the music scene and lot of Sri Lankan started visiting India for higher education.

There are numerous forms of music produced and appreciated in Sri Lanka: religious chanting, work songs, traditional drumming, South Asian and Western classical music, as well as contemporary popular music and film songs from national artists and abroad. Although appealing to different sections of the community, performances of all types are typically well-attended in Sri Lanka. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Sri Lankan pop music has been defined by its effort to remain vital and relevant in the face of overwhelming competition from Bollywood music. Sri Lankan Broadcasting Company (SLBC, known before 1972 as Radio Ceylon) played a major role in promoting homegrown Sri Lankan pop music.

Types of Sri Lankan Music

“Baila” is a style of Sri Lankan music derived from Portuguese ballads. In the old days it was played with guitars and ukeleles, with hand claps providing rhythm, but now is usually played with electric guitars, keyboards and modern drum kits. Many of Sri Lanka’s most popular musicians have been baila performers. No wedding is complete without a baila band. In the 1960s, calypso-influenced and mariachi-influenced baila were all the rage. [Source: Rough Guide to World Music]

Music of Sri Lanka has be divided in to seven categories: 1) Traditional folk music; 2) Local drama music (Kolam/Nadagam/Noorthy); 3) Hindustani classical music (Ragadari music); 4) South Indian classical music (Karnataka music); 5) Tamil and Hindustani Film music; 6) Western classical music; 7) Sinhala light music. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau ]

Hindustani classical music (Ragadari music) is associated with northern India and features sitars. South Indian classical music (Karnataka Music) is popular in southern India and northern Sri Lanka, especially among Tamils. Sri Lanka has traditionally not produced many films and has imported films from India. An affection for Tamil, Hindustani and Bollwood music is rooted in this. Music for films popular Sri Lankan films such as “Kadawunu Poronduwa”, “Varadunu Kurumanama”, “and Angulimala” copied Indian film songs. “Rekhawa” produced Sir Lester James Peiris was the first Sri Lankan film produced using Sri Lankan music. One thing the British left behind was an interest in Western classical music and a desire to learn the piano, considered easier than learning Indian musical instruments.

“Kolam”, “Sokaro” and “Nadagam” are words used to describe Sri Lanka’s tradition of theatrical music. This music has its roots is open-air dramas performed at festivals and other gatherings. This tradition has been strongly influenced by the music, dance and drama of both southern and northern India. Before the age of film and television these were the primary forms of entertainment. They are kept a live in contemporary film music and popular music and radio shows and dramas. [Source: Rough Guide to World Music]

Kolam music based on low country tunes and is considered underdeveloped.. Nadagam is regarded as more developed and has been influenced by South Indian street drama which was introduced by South Indian Artists such as Phillippu Singho from Negombo in 1824. “Harishchandra Nadagama” in Hnguranketha which was originally written in Telingu language and “Maname” and “Sanda kinduru” and considered Nadagam classics.

Popular Singers and Musicians in Sri Lanka

Many of Sri Lanka’s most popular musicians have been baila performers. Desmond De Silva is widely recognized as the king of baila. Ananda Samarakone, who composed the Sri Lankan national anthem, is considered a pioneer of Sinhala light music.

Singers like Sunil Shantha, Surya Shankar Molligods and Ananda Samaraakoon pioneered a style of Sinhalese pop music that dealt with themes that were close to ordinary Sri Lankans. Early forms of this music that placed a great deal of emphasis on lyrics was referred to as the “Songwriters Club.” Sri Lankan film music was pioneered in the 1950s by the composers Mohammed Gauss and Premasiri Kemadasa.

Rukmani Devi (1923-1978) was known as the "Nightingale of Sri Lanka". This symbolized not only her fame as a singer, but the affection with which she was treasured in the hearts of the people of Sri Lanka. Her death, in a motor accident in 1978, was a calamity which is still mourned today.

Bollywood music and Indian pop stars are popular in Sri Lanka. The singers Shar-mila and Rithika were especially popular in the 2000s.

W.D. Amaradeva is one of the most celebrated musicians in Sri Lanka. A singer, violinist and composer, he has composed scores for television, film, ballet and written more than 10,000 songs. He began his music career in 1947 playing violin in the orchestra of Mohammed Gauss and is known throughout South Asia. Other popular performers over the last few decades have included Sanath Nandasiri, T,M. Jayarathne, Vijaya Kumaratunga (the assassinated husband of one of Sri Lanka’s presidents), Milton Perera, Neela Wckramasinghe and Diliup Gabadamudalige, who is sometimes referred to as the Elton John of Sri Lanka.

Sunil Santha was one of the pioneers of Sri Lankan music who did not stick to Hindustani and Tamil tunes and introduced Sinhala "sarala songs". He showed Sri Lankan musicians a homegrown path to success, He had a wonderful flowing voice and sang many well-known tunes that are popular to this day. Radio Ceylon broadcast his songs up to about 1955. Around that time he retired from song writing.

Traditional Music in Sri Lanka

Traditional music played at Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy features drumming, the blowing of conch shells and playing traditional instruments. M. B. Dassanayake wrote: Our historical record, the ‘Mahavamsa’, tells us that the Aryan Prince Vijaya heard music on the day he landed on the shores of Lanka. According to Pali scriptures the ‘Yakkas’ (one of the tribes inhabiting the Island at the time) were fond of songs and dances.It may be that some of the devil dances that have remained with us to the present day owe their origin to the ‘Yakka’ dances. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

That a well developed system of Sinhalese music existed in ancient Lanka seems probable. Numerous references in Sinhalese literature, stone carvings and frescoes support this assumption. But to trace exactly what the system was from the imperfect fragments performed today by professional Sinhala musicians, is no easy task. The art of music, like most of the other arts in the East has been handed down the centuries orally from teacher to pupil. It was not written down in notation as in the West.

Bands of hereditary professional musicians and dancers kept the tradition alive. Their patrons the kings, princes and nilames, freed them from want by rich presents and gifts of land and kept them at their palaces and mansions, so that they could devote time to perfect their art.

When as a result of foreign occupation, this royal patronage was withdrawn, the professional musicians had to turn to cultivation to eke out a living, and the standard of musical performance as well as the art of music naturally declined. In the face of these drawbacks, it speaks well for the virility of Sinhala poetry, music and dance that these arts have been kept alive. It is in the Kandyan Kingdom, that last stronghold to fall into the foreign hands, that the remnants of the art of music have been best preserve. The revival of Sinhala music has been very marked during past decades. In our schools, Sinhala nursery rhymes and patriotic songs are replacing foreign rhymes. Let us hope that Sri Lanka will find her soul through her culture and music. Sinhalese musicians will regain their lost foundations and build on them an edifice of Sinhalese music that will make its own contribution to the world.

Musical Instruments in Sri Lanka

There were five sorts of traditional musical instruments in Sri Lanka according to M. B. Dassanayake: Atata (one faced drum), Vitata (two faced drum), Vitata-taya (three faced drum), Ghana (metal percussion, sisiraya (wind instrument). The pantheru — a tambourines-like instrument — is also very common. Some of the traditional string instruments and wind instruments are from southern India. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

Dassanayake wrote: “Seventy-five musical instruments used in ancient Sri Lanka comprise — twenty-six varieties of drums (one and two faced); eight kinds of ‘Vinas’ (three, five, seven, twelve, thirteen, twenty-one stringed etc.). Twenty-six varieties of wind instruments (bamboo and wooden flutes etc) and fifteen kinds of metal percussion (hand cymbals, metal bells, tinkling anklets etc).

Of these seventy-five instruments those in common use today are drums ‘magul-bera’, ‘geta-bera’, ‘mihingu-bera’, ‘maddala’, ‘udekki’, ‘pana-bera’, ‘davula’, ‘tammattama’, ‘hewisi’ and ‘rabana’. The wind instruments used are ‘horana’ (large and small), ‘naga’, ‘sinnan’, ‘rak-sinnan’, ‘vas-dandu and sak’ (conch-shell). The imposing ‘maha-kombu’ is some what like a tuba in appearance. Unfortunately, it is little used.

Drums of Sri Lanka

Piyasara Shilapadhipathi wrote: Sri Lanka has had many types of drums since ancient times. References to them are found in classical literature sources such as the Pujawaliya, Thupawansaya an, Dalada Siritha. There have been about 33 types of drums. Around ten exist today. The rest are confined only to names. Drums in use today are: 1) Geta Bera (Bera Drum); 2) Yak Bera; 3) Davula; 4) Thammattama; 5) Udakkiya; 6) Dakkiya; 7) Bummadiya; 8) Hand Rabana; 9) Bench Rabana; 10) Dandu Beraya. [Source: Piyasara Shilapadhipathi]

1) Geta Bera is he most important kind of drum in Kanyan dancing. Also spelled “gete-bere” and also known as the “magul bere”, it is made from a carved out block of wood from Ehela, Kohomba or Kos tree and is said to be constructed according to a design first offered by Maha Brahma, the supreme god. The drum tapers towards the ends and on the right side. The skin on one side is from a monkey while the skin on the other side is from a an ox. Each produces different tones. The braces and strings on the sides are made with deerskin. They can be tightened to provide the desired tension. The drum is usually slung around the neck and the played with both hands. A student who begins his training in the use of the Greta Bera has to practice twelve elementary exercises.

2) Yak Bera drum is referred to by many names among which are the Ruhunu Bera, Devol Bera and Ghoskaya. This drum normally accompanies the dances from the low country, especially the mask dancing connected with rituals and the folk play Kolam. The drum is turned out of wood taken from the Kohomba, Ehela, Kitul or Milla trees. This is a cylindrical drum, fairly long and is played on both sides with hands. The openings on the two sides of the drum are covered with the stomach lining of a cow. The strings used to tighten the sides are from cattle skin. A student has twelve elementary exercises to learn to play this drum.

3) Davula is used in most of the Buddhist ceremonies all over the island. This drum is cylindrical, but much shorter than the Yak Bera. An important feature of this drum is that one side is played with the hand while the other side is played with a stick. The sides are covered with cattle skin and the tightening is done with a string made specially for the purpose. These are also twelve elementary exercises to be followed by a person learning to use the drum.

4) Thammattama is also referred to as the Twin Drum. This drum is played with two sticks. The tow drums are of different sizes and while the right one produces a louder sound, the left one produces a looser sound. The drums which have only the top side covered either with the skin of the cow or a buffalo. The wood used is from Kos, Kohomba and Milla trees. They used special sticks to play drums and the wood is from a creeper known as Kirindi.

5) Udekkiya is smallest drum among the local drums. It is played with one hand the sound is controlled by pressure applied on the strings. The drum is lie the hour glass and is made out of wood from Ehela, Milla and Suriya. The drum is painted with lacquer. The openings are covered with skin from the iguana, monkey or goat.

6) Dakkiya is similar to the Udekkiya, but bigger. This is used mainly for rituals. The drum is hung on the shoulder of the player and the sound is controlled by applying pressure on the strings.

7) Bummadiya is the only drum made from clay. The single opening is covered with the skin of goat, monkey or iguana. The drum is hung on the shoulder of the player and it is played with both hands. During harvesting, people could be seen playing this drum accompanied by singing. The drum is in the shape of a pot.

8) Hand Rabana is about one foot in diameter and is made out of wood from Kos and Milla. The skin used is that of a goat. Some performers keep revolving the rabana on the tip of their fingers while others play it accompanied with singing. This is played with one hand only.

9) Bench Rabana is the biggest of the drums used in Sri Lanka. The special feature of this drum is that it is played at a time by two or more people. They use both hands. This drum is commonly used for New Year festivals and there are many special rhythms played on them. It is mostly played by women.

Drum Music in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s drum tradition is believed to go back 2500 years. Drumming is an important element of Sri Lankan dance music. Many festivals feature a wide variety of drumming. See Dance, See Festivals.

There are martial drums, festive drums and temple drums. Each drum has its special tone and technique: some are struck by the hands alone; some are played with two sticks; and some are beaten with fingers on one side and a stick on the other, creating complex interwoven rhythms.

Piyasara Shilapadhipathi wrote: An examination of the village society in olden times would reveal that drums were used on special occasions during the life span of people, from their birth to the death. Drums, which were originally used, for pleasure and later for rituals, came to be used in the Buddhist Temples for the many ceremonies. At a later stage, Drums were also used as a means of communication. [Source: Piyasara Shilapadhipathi]

The Davula, Thammattama and the Bench Rabana have an important place in matters of communication. Some of these functions are: 1) Ana Bera — to inform the people about orders from the King; 2) Vada Bera — drums played when a criminal is taken for beheading; 3) Mala Bera — drums used in a funeral procession; and 4) Rana Bera — drums used by the army when going out to meet the enemy.

Duran Duran in Sri Lanka

Duran Duran made some classic rock videos in Sri Lanka from their album “Rio” that received heavy rotation on MTV in the early 1980s. The most heavily-played video was “Hungry Like a Wolf” filled with shots of jungles, rivers, elephants, cafes and marketplaces while evoking the mood and tome of an adventure films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The video features Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon pursuing a tiger-like woman. One shot of Le Bon's raising his head from the water pays homage to an identical shot in Apocalypse Now. The elephant scenes were shot at the Elephant orphanage at Pinnawala. The storyline of the video was inspired by lyrics "I'm on the hunt, I'm after you." The Tiger woman is a reference to an ancient Sri Lankan legend of a demonic figure who changes in a female leopard, devouring the men she seduces. A reference to this legend can be found in "The Last Colonial", a book by Sri Lankan born author Christopher Ondaatje. In the video and in Sri Lanka there are no wolves. [Source: Wikipedia]

Marc Weitz wrote in I decided to go to Sri Lanka for the sole purpose of visiting the locations where Duran Duran filmed their music videos for “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save a Prayer,” and “Lonely In Your Nightmare.” In 1982, Duran Duran was larger than life. Prior to this, most music videos were performance pieces with a few flourishes thrown in. People like David Bowie were exceptions who added artsy touches. Then came Duran Duran with videos that were practically movies with adventure and cool stories. [Source: Marc Weitz,, December 30th, 2013]

Duran Duran chose Sri Lanka after one of their managers, Paul Berrow, vacationed there and loved it. At one point, he even wanted to build a temple for himself on Sri Lanka. The band members went to Sri Lanka with their girlfriends and said they had a blast while they were there. “Russell Mulcahy was hired to direct. “Hungry Like the Wolf” is one of Duran Duran’s biggest hits. The band has said that the video is like an Indiana Jones movie, but he’s looking for a girl for the night. Seventeen seconds into the video, we see Simon Le Bon sitting in an exotic café wearing a hat and glacier glasses. A bottle of liquor sits on the table while he shoos away a vendor with a monkey. The camera angle switches to the front, and he stands up in slow motion flipping the table dramatically, as we’ve seen in so many 80s videos. That scene was shot in the capital city, Colombo, in the Pagoda Tea Room. The Pagoda Tea Room is still open. It’s since been refurbished and now has a bland, white paint scheme with plastic tables and chairs. Still exotic, it’s located at 105 Chatham Street in the old area of Colombo called Fort. The final reunion scene of the video is shot here as well. Next Simon Le Bon walks through a bazaar. This was shot in the old market in the town of Galle. The market has since been redone and is not recognizable from the video. There is a short segment in the video where the band members are in a bar, elegantly dressed, and standing by a staircase. That scene was shot in the Amangalla Hotel in Galle (formerly the New Oriental Hotel). Most of the other scenes in the video are shot in the jungle or on the streets, not places that are easily recognizable or can be found.

The “Save a Prayer” video features some beautiful exterior shots filmed at temples, monuments, and beaches. The interior shots were filmed in the Amangalla. The opening scene, in which Simon Le Bon reclines on a couch with a book and a drink, is shot in one of the rooms. The scene where he dances with the girl in the red dress, the model Vanya Seager, was shot in a room just off the lobby called the Zaal. The first-half exterior scenes are shot on the beach near Galle. Midway through the video, there is a helicopter shot of Duran Duran standing atop a giant rock with some ruins. That is Sigiriya, the remains of a royal palace built in the 5th century. Located in the middle of the country, you can climb the rock and visit the surrounding ruins of the gardens and fountains. Stand at the highest point on Sigiriya and pretend that you’re a member of Duran Duran posing for the helicopter shot from above. And don’t forget to wear your white linen suit.

“Also in the video, the band is seen at a number of temples and statues. These scenes were filmed in Polonnaruwa, located a few hours from Sigiriya. Near the end of the video, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, and Andy Taylor sing in front of two statues of Buddha, one standing, one reclining. The statues are called Gal Vihariya and are located at the far (northern) end of the complex. The final shot of the “Save a Prayer” video is iconic. The band members walk amongst the ruins of a temple. Nearby is a stone platform with many pillars still standing, in the background is a giant white stupa (also seen in an aerial shot). Simon Le Bon leans against the side of the platform and Andy Taylor stands on top strumming a guitar. The rest of band members are wandering about. They converge on the temple, walk to the end and look up reverently at the statue of Buddha. The camera pulls away, and the video closes with Simon Le Bon reclining on the couch. The temple scene is shot at the Lankathilaka Temple.

“Lonely In Your Nightmare” is the third video shot in Sri Lanka. It’s not as well known, but I love the song, and it again features the very beautiful Vanya Seager. Interior scenes from the video were shot in a room at the Amangalla Hotel. There are two scenes to visit from this video. Simon Le Bon is standing on a beach with a small island in the background with a house built upon it. That is a Taprobane. It’s actually a fancy hotel that costs from $1000 to $2200 per night. It’s located in the very south of the island near the town of Weligama. It’s right across the street from the bus station and thus easy to get to. The final scenes of Lonely in Your Nightmare, where Simon Le Bon walks along a rampart and embraces the girl, are shot at Galle.

“Not in any video, but very important, you must visit the Strand Guest House in Unawatuna and stay in the “Duran Duran suite.” It’s 5 km from Galle and near the beach. It’s a B&B run by a very nice man named Asoka and his wife.” In the 1980s “Asoka had just opened up his B&B when Paul Berrow stopped in to get a room. The “suite” is a somewhat large room atop the building. You must climb a narrow staircase and practically crawl into the attic to get there. Asoka told me that Simon Le Bon used to arrive every morning to have tea with Paul on the balcony. Paul stayed there for two months.”

M.I.A. and Her Controversies

Maya Arulpragasam — the hip hop performer and pop star known as M.I.A. — is the child of a Sri Lankan Tamil rebel leader. She was born in London and moved there for good when she was 12 but spent the gist of her child hood in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, the heart of Tamil Sri Lanka and the launching pad for the brutal Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers. During her music career she perhaps better known for stirring up trouble and creating controversies than for her music. Among other things she flipped the audience the finger when she performed with Madonna at the Super Bowl and was very pregnant when she sang on an MTV awards show.

Carrie Battan wrote in The New Yorker: M.I.A., a Londoner of Sri Lankan descent, has long been guided by the notion that her music is inextricably linked to sociocultural concerns. In April 2106, she drew immediate criticism when she commented on the Black Lives Matter movement to the Evening Standard: “It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the nineteen-nineties, or Public Enemy in the nineteen-eighties. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters?” [Source: Carrie Battan, The New Yorker , September 12, 2016]

“By now, M.I.A. should be accustomed to this outcome. Her résumé includes a long list of controversial decisions, such as an online spat with Anderson Cooper over his coverage of Sri Lanka, an alliance forged with the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and numerous disputes with her label. M.I.A.’s brand of provocation, once a source of admiration, has become a liability. At times, it can seem as if she had been deployed to test our claims that we adore disobedience, and that we prefer complicated, “unlikable” protagonists to predictable ones — or that we’re sincerely invested in the global concerns and musical styles that she doggedly puts in front of us.

In 2004, she released the mixtape “Piracy Funds Terrorism” — a clattering, irresistible whirlwind of squelching baile funk, reggaeton, and hip-hop — the major-label system was largely intact. At the time, young, untested talents did not yet have inexpensive access to the technologies that later enabled them to turn their homes into recording studios. Nor did they have online platforms through which to release and promote their music, and to quickly amass big audiences. Most rappers did not yet proudly wear skinny jeans, nor was it customary for them to sing as often as they rapped. Indie-rock fans held fiercely to their disdain for pop stars. And those pop stars had not yet grown comfortable acting as political provocateurs.

“M.I.A. is not responsible on her own for these changes, but she has been in the vanguard of nearly every cultural and economic advance in music of the past dozen years. (She was even a harbinger of the surprise-album era, with the release of the excellent mixtape “Vicki Leekx,” with almost no warning, on New Year’s Eve in 2010.) At the same time, no one has struggled as publicly with the march of the music industry. It is difficult to sustain a reputation as a renegade in such a turbulent era, but M.I.A.’s taste for controversy has not wavered. Early this summer, out of disdain for her label, Interscope, she threatened to leak “aim.” This is a habit of hers. On “Piracy Funds Terrorism,” she heavily sampled her then forthcoming début, “Arular,” cannibalizing her own output.

“M.I.A. has routinely — and sometimes rightly — accused major artists and awards shows of pilfering her aesthetic. She has a habit of dismissing the work of artists like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, whom she once called “not progressive, but . . . a good mimic.” At other times, she plays along with the pop machine, with varying degrees of success. In 2009, she appeared at the Grammys, nine months pregnant, wearing a gossamer dress and dark shades, to perform “Swagga Like Us,” with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I., and Jay Z. Three years later, at the Super Bowl, with Nicki Minaj and Madonna, she sang their collaboration, “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” During the song, she gave the audience the middle finger — a gesture that generated a $16.6-million lawsuit from the N.F.L. “Paper Planes,” the song that turned her into a genuine star, in 2007, was somewhat diminished by MTV’s censorship of the song’s signature gunshot sounds, a move that M.I.A. described as “sabotage.”

“Insubordination is easier to pull off than innovation. In recent years, M.I.A.’s controversies have typically been more vital than her music. (On her new album, she samples her twelve-year-old hit “Galang,” in a song that sounds as fresh as anything she’s done in years.) She thrives when she is making a kind of thorny, slapdash style of global dance music that is, by design, hit or miss, prizing chaos and swagger over lucidity — not the kind of sound that can be easily guided to success by a major label.

“But it’s tough to fault M.I.A. for her inconsistency. There is a double standard at play: audiences love her for her disaffected cool and her willingness to experiment, but they chide her when the experiments don’t go well. These days, M.I.A. gives off the frayed energy of an artist being dragged through a career she didn’t sign up for. She has always claimed that she had a greater interest in fashion and visual art but turned to music because it was a simpler and more populist way to distribute her ideas.

M.I.A. Childhood in War-Torn Northern Sri Lanka

Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam was born on July 18 1975, in Hounslow, London to Arul Pragasam, a Sri Lankan Tamil engineer, writer, and activist, and his wife, Kala, a seamstress. When she was six months old, her family moved to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, where her brother Sugu was born. The Sri Lanka Civil War with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) lasted from 1983 to 2009. [Source: Wikipedia]

In Jaffna, her father adopted the name Arular and became a political activist and founding member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a political Tamil group affiliated with the LTTE. Arulpragasam's years in Janna were marked by displacement caused by the Sri Lankan Civil War. Her family went into hiding from the Sri Lankan Army, and Arulpragasam had little contact with her father during this period. She has described her family as living in "big-time" poverty but also recalls some of her happiest memories from growing up in Jaffna. Maya attended Catholic convent schools such as the Holy Family Convent, Jaffna, where she developed her art skills—painting in particular—to work her way up her class.

During the civil war, soldiers would put guns through holes in the windows and shoot at the school, which she said was "fun." Her classmates were trained to dive under the table or run next door to English-language schools that, according to her, "wouldn't get shot." Arulpragasam lived on a road alongside much of her extended family and played inside temples and churches in the town. Due to safety concerns, Arulpragasam's mother relocated herself and her children to Madras in India, where they lived in a derelict house and received sporadic visits from their father, who was introduced to the children as their "uncle" in order to protect them. The family, minus Arular, then resettled in Jaffna temporarily, only to see the war escalate further in northeast Sri Lanka. During this time, nine-year-old Arulpragasam's primary school was destroyed in a government raid. Her mother then returned with her children back to London in 1986, a week before Arulpragasam's 11th birthday, where they were housed as refugees. Her father became an independent peace mediator between the two sides of the civil war. In south London, her family was one of two in the Phipps Bridge Estate in Mitcham district. The atmosphere there she said was "incredibly racist."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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