Traditional Games in Sri Lanka

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson introduces students to some of the traditional games played Sri Lanka. Learn about Sri Lankan competitive team sports, unique variations on pillow fights, and fun games played during festivals.

Sri Lanka Cultural Overview

Sri Lanka is a small island close to the southern end of India. As a result of centuries of intermarriage between Sri Lankan and Indian royal families, Sri Lanka shares many cultural similarities with its northern neighbor. Among the many shared features with India is a love of great festivals for religious celebrations or other holidays like New Year's. These events typically feature a number of traditional games. Let's take a look at a few games played in daily life or at the festivals!

Map of Sri Lanka
Map of Sri Lanka

Kili Thadthu

Kili Thadthu is more of a competitive sport than a festival game. It is traditionally played by the Tamil people, who live in both Sri Lanka and southern India. The game of Kili Thadthu originated in India, where it goes by the name Kilithattu. In some ways it resembles a game of tag, but involves two teams and much more complicated rules. One team guards a base while the other team tries to invade without getting tagged.

Kili Thadthu is a particular favorite of Sri Lankan children.
Sri Lankan Children

To play, each team is only allowed six players on the field at any time. A pattern of lines drawn in the sand or painted on the grass covers the field. The invading team can run on the lines drawn lengthwise across the field, but must not touch the defenders' lines which run horizontally on the field.

To score, a player on the invading team must cross the field and reach the opposing team's base without being tagged. The running player, called the kili relies on their teammates to tag or block the defending team because the kili cannot tag anyone. Each period lasts seven minutes, and the next period begins with the teams switching sides from invaders to defenders.

Pillow Fighting - Kotta Pora

You might be familiar with pillow fighting from childhood sleepovers, but in Sri Lanka, fighting with pillows is elevated to a major athletic event. Both players balance, seated, on a wooden beam, with one hand on their pillow and the other hand tied behind their back. When the match begins, they try to knock one another off the beam while maintaining balance with just their legs and feet. For safety, the beam usually sits above a mattress or water to cushion the fall of the losing player.

Festival Games

Sharing many of the same holidays as the neighboring country of India, festivals in Sri Lanka provide people with an opportunity to play fun, even silly, games they would not normally play at other times of the year.

Sri Lankan Festival

Breaking the Pots - Kana Mutti Bindima

Similar to piñatas at Mexican parties, Kana Mutti Bindima involves blindfolded participants attempting to break water-filled pots with a stick.

Eying the Elephant - Aliyata Asa Thabeema

Much like the party game Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Eying the Elephant requires blindfolded players to affix an eye on an elephant image.

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