Sri Lankans have many forms of artistic expression, from traditional handicrafts such as batik and weaving to metalwork. Goldsmiths and silversmiths can be found everywhere in the island, even in rural areas. Women weave mats and baskets from palmyra leaves, palm leaves and bamboo. Mask-making is an important art form, and masks are often used in dance and theatre. Gentle humour is also a feature of much Sri Lankan art: both kolan, a mixture of dance, mimicry and drama, and the popular baila songs comment on love, history, social and political events with humour and sympathy.

Two major forms of traditional dance, high-country kandyan and low-country dancing, are popular in Sri Lanka. Kandyan is an athletic dance that depicts religious themes. Low country dance uses masks to illustrate stories about the Buddha, though sometimes includes contemporary themes. Bharatha-Natiyam is a woman's dance where every gesture has a meaning. This dance has been an important element of Tamil culture since ancient times.

The drum is Sri Lanka's national instrument and used to mark Tamil and Sinhalese occasions such as dances, dramas, religious celebrations, weddings, funerals and rites of passage.

The country's literary tradition goes back over 2,000 years. The Mashavamsa or Great Chronicle and the Culavamsa or Minor Chronicle record the history of kings and nobles. Sri Lanka has also produced important contemporary writers. Jean Arasanayagam is a prolific writer of poetry and short fiction whose books explore the collision between cultures in Sri Lanka. Canadian Shyam Selvadurai, who immigrated from Sri Lanka, wrote the award-winning novel "Funny Boy" (1994) about growing up in Colombo during the years leading to the 1983 riots.

Architecture in Sri Lanka shows religious influences. The Buddhist pagoda or stupa have been built since ancient times and can be found throughout the country. A circular building that contains relics of the Buddha, the pagoda acts as a place of devotion and contemplation. The entrances of other shrines and buildings often have guardian figures such as Vishnu or the makara, a sea-creature like a crocodile.

  Did you know?
Sri Lanka has various outdoor, rock-cut sculptures. The Galvihara group, from the 12th century, show the Buddha in various positions. The sigriya rock frescoes, from the 5th century, are detailed portraits of women in procession.