By NUR YALMAN
In Colombo one is likely to hear that 'caste' is no longer very important, and that in any case it is disappearing. Yet the concepts and strictures of 'caste' are still of central interest to the Sinhalese and -- at least in the villages of the Dry Zone -- they retain remarkable potency.
In this essay, I am concerned with the analysis of the two essentials of caste: first, the principle of endogamy and, second, ritual status. Both these principles -- which appear to be rigid codes -- are extremely flexible and adaptable. And therein lies their real strength. I describe how they remain intact even when conditions tend to contradict and undermine them. The material is presented against the background of a Kandyan Sinhalese village in the remote Walapane district of Ceylon. The name of the locality is fictional, as are all the personal names in the essay.
The Sinhalese are the most numerous of the peoples of Ceylon.* The Tamils who form the second largest group are ethnically similar but are clearly distinguished by linguistic and cultural differences. The Tamils speak a Dravidian language and are Hindu by religion; the Sinhalese speak an Indo-European language and are predominantly Buddhist by religion. The Kandyans are the Sinhalese-speaking inhabitants of the central and northcentral parts of the island which formed the Kandyan kingdom at the time of its annexation by the British in 1815. The Kandyan dialect differs somewhat from the Sinhalese spoken in the 'Low Country' provinces of the south-west, and the Kandyans in general think of themselves as guardians of the pure traditions of the Sinhalese people.
The bazaar of Nildandahinna is at the end of a motor road which winds along halfway up the side of a mountain and then leads nowhere. Above Nildanda-____________________
|Census Figures 1953:|