1. Buddhists in Sri Lanka relate to the visible and invisible beings around them by way of food offerings. The recipients include buddhas, gods, animals, hungry ghosts and human beings. In Sri Lanka cooking is still largely the domain of women but the voices of those who prepare the food are rarely heard, their expertise as religious specialists seldom acknowledged. This series of six short documentaries reveals a cosmology that emerges from the kitchens and backyards of Sri Lanka. The project was in part funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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  2. All over Sri Lanka food offerings for the Buddha are prepared every day. On full-moon holidays special care is taken and the meals are more elaborate. Offerings start before dawn with pre-breakfast offerings (rice gruel) and finish with tea and herbs in the afternoon in accordance with the rules concerning permissible foods laid down in the Buddhist monastic code (Vinaya). The video is part of a set of documentaries that looks at the cosmology that emerges from the kitchens of Sri Lanka.

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  3. Offerings to gods are often done in fulfilment of a vow. Pattini, the only goddess in the Sinhalese pantheon, is particularly popular with women. The goddess is venerated by Sinhalese Buddhists as Pattini and by Tamil Hindus as Kannaki. The video is part of a set of documentaries that looks at the cosmology that emerges from the kitchens of Sri Lanka.

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  4. The fulfilment of a vow made to Pattini can also take the form of an invitation to seven ‘milk mothers’ (kiri-amma), who are associated with the goddess. The mothers, chosen for their good reputation and standing in the community, are invited for a pre-dawn meal consisting of seven dishes rich in coconut milk. Preparations for the meal begins the previous evening and go on all night with family, friends and neighbours helping. The video is part of a set of documentaries that looks at the cosmology that emerges from the kitchens of Sri Lanka.

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  5. In everyone’s astrological chart there is a dangerous period of nineteen years when the planetary deity Senasuru (Saturn or Śani in India) rules. In Indian mythology his vehicle (vahana) is the crow and by feeding crows on Senasurada (Senasuru’s day) the worst of the bad luck can be averted. In India crows are also associated with ancestors and the rice balls are reminiscent of the Hindu offerings of pinda to the ancestors. The video is part of a set of documentaries which look at the cosmology that emerges from the kitchens of Sri Lanka. The project was in part funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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A Buddhist cosmology in food

Rita Langer Plus

In 2014/15 I made six documentaries on food offerings in Sri Lanka. The short videos show how Buddhists in Sri Lanka relate to the visible and invisible beings around them including gods, animals, hungry ghosts and monks by way of providing food. The…


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In 2014/15 I made six documentaries on food offerings in Sri Lanka. The short videos show how Buddhists in Sri Lanka relate to the visible and invisible beings around them including gods, animals, hungry ghosts and monks by way of providing food. The result is a cosmology in food which emerges from the kitchens of Sri Lanka. Some of the offerings are made to avert misfortune, others are made in fulfilment of a vow. They range from very private feeding of crows to large scale public generosity stalls distributing free food to 3000 people. In Sri Lanka cooking is still largely, even though not exclusively, the domain of women and their voices are rarely heard. I decided against a narrator and let the food makers tell their stories in their own words. The videos are in Sinhala with English subtitles. I am grateful to all the families and friends who shared their stories and let me film in their kitchens and backyards. I did the filming and rough cuts but had great help with editing from Azita Ghassemi. The music was composed by Stathis Kampylis and Kostas Andrikopoulos. Thanks also to Upali Perera (tabla).

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