ISLE Program

2008 Spring Session I Activities

ISLE students are immediately fully engaged in the program upon their arrival in Sri Lanka.  There are orientation tours through the town of Kandy (including visits to the Dalada Maligava and nearby temples), and at the University of Peradeniya, plus a visit to local orphanages where students have the opportunity to volunteer. Material Culture class begins immediately after orientation, and Sinhala language classes, which began just two days after arriving, continue right through the eight-day tour of archaeological and pilgrimage sites in the north. Language instructor Mr. Herath accompanied the group on the tour to help them practice their Sinhala.  By the time students meet up with their host families, they know enough Sinhala to engage in simple, polite conversation.

Marjorie, Asteria, Sam, Aliya, and Yoni make fast friends during
a trip to the Evelyn Nurseries orphanage in Kandy.  

Sam and friends at Evelyn.

Chris braces for impact at the bottom of the Singhithi slide.


One of several Sinhala course field trips took the students to nearby Kingswood College in Kandy. It was an opportunity to get a sense of the various educational settings in Sri Lanka. ISLE students will visit another school during Session II.

After attending a tea for foreign students studying at the University, one of our own ISLE students (Sam) spearheaded an effort to draw up a "constitution" that will be the first step in establishing a foreign students club at the university. This group of ISLE students are integrating very well with students at the university. This is a great way for them to feel more a part of Sri Lankan life, and it will be an important part of the students' overall experience.


The head prefect of Kingswood College leads the ISLE group on a tour of the
school grounds during a Sinhala class field trip. 


Material Culture Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne delivered four lectures to the students in preparation for the tour to sites in the  North Central Province.  Unfortunately, due to a sudden health emergency, Prof. Seneviratne could not accompany the group on the tour. Faculty director John Holt conducted the tour with  Mr. Daya Sissera (Prof. Sudharshan’s assistant), along with program assistant Phil Friedrich.  Language instructor Mr. Herath also provided local color along the way; much of it was humorous, to the delight of the students.   (We are happy to report that Prof. Seneviratne has recovered from his illness.)

The tour began on February 14, taking the students to Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka; to Mihintale, a monastic city developed around the cave that sheltered the first disciple of Buddhism (Mahinda); to Sigiriya, where the Monarch Kassapa built a stupendous palace on top of a mammoth rock; and to the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa. The group started at the Ibbankatuva megalithic burial site, and the drip-ledge caves at Vessagiriya, in Anuradhapura. Now is a particularly beautiful and comfortable time to tour Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruva, the ubiquitous rice paddies were a brilliant green and the tanks were filled to their brims. 

Mr. Herath deciphers 3rd Cent. BCE Brahmi inscriptions at the Vessagiriya
drip-ledge caves during the first day of the group's Northern Tour. 

Aliya, Adam, Yoni, and Mr. Herath at Vessagiriya. 

The group leaving the Vessagiriya forest hermitage complex.

The group takes in the enigmatic Anuradhapura moonstone.

bodhi tree 
Prof. Holt leads a discussion of the cultic significance of the Bodhi tree
in front of Sri Maha Bodhi.

field work 
Field lecture at Mihintale.

Mihintale climb 
Asteria, Sam, and Marjorie make their way to the top of Mihintale rock.

The group ponders the funtion of a large stone trough at the Mihintale dana sala
(alms hall). Possible explanations include an ayuvedic oil bath, rice receptacle, or robe dying tub.

Aliya and Marjorie 
Aliya and Marjorie atop Mihintale rock.

Marjorie, Aliya, and Asteria test the water at Diyakalupokuna.

Diyakalupokuna seconds before ISLE students head in for a "tank bath."

The annual ISLE group shot atop Pidurangala. (Mr. Daya Sisira, Adam, Yoni, Aliya,
Asteria, Chris, Sam, Marjorie, and Prof. Holt)

The group soaks up the breeze on top of Pidurangala.

Yoni, Aliya, and Chris in the look-out pella (stand) at the eco-village in Sigiriya.

Enjoying beli mal (beli flower) tea during a tour of the eco-village.

Eco-village co-founder Sanjeewa explains sustainable cultivation techniques employed
in their model village.

rice pounding
Yoni pounds some rice the traditional village way.

atop Sigiriya
Mr. Sisira and Yoni atop Sigiriya rock.

rock inscription 
The group in front of the Polonnaruwa gal pota rock inscription.

statue of the sage 
Pondering the Statue of the Sage in Polonnaruwa.

immersion bath 
Marjorie tests out an ayurvedic immersion bath at the Alahana Pirivena in Polonnaruwa.


The group took the long way back to Kandy, through Mahiyangana which allowed students to see some remote and rural areas of the island. They also had a chance to visit the famous Mahiyangana stupa (site of the Buddha's first visit to Sri Lanka).

Returning to the ISLE Center, students were very busy at the end of Session I (the first of several "crunch times" in the program), writing their Material Culture essays, and preparing for their first big Sinhala exam. Session II’s elective academic courses on politics, ethnicity and social identity, Buddhist ethics, environmental  studies, and folk culture will no doubt keep students just as busy and engaged as did Session I. 

(More photos on Photo Gallery page.)