Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia; It was known as Ceylon until 1972. The neighbors of Sri Lanka are India to the northwest and the Maldives to the southwest.
Sri Lanka has a documented history that spans over 3000 years. Its geographic location and deep harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War II. Sri Lanka is a diverse country, home to many religions, ethnicities and languages It is the land of the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Indian Tamils, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aborigines called Vedda. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and the first known Buddhist writings were composed on the island. The country’s recent history has been marred by a thirty-year civil war which decisively ended in a military victory in 2009.
Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a presidential system. The administrative capital is Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte. An important producer of tea, coffee, gemstones, coconuts, rubber, and the native cinnamonSri Lanka is known as “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its natural beauty. Sri Lanka has also been called “the teardrop of India” because of its shape and location, and “the nation of smiling people”. The island contains tropical forests and diverse landscapes with high biodiversity.
The country has had a long history of international engagement, being a founding member of SAARC and a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. It is also the only country in South Asia that is currently rated ‘high’ on the Human Development Index.
In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travelers by a variety of names. Known in India as Lanka or Sinhala, ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane/təˈprɒbəniː/ and Arabs referred to it as Serendib (the origin of the word “serendipity“)Ceilão, the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese when they arrived in 1505,was transliterated into English as Ceylon.As a Britishcrown colony, the island was known as Ceylon; it achieved independence as the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948.
In 1972 the name was changed to “Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka”. In 1978 it was changed to the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”.While the name Ceylon still appears in the names of a number of organizations, in 2011 the Sri Lankan government announced a plan to rename all those over which it has authority.
The pre-history of Sri Lanka dates back over 125 thousand years Before Present (BP) and possibly even as early as 500,000 BP.The era spans the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron Ages. Among the Paleolithic human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka, Pahiyangala (named after the ChinesetravelermonkFaxian), which dates back to 37,000 BP, Batadombalena (28,500 BP) and Belilena (12,000 BP) are the most important. In these caves, archaeologists have found the remains of anatomically modern humans which they have named Balangoda Man, and other evidence suggesting that they may have engaged in agriculture and kept domestic dogs for driving game.
One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epicRamayana, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka that was created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma for Kubera, the Lord of Wealth. It is said that Kubera was overthrown by his demon stepbrother Ravana, the powerful emperor who built a mythical flying machine named DanduMonara.The modern city of Wariyapola is described as Ravana’s airport.
Early inhabitants of Sri Lanka were probably the ancestors of the Vedda people, an indigenous people numbering approximately 2,500 living in modern-day Sri Lanka. Irish historian James Emerson Tennent theorized that Galle, a southern city in Sri Lanka, was the ancient seaport of Tarshish from which King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks, and other valuables.
According to the Mahāvamsa, a chronicle written in the Pāli language, the ancient period of Sri Lanka begins in 543 BC with the landing of Vijaya, a semi-legendary king who sailed with 700 followers on eight ships 860 nautical miles to Sri Lanka from the southwest coast of what is now the Rarh region of West Bengal.He established the Kingdom of Tambapanni, near modern day Mannar. Vijaya is the first of the approximately 189 native monarchs of Sri Lanka described in chronicles such as the Dipavamsa, Mahāvamsa, Chulavamsa, and Rājāvaliya (see List of Sri Lankan monarchs). Sri Lankan dynastic history spanned a period of 2,359 years from 543 BC to AD 1815, when the land became part of the British Empire.
The Kingdom of Sri Lanka moved to Anuradhapura in 380 BC, during the reign of Pandukabhaya. Thereafter, Anuradhapura served as the capital of the country for nearly 1,400 years.Ancient Sri Lankans excelled at building certain types of structures (constructions) such as tanks, dagobas and palaces.The society underwent a major transformation during the reign of DevanampiyaTissa, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC,BhikkhuMahinda, the son of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka arrived in Mihintale, carrying the message of Buddhism.His mission won over the monarch, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population.Succeeding kingdoms of Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries and support the propagation of Buddhism into other countries in Southeast Asia. Sri Lankan Bhikkhus studied in India’s famous ancient Buddhist University of Nalanda which was destroyed by Mohammed Kilji. It is probable that many of the scriptures from Nalanda are preserved in Sri Lanka’s many monasteries. In 245 BC, bhikkhuniSangamitta arrived with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which is considered to be a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened.It is considered the oldest human-planted tree (with a continuous historical record) in the world. (Bodhivamsa)
Sri Lanka first experienced a foreign invasion during the reign of Suratissa, who was defeated by two horse traders named Sena and Guttika from South India.The next invasion came immediately in 205 BC by a Chola king named Elara, who overthrew Asela and ruled the country for 44 years. Dutugemunu, the eldest son of the southern regional sub-king, KavanTissa, defeated Elara in the Battle of Vijithapura. He built Ruwanwelisaya, the second stupa in ancient Sri Lanka, and the Lovamahapaya.During its two and a half millennia of existence, the Kingdom of Sri Lanka was invaded at least eight times by neighbouring South Asian dynasties such as the Chola, Pandya, Chera, and Pallava. These invaders were all subsequently driven back. There also were incursions by the kingdoms of Kalinga (modern Odisha) and from the Malay Peninsula as well. Kala Wewa and the Avukana Buddha statue were built during the reign of Dhatusena.
Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to have a female ruler: Queen Anula, who reigned during 47–42 BC. Sri Lankan monarchs completed some remarkable constructions like Sigiriya, the so-called “Fortress in the Sky”, built during the reign of Kashyapa I. Sigiriya is a rock fortress surrounded by an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. The fifth-century palace is also renowned for its frescos on rock surfaces. It has been declared by UNESCO as one of the seven World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.Among other structures, large reservoirs, important for conserving water in a climate with rainy and dry seasons, and elaborate aqueducts, some with a slope as finely calibrated as one inch to the mile, are most notable. BisoKotuwa, a peculiar construction inside a dam, is a technological marvel based on precise mathematics that allows water to flow outside the dam, keeping pressure on the dam to a minimum.Ancient Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to establish a dedicated hospital, in Mihintale in the 4th century. It was also the leading exporter of cinnamon in the ancient world. It maintained close ties with European civilisations including the Roman Empire. For example, King Bhatikabhaya (22 BC—AD 7) sent an envoy to Rome who brought back red coral which was used to make an elaborate netlike adornment for the Ruwanwelisaya. In addition, Sri Lankan male dancers witnessed the assassination of Caligula. When Queen Cleopatra sent her son Cesarian into hiding, he was headed to Sri Lanka. BhikkhuniDevasāra and ten other fully ordained bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka went to China and established the bhikkhunisāsana there in AD 429.