Sri Lanka's documented history spans 3,000 years, with evidence of prehistoric human settlements dating back at least 125,000 years.
It has a rich cultural heritage, and the first known Buddhist
writings of Sri Lanka, the Pāli Canon
, date back to the Fourth Buddhist council
in 29 BCE.
Its geographic location and deep harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road
through to the modern Maritime Silk Road
Its location as a major trading hub made it known to both the Far East as well as to Europe from as far back as the Anuradhapura period
. The country's trade in luxury goods and spices attracted traders of many nations, creating Sri Lanka's diverse population. During a period of great political crisis
, the Portuguese
, whose arrival in Sri Lanka was largely accidental, sought to control the island's maritime regions and its lucrative external trade. The Portuguese possessions
were later taken over by the Dutch
. The Dutch possessions
were then taken by the British
, who later extended their control over the whole island, colonising
it from 1815 to 1948. A national movement for political independence arose in the early 20th century, and in 1948, Ceylon became a republic
and adopted its current name in 1972. Sri Lanka's recent history has been marred by a 26-year civil war
, which ended decisively when the Sri Lanka Armed Forces
defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Sri Lanka is a multinational state
, home to diverse cultures, languages, and ethnicities. The Sinhalese
form the majority of the nation's population; and the large minority of Tamils
have also played an influential role in the island's history, while Moors
, and the indigenous Vedda
are also established groups.
It has had a long history of international engagement, as a founding member of the SAARC
, and a member of the United Nations
, the Commonwealth of Nations
, the G77
, and the Non-Aligned Movement
. Sri Lanka is the sole South Asian country rated high on the Human Development Index
, with the second highest per capita income
in the region.
The country is now known in Sinhala as Śrī Laṅkā
: ශ්රී ලංකා) and in Tamil as Ilaṅkai
: இலங்கை, IPA: [iˈlaŋɡaɪ]
). In 1972, its formal name was changed to "Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka". Later, on 7 September 1978, it was changed to the "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka".
As the name Ceylon still appears in the names of a number of organisations, the Sri Lankan government announced in 2011 a plan to rename all those over which it has authority.
Prehistoric Sri Lanka
The pre-history of Sri Lanka goes back 125,000 years and possibly even as far back as 500,000 years.
The era spans the Palaeolithic
, and early Iron Ages
. Among the Paleolithic
human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka, Pahiyangala
(named after the Chinese
traveller monk Faxian
), which dates back to 37,000 BP, Batadombalena
(12,000 BP) are the most important. In these caves, archaeologists have found the remains of anatomically
which they have named Balangoda Man
, and other evidence
suggesting that they may have engaged in agriculture
and kept domestic dogs for driving game.
The earliest inhabitants of Sri Lanka were probably ancestors of the Vedda people
an indigenous people numbering approximately 2,500 living in modern-day Sri Lanka.
During the protohistoric period (1000–500 BCE) Sri Lanka was culturally united with southern India,
and shared the same megalithic burials, pottery
, iron technology, farming techniques and megalithic graffiti
This cultural complex spread from southern India along with Dravidian clans such as the Velir
, prior to the migration of Prakrit
One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana
, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka
that was created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma
, the Lord of Wealth.
It is said that Kubera was overthrown by his demon stepbrother Ravana
Ancient Sri Lanka
According to the Mahāvamsa
, a Pāḷi
chronicle written in the 5th century CE, the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka are said to be the Yakshas
. Ancient cemeteries that were used before 600 BCE
and other signs of advanced civilisation have also been discovered in Sri Lanka.
Sinhalese history traditionally starts in 543 BCE with the arrival of Prince Vijaya
, a semi-legendary prince who sailed with 700 followers to Sri Lanka, after being expelled from Vanga Kingdom
He established the Kingdom of Tambapanni
, near modern-day Mannar
. Vijaya (Singha) is the first of the approximately 189 monarchs of Sri Lanka
described in chronicles such as the Dipavamsa
, and Rājāvaliya
Succeeding kingdoms of Sri Lanka would maintain many 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 Bakhtiyar Khilji
. It is probable that many of the scriptures from Nalanda are preserved in Sri Lanka's many monasteries and that the written form of the Tripiṭaka
, including Sinhalese Buddhist literature, were part of the University of Nalanda.
In 245 BCE, bhikkhuniSanghamitta
arrived with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
tree, which is considered to be a sapling from the historical Bodhi Tree
under which Gautama Buddha
It is considered the oldest human-planted tree (with a continuous historical record) in the world. (Bodhivamsa
Sri Lanka was the first Asian country known to have a female ruler: Anula of Anuradhapura
(r. 47–42 BCE).
Sri Lankan monarchs undertook some remarkable construction projects such as Sigiriya
, the so-called "Fortress in the Sky", built during the reign of Kashyapa I of Anuradhapura
, who ruled between 477 and 495. The Sigiriya rock fortress is surrounded by an extensive network of ramparts and moats. Inside this protective enclosure were gardens, ponds, pavilions, palaces and other structures.
Post-classical Sri Lanka
Following a seventeen-year-long campaign, Vijayabahu I
successfully drove the Chola out of Sri Lanka in 1070, reuniting the country for the first time in over a century.
Upon his request, ordained monks were sent from Burma
to Sri Lanka to re-establish Buddhism, which had almost disappeared from the country during the Chola reign.
During the medieval period, Sri Lanka was divided into three sub-territories, namely Ruhunu
, Pihiti and Maya
The seated image of Gal Vihara
, 12th century, which depicts the dhyana mudra, shows signs of Mahayana influence.
Sri Lanka's irrigation system
was extensively expanded during the reign of Parākramabāhu the Great
This period is considered as a time when Sri Lanka was at the height of its power.
He built 1,470 reservoirs – the highest number by any ruler in Sri Lanka's history – repaired 165 dams, 3,910 canals, 163 major reservoirs, and 2,376 mini-reservoirs.
His most famous construction is the Parakrama Samudra
the largest irrigation project of medieval Sri Lanka. Parākramabāhu's reign is memorable for two major campaigns – in the south of India as part of a Pandyan war of succession, and a punitive strike against the kings of Ramanna (Burma
) for various perceived insults to Sri Lanka.
After his demise, Sri Lanka gradually decayed in power. In 1215, Kalinga Magha
, an invader with uncertain origins, identified as the founder of the Jaffna kingdom, invaded and captured the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa
. He sailed from Kalinga
690 nautical miles on 100 large ships with a 24,000 strong army. Unlike previous invaders, he looted
, ransacked, and destroyed everything in the ancient Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Kingdoms beyond recovery.
His priorities in ruling were to extract as much as possible from the land and overturn as many of the traditions of Rajarata
as possible. His reign saw the massive migration of native Sinhalese people
to the south and west of Sri Lanka, and into the mountainous interior, in a bid to escape his power.
Sri Lanka never really recovered from the impact of Kalinga Magha's invasion. King Vijayabâhu III, who led the resistance, brought the kingdom to Dambadeniya
. The north, in the meanwhile, eventually evolved into the Jaffna kingdom
The Jaffna kingdom never came under the rule of any kingdom of the south except on one occasion; in 1450, following the conquest led by king Parâkramabâhu VI
's adopted son, Prince Sapumal
He ruled the North from 1450 to 1467 CE.
The next three centuries starting from 1215 were marked by kaleidoscopically shifting collections of capitals in south and central Sri Lanka, including Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa
, and finally, Kandy
. Chinese admiral Zheng He
and his naval expeditionary force landed at Galle, Sri Lanka in 1409 and got into battle
with the local king Vira Alakesvara of Gampola
. Zheng He captured King Vira Alakesvara and later released him.
Zheng He erected the Galle Trilingual Inscription
, a stone tablet at Galle
written in three languages
, and Persian
), to commemorate his visit.
was discovered by S. H. Thomlin at Galle in 1911 and is now preserved in the Colombo National Museum
Early Modern Sri Lanka
A 17th-century engraving of Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen
meeting with King Vimaladharmasuriya in 1602
The early modern period of Sri Lanka begins with the arrival of Portuguese
soldier and explorer Lourenço de Almeida
, the son of Francisco de Almeida
, in 1505.
In 1517, the Portuguese built a fort at the port city of Colombo
and gradually extended their control over the coastal areas. In 1592, after decades of intermittent warfare with the Portuguese, Vimaladharmasuriya I
moved his kingdom to the inland city of Kandy
, a location he thought more secure from attack.
In 1619, succumbing to attacks by the Portuguese, the independent existence of the Jaffna kingdom
came to an end.
During the reign of the Rajasinha II
explorers arrived on the island. In 1638, the king signed a treaty
with the Dutch East India Company
to get rid of the Portuguese who ruled most of the coastal areas.
The following Dutch–Portuguese War
resulted in a Dutch victory, with Colombo falling into Dutch hands by 1656. The Dutch remained in the areas they had captured, thereby violating the treaty they had signed in 1638. The Burgher people
, a distinct ethnic group, emerged as a result of intermingling between the Dutch and native Sri Lankans in this period.
The Kingdom of Kandy was the last independent monarchy of Sri Lanka.
In 1595, Vimaladharmasurya brought the sacred Tooth Relic
– the traditional symbol of royal and religious authority amongst the Sinhalese
– to Kandy, and built the Temple of the Tooth
In spite of on-going intermittent warfare with Europeans, the kingdom survived. Later, a crisis of succession emerged in Kandy upon king Vira Narendrasinha
's death in 1739. He was married to a Telugu
princess from South India (Madurai
) and was childless by her.
Eventually, with the support of bhikku
Weliwita Sarankara, the crown passed to the brother of one of Narendrasinha's princesses, overlooking the right of "Unambuwe Bandara"
, Narendrasinha's own son by a Sinhalese concubine
The new king was crowned Sri Vijaya Rajasinha
later that year. Kings of the Nayakkar dynasty launched several attacks on Dutch controlled areas, which proved to be unsuccessful.
During the Napoleonic Wars
, fearing that French
control of the Netherlands
might deliver Sri Lanka to the French, Great Britain
occupied the coastal areas of the island (which they called
Ceylon) with little difficulty in 1796.
Two years later, in 1798, Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha
, third of the four Nayakkar kings of Sri Lanka, died of a fever. Following his death, a nephew of Rajadhi Rajasinha, eighteen-year-old Kannasamy, was crowned.
The young king, now named Sri Vikrama Rajasinha
, faced a British
invasion in 1803 but successfully retaliated. The First Kandyan War ended in a stalemate.
Soon, coffee became the primary commodity export of Sri Lanka. Falling coffee prices as a result of the depression of 1847
stalled economic development and prompted the governor to introduce a series of taxes on firearms, dogs, shops, boats, etc., and to reintroduce a form of rajakariya
, requiring six days free labour on roads or payment of a cash equivalent.
These harsh measures antagonised the locals, and another rebellion
broke out in 1848.
A devastating leaf disease, Hemileia vastatrix
, struck the coffee plantations in 1869, destroying the entire industry within fifteen years.
The British quickly found a replacement: abandoning coffee, they began cultivating tea instead. Tea production in Sri Lanka
thrived in the following decades. Large-scale rubber plantations began in the early 20th century.
British appointed Kandyan chiefs, 1905
By the end of the 19th century, a new educated social class
transcending race and caste
arose through British attempts to staff the Ceylon Civil Service
and the legal, educational, engineering, and medical professions with natives.
New leaders represented the various ethnic groups of the population in the Ceylon Legislative Council
on a communal basis. Buddhist and Hindu revivalism reacted against Christian missionary
The first two decades in the 20th century are noted by the unique harmony among Sinhalese and Tamil
political leadership, which has since been lost.
In 1919, major Sinhalese and Tamil political organisations united to form the Ceylon National Congress, under the leadership of Ponnambalam Arunachalam
pressing colonial masters for more constitutional reforms. But without massive popular support, and with the governor's encouragement for "communal representation" by creating a "Colombo seat" that dangled between Sinhalese and Tamils, the Congress lost momentum towards the mid-1920s.
The Donoughmore reforms
of 1931 repudiated the communal representation and introduced universal adult franchise
(the franchise stood at 4% before the reforms). This step was strongly criticised by the Tamil political leadership, who realised that they would be reduced to a minority in the newly created State Council of Ceylon
, which succeeded the legislative council.
In 1937, Tamil leader G. G. Ponnambalam
demanded a 50–50 representation (50% for the Sinhalese and 50% for other ethnic groups) in the State Council. However, this demand was not met by the Soulbury reforms
Contemporary Sri Lanka
The formal ceremony marking the start of self-rule, with the opening of the first parliament at Independence Square
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
was elected prime minister in 1956. His three-year rule had a profound impact through his self-proclaimed role of "defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture".
He introduced the controversial Sinhala Only Act
, recognising Sinhala
as the only official language of the government. Although partially reversed in 1958, the bill posed a grave concern for the Tamil community, which perceived in it a threat to their language and culture.
, the widow of Bandaranaike, took office as prime minister in 1960, and withstood an attempted coup d'état
in 1962. During her second term as prime minister, the government instituted socialist economic policies, strengthening ties with the Soviet Union
, while promoting a policy of non-alignment. In 1971, Ceylon experienced a Marxist insurrection
, which was quickly suppressed. In 1972, the country became a republic
named Sri Lanka, repudiating its dominion status. Prolonged minority grievances and the use of communal emotionalism as an election campaign weapon by both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders abetted a fledgling Tamil militancy in the north during the 1970s.
The policy of standardisation
by the Sirimavo government to rectify disparities created in university enrolment, which was in essence an affirmative action
to assist geographically disadvantaged students to obtain tertiary education,
resulted in reducing the proportion of Tamil students at university level and acted as the immediate catalyst for the rise of militancy.
The assassination of JaffnaMayor Alfred Duraiyappah
in 1975 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) marked a crisis point.
The 2004 Asian tsunami
killed over 35,000 in Sri Lanka.
From 1985 to 2006, the Sri Lankan government and Tamil insurgents held four rounds of peace talks without success. Both LTTE and the government resumed fighting in 2006, and the government officially backed out of the ceasefire in 2008.
In 2009, under the Presidency
of Mahinda Rajapaksa
, the Sri Lanka Armed Forces
defeated the LTTE and re-established control of the entire country by the Sri Lankan Government.
Overall, between 60,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the 26 years of conflict.
Topographic map of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a pearl-shaped Island nation in South Asia, lying on the Indian Plate
, a major tectonic plate
that was formerly part of the Indo-Australian Plate
It is in the Indian Ocean southwest of the Bay of Bengal
, between latitudes 5°
and 10° N
, and longitudes 79°
and 82° E
Sri Lanka is separated from the mainland portion of the Indian subcontinent
by the Gulf of Mannar
and Palk Strait
. According to Hindu mythology
, a land bridge
existed between the Indian mainland and Sri Lanka. It now amounts to only a chain of limestone shoals remaining above sea level
Legends claim that it was passable on foot up to 1480 CE, until cyclones
deepened the channel.
Portions are still as shallow as 1 metre (3 ft), hindering navigation.
The island consists mostly of flat to rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central part. The highest point is Pidurutalagala
, reaching 2,524 metres (8,281 ft) above sea level.
Sri Lanka map of Köppen climate classification
The climate is tropical
and warm, because of moderating effects of ocean winds. Mean temperatures range from 17 °C (62.6 °F) in the central highlands
, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of 33 °C (91.4 °F) in other low-altitude areas. Average yearly temperatures range from 28 °C (82.4 °F) to nearly 31 °C (87.8 °F). Day and night temperatures may vary by 14 °C (25.2 °F) to 18 °C (32.4 °F).
The rainfall pattern is influenced by monsoon
winds from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. The "wet zone" and some of the windward slopes of the central highlands receive up to 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in) of rain each year, but the leeward slopes in the east and northeast receive little rain. Most of the east, southeast, and northern parts of Sri Lanka comprise the "dry zone", which receives between 1,200 and 1,900 mm (47 and 75 in) of rain annually.
The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain at 800 to 1,200 mm (31 to 47 in) per year. Periodic squalls occur and sometimes tropical cyclones
bring overcast skies and rains to the southwest, northeast, and eastern parts of the island. Humidity is typically higher in the southwest and mountainous areas and depends on the seasonal patterns of rainfall.
An increase in average rainfall coupled with heavier rainfall events has resulted in recurrent flooding and related damages to infrastructure, utility supply and the urban economy.
Flora and fauna
of India and Sri Lanka were included among the first 18 global biodiversity hotspots
due to high levels of species endemism. The number of biodiversity hotspots has now increased to 34.
Sri Lanka has the highest biodiversity per unit area among Asian countries for flowering plants and all vertebrate groups except birds.
A remarkably high proportion of the species among its flora and fauna, 27% of the 3,210 flowering plants and 22% of the mammals, are endemic
Sri Lanka supports a rich avifauna of that stands at 453 species and this include 240 species of birds that are known to bread in the country. 33 species
are accepted by some ornithologists as endemic while some ornithologists consider only 27 are endemic and the remaining six are considered as proposed endemics.
Sri Lanka's protected areas are administrated by two government bodies; The Department of Forest Conservation
and the Department of Wildlife Conservation
. Department of Wildlife Conservation administrates 61 wildlife sanctuaries, 22 national parks, four nature reserves, three strict nature reserves, and one jungle corridor while Department of Forest Conservation oversees 65 conservation forests and one national heritage wilderness area. 26.5% of the country's land area is legally protected. This is a higher percentage of protected areas when compared to the rest of Asia.
flourish on the arid Jaffna Peninsula
. Among the trees of the dry-land forests are valuable species such as satinwood
. The wet zone is a tropical evergreen forest with tall trees, broad foliage, and a dense undergrowth of vines and creepers. Subtropical evergreen forests resembling those of temperate climates flourish in the higher altitudes.
Yala National Park
in the southeast protects herds of elephant, deer, and peacocks. The Wilpattu National Park
in the northwest, the largest national park, preserves the habitats of many water birds such as storks, pelicans, ibis, and spoonbills. The island has four biosphere reserves
, Hurulu Forest Reserve
, the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya
, and Sinharaja
Sinharaja is home to 26 endemic birds and 20 rainforest species, including the elusive red-faced malkoha
, the green-billed coucal
and the Sri Lanka blue magpie
. The untapped genetic potential of Sinharaja flora is enormous. Of the 211 woody trees and lianas within the reserve, 139 (66%) are endemic. The total vegetation density, including trees, shrubs, herbs, and seedlings, has been estimated at 240,000 individuals per hectare. The Minneriya National Park borders the Minneriya Tank
, which is an important source of water for elephants inhabiting the surrounding forests. Dubbed "The Gathering", the congregation of elephants can be seen on the tank-bed in the late dry season (August to October) as the surrounding water sources steadily disappear. The park also encompasses a range of micro-habitats which include classic dry zone tropical monsoonal evergreen forest, thick stands of giant bamboo, hilly pastures (patanas), and grasslands (talawas).
During the Mahaweli Program of the 1970s and 1980s in northern Sri Lanka, the government set aside four areas of land totalling 1,900 km2
(730 sq mi) as national parks. Statistics of Sri Lanka's forest cover show rapid deforestation from 1956 to 2010. In 1956, 44.2 percent of the country's land area had forest cover. Forest cover depleted rapidly in recent decades; 29.6 percent in 1999, 28.7 percent in 2010.
Government and politics
In common with many democracies, the Sri Lankan government has three branches:
- Executive: The President of Sri Lanka is the head of state; the commander in chief of the armed forces; head of government, and is popularly elected for a five-year term. The president heads the cabinet and appoints ministers from elected members of parliament. The president is immune from legal proceedings while in office with respect to any acts done or omitted to be done by him or her in either an official or private capacity. Following passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution in 2015, the president has two terms, which previously stood at no term limit.
- Legislative: The Parliament of Sri Lanka is a unicameral 225-member legislature with 196 members elected in multi-seat constituencies and 29 elected by proportional representation. Members are elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after four and a half years. The parliament reserves the power to make all laws. The president's deputy, the prime minister, leads the ruling party in parliament and shares many executive responsibilities, mainly in domestic affairs.
- Judicial: Sri Lanka's judiciary consists of a Supreme Court – the highest and final superior court of record, a Court of Appeal, High Courts and a number of subordinate courts. The highly complex legal system reflects diverse cultural influences. Criminal law is based almost entirely on British law. Basic civil law derives from Roman law and Dutch law. Laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, and inheritance are communal. Because of ancient customary practices and/or religion, the Sinhala customary law (Kandyan law), the Thesavalamai, and Sharia law are followed in special cases. The president appoints judges to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the High Courts. A judicial service commission, composed of the chief justice and two Supreme Court judges, appoints, transfers, and dismisses lower court judges.
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Colombo
G. G. Ponnambalam
, the Tamil nationalist
counterpart of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike,
founded the All Ceylon Tamil Congress
(ACTC) in 1944. Objecting to Ponnambalam's cooperation with D. S. Senanayake, a dissident group led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam
broke away in 1949 and formed the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi
(ITAK), also known as the Federal Party, becoming the main Tamil political party in Sri Lanka for next two decades.
The Federal Party advocated a more aggressive stance toward the Sinhalese.
With the constitutional reforms of 1972, the ACTC and ITAK created the Tamil United Front (later Tamil United Liberation Front
). Following a period of turbulence as Tamil militants rose to power in the late 1970s, these Tamil political parties were succeeded in October 2001 by the Tamil National Alliance
.Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
, a Marxist–Leninist
political party founded by Rohana Wijeweera
in 1965, serves as a third force in the current political context.
It endorses leftist policies which are more radical than the traditionalist leftist politics of the LSSP and the Communist Party
Founded in 1981, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress
is the largest Muslim political party in Sri Lanka.
There have been provinces in Sri Lanka since the 19th century, but they had no legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 constitution established provincial councils after several decades of increasing demand for a decentralisation
of the government.
Each provincial council is an autonomous body not under the authority of any ministry. Some of its functions had been undertaken by central government ministries, departments, corporations, and statutory authorities,
but authority over land and police is not as a rule given to provincial councils.
Between 1989 and 2006, the Northern and Eastern provinces were temporarily merged to form the North-East Province
Prior to 1987, all administrative tasks for the provinces were handled by a district-based civil service which had been in place since colonial times. Now each province is administered by a directly elected provincial council:
Districts and local authorities
Each district is administered under a district secretariat
. The districts are further subdivided into 256 divisional secretariats
, and these to approximately 14,008 Grama Niladhari
The districts are known in Sinhala as disa
and in Tamil as māwaddam
. Originally, a disa
(usually rendered into English as Dissavony) was a duchy
, notably Matale and Uva.
There are three other types of local authorities: municipal councils (18), urban councils (13) and pradeshiya sabha, also called pradesha sabhai (256).
Local authorities were originally based on feudal counties named korale
, and were formerly known as "D.R.O. divisions" after the divisional revenue officer.
Later the D.R.O.s became "assistant government agents," and the divisions were known as "A.G.A. divisions". These divisional secretariats are currently administered by a divisional secretary.
The United National Party has traditionally favoured links with the West, while the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has favoured links with the East.
Sri Lankan Finance Minister J. R. Jayewardene, together with then Australian Foreign Minister Sir Percy Spencer, proposed the Colombo Plan at the Commonwealth Foreign Minister's Conference held in Colombo in 1950.
At the San Francisco Peace Conference
in 1951, while many countries were reluctant, Sri Lanka argued for a free Japan and refused to accept payment of reparations for World War II
damage because it believed it would harm Japan's economy.
Sri Lanka-China relations started as soon as the People's Republic of China was formed in 1949. The two countries signed an important Rice-Rubber Pact in 1952.
Sri Lanka played a vital role at the Asian–African Conference
in 1955, which was an important step in the crystallisation of the NAM.
The Bandaranaike government of 1956 significantly changed the pro-western policies set by the previous UNP government. It recognised Cuba under Fidel Castro
in 1959. Shortly afterward, Cuba's revolutionary Che Guevara
paid a visit to Sri Lanka.
The Sirima-Shastri Pact
and Sirima-Gandhi Pact
were signed between Sri Lankan and Indian leaders in an attempt to solve the long-standing dispute
over the status of plantation workers of Indian origin
. In 1974, Kachchatheevu
, a small island in Palk Strait
, was formally ceded to Sri Lanka.
By this time, Sri Lanka was strongly involved in the NAM, and the fifth NAM summit was held in Colombo in 1976.
The relationship between Sri Lanka and India became tense under the government of J. R. Jayawardene
As a result, India intervened in the Sri Lankan Civil War
and subsequently deployed an Indian Peace Keeping Force
In the present, Sri Lanka enjoys extensive relations with China,
Since independence in 1948, the primary focus of the armed forces has been internal security, crushing three major insurgencies, two by Marxist
militants of the JVP
and a 26-year-long conflict with the LTTE
. The armed forces have been in a continuous mobilised state for the last 30 years.
The Sri Lankan Armed Forces have engaged in United Nations peacekeeping
operations since the early 1960s, contributing forces to permanent contingents deployed in several UN peacekeeping missions in Chad
, and Haiti
According to the International Monetary Fund, Sri Lanka's GDP
in terms of purchasing power parity
is the second highest in the South Asian region in terms of per capita income
. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Sri Lanka became a plantation economy
famous for its production and export of cinnamon
, and Ceylon tea
, which remains a trademark national export.
The development of modern ports
under British rule raised the strategic importance of the island as a centre of trade.
From 1948 to 1977, socialism strongly influenced the government's economic policies. Colonial plantations were dismantled, industries were nationalised, and a welfare state
established. In 1977, the free market economy
was introduced to the country incorporating privatisation, deregulation, and the promotion of private enterprise.
While the production and export of tea, rubber, coffee, sugar, and other commodities remain important, industrialisation has increased the importance of food processing, textiles, telecommunications, and finance. The country's main economic sectors are tourism, tea export, clothing, rice production, and other agricultural products. In addition to these economic sectors, overseas employment, especially in the Middle East, contributes substantially in foreign exchange.
As of 2010, the service sector makes up 60% of GDP, the industrial sector 28%, and the agriculture sector 12%.
The private sector accounts for 85% of the economy.
China, India and the United States are Sri Lanka's largest trading partners.
Economic disparities exist between the provinces with the Western Province contributing 45.1% of the GDP and the Southern Province and the Central Province contributing 10.7% and 10%, respectively.
With the end of the war, the Northern Province reported a record 22.9% GDP growth in 2010.
Sri Lanka's most widely known export, Ceylon tea
, which ISO
considers the cleanest tea in the world in terms of pesticide residues. Sri Lanka is also the world's 2nd largest exporter of tea.
The per capita income of Sri Lanka doubled from 2005 to 2011.
During the same period, poverty dropped from 15.2% to 7.6%, unemployment rate dropped from 7.2% to 4.9%, market capitalisation
of the Colombo Stock Exchange
quadrupled, and the budget deficit
Over 90% of the households in Sri Lanka are electrified; 87% of the population have access to safe drinking water; and 39% have access to pipe-borne water.
Income inequality has also dropped in recent years, indicated by a Gini coefficient
of 0.36 in 2010.
The 2011 Global Competitiveness Report
, published by the World Economic Forum
, described Sri Lanka's economy as transitioning from the factor-driven stage to the efficiency-driven stage and that it ranked 52nd in global competitiveness.
Also, out of the 142 countries surveyed, Sri Lanka ranked 45th in health and primary education, 32nd in business sophistication, 42nd in innovation, and 41st in goods market efficiency. In 2016, Sri Lanka ranked 5th in the World Giving Index
, registering high levels of contentment and charitable behaviour in its society.
In 2010, The New York Times
placed Sri Lanka at the top of its list of 31 places to visit. S&P Dow Jones Indices
classifies Sri Lanka as a frontier market
as of 2018. Sri Lanka ranks
well above other South Asian countries in the Human Development Index
(HDI) with an index of 0.750.
By 2016, the country's debt soared as it was developing its infrastructure to the point of near bankruptcy which required a bailout from the International Monetary Fund
The IMF had agreed to provide a US$1.5 billion bailout loan in April 2016 after Sri Lanka provided a set of criteria intended to improve its economy. By the fourth quarter of 2016, the debt was estimated to be $64.9 billion. Additional debt had been incurred in the past by state-owned organisations and this was said to be at least $9.5 billion. Since early 2015, domestic debt increased by 12% and external debt by 25%.
In November 2016, the IMF reported that the initial disbursement was larger than US$150 million originally planned, a full US$162.6 million (SDR 119.894 million). The agency's evaluation for the first tranche was cautiously optimistic about the future. Under the program Sri Lankan government implemented a new Inland Revenue Act and an automatic fuel pricing formula which were noted by the IMF in its fourth review. In 2018 China agreed to bail out Sri Lanka with a loan of $1.25 billion to deal with foreign debt repayment spikes in 2019 to 2021.
Sri Lanka's population, (1871–2001)
Population pyramid 2016
Sri Lanka has roughly 21,670,000 people and an annual population growth rate of 1.14%. The birth rate
is 17.6 births per 1,000 people, and the death rate
is 6.2 deaths per 1,000 people.
Population density is highest in western Sri Lanka, especially in and around the capital. Sinhalese
constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, with 74.8% of the total population. Sri Lankan Tamils
are the second major ethnic group in the island, with a percentage of 11.2%. Moors
comprise 9.2%. There are also small ethnic groups such as the Burghers
(of mixed European descent) and Malays
from Southeast Asia. Moreover, there is a small population of Vedda people
who are believed to be the original indigenous group to inhabit the island.
is the largest and is considered as an "Official religion
" of Sri Lanka under Chapter II, Article 9, "The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana".
Buddhism is practiced by 70.2% of the Sri Lankan's population with most being predominantly from Theravada
school of thought.
Most Buddhists are of the Sinhalese ethnic group with minority Tamils. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BCE by venerable Mahinda Maurya
A sapling of the Bodhi Tree
under which the Buddha
attained enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka during the same time. The Pāli Canon
), having previously been preserved as an oral tradition, was first committed to writing in Sri Lanka around 30 BCE.
Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominantly Buddhist nation.
During periods of decline, the Sri Lankan monastic lineage was revived through contact with Thailand and Burma.
Hinduism was the dominant religion in Sri Lanka before the arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE. Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka by Mahinda, the son of the Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa
The Sinhalese embraced Buddhism and Tamils remain Hindus in Sri Lanka. However it was activity from across the Palk Strait
that truly set the scene for Hinduism
's survival in Sri Lanka. Shaivism
(devotional worship of Lord Shiva) was the dominant branch practiced by the Tamil peoples, thus most of the traditional Hindu temple architecture
of Sri Lanka drew heavily from this particular strand of Hinduism. Thirugnanasambanthar mentioned the names of a number of Sri Lankan Hindu temples in his works.
is the second most prevalent religion and predates Buddhism. Islam
is the third most prevalent religion in the country, having first been brought to the island by Arab traders over the course of many centuries, starting around the 7th century CE. Most Muslims are Sunni
who follow the Shafi'i school
Most followers today are believed to be descendants of those Arab traders and the local women they married.Christianity
reached the country through Western colonists in the early 16th century.
Around 7.4% of the Sri Lankan population are Christians, of whom 82% are Roman Catholics
who trace their religious heritage directly to the Portuguese. Tamil Catholics attribute their religious heritage to St. Francis Xavier
as well as Portuguese missionaries. The remaining Christians are evenly split between the Anglican Church of Ceylon
and other Protestant denominations
There is also a small population of Zoroastrian
immigrants from India (Parsis
) who settled in Ceylon during the period of British rule,
but this community has steadily dwindled in recent years.
Religion plays a prominent role in the life and culture of Sri Lankans. The Buddhist
majority observe Poya
Days each month according to the Lunar calendar
, and Hindus
also observe their own holidays. In a 2008 Gallup poll
, Sri Lanka was ranked the third most religious country in the world, with 99% of Sri Lankans saying religion was an important part of their daily life.
Sri Lankans have a life expectancy
of 77.9 years at birth, which is 10% higher than the world average.
The infant mortality rate stands at 8.5 per 1,000 births and the maternal mortality rate at 0.39 per 1,000 births, which is on par with figures from the developed countries. The universal "pro-poor"
health care system adopted by the country has contributed much towards these figures.
Sri Lanka ranks first among southeast Asian countries with respect to deaths by suicide, with 33 deaths per 100,000 persons. According to the Department of Census and Statistics, poverty, destructive pastimes, and inability to cope with stressful situations are the main causes behind the high suicide rates.
With a literacy rate
Sri Lanka has one of the most literate populations amongst developing nations.
Its youth literacy rate stands at 98.8%,
computer literacy rate at 35%,
and primary school enrollment rate at over 99%.
An education system which dictates 9 years of compulsory schooling
for every child is in place.
The free education system
established in 1945
is a result of the initiative of C. W. W. Kannangara
and A. Ratnayake.
It is one of the few countries in the world that provide universal free education from primary to tertiary stage.
Kannangara led the establishment of the Madhya Vidyalayas
(central schools) in different parts of the country in order to provide education to Sri Lanka's rural children.
In 1942, a special education committee proposed extensive reforms to establish an efficient and quality education system for the people. However, in the 1980s changes to this system separated the administration of schools between the central government and the provincial government. Thus the elite national schools
are controlled directly by the ministry of education
and the provincial schools by the provincial government. Sri Lanka has approximately 9,675 government schools and 817 private schools and pirivenas
Sri Lanka has 15 public universities.
A lack of responsiveness of the education system to labour market requirements, disparities in access to quality education, lack of an effective linkage between secondary and tertiary education remain major challenges for the education sector.
A number of private, degree awarding institutions have emerged in recent times to fill in these gaps, yet the participation at tertiary level education remains at 5.1%.
Sri Lanka has an extensive road network for inland transportation. With more than 100,000 km (62,000 mi) of paved roads,
it has one of the highest road densities in the world (1.5 km or 0.93 mi of paved roads per every 1 km2
or 0.39 sq mi of land). The road network consists of 35 A-Grade highways
and two controlled-access highways
A and B grade roads are national (arterial) highways administered by Road Development Authority.
C and D grade roads are provincial roads coming under the purview of the Provincial Road Development Authority of the respective province. The other roads are local roads falling under local government authorities.
Human rights and media
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
(formerly Radio Ceylon
) is the oldest-running radio station in Asia,
established in 1923 by Edward Harper
just three years after broadcasting began in Europe.
The station broadcasts services in Sinhala, Tamil, English and Hindi. Since the 1980s, many private radio stations have also been introduced. Broadcast television was introduced in 1979 when the Independent Television Network
was launched. Initially, all television stations were state-controlled, but private television networks began broadcasting in 1992.
As of 2010, 51 newspapers (30 Sinhala, 10 Tamil, 11 English) are published and 34 TV stations and 52 radio stations are in operation.
In recent years, freedom of the press
in Sri Lanka has been alleged by media freedom groups to be amongst the poorest in democratic countries
Alleged abuse of a newspaper editor by a senior government minister
achieved international notoriety because of the unsolved murder of the editor's predecessor, Lasantha Wickrematunge
who had been a critic of the government and had presaged his own death in a posthumously published article.
The UN Human Rights Council
has documented over 12,000 named individuals
who have disappeared after detention by security forces in Sri Lanka, the second highest figure in the world since the Working Group came into being in 1980.
The Sri Lankan government confirmed that 6,445 of these died. Allegations of human rights abuses have not ended with the close of the ethnic conflict.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay
visited Sri Lanka in May 2013. After her visit, she said: "The war may have ended [in Sri Lanka], but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded." Pillay spoke about the military's increasing involvement in civilian life and reports of military land grabbing
. She also said that, while in Sri Lanka, she had been allowed to go wherever she wanted, but that Sri Lankans who came to meet her were harassed and intimidated by security forces.
In 2012, the UK charity Freedom from Torture
reported that it had received 233 referrals of torture survivors from Sri Lanka for clinical treatment or other services provided by the charity. In the same year, the group published Out of the Silence
, which documents evidence of torture in Sri Lanka and demonstrates that the practice has continued long after the end of the civil war in 2009.
On 29 July 2020, Human Rights Watch
said that the Sri Lanka government has targeted lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists to suppress criticism against government.
The culture of Sri Lanka
is influenced primarily by Buddhism and Hinduism.
Sri Lanka is the home to two main traditional cultures: the Sinhalese (centred in Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centred in Jaffna). Tamils co-existed with the Sinhalese people since then, and the early mixing rendered the two ethnic groups almost physically indistinct.
Ancient Sri Lanka is marked for its genius in hydraulic engineering
. The British colonial culture has also influenced the locals. The rich cultural traditions shared by all Sri Lankan cultures is the basis of the country's long life expectancy, advanced health standards and high literacy rate.
Food and festivals
Sri Lankan rice and curry
Dishes include rice and curry, pittu
, wholemeal roti
, string hoppers
, wattalapam (a rich pudding of Malay origin made with coconut milk
, jaggery, cashews, eggs, and spices including cinnamon and nutmeg), kottu
, and appam
may sometimes replace rice. Traditionally food is served on a plantain leaf or lotus leaf
. Middle Eastern influences and practices are found in traditional Moor dishes, while Dutch and Portuguese influences are found with the island's Burgher community preserving their culture through traditional dishes such as lamprais
(rice cooked in stock and baked in a banana leaf), breudher
(Dutch holiday biscuit), and bolo fiado (Portuguese-style layer cake).
In April, Sri Lankans celebrate the Buddhist
new year festivals. Esala Perahera
is a symbolic Buddhist festival consisting of dances and decorated elephants held in Kandy in July and August.
Fire dances, whip dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances are integral parts of the festival. Christians celebrate Christmas
on 25 December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and Easter
to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Tamils celebrate Thai Pongal
and Maha Shivaratri
, and Muslims celebrate Hajj
Visual, literary and performing arts
The movie Kadawunu Poronduwa
(The Broken Promise
), produced by S. M. Nayagam
of Chitra Kala Movietone, heralded the coming of Sri Lankan cinema in 1947. Ranmuthu Duwa
(Island of Treasures
) marked the transition cinema from black-and-white
to colour. In recent years, movies have featured subjects such as family melodrama, social transformation and the years of conflict between the military and the LTTE.
The Sri Lankan cinematic style is similar to Bollywood
movies. In 1979, movie attendance rose to an all-time high, but has been in steady decline since then.
An influential filmmaker is Lester James Peiris
, who has directed a number of movies which led to global acclaim, including Rekava
(Line of Destiny
, 1956), Gamperaliya
(The Changing Village
, 1964), Nidhanaya
, 1970) and Golu Hadawatha
Sri Lankan-Canadian poet Rienzi Crusz
, is the subject of a documentary on his life in Sri Lanka. His work is published in Sinhala and English. Naturalised Canadian Michael Ondaatje
is well known for his English-language novels and three films.
A Low Country drummer playing the traditional Yak Béra
There are three main styles of Sri Lankan classical dance. They are, the Kandyan dances
, low country dances and Sabaragamuwa
dances. Of these, the Kandyan style is most prominent. It is a sophisticated form of dance
that consists of five sub-categories: Ves dance
, Naiyandi dance
, Udekki dance
, Pantheru dance
and 18 Vannam
An elaborate headdress is worn by the male dancers, and a drum called Geta Béraya
is used to assist the dancers to keep on rhythm.
The history of Sri Lankan painting and sculpture can be traced as far back as to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE.
The earliest mention about the art of painting on Mahāvaṃsa, is to the drawing of a palace on cloth using cinnabar
in the 2nd century BCE. The chronicles have description of various paintings in relic-chambers of Buddhist stupas and in monastic residence.
Theatre came to the country when a Parsi theatre
company from Mumbai
, a blend of European and Indian theatrical conventions to the Colombo audience in the 19th century.
The golden age of Sri Lankan drama and theatre began with the staging of Maname
, a play written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra
It was followed by a series of popular dramas like Sinhabāhu
, Muudu Puththu
and Subha saha Yasa
Sri Lankan literature spans at least two millennia and is heir to the Aryan
literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rigveda
The Pāli Canon
, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, was written down in Sri Lanka during the Fourth Buddhist council
, at the Alulena cave temple, Kegalle
, as early as 29 BCE.
Chronicles such as the Mahāvaṃsa
, written in the 6th century, provide vivid descriptions of Sri Lankan dynasties. According to the German philosopher Wilhelm Geiger
, the chronicles are based on Sinhala Atthakatha
The oldest surviving prose work is the Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya
, compiled in the 9th century CE.
The greatest literary feats of medieval Sri Lanka include Sandesha Kāvya
(poetic messages) such as Girā Sandeshaya
(parrot message), Hansa Sandeshaya
(swan message) and Salalihini Sandeshaya
(myna message). Poetry including Kavsilumina
(Diadem of Poetry
) and proses such as Saddharma-Ratnāvaliya
(Flood of Nectar
) and Pujāvaliya
are also notable works of this period, which is considered to be the golden age of Sri Lankan literature.
The first modern-day novel, Meena
by Simon de Silva appeared in 1905
and was followed by several revolutionary literary works. Martin Wickramasinghe
, the author of Madol Doova
is considered the iconic figure of Sri Lankan literature.
The Sri Lanka national cricket team
achieved considerable success beginning in the 1990s, rising from underdog
status to winning the 1996 Cricket World Cup
They also won the 2014 ICC World Twenty20
played in Bangladesh, beating India in the final. In addition, Sri Lanka became the runners-up of the Cricket World Cup
and of the ICC World Twenty20
Former Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan
has been rated as the greatest test match bowler
ever by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
and four Sri Lankan cricketers ranked 2nd (Sangakkara
), 4th (Jayasuriya
), 5th (Jayawardene
) and 11th (Dilshan
) highest ODI run scorers of all time, which is the second best by a team. Sri Lanka has won the Asia Cup
Sri Lanka once held highest team score in all three formats of cricket.
The country co-hosted the Cricket World Cup in 1996
, and hosted the 2012 ICC World Twenty20
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Overviews and data
Last edited on 17 May 2021, at 06:25
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