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Religion in Sri Lanka: Map


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Sri Lanka's population practices a variety of religions. 70% of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists, 15% are Hindus, 7.5% are Muslims and 7.5% Christians.Sri Lanka was ranked the 3rd most religious country in the world by a 2008 Gallup poll, with 99% of Sri Lankans saying religion is an important part of their daily life.

Buddhism [70%] Hinduism [15%] Christianity [7.5%] Islam [7.5%]
Distribution of the four major denominations in Sri Lanka. The percentages shown are from 2001 census except where the numbers are cursive, which are from 1981 census. Population movements have occurred after 1981, and accurate statistics do not exist for these districts.


Theravada Buddhism is the majority religion in Sri Lanka, with about 70% of the country's population as followers. Mahinda, son of Ashoka, an early supporter of Buddhism, led the mission to Sri Lanka in 246 BC where he converted the king of Sri Lanka to Buddhism. From then on, the royal families had helped to encourage the spread of Buddhism, aiding Buddhist missionaries and building monasteries. Sanghamitra, daughter of King Ashoka, brought a shoot of the Bodhi tree in Buddha Gayamarker to Sri Lanka and established the Order of Nuns. Around 200 BC, Buddhism became the official religion of Sri Lanka. The Relic of the tooth of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka in 4th century AD by Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala. However, later on, Hindu and European colonial influences contributed to the decline of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. By the mid 19th century, Dharmapala, a Buddhist monk, started a revival movement in Sri Lanka. This movement eventually helped to return Buddhist dominance in Sri Lanka.


Hindus make up 16% of Sri Lanka's population. Hinduism was the major religion practiced on the island prior to the introduction of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC and the subsequent adoption of the new religion by the Sinhalese population. Nonetheless, Hinduism survived and endured in Sri Lanka, supported by South Indian and Orissan dynasties that conquered parts of the island through history.

As with other religions, it experienced some decline during the European colonization of the country as a result of the heavy emphasis on Christianity. In modern times the religion is still dominant in the Northern and Eastern provinces, among the Tamil ethnic group, though modern day conversions to Christianity still represent some decline.

With 16% of the total population Hinduism is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, though it continues to flourish among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora; with many temples and religious establishments being built by this community in their new homelands.

The most important Hindu religious figure in Sri Lankan modern history is, inarguably, Satguru Siva Yogaswami of Jaffnamarker. One of the greatest and most profound mystics of the twentieth century, Yogaswami was the official satguru and counseling sage of Lanka's several million Tamil Hindu population.


By the 15th century, Arab traders had controlled much of the trade on the Indian Oceanmarker, including that of Sri Lanka's. Many of these traders settled down in Sri Lanka, encouraging the spread of Islam. However, when the Portuguese arrived at Sri Lanka during the 16th century, many of their Muslim descendants were persecuted, thus forcing them to migrate to the Central Highlands and to the east coast.

In modern times, Muslims in Sri Lanka are handled by the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department, which was established in the 1980s to prevent the continual isolation of the Muslim community from the rest of Sri Lanka. Today, about 8% of Sri Lankans adhere to Islam; mostly from the Arab-descendant Moor and Malay ethnic communities on the island.


According to Christian traditions, Thomas the Apostle first arrived in Sri Lanka (as well as Indiamarker) during the 1st century. After his arrival, small Christian settlements were recorded to have been established on Sri Lanka's coastline. However, the population of Christians in Sri Lanka didn't dramatically increase until the arrival of Portuguese missionaries during the 15th century. In the 17th century, the Dutchmarker took over Sri Lanka and Dutch missionaries were able to convert 21% of Sri Lanka's population into official Christians by 1722.

In 1796 the Dutch were displaced by the British and in 1802 Ceylon became a Crown colony. Anglican and other Protestant missionaries arrived at Sri Lanka during the early 19th century, when the British took control of Sri Lanka from the Dutch. Under British rule missionary work was undertaken by English societies: Baptist, Wesleyan Methodist, the CMS and SPG. The Salvation Army is also strong in Sri Lanka.

Even so, Christianity has heavily declined in Sri Lanka ever since the end of colonial rule. Since political independence in 1948, all the Churches have had to face the challenge of a revived Buddhism, which was recognized as the State religion in 1972. By the 1980s, the population of Christians (mostly concentrated in the southwest of Sri Lanka) reached 1,283,600, 8% of Sri Lanka's population. Of these Christians, about 88% are Roman Catholic and the rest are Anglican and Protestant. By the 1970s, there has been a movement for all Protestant churches to join together in a united Church of Sri Lanka, though this has been strongly opposed by the Sinhalese people.


  2. Department of Census and Statistics
  3. Sri Lanka, Christianity in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church | 2000 | E. A. LIVINGSTONE

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