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Sri Lanka (from the Sanskrit Venerable Island ), officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka ( , Sinhala: , ; known as Ceylon ( ) before 1972 and as Taprobane ( ) in ancient times), is an island country in South Asia, located about off the southern coast of Indiamarker. It is home to around twenty million people.

As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and South East Asia. It has also been a center of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times as well as being a bastion of Hinduism. The Sinhalese community forms the majority of the population; Tamils, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island, form the largest ethnic minority. Other communities include Moors, Burghers, Kaffirs, Malays and the indigenous Wanniyala-Aetto people.

The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon - which is native to the country. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka's tropical forests, beaches and landscape, as well as its rich cultural heritage, make it a world famous tourist destination. The island also boasts the first female Prime Minister in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

After over two thousand years of rule by local kingdoms, parts of Sri Lanka were colonized by Portugalmarker and the Netherlandsmarker beginning in the 16th century, before control of the entire country was ceded to the British Empire in 1815. During World War II, Sri Lanka served as an important base for Allied forces in the fight against the Japanese Empiremarker. A nationalist political movement arose in the country in the early 20th century with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually granted by the British after peaceful negotiations in 1948.


In ancient times, Sri Lanka was known by a variety of names: ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane and Arabs referred to it as (the origin of the word "serendipity"). was the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese when they arrived in 1505, which was transliterated into English as Ceylon. As a British colony, the island was known as Ceylon, and achieved independence under the name Ceylon in 1948. In 1972, the official name of the country was changed to "Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka" (in Sinhala: , ; whereas the island itself is referred to as ලංකාව laṃkāva, , in Tamil இலங்கை ilaṅkai, ). In 1978 it was changed to "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka". The current name is derived from the Sanskrit word lanka, meaning "island", which was also the name of the island as described in the ancient Indian epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The word "Sri" is a Sanskrit title meaning sacred .

Geography and climate

Topographical map of Sri Lanka.

The island of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Oceanmarker, to the southwest of the Bay of Bengalmarker and to the southeast of the Arabian Seamarker. It is separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannarmarker and the Palk Straitmarker. According to Hindu mythology, a land bridge to the Indian mainland, known as Rama's Bridgemarker, was constructed during the time of Rama by the vanara architect Nala. Often referred to as Adam's Bridgemarker, it now amounts to only a chain of limestone shoals remaining above sea level. According to colonial British reports, this is a natural causeway which was formerly complete, but was breached by a violent storm in 1480. The width of the Palk Straitmarker is small enough for the coast of Sri Lanka to be visible from the furthest point near the Indian town of Rameswarammarker. The island consists mostly of flat-to-rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central part. Amongst these is the highest point Pidurutalagalamarker, reaching above sea level.

The climate of Sri Lanka can be described as tropical and warm. Its position between 5 and 10 north latitude endows the country with a warm climate moderated by ocean winds and considerable moisture. The mean temperature ranges from about in the Central Highlands, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of approximately in other low-altitude areas. The average yearly temperature ranges from to nearly . Day and night temperatures may vary by 4 °C (7 °F) to 7 °C (13 °F). During the coldest days of January, many people wear coats and sweaters in the highlands and elsewhere. May, the hottest period, precedes the summer monsoon rains. The rainfall pattern is influenced by monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal: as the winds encounter the mountain slopes of the Central Highlands, they unload heavy rains on the slopes and the southwestern areas of the island. Some of the windward slopes receive up to of rain each month, but the leeward slopes in the east and northeast receive little rain. Periodic squalls occur and sometimes tropical cyclones bring overcast skies and rains to the southwest, northeast, and eastern parts of the island. Between December to March, monsoon winds come from the northeast, bringing moisture from the Bay of Bengalmarker. Humidity is typically higher in the southwest and mountainous areas and depends on the seasonal patterns of rainfall, and places like Colombomarker experience daytime humidity above 70% all year round, rising to almost 90% during the monsoon season in June. Anuradhapuramarker experiences a daytime low of 60% during the monsoon month of March, but a high of 79% during the November and December rains. In the highlands, Kandy's daytime humidity usually ranges between 70% and 79%.

Flora and fauna


The mountains and the southwestern part of the country, known as the "wet zone", receive ample rainfall at an average of . Most of the east, southeast, and northern parts of the country comprise the "dry zone", which receives between and of rain annually. Much of the rain in these areas falls from October to January; during the rest of the year there is very little precipitation. The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain at to per year. Varieties of flowering acacias are well adapted to the arid conditions and flourish on the Jaffna Peninsulamarker. Among the trees of the dry-land forests, are some valuable species such as satinwood, ebony, ironwood, mahogany and teak. In the wet zone, the dominant vegetation of the lowlands 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. Forests at one time covered nearly the entire island, but by the late 20th century lands classified as forests and forest reserves covered around ⅓ of the land. The Yala National Parkmarker in the southeast protects herds of elephant, deer, and peacocks, and the Wilpattu National Parkmarker in the northwest preserves the habitats of many water birds, such as storks, pelicans, ibis, and spoonbills. During the Mahaweli Ganga Program of the 1970s and 1980s in northern Sri Lanka, the government set aside four areas of land totaling as national parks. The island has four biosphere reserves, Bundalamarker, Hurulu Forest Reservemarker, the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniyamarker, and Sinharajamarker.

The national flower of Sri Lanka is the Nymphaea stellata (Sinhalese Nil Mahanel), the national tree is the Ironwood (Sinhalese Na), and the national bird is the Sri Lanka Junglefowl, which is endemic to the country.


Early periods

Paleolithic human settlements have been discovered at excavations in several cave sites in the Western Plains region and the South-western face of the Central Hills region. Anthropologist believe that some discovered burial rites and certain decorative artifacts exhibit similarities between the first inhabitants of the island and the early inhabitants of Southern India. Recent bioanthropological studies have however dismissed these links, and have placed the origin of the people to the northern parts of Indiamarker . One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which described the emperor Ravana as monarch of the powerful kingdom of Lanka, which was created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma for Kubera, the treasurer of the Gods. English historian James Emerson Tennent also theorized Gallemarker, 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. The main written accounts of the country's history are the Buddhist chronicles of Mahavansa and Dipavamsa.
Sri Lankan coin, 1st century CE.
The earliest-known inhabitants of the island now known as Sri Lanka were probably the ancestors of the Wanniyala-Aetto people, also known as Veddahs and numbering roughly 3,000. Linguistic analysis has found a correlation of the Sinhalese language with the languages of the Sindhmarker and Gujaratmarker, although most historians believe that the Sinhala community emerged well after the assimilation of various ethnic groups. From the ancient period date some remarkable archaeological sites including the ruins of Sigiriyamarker, the so-called "Fortress in the Sky", and huge public works. Among the latter are large "tanks" or reservoir, important for conserving water in a climate that alternates rainy seasons with dry times, and elaborate aqueducts, some with a slope as finely calibrated as one inch to the mile. Ancient Sri Lanka was also the first in the world to have established a dedicated hospital in Mihintalemarker in the 4th century BCE. Ancient Sri Lanka was also the world's leading exporter of cinnamon, which was exported to Egyptmarker as early as 1400 BCE. Sri Lanka was also the first Asian nation to have a female ruler in Queen Anula (47–42 BC).

Ancient Sri Lanka

Since ancient times Sri Lanka was ruled by monarchs, most notably of the Sinha royal dynasty that lasted over 2000 years. The island was also infrequently invaded by South Indian kingdoms and parts of the island were ruled intermittently by the Chola dynasty, the Pandya dynasty, the Chera dynasty and the Pallava dynasty. The island was also invaded by the kingdoms of Kalinga (modern Orissamarker) and those from the Malay Peninsula. Buddhism arrived from India in the 3rd century BCE, brought by Bhikkhu Mahinda, who is believed to have been the son of Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Mahinda's mission won over the Sinhalese monarch Devanampiyatissa of Mihintalemarker, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population. The Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries, and support the propagation of Buddhism into Southeast Asia.

Colonial era

British colonial Coat of arms of Ceylon
Sri Lanka had always been an important port and trading post in the ancient world, and was increasingly frequented by merchant ships from the Middle East, Persiamarker, Burmamarker, Thailandmarker, Malaysiamarker, Indonesiamarker and other parts of Southeast Asia. The islands were known to the first European explorers of South Asia and settled by many groups of Arab and Malay merchants. A Portuguesemarker colonial mission arrived on the island in 1505 headed by Lourenço de Almeida the son of Francisco de Almeida. At that point the island consisted of three kingdoms, namely Kandymarker in the central hills, Kottemarker at the Western coast, and Yarlpanam (Anglicised Jaffnamarker) in the north. The Dutch arrived in the 17th century. Although much of the island came under the domain of European powers, the interior, hilly region of the island remained independent, with its capital in Kandymarker. The British East India Company established control of the island in 1796, declaring it a crown colony in 1802, although the island would not be officially connected with British India. The fall of the kingdom of Kandy in 1815 unified the island under British rule.

20th Century and the World Wars

European colonists established a series of tea, cinnamon, rubber, sugar, coffee and indigo plantations. The British also brought a large number of indentured workers from Tamil Nadumarker to work in the plantation economy. The city of Colombomarker was established as the administrative centre, and the British established modern schools, colleges, roads and churches that brought Western-style education and culture to the native people. Increasing grievances over the denial of civil rights, mistreatment and abuse of natives by colonial authorities gave rise to a struggle for independence in the 1930s, when the Youth Leagues opposed the "Ministers' Memorandum," which asked the colonial authority to increase the powers of the board of ministers without granting popular representation or civil freedoms. Buddhist scholars and the Teetotalist Movement also played a vital role in this time. During World War II, the island served as an important Allied military base. A large segment of the British and American fleet were deployed on the island, as were tens of thousands of soldiers committed to the war against Japanmarker in Southeast Asia.


Following the war, popular pressure for independence intensified. The office of Prime Minister of Ceylon was created in advance of independence on 14 October 1947, Don Stephen Senanayake being the first prime minister. On February 4, 1948 the country won its independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. On July 21, 1960 Sirimavo Bandaranaike took office as prime minister, and became the world's first female prime minister and the first female head of government in post-colonial Asia. In 1972, during Sirimavo Bandaranaike's second term as prime minister, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and the name was changed to Sri Lanka. The island enjoyed good relations with the United Kingdom and had the British Royal Navy stationed at Trincomalee.

Civil war

One of the aspects of the independence movement was that it was very much a Sinhalese movement. As a result, the Sinhalese majority attempted to remodel Sri Lanka as a Sinhalese nation-state. The lion in the national flag is derived from the banner of the last Sinhalese Kingdom, which, to the Sinhalese majority, is a symbol of their fight against British colonialism. One single strip of orange on the left part of the flag represents the Tamil population, and it is seen by many Tamil as a symbol of their marginalisation.[4420]

In 1956, the Official Language Act (commonly known as The Sinhala Only Act) was enacted. The law mandated Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese community, which is spoken by over 70% of Sri Lanka's population, as the sole official language of Sri Lanka. Supporters of the law saw it as an attempt by a community that had just gained independence to distance themselves from their colonial masters. The immediate (and intended) consequence of this act was to force large numbers of Tamil who worked in the civil service, and who could not meet this language requirement, to resign. An attempt to make Buddhism the national religion, to the exclusion of Hindu and Islam, was also made. Affirmative action in favour of Sinhalese was also instituted, ostensibly to reverse colonial discrimination against Sinhalese in favour of Tamil. Many Tamil, in response to this deliberate marginalisation, came to believe that they deserved a separate nation-state for themselves.

From 1983 to 2009, there was an on-and-off civil war against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist militant organization who fought to create an independent state named Tamil Eelam in the Northmarker and Eastmarker of the island. Both the Sri Lankan government and LTTE have been accused of various human rights violations.

On May 19, 2009, the President of Sri Lanka officially claimed an end to the insurgency and the defeat of the LTTE, following the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran and much of the LTTE's other senior leadership.

Post War

After the civil war is over in Sri Lanka, government of Sri Lanka calls for re-development of the country. There are 300,000 Tamils that need to be resettled.

Government and politics

The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Colombo.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka establishes a democratic, socialist republic in Sri Lanka, which is also a unitary state. The government is a mixture of the presidential system and the parliamentary system. The President of Sri Lanka is the head of state, the commander in chief of the armed forces, as well as head of government, and is popularly elected for a six-year term. In the exercise of duties, the President is responsible to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, which is a unicameral 225-member legislature. The President appoints and heads a cabinet of minister composed of elected members of parliament. The President's deputy is the Prime Minister, who leads the ruling party in parliament and shares many executive responsibilities, mainly in domestic affairs. Members of parliament are elected by universal (adult) suffrage based on a modified proportional representation system by district to a six-year term. The primary modification is that, the party that receives the largest number of valid votes in each constituency gains a unique "bonus seat." The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after it has served for one year. The parliament reserves the power to make all laws. On July 1, 1960 the people of Sri Lanka elected the first-ever female head of government in Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga served for a short period as the prime minister between August and December 1994 before being elected as president from 1994 to 2005 for 2 consecutive terms. The current president and prime minister, both of whom took office on November 21, 2005, are Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ratnasiri Wickremanayake respectively.

Sri Lanka has enjoyed democracy with universal suffrage since 1931. Politics in Sri Lanka are controlled by rival coalitions led by the left-wing Sri Lanka Freedom Party, headed by President Rajapaksa, the comparatively right-wing United National Party led by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and JVP. There are also many smaller Buddhist, socialist and Tamil nationalist political parties that oppose the separatism of the LTTE but demand regional autonomy and increased civil rights. Since 1948, Sri Lanka has been a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. It is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Colombo Plan, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Through the Cold War-era, Sri Lanka followed a foreign policy of non-alignment but has remained closer to the United Statesmarker and Western Europe. The military of Sri Lanka comprises the Sri Lankan Army, the Sri Lankan Navy and the Sri Lankan Air Force. These are administered by the Ministry of Defence. During 1971 and 1989 the army assisted the police in government response against the Marxist militants of the JVP and fought the LTTE from 1983 to 2009. Sri Lanka receives considerable military assistance from Pakistan and China.

Foreign relations and military

Foreign relations

Sri Lanka traditionally follows a nonaligned foreign policy but has been seeking closer relations with the United States since December 1977. It participates in multilateral diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations, where it seeks to promote sovereignty, independence, and development in the developing world. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It also is a member of the Commonwealth, the SAARC, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Colombo Plan. Sri Lanka continues its active participation in the NAM, while also stressing the importance it places on regionalism by playing a strong role in SAARC.



The Sri Lanka Armed Forces, comprising the Sri Lanka Army, the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Air Force, comes under the purview of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The total strength of the three services is around 230,000 active personnel who have voluntary joined, since military draft have never been imposed in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Armed Forces are currently in a fully mobilized (including reserves) state due to the ongoing Sri Lankan Civil War against the LTTE which is proscribed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries. In support of the armed forces there are two paramilitary units functioning under purview of the Ministry of Defence, which are the Special Task Force and the Civil Defence Force. Sri Lanka did not had a Coast Guard service until Aug 10, 2009 and its Navy carried out such duties. Discussions were underway with respect to establishing a coast guard service. and on Aug 10, 2009 director-general of Sri Lanka Department of Coast Guard Daya Dharmapriya officially announced the on behalf of the government the launching of the service.

Since independence from Britainmarker in 1948, the primary focus of the armed forces has been on internal security, due to three major insurgencies, most notably engaged in the 30-year long war with the LTTE and finally claimed victory at 19 May 2009 after the death of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran which took place at 18 May 2009 by a Sri Lanka army attack.

Peace keeping

Even though its armed forces were then engaged in an internal conflict, Sri Lanka contributed with forces in international missions organised by the United Nations, notably the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and continue to contribute their forces to the United Nations. On the 21 October, 2009 another group of two hundred Sri Lankan troops including nine officers from all three branches of the armed forces were added to the current deployment in a passing-out parade. The two hundred troops are scheduled to leave for Haitimarker on 8 November, 2009.


In the 19th and 20th Centuries, Sri Lanka became a plantation economy, famous for its production and export of cinnamon, rubber 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. During World War II, the island hosted important military installations and Allied forces. However, the plantation economy aggravated poverty and economic inequality. From 1948 to 1977 socialism strongly influenced the government's economic policies. Colonial plantations were dismantled, industries were nationalised and a welfare state established. While the standard of living and literacy improved significantly, the nation's economy suffered from inefficiency, slow growth and lack of foreign investment. From 1977 the UNP government began incorporating privatisation, deregulation and promotion of private enterprise. While the production and export of tea, rubber, coffee, sugar and other agricultural commodities remains important, the nation has moved steadily towards an industrialised economy with the development of food processing, textiles, telecommunications and finance. By 1996 plantation crops made up only 20% of export, and further declined to 16.8% in 2005 (compared with 93% in 1970), while textiles and garments have reached 63%. The GDP grew at an average annual rate of 5.5% during the early 1990s, until a drought and a deteriorating security situation lowered growth to 3.8% in 1996. The economy rebounded in 1997–2000, with average growth of 5.3%. The year of 2001 saw the first recession in the country's history, as a result of power shortages, budgetary problems, the global slowdown, and continuing civil strife. Signs of recovery appeared after the 2002 ceasefire which died away following the beginning of war. Since the separatist war ended in May 2009 the Sri Lankan stock market has shown marked gains to be among the 3 best performing markets in the world The Sri Lankan stock market has come into the first three best stock markets in the world. The Colombo Stock Exchange reported the highest growth in the world for 2003, and today Sri Lanka has the highest per capita income in South Asia.

In April 2004, there was a sharp reversal in economic policy after the government headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party was defeated by a coalition made up of Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the leftist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna called the United People's Freedom Alliance. The new government stopped the privatization of state enterprises and reforms of state utilities such as power and petroleum, and embarked on a subsidy program called the Rata Perata economic program. Its main theme to support the rural and suburban SMEs and protect the domestic economy from external influences, such as oil prices, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fundmarker. Sri Lanka, with an income per head of US$1,400, still lags behind some of its neighbors including Maldivesmarker and Mauritiusmarker but is ahead of its giant neighbor Indiamarker. Its economy grew by an average of 5% during the 1990s during the 'War for Peace' era. According to the Sri Lankan central bank statistics, the economy was estimated to have grown by 7% last year, while inflation reached 20%. Parts of Sri Lanka, particularly the South and East coast, were devastated by the 2004 Asian Tsunamimarker. The economy was briefly buoyed by an influx of foreign aid and tourists, but this was disrupted with the reemergence of the civil war resulting in increased lawlessness in the country and a sharp decline in tourism. But following the end of the 3 decade long separatist war in May 2009 tourism has seen a steep uptick. Also the end of war has ensured the rule of law in the whole of the island.

Administrative divisions


The Provinces of Sri Lanka ( ) have existed since the 19th century but they didn't have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils following several decades of increasing demand for a decentralization of the Government of Sri Lanka. Between 1988 and 2006 the Northern and Eastern provinces were temporarily merged to form the North-East Province. Prior to 1987, all administration was handled by a district-based civil service which had been in place since colonial times.

Sri Lanka is divided into 9 provinces and 25 districts. Each province is administered by a directly elected provincial council:

Administrative Divisions of Sri Lanka
province Capital Area (km²) Population
Centralmarker Kandymarker 5,674 2,423,966
Easternmarker Trincomaleemarker 9,996 1,460,939
North Centralmarker Anuradhapuramarker 10,714 1,104,664
Northernmarker Jaffnamarker 8,884 1,311,776
North Westernmarker Kurunegalamarker 7,812 2,169,892
Sabaragamuwa Ratnapuramarker 4,902 1,801,331
Southernmarker Gallemarker 5,559 2,278,271
Uva Badullamarker 8,488 1,177,358
Westernmarker Colombomarker 3,709 5,361,200


The provinces of Sri Lanka are divided into 25 districts ( ). Each district is administered under a District Secretariat. The districts are further subdivided into divisional secretariats, and these in turn to Grama Sevaka divisions.

The Districts are known in Sinhala as Disa and in Tamil as Maawaddam. Originally a Disa (usually rendered into English as Dissavony) was a duchy, notably Matale and Uva. The Government Agent, who is know as District Secretary administers a district.

These were originally based on the feudal counties, the korales and ratas. They 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'. Currently, the Divisions are administered by a 'Divisional Secretary', and are known as a 'D.S. Divisions'. Rural D.S. Divisions are also administered by a 'Pradeshiya Sabha' and 'Pradesha Sabhai' (Sinhala and Tamil for 'Regional Council'), which is elected.



Population growth in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is the 53rd most populated nation in the world, with an annual population growth rate of 0.79%. Sri Lanka has a birth rate of 15.63 births per 1,000 people and a death rate of 6.49 deaths per 1,000 people. Population density is highest in western Sri Lanka, especially in and around the capital. There is a small population on the island of the Vedda people. They are believed to be the original indigenous group to inhabit the island. The Sinhalese people form the largest ethnic group in the nation, composing approximately 81.9% of the total population. Tamils are concentrated in the North, East, Central and Western provincesmarker of the country. Sri Lankan Tamils are the second major ethnic groupon the island and have called it home for generations. Indian Tamils who were brought as indentured labourers from India by British colonists to work on estate plantations, nearly 50% of whom were repatriated following independence in 1948, are called "Indian Origin" Tamils. They are distinguished from the native Tamil population that has resided in Sri Lanka since ancient times. According to 2001 census data Indian Tamils makeup 5.1% of the Sri Lankan population and, Sri Lankan Tamils 4.3% but this figure only accounted for Sri Lankan Tamils in government-controlled areas, not accounting for those in rebel-held territories. The World Factbook states that Sri Lankan Tamils make up 14% of the population. There is a significant population (8.0%) of Moors, who trace their lineage to Arab traders and immigrants from the Middle East. Their presence is concentrated in the cities and the central and eastern provinces. There are also small ethnic groups such as the Burghers (of mixed European descent) and Malays from Southeast Asia.


Sinhalese and Tamil are the two official languages of Sri Lanka. English is fluently spoken by approximately 10% of the population, and is widely used for education, scientific and commercial purposes. Members of the Burgher community speak variant forms of Portuguese Creole and Dutch with varying proficiency, while members of the Malay community speak a form of creole Malay that is unique to the island.


Sri Lanka has a multi ethnic and multi religious population. Buddhism constitutes the religious faith of about 70% of the population of the island, most of whom follow the Theravada school of Buddhism. According to traditional Sri Lankan chronicles, Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BCE by Venerable Mahinda, the son of the Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of Sri Lanka's King Devanampiyatissa. During this time, a sapling of the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka and the first monasteries were established under the sponsorship of the Sri Lankan king. The Pali Canon (Thripitakaya), having previously been preserved as an oral tradition, was first committed to writing in Sri Lanka around 30 BC.

Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominately Buddhist nation, with the Sangha having existed in a largely unbroken lineage since its introduction in the 2nd century BCE. During periods of decline, the Sri Lankan monastic lineage was revived through contact with Thailandmarker and Burmamarker. Periods of Mahayana influence, as well as official neglect under colonial rule, created great challenges for Theravada Buddhist institutions in Sri Lanka, but repeated revivals and resurgences—most recently in the 19th century—have kept the Theravada tradition alive for over 2000 years. Hinduism the second most prevalent religion in Sri Lanka and it also arrived from India. Today, most Hindus are Tamil and they constitute a majority in Northern Sri Lanka.

The Jami Ul Alfar mosque in Colombo.
Islam was brought to Sri Lanka by Arab Merchants

Religions which today exist in Sri Lanka, in addition to Buddhism and Hinduism include Islam as well as different churches of Christianity. Followers of Islam comprise nearly eight percent of the population, having been brought to the island by Arab traders over the course of many centuries, most are Sunni who follow the Shafi'i school. Hinduism was primarily established in Sri Lanka by migrants and often invaders from southern India, Hindus constitute just over 7 percent of the population, mostly of the Shaivite school. European colonists introduced Christianity to the country in the 16th century, and the religion has been adopted by around six percent of the population. There also was a small population of Zoroastrian immigrants from India (Parsis) who settled in Ceylon during the period of Britishmarker rule. As a result of emigration, few remain, yet they have played a significant role in the growth of the country. The former finance minister of Sri Lanka, Nariman Choksy, was a Parsi. Other famous Parsi families in Sri Lanka include the Captain family and the Pestongee family.

Religion plays an important part in the life and culture of Sri Lankans. The Buddhist majority observe Poya Days, once per month according to the Lunar calendar. The Hindus and Muslims also observe their own holidays. There are many Buddhist temples spread throughout the island in addition to numerous mosques, Hindu temples and churches, especially in areas where respective communities are concentrated. Buddhists are distributed across most parts of the island except in the north. Hindus are concentrated in north, east, and central high lands, though high populations also exists in the capital city of Colombomarker and in the surrounding suburbs. Christians, particularly Roman Catholics are mainly concentrated along the western coastal belt. Muslims are concentrated in several pockets along the coast and in theinterior. All religious communities are represented in the western province and in other urban centers in sizable numbers.

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.


Life expectancy was 73 for males and 78 for females in 2009.Government expenditure on health care was aprox. US$ 105 (PPP) in 2006.
Sri Lanka has about 48.9 physicians per 100,000 people. The Médecins Sans Frontières are active in Sri Lanka.


University of Colombo
University of Peradeniya
With a literacy rate of 92%, and 83% of the total population having had Secondary Education, Sri Lanka has one of the most literate populations amongst developing nations. An education system which dictates 9 years of Compulsory Schooling for every child is in place, with 99% of the children entering the first grade. A free education system initiated in 1945 by Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara, a former minister of education, has greatly contributed to this. Dr. Kannangara led the establishment of the Madhya Maha Vidyalayas (Central Schools) in different parts of the country in order to provide education to Sri Lanka's rural population. In 1942 a special education committee proposed extensive reforms to establish an efficient and quality education system for the people. However in the 1980s changers to this system saw the separation the of 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.

Most schools in Sri Lanka provide education from grades 1 to 13 in the same institution. Students sit for the GCE Ordinary Level Examination (O/Levels) in grade 11 and the GCE Advanced Level Examination (A/levels) in grade 13, conducted by the Department of Examinations. These schools are modeled on British colleges. A majority of them are public, but a number of private schools do exist. While most reputed National and Private Schools centered around large cities are usually single-sex institutions, rural provincial schools tend to be coeducational. In recent decades, a large number of international schools have been established across the nation. In these schools General Certificate of Secondary Education, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International Examinationsmarker are popular education programs. Many of the schools offer subjects in Sinhala and Tamil languages with regionally leading schools offering subjects in English medium also.

Sri Lanka has around 16 public universities. They include the University of Colombo, the University of Peradeniyamarker, the University of Kelaniya, the University of Sri Jayewardenepuramarker, the University of Moratuwa, the University of Peradeniyamarker, the University of Jaffna, the University of Ruhuna, the Eastern University of Sri Lanka, the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka and the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. However the lack of space in these institutions and the unwillingness to establish private universities has led to a large number of students been denied entry into formal universities as well as high undergraduate unemployment. As a result, a number of public and private institutions have emerged, which provide specialised education in a variety of fields, such as computer science, business administration and law. These include the government owned Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technologymarker and the Institute of Technological Studies.
. The free education system ensures that primary to tertiary education is provided free of charge to its citizens.


Colombo-Galle Face Green
GM EMD G12 - ALBERTA diesel locomotive used for transportation
Most Sri Lankan cities and towns are connected by the Sri Lanka Railways, the state-run national railway operator. The first railway line was inaugurated on April 26, 1867, linking Colombo with Kandy. The total length of Sri Lankan roads exceeds , with a vast majority of them being paved. The government has launched several highway projects to bolster the economy and national transport system, including the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway, the Colombo-Kandy (Kadugannawa) Expressway, the Colombo-Padeniya Expressway and the Outer Circular Highway to ease Colombo's traffic congestion. There are also plans to build a major bridge connecting Jaffnamarker to the Indian city of Chennaimarker.

The Ceylon Transport Board is the state-run agency responsible for operating public bus services across the island. Sri Lanka also maintains of inland waterways. It has three deep-water ports at Colombo, Trincomaleemarker and Gallemarker. There is also a smaller, shallower harbour at Kankesanturai, north of Jaffna. There are twelve paved airports and two unpaved airstrips in the country. SriLankan Airlines is the official national carrier, partly owned and operated by Emirates Airline. It was voted the best airline in South Asia by Skytrax. SriLankan Air Taxi is the smaller, domestic arm of the national carrier, while Expo Aviation and Lankair are private airline companies. The Bandaranaike International Airportmarker is the country's only international airport, located in Katunayaka, north of Colombo.

Human rights

Human rights as ratified by the United Nations are guaranteed by the constitution of Sir Lanka. The human Rights situation in Sri Lanka has come under criticism by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United States Department of Statemarker and the European Union, have expressed concern about the state of human rights in Sri Lanka. Both the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka are accused of violating human rights. In its 2007 report, however, Amnesty International stated that "escalating political killings, child recruitment, abductions and armed clashes created a climate of fear in the east, spreading to the north by the end of the year", whilst also outlining concerns with violence against women, the death penalty and "numerous reports of torture in police custody". However, the report also stated that the ceasefire between government and LTTE remained in place despite numerous violations. However, the Sri Lankan minister for HR said "We regret one or two statements made here, that fly in the face of all concrete evidence, that the situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating, when we have dealt more firmly with terrorism, with far-less damage to civilians, than in any comparative situation." Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said, the report presents a distorted view of the actual situation in Sri Lanka during the year 2007 and is a litany of unsubstantiated allegations, innuendo and vituperative exaggerations.

Sri Lanka's government is labeled as one of the "world's worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances", according to a study by US-based pressure group 'Human Rights Watch' (HRW). An HRW report accuses security forces and pro-government militias of abducting and "disappearing" hundreds of people—mostly Tamils—since 2006. Sri Lanka's government says HRW has exaggerated the scale of the problem. The report said, "The number of disappearances carried out by the Tamil Tigers in government-controlled areas was relatively low. But, the Tigers were responsible for targeted killings, forced child recruitment, bomb attacks on civilians and the repression of basic rights in areas they controlled."

Culture and arts

Hindu Devotess engaing in 'Kavadi' at a Vavuniya temple

The island is the home of two main traditional cultures: the Sinhalese (centered in the ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centered in the city of Jaffna). In more recent times a British colonial culture was added, and lately Sri Lanka, particularly in the urban areas, has experienced a dramatic makeover in the western mold. Until recently, for example, most Sri Lankans, certainly those in the villages, have eaten traditional food, engaged in traditional crafts and expressed themselves through traditional arts. But economic growth and intense economic competition in developed countries has spilled over to most of Sri Lanka, producing changes that might variously be identified as progress, westernisation or a loss of identity and assimilation.

Traditional food

Typical Sri Lankan dish of Rice and Prawns.
Sri Lankans have added western influences to the customary diet such as rice and curry, pittu (mixture of fresh rice meal, very lightly roasted and mixed with fresh grated coconut, then steamed in a bamboo mould). Kiribath (cooked in thick coconut cream for this unsweetened rice-pudding which is accompanied by a sharp chili relish called "lunumiris"), wattalapam (rich pudding of Malay origin made of coconut milk, jaggery, cashew nuts, eggs, and various spices including cinnamon cloves and nutmeg), kottu, and hoppers ("appa"), batter cooked rapidly in a hot curved pan, accompanied by eggs, milk or savouries. 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 favourites such as Lamprais (rice cooked in stock and baked in a banana leaf), Breudher (Dutch Christmas cake) and Bolo Fiado (Portuguese-style layer cake).


Every year on or about April 13 Sinhala and Tamil people celebrate Sinhala and Tamil New Year Festival, and Muslims celebrate Ramadan. Esala Perahera (A-suh-luh peh-ruh-ha-ruh) is the grand festival of Esala held in Sri Lanka. It is very grand with elegant costumes. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and richly decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional 'diya-kepeema'. The elephant is paraded around the city bearing the tooth of Buddha. However the new year for tamils have been established as being on January 14 from this year.


Sri Lankan cinema in past years has featured subjects such as family relationships, love stories and the years of conflict between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels. Many films are in the Sinhalese language and the Sri Lankan cinematic style is similar to Indian cinema.

The first film to be produced and shown in Sri Lanka was Kadawunu Poronduwa (The Broken Promise) which was released in 1947. The first colour film of Sri Lanka was Ranmuthu Duwa.

Afterwards there were many Sinhalese movies produced in Sri Lanka and some of them, such as Nidhanaya, received several international film awards. The most influential filmmaker in the history of Sri Lankan cinema is Lester James Peiris who has directed many movies of excellent quality which led to global acclaim. His latest film, Wekande Walauwa ("Mansion by the Lake") became the first movie to be submitted from Sri Lanka for the Best Foreign Language film award at the Academy Awards. In 2005 the director Vimukthi Jayasundara became the first Sri Lankan to win the prestigious Camera d’Or award for Best First Film, or any award for that matter, at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker for his Sinhalese language film Sulanga Enu Pinisa (The Forsaken Land). Controversial filmmaker Asoka Handagama's films are considered by many in the Sri Lankan film world to be the best films of honest response to the ethnic conflict currently raging in the country. Prasanna Vithanage is one of Sri Lanka's most notable filmmakers. His films have won many awards, both local and international. Recent releases like 'Sooriya Arana', 'Samanala thatu', and 'Hiripoda wessa' have attracted Sri Lankans to cinemas. Sri Lankan films are usually in the Sinhalese language. Tamil language movies are also filmed in Sri Lanka but they are not part of Kollywood which is Indian Tamil cinema are known as Sri Lankan Tamil cinema. However some Kollywood films are based in Sri Lanka as well.


The earliest music came from the theater at a time when the traditional open-air drama (referred to in Sinhala as Kolam, Sokari and Nadagam). In 1903 the first music album, Nurthi, was released through Radio Ceylon. Also Vernon Corea introduced Sri Lankan music in the English Service of Radio Ceylon.

In the early 1960s, Indian music in films greatly influenced Sri Lankan music and laterSri Lankan stars like Sunil Shantha found greater popularity among Indian people. By 1963, Radio Ceylon had more Indian listeners than Sri Lankan ones. The notable songwriters Mahagama Sekara and Ananda Samarakoon made a Sri Lankan music revolution. At the peak of this revolution, musicians such as W. D. Amaradeva, H.R. Jothipala, Milton Mallawarachchi, M.S. Fernando, Annesley Malewana and Clarence Wijewardene did great work.

A very popular type of music is the so-called Baila, a kind of dance music that originated from Portuguese music introduced to the island in colonial times.


The national radio station, Radio Ceylon is the oldest-running radio station in Asia. It was established in 1923 by Edward Harper just three years after broadcasting was launched in Europe. It remains one of the most popular stations in Asia, with its programming reaching neighboring Asian nations. The station is managed by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and broadcasts services in Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi. Since the 1980s, a large number of private radio stations have also being introduced, and they have gained commercial popularity and success. Broadcast television was introduced to the country in 1979 when the Independent Television Network was launched. Initially all Television stations were state controlled, but private television networks began broadcasts in 1992. Global television networks from India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States are also widely popular, and cable and satellite television is gaining in popularity with Sri Lanka's middle-class. Popular publications include the English language Daily Mirror and The Sunday Observer and The Sunday Times, Divayina, Lankadeepa and Lakbima in Sinhalese and the Tamil publications Dinakaran and Uthayan.


A Test match between Sri Lanka and England at the SCC Ground, Colombo, March 2001.
While the national sport in Sri Lanka is volleyball, by far the most popular sport in the country is cricket. Rugby union also enjoys extensive popularity, as do aquatic sports, athletics, Football and tennis. Sri Lanka's schools and colleges regularly organize sports and athletics teams, competing on provincial and national levels. The Sri Lankan cricket team achieved considerable success beginning in the 1990s, rising from underdog status to winning the 1996 World Cup as well as the Asia Cup in 1996 and 2004. Sri Lanka remains one of the leading cricketing nations in the world, with the national team reaching the finals of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, where they lost to Australia.

Sri Lanka has a large number of sports stadiums, including the Sinhalese Sports Club Groundmarker, the R.marker Premadasa Stadiummarker and the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadiummarker in Dambulla as well as the Galle International Stadiummarker. The country co-hosted the 1996 Cricket World Cup with India and Pakistanmarker, and has hosted the Asia Cup tournament on numerous occasions. It will also co-host the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Aquatic sports such as boating, surfing, swimming and scuba diving on the coast, the beaches and backwaters attract a large number of Sri Lankans and foreign tourists.

There are two styles of martial arts native to Sri Lanka, Cheena di and Angampora.

See also


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the moment a Japanese fleet prepared to invade Sri Lanka as "the most dangerous and distressing moment of the entire conflict." – Commonwealth Air Training Program Museum, The Saviour of Ceylon
  4. BBC News, Gods row minister offers to quit, September 15, 2007.
  5. Rediff, Ramar Sethu, a world heritage centre?, July 4, 2007.
  6. EarthTrends, Environmental Information, Forests, Grasslands, and Drylands-- Sri Lanka.
  7. Sri Lanka leader hails 'victory'
  8. Sri Lanka's displaced
  9. The Constitution of Sri Lanka - CONTENTS.
  13. Lawlessness Grows in Strife-Torn Sri Lanka - at
  14. Sri Lanka tourism plummets in May - LANKA BUSINESS ONLINE at
  16. Provincial Councils from the Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka
  17. Constitution of Sri Lanka, Eighth Schedule
  18. Constitution of Sri Lanka, First Schedule.
  19. Theravada Buddhism and Shan/Thai/Dai/Laos Regions, Maung Chan, 2005-03-28.
  20. Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Buddhist Studies.
  21. Lankan Muslims' historical links with India, Indian Muslims, April 3, 2006.
  22. Hinduism In Sri Lanka, Discover Sri Lanka.
  23. U.S. Department of States - International Religious Freedom Report 2007: Sri Lanka.
  24. Young, R. F., & Sēnānāyaka, J. E. B. (1998), The carpenter-heretic: a collection of Buddhist stories about Christianity from 18th century Sri Lanka, Colombo: Karunaratne & Sons.
  29. Figures as of 2004/2005. UNICEF, Sri Lanka: Statistics
  30. Chandra Gunawardene, Problems of illiteracy in a literate developing society.
  31. Amnesty International - Sri Lanka Human Rights Reports
  32. Sri Lanka.
  33. The EU's relations with Sri Lanka - Overview.
  34. Amnesty International.
  35. :. NewsLine : Minister sets the record straight on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation.
  36. :. NewsLine : US Report: Distorted view to denigrate Sri Lanka.
  37. ApacheCon, Sri Lanka
  38. Central Queensland University, A Case Study of Sri Lankan Media.
  39. Info Lanka, Sri Lanka's National Media
  40. Press reference, SRI LANKA Press, Media, TV, Radio, Newspapers.
  41. Sri Lanka development gateway, Sports

Further reading

  • Brow, James: Vedda villages of Anuradhapura: The historical anthropology Of a community in Sri Lanka, University Of Washington Press, Seattle, 1978.
  • Codrington, H. W.: A Short History of Ceylon, New Delhimarker 1994 (Reprint. Asian Educational Services).
  • De Silva, Chandra Richard: Sri Lanka — A History, New Delhi 1987 (Second, revised edition 1997).
  • De Silva, K. M.: A History of Sri Lanka. New Delhi, Penguin, xvii, p. 782, 2005.
  • Devendra, T. and D. Gunasena: Sri Lanka: The Emerald Island, (New Delhi 1996), Roli Books.
  • Domroes, Manfred: After the Tsunami: Relief and rehabilitation in Sri Lanka, New Delhi, Mosaic Books, 1st ed. 2006.
  • Gunaratne, Shelton A.: The Taming of the Press in Sri Lanka. Journalism Monographs No. 39, May 1975.
  • Johnson, B. L. C., and M. Le M. Scrivenor.: Sri Lanka Land, People and Economy, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, London, 1981.
  • Knox, Robert: An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon in the East Indies, New Delhi 2004 (Reprint. Asian Educational Services).
  • Mendis, G.C.: Ceylon Today and Yesterday, Colombo 1957 (Third edition 1995).
  • Sedere, Upali M.: Context of Educational Reforms Then and Now: 121st C. W. W. Kannangara. *Memorial Address, Ministry of Education, Isurupaya, Battaramulla, October 13, 2005.
  • Smith, Vincent A.: The Oxford History of India, Oxford 1958 (4th edition 1981).
  • Williams, Harry: Ceylon Pearl of the East, Robert Hale Limited, London, Great Britainmarker, 1950.
  • Williams, H.: Ceylon : Pearl of the East Delhi, Surjeet, 2002.
  • Philippe Gilbert: Les Larmes de Ceylan Ed. des Equateurs, France, 2005.

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