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Sri Lanka

History of Sri Lanka

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History of Sri Lanka Until the 6th century BC, Sri Lanka, the largest island in the south of India, was inhabited by hunter-gatherers. However arrival of a tribal group of Indo-Europeans which moved south through India changed the situation. These groups were known as Sinhalese. The island came to called Sinhaladwipa, meaning 'island of the Sinhalese'. In English it was known as Ceylon. When the island became a republic in 1972, its name was changed to Sri Lanka.

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Advent of Buddhism
Arrival of Theravada Buddhism from 3rd century BC was a formative time in the history of Sri Lanka. Indian Emperor Ashoka achieved success in his missionary efforts. People of Sri Lanka have remained Buddhists till date. They are still the followers of Theravada, the simple form of Buddhism. Sculted demigods are absent in the sacred temple at Kandy. Tooth of Buddha is the only holy thing here.

Buddhist Kingdoms
Buddhist kingdoms flourished from 3rd BC to 13th AD. Ruling family of Anuradhapura embraced Buddhism in 3rd century BC. The town became the first Buddhist centre of Sri Lanka. Colossal dome-shamed stupas, also called dagobas, characterised the place. These stupas housed sacred relics.

Tamil rulers of South India were always a threat to the Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka. Tamils differ from the people of Sri Lanka in two ways. Tamils are Dravidian while Sinhalese are Indo-European. Tamils are Hindu while Sinhalese are the adherents of Buddhism.

For several centuries the rulers of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa resisted the attacks of Tamils. However in the 8th century Anuradhapur had to be abandoned. Polonnaruwa was also deserted in the 13th century. Till date massive stone Buddhas seated or reclining in the jungle, carved from solid outcrops of rock can be seen here.

Tamil Kingdoms in North
Tamil rulers finally established their hold in Northern Sri Lanka in the 12th century. Borders of Buddhist Sri Lanka moved southwards. In the 15th century, there were two prominent Buddhist kingdoms, one in Kandy and other in Kotte, near Colombo. Kandy was in the hilly centre of the island was Kotte was a place ringed by swampy lagoons.

In the 12th century Tamil rulers finally establish a permanent Hindu presence in the north of the island. Buddhist Sri Lanka shrinks further south again. By the 15th century there are two related Buddhist kingdoms: one is based in Kandy in the hilly centre of the island; the other occupies a new palace at Kotte, a place surrounded by swampy lagoons a little inland from Colombo, by now a thriving harbour used by Arab traders.

Sri Lanka HistoryArrival of the Portuguese
Portuguese ships anchored off Colombo in 1505. During this time three main kingdoms in Sri Lanka were Jaffna in the north, Kandy in the central highlands and Kotte, the most powerful, in the south-west. The Portuguese, under the command of Lorennco de Almeida developed friendly relations with Kotte and gained monopoly on the spice and cinnamon trade. This became the source of enormous profits for Portugal. Slowly the Portuguese established their hold on Kotte. However attempts of the Portuguese to run over Kandy remained unsuccessful because of hilly terrain.

The Dutch
Kandy sought the help of the Dutch to repulse the Portuguese. However, the result was the substitution of one European power for another. The Dutch took over the control of coastal areas and ruled for 140 years. They too tried to subjugate Kandy but were unsuccessful. The Dutch also made huge profits in Sri Lanka like the Portuguese.

The British
The Dutch were overthrown by the British. In 1815 they won over the kingdom of Kandy. In 1802, Sri Lanka was declared a Crown Colony and in 1818 a unified administration for the island was set up. The British encouraged coffee, cinnamon and coconut plantations. They built a network of roads and railways to handle this economic activity. English became official language of Sri Lanka.

Political movements began to push Sri Lanka towards freedom from Britain. World War II was the final blow to the British power in Sri Lanka. The island nation achieved independence in February 1948.

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