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
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 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.
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.
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 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.