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People of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) - a short history

Sri Lanka is a land where recorded history spans twenty five centuries; and whose pre-history goes back to the Indian epic "The Ramayana". It is the legendary Lanka of the fabulous "Ten headed" king Ravana who abducted the lovely Indian Princess Sita in his "flying chariot". Well, that was aeons before the modern airlines began flying into Sri Lanka!.

Recorded history in Sri Lanka began when Buddhism gave birth to a cultural revolution more than 2000 years ago, and in the wake of this cultural revolution came an era of unsurpassed achievement. It fashioned life-styles, fostered the arts and inspired the creation of dagabas, temples, monasteries, statues, vast man-made reservoirs and irrigation systems which even today defy engineering interpretation.

This continuous record of settled and civilized life extending over two millennia shows that the content and direction of this civilization was shaped by that of the Indian subcontinent. The island's two major ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and its two dominant religious cultures, Buddhist and Hindu, made their way onto the island from India. The various expressions of literate culture parallel to those of India, and overall the culture and civilization of Sri Lanka are of the Indic pattern.

Yet it is also clear that in many respects the island's civilization has achieved an individuality and identity that distinguish it from its neighbour. Cultural traits brought from India have undergone independent growth and change. The Sinhala language, which grew out of Indo-Aryan dialects, exists only in Sri Lanka and has its own distinguished literary tradition. Likewise, Buddhism, which has a long history on the island, has all but disappeared from India.

A common experience of European colonial rule and its modernizing influences brought Sri Lanka closer to India and, with the attainment of independence in the mid-20th century, both countries developed similar social institutions and ideologies.

The historic connection between Sri Lanka and India was the result mainly of geographic proximity. Geologically an extension of peninsular India, Sri Lanka's separation from the Indian mainland could possibly be as recent as the Miocene Epoch. Historically, the island has also been influenced by its location along the east-west sea route. Even before the discovery of the oceanic route from Europe to India in the 15th century, Sri Lanka was a meeting point for Eastern and Western trade. The island was known to Greek and Roman cartographers and sailors and later to Persian, Armenian, and Arab navigators. With the coming of the Europeans, the strategic importance of Sri Lanka increased, and Western maritime powers fought to control its shores.

The island's first human settlers were probably tribes of the proto-Australoid ethnic group, akin to the pre-Dravidian hill tribes of southern India. Remnants of these people were absorbed by the Indo-Aryans who immigrated from India about the 5th century BC and developed into the Sinhalese. The Tamils were probably later immigrants from Dravidian India, their migrations being spread out over a period dating from about the 3rd century BC to about AD 1200. The Tamil element was strengthened in the 19th century with the immigration of southern Indians to work on the plantations.

Sri Lanka possesses a continuous historical tradition preserved in written form by Buddhist chroniclers. The core of this tradition,the chronicle called the Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle") and its continuation called the Culavamsa ("Little Chronicle")constitutes a literary record of the establishment and growth of Sinhalese political power and of the Buddhist faith on the island.

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SRI LANKA PICTURES

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Click here for a Welcome To Sunny Sri Lanka Click here to explore the Land of Beautiful Sri Lanka Click here for info on the People of Sri Lanka Click here for a safari of the Places to Visit in Sri Lanka Click here for a visual bonanza of Images and Pictures of Sri Lanka
Click here for The Story of Ceylon Tea as never been told before. Click here for a brief study on Buddhism, the main religion of Sri Lanka Click here for a survey of the relationship between Buddhism and Sri Lanka Click here for the best and the most essential Links to Sri Lanka Click here to return to my HOME page