Sri Lanka History

Sri Lanka has a recorded history since 543 B.C. According to some historical facts, there was a civilization existed even long before 543 B.C. as mentioned in Ramayana (Lanka-Ravana,s Capital), & Mahabharata, though there is not any documentary proof about this. History says that the large island located towards the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent is occupied by a tribal group of Indo-Europeans (hunter-gatherers) until the arrival of the Sinhalese. In the 5th century B.C., Indo-Aryan emigration from India, – the Sinhalese came to Sri Lanka to form the largest ethnic group on the island. These people named the island -Sinhaladwipa (Island of the Sinhalese) by which name, it has been popularly known throughout most of Sri Lankan history, which becomes ‘Ceylon’ in English (British era).

When it became a republic in 1972, the name of the country is changed to Sri Lanka. The second-largest ethnic group on the island, Tamils were originally from the Tamil region of India and emigrated between the 3rd century B.C. and A.D. 1200. Both Sinhalese and Tamils differ in language (Tamil is Dravidian, Sinhalese is Indo-European) and in religion (the Tamils are Hindu). Until colonial powers controlled Ceylon, Sinhalese and Tamil rulers fought for dominance over the island.

According to pre historical facts, Early Iron Age appears to have established itself in South India by 1,200 BC. Archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Iron Age in Sri Lanka is found at Anuradhapura and near Aligala in Sigiriya.

The Pali chronicles, the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Thupavamsa and the Chulavamsa as well as a large collection of stone inscriptions, the Indian Epigraphical records, the Burmese versions of the chronicles etc., provide an exceptional record for the history of Sri Lanka from about the 6th century B.C. According to these earliest surviving chronicles, tribes of Yakkhas (demon worshippers), Nagas(cobra worshippers) and Devas (god worshippers) inhabited the island prior to the migration of Vijaya. Then Aryan immigrated to Ceylon and spread their power across the country and because of Aryans, Naga and Yakksha population was reduced. Since then many Kings ruled in Sri Lanka till 1815.

Actual SriLankan History seems to begin with the arrival of an Expelled prince Vijaya, the eldest son of King Sinhabahu, to be the first Aryan King of Sri Lanka and his 700 followers. Vijaya established his kingdom with the help of Yaksha tribe princess “Kuweni” in Thammana, and ruled the country for 38 years (543 BC – 505 BC). After the death of the King Vijaya, King Upatissa, the prime minister of the King Vijaya, ruled the kingdom for one year, until the rightful owner took the throne. The Upatissa Grama was the Capital of the kingdom. It was remained capital up to 30 years.

Around 500 BC, Sri Lankan culture was influenced by early Buddhism. During this period, Sri Lankans developed a unique hydraulic civilization; the construction of the largest reservoirs and dams of the ancient world and pyramid-like Stupa (Dagoba) architecture are some evidences of this phase.

After Upatissa Grama, King Pandukabhya-son of Princess Unmada chithtra built his kingdom at Anuradhapura. The city was then became the capital city of Sri Lanka and flourished under many subsequent Kings ruled for centuries. The King Mahinda V ascended to throne in 982 A.C, and was the last Sinhalese king to rule the country from Glorious city.

After then, Anuradhapura Kingdom was under constant threat from south Indian kingdoms. Finally the South Indian realm Chola conquered Sri Lanka. The South Indians ruled the country for next 75 years. They shifted the Capital city to Polonnaruwa due to strategic reasons.

Polonnaruwa Era existed between AC 1065- 1120. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was the second major Sinhalese kingdom of Sri Lanka. The governing period of this time was about 186 years and 19 rulers had sat on the throne in that period. After Polonnaruwa, Kurunagala was a royal capital starting from Buvenekabhahu II. This was about half of century (1293-1341). Then Gampola was made as the capital city of the Island by the King Buwanekabahu the fourth, that was remained capital for 29 years.

During the 15th century, the last Sinhalese King Parakramabahu VI (1415-1467), managed to reestablish rule over the island and shifted his capital in Kotte. The first Europeans to visit Sri Lanka in modern times were the Portuguese. They were more interested in controlling the island’s commerce than in absorbing its territory. In the process, they began to establish a trading settlement in Colombo. The Portuguese founded a fort at the port city of Colombo in 1517 and gradually extended their control over the coastal areas. In 1592 the Sinhalese moved their capital to the inland city of Kandy, a location more secure against attack from invaders.

The Dutch came to Sri Lanka during the rule of King Parakramabahu IX. The Primary interest of the Dutch was spices. With the permission of the King, the Dutch began its missionary service in Sri Lanka by building a small fortress in Colombo. During this phase some of the citizens were converted in to Catholicism. The king of Kandy made a pact with the Dutch in 1638 to get rid of the Portuguese who ruled most of the coastal area of the island. After the death of Parakramabahu, the island again plunged in to divisive struggle. By 1660 the Dutch controlled the whole island except the kingdom of Kandy. Jaffna declared itself an independent Tamil kingdom under Pararajasekaram’s leadership.

In 1659, the British sea captain Robert Knox landed by chance on Sri Lanka and was captured by the king of Kandy for about 19 years. After returning back, he wrote about his stay which helped to bring the island to the attention of the British. During 1795-1796, the British conquered over Dutch and drove the Dutch out of the country & seized all the major ports. British captured the hill country fully in 1815 and created the Crown Colony of Ceylon. The British established a plantation economy based on tea, rubber, coffee and coconuts. On Feb. 4, 1948, after a long fight of Ceylonese (the Tamil and Sinhalese), Ceylon became a self-governing territory of the Commonwealth of Nations. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became prime minister in 1956. The name Ceylon was changed to Sri Lanka (“splendid island”) on May 22, 1972 after becoming a sovereign state.

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