Discover a land of ancient dynasties, colonial power, and modern optimism, with a unique and vibrant culture at its heart in…Sri Lanka!
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- Administrative Capital: Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
- Commercial Capital: Colombo
- Largest City: Colombo
- Population (2015): 20,966,000 (57th)
- Total Area: 65,610 km² (122nd)
- Languages: Sinhalese, Tamil, English (recognized)
- Currency: Sri Lankan rupee (LKR)
History of Sri Lanka
Thanks to ancient mythology and archaeological finds our knowledge of Sri Lanka stretches back hundreds of thousands of years. Our story however begins in the year 543 BCE, with the arrival of Prince Vijaya beginning an age of dynastic rule that would last for more than two millennia.
The Dynasties of Sri Lanka
After Prince Vijaya, the Anuradhapura Kingdom was established in 380 BCE. For over 1000 years the dynasty presided over the spread of Buddhism, numerous invasions by neighbouring South Asian powers, Asia’s first female ruler, and some of the earliest examples examples of urban planning.
The Anuradhapura period eventually came to an end in 993 CE. This brought about a tumultuous medieval period of shifting allegiances, political strife, and the rise and fall of a great many leaders. The invasion of Kalinga Magha and defeat of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa in particular devastated the country, forcing many citizens to flee and leaving a lasting impact on Sri Lanka.
After a few centuries of changing kingdoms, a new era began with the arrival of European soldiers, explorers, and traders (namely Portuguese and Dutch). While they claimed key parts of the island, the Kingdom of Kandy (now the last dynasty in the land) persisted. This too would soon be fated to end, as another European power arrived on the shores of Sri Lanka in 1796 – Britain.
British Sri Lanka
With the might of the East India Company behind them, the British defeated Kandy in 1815 – resulting in Sri Lanka becoming a part of the Empire and the end of the millennia of dynastic rule in the country. British rule presided over a new liberal culture and rule of law beginning in 1833 as well as widespread coffee production (later replaced with tea once the former dried up).
Like most colonial possessions, Sri Lanka was granted independence after WWII (becoming a British dominion in 1948), but ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and Tamils persisted. This would come to a head in later years.
Independent Sri Lanka
Concerns in the Tamil community about marginalization were pronounced after the prime minister’s staunch support of Sinhalese culture in 1956. This began resistance across a wide spectrum, from nonviolence to the assassination of Prime Minister Bandaranaike by an extremist monk. After becoming a republic in 1972, Tamil militants began to organize in the north of the country – with an insurgency taking shape in 1983. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (colloquially known as the Tamil Tigers) had the backing of Indian training and weapons – and the country plunged into a nearly 26 year long civil war.
Eventually, in 2009, the Sri Lankan government defeated the Tamil Tigers resulting in the Tamil political party abandoning their fight for a separate state. With up to 100,000 killed and nearly 300,000 displaced, the civil war had caused much devastation over the decades. Since the end of the conflict however, Sri Lanka has endured no terrorist attacks and has quickly become one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Though the scars remain, the country can now firmly focus on forging a bright future.
Sri Lankan Culture
Buddhism and Hinduism are two of the primary influences in Sri Lankan culture, while the two traditional groups (Sinhalese and Tamil) also contribute their own unique ways of life to the cultural makeup of the country. The effect of British rule can also be felt – from the English language to other elements of colonial culture that remain. Sri Lanka is known for very high life expectancy, standards of health, and a high literacy rate.
Flag of Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan flag is also known as the Lion flag or Sinha flag, and consists of a yellow lion holding a sword on a maroon background, with four bo leaves surrounding it, and a yellow border around it all. The left side of the flag features green and orange vertical stripes, also with a yellow border.
The lion represents the nation’s bravery (without even mentioning nearly every part of the lion, such as the eight hairs on the tail, having their own meaning), the leaves Buddhist virtues, the maroon represents the Sinhalese people, the orange the Tamils, the green the Muslims and Moors, and the yellow stands for unity. Got all that? Well as we mentioned there are still a lot more hidden meanings but you’ll have to discover them for yourself!
Sri Lankan Cuisine
Rice and curry are staple dishes in Sri Lanka, while roti, pittu, a pudding known as wattalapam, coconut, and many more local foods are popular. Meals are often served on plantain or lotus leaves. You can also find Moorish influence in the country’s cuisine, as well as European (especially Portuguese and Dutch) flavours.
Sports in Sri Lanka
The national sport in Sri Lanka is volleyball, however it is cricket that dominates the popular consciousness. The national team is one of the strongest in the world, winning the Twenty20 contest in 2014 and finishing 2nd in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Other sports that enjoy followings include rugby union, soccer, athletics, and tennis.
Geography of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island that lies in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of India. The majority of the country is made up of coastal plains, though mountains are found in the south-central area of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s climate is tropical, but monsoon winds have a large effect on rainfall.
Cities in Sri Lanka
The largest city in Sri Lanka is Colombo, which is home to just over 750,000 people. It is found on the west coast of the country and is the official commercial capital of Sri Lanka. The legislative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is located right next door. In fact, the country’s four largest cities together are all part of the Colombo district.
Facts about Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka had the world’s first dedicated hospital
- Prior to 1972 the country was known as ‘Ceylon’ – still the name of its most famous tea
- It is known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’
- There is an abundance of elephants
- Hydro-power is very important in Sri Lanka
- Shaking your head side to side means ‘yes’
- Cinnamon came first from Sri Lanka
Though the civil war remains a fresh memory for many Sri Lankans, the end of hostilities signals a new era for this great country!
Start your next adventure with Continental’s Countries! Continue your Sri Lankan journey as we uncover the country’s best destinations in our Travel Guide and take a look at the currency with our Spotlight.
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