Known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka lies like a teardrop, falling from the tip of India's South Coast. Once a little-known treasure, thousands of travellers stumbled upon the island by some 'fortunate accident' and so began to call Sri Lanka the Isle of Serendipity. Known for its white-sanded beaches and turquoise sea, its abundance of rare wild-life and rich foliage, its precious gem mines, its rolling hills carpeted with the best tea in the world, and its rich history and cultural heritage, Sri Lanka is a breath-taking get-away
Sri Lanka's population is a colourful mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups. The Sinhalese people form the largest ethnic group in the nation, composing approximately 74% of the total population. Sri Lankan Tamils form 18% of the population, and are concentrated mainly in the northeastern part of the country. "Indian Origin" Tamils, brought from India as indentured labourers by British colonists to work on estate plantations, are distinguished from the native Tamil population that has resided in Sri Lanka since ancient times. These "Indian Origin" Tamils still reside mainly in Sri Lanka's hill country where Tea is grown. There is a significant population of Muslims, who trace their lineage to Arab traders and immigrants and they are concentrated in the eastern provinces. There are also small ethnic groups such as the Burghers, of mixed European descent, and Malay people. Sri Lanka also has a unique community of indigenous people called the Veddahs. They are believed to be the first inhabitants of Sri Lanka and are thought to be related to the aborigines of Australia, the Nicobar Islands and Malaysia.
As a result of its ethnic diversity, Sri Lanka also is home to various religious faiths and is one of the few countries to celebrate every religious holiday as a national holiday. Buddhism is considered the official religion of Sri Lanka. The school of Buddhism followed in the country is the Theravada School and it was first brought to Sri Lanka in 2nd century BC by Mahinda, the son of Ashoka, the Indian emperor of that time. Buddhism is an important part of Sinhalese culture and the two are strongly linked. Hinduism is practiced by 18% of the population, whom are almost exclusively Tamil-speaking, as well as immigrants from India and Pakistan such as the Sindhis, Telugus and Malayalees. Hinduism is dominant in the Northeastern province, where Tamil people are in significant numbers. Christianity is practiced by 7-8% of the population, especially by the Portuguese and Dutch Burgher people. The Portuguese first brought Christianity to the island in 1618 when many Tamil Hindus and Sinhala Buddhists were encouraged to convert to Catholicism. While most Sri Lankan Christians are Catholics, there are also significant numbers who adhere to Dutch Reformed Church and the Anglican Communion. A significant portion of Sri Lanka's population is Muslim. The Muslims of Sri Lanka claim descendancy from the Arab traders who made Sri Lanka their home even before the advent of Islam. They can be categorized into two groups, the Moors and the Malays.
For a small island, Sri Lanka has quite a large population of 19.8 million and its adult literacy rate is a little over 86%. The life expectancy is 70 years for men and 75.4 years for women. Sinhala and Tamil are both the official languages of the nation, with 80% speaking Sinhalese and 18% speaking Tamil.

The Veddahs, also called the Wanniyala-aetto or the People of the Forest, are the original inhabitants of the country. The exact numbers of this unique group are highly disputed today. Some reports count as few as 200 Veddahs in Sri Lanka, while others suggest a collection of communities, including Sinhalese and Tamil speaking groups, numbering in the thousands. Some even believe that due to inter-marriage and integration into Sinhalese culture, the Veddahs no longer exist and can no longer claim to be a distinct ethnic group. Only a small and diminishing number of people identifying themselves as Veddah have retained a semblance of their old culture, stressing a hunting lifestyle and maintaining close relationships with nature and their ancestors. Although Sinhalese legends characterise the Veddahs as partly descended from evil spirits, the Veddahs are related to South Indian tribes such as the Vedas of Kerala and even thought to be related to the aborigines of Australia.

The actual origins of the Sinhalese are shrouded in myth. Most believe they came to Sri Lanka from northern India during the 6th century BC. According to their tradition, the Sinhalese people trace their origins back to the union of a lion, or a "sinha", and a North Indian princess, whose descendants became the bloodline of Sinhalese Royalty.

Buddhism arrived from the subcontinent 300 years later and spread rapidly. Buddhism and a sophisticated system of irrigation became the pillars of classical Sinhalese civilization (200 BC-1200 AD) that flourished in the north-central part of the island. The Sinhala language is related to Sanskrit, as is Hindi. The first Sri Lankan kingdom had its capital at Tambapanni, but later shifted to Upatissagama and then to Anuradhapura. The Buddhist religion reinforces the solidarity of the Sinhalese as an ethnic community. In 1988 approximately 93 percent of the Sinhala speakers were Buddhists, and 99.5 percent of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka spoke Sinhala. The most popular Sinhalese folklore, literature, and rituals teach children from an early age the uniqueness of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the long relationship between Buddhism and the culture and politics of the island.

It is not known when Tamils first settled in Sri Lanka; early settlements occurred in the aftermath of repeated South Indian invasions (ca. 1st to 13th centuries A.D.), and Tamil-speaking fishing folk doubtless settled along the northern and eastern seacoasts at an early date. By the 13th century, there is firm evidence of the rise of a significant Tamil-Hindu social formation in the Jaffna Peninsula, complete with a Hindu king and a palace, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Sinhala Kingdoms in the dry zone areas. The Portuguese subdued the last Hindu king in 1619, destroyed hundreds of Hindu shrines, and forced many of the population to convert to Roman Catholicism.

About 9% of Sri Lanka's total population is Muslim. Their presence goes back at least 1000 years and are probably descendants of Arab or Indian Muslim traders. They are scattered all over the island, perhaps more thinly in the South and North, and are known to be mostly involved in trade and business. The Malays are a smaller group of Muslims whose ancestors mostly came with the Dutch from Java. Many of them still speak Malay and there's a concentration of them in Hambantota. & Lonely planet.

The pear-shaped island consists mostly of flat-to-rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central part. The most significant mountains in the Island are Sri Pada and Pidurutalagala, which is also known as Mt Pedro, Sri Lanka's highest point at 2,524 meters (8,281 ft). The Mahaweli River and other major rivers provide fresh water to the burgeoning foliage. The pattern of life in Sri Lanka depends directly on the availability of rainwater. The "wet zone" which consists mainly of the mountains and the southwestern part of the country, receive ample rainfall (an annual average of 250 centimeters). Most of the southeast, east, and northern parts of the country comprise the "dry zone", which receives between 1200 and 1900 mm of rain annually.

Sri Lanka's climate can be described as tropical, in other words, hot and humid. Its position between 5 and 10 north latitude endows the country with a warm climate, moderated by ocean winds and considerable moisture. The mean temperature ranges from a chilly low of 16oC in Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands, where even frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a high of 32o C in Trincomalee on the northeast coast. The average yearly temperature for the country as a whole ranges from 28 to 30oC.

Seasons - monsoon
Although Sri Lanka maintains its lovely warm and tropical climate year-round, the island does experience mild changes in rainfall. The rainy monsoon season takes place from October to January; during the rest of the year there is very little precipitation, and all living creatures must conserve precious moisture. The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain - 600 to 1200 mm per year - concentrated within the short period of the winter monsoon. May, June and July are probably the hottest months of the year and a great time to hit the beach and soak in the sun.

Various small kingdoms that dominated different regions ruled Ancient Sri Lanka. The first major Sinhalese Kingdom was developed in the island's northern plains, around the city of Anuradhapura. The King at the time, Devanampiya Tissa (300 - 260 B.C.), was the first in the line of Sri Lanka's kings to be converted to Buddhism by Mahinda, Son of the great Indian emperor Ashoka. There were repeated wars between the Sinhalese and Indian invaders, and for much of the first millennium AD the island was controlled by various Tamil princes. Vijayabahu re-established a Sinhalese dynasty in the 11th century. The "golden age" of the Sri Lankan kingdom was in the 12th century, when the Sinhalese King, Parakrama Bahu, united the whole island under his rule. Anuradhapura remained Sri Lanka's royal capital until the 8th century AD, when it was replaced by Polonnaruwa.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit Sri Lanka in modern times. Francisco de Almeida arrived in 1505, finding the island divided into seven warring kingdoms and unable to fend off intruders. They soon founded a fort at the Muslim 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 and the kingdom of Kandy retained their independence during the Portuguese reign.

The Portuguese saw many lowland Sinhalese convert to Christianity, but the Buddhist majority disliked Portuguese occupation and its influences and welcomed any power who might rescue them.

In 1602, when the Dutch captain Joris Spilberg landed, the king at Kandy appealed to him for help. But it was not until 1638 that the Dutch attacked in earnest, and not until 1656 that the Portuguese fort in Colombo fell. By 1660 the Dutch controlled the whole island except the kingdom of Kandy. The Dutch persecuted the Catholics but left the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims alone.

During the Napoleonic Wars the United Kingdom, fearing that French control of the Netherlands might deliver Sri Lanka to the French, occupied the coastal areas of the island (which they called Ceylon) with little difficulty in 1796. In 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens, the Dutch part of the island was formally ceded to Britain and became a crown colony. In 1803 the British invaded the Kingdom of Kandy in the 1st Kandyan War, but were fiercely resisted. In 1815 Kandy was occupied after the 2nd Kandyan War, finally ending Sri Lankan independence. Following the bloody suppression of the Uva Rebellion or 3rd Kandyan War in 1817 - 1818, a treaty in 1818 preserved the Kandyan monarchy as a British dependency.

The Kandyan peasantry were stripped of their lands by the Wastelands Ordinance, a modern enclosure movement and reduced to penury. The British found that the uplands of Sri Lanka were very suited to coffee, tea and rubber cultivation, and by the mid 19th century, Ceylon tea had become a staple of the British market, bringing great wealth to a small class of white tea planters. To work the estates, the planters imported large numbers of Tamil workers as indentured labourers from south India, who soon made up 10% of the island's population.

Increasing grievances over the denial of civil rights, the mistreatment and abuse of natives by colonial authorities gave rise to a struggle for independence in the 1930s. The Youth Leagues opposed the "Ministers' Memorandum," which asked the colonial authority to increase the powers of the board of ministers without granting popular representation or civil freedoms.

During World War II, the island served as an important Allied military base. A large segment of the British and American fleet were deployed on the island, as were tens of thousands of soldiers committed to the war against Japan in Southeast Asia. Following the war, popular pressure for independence intensified.

On February 4, 1948 the country won its independence as the Commonwealth of Ceylon. Don Stephen Senanayake became the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. In 1972, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and the name was changed to Sri Lanka.

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