The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Sri Lanka

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (ශ්රී ලංකා in Sinhala / இலங்கை in Tamil) (known as Ceylon before 1972) is a tropical island nation off the southeast coast of the Indian subcontinent.

The island was known in ancient times as Lanka, Lankadweepa (Sanskrit for "resplendent land"), Simoundou, Taprobane (from the Sanskrit Tāmaraparnī), Serendib (from the Sanskrit Sinhala-dweepa), and Selan. During colonization, the island became known as Ceylon, a name still used on occasion. Its unique shape and proximity to the Indian mainland have led some to refer to the island as India's Teardrop.

Life on Sri Lanka has been marred by more than two decades of ethnic conflict, mainly between the national government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, pronounced L-T-T) insurgency. In early 2002, the two sides agreed on a ceasefire. The conditions of this ceasefire are currently under renogotiation, and the political stability of the country is uncertain.

ශ්රී ලංකා ප්රජාතාන්ත්රික සමාජවාදී ජනරජය
Sri Lankā Prajathanthrika Samajavadi Janarajaya
இலங்கை சனநாயக சோஷலிசக் குடியரசு
Illankai Chananaayaka Chosalisa Kudiyarasu
Flag of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Coat of Arms
(In Detail)
National motto: None
Official languages Sinhala, Tamil
Other languages English
Capitals Colombo1
Sri Jayewardenepura (Kotte)2
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 119th
65,610 km²
 - Total (2002)
 - Density
Ranked 51st
 St. of Westr
  Realm Status
From British Empire
 December 11, 1931
 February 4, 1948
Currency Sri Lankan Rupee
Time zone UTC +6
National anthem Sri Lanka Matha
Internet TLD .lk
Calling Code 94
1 Executive Capital
2 Legislative Capital


Sri Lanka's pre-historic humans were the Wanniyala-Aetto, commonly known as Veddahs. The Sinhalese arrived late in the 6th century BC, probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced in the mid-3rd century BC, and a great civilization developed at such cities as Anuradhapura (kingdom from c. 200 BC to c. 1000 AD) and Polonnaruwa (c. 1070 to 1200).

Tamils from southern India also came to the island (exactly how many, and when, is a matter of debate). By the 13th century, there was a substantial Tamil society in the north and many fishing communities elsewhere along the island's coastline. The Tamils here developed a culture and polity distinct from their mainland cousins. Relations between the Tamils (of India and Sri Lanka) and the Sinhalese were complex, sometimes peaceful and sometimes warlike, with invasions in both directions and substantial intermixing.

Buddhism ushered in a new civilization in Sri Lanka after the arrival of the Arahat Mahinda Thera, son of Emperor Asoka, who was ruler of the Magadha empire in India. Devanampiya Thissa , the king at the time of Mahinda Thero's arrival, embraced Buddhism and facilitated its spread by constructing temples and Buddhist institutions throughout the country.

South Indian rulers, mostly of Tamil descent, attacked Sri Lanka on a number of occasions starting in the 3rd century BC. Occasionally, such invasions resulted in Tamil rule of the northern part of the island for extended periods. Several Sinhala kings are noted for driving back the Tamil invasions and retaking the capital.

After the Polonnaruwa kingdom, the Sinhalese capital moved between several cities over the next centuries, partially to circumvent foreign invasion. The capital settled in Sri Jayewardenepura (Kotte) when coastal regions were occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch in the 17th century. During both Portuguese and Dutch rule of the coastal areas, the interior, hilly region of the island remained independent, with its capital, the city of Kandy. The entire island was ceded to the British Empire in 1796 and became a crown colony in 1802. As Ceylon [1], it became independent in 1948. In 1972, its name was changed to Sri Lanka, and in 1978 the legislative and judicial capital was moved from Colombo to nearby Sri Jayewardanapura Kotte. The flag was also changed as orange and green vertical bars were added, representing the Tamil and Muslim minority populations.

Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority erupted in violence in 1983 following the killing of 13 soldiers of Sri Lankan Army in Jaffna. This led to riots throughout the country and the deaths of hundreds of Tamils over a three-day period; many more became refugees. Tens of thousands have died on both sides in the subsequent ethnic war that continues to fester.

After two decades of fighting, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government began a ceasefire in December 2001. Norway is mediating the peace process. The international anti-terrorism focus may have influenced the main Tamil rebel group to seek the ceasefire, as the LTTE was declared a terrorist organization by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Canada. The impact on Sri Lanka was severe. The south and east coasts were devastated by the 10-metre high tsunami, and tens of thousands died.


Main article: Politics of Sri Lanka

The president of the republic, who is directly elected for a six-year term, serves as head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the armed forces. The president is responsible to parliament for the exercise of duties in accordance with the constitution and laws. The incumbent may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of parliament, with the concurrence of the Supreme Court. The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers responsible to parliament. The president's deputy is the prime minister, who leads the ruling party in parliament.

The Sri Lankan Parliament is a unicameral 225-member legislature. Members are elected by universal (adult) suffrage on the basis of a modified proportional representation system by district to a six-year term. The primary modification is a unique "bonus seat" provision, where the party that receives the largest number of valid votes in each constituency gains an additional or "bonus" seat (see Hickman, 1999). The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve parliament any time after it has served for one year. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws. Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Parliament was dissolved on February 7, 2004 by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. New elections were held on April 2 and the new parliament convened on April 23.

See also: Sri Lankan parliamentary election, 2004


Main article: Provinces of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka consists of 9 provinces:


Map of Sri Lanka
Map of Sri Lanka

Main article: Geography of Sri Lanka

The island of Sri Lanka, lies within the Indian Ocean, with the Bay of Bengal to the northeast. It is separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. According to Hindu mythology, a land bridge to the Indian mainland. known as Adam's Bridge, was constructed during the rule of Rama. It is now mostly submerged, with only a chain of limestone shoals remaining above sea level.

The pear-shaped island consists mostly of flat-to-rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south central part of the island. Amongst these, are Adam's Peak and Pidurutalagala , the latter being the highest point at 2,524 m.

The Sri Lankan climate is tropical, characterized by monsoons: the northeast monsoon lasting from December to March, and the southwest monsoon from June to October. The lowest gravitational field on Earth lies just off the coast of Sri Lanka.

The administrative and commercial capital is Colombo, but parliament is located in nearby Sri Jayewardanapura (Kotte). Other major cities include Jaffna, Galle, and Kandy.


Sri Lanka is home to several forest ecoregions, whose flora and fauna is related to that of southern India. The southwest portion of the island, where the influence of the moisture-bearing southwest monsoon is strongest, is home to the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests . At higher elevations they transition to the Sri Lanka montane rain forests . Both these tropical moist forest ecoregions bear strong affinities to those of India's Western Ghats.

The northern and eastern portions of the island are considerably drier, lying in the rain shadow of the central highlands. The Sri Lanka dry-zone dry evergreen forests are a tropical dry broadleaf forest ecoregion, which, like the neighboring East Deccan dry evergreen forests of India's Coromandel Coast, is characterized by evergreen trees, rather than the dry-season deciduous trees that predominate in most other tropical dry broadleaf forests.

These forests have been largely cleared for agriculture, timber or grazing, and many of the dry evergreen forests have been degraded to thorn scrub, savanna, or thickets. Several preserves have been established to protect some of Sri Lanka's remaining natural areas. The island has three biosphere reserves, Hurulu (established 1977), Sinharaja (established 1978), and Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya (KDN) (established 2004).


Main article: Economy of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is historically famous for its cinnamon and tea (introduced by the British in the 19th century). Since independence, it has been moderately socialist. In the last 20 years, Sri Lankan governments have increasingly pursued privatization, and moved towards market-oriented policies and export-oriented trade. While tea and rubber are still important, the most dynamic sectors are now food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, telecommunications, insurance, and banking. By 1996, plantation crops made up only 20 percent of exports (compared with 93 percent in 1970), while textiles and garments accounted for 63 percent.

The GDP grew at an average annual rate of 5.5 percent during the early 1990s, until a drought and a deteriorating security situation lowered growth to 3.8 percent in 1996. The economy rebounded in 1997-2000, with average growth of 5.3 percent. 2001 saw the first economic contraction in the country's history, due to a combination of power shortages, budgetary problems, the global slowdown, and continuing civil strife. Signs of recovery appeared after the government and the LTTE signed the 2002 ceasefire. The Colombo stock exchange reported the highest growth in Asia for 2003, and today Sri Lanka has the highest per capita income in South Asia.


About 75 percent of the population belongs to the Sinhalese majority, which is predominantly Buddhist, mostly following the Theravada tradition. The other major group on the island is the Tamils, who constitute 18 percent of the population. They are predominantly Hindu, and live mostly in the north and east. Both Sinhala and Tamil languages have enjoyed official status since the Indo-Lanka accord in 1989. English, the national language, is the mother tongue of roughly 10 percent of the population, and is spoken and understood widely. All three languages are used in education and administration.

Smaller minorities include the (Tamil-speaking, mostly Sunni) Muslims (7%), the Burghers of mixed European descent (1%) and the Wanniyala-Aetto or Veddahs, the few remaining descendants of earlier cultures. Buddhism (70%) and Hinduism (15%) are the dominant religions. Christians represent 8% of the population, including 7% Catholics and 1% Protestants.


Famous residents of Sri Lanka include British science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who has lived there since 1956. Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje grew up in Sri Lanka. His novel, Running in the Family, captures some of his family's experiences.

The Hindu newspaper placed Sri Lankan broadcaster Vernon Corea, a pioneer of Radio Ceylon, among the top five broadcasters in the world.

Sri Lanka is the world's leading cinnamon exporters.


  • Hickman, J. 1999. "Explaining the Two-Party System in Sri Lanka's National Assembly." Contemporary South Asia, Volume 8, Number 1 (March), pp. 29-40 (A detailed description of the effects of the bonus seat provision).

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