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இலங்கை சனநாயக சோஷலிசக் குடியரசு
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (/ʃriː ˈlɑːŋkə/, /sriːˈlɑːŋkə/, or /sriːˈlæŋkə/; Sinhala: ශ්රී ලංකා, Tamil: இலங்கை) is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon ( /sɨˈlɒn/, /seɪˈlɒn/, or /siːˈlɒn/), Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the Maldives. It is part of South Asia.
As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and South East Asia. It was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Sri Lanka has also been a center of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times and is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia along with Ladakh, Bhutan and the Chittagong hill tracts. The Sinhalese community forms the majority of the population; Tamils, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island, form the largest ethnic minority. Other communities include Moors, Burghers, Kaffirs, Malays and the aboriginal Vedda people.
Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state which is governed by a semi-presidential system with its official seat of government in Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, the capital. The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon, the last of which is native to the country. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka has led to the title The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. The island is laden with lush tropical forests, white beaches and diverse landscapes with rich biodiversity. The country lays claim to a long and colorful history of over three thousand years, having one of the longest documented histories in the world. Sri Lanka's rich culture can be attributed to the many different communities on the island.
Sri Lanka is a founding member state of SAARC and a member United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, G77 and Non-Aligned Movement. As of 2010, Sri Lanka was one of the fastest growing economies of the world. Its stock exchange was Asia's best performing stock market during 2009 and 2010.
Pre-historic Sri Lanka
The pre-history of Sri Lanka dates back over 125,000 years Before Present (BP) and possibly even as early as 500,000 BP. The era spans the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron ages. Among the Paleolithic (Homo Erectus) human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka, Pahiyangala (named after the Chinese traveler monk Fa-Hsien), which dates back to 37,000 BP, Batadombalena (28,500 BP) and Belilena (12,000 BP) are the most important. The remains of Balangoda Man, an anatomically modern human, found inside these caves, suggests that they may have engaged in agriculture and kept domestic dogs for driving game.
One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka that had been created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma, for Kubera, the lord of wealth. It is said that in 2370 BC, Kubera was overthrown by his demon stepbrother Ravana, the powerful Emperor who built a mythical flying machine named Dandu Monara. The modern city of Wariyapola is described as Ravana's airport.
Ravana belonged to the tribe Raksha, which lived alongside four Hela tribes named Yaksha, Deva, Naga and Gandharva. These early inhabitants of Sri Lanka were probably the ancestors of the Vedda people, an indigenous community living in modern-day Sri Lanka, which numbers approximately 2,500. Irish historian James Emerson Tennent theorised Galle, a southern city in Sri Lanka, was the ancient seaport of Tarshish, from which King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks and other valuables. Early inhabitats of the country spoke the Elu language, which is considered the early form of the modern Sinhala language.
Ancient Sri Lanka
According to the Mahāvamsa, a chronicle written in Pāli language, the ancient period of Sri Lanka begins in 543 BC, with the landing of Vijaya, a semi-legendary king who arrived in the country with 700 followers from the southwest coast of Bangladesh. After consolidating the power, he established the Kingdom of Tambapanni, near modern day Mannar. Vijaya is the first of the approximately 189 native monarchs of Sri Lanka, as described in various chronicles like Dipavamsa, Mahāvamsa, Chulavamsa and Rājāvaliya. (see List of Sri Lankan monarchs) Sri Lankan dynasty spanned over a period of 2359 years, from 543 BC to 1815 AD, until it came under the rule of British Empire.
The Kingdom of Sri Lanka moved to Anuradhapura in 380 BC, during the reign of Pandukabhaya. Since then, Anuradhapura served as the capital of the country for nearly 1400 years. Pandukabhaya built the second irrigation scheme in ancient Sri Lanka, the Abhaya tank (Basawakkulama reservoir). Ancient Sri Lankans excelled in various constructions such as tanks, dagobas and palaces. The Sri Lankan society underwent a major transformation during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC, bhikkhu Mahinda, who is believed to have been the son of the great Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, arrived in Mihintale, carrying the message of Buddhism. Mahinda's mission won over the monarch, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population. The succeeding kingdoms of Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries, and support the propagation of Buddhism into other countries in Southeast Asia as well. In 245 BC, bhikkhuni Sangamitta arrived in Sri Lanka with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which is considered to be a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened. It is considered the oldest tree in the world, with a continuous historical record. (Bodhivamsa)
Sri Lanka experienced the first foreign invasion during the reign of Suratissa, who was defeated by two horse traders named Sena and Guttika from South India. The next invasion came in 205 BC by a Chola king named Elara. He ruled the country for 44 years. Dutugemunu, the eldest son of the southern regional sub-king, Kavan Tissa, defeated Elara in the Battle of Vijithapura. He built the second stupa in ancient Sri Lanka, Ruwanwelisaya and the Lovamahapaya. During its two and half millenias of existence, kingdom of Sri Lanka was invaded at least 8 times by neighbouring South Asian dynastys such as Chola, Pandya, Chera and Pallava. There had also been incursions by the kingdoms of Kalinga (modern Orissa) and from Malay Peninsula as well. Kala Wewa and the Avukana Buddha statue were built during the reign of Dhatusena.
Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to have a female ruler; Queen Anula who reigned from 47–42 BC. Sri Lankan monarchs have attained some remarkable construction achievements like Sigiriya, the so-called "Fortress in the Sky". It was a constructed during the reign of Kashyapa I. Sigiriya is a rock fortress surrounded by an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. The 5th century palace is also renowned for frescos on the rock the surface. It has been declared by the UNESCO as the 8th Wonder of the world. Among the other constructions, large reservoirs, important for conserving water in a climate that alternates rainy seasons with dry times, and elaborate aqueducts, some with a slope as finely calibrated as one inch to the mile are dominant. Biso Kotuwa, a peculiar construction inside a dam, is a technological marvel based on precise mathematics, allowing water to flow outside the dam keeping the pressure to a minimum. Ancient Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to have established a dedicated hospital; in Mihintale in the 4th century. It was also the leading exporter of cinnamon in the ancient world, and has maintained close ties with European civilizations including Roman Empire. For example, King Bhatikabhaya (BC 22 - 7 AD) had sent an embassy to Rome and got down coral for a net to be cast over the Ruwanwelisaya. Bhikkhuni Devasāra and ten other fully ordained bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka had went to China and established the bhikkhuni sāsana there in 429 AD.
Medieval Sri Lanka
The medieval period of Sri Lanka begins with the fall of Anuradhapura. In 993 AD, the invasion of Chola emperor Rajaraja I forced the then Sri Lankan ruler Mahinda V to flee to the southern part of the country. Taking advantage of this situation, Rajendra I son of Rajaraja I, launched a large invasion in 1017 AD. Mahinda V was captured and taken to India, and the Cholas sacked the city of Anuradhapura. Subsequently, they moved the capital to Polonnaruwa. This marked the end of the two great houses of dynasties of ancient Sri Lanka, Moriya and the Lambakanna. Following a seventeen year long campaign, Vijayabahu I successfully drove the Chola out of Sri Lanka in 1070, reuniting the country for the first time in over a century. Upon his request, ordained monks were sent from Burma to Sri Lanka to re-establish Buddhism which had almost disappeared from the country during the Chola reign. During the medieval period, Sri Lanka was divided to three sub-territories, namely Ruhunu, Pihiti and Maya.
Sri Lanka's irrigation system was extensively expanded during the reign of Parākramabāhu the Great (1153–1186 AD). This period is considered as a time when Sri Lanka was at the height of its power. He built 1470 reservoirs - highest number by any ruler in the history, repaired 165 dams, 3910 canals, 163 major reservoirs, and 2376 mini reservoirs. His famous construction is the Parakrama Samudra, the largest irrigation project of medieval Sri Lanka. Parākramabāhu's reign is memorable for two major campaigns — in the south of India as part of a Pandyan war of succession, and a punitive strike against the kings of Ramanna (Myanmar) for various perceived insults to Sri Lanka.
After his demise, Sri Lanka gradually decayed in power. In 1215 AD, Kalinga Magha, a South Indian with uncertain origins, invaded and captured the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa with a 24,000 strong army from Kalinga. Unlike the previous invaders, he looted, ransacked and destroyed everything in the ancient Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Kingdoms beyond recovery. His priorities in ruling were to extract as much as possible from the land and overturn as many of the traditions of Rajarata as possible. His reign saw the massive migration of native Sinhalese people to the south and west of Sri Lanka, and into the mountainous interior, in a bid to escape his power. Sri Lanka never really recovered from the impact of Kalinga Magha's invasion. King Vijayabâhu III, who led the resistance, brought the kingdom to Dambadeniya. The north, in the meanwhile, eventually evolved into the Jaffna kingdom. Jaffna kingdom never came under the rule of the kingdom of south except on one occasion; in 1450, following the conquest led by king Parâkramabâhu VI's adopted son, Prince Sapumal. He ruled the North from 1450 to 1467 AD. The next three centuries stating from 1215 were marked by kaleidoscopically shifting collection of kingdoms in south and central Sri Lanka, including Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Gampola, Raigama, Kotte, Sitawaka and finally, Kandy.
Early modern Sri Lanka
The early modern period of Sri Lanka begins with the arrival of Portuguese soldier and explorer Lorenzo de Almeida, the son of Francisco de Almeida in 1505. The Portuguese founded a fort at the port city of Colombo in 1517 and gradually extended their control over the coastal areas. In 1592 Vimaladharmasuriya I moved the kingdom to the inland city of Kandy, a location more secure against an attack from western invaders. Intermittent warfare continued through the 16th century. In 1619, due to the attacks of Portuguese, independent existence of Jaffna kingdom, came to an end.
During the reign of the Rajasinghe II, Dutch explorers arrived in the island. In 1638, the king signed a treaty with the Dutch East India Company to get rid of Portuguese who ruled most of the coastal areas. The following Dutch–Portuguese War resulted in Dutch victory, with Colombo falling into Dutch hands by 1656. Dutch remained in the areas they captured, violating the treaty. An ethnic group named Burgher people integrated into the Sri Lankan society as a result of Dutch rule. The Kingdom of Kandy was the last independent monarchy of Sri Lanka. In 1595, Vimaladharmasurya brought the sacred Tooth Relic - the traditional symbol of royal and religious authority amongst the Sinhalese - to Kandy, and built the Temple of the Tooth. Even with intermittent warfare with Europeans, the kingdom was able to survive. A succession crisis emerged in Kandy, upon king Vira Narendrasinha's death in 1739. He was married to a Telugu-speaking Nayakkar princess from South India and was childless by them. Eventually, with the support of bhikku Weliwita Sarankara, the crown passed to the brother of one of Narendrasinha's princess, overlooking the right of "Unambuwe Bandara", Narendrasinha's own son by a Sinhalese concubine. The new king was crowned Sri Vijaya Rajasinha later that year. Kings of Nayakkar dynasty, launched several attacks on Dutch controlled areas, which proved to be unsuccessful.
During the Napoleonic Wars, fearing that French control of the Netherlands might deliver Sri Lanka to the French, Great Britain occupied the coastal areas of the island (which they called Ceylon) with little difficulty in 1796. Two years later, in 1798, Rajadhi Rajasinha, 3rd of the four Nayakkar kings of Sri Lanka died of a fever. Following the death, a nephew of Rajadhi Rajasinha, 18-year-old Konnasami was crowned. The new king, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha faced a British invasion in 1803, but was able to retaliate successfully. By then, the entire coastal area was under the British East India Company, as a result of the Treaty of Amiens. But on 14 February 1815, Kandy was occupied by the British, in the second Kandyan War, finally ending Sri Lanka's independence. Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, the last native monarch of Sri Lanka was exiled to India. Kandyan convention formally ceded the entire country to the British Empire. Attempts of Sri Lankan noblemen to undermine the British power in 1818 during the Uva Rebellion were thwarted by Governor Robert Brownrigg.
Modern Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka under the British rule
The beginning of the modern period of Sri Lanka is marked by the Colebrooke-Cameron reforms of 1833. They introduced a utilitarian and liberal political culture to the country based on the rule of law and amalgamated the Kandyan and maritime provinces as a single unit of government. An Executive Council and a Legislative Council were established, later becoming the foundation of representative legislature in the country. By this time, experiments with coffee plantation were largely successful. Soon it grew to become the primary commodity export of the country. The falling coffee prices as a result of the depression of 1847 stalled economic development and prompted the governor to introduce a series of taxes on firearms, dogs, shops, boats, etc., and reintroduce a form of rajakariya, requiring six days free labour on roads or payment of a cash equivalent. These harsh measures antagonized the locals, and another rebellion broke out in 1848. A devastating leaf disease, Hemileia vastatrix, struck the coffee plantations in 1869, destroying the entire industry within 15 years. The British officials desperately searched for a substitute, and the promising replacement they found was tea. Production of tea in Sri Lanka thrived within the decades to come.
By the end of the 19th century, a new educated social class which transcended the divisions of race and caste was emerging as a result of British attempts to nurture a range of professionals for the Ceylon Civil Service and for the legal, educational, and medical professions. The country's new leaders represented the various ethnic groups of the population in the Ceylon Legislative Council on a communal basis. In the meantime, attempts were underway for Buddhist and Hindu revivalism and to react against Christian missionary activities on the island. The first two decades in the 20th century are distinguished for the harmony that prevailed among Sinhalese and Tamil political leadership, which has not been the case ever since. In 1919, major Sinhalese and Tamil political organizations united to form the Ceylon National Congress, under the leadership of Ponnambalam Arunachalam. It kept pressing the colonial masters for more constitutional reforms. But due to its failure to appeal to the masses and the governor's encouragement for "communal representation" by creating a "Colombo seat" that dangled between Sinhalese and Tamils, the Congress lost its momentum towards the mid 1920s. The Donoughmore reforms of 1931 repudiated the communal representation and introduced universal adult franchise (the franchise stood at 4% before the reforms). This step was strongly criticized by the Tamil political leadership, who realized that they would be reduced to a minority in the newly created State Council of Ceylon, which succeeded the legislative council. In 1937, Tamil leader G. G. Ponnambalam demanded a 50-50 representation (50% for the Sinhalese and 50% for other ethnic groups) in the State Council. However, this demand was not met by the Soulbury reforms of 1944/45.
Post independence Sri Lanka
The Soulbury constitution ushered the Dominion status for Ceylon, delivering it independence on 4 February 1948. The office of Prime Minister of Ceylon was created in advance of independence, on 14 October 1947, D. S. Senanayake being the first prime minister. Prominent Tamil leaders like Ponnambalam and A. Mahadeva joined his cabinet. Although the country gained independence in 1948, the British Royal Navy stationed at Trincomalee remained until 1956. 1953 hartal, against the withdrawal of the rice ration, resulted in the resignation of the then prime minister, Dudley Senanayake. With the election of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to the prime ministership in 1956, Ceylon began moving towards better relations with the communist bloc. Bandaranaike's 3 year rule had a profound impact on the direction of the country. He emerged as the "defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture" and promised radical changes in the system. He introduced the controversial Sinhala Only Act, recognising Sinhala as the sole official language of the government. Although it was partially reversed in 1958, the bill posed a grave concern for the Tamil community, which perceived their language and culture were threatened. The Federal Party (FP) launched satyagraha against the move, which prompted Bandaranaike to reach an agreement (Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact) with S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, leader of the FP, to resolve the looming ethnic conflict. However the pact was not carried out due to protests by opposition and the Buddhist clergy. The bill, together with various government colonisation schemes, contributed much towards the political rancour between Sinhalese and Tamil political leaders. Bandaranaike was assassinated by an extremist Buddhist monk in 1959.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, took office as prime minister in 1960, but faced an attempted coup d'état in 1962. During the second term as prime minister, her government instituted socialist economic polices, further strengthening ties with the Soviet Union and later China, while promoting a policy of non-alignment. However in 1971, Ceylon experienced a Marxist insurrection, which was quickly suppressed. In 1972, with the adoption of a new constitution, the country became a republic, repudating the Dominion status and changing its name to Sri Lanka. Prolonged minority grievances and the use of communal emotionalism as an election campaign weapon by both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders abetted a fledging Tamil militancy in the north, during 1970s. The policy of standardization by Sirimavo government to rectify disparities created in university enrollment, which was in essence an affirmative action to assist geographically disadvantaged students to gain tertiary education, in turn reducing the number of Tamil students within the Sri Lankan university student populace; acted as the immediate catalyst for the rise of militancy. Assassination of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiyappah in 1975 marked an important turn of the events.
The Government of J. R. Jayawardene swept to power in 1977, defeating the largely unpopular United Front grovernment, towards its final years. Jayawardene introduced a new constitution, together with a powerful executive presidency modelled after France, and a free market economy. It made Sri Lanka the first South Asian country to liberalise its economy. However from 1983, ethnic tensions blew into on-and-off insurgency (see Sri Lankan Civil War) against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a militant group emerged in early 1970s. Following the riots in July 1983, more than 150,000 Tamil civillians fled the island, seeking asylum in other countries. Lapses in foreign policy resulted in neighbouring India strengthening the Tigers by providing arms and training. In 1987, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed and Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was deployed in northern Sri Lanka to stabilize the region by neutralising the LTTE. The same year, the JVP launched its second insurrection in Southern Sri Lanka. As their efforts did not become successful, IPKF was called back in 1990.
Sri Lanka was affected by the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami, which left at least 35,000 people dead. From 1985 to 2006, Sri Lankan government and Tamil insurgents held 4 rounds of peace-talks, none of them helping a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In 2009, under the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa the Sri Lanka Armed Forces defeated the LTTE, and re-established control of the entire country under the Sri Lankan Government. The 26 year war caused upto 100,000 deaths. Following the LTTE's defeat, Tamil National Alliance, the largest political party in Sri Lanka dropped its demand for a separate state, in favour of a federal solution. The final stages of the war left some 294,000 people displaced. According to the Ministry of Resettlement, most of the displaced persons had been released or returned to their places of origin, leaving only 7,440 in the camps as of August 2011. Sri Lanka, emerging after a 26 year war, has become one of the fastest growing economies of the world.
The culture of Sri Lanka dates back over 2500 years. It is influenced primarily by Buddhism and Hinduism. Accoring to Islamic folklore, Adam and Eve were offered refuge on the island as solace for their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The island is the home to two main traditional cultures: the Sinhalese (centred in the ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centred in the city of Jaffna). In more recent times, the British colonial culture has also influenced the locals. Sri Lanka claims a democratic tradition matched by few other developing countries.
The first Tamil immigration was probably around the third century BC. Tamils co-existed with the Sinhalese people since then, and the early mixing rendered the two ethnic groups almost physically indistinct. Ancient Sri Lanka is marked for its genius in hydraulic engineering and architecture. The rich cultural traditions is the basis of the country's long life expectancy, advanced health standards and high literacy rate.
Food and festivals
The customary diet in Sri Lanka are rice and curry, pittu (mixture of fresh rice meal, lightly roasted and mixed with fresh grated coconut, then steamed in a bamboo mould), Kiribath (cooked in thick coconut cream for this unsweetened rice-pudding which is accompanied by a sharp chili relish called "lunumiris"), Roti (made from stoneground wholemeal flour, traditionally known as Atta flour), String hoppers (prepared by mixing rice flour with hot water and salt), wattalapam (rich pudding of Malay origin made of coconut milk, jaggery, cashew nuts, eggs, and various spices including cinnamon cloves and nutmeg), kottu, hoppers ("appa"), etc. Jackfruit may replace rice and curries at times. Traditional meals are usually served on plantain leaf.
Middle Eastern influences and practices are found in traditional Moor dishes. While Dutch and Portuguese influences are found with the island's Burgher community preserving their culture through traditional favourites such as Lamprais (rice cooked in stock and baked in a banana leaf), Breudher (Dutch Christmas cake) and Bolo Fiado (Portuguese-style layer cake).
Every year in mid April, Sri Lankans celebrate the Sinhalese and Hindu new year festival. In addition, Esala Perahera, a symbolic Buddhist festival consisting of dances and richly decorated elephants, is held in Kandy, during the month of August. Fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances are integral parts of the festival. Tamils celebrate Thai Pongal, Maha Shivaratri and Muslims celebrate Hajj, Ramadan in their respective days of the year.
Visual, literary and performing arts
The movie Kadawunu Poronduwa (The broken promise), produced by S. M. Nayagam of Chitra Kala Movietone, heralded the coming of Sri Lankan cinema in 1947. Ranmuthu Duwa (Island of treasures, 1962) marked the transition cinema from black-and-white to color. It in the recent years has featured subjects such as family melodrama, social transformation and the years of conflict between the military and the LTTE. Their cinematic style is similar to the Bollywood movies. In 1979, movie attendance rose to an all-time high, but recoded a gradual downfall since then. Undoubtedly the most influential and revolutionary filmmaker in the history of Sri Lankan cinema is Lester James Peiris, who has directed a number of movies which led to global acclaim, including Rekava (Line of destiny, 1956), Gamperaliya (The changing village, 1964), Nidhanaya (The treasure, 1970) and Golu Hadawatha (Cold heart, 1968).
The earliest music in Sri Lanka came from theatrical performances such as Kolam, Sokari and Nadagam. Traditional music instruments such as Béra, Thammátama, Daŭla and Răbān were performed at these dramas. The first music album, Nurthi, was released through Radio Ceylon, in 1903. Songwriters like Mahagama Sekara and Ananda Samarakoon and musicians such as W. D. Amaradeva, H. R. Jothipala and Clarence Wijewardene have contributed much towards the upliftment of Sri Lankan music. Baila is another popular music genre in the country, originated among Kaffirs or the or Afro-Sinhalese community.
There are three main styles of Sri Lankan classical dance. They are, the Kandyan dances, low country dances and Sabaragamuwa dances. Out of these, the Kandyan style, which flourished under kings of the Kingdom of Kandy, is more prominent. It is a sophisticated form of dance, that consists of five sub-categories: Ves dance, Naiyandi dance, Udekki dance, Pantheru dance and 18 Vannam. An elaborate headdress is worn by the male dancers and a drum called Geta Béraya is used to assist the dancer to keep on rhythm. In addion, four folk drama variants named Sokri, Kolam, Nadagam, Pasu, and several devil dance variants such as Sanni Yakuma and Kohomba Kankariya can be also observed.
The history of Sri Lankan painting and sculpture can be traced as far back as to the 2nd or 3rd century BC. The earliest mention about the art of painting on Mahavamsa, is to the drawing of a palace on cloth using cinnabar in the 2nd century BC. The chronicles have description of various paintings in relic-chambers of Buddhist stupas, and in monastic residence. Theatre moved into the country when a Parsi company from Mumbai introduced Nurti, a blend of European and Indian theatrical conventions to the Colombo audience in 19th century. The golden age of Sri Lankan drama and theatre began with the staging of Maname, a play written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra in 1956. It was followed by a series of popular dramas like Sinhabāhu, Pabāvatī, Mahāsāra, Muudu Puththu and Subha saha Yasa.
Theatre moved into the country when a Parsi company from Mumbai introduced Nurti, a blend of European and Indian theatrical conventions to the Colombo audience in 19th century. The golden age of Sri Lankan drama and theatre began with the staging of Maname, a play written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra in 1956. It was followed by a series of popular dramas like Sinhabāhu, Pabāvatī, Mahāsāra, Muudu Puththu and Subha saha Yasa.
The history of Sri Lankan literature runs at least two millennia back, and is heir to the Aryan literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rigveda. The Pāli Canon, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, was written down in Sri Lanka during the Fourth Buddhist council, at the Alulena cave temple, Kegalle, as early as 29 BC. Ancient chronicles such as Mahāvamsa, which was written in 6th century provide vivid descriptions of Sri Lankan dynasty. According to the German philosopher Wilhelm Geiger, the chronicles are based on Sinhala Atthakatha (commentary), that dates few more centuries back. The oldest surviving prose work is the Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya, compiled in the ninth century. The greatest literary feats of medieval Sri Lanka include Sandesha Kāvya (poetic messages) such as Girā Sandeshaya (Parrot message), Hansa Sandeshaya (Swan message) and Salalihini Sandeshaya (Myna message). Poetry including Kavsilumina, Kavya-Sekharaya (diadem of poetry) and proses such as Saddharma-Ratnāvaliya, Amāvatura (Flood of nectar) and Pujāvaliya are also notable works of this period, which is considered to be the golden age of Sri Lankan literature. The first modern-day novel, Meena, a work of Simon de Silva appeared in 1905, and was followed by a number of revolutionary literary works. Martin Wickramasinghe, the author of Madol Doova is considered the iconic figure of Sri Lankan literature.
With a literacy rate of 92.5%, Sri Lanka has one of the most literate populations amongst developing nations. Its youth literacy rate stands at 98%, computer literacy rate at 35%, and primary school enrolment rate at over 99%. An education system which dictates 9 years of compulsory schooling for every child is in place. The free education system established in 1945, is a result of the initiative of C. W. W. Kannangara and A. Ratnayake. It is one of the few countries in the world that provides universal free education from primary to tertiary stage.
Kannangara led the establishment of the Madhya Maha Vidyalayas (Central Schools) in different parts of the country in order to provide education to Sri Lanka's rural children. In 1942 a special education committee proposed extensive reforms to establish an efficient and quality education system for the people. However in the 1980s changes to this system saw the separation the of administration of schools between the central government and the provincial government. Thus the elite National Schools are controlled directly by the Ministry of Education and the provincial schools by the provincial government. Sri Lanka has approximately 9675 government schools, 817 private schools and Pirivenas. The number of public universities in Sri Lanka is 15. However, lack of responsiveness of the education system to labor market requirements, disparities in access to quality education, lack of an effective linkage between secondary and tertiary education remain major challenges for the education sector. A number of private, degree awarding institutions have emerged in recent times to fill in these gaps. But still, the participation at tertiary level education hovers around 4%.
Human rights and media
Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (formerly Radio Ceylon) is the oldest-running radio station in Asia. It was established in 1923 by Edward Harper just three years after broadcasting was launched in Europe. The station broadcasts services in Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi. Since the 1980s, a large number of private radio stations have also being introduced. Broadcast television was introduced to the country in 1979 when the Independent Television Network was launched. Initially all Television stations were state controlled, but private television networks began broadcasts in 1992. As of 2010, 51 newspapers (30 Sinhala, 10 Tamil, 11 English) are published and 34 TV stations and 52 radio stations are operated in the coutry. However in the recent years, freedom of the press in Sri Lanka has been widely criticised by media freedom groups.
Human rights as ratified by the United Nations are guaranteed by the constitution of Sri Lanka. However the human rights in Sri Lanka has also come under criticism by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United States Department of State. Both the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka are accused of violating human rights. A report by an advisory panel to the UN secretary-general has accused both Sri Lankan government and the LTTE on alleged war crimes committed during final stages of the civil war.
While the national sport in Sri Lanka is volleyball, by far the most popular sport in the country is cricket. Rugby union also enjoys extensive popularity, as do aquatic sports, athletics, football (soccer) and tennis. Sri Lanka's schools and colleges regularly organise sports and athletics teams, competing on provincial and national levels.
The Sri Lanka national cricket team achieved considerable success beginning in the 1990s, rising from underdog status to winning the 1996 Cricket World Cup. They also became the runners up of the Cricket World Cup in 2007, 2011. and of the ICC World Twenty20 in 2009. Former Sri Lankan off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan has been rated as the greatest Test match bowler ever by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. Sri Lanka has won the Asia Cup in 1986, 1997, 2004 and 2008. Current world records for highest team score in all three formats of the game are also held by Sri Lanka. The country co-hosted the Cricket World Cup in 1996 and 2011.
Sri Lankans have won two medals at Olympic Games, both silver, by Duncan White at 1948 London Olympics for men's 400 metres hurdles and by Susanthika Jayasinghe at 2000 Sydney Olympics for women's 200 metres. In 1973, Mohammed Lafir won the World Billiards Championship, highest feat of a Sri Lankan in a Cue sport. Aquatic sports such as boating, surfing, swimming, kitesurfing and scuba diving on the coast, the beaches and backwaters attract a large number of Sri Lankans and foreign tourists. There are two styles of martial arts native to Sri Lanka, Cheena di and Angampora.
The island of Sri Lanka lies atop the Indian tectonic plate, a minor plate within the Indo-Australian Plate. It is positioned in the Indian Ocean, to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal, between latitudes 5° and 10°N, and longitudes 79° and 82°E. Sri Lanka is separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. According to the Hindu mythology, a land bridge existed between the Indian mainland and Sri Lanka. It now amounts to only a chain of limestone shoals remaining above sea level. It was reportedly passable on foot up to 1480 AD, until cyclones deepened the channel.
The island consists mostly of flat-to-rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central part. Amongst these is the highest point Pidurutalagala, reaching 2,524 metres (8,281 ft) above sea level. The climate of Sri Lanka can be described as tropical and warm. Its position endows the country with a warm climate moderated by ocean winds and considerable moisture. The mean temperature ranges from about 17 °C (62.6 °F) in the central highlands, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of approximately 33 °C (91.4 °F) in other low-altitude areas. The average yearly temperature ranges from 28 °C (82.4 °F) to nearly 31 °C (87.8 °F). Day and night temperatures may vary by 14 °C (25.2 °F) to 18 °C (32.4 °F).
Rainfall pattern of the country is influenced by Monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. The "wet zone" and some of the windward slopes of the central highlands receive up to 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in) of rain each month, but the leeward slopes in the east and northeast receive little rain. Most of the east, southeast, and northern parts of the country comprise the "dry zone", which receives between 1,200 mm (47 in) and 1,900 mm (75 in) of rain annually. The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain at 800 mm (31 in) to 1,200 mm (47 in) per year. Periodic squalls occur and sometimes tropical cyclones bring overcast skies and rains to the southwest, northeast, and eastern parts of the island. Humidity is typically higher in the southwest and mountainous areas and depends on the seasonal patterns of rainfall.
Longest of the 103 rivers in the country is Mahaweli River, covering a distance of 335 kilometres (208 mi). These waterways give rise to 51 natural waterfalls, having a height of 10 meters or more. The highest one is Bambarakanda Falls, with a height of 263 metres (863 ft). Sri Lanka's coastline is 1,585 km long. It claims to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending 200 nautical miles. This is approximately 6.7 times the country’s land area. The coastline and adjacent waters support highly productive marine ecosystems such as fringing coral reefs, shallow beds of coastal and estuarine seagrasses. Sri Lanka inherits 45 estuaries and 40 lagoons too. Country's mangrove ecosystem which spans over 7,000 hectares, played a vital role in buffering the force in the waves of 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The island is rich with minerals such as Ilmenite, Feldspar, Graphite, Silica, Kaolin, Mica and Thorium. Existence of Petroleum in the Gulf of Mannar has also been confirmed and extraction attempts are underway.
Flora and fauna
Lying within the Indomalaya ecozone, Sri Lanka is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Although the country is relatively small in size, it has the highest biodiversity per 10,000 square km in Asia. Remarkably high proportion of the species among its flora and fauna, 27% of the 3,210 flowering plants and 22% of the mammals (see List), are endemic. Sri Lanka has declared 24 wildlife reserves, which are home to a wide range of native species such as Asian elephants, leopards, sloth bears, the unique small loris, a variety of deer, the purple-faced langur, the endangered wild boar, porcupines and anteaters.
Varieties of flowering acacias are well adapted to the arid conditions and flourish on the Jaffna Peninsula. Among the trees of the dry-land forests, are some valuable species such as satinwood, ebony, ironwood, mahogany and teak. In the wet zone, the dominant vegetation of the lowlands is a tropical evergreen forest, with tall trees, broad foliage, and a dense undergrowth of vines and creepers. Subtropical evergreen forests resembling those of temperate climates flourish in the higher altitudes.
The Yala National Park in the southeast protects herds of elephant, deer, and peacocks, and the Wilpattu National Park, the largest national park in Sri Lanka, in the northwest preserves the habitats of many water birds, such as storks, pelicans, ibis, and spoonbills. The island has four biosphere reserves, Bundala, Hurulu Forest Reserve, the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya, and Sinharaja. Out of these, Sinharaja forest reserve is home to 26 endemic birds and 20 rainforest species, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. The untapped genetic potential of Sinharaja flora is enormous. Out of the 211 woody trees and lianas so far identified within the reserve, 139 (66%) are endemic. The Total vegetation density, including trees, shrubs, herbs and seedlings has been estimated to be around 240,000 individuals per hectare.
In addition, Sri Lanka is home to over 250 types of resident birds (see List). It has declared several bird sanctuaries including Kumana. During the Mahaweli Program of the 1970s and 1980s in northern Sri Lanka, the government set aside four areas of land totalling 1,900 km (730 sq mi) as national parks. However the country's forest cover, which was around 49% in 1920, had been fallen to approximately 24% by 2009.