History of Sri Lanka

Pre-History of Srilanka

The earliest inhabitants on the island of Srilanka were the Wanniyala-Aetto, commonly known as the Veddahs , who were primarily hunters and gatherers. The pre-history of Srilanka is intrinsically linked with the Indian sub-continent. Even though there are no factual evidences available, it is believed that the Veddahs were conquered by the Sinhalese who migrated to the island from North India in the 6 th century B.C led by the legendary founding father named Vijaya. They constitute the largest ethnic group and are primarily Buddhist who founded their capital at Anuradhapura which has become the world's chief Buddhist center.

In the early 11 th century, Tamils from South India invaded Srilanka and conquered Anuradhapura, making Pollonarrua their capital. In the 12 th century they drove the Sinhalese kingdoms to the southwest of Srilanka while establishing their own kingdom in the north. The Tamils represents the second largest ethnic group in Srilanka comprising 12.6% of the population.

European Colonization
In the early 16 th century, the Portuguese traders in search of cinnamon and other spices, seized the coastal areas of Srilanka and introduced the Roman Catholic religion. Consequently by the mid 17 th century the Dutch took over the Portuguese and further the British drove out the Dutch in 1796 and in 1815 the British established the crown colony of Ceylon after conquering Sri Wickrama Rajasiha, the king of Kandy, the last of the native rulers. Rebellion against British rule broke out in parts of Kandy in 1817-1818 but was soon crushed.

In the beginning the British were quite cautious. In 1833 they introduced a wide range of reforms which included changing the official language to English. In 1844 slavery was eradicated. In the 19 th century, the British set up plantation economy based on tea, rubber and coconut. Schools and Universities were also opened.

In 1919 the Ceylon National Congress was formed after nationalism grew quite intensely in the early 20 th century. The Ceylon National Congress played an instrumental role in the attainment of Srilanka's independence.

Post- Colonization
On 4, February 1948, Srilanka finally achieved independence subsequent to the pressure from the Ceylonese nationalist leaders. It gained Dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations.

In the post independence period the first prime minister was Dr Stephen Senanayake who was followed by his son Dudley Senanayake after his demise in 1952. Further in 1956, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became the next prime minister and supported the Sinhalese nationalism and also changed the official language from English to Sinhala. After his assassination in 1959, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over on 20 July, 1960, thus becoming the first female prime minister in the world.

On May 22, 1972 the country's name was officially changed from Ceylon to Srilanka. The Flag was also changed and a new Republican Constitution was adopted. Furthermore the legislative capital was shifted to Kotte from Colombo.


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