Sri Lanka as this beautiful country is named presently, was one time known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. The Aryans who first arrived in the Island from North-Western India named the country 'Thambapanni'. In later years the Arabian merchants who stepped foot on the Island called it 'Serendib'. Subsequently the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English called it 'Ceylon'. Though Sri Lanka is a small island and appears as a dot on the world map, she has a history of 2550 years; comparatively a long history.
Geographically Sri Lanka is situated in the Indian Ocean to the South of the Indian subcontinent and placed between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator in the tropical region; precisely between North Latitudes 5.55 and 9.51 and East Longitudes 79.42 and 81.53. She is surrounded by the Asian Continent in the North with Australia to the South East, Africa to the West and the Antarctic Ocean to the South.
The island covers an extent of 65610 square kms. The length from Point Pedro in the North to Point Devundara (Dondra) in the South is 432 kms and the width from Colombo in the West to Sangamankanda Point in the East is 224 kms.
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate and is blessed with diverse climatic conditions, terrain and vegetation. In the centre of the country are the Central Hills which have several mountain ranges of which Pidurutalagala stands as the highest point of the country at 2524 metres above mean sea level. Many rivers start their journey from the central hills and zig-zag in all directions through the lowlands and plains before flowing into the Indian Ocean.
Arrival of Aryans and their colonization
The arrival of Aryans had occurred circa 600 BC. According to legend King Sinhabahu who lived in India is said to be the closest Indian relation of the Sinhalese. After being disheartened by the disobedient behavior of his own son Prince Vijaya, King Sinhabahu banished him and 699 of his fellow men from the country. According to legend all of them had been put on board a ship and sent away. This ship had sailed towards the south and ultimately reached Thammanawa, in the North Western coast of Sri Lanka. At that time, the Island was inhabited by the Yaksha, Naga and Raksha tribes. Archaeologists and anthropologists maintain that a rich civilization existed within these tribes. Vijaya, with the help Kuweni, the queen of a local tribe, was able to acquire for himself the throne.
The Aryan inhabitants settled along the banks of Malwatu Oya in Anuradapura making it the first Sinhala kingdom. Thus, a perfect self sufficient civilization was born with a well organized administrative system.
Kingdoms of Ancient Sri Lanka
Vijaya and his successors namely Panduwasdewa, Pandukabhaya, Mutaseewa, Dewanampiyatissa, Elara, Dutugemunu, Mahanama, Datusena ruled the country from Anuradhapura. During the reign of king Devanampiyatissa, with the blessings of the then Indian Emperor Dharmasoka, Buddhism was introduced to the country. With the advent of Buddhism there developed a culture giving a new dimension to social life. The Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha which was also brought to the Island from India became the most precious sacred relic and its possession was considered to be the symbol of kingship. Later due to recurrent South Indian incursions the city of Anuradapura lay in ruin and the royal seat was shifted to Polonnaruwa.
With continuous incursions from across the Indian Ocean the seat of government moved from Polonnaruwa to Dambadeniya, then to Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte and finally to Kandy until it finally fell to the British in 1815. However, in these unsettled times there also were patches of glory. During the reigns of the kings Dutugamunu, Parakramabahu the Great and Vijayabahu, agriculture, irrigation, cultural and economic development flourished.
Since the inception of sea travel, many ports that existed in ancient Sri Lanka were used as ports of call for most sea farers to replenish their requirements while on their voyages especially due to the fact that Sri Lanka sat in the centre of the sea route that connected the East to the West. Ancient Roman, Chinese and Arabian coins found around these Sri Lankan ports support this fact.
Vasco de Gama’s arrival in India in 1497 opened the doors to the East which was unknown so far to Europeans. With this new discovery Europeans started to arrive in South - East Asia in pursuit of trade. This new trend, however stimulated the westerners to possess these counties in South East Asia. The Portuguese invaded Sri Lanka in 1505 and over-ran the maritime areas and brought them under their administration. Being in the coastal areas, they introduced aspects of western culture to Sri Lanka. From time to time, brave Sinhala kings such as Seethavaka Rajasinghe, Wimaladharmasooriya and Rajasinghe II waged war against the Portuguese with the aim of driving away the invaders. The Dutch invaded Ceylon in 1657 ousted the Portuguese and ruled the maritime areas of the country until they surrendered to the British on 16th February 1796. The British took over the administration of maritime areas of the Island.
The British then concentrated on capturing the Kandyan Kingdom, the last bastion of Sinhala sovereignty. After a spate of military incursions into the territory now referred to as the Kandyan Wars, greatly assisted by the dissension in the Kandyan Court between the king and his courtiers who conspired with the British to dethrone the king of Kandy, the British, in 1815 succeeded in hoisting the Union Jack thus making Ceylon a Colony of the British Empire.
Fight for Freedom
After British rule was established over Ceylon, a rash of uprisings broke out to liberate the country from the foreign invader. The first among them was the Uva-Wellasse Rebellion in 1817-1818. This was followed by the Matale Rebellion in1848. National pride still exists around names of some of those who led these uprisings the most famous being Keppetipola, Gongale Goda Banda and Puran Appu. The British came down hard on the local population with cruel reprisals and repressive laws to quell these rebellions.