History

Sri Lanka is a country with a unique and a proud historical record of a great civilization, a culture of achievements, spanning over a period of several centuries before and after the birth of Christ, which by comparison cannot be second to any contemporary civilization that existed in the world.

The pre-history of Sri Lanka goes back to 125,000 years. The era spans the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron Ages. One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka. Early inhabitants of Sri Lanka were probably ancestors of the Vedda people, an indigenous people numbering approximately 2,500 living in modern-day Sri Lanka.

According to the Mahāvamsa, Sinhalese history traditionally starts in 543 BCE with the arrival of Prince Vijaya or Singha, a semi-legendary prince who sailed with 700 followers to Sri Lanka. According to tradition, Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 260 BC by a priest named Mahinda. It soon became an integral part of Sinhalese culture. The capital of the first Sri Lankan kingdom was at Anuradhapura. In the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries AD, Sri Lanka became a rich kingdom. She traded with India, China, Persia and Ethiopia.

In 993 the Cholas captured northern Sri Lanka and they made Polonnaruwa the capital. In 1070 the Sinhalese ruler Vijayabahu recaptured the north. Following weakened leaderships, kingdoms moved to Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Gampola, Seethawaka and Kotte when Portuguese colonialism began in 1505.

In 1517 they sent an expedition to Colombo and asked permission to build a fort there, gradually expanding their control over the coastal areas. In 1597 the Portuguese annexed Kotte and Seethavaka, leaving Kandy as the only independent territory. The Portuguese made several attempts to conquer Kandy, in 1594, 1603 and 1629, without success.

In 1658, the Dutch invaders defeated the Portuguese to occupy the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. In 1796 the Dutch colonialism gave away to the British who occupied the entire island, including the last kingdom, Kandy in 1815. After 133 years of British rule, Sri Lanka gained full independence in 1948.

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