Brief history of Sri Lanka summarized
An overview of the Asian island country of Sri Lanka, in a brief and condensed form.
Sri Lanka in ancient times
Around 500 BC when a people called the Sinhalese migrated from India. According to legend, the first settlers were led by a man named Vijaya. According to tradition, Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 260 BC by a man named Mahinda. It soon became an integral part of Sinhalese culture.
However, at first Sri Lanka was divided into different states. A man named Dutthagamani (161-137 BC) united them into one kingdom. Apart from being a powerful ruler, Dutthagamani was a great builder and erected palaces and temples. The capital of the first kingdom of Sri Lanka was at Anuradhapura.
The staple diet of the Sri Lankan people was rice, but to grow it, it needs to be kept in water. However, in the hot climate of Sri Lanka, the water soon evaporated. In the rainy season (October to April), the rain provided some water, but it was not enough. To get more water, people dammed streams and rivers.
However, over time it became the responsibility of the rulers to provide water for agriculture. King Mahensa (274-303) built large reservoirs and irrigation canals to carry water from one area to another. The network of reservoirs and canals became increasingly large and complex.
In the 2nd and 4th centuries AD Sri Lanka became a wealthy kingdom. He traded with India, China, Persia, and Ethiopia. However, from the 5th century Sri Lanka suffered invasions from India. In the 10th century the Chola kingdom became powerful in South India.
In 993 the Cholas captured northern Sri Lanka and made Polonnaruwa their capital. In 1017 they captured the south. However, the Sinhalese continued to resist, and in 1030 the Cholas withdrew from Rohana in the southeast. In 1070 the Sinhalese ruler Vijayabahu recaptured the north.
However, after his death in 1111, weak rulers succeeded him. Sri Lanka was divided into independent states. Then in 1153 Parakramabahu the Great became king of the Dakkinadesa kingdom. This great ruler brought Sri Lanka together and repaired the irrigation system. He died in 1183.
In the 13th century, Sri Lanka’s power declined. There were repeated invasions from India and political instability. The irrigation system began to fail and people moved to the southwest. In 1255 the capital Polonnaruwa was abandoned.
In the 13th century the Tamils settled in the north of Sri Lanka and in 1505 Sri Lanka was divided into three zones. Tamils lived in the north. There was a Sinhalese kingdom in the southwest based at Kotte and another in the center and east based at Kandy.
Portuguese colonialism in Sri Lanka
A new era in Sri Lankan history began in 1505 when the Portuguese arrived. The Portuguese were looking for cinnamon (a very valuable spice). In 1517 they sent an expedition to Colombo and asked permission to build a fort there. King Vijayabahu of Kotte reluctantly gave his consent.
However, the Portuguese ordered the king to sell them their cinnamon at a price set by them. When the king refused, the Portuguese used force. In 1518 the King of Kotte was forced to agree to give the Portuguese cinnamon every year as tribute.
The growing Portuguese demands led to a war in 1520-21, which the Portuguese won. The king lost the support of his people and was overthrown by his three sons.
The eldest son became King Bhuvanekbahu VI. He reigned until 1551. However, he agreed to give his two brother principalities of their own within Kotte to rule. The largest of these became the kingdom of Sitawaka. The smaller one was based on Rayigama, but when its ruler died in 1538 it was absorbed into Sitawaka.
Over time, the states of Kotte and Sitawaka began to argue. The Sitawaka rulers resent the growing Portuguese influence in Kotte. So Kotte and Sitawaka fought in several wars. Every time Kotte was forced to ask the Portuguese for help. Inevitably, the Portuguese influence in Kotte increased.
In 1551 King Bhuvankbahu was assassinated and the Portuguese installed a puppet ruler in Kotte. Meanwhile, Catholic missionaries were working in Kotte. In 1557 the puppet ruler converted to Catholicism. Many of his subjects also converted.
Finally, in 1597, the Portuguese annexed Kotte and Sitawaka. In 1619 they annexed Jaffna. Only Kandy remained independent. The Portuguese made several attempts to conquer Kandy, in 1594, 1603 and 1629, without success.
Dutch colonialism in Sri Lanka
In 1636 King Rajasinha of Kandy turned to the Dutch for help. In 1637 he received Dutch envoys. In 1638 the Portuguese invaded again but were crushed at the Battle of Gannoruwa. Afterward, the Dutch agreed to capture the Portuguese ports on the Sri Lankan coast in exchange for their expenses.
Between 1638 and 1640 the Dutch captured certain ports, but held on to them rather than give them to Kandy, claiming that their expenses had not been paid. The Dutch and the Portuguese made peace in 1640, but the war resumed in 1652.
Once again the Kandyan kingdom formed an alliance with the Dutch. This time the Dutch attacked Colombo and captured it in 1656. However, they refused to hand it over to Kandy. Instead, they pushed inland. In 1658 they captured Jaffna. That was the end of Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka.
The Dutch extended their rule and in 1665 captured Trincomalee on the east coast. Kandy remained independent and continued to exist uncomfortably alongside the Dutch colony until 1760, when war broke out between them.
The Dutch won the war and forced Kandy to accept a humiliating treaty. Kandy was forced to recognize Dutch suzerainty over the entire coastline of Sri Lanka, including the parts formerly belonging to Kandy, to a depth of 4 Sinhalese miles.
British colonialism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
However, in 1796 Dutch rule gave way to British rule. In that year the British annexed Colombo and Jaffna and Dutch rule became extinct. The British were eager to conquer Kandy. They got their chance in 1815. Kandy was ruled by Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe (1798-1815).
He was a cruel king and was deeply unpopular with his subjects. Some of his nobles conspired with the British to get rid of him. The British Army invaded Kandy and met little resistance. The king fled abroad.
However, in 1817-18 there was a rebellion in parts of Kandy against British rule, but it was crushed. At first the British trotted cautiously. Trial by jury was introduced in 1811 and the British built a network of roads.
Then, in 1833, they introduced far-reaching reforms. English became the official language and the administration was reformed. Slavery was abolished in 1844.
In the early 19th century, the British created large plantations for the cultivation of coffee. Import duties on coffee in Britain were reduced and coffee consumption became more common. Exports of coffee from Sri Lanka or Ceylon soared and large numbers of workers from India were brought to work on the plantations.
However, beginning in the 1870s, the coffee crop was devastated by the slow spread of a fungus called hemileia vastatrix. In the late 19th century, tea replaced coffee as Ceylon’s main crop. Rubber and coconuts were also important crops. Also in the late 19th century, both Hinduism and Buddhism were revived in Ceylon.
In the early 20th century, Sri Lankan nationalism grew. The Ceylon National Congress was formed in 1919. In 1910 Ceylons were allowed to elect a member of the legislative council and in 1924 the British made further concessions.
However, the Ceylonese were not satisfied. In 1931, Ceylon received a new constitution. From then on, the legislative power was elected by universal suffrage. However, the Ceylons demanded complete independence.
In 1946 another constitution was introduced, but in 1947 the British announced that India would be independent. The Sri Lankans now demanded their independence and in June 1947 the British agreed to make Sri Lanka a dominion. Sri Lanka became independent on February 4, 1948.
Sri Lanka today
The first prime minister was Dr. Stephen Senanayake. When he died in 1952, his son Dudley Senanayake followed him. Dudley resigned in 1953 and was succeeded by Sir John Kotelawala. All three were members of the United Nations Party. However, in 1956 his party fell from power.
The next government was led by SWRD Bandaranaike. He promoted Sinhalese culture and extended state control of the economy. However, he was assassinated in 1959. In 1960 he was replaced by his widow Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
She was Prime Minister until 1965. She continued with the nationalization policy. She also put most of the schools under state control. In 1965 she was succeeded by Dudley Senanayake, who was Prime Minister again until 1970.
Beginning in the 1950s, tension between Tamils and Sinhalese increased. In 1956 Sinhala became the sole official language (instead of Sinhala and Tamil). Ms. Bandaranaike also deported many Indian Tamil workers.
In 1971 a youth rebellion was led by an anti-Tamil organization called Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. The rebellion was quickly crushed.
In 1972, Sri Lanka received a new constitution. He claimed that Buddhism occupies a ‘prominent place’ among the religions of Sri Lanka. This was very unpopular with followers of other religions. Also, in 1972 the number of Tamil places in the university was reduced.
Also, in 1972 the name of the country was officially changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.
In 1976 the United Tamil Liberation Front was formed. They demanded a separate Tamil state. Then, in 1977, Sri Lanka was rocked by ethnic riots in which 128 people were killed. In 1978 another constitution was introduced. This made a president the head of state. However, the new Constitution did not satisfy the Tamils.
In 1983 civil war broke out between Tamils and Sinhalese. On July 23, 1983, Tamil separatists ambushed and killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers. The result was riots in which hundreds of people died. Later, the Tamils waged a guerrilla war against the government.
India was caught up in the crisis in 1987 when they agreed to send a peacekeeping force to the north and east of Sri Lanka. However, fighting soon broke out between the Indian forces and the ‘Tigers’ or Tamil guerrillas. The Indian peacekeeping force withdrew in 1990 and fighting between Tamils and Sinhalese began again.
Meanwhile, in the late 1980s, the Maoist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna led a violent campaign in the south. It was crushed in 1989-1990. In 1993 President Premadasa was assassinated. Beginning in the mid-1990s, efforts were made to end the fighting. In February 2002, a ceasefire was made and talks were held.
However, the ceasefire was broken and fighting resumed. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan government. Despite the bloodshed, some progress has been made in Sri Lanka. In 1986 Sri Lanka was self-sufficient in rice. Life expectancy increased from 50 years in 1948 to 69 years in 1983.
Starting in 1977, the Sri Lankan government adopted a market economy. Sri Lanka continues to produce tea, rubber, and coconuts, and a textile industry is growing. Tourism has become a major industry.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Sri Lankan economy is growing steadily. Sri Lanka is becoming more prosperous. Today, the population of Sri Lanka is 22 million.
Share the brief history of Sri Lanka summarized.