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Pearl of the Indian Ocean | An Overview of Sri Lanka

2707 words (11 pages) Essay in History

13/06/17 History Reference this

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Sri Lanka officially known as “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”. It is an island country in the northern Indian ocean of the southern cost of Indian subcontinent in south Asia. It is known until 1972 as Ceylon. Sri Lanka documented history spans three thousand years. It geographic location and deep harbors made it of great strategic importance from the time of ancient silk road through to World War II. Sri Lanka is diverse country home to many religions, ethnicities and languages. The Sinhalese people are the majority although there are many ethnic minorities including Tamils, Muslim moors, Burghers, Kaffirs, Malays and the aboriginal vadda people. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage and the first knows Buddhist writings were composed on the island. The country’s recent history has been marred by a thirty-year civil war which decisively but controversially ended in a military victory in 2009.

Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a presidential system. The capital Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte named by a president after himself, is a suburb of the largest city Colombo. An important producer of tea, coffee, gemstones, coconuts, rubber and the native cinnamon. Sri Lanka has been called “The tear drop of Indian ocean” because of its shape and location is known as “The pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its natural beauty. It is also known as “The nations of smiling people”. The island contains tropical forests, and diverse landscape with high biodiversity. The country has had a long history of international engagement, being a founding member of SAARC and a member of United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, G7 and Non- Aligned Movement.


In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travelers by a variety of names, such as, Lanka, Sinhala, Taprobane, Serandib, Ceilao, Ceylon. As a British crown colony the island was known as Ceylon and achieved independence as the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948.


The pre-history of Sri Lanka dates back over 125 thousand years before present and possibly even as early as 500,000 BP. The era spans the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron ages. Among the Paleolithic human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka, Pahiyangala, Batadombalena and Belilena 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 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.

Ancient History

According to Mahavasama a chronicle written in Pali language, the ancient period of Sri Lanka begins in 543 BC with the landing of Vijaya, a semi-legendary king who sailed 860 nautical miles on eight ships to Sri Lanka with 700 followers from the southwest coast of what is now the Rarh region of west Bengal. In Sri Lanka there are kingdoms such as, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Sithawaka, Gampola, Kotte, Kandy and there are some famous kings in that time they are Pandukabaya, Parakramabahu, Dathusena, walagamba, Dutugamunu, Kawanthissa, Mahasen, Vijaya, Dewanampiyathissa, Sri Vikramarajasingha. According to this there are so many religious places in ancient history like Ruwanwali mahasaya, Thuparamaya, Jaya sri maha bodiya, Abayagiriya, Kiriwehera, Sigriya, katharagama, Temple of Tooth Relic, Mihinthale, Seruwavila, Yapahuwa etc.

Sri Lankan dynastic history spanned a period of 2359 years, from 543 BC toad 1815 until the land became part of the British Empire.


The Soulbury constitution ushered in Dominion status, with independence proclaimed on 4 February 1948. Sir D. S. Senanayake became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon. Prominent Tamil leaders like Ponnambalam and Arunachalam Mahadeva joined his cabinet. The British Royal Navy remained stationed at Trincomalee until 1956. A countrywide popular demonstration against withdrawal of the rice ration, known as Hartal 1953, resulted in the resignation of prime minister Dudley Senanayake. S. W. R. D. Bandaranayke was elected prime minister in 1956. His three-year rule had a profound impact, through his self-proclaimed role of “defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture”. He introduced the controversial Sinhala Only Act, recognizing Sinhala as the only official language of the government. Although partially reversed in 1958, the bill posed a grave concern for the Tamil community, which perceived in it a threat to their language and culture. The Federal Party (FP) launched a movement of non-violent resistance (satyagraha) against the bill, which prompted Bandaranayake to reach an agreement (Bandaranayake-Chelvanayakam Pact) with S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, leader of the FP, to resolve the looming ethnic conflict. However the pact proved ineffective in the face of ongoing protests by opposition and the Buddhist clergy. The bill, together with various government colonization schemes, contributed much towards the political rancour between Sinhalese and Tamil political leaders. Bandaranayake was assassinated by an extremist Buddhist monk in 1959.

Madam Sirimavo Bandaranayake, the widow of late S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake, took office as prime minister in 1960, and She was the first lady prime minister in the world. During her second term as prime minister, the government instituted socialist economic policies, strengthening ties with the Soviet Union and China, while promoting a policy of non-alignment. In 1971, Ceylon experienced a Marxist insurrection, which was quickly suppressed. In 1972, the country became a republic named Sri Lanka, repudiating its dominion status. From 1983, ethnic tensions were manifested in on-and-off insurgency against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Because of this (LTTE) tigers so many bombs were blasted and result of that lots of Political Leaders, Celebrities, and Civilians were dead.

In 2009, under the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa the Sri Lanka Armed Forces defeated the LTTE, and re-established control of the entire country by the Sri Lankan Government. Finally Sri Lanka has emerged from its 26-year war to become one of the fastest growing economies of the world.


The island consists mostly of flat-to-rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central port. The highest point piduruthalagala, reaching 2,524 meters (8,281 ft) above sea level. The climate is tropical and warm, due to the moderating effect of ocean winds. Mean temperature ranges from 17 °C (62.6 °F) in the central highlands, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of 33 °C (91.4 °F) in other low-altitude areas. In Sri Lanka rainfall pattern is influenced by monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. The longest of the 103 rivers in the country is Mahaweli River, covering 335 kilometers (208 mi). These waterways give rise to 51 natural waterfalls of 10 meters or more. The highest is Bambarakanda Falls, with a height of 263 meters (863 ft). Sri Lanka inherits 45 estuaries and 40 lagoons too. The island is rich with minerals such as Ilmenite, Feldspar, Graphite, Silica, Kaolin, Mica and Thorium.

Flora and Fauna

Lying within the Indomalaya ecozone, Sri Lanka is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Although the country is relatively small in size, it has the highest biodiversity density 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, 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 lories, a variety of deer, the purple-faced langur, the endangered wild boar, porcupines and anteaters. Among the trees of the dry-land forests are valuable species such as satinwood, ebony, ironwood, mahogany and teak. These are the famous National Parks in Sri Lanka – Yala, Wilpaththu, Sinharaja, Udawalawa and Kumana Bird Sanctuary.


Sri Lanka is the oldest democracy in South Asia. The Donoughmore Constitution, drafted by the Donoughmore Commission in 1931 enabled general elections with adult universal suffrage (universal adult franchise) in the country. It was the first time a non-Caucasian country within the empires of Western Europe was given one man, one vote and the power to control domestic affairs. The first election under the universal adult franchise, held in June 1931, was for the Ceylon State Council. Sir D. B. Jayatilaka was elected as the Leader of the House. In 1944, the Soulbury Commission was appointed to draft a new constitution. During this time, struggle for Independence was fought on “constitutionalist” lines under the leadership of D. S. Senanayake. The draft constitution was enacted in the same year and Senanayake was appointed as the Prime Minister from the parliamentary election in 1947. The Soulbury constitution ushered in Dominion status and Independence to Sri Lanka in 1948.

Current politics in Sri Lanka is a contest between two rival coalitions led by the centre-leftist and progressivity United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), an offspring of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and the comparatively right-wing and pro-capitalist United National Party (UNP). Sri Lanka is essentially a multi-party democracy with many smaller Buddhist, socialist and Tamil nationalist political parties. Rest of other parties are Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.


National Symbols of Sri Lanka

Flag –

Lion Flag


Gold Lion Passant


Sri Lanka Matha


Troides darsius


Sri Lanka Jungle fowl


Red and Blue Water Lily


Ceylon Ironwood (Na)



Sri Lanka is a democratic republic and a unitary state which is governed by a semi-presidential system, with a mixture of a presidential system and a parliamentary system. It constitutes a parliamentary system governed under the constitution. Most provisions of the constitution can be amended by a two-thirds majority in parliament. However, the amendment of certain basic features such as the clauses on language, religion, and reference to Sri Lanka as a unitary state require both two-thirds majority and approval at a nation-wide referendum.


According to the International Monetary Fund, Sri Lanka has a yearly gross domestic output of US$59 billion as of 2010. It has a GDP of US$116 billion in terms of purchasing power parity. Sri Lanka is next only to Maldives in the South Asian region in terms of per capita income, with a nominal value of US$2,877 and PPP value of US$5,673. It recorded a GDP growth of 8.3% in 2011.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Sri Lanka became a plantation economy, famous for its production and export of cinnamon, rubber and Ceylon tea, which remains a trademark national export. The development of modern ports under British rule raised the strategic importance of the island as a centre of trade. From 1948 to 1977 socialism strongly influenced the government’s economic policies. Colonial plantations were dismantled, industries were nationalized and a welfare state established. In 1977 the free market economy was introduced to the country, incorporating privatization, deregulation and the promotion of private enterprise.

While the production and export of tea, rubber, coffee, sugar and other commodities remain important, industrialization has increased the importance of food processing, textiles, telecommunications and finance. Main economic sectors of the country are tourism, tea export, clothing, rice production and other agricultural products. In addition to these economic sectors, overseas employment contributes highly in foreign exchange, most of them from the Middle East.

The Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum has listed Sri Lanka as a transitive economy, from factor-driven stage to efficiency-driven stage, ranking 52nd in the global competitiveness. It also ranked 45th in health and primary education, 32nd in business sophistication, 42nd in innovation and 41st in goods market efficiency out of the 142 countries surveyed.


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 (Father of Free Education) and A. Ratnayake. It is one of the few countries in the world that provide universal free education from primary to tertiary stage.

Brief Information about Performing Arts in Sri Lanka

Cinema of Sri Lanka- “Kadawunu Poronduwa” (The Broken Promise) heralded the coming of Sri Lankan cinema in 1947. Ranmuthu Duwa (Island of treasures, 1962) marked the transition cinema from black-and-white to colour.

The Music in Sri Lanka-it came from theatrical performances such as “Sokari, Kolam and Nadagam”. Traditional Music instruments such as “Bera, Thammattama, Daula, Rabana, Thalampata and etc.

The Dancing in Sri Lanka- There are three main styles of Sri Lankan classical dance such as “Kandyan Dancing (Hill country), Pahatharata (Low country), and “Sabaragamu”.

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 Mahavasama 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.

Culture, Food and Festivals


The culture of Sri Lanka dates back over 2500 years. It is influenced primarily by Buddhism and Hinduism. Ancient Sri Lanka is marked for its genius in hydraulic engineering and architecture. The rich cultural traditions shared by all Sri Lankan cultures is the basis of the country’s long life expectancy, advanced health standards and high literacy rate.


Sri Lankan’s staple food is Rice but in every special movement, Sri Lankans make “Kiri Bath” (Milk Rice) and Lunumiris. There are so many delicious dishes in this country such as rice and curry, pittu, whole meat Roti, hoppers,String hoppers, wattalapam (special pudding), koththu and Jackfruit. Traditionally food is served on a plantain leaf.

Moors special dish is “Biriyani”, Catholics’-“Christmas Cake”, Hindus- Specially “Veg meal”.


In April, Sri Lankans celebrate the Buddhist 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, Catholics’ celebrate Christmas, Good Friday and Muslims celebrate Hajj, Ramadan in their respective days of the year.


Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (formerly Radio Ceylon) is the oldest-running radio station in Asia, established in 1923 by Edward Harper just three years after broadcasting began in Europe. The station broadcasts services in Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi. Since the 1980s, a large number of private radio stations have also been 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 in operation.


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 athletics, Football (soccer) and Tennis. Sri Lanka national cricket world cup won 1996. Former Sri Lankan off spinner “Muththaiah Muralitharan” been rated as greatest Test Match Cricketers Almanac. Sri Lanka also wins so many medals in “Olympic Games”.

Aquatic sports such as Boating, Surfing, Swimming, kite surfing and Scuba-diving on the coastal, the beaches and backwaters attract a large number of Sir Lanka and foreign tourists. There are two styles of martial arts native to Sri Lanka, Cheena di and Angampora.

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