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Sri Lanka

Know Sri Lanka, the country. Know about the country name, area, national anthem, national flower, population, population density, life expectancy at birth, literacy rate, religion, annual per capita GNP, agricultural products and industries. Learn about various facts and figures of Sri Lanka.

Country Name
Official Name:                           Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Former Name:                           Ceylon
Area:                                              65,525 sq km
Capital:                                         Columbo
National Anthem:                   “Sri Lanka Matha” composed by late Mr. Ananda Samarakoon.
National Flower:                     The Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea stellata) is the National Flower.
Population:                                Approximate 19 million
Population density:               309 people per sq km
Life expectancy at birth:     74 female, 64 male
Literacy rate:                            91.8%
Religion:                                     Buddhism 70 per cent; Hinduism, 16 per cent; Christianity, 7 per cent; Islam 7 per cent
Annual per capita GNP:       US$870
Industries:                    Processing of rubber, tea, coconuts, and other agricultural commodities;                                                                   petroleum refining, textiles, tobacco, clothing, cement
Agricultural Products:         Rice, grains, pulses, sugarcane, oilseed, roots, hides, meat, .spices, tea, rubber, coconuts; milk

Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Buddhism in Sri Lanka harks back to 2nd century BC. The religion was introduced in Sri Lanka in 2nd century BC by Mahendra, the son of renowned Indian Emperor Ashoka.. He visited Sri Lanka during the reign of Sri Lanka’s King Devanampiyatissa. A sapling of the Bodhi Tree, under which Buddha achieved enlightenment, was also brought to the country. It was planted at Anuradhapura, today placed as the most sacred town in the island. It is held in high regard by the Buddhists.

Contribution of Sri Lankan Monks
During the 1st century AD, the Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka penned down the Tripitaka or the , the three baskets of the Teachings, known as the Pali scriptures. They also contributed significantly in spreading Buddhism to South-east Asia.

Arrival of the Europeans caused the decline of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. However the monks showed spectacular resilience. The monks and lay community brought about a major revival. Movement of Buddhist revival progressed with growing feeling of nationalism.

Branches of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Buddhism in Sri Lanka has two major sects – Theravada and Hinyana. However most Sri Lankans are the followers of Theravada school. Theravada itself can be segregated into three different sects.

Siyam Nikaya: official line of monastic line broke in the 18th century since the monks were unaware of the Pali tradition. For ordaining Sinhalese novice monks, the Kandyan ruler invited the Theravada monks from Thailand. The reformed sect later came to be known as Siyam Nikaya.

Amarapura Nikaya: Upper castes in Sri Lankan society dominated the monastic community. As a reaction people of rising low-country castes initiated this sect.

Ramanna Nikaya: There were disputes among the Lankan Buddhists regarding the doctrine and the practice of meditation.

Sri Lanka flag has two vertical stripes of equal size in saffron and green colors, to the left. To the right of the stripes is a gold lion passant in crimson background, with a sword in its right fore paw. Ringing the background is a yellow border, with four golden bo leaves in each corner. The flag of Sri Lanka is also known as Lion Flag. The lion symbol was used by the Lankan rulers from the time of King Vijaya. Sri Lanka flag keep the country united and integrates majority with the minority.
Flag of Sri Lanka was adopted in 1950. A committee appointed by the 1st Prime Minister of Sri Lanka D.S. Senanayake recommended it being adopted.

Lion:                          Sinhalese ethnicity
Green color:            Islamic minority
Orange color:          Hindu Tamils
Leaves:                     Buddhism
Sword:                      Authority and sovereignity of the Republic

Symbol    Represents
The lion:                                                       The Sinhalese ethnicity
The bo leaves:                      Buddhism and its influence on the nation. They also stand for the four virtues of                                                                               Kindness, Friendliness, Happiness and Equanimity.
The sword of the lion:                             The sovereignty of the nation
The tail of the lion:                                   The noble eightfold path of Buddhism
The curly hair on the lion’s head:       Religious observance, wisdom and meditation
The beard of the lion:                              Purity of words
The handle of the sword:                       The elements of water, fire, air and earth
The nose of the lion:                                 Intelligence
The two front paws of the lion:             Purity in handling wealth.
The vertical orange stripe:                     The Tamil ethnicity
The vertical green stripe:                        The Muslim faith and Moorish ethnicity
The yellow border round the flag:       The Buddhist clergy
The crimson background:                       Other minor religions

Sri Lanka has adopted the model of executive presidency where the President is both the head of state and government. Government has the executive powers, legislative power lies with both the government and parliament while independent judicial powers are vested in the judiciary. Sri Lanka pluriform multi-party system and elections are held at regular intervals of six years.

After gaining independence, Sri Lanka adopted Westminister-style parlimentary government. However President Jayewardene decided to rewrite the constitution. In 1978 Sri Lanka adopted the new constitution. Now, presidential system of governance modelled after France was adopted. President became the chief executive.

Political Institutions
The President is head of state, government and commander-in-chief of armed forces. Directly elected by public for six-year term, the President is answerable to the Parliament for the exercise of his duties. For removing the President the no-confidence motion has to be passed by the Parliament with acknowledgement of the Supreme Court.

The President appoints a prime minister and other ministers who are responsible to Parliament. The President’s deputy is prime minister, who leads the ruling party in Parliament. If a parliamentary no-confidence vote is passed the cabinet is dissolved and the president appoints new cabinet.

Legislature or Parliament exercises the Sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka. Parliament consists of 225 representatives from whom the President appoints as Prime Minister the person who in his opinion commands the confidence of legislature. It is a unicameral legislature. The members are directly elected for six years by the system of modified proportional representation.

Constitution of Sri Lanka ensures an independent judiciary. The highest court of the land is the Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice and between six and ten associate justice members. The President appoints the Supreme and High Court justices. Judges of the Supreme Court can be removed from office on grounds of incompetence or misdemeanor by a majority of Parliament. Justices of High Court can be removed only by a judicial service commission. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review. It is also the final court of appeal for all criminal and civil cases.

Administrative divisions
Government at province level is divided into two parallel structures: Civil Service and Provincial Councils., which dates to colonial times, and the provincial councils, which were established in 1987.

Sri Lanka Government Civil Service
Sri Lanka is divided into 25 administrative units called districts each of which has a district secretary, also known as Government Agent. Each district has 5-16 divisions, administered by DS, or divisional secretary. At grassroot or village level Grama Niladari (Village officers), Samurdhi Niladari (Development officers) and agriculture extension officers work under the supervision of Development officers.

Provincial Council
Provincial councils in Sri Lanka are directly elected by general public for five year terms. Leader of the party who gets majority seats in the Council takes up the office of the Chief Minister with a group of minister. A provincial governor is appointed by the Central Government as its representative.

Local Government
Municipal Councils and Urban Councils, elected at the local level, are responsible for municialities and cities respectively. At rural level Village Councils are elected. Currently 42 urban councils and 270 village councils are working in Sri Lanka.

Main Political Organisations
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)
United National Party (UNP)
Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC)
Tamil National Alliance (TNA)
Janata Vimukti Peramuna (JVP)

Sinhalese and Tamil are two major languages of Sri Lanka. Sinhalese is widely used by the Sinhalese majority while Tamil is used by the Tamils. Both the languages are from different sources. Sinhalese language is derived from Indo-Aryan speech which is itself divided into two periods of evolution: (an old Indo-Aryan speech (C.2000-800 B.C.) represented by Sanskrit language used in central part of India and a middle Indo-Aryan speech (C.800 B.C-400 A.D.) represented by Pali, the language of Buddhist scripture. Tamil language relates to Dravidian family mostly spoken in the South Indian states.

In the course of time both the languages have considerably influenced each other. Tamil was the main language spoken of Indian and Lankan coasts. Even the traders from other countries had adopted Tamil as their language of medium.

Both the language represent the national identity of two major ethnic groups. In the country, national language issue is very influential in both cultural and political spheres. Language question was a dominant political issue in the 1950s. The Sinhalese wanted the Sinhala as the sole official national language. Eventually, in 1956, the ruling coalition ascended to the demand. The law required the public servants to have proficiency in the Sinhala language within three years. Language issue snowballed to the religio-ethno-nationalism. The Tamils vehemently opposed this action of the government.

sland of Sri Lanka is located between six and ten degrees north of equator. Obviously the average temperature is quite high. Average temperature in Sri Lanka fluctuates between 27° and 29° Celsius. As everywhere, sea-winds exert a moderating influence. Temperatures in the central mountain region are lower than normal. Nuwara Eliya, a mountain resort town, frosts on some nights in December and January. As for humidity it is till 90% at night and 70% during the night.

There are four rainy periods in Sri Lanka. From May until September, Southwest monsoon rain. Inter-monsoon showers come in October and November, northeast monsoon rains from December till February. Again inter-monsoon rain in March and April. For a beach holiday on the southwest coast, you must go from November until April. If you plan to visit east coast, you must visit during March to September.

Best Time to Visit
Best time to visit Sri Lanka differs in various regions. However in most of the country the best time to tour is November to April. This time is also considered the tourist season in Sri Lanka. In the hill country and the south west coast the ideal time would be in these months. In these regions several places of tourist interest and some of the best beaches are located. For visiting east coast the best time is May to September. It can be said that Sri Lanka is a round-the-year destination. At least some part of the country is suitable to visit in every month of the year.

Sri Lanka is a country with plenty of tourist options. Whichever time of the year you visit, Sri Lanka would have something or the other to offer. If you visit the country in summer you have the hill stations where the climate in summers is pleasant. The coastal areas would be eager to entertain you any season. One can relax or sunbath, or if wants, indulge in water sports. Sri Lanka has places which are deeply rooted in history. People having interest in history can visit destinations like Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Mount Lavinia would reward you with its superb beaches and resorts.

Sri Lanka has warm climate, moderated by ocean winds and considerable moisture. Lowlands and coastal Sri Lanka have hot humid climate. On the hills the climate is salubrious. Both type of climates are separated by a few hours motoring. In Colombo, the commercial capital, located on the west coast, the temperature differs from 26.4 C to 27.8 C. Relative humidity is 70% during days while at nights it reaches 90%. Lowland country enjoys tropical climate. The climate is quite cool in hilly regions. At the altitude of nearly 2,000 metres the temperature goes down to 16ºC. May, June and July are the hottest months of the year.

Average Temperature
The average yearly temperature in Sri Lanka as a whole ranges from 28 to 30oC. The mean temperature varies from a chilly low of 16ºC in Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands, where even frosting might occur for several days in the winter, to a high of 32o C in Trincomalee on the northeast coast. The coastal areas are cooled by sea breezes.

As for monsoons Sri Lanka has no off season. North-east monsoon brings rain in the northern and eastern regions in December and January while the western, southern and central regions of the island get rain from May to July due to the south west monsoon.

Required Clothing
Lightweights and rainwear

Sri Lanka’s traditional economy has been agricultural with rice being the main food crop. Spices, tea, rubber and coconuts were especially encouraged by the British under the colonial system and are still an important part of the economy. Apart from these there were more exotic products like precious stones and even elephants and peacocks which were exported. However in recent years there has been a thrust on developing new areas. One of these has been textile and garment manufacturing which has overtaken tea as an export earner.

Another big export earner is tourism which has shown resilience inspite of the dragging military conflict in the north, probably because of the remarkable efforts of the industry and the natural wealth of the country.

Contributing also are Sri Lankan’s working abroad-mainly in the oil rich countries of the Persian Gulf-who reemit as much as U.S $1.5 billion annually.

The opening of the economy to private enterprise with encouragement to invest in key areas has led to total government disinvestment from certain areas, achievement of self sufficiency in rice production and setting up of large irrigation and hydro electric projects like the Mahaweli River scheme. Several development projects today receive IMF and World Bank assistance. The biggest stumbling block in economic progress has undoubtedly been the Tamil war which with the tripling of the armed forces has increased expenses on defence to approximately 20 % of total government expenditure. Per capita income in 1993 was US$ 465 per annum, unemployment over 13 % and inflation over 11%.

Location of Sri LankaLocation of Sri Lanka is between 6 – 10 of North Latitude and Between 80 – 82 of East Longitude. The country has maximum Length of 432 km (Devundara to Point Peduru) and maximum width of 224 km (Colombo – Sangamankanda). Central and bit of southern Sri Lanka is hilly. Coastal area is made of flat and rolling plains. Land Area is 65,525 Sq. km. Pidurutalagala, also known as Mt Pedro, is Sri Lanka’s highest point at 2,524 meters (8,281 ft). Another significant mountain is Sripada or Adam’s Peak, also more than 2,000 meters tall.

Monsoon Winds
Monsoon winds, colliding with Sri Lankan peaks, favor lush vegetation on the southern half of the island, while the northern half remains dry. In ancient and medieval times merchants and sailors of other nations used these winds to sail to the coasts of Sri Lanka. Thus these winds have played a role in the evolution of civilisation in the country. Lifestyle of Sri Lankans is directly dependable on the rainfall caused by the monsoons.

Wet Zone and Dry Zone
On the basis of rainfall the country can be divided into two zones: Wet Zone and Dry Zone. Wet Zone comprises of the mountains and the southwestern part of the country, receiving plenty of rainfall (annual average of 250 centimeters). Dry zone includes most of the southeast, east, and northern parts of the country, where annual rainfall is between 1200 and 1900 mm.

Until the 6th century BC, Sri Lanka, the largest island in the south of India, was inhabited by hunter-gatherers. However arrival of a tribal group of Indo-Europeans which moved south through India changed the situation. These groups were known as Sinhalese. The island came to called Sinhaladwipa, meaning ‘island of the Sinhalese’. In English it was known as Ceylon. When the island became a republic in 1972, its name was changed to Sri Lanka.

Advent of Buddhism
Arrival of Theravada Buddhism from 3rd century BC was a formative time in the history of Sri Lanka. Indian Emperor Ashoka achieved success in his missionary efforts. People of Sri Lanka have remained Buddhists till date. They are still the followers of Theravada, the simple form of Buddhism. Sculted demigods are absent in the sacred temple at Kandy. Tooth of Buddha is the only holy thing here.

Buddhist Kingdoms
Buddhist kingdoms flourished from 3rd BC to 13th AD. Ruling family of Anuradhapura embraced Buddhism in 3rd century BC. The town became the first Buddhist centre of Sri Lanka. Colossal dome-shamed stupas, also called dagobas, characterised the place. These stupas housed sacred relics.

Tamil rulers of South India were always a threat to the Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka. Tamils differ from the people of Sri Lanka in two ways. Tamils are Dravidian while Sinhalese are Indo-European. Tamils are Hindu while Sinhalese are the adherents of Buddhism.

For several centuries the rulers of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa resisted the attacks of Tamils. However in the 8th century Anuradhapur had to be abandoned. Polonnaruwa was also deserted in the 13th century. Till date massive stone Buddhas seated or reclining in the jungle, carved from solid outcrops of rock can be seen here.

Tamil Kingdoms in North
Tamil rulers finally established their hold in Northern Sri Lanka in the 12th century. Borders of Buddhist Sri Lanka moved southwards. In the 15th century, there were two prominent Buddhist kingdoms, one in Kandy and other in Kotte, near Colombo. Kandy was in the hilly centre of the island was Kotte was a place ringed by swampy lagoons.

In the 12th century Tamil rulers finally establish a permanent Hindu presence in the north of the island. Buddhist Sri Lanka shrinks further south again. By the 15th century there are two related Buddhist kingdoms: one is based in Kandy in the hilly centre of the island; the other occupies a new palace at Kotte, a place surrounded by swampy lagoons a little inland from Colombo, by now a thriving harbour used by Arab traders.

Sri Lanka HistoryArrival of the Portuguese
Portuguese ships anchored off Colombo in 1505. During this time three main kingdoms in Sri Lanka were Jaffna in the north, Kandy in the central highlands and Kotte, the most powerful, in the south-west. The Portuguese, under the command of Lorennco de Almeida developed friendly relations with Kotte and gained monopoly on the spice and cinnamon trade. This became the source of enormous profits for Portugal. Slowly the Portuguese established their hold on Kotte. However attempts of the Portuguese to run over Kandy remained unsuccessful because of hilly terrain.

The Dutch
Kandy sought the help of the Dutch to repulse the Portuguese. However, the result was the substitution of one European power for another. The Dutch took over the control of coastal areas and ruled for 140 years. They too tried to subjugate Kandy but were unsuccessful. The Dutch also made huge profits in Sri Lanka like the Portuguese.

The British
The Dutch were overthrown by the British. In 1815 they won over the kingdom of Kandy. In 1802, Sri Lanka was declared a Crown Colony and in 1818 a unified administration for the island was set up. The British encouraged coffee, cinnamon and coconut plantations. They built a network of roads and railways to handle this economic activity. English became official language of Sri Lanka.

Political movements began to push Sri Lanka towards freedom from Britain. World War II was the final blow to the British power in Sri Lanka. The island nation achieved independence in February 1948.


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