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Ceylon(Sri Lanka) History & Heritage

Sri Lankan Heritage

With a 2500 years old history enriched by the influence of Buddhism, Sri Lanka is one of the countries that own a grand heritage in the region. From multi-storied palaces, sky-high “Dagabos”, ocean-like man made reservoirs to life like Gigantic Buddha statues, Sri Lanka will make your jaws drop at every corner.

The mind-blowing ancient cities like Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa will unfold the greatness and the kind of urban life the ancient Sri Lankans had while offering you an unforgettable historical expedition.

Sri Lankan History

Veddhas, Sinhalese and Tamils

Sri Lanka has been continuously inhabited for more than 2 million years, with the original inhabitants descended from Stone Age hunter gatherers.- (Read more Balangoda Man & Ravan-Lanka-Ramayanaya to learn)  The first humans to known in Sri Lanka were the Veddhas, who walked across from India not later than around 16,000 BC, or perhaps as early as 125,000 BC.  Immigration arrived from northern India around the 5th century BCE, forming the basis of the modern Sinhalese population. Tamils from the south of India arrived approximately two centuries later, settling in Jaffna. In contrast to the largely Buddhist Sinhalese, most Tamils are Hindu or Christian and form a minority in the Sri Lankan population.

The arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Kingdoms

The legendary north Indian Prince Vijaya and his 700 followers landed near Puttallam and formed the first Sinhalese kingdom around Anuradhapura. In the 3rd century BCE, Buddhism arrived from India at Mihintale, where the conversion of Sinhalese King Tissa occurred. Early Buddhist emissaries brought a cutting from the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment; it survives in Anuradhapura and is an important pilgrimage site. Tensions with Tamil Kingdoms in India were never far away and a Pandyan invasion in 432 led to the establishment of the rock fortress at Sigiriya as the capital. Legends surrounding the fortress also tell a story of King Kassapa building the residence on top of the rock after murdering his own father. Following Kassapa’s short rule, the capital returned to Anuradhapura before moving to Polonnaruwa in 1070 where it remained for 150 years.

Gradually, the Sinhalese developed skills in irrigation and the building of reservoirs which allowed them to convert the arid northern plains to agricultural use. Moving slowly inland, they established the first significant Sinhalese capital at Anuradhapura, and later Capital change to polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola and Finally Kotte. Even today, the capital of the Island is Sri Jayawardhanapura Kotte. 

The colonial years

Kandy came into prominence after the Portuguese arrived in 1505 and was soon the only independent kingdom in Sri Lanka, falling to the British in 1815 after defying the Portuguese and the Dutch for 300 years. By 1518 the Portuguese had established good relations with the King and were allowed to build a fort at Colombo, with favorable trading concessions in return for the king’s protection. Meanwhile, the Dutch established a trading fort in Galle, destroying the earlier Portuguese outpost. It wasn’t long until the Dutch East India Company controlled most of Ceylon. But France’s control over the Netherlands and defeat in the Napoleonic wars saw British control of Sri Lanka confirmed at the Treaty of Amiens.

Independence for Sri Lanka

When Ceylon, as it was then called, embarked on Independence on 4 February 1948, it was in good shape. However, the seeds of the conflict that was eventually to engulf the island were also being sown. Tamil disillusionment, which grew throughout the 1970s in the face of state-sponsored discrimination and the heavy-handed behavior of Sinhalese policemen and soldiers stationed in Tamil areas, was growing.

Civil war

The late 1970s saw the emergence of a new generation of radical Tamils. One of these groups was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), popularly known as the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE began systematically attacking Sri Lankan government targets, as well as murdering all their Tamil political rivals, and Sri Lanka plunged into civil war.

The end to the war finally came in May 2009, when the final patch of LTTE-held territory was overrun by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), and the rebels’ reclusive leader, Prabakharan, killed, finally bringing to an end over 25 years of fighting during which an estimated 80,000–100,000 people died. 

Sri Lanka today

Despite the outbreak of euphoria and triumphalism following the end of the war, serious questions remained to be answered. However for all its proud democratic traditions, Sri Lanka increasingly feels like a quasi-dictatorship –although this is a price that many of its citizens appear prepared to pay in return for peace and stability. 

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