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History of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a place where history seems to fade into the mist of legend. Is not Adam’s Peak said to be the very place where Adam set foot on earth, having been sent out of heaven? Isn’t that his footprint squarely on top of the mountain to prove it? Or is it the Buddha’s footprint on Sri Pada? And isn’t Adam’s Bridge (the chain of islands linking Sri Lanka to India) the very series of stepping stones Rama, aided by his faithful ally, the monkey god Hanuman, stepped across in his mission to rescue Sita from the clutches of the Rawana,King of Lanka, in the epic Ramayana?
The first entries in the Mahavamsa – or “Great History” – date back to 543BC, which coincides with the arrival of Prince Vijaya in Sri Lanka. Some 300 years later, commenced the early Anuradhapura Period, with King Devanampiya Tissa as the first ruler. It was in this period that a sapling of the sacred Bo Tree, under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka. The late Anuradhapura Period, which began in the year 459, saw the reign of King Kasyapa, and the construction of Sigiriya. The Polonnaruwa period, witnessed the transfer of the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in 1073. Famed explorer, Marco Polo, arrived in Sri Lanka in the period between 1254 and 1324, and, in 1505, the Portuguese landed, and occupied the island’s coastal regions.
The Portuguese Period

At this time Sri Lanka had three main kingdoms – the Kingdom of Jaffna in the north, the Kingdom of Kandy in the central highlands and Kotte, the most powerful, in the south-west. In 1505 the Portuguese, under Lorennso de Almeida established friendly relations with the king of Kotte and gained, for Portugal, a monopoly in the spice and cinnamon trade, which soon became of enormous importance in Europe. Attempts by Kotte to utilize the strength and protection of the Portuguese only resulted in Portugal taking over and ruling not only their regions, but the rest of the island, apart form the central highlands around Kandy. Because the highlands were remote and inaccessible, the kings of Kandy were always able to defeat the attempts by the Portuguese to annex them, and on a number of occasions drove the Portuguese right back down to the coast. Wikipedia...
The Dutch Period

Attempts by Kandy to enlist Dutch help in expelling the Portuguese only resulted in the substitution of one European power for another. By 1658, 153 years after the first Portuguese contact, the Dutch took control over the costal areas of the Island. During their 140-year-rule the Dutch, like Portuguese, were involved in repeated unsuccessful attempts to bring Kandy under their control. The Dutch were much more interested in trade and profits than the Portuguese, who spent a lot of efforts spreading their religion and extending their physical control. Wikipedia...
The British Period

The French revolution resulted in a major shake-up among the European powers and in 1796 the Dutch were easily supplanted by the British, who in 1815 also won the control of the kingdom of Kandy, becoming the first European power to rule the whole island. But in 1802, Sri Lanka became a Crown Colony and in 1818 a unified administration for the island was set up. Soon the country was dotted with coffee, cinnamon and coconut plantations and a network of roads and railways were built to handle this new economic activity. English became the official language, and is still widely spoken.
Coffee was the main crop and the backbone of the colonial economy, but the occurence of a leaf blight virtually wiped it out in the 1870s and the plantations quickly switched over to tea or rubber. Today Sri Lanka is the world’s second largest tea exporter. The British were unable to persuade the Sinhalese to work cheaply and willingly on the plantations, so they imported large number of South Indian labourers from South India. Sinhalese peasants in the hill country lost land to the estates. Wikipedia...
Between WW I and WW II, political stirrings started to push Sri Lanka towards eventual independence from Britain – but in a considerably more peaceful and low-key manner than in India. At the end of WW II it was evident that independence would come very soon, in the wake of independence for Sri Lanka’s neighbour. In February 1948 Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was still known, became an independent member of the British Commonwealth.