About Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean is located to the south of the Indian subcontinent. It lies between 5O 55' and 9O 55' north of the equator and between the eastern longitudes 79O 42' and 81O 52'. The total land area is 65,610 sq. km. and is astonishingly varied. A length of 445 km. and breadth of 225 km. encompasse beautiful tropical beaches, verdant vegetation, ancient monuments and a thousand delights to please all tastes. The relief features of the island consist of a mountainous mass somewhat south of the centre, with height exceeding 2,500 metres, surrounded by broad plains. Palm fringed beaches surround the island and the sea temperature rarely falls below 27OC.
Climate and Seasons
In the lowlands the climate is typically tropical with an average temperature of 27OC in Colombo. In the higher elevations it can be quite cool with temperatures going down to 16OC at an altitude of nearly 2,000 metres. Bright, sunny warm days are the rule and are common even during the height of the monsoon - climatically Sri Lanka has no off season. The south west monsoon brings rain mainly from May to July to the western, southern and central regions of the island, while the north-east monsoon rains occur in the northern and eastern regions in December and January.
Recent excavations show that even during the Neolithic Age, there were food gatherers and rice cultivators in Sri Lanka. Very little is known of this period; documented history began with the arrival of the Aryans from North India. The Aryans introduced the use of iron and an advanced form of agriculture and irrigation. They also introduced the art of government. Of the Aryan settlements, Anuradhapura grew in to a powerful kingdom under the rule of King Pandukabhaya. According to traditional history he is accepted as the founder of Anuradhapura.
During the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa, a descendant of Pandukabhaya, Buddhism was introduced in 247 B.C. by Arahat Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India. This is the most important event in Sri Lankan history as it set the country on the road to cultural greatness. As a new civilization flourished Sri Lanka became rich and prosperous.
In the mid 2nd century B.C. a large part of north Sri Lanka came under the rule of an invader from South India. From the beginning of the Christian era and up to the end of the 4th century A.D. Sri Lanka was governed by an unbroken dynasty called Lambakarna, which paid great attention to the development of irrigation. A great king of this dynasty, Mahasen started the construction of large ‘tanks’ or irrigation reservoirs. Another great ‘tank’ builder was Dhatusena, who was put to death by his son Kasyapa who made Sigiriya a royal city with his fortress capital on the summit of the rock.
As a result of invasions from South India the Kingdom of Anuradhapura fell by the end of the 10th century A.D. Vijayabahu (I) repulsed the attack and established his capital at Polonnaruwa in the 11th century A.D. Other great kings of Polonnaruwa were Parakramabahu the Great and Nissanka Malla both of whom adorned the city with numerous buildings of architectural beauty.
Invasion was intermittent and the capital was moved constantly until the Portuguese arrived in 1505, when the chief city was established at Kotte, in the Western lowlands. The Portuguese came to trade in spices but stayed to rule until 1656 in the coastal regions, as did the Dutch thereafter. The Dutch rule lasted from 1656 to 1796, in which year they were displaced by the British. During this period the highland Kingdom, with its capital in Kandy, retained its independence despite repeated assaults by foreign powers who ruled the rest of the country. In 1815 the whole island came under British power when the last Sinhalese King Keerthi Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was captured. Modern communications, Western medical services, education in English, as well as the plantation industry developed during the British rule. By a process of peaceful, constitutional evolution, Sri Lanka won back her independence in 1948 and is now a sovereign republic, with membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations Organization.
Government and Economy
Declared a republic in 1972, 24 years after independence, Sri Lanka has opted to stay within the British Commonwealth and maintains close links with Britain and with other Commonwealth member countries, especially those in Asia. The president, the prime minister and the single-house parliament are elected for a six-year term. With the power to dissolve parliament and appoint or dismiss cabinet ministers and the prime minister, the president is the real head of state, not merely a ceremonial leader.
Sri Lankan visual arts, architecture, literature, music and dance, all bear the stamp of the country’s centuries-old Buddhist culture. Poetry, as well as music and dance, were almost entirely ceremonial and devotional until well after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom to the British, but by the mid-19th century Sri Lanka was being opened up to outside cultural influences by the advent of the printing press. However, a strongly conservative Buddhist tradition has not provided fierce political repression which followed the leftist revolts of 1971 and 1987-88 and the ethnic troubles of the 1980s and 1990s have also made it hard for writers to write freely. That said Sri Lanka has its share of home-grown literary talent. Probably the best known of its authors is Michael Ondaatje, author of the acclaimed novel, the English Patient, which is also a popular screen picture.
Gemstones and Rivers
Geologically, Sri Lanka is composed of gneiss, schist, granite, quartzite and crystalline limestone-an agglomerative, quartzite rich gemstone deposits, washed by streams and rivers from the central highlands in to lowland valleys. For more than 2000 years Sri Lanka has been a noted producer of rubies, sapphires, and semiprecious stones such as amethyst, alexandrite and topaz. From a coastal plain, the island rises to an area of South-Central highlands, which reach their highest point at Pidurutalagala (2524m/ 8281ft. Two major rivers flow out of the highlands - the Mahaweli, which flows North-East to reach the Indian Ocean near Trincomalee, and the Walawe, which joins the ocean near Hambantota on the South coast. A third, the Aruvi, flows out of the Northern fringes of the highlands and the dry zone which surrounds them, emptying into Palk Bay on the Northwest coast.
Harbors and Beache
Sri Lanka’s natural harbours have made the island a magnet for mariners throughout its history, from the legendary Sindbad the Sailor to the Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama and the others who followed in search of the untold wealth of the fabled Orient. Modern visitors are as likely to be drawn by some 1600km of sandy beaches, warm Indian Ocean waters and coral reefs.