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Sri Lanka History


During the last one million years, when humans are known to have existed in various parts of India, Sri Lanka was connected to the sub-continent on numerous occasions. The rise and fall of sea level (due to cold/warm fluctuations in the global climate) determined the periodicities of these connections, the last separation having occurred at ca. 7000 BP. There is secure evidence of settlements in Sri Lanka by 130,000 years ago, probably by 300,000 BP and possibly by 500,000 BP or earlier.

Five centuries before Christ, Sri Lanka was a land throbbing with vitality and a well-ordered civilization. Cities, palaces, reservoirs, parks, temples, monasteries, monuments and works of art bore testament to the character, imagination, culture, philosophy and faith of the people of Sri Lanka, the Resplendent Land. Vestiges of this ancient civilization are abundantly extant today.

The first major legendary reference to the island is found in the great Indian epic, the Ramayana, thought to have been written around 500 B.C. The Ramayana tells of the conquest of Lanka in 3000 B.C. by Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Rama's quest to save his abducted wife, Sita, from Ravanna, the demon god of Lanka, is, according to some scholars, a poetic account of the early southward expansion of Brahmanic civilization. 

The most valuable source of knowledge for the legends and historical heritage of Sri Lanka is the Mahavamsa (Great Genealogy or Dynasty), a chronicle compiled in Pali, in the sixth century. Vijaya is the central legendary figure in the Mahavamsa. He was the grandson of an Indian princess Suppadevi from Vanga in northern India who had been abducted by an amorous lion, Simha, and son of their incestuous and half-leonine offspring, Sinhabahu & Sinhasivali. Along with 700 of his followers, perhaps from Kalinga (Orissa), Vijaya arrived in Lanka, and established himself as ruler with the help of Kuveni, a local demon-worshiping princess. Although Kuveni had given birth to two of Vijaya's children, she was banished by the ruler, who then arranged a marriage with a princess from Madurai in southeastern India. Kuveni's offspring are the folkloric ancestors of the present day Veddahs.

READ Great Dynasty of Sri Lanka (B.C. 543 - 1815)

Robert Knox: Ancient Ceylon's most famous British captive ( Robert Knox, Snr. and his son Robert Knox, Jnr. with their merry band of sailors boarded the ship 'Anne' in London on January 21, 1658. They were to sail on trade missions to East Indies under the British East India Company.) 

Life in the Kingdom of Kandy as seen by Robert Knox ( Knox lived in the Kandyan kingdom for nearly twenty years the life of a villager. He built himself a modest house and cultivated a garden, ate the food of the country, and for a living peddled knitted caps when he was lending paddy to his fellow villagers at fifty per cent interes

From the late 3rd century AD to the middle of the 12th century, Lanka was dominated by Tamil kings and invaders from southern India. From 1408 to 1438 Chinese forces occupied the island, which had been partitioned into a number of petty kingdoms. The arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century marked the beginning of European domination, which lasted more than 400 years. The Portuguese, in control of coastal Sri Lanka for 150 years, established a trading settlement at Colombo. In 1658 they we re driven out by the Dutch, and in 1796 the Dutch were supplanted by the British, who controlled the country for the next 152 years. 

- A list of European Rulers of Sri Lanka

- The Portuguese in Lanka (1505-1658)

- The Dutch in Lanka (1640-1796)
"Third of June. The general once again went ashore with various presents to pay his respect to the King. He took with him some musicians who were able to play various instruments. The King himself with a naked sword, welcomed the general, who gave him the presents. After having heard the music and other instruments played, which pleased the King very much, the General was taken into the house of the Modeliar, a high representative, where he and his men were treated well." Quote from the original captain's log of Joris van Spilbergen, the first Dutch envoy to Ceylon 1602.  
- The British in Lanka (1796-1948)

In 1592 an English privateer attacked the Portuguese off the southwestern port of Galle. This action was England's first recorded contact with Sri Lanka. A decade later, Ralph Fitch, traveling from India, became the first known English visitor to Sri Lanka. The English did not record their first in-depth impressions of the island until the mid-seventeenth century, when Robert Knox, a sailor, was captured when his ship docked for repairs near Trincomalee. The Kandyans kept him prisoner between 1660 and 1680. After his escape, Knox wrote a popular book entitled An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon in which he described his years among his "decadent" captors.

The Great Rebellions and The Lanka Rebels[Keppitipola ! ]

With the invasion of Ceylon, by three western powers, namely,Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, the lifestyle of Sri Lankans were changed drastically. Invaders imposed their religion, language, customs, dress, food and their culture on the peoples in the island. They adopted the divide and rule policy to gain supremacy in the country. From 1505 to 1815, these invaders used their authority to make this country a safe haven for their ideals to flourish. However, in certain ways, they failed to convince or convert the whole community of islanders to satisfy their wants.

"If there had been half a dozen such men as me to lead, there would not be a white man living in the Kandyan Provinces" - last words of Puran Appu (1848)

  • Kandy: The roots of the rebellion (Our history is replete with instances where the country was mercilessly plundered by invaders. Sinhalese rulers were not the most prudent and wise when employing tactics to be rid of foreigners. They made the repeated mistake of trying to play one group against the other which culminated in the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815- making every inch of this country the territory of the British Crown.)
  • Keppetipola and the Uva Wellassa Rebellion (1817) ( The 1817 rebellion described as the Uva rebellion by historians is the culmination of the peoples anger and dissatisfaction over the British rule. )
  • The execution of keppetipola Dissawe ( After the British conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom located in the central hill-country in Ceylon in 1815, discontent with the British gradually germinated in the minds of the Kandyan nobility.)
  • The 1818 rebellion and the execution of Keppetipola Dissawe (Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage Monarawila Keppetipola, the warrior Dissawe of Uva, known as Keppetipola Dissawe was in the hill capital when Wilson met his premature death.)New
  • The Madulla massacre by the British (9th of Dec. 1817)("having got information of the hiding place of the villagers, it was decided to surprise and seize them the same night. The rebels, as is supposed, to the number of fifty men were in the cavewhich being silently approached by our detachment, small divisions, under Lt. L. and sergeant Murray, of 73 regiment, while Capt.C. proceeded with the remainder of his brave soldiers, for the front. The alarm being given within, the inhabitants set up a hideous yell and rushed from the cavern. Twenty of them were killed by our troops and the remainder precipitated themselves down the deep declivity of the mountain, by which they must have severely suffered. In the darkness that prevailed, one woman and child were also killed" - governor Brownrigg
  • Ehelapola the great (Ehelapola Maha Adigar or Ehelapola the Great was the leader of the successful coup against the despot King Sri Wickrema Rajasingha (1798 -1815). He planned to overthrow the king because he ruled as a despot and he was a cruel tyrant. Ehelapola, was a pure bred Brahmin and a very devout Buddhist. )
  • Ehelepola Medduma Bandara ( The second son the child hero Medduma Bandara who has left an indelible name in the annals of our history, or perhaps the world history jumped forward and roared like a lion 'elder brother don't fear, I will show you how to die'. He called the executioner and said 'I am ready, cut my neck in one attempt' )
  • Madduma Bandara  The lesser known facts about the brutal assassination ( The King was determined to take revenge. The innocent wife and children of Ehelepola were brought before the King. The males were ordered to be beheaded while the female children were put to the rice pounder. The wife of Ehelepola and her cousin sister were drowned in Bogambara lake. )New
  • The last days of Ehelapola in Mauritius (Ehelapola Maha Nileme was arrested on the 2nd of March 1818, and was moved forthwith under escort to Colombo. Geo Lusignan, the Secretary to the Kandyan Provinces, minuted on behalf of Governor Brownrigg that "he is removed for a time because the government considers his presence here (in Kandy) detrimental to the public good, but it is not at all meant to charge him as traitor". )New
  • Veera Puran Appu (1812-1848) - Stood up against the might of British Empire New: "Puran Appu was a most resourceful and courageous man who took a leading part in the events and died a courageous death." - The Rebellion of 1848)
  • Gongale Goda Banda (1809-1849) : The leader of the 1848 rebellion New(Gongalegoda Banda was the leader and pretender of the 1848 Rebellion, which aimed at liberating the country from the British. He was born on 13th March 1809 as the second son of Wansapurna Dewage Sinchia Fernando.)
 - Sri Lanka in World Wars

    The British negotiated the island's dominion status with the leader of the State Council, D.S. Senanayake, during World War II. Senanayake was also minister of agriculture and vice chairman of the Board of Ministers. The negotiations ended with the Ceylon Independence Act of 1947, which formalized the transfer of power. Senanayake was the founder and leader of the United National Party (UNP), a partnership of many disparate groups formed during the Donoughmore period, including the Ceylon National Congress, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, and the Muslim League. The UNP easily won the 1947 elections, challenged only by a collection of small, primarily leftist parties. On February 4, 1948, when the new constitution went into effect (making Sri Lanka a dominion), the UNP embarked on a ten-year period of rule. Read a summary of SRI LANKA - POST COLONIAL HISTORY

    1948 Independence (Monarchy with British queen)
    1972 Amendment to the Constitution, Ceylon becomes the Republic of Sri Lanka.
    1977 Prime Minister J.R. Jayawardene (UNP), becomes executive President with effect from 1978 (amendment of the Constitution).
    1983 Civil war in the north and east;
    calls for an independent Tamil state (Tamil Eelam).
    29 July 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement on the Re-establishment of Peace and Normality in Sri Lanka: decentralization of the hitherto unitary state to give the Tamils scope to develop their identity
    1988 Elections to the provincial councils in the north and east under the supervision of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) which suffers serious losses following attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and withdraws from Sri Lanka without success in March 1990.
    President R. Premadasa (UNP) is murdered in 1993.
    1993 President D.B. Wijetunga (UNP)
    1994 President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (People's Alliance) with Srimavo Bandaranaike as Prime Minister; President Kumaratunga takes new initiative in the search for a political solution to the conflict in the north-east: easing of the economic boycott, reconstruction programme for the north and direct talks with the LTTE.
    8 January 1995 Period of cessation of hostilities ended unilaterally by the LTTE on 19 April 1995 with the sinking of two warships in Trincomalee harbour.
    21 December 1999 President Kumaratunga is re-elected with over 51% of the vote. She continues to pursue her goal of finding a political solution to preserve the territorial and executive integrity of the country using military means.
    10 October 2000 Government coalition (People's Alliance) wins parliamentary elections.
    20 June 2001 Government coalition (People's Alliance) loses the majority in Parliament following the collapse of the coalition and members changing parties.
    5 December 2001 UNP/UNF wins the parliamentary elections; Ranil Wickremesinghe becomes Prime Minister.

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