What may strike you most about Sri Lanka is its amazing diversity of scenery. It is possible to pass brilliant green paddy fields, sun-bronzed beaches, ruined cities, small lively villages, near desert regions, sanctuaries for wildlife in tropical jungles, and hill country tea plantations literally within hours of each others. Ancient Sanskrit literature refer to Sri Lanka as ‘Sinhaladvipa’ - Island of the Sinhalese. The people called by that name have inhabited this Island from earliest historical times. Traditions recorded in the historical chronicles of Sri Lanka trace the origin of the Sinhalese to an exiled North Indian prince, “Vijaya”, and his retinue, who settled down in the island and established the Sinhalese kingdom in the 6th c. B.C. However, the earliest recorded civilization dates back to 380 BC, when Anuradhapura (205 km from Colombo) was established as the first Capital City. Following the advent of Buddhism in 3rd Century BC, a civilization rich in Indo-Aryan culture took root. It produced the great cities with their “dagabas” which compare, and even exceed in size, the pyramids of Egypt, palaces and pleasure gardens, rich art and architecture and the gigantic irrigation works, many of which are still in use today.
With invasions from neighboring South India, the base of shifted to Polonnaruwa(101 km South East of Anuradhapura) and other cities such as Dambadeniya, Kurunagala, Kotte and Kandy. In the 16th Century the island had its first recorded encounter with the traders and colonizers of the West, with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. What followed was a period of nearly five hundred years during which the island came under the control and influence of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. While the Portuguese and Dutch ruled over the maritime regions for a rough 150 years each, the British established complete control over the island with the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815. They too ruled for 150 years before the country regained independence in 1948. The impact of many cultures over the centuries, from South Indian to the Moorish and that of the western colonizers, have resulted in the country’s culture being enriched by a rich diversity, much of which is in evidence today. The island’s economy, has traditionally been based on agriculture, with rice as the main food crop. Spices such as Cinnamon, Cardomom, cloves, nutmeg and pepper have been age old exports, as were gems and even peacocks and elephants. With western commercial influence, rice gave way to cash crops, until the British made tea the base of economy.
The new trust in the economy is on export-led industry. Agriculture is now being revived. Non-traditional exports such as garment, seafood, foliage, cut flowers and tropical fish and value added agro-industries have in recent years contributed to the economic advance of Sri Lanka. The people of Sri Lanka are of divers races and faiths. The majority are Sinhalese who are Buddhists, while among the minorities the Tamils, mainly Hindus are the largest, followed by the Moors who follow Islam, and a sharply declining number of Burghers, descended from the Portuguese and Dutch, who are Christians. There is also a considerable population of Christians among the Sinhalese and Tamils Although well on the road to modernization, the country and its people still cherish most of their traditional values and take pride in their rich culture. An aspect which continues to attract visitors from abroad, as much as the warmth and hospitality of the people.
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