Facts and Figures
In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travellers by a variety of names. Known in India as Lanka or Sinhala, ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane. An island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast tip of India, Sri Lanka is about half the size of Alabama. Most of the land is flat and rolling; mountains in the south-central region rise to over 8,000 ft (2,438 m). Indo-Aryan emigration from India in the 5th century B.C. came to form the largest ethnic group on Sri Lanka today, the Sinhalese.
Mainly named as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka as a small island has many names which people call; Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient are some of those beautiful names. This colorful collection reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of affection which it has evoked in visitors. Head for the rolling hill country to escape the heat of the plains in the cool of tea plantations. The entire island is abundantly filled with bird life, and intriguingly unusual animals like Elephants and leopards are not uncommon. The most important thing is, the people are friendly, very hospitable, the food is delicious and costs are low.
Climate and Seasons
The Climate of Sri Lanka is dominated by the above mentioned topographical features of the country and the Southwest and Northeast monsoons regional scale wind regimes. The Climate experienced during 12 months period in Sri Lanka can be characterized in to 4 climate seasons as follows.
1. First Intermonsoon Season - March - April
2. Southwest monsoon season - May - September
3. Second Intermonsoon season - October - November
4. Northeast Monsoon season - December - February
The pre-history of Sri Lanka goes back 125,000 years and possibly even as far back as 500,000 years. The era spans the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron Ages. Among the Paleolithic human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka, Pahiyangala (named after the Chinese traveller monk Faxian), which dates back to 37,000 BP, Batadombalena (28,500 BP) and Belilena (12,000 BP) are the most important. In these caves, archaeologists have found the remains of anatomically modern humans which they have named Balangoda Man, and other evidence suggesting that they may have engaged in agriculture and kept domestic dogs for driving game. Frescoes on the Sigiriya rock fortress in Matale District, 5th century.
One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka that was created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma for Kubera, the Lord of Wealth. It is said that Kubera was overthrown by his demon stepbrother Ravana, the powerful emperor who built a mythical flying machine named Dandu Monara. The modern city of Wariyapola is described as Ravana's airport.
The Kingdom of Sri Lanka moved to Anuradhapura in 380 BC, during the reign of Pandukabhaya. Thereafter, Anuradhapura served as the capital of the country for nearly 1,400 years. Ancient Sri Lankans excelled at building certain types of structures (constructions) such as tanks, dagobas and palaces.The society underwent a major transformation during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC, Bhikkhu Mahinda, the son of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka arrived in Mihintale, carrying the message of Buddhism. His mission won over the monarch, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population. Succeeding kingdoms of Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries and support the propagation of Buddhism into other countries in Southeast Asia. Sri Lankan Bhikkhus studied in India's famous ancient Buddhist University of Nalanda which was destroyed by Mohammed Kilji. It is probable that many of the scriptures from Nalanda are preserved in Sri Lanka's many monasteries. In 245 BC, bhikkhuni Sangamitta arrived with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which is considered to be a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened. It is considered the oldest human-planted tree (with a continuous historical record) in the world.
Government and Economy
Declared a republic in 1972, 14 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.
The Rupee (signs:Rs, SLRs, /-; code: LKR) is the currency of Sri Lanka, divided into 100 cents. It is issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and is generally written Rs. . Several other currencies are also called rupee.
The Government of Ceylon introduced its first paper money in the form of the 5 rupee banknote in 1895. These were followed by 10 rupee notes in 1894, 1000 rupee notes in 1899, 50 rupee notes in 1914, 1 and 2 rupee notes in 1917 and 100 and 500 rupee notes in 1926. In 1942, emergency issues for 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents were introduced and issued until 1949.
Language has been a contentious issue in Sri Lanka. In the 1970s, Sinhalese demagogues promoted efforts to make Sinhala - the language of the Sinhalese majority - the sole language of education, administration and government. This was perceived by the Tamil minority as a deliberate move to keep Tamils out of government and exclude them from further education, and was a major cause of the discontent that eventually erupted into inter-communal violence. Subsequently, a compromise was reached in an attempt to satisfy both the disgruntled Tamil community and hard-line Sinhalese nationalists. Tamil and Sinhala are ranked equally as “national“ languages. Tamil which is also the largest language group in Southern India and the main language of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state closest to Sri Lanka - is the mother tongue of about 20 percent of the population in total, including both northern and hill-country ‘Indian‘ Tamil communities, while Sinhala is the first language of the Sinhalese majority.
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.
Music and Dancing
Music and Dancing in Sri Lanka are still closely tied up with religious ritual. Kandy or ‘high country‘ dance has evolved from village dances performed by the complex rhythms of several drummers who use a percussion instrument called the ‘gatabere‘ a wooden drum with leather heads of monkey skin at one end and cow-hide at the other, which make contrasting tones.
Dancers, usually women, go through a routine of sinuous pose and flowing arm movements. ‘Low Country‘ or ‘devil-mask‘ dancing is also accompanied by drummers, who use a special ‘demon drum‘ to enhance the steps and movements of dancers wearing the grotesque masks which represent the 18 demons of disease. These dances were and sometimes still are performed with the intention of persuading the demon to leave the afflicted person.
Sport and Recreation
Sri Lankans have triumphed internationally at athletics, among them, 2000 Olympic Games Bronze medallist sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe and others, including Sriyani Kulawansa and Sugath Tillekaratne. But it is Cricket that is the first and true love of all Sri Lankan sport fans. When Sri Lanka, led by Arjuna Ranatunga, trounced the giants of world cricket to win the 1996 Wills Trophy in one-day internationals, there was dancing in the streets. When Sri Lanka‘s team is playing in major international events the whole island is watching or listening. Players are major stars, and probably the most popular public figures in the country. Any patch of relatively flat wasteland or village square is likely to have its complement of small boys playing an improvised game and no matter how crude or aged the equipment, the players will be as deadly serious as any World Cup final team. If you are a cricket fan, you may want to watch a game at the Kettarama Stadium in North Colombo or at Asgiriya, in Kandy, where cricket is played from January to April.
Sri Lanka also abounds in water sports, with some excellent scuba diving excursions offered by qualified dive shops.
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 Beaches
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.
Herbs and Ayurveda
Ayurveda means "the science of life". Ayurveda represents a system of healing that has been perfected over more than five thousands years. It is South Asia's ancient health care system based on herbs and diet. Ayurveda sees health and disease in holistic terms. It links the microcosm of the individual with the cosmos. It takes into account the relationship between energy and matter. This system of healing believes in treatment of not just the part affected by disease but the individual as a whole. It emphasizes on the harmony of mind, spirit and body to cure diseases. Moreover, the stress is on prevention rather than cure.