The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, or Sri Lanka ("the sublime land") is an island nation in the Indian Ocean south of India. Between 1948 and 1972, Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon.
The majority of the country's 21.5 million inhabitants belong to either the Buddhist Sinhalese or the Hindu Tamils. The tension that developed between them escalated into a protracted civil war in the country for the years 1983–2009.
Ceylon's history stretches back over 10,000 years. The island's indigenous people, the Veddas, probably arrived from South India. Today there are about a few hundred Veddas. The Sinhalese began to arrive on the island from North-West and North-East India in the 5th century BC. According to tradition, Mahinda, the son of the Indian emperor Ashoka, brought Buddhism to the island and converted all the inhabitants of the island to Buddhism. The historical connection between India and Sri Lanka is primarily due to the location of the countries. The Romans and later the Persians, the Chinese and the Arabs knew of the island's existence.
When Europeans arrived on the island, Sri Lanka's location was geographically important for trade with the East. The first Europeans to arrive on the island were the Portuguese who arrived there in 1505. Lourenço de Almeida established relations with the kings and opened trade between Portugal and the island. Portuguese rule lasted until 1658. They began to settle the coast and established a base in Colombo. They cultivated tea, cinnamon, natural rubber, sugar, coffee and indigo. At the same time, they converted the islanders to Christianity and the Portuguese language began to spread, especially among the upper class. Before the arrival of the Portuguese, the island was ruled by many kings. Only the Kingdom of Kandy retained its independence. King Vimala Dharma understood that without his own navy he could do nothing to the Portuguese. He and his son Rajasinha turned to the Dutch who held positions in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. An agreement was signed between the Netherlands and Rajasinha in 1638, according to which the Netherlands could buy Ceylon cinnamon. The following year, the Dutch captured the port of Trincomalee. After the Dutch captured the coast, they invaded the interior. The island was divided into two parts: Colombo and Galle and Jaffna. Each region was governed by a governor of the Dutch East India Trading Company. The sheltered port of Trincomalee also attracted the British, who were about to lose the port of Madras to the French. The Netherlands sided with France in the American War of Independence and supported its ally by denying the British access to the port of Trincomalee. The British took it over by force in 1796 and continued to expel the Dutch from the entire island. The British took over the island officially in 1802 with the Treaty of Amiens. The British made an agreement with the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815, when the region was guaranteed self-government, but it was annexed to British territories in 1818. The British did not interfere with the culture of the Sinhalese and removed slavery from the island. When the British began to cultivate the area, cultivation was based on large plantations. The peak period of coffee production was in 1870, but it was later superseded by Ceylon tea. Sugar, natural rubber and indigo were also cultivated. The British needed labor so they started importing Hindu Tamils from South India.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of nationality became stronger and nationalism penetrated politics. Constitutional reforms were called for. The first serious riots began in 1915, when there were disputes between Muslims and Sinhalese on the west coast. The British were alarmed and interpreted the unrest as anti-British, so they arrested the Sinhalese leaders. Political reforms were called for and in 1919 the Ceylon National Congress was formed, which included both Sinhalese and Tamils. In 1931, the constitution was guaranteed, proclaimed