Sri Lanka. Brief Historical Background

The history of Sri Lanka is described in some detail in historical chronicles. Therefore, for historians and researchers of the island to restore the chronicle of ancient events is practically no difficulty.
Thus, the chronicles report that around the 10th century BC, four tribes with Aryan roots lived in Sri Lanka. One of the tribes is Raksha. The people of this tribe worshiped the gods of the Rakshas. In the Indian epic «Ramayana», the demon Ravana, the former King of Lanka, belonged to the Raksha tribe. He possessed an aircraft called «Dandu Monara», in which Ravana flew to India and kidnapped Princess Sitha, the bride of Indian prince Rama. According to the legend, in the vicinity of the town of Weerapola was the ancient airport of Rakshas. There are different opinions about where the princess was hidden. However, the Ramayana claims that Ravana hid Sitha in the mountainous region of Nuwara Eliya, in the area of the current Hakgala Botanical Garden.There is now the sacred Sita Amman Kovil. But after the excavations, some historians say that the place where Sitha was sheltered was the fortress of Sigiriya, and not Hakgala. Even many contemporaries, seeing Sigiriya, or flying over it in a helicopter, say that this place is of incredible power, which holds in itself the great mystery of mankind.

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The second people were called Naga and they worshiped to snakes. To this day legends have survived, preserved in folk dances and art of masks, when the serpent and the people who tamed them called for help to protect themselves from enemies. Kelaniya and Nagadipa were among the most popular cities and were the concentration of trade routes, because according to legend Naga were one of the greatest merchants of the time.

The third tribe inhabiting Sri Lanka in antiquity was called Deva. They worshiped one God. The fourth and one of the most powerful nations was called Yaksha, worshiping the devil, or unprecedented human abilities. According to legend, Yaksha could become invisible, fly through the air. Yaksha was the first to build reservoirs, as well as invented the irrigation system of water supply for fountains, irrigation of crops and other needs. The first ancient dam in Sri Lanka was found in Maduru Oya area. She is over 6000 years old. An amazing story accompanies the discovery of this building. The fact is that even in modern times, the authorities of Sri Lanka decided to build a dam in this area. Modern developers used a lot of images from space, special devices that indicated the most accurate and favorable place for dam construction. And when the work was started, it was found that many thousands of years ago, ancient people built a dam in the same place. However, the question immediately arises as it was possible without having either computer technology or space research to calculate one in one place, the most favorable for the construction of the dam.

But back from mysticism to history. In the 1st millennium BC, the kingdom of Lala (now the territory of East Bengal, Bangladesh) was located in northeastern India, whose rulers called themselves lions («singha»). As a result of the internecine strife, the eldest son of one of the rulers, Vijay and his supporters, numbering about 700 people, were forced to leave their homeland and after long wanderings arrived in 543 BC. e. on the island, which Vijaya named after a kind of «Singhaladvipa», that is, the island of lions (hence the name of the main population of the island — Sinhalese). The name of the island of Sinhal agradually turned into English into Ceylon. But on the island for a long time used another name of the country — Lanka, meaning «blessed, beautiful land» (prefix «sri» in the name — an expression of deep respect). A little later immigrants from northeast India joined the first settlers of Sinhaladvipa, arriving from the Indian kingdom of Kalinga (now the territories of the Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal). In the connection that the settlers came from the regions and during the heyday of the ancient Sanskrit language, classical literary and partly modern spoken Sinhalese is the most unique example of how the already dead Sanskrit language continues to exist in many of its Prakrit elements thousands of kilometers from its places origin — on the island of Sri Lanka. However, we will tell you a separate story about the Sinhalese language.

So, Vijaya, who came from India, married a Princess Kuweini from the local Yaksha tribe who ruled Sri Lanka at the time. She helped Vijay kill King Yaksha and the court kings who lived in the Lankapuraya region. After gaining power on the island, Vijaya built a city in the Tammanava region, a place of concentration of Yaksa power. Prince Vijay and Princess Kuwaini had a son, Jawahatta, and daughter of Disala. The population of the country demanded that Vijaya become a full-fledged king of Sri Lanka, but the prince was very reluctant to take this step. According to the ancient laws of India, before coming to the throne, the future king was to be married to a princess of royal blood. Therefore, to become a more important ruler, Vijaya did not hesitate to expel Kuwaini with his two children and married a real princess from the Hindustan peninsula. Returning home to Lankapuraya, Princess Kuwaini was killed by her people for treachery. Two children of Prince Vijaya and Kuwaini disappeared.

Vijaya ruled his kingdom for 38 years. However, there were no legitimate heirs to his throne, and the prince sent for his younger brother, Prince Sumitta, to India. By the time the delegation from Sri Lanka reached the shores of India, Sumitta had already become king in his country and sent instead the youngest son of Panduvas Deva to rule Sri Lanka. While the delegates traveled from Sri Lanka to India, King Vijaya died, and the country was ruled for one year by Prime Minister Upatis (505 — 504 BC). The legal heir and younger son of King Vijaya's brother, Prince Panduvas Dev, ruled the country for 30 years (504 — 474 BC). He had 10 sons and one daughter, the famous princess Unmada Chithra. Panduvas Dev famous for the fact that he built the first in the country reservoir Abhaya Wewa.

So, gradually Indo-Aryan migrants — Sinhalese conquered local tribes (Veddas and others who by that time lived on the island for over 36,000 years!) And occupied the whole island. In the III century. BC. e. Singhals accepted Buddhism. In the first centuries of our era on the island emerged a strong and rich state of Rajaratta. The work of communal peasants, craftsmen and slaves, accumulated wealth enabled the Sinhala rulers to beautify and beautify the cities, the first place among which was occupied by Anuradhapura — the capital of the Rajaratta State. Among the 700 followers who accompanied Vijaya from India, there was a man named Anuradha, who founded a small village. Since he was a minister, the village was named in his honor, and over time a small settlement turned into a city, renamed Anuradhapura.

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One of the VII century travelers describes Anuradhapura like this: «The golden battlements of temples and palaces shine against the sky; over the streets are thrown the arcs of bridges with flags flying on them; on each side the streets are strewn with black, and in the middle with white sand; there are vases with flowers and there are niches with statues holding the lamps.»

The favorable geographical position of the island contributed to the fact that already in the first centuries AD. Sri Lanka has become one of the major centers of international transit trade. Sri Lanka traded with India, Arabia, Africa, China. On the coast of the island there were numerous port cities, where foreign merchants, mainly Arabs, launched a stormy commercial activity.

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Since the VIII century. n. e. frequent incursions into the island of Tamils from South India begin. This leads to the rapid decline of the state of Rajaratta. In the second half of the XI century. Sinhalese king Vijayabahu I manages to break up the Tamils and unite Sri Lanka under his authority, creating a state with the capital in Polonnaruwa. But already in the XIII century Tamils again invaded the island and, after pillaging Polonnaruwa, were entrenched in the northern part of Sri Lanka, on the Jaffna Peninsula, where they established their state. The era of Polonnaruwa's influence began in 1065, when the Cholas after the destruction of Anuradhapura postponed the capital in Polonnaruwa, which was in the center of the island, and it was convenient to defend from troops of the southern Sinhalese kingdom. In addition, the area around the city was very favorable for agriculture. Polonnaruwa itself was founded, of course, much earlier — as far back as the 3rd century AD. And in the middle of the 4th century the royal residence was equipped in the city.

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Sri Lanka remained the province of Cholas for 75 years. At this time, the influence of Hinduism increased in the country, many sanctuaries and temples were built. Later, King Vijayabuh I (1070 — 1110 AD), gathered his army and drove Cholov out of Sri Lanka, freeing the country. Vijayabahu I restored and destroyed by Cholami Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, but the capital in Anuradhapura was not returned. The King built many temples, pagodas, a university in which up to 5000 people could be trained. The king had a great gift of politics and built good relations with China and other countries. In Polonnaruwa there were many embassies of foreign countries, trade flourished. At Vijayabahu times, a high wall was erected around the city, covered with plaster and dug a deep moat, and the second king Parakramabahu surrounded this main wall with three more. As a result, the city became four times larger in area than Anuradhapura. In total, in Polonnaruwa reigned about 19 kings, and even 2 queens.

The next great ruler who contributed to the history of Sri Lanka was King Parakramabahu I (1164-1186 AD). This king managed to reconcile the followers of the two Buddhist currents of Sri Lanka. The population of Polonnaruwa with him reached 3 million people. But his main achievement was the construction of an irrigation system of canals and a huge reservoir with an area of 2500 hectares, which is called Parakrama Samudraya, which in Sinhala means «The Parakrama Sea», named in his honor. The king believed that not a single drop of rain should be carried to the ocean without serving the people.

The third great ruler of Polonnaruwa was King Nissankamalla (1187 — 1197 AD). With him for another 10 years, peace reigned in the country. The King liked to record all his achievements, and also with him was created the Stone Book (in Sinhalese «Gal Potha»), which is a kind of constitution of that time. At Nissankamalla, the caste formation system and the marriage system in Sri Lanka were completed.

But the story of Polonnaruwa was not as long as that of Anuradhapura. In the 13th century, after the death of King Nissankamalla, the decline of the state began, and for only 20 years the city, which remained the capital of Sri Lanka for about 2 centuries, was abandoned and began to turn into ruins.

In the middle of the 13th century, the capital of the Sinhalese state was Dambadeniya, located on the road from Kurunegala to Negombo. And after its fall, the capital was moved to Yapahuva. As a result of the excavations, the remains of the royal palace, baths, lotus pool, fortress walls, as well as the remains of the temple of the Tooth of the Buddha were found. In general, there was a belief in Sri Lanka that the Tooth of Buddha brings luck and insight to the one who owns it. Therefore, the sacred relic was always in the capital of the state, for her every ruler considered it his duty to build a temple of the image with the sanctuary. When the capital was transferred to another city, the Tooth of Buddha moved along with it. Yapahuwa was ruled by three kings, but Parakramabahu III deserves special attention (1278 — 1293 AD), because under his rule the Indians managed to seize the fortress in Yapahuwa and to take the Tooth of Buddha to India. But the king managed to return the sacred relic back.

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In place of Yapahuwa came the era of Kurunegala (1293-1341). The name of Kurunegala itself is translated as the City of Elephant Stone («kurune» — elephant, and «gala» — stone). From the city itself, there is practically nothing left, and the most interesting is in its surroundings. Thus, for example, during the reign of King Dutugamunu, a deposit of silver was found. And in honor of this event, the Silver Temple is built, and a gilded statue of Buddha is placed in it.

Gampola came to replace Kurunegala before the beginning of the 14th century AD. However, the situation in the country was unstable. The last Sinhala king of the united Sri Lanka was Parakramabahu VI (1413 — 1467 AD). For 55 years he ruled the country from his royal residence in the city of Kotte. After his death, the struggle for power began again and feudal disunity increased. We can say that there were at least 10 principalities in Sri Lanka, and the strongest of them were three: Kandy in the center of the island, Kotte in the south and Tamil principality of Jaffna in the north. But such fragmentation and internecine struggle distracted the attention of the Sri Lankans from the external claims of other countries and peoples, who actively began their colonization raids in the early 16th century.

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The war, almost uninterrupted for several centuries, between Sinhalese and Tamils led to the movement of Sinhalese from the northern arid regions of the island to the southwestern and western parts of the wet zone. By the beginning of the XVI century. The greatest influence was reached by the Sinhalese state of Kotte (its capital was a few kilometers south of Colombo).

At the beginning of the XVI century. The independent development of the Sri Lankan states was violated by the invasion of the first European colonizers. In 1517, the Portuguese reached the coast of the island and captured Colombo, and soon all coastal areas of the state of Kotte. Relying on the captured coastal bases, the Portuguese tried to advance deeper into the island. This caused a strong opposition of the Sinhalese who lived in the Central Highlands, where they created the Kandiyan state (with the capital in Kandy).

The Kandiyan state was a centralized feudal despotism with a highly developed bureaucratic apparatus and a complex system of feudal obligations. The land was state property. Some of the rulers of the land granted feudal lords to the mudaliers for carrying out military and civil service. Large landed estates were in Buddhist monasteries. The main type of feudal duty of peasants and artisans was rajakaria, that is, the fulfillment of various duties and duties in favor of the ruler: this included the payment of natural and monetary taxes, work on the construction of various state structures and roads, and much more. In this connection, there was a saying in the state: «Duty to the king is more important than service to the gods.»

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In the first half of the XVIII century. the Dutch appeared on the island. With the help of the last, the Candian rulers sought to expel the Portuguese. Between Portugal, on the one hand, and Holland, on the other, a long and bitter struggle began, which ended in 1656 with the capture of the Dutch by Colombo and the final expulsion of the Portuguese. The Kandiyan state not only preserved its independence, but also significantly expanded its territory at the expense of the former Portuguese colonial possessions.

The Dutch colonialists, having obtained the right to monopolize the trade in cinnamon and other spices, ivory and valuable wood species, continued the policy of their predecessors. They systematically plundered the population of the coastal regions of Sri Lanka, forcibly selecting the land from the peasants and planting it with plantation crops, widely used forced forms of labor. The peasants were ruined, starving. There were revolts against the Dutch colonialists, especially the wide-scale uprising of 1753 in Colombo and Matara.

The wealth of Sri Lanka, the important strategic position of the island on the sea routes from Europe to the Far East, Australia and Oceania, fueled the appetite of the British colonialists. Taking advantage of the favorable international situation, the British took Colombo in 1796, and soon established their domination over the rest of the coastal areas of the island, which belonged to Holland.

The English conquerors introduced a new administrative-tax system. Military and civil power passed into the hands of the English East India Company, which, like the Dutch colonialists, brutally plundered the country. The population of Sri Lanka did not want to put up with the new colonial slavery, and by the end of 1796 all areas occupied by the British were covered by the anti-British uprising. The independent state of the Republic of Kandy helped there a lot.

In 1815, the British, having bribed some of the great looters, the Mudaliars, after the fierce battles annexed the Kandiyan state. But the Kandyans did not want to put up with foreign oppression. Already in 1818, almost the entire territory of Kandy was captured by an anti-British uprising, which the British suppressed with great cruelty, devastating entire areas. The island became the British colony and was gradually turned into a source of valuable raw materials and a market for industrial products manufactured in the metropolis.

The development of capitalist relations in the XIX century. led to the emergence in Sri Lanka of the working class and the national bourgeoisie. The island was developing a national liberation movement, an important stimulus to which (as in other countries of South Asia) was given by the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia. During the Second World War, political parties emerged that led the struggle for independence.

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In 1943, the Communist Party was established in the country, which put forward a program of struggle against the colonialists, the nationalization of the leading sectors of the national economy, the carrying out of radical agrarian reform, the democratization of public and political life, and resolutely condemned national oppression and racial discrimination. The Communist Party relied on the advanced layers of industrial and agricultural workers and intellectuals.

As a result of the fundamental political changes that took place in the world after the Second World War and the long heroic struggle of the Sri Lankan people on February 4, 1948, Sri Lanka achieved independence, shaking off, like many other Asian countries, the bonds of colonial slavery.

Until 1956, the Government of Sri Lanka was headed by the United National Party, which was established in 1946 and expressed the interests of the comprador bourgeoisie and the large landowner planters.

In 1951, a group of its members withdrew from the United National Party, dissatisfied with the course of the party leader. This group, led by Solomon Bandaranaike, founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The democratic program of this party ensured the rapid growth of its ranks. The United People's Front was created, whose leader was also S. Bandaranaike. The next parliamentary elections in April 1956, taking place in the context of the consolidation of democratic and patriotic forces, brought victory to the people's front.


The government of S. Bandaranaike undertook a number of important democratic reforms. Particular attention was paid to the strengthening of national independence. Established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, the country which inspirated Sri Lanka to the socialist reforms and gave ideas on how to develope the country. British military bases were liquidated. The government of the republic resolutely refused to participate in the military bloc of SEATO and consistently adhered to the principles proclaimed at the conference of the countries of Asia and Africa in Bandung. An agreement was reached with the leaders of the Tamil Party of Federalists (established in 1949) regarding the administrative organization of the areas inhabited by the Sri Lankan Tamils and the place of the Tamil language in the state.


The normalization of the situation in the country, the progressive foreign policy course, democratic transformations — all this has caused a strong opposition of the right and ultranationalist circles. On September 25, 1959, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Solomon Bandaranaike was killed by their orders. His death caused great indignation in the country. The progressive public of Sri Lanka described the killing as a conspiracy against the democratic gains of the Sri Lankan people in order to establish a reactionary regime in the country.

The wife of the killed prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was elected to be the chairman of the Freedom Party. She also became prime minister as a result of the 1960 parliamentary elections. The government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike carried out a number of social and economic reforms, expanded and strengthened the public sector of the economy, and passed a law on land reform. However, the indecisiveness and inconsistency of the leadership of the Freedom Party in the implementation of the social and economic reforms that they proclaimed caused the disillusionment of the broad masses of people with the policies of this party. This led to the fact that in the 1977 parliamentary elections, the Freedom Party was defeated. The victory was won by the United National Party. Since May 1977, the United Left Front was operating in the country as part of the Communist and Socialist parties, democratic trade union and youth organizations. The goal of the front was the struggle for radical social and economic transformation.

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