Sri Lanka – the Historical Background in a nutshell
The chronicle Mahawansa dates the Aryen habitation of Sri Lanka to 6 th Century B.C, when the Aryen Prince Wijaya from north India landed on the Sri Lankan soil. With 700 followers who established the first Aryen settlement in the Island.
Anuradha one of Wijaya's ministers settled down in a Village that came to be known as Anuradhagama. This village being cetraly located in a very fertile area soon developed to a city; the well known Anuradhapura. Two centuries later king Pandukabhaya selected this to be his residence and Anuradhapura became the capital of the country in which position it remained for 1500 years.
The Anuradhapura era is memorable in the island's history for a number of reasons, the most significant being the emergence of Buddhism to the Island in the 3 rd century B.C. An unseen friendship between the king Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka and the Emperor Asoka of India contributed to this. Buddhism was considered by Askoa as his most precious wealth and he gifted it to his friend Devanapiyatissa, through his own son Arahath Mahinda who enlightened the king and his followers. Within a short period the whole country embraced Buddhism.
The introduction of Buddhism led to the origin of a new life style to the people of the island. It laid the foundation for a new culture. Many aspects of the social order, including a new language, art and architecture and irrigation engineering developed rapidly. Hence the Anuradhapura period is undoubtedly the “Golden Era” of Sri Lankan civilization.
Another significant even of this period was the planting of Sri Maha Bodhi (Sacred Bo Tree), a sapling of the Tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. This tree which is still intact and carefully protected in Anuradhapura bears a record as the historically accepted oldest tree in the world.
Sri Lanka is in close proximity to India, As a result Sri Lanka had to encounter attacks from South Indian invaders from time to time. During the Anuradhapura period there were a number of such invasions, forcing the keys of Anuradhapura to retreat to the south for protection and gain time to strengthen their armies.
As a result of one such invasion in the 10 th century A.D. the invaders not only plundered the wealth but also destroyed the buildings, temples and above all the irrigation system. The Chola Rulers evacuated Anuradhapura and made Polonnaruwa their capital because it was strategically more secure.
In 1070 A.D king Wiyajabahu I defeated the Cholas and chased them out of the country. He united the whole country and restored Polonnaruywa as his capital. It remained as the capital of Sri Lanka for nearly 2 centuries with immense development taking place under great kings like Parakramabahu and Nissankamalla. Art and architecture, building construction, religious activities and large irrigation development flourished during this period.
Again a South Indian invader Kalinga Maga invaded Polonnaruwa in 1214 A.D. and destroyed it's glory which led to the kings moving to the south west. Since then capitals shifted regularly from place to place. But none of these kingdoms could remain for a long time as did Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
In 1505 when Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka the seat of administration was in Kotte within a few kilometers from the Colombo harbor. The Portuguese using advance military tactics and sophisticated weapons ousted the Sinhala rulers from the Maritime Provinces and established their administration on the coast line. The Sinhala kings evacuated the area and shifted to the naturally protected hill country and make Kandy their capital at the end of 16 th century. The kings sought the assistance of the Dutch and persuaded them to assist him to defeat the Portuguese. But after the Maritime Provinces that were held by the Portuguese.
The English who arrived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1786 replaced he Dutch by defeating them and occupied the maritime provinces. They made a number of attempts to capture Kandy but failed due to the hostile terrain where the Sinhala soldiers led a guerilla warfare tactics. Finally using their divide and rule policy, they manage to develop hostilities between the king and his ministers and finally succeeded in bringing the whole Island a colony of the British Empire in 1815. The last king of Kandy Sri Wikrama Rajasingha was taken prisoner and banished to India, where he passed away as a prisoner. With that ended the Royal Sri Lankan Dynasty that existed for nearly 2300 years.
For the convenience and facilities for commercial activities English made Colombo their capital. During their domination many changes wee implemented not only in their administration, nut also in the economy, education and the political structure. With the recommended reforms of the Colebrook commission English introduced the parliamentary administration system to Sri Lanka.
The struggle for freedom led by the intelligentsia of the country forced the Britishes to declare independence in 1948. But it was a partial declaration since the country remained under dominion status till 1972. Complete independence was achieved in 1972 with a new constitution and established the country as a free Sovereign and an Independent Republic and the nomenclature “Ceylon” changed to “Sri Lanka” which means “Holy Resplendent Land”
Since 1976 there came into existence a separatist terrorist group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who controlled the North and East of the country. They created lot of destruction not only to property but also to human life in many parts of the country. In May 2009 this group was finally defeated along with the whole leadership and now the country is unified under one banner. The country has now become a sage haven for the tourists who are now in a position visit the North and the East as well.