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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, independent island republic in the Indian Ocean.

Land and climate

Sri Lanka is separated from southeastern India by the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Strait, and Adam's Bridge, a 30-mi (48-km)-chain of shoals. With an area of 24,879 sq mi (64,454 sq km), Sri Lanka extends 270 mi (435 km) north to south and 140 mi (225 km) east to west. The south-central area of the island is mountainous and its major rivers, including the Mahaweli Ganga, rise in this region, which is dominated by Mt. Pidurutalagala (8,281 ft/2,524 m) and Adam's Peak (7,360 ft/2,243 m). Around the mountains extends a coastal plain up to 100 mi (161 km) wide in the north. Originally dense with tropical forest, much of the plain has been cleared for agriculture. The climate is tropical, but due to its situation the island enjoys more equable temperatures than those prevailing in southernmost India.


Buddhist Sinhalese make up 75% of the population. The Hindu Tamils, people of South Indian origin living mainly in the north and east, are the principal minority, but there are also Veddas, probably the island's original inhabitants, and Burghero, Christian descendants of Dutch-Sinhalese forebears. The capital of Sri Lanka is Colombo and Sinhala (Sinhalese) is the official language, though English and Tamil are also widely spoken.


Sri Lanka produces a large proportion of the world's tea and over 100,000 tons of rubber a year. Coconuts are commercially grown for their oil, but rice, the main food crop, often has to be supplemented by imports. The country is the world's chief producer of high-grade graphite.


The island was settled around 550 B.C. by the Sinhalese, a people from the Indian subcontinent, who built Anuradhapura and made the island a center of Buddhist thought after the religion was introduced there in the 3rd century B.C. The Tamil people held the northern part of the island from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Lured by the spice trade, Europeans began arriving in the 16th century. They called the island Ceylon, and it was held successively by the Portuguese, who landed in 1505, the Dutch, who came after 1658, and finally the British, who came in 1796. Ceylon gained its independence in 1948, and it became a republic in 1956. In 1972 a new constitution was adopted and Ceylon was given the Sinhalese name Sri Lanka. In the late 1970s and early 1980s violence flared up between the Sinhalese and Tamil separatists. The conflict remains unresolved and has been accompanied by charges that India has secretly financed and armed separatist forces. In 1997 a new constitution was adopted, which amongst other things had to meet the Tamil demand for sovereignty in the north and in the east.


Additional topics

21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Sour gum to Stereotyping