Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (srē längˈkə) [Sinhalese,=resplendent land], formerly Ceylon, ancient Taprobane, officially Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, island republic (2015 est. pop. 20,714,000), 25,332 sq mi (65,610 sq km), in the Indian Ocean, just SE of India. The capital is Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte. Colombo, the former capital (and still the site of many government offices), is the commercial capital and largest city.

Land and People

The pear-shaped island is 140 mi (225 km) across at its widest point and 270 mi (435 km) long. The narrow northern end is almost linked to SE India by Adam's Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals that, although partly submerged, present an obstacle to navigation. About four fifths of the island is flat or gently rolling; mountains in the south central area include Adam's Peak (7,360 ft/2,243 m) and rise to Pidurutalagal (8,291 ft/2,527 m), the highest point on the island. Sri Lanka has a generally warm, subtropical climate; the average lowland temperature is 80℉ (27℃), but humidity is high. Rainfall, largely carried by monsoons, is adequate for agriculture, except in the subhumid north. In addition to Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte and Colombo, other important cities are Dehiwala–Mount Lavinia, Kandy, Galle, and Jaffna.

The population of Sri Lanka is composed mainly (more than 70%) of Sinhalese, who are Theravada Buddhists. Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils, and Sri Lankan Tamils are the largest minorities; there are also Burghers (descendants of Dutch and Portuguese colonists), and Eurasians (descended from British colonists). In addition to the Buddhist majority, there are Muslims, Hindus, and Christians (mainly Roman Catholics). The official language is Sinhalese (Sinhala); Tamil is a second national language, and English is commonly used in government.


The country's economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, which now contributes less than 20% to the gross domestic product and employs about a third of the work force. The emphasis is on export crops such as tea, rubber, and coconuts (all plantation-grown). Cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, citronella, tobacco, cocoa, and coffee are also exported. Rice, sugarcane, grains, pulses, oilseed, fruit, and vegetables are grown for local use and consumption. Petroleum refining is important, and amorphous graphite, precious and semiprecious gems, mineral sands, clay, and limestone are mined. Port construction, telecommunications, and offshore insurance and banking are also important industries. Remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad, mainly in the Middle East, contribute significantly to the economy. The island's swift rivers have considerable hydroelectric potential.

Historically, industry centered chiefly around the processing of agricultural products, but textiles and garments are now Sri Lanka's biggest export. Sri Lanka has a persistent balance of trade problem, however, and the country is dependent on large amounts of foreign aid. Although coastal lagoons provide many sheltered harbors, only S Sri Lanka lies on the main world shipping routes. The port of Colombo, on which most of the country's railroads converge, handles most of the foreign trade. Exports include textiles and apparel, tea and spices, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, coconut products, rubber goods, and fish. Textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported. The United States, India, and Great Britain are the largest trading partners.


Sri Lanka is governed under the constitution of 1978. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term, and may be reelected once. Members of the 225-seat unicameral Parliament are elected by popular vote for six-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into nine provinces.


Early History and Colonialism

Sri Lanka was first settled by modern humans around 35,000 years ago and possibly earlier. The most ancient of the inhabitants may have been the ancestors of the Veddas, an aboriginal people (numbering about 2,000) now living in jungle areas near Maduru Oya National Park. They were conquered in the 6th cent. B.C. by the Sinhalese, who were originally from N India; the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic, probably reflects this conquest. The Sri Lanka chronicle Mahavamsa relates the arrival of Vijaya, the first Sinhalese king, in 483 B.C. The Sinhalese settled in the north and developed an elaborate irrigation system. They founded their capital at Anuradhapura, which, after the introduction of Buddhism from India in the 3d cent. B.C., became one of the chief world centers of that religion; a cutting of the pipal tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya was planted there. The Temple of the Tooth at Kandy as well as the Dalada Maligawa are sacred Buddhist sites. Buddhism stimulated the fine arts in Sri Lanka, its classical period lasted from the 4th to the 6th cent.

The proximity of Sri Lanka to S India resulted in many Tamil invasions. The Chola of S India conquered Anuradhapura in the early 11th cent. and made Pollonarrua their capital. The Sinhalese soon regained power, but in the 12th cent. a Tamil kingdom arose in the north, and the Sinhalese were driven to the southwest. Arab traders, drawn by the island's spices, arrived in the 12th and 13th cent.; their descendants are the Muslim Moors.

The Portuguese conquered the coastal areas in the early 16th cent. and introduced the Roman Catholic religion. By the mid-17th cent. the Dutch had taken over the Portuguese possessions and the rich spice trade. In 1795 the Dutch possessions were occupied by the British, who made the island, then known as Ceylon, a crown colony in 1798. In 1815 the island was brought under one rule for the first time when the central area, previously under the rule of Kandy, was conquered. Under the British, tea, coffee, and rubber plantations were developed, and schools, including a university, were opened. A movement for independence arose during World War I. The constitution of 1931 granted universal adult suffrage to the inhabitants; but demands for independence continued, and in 1946 a more liberal constitution was enacted.

An Independent Nation

Full independence was finally granted to Ceylon on Feb. 4, 1948, with dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations; the United National party's Don Stephen Senanayake was the nation's first prime minister. In 1950 delegates of eight countries of the Commonwealth met in Colombo and adopted the Colombo Plan for economic aid to S and SE Asia. In 1956, the Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP), led by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike came to power. The subsequent replacement of English as sole official language by Sinhalese alienated the Tamils and other minorities, and led to Tamil protests and anti-Tamil attacks. Riots in 1958 between Sinhalese and the Tamil minority over demands by the Tamils for official recognition of their language and the establishment of a separate Tamil state under a federal system (which had been negotiated but then abandoned by the government) resulted in severe loss of life, predominantly among the Tamil community. In Sept., 1959, Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated, and in 1960 his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister. The Federal party of the Tamils was outlawed in 1961, following new disorders.

Certain Western business facilities were nationalized (1962), and the country became involved in disputes with the United States and Great Britain over compensation. The radical policies of Mrs. Bandaranaike aroused opposition, and the elections in 1965 gave a parliamentary plurality once more to the moderate socialist UNP, led by Dudley Senanayake, who became prime minister with a multiparty coalition. Under Senanayake, closer relations with the West were established and compromise arrangements were made for recompensing nationalized companies. However, economic problems and severe inflation continued, aggravated by a burgeoning population (between 1946 and 1970 the population almost doubled).

In 1970, Mrs. Bandaranaike and her three-party anticapitalist coalition won a landslide victory, following considerable preelection violence. She launched social welfare programs, including rice subsidies and free hospitalization, but failed to satisfy the extreme left, which, under the Marxist People's Liberation Front (JVP), attempted to overthrow the government in an armed rebellion in 1971. With Soviet, British, and Indian aid, the rebellion was quelled after heavy fighting. In 1972 the country adopted a new constitution, declared itself a republic while retaining membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, and changed its name to Sri Lanka. In the early 1970s the government was confronted with a severe economic crisis as the country's food supplies and foreign exchange reserves dwindled in the face of rising inflation, high unemployment, a huge trade deficit, and the traditional policy of extensive social-welfare programs.

Civil War

Repression of the Tamil language fueled demands by the Tamil minority for an independent state. Election of a new UNP government under J. R. Jayawardene in 1977 and the implementation of economic reforms geared toward growth did little to restrain an upsurge of terrorist violence or of bloody anti-Tamil riots (1977, 1981, 1983). In the 1980s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam initiated a full-scale guerrilla war against the army in the north and east; at the same time, radical Sinhalese students assassinated government officials whom they believed were too soft on the Tamils, and in 1987–89 the JVP launched a new insurrection that was brutally suppressed. In response to a request from Jayawardene's government, India sent (1987) 42,000 troops to NE Sri Lanka. The Indian troops fought an inconclusive war with the Tigers and were asked to withdraw by Jayawardene's successor, Ramasinghe Premadasa, who was elected in 1988.

The Indian troops withdrew in late 1989, and fighting resumed in 1990. In 1993, Premadasa was assassinated in a suicide bombing; he was succeeded as president by prime minister and UNP leader Dingiri Banda Wijetunga. A year later, the opposition SLFP–led People's Alliance (PA) came to power, and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister and then president. Her government negotiated a cease-fire with the Tamil Tigers, but it collapsed after three months as violence resumed. In late 1995 the government, in a large-scale offensive, captured the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna; heavy casualties were reported there, while terrorist bombs caused civilian deaths in Colombo. The war continued throughout the 1990s, as government troops attacked rebel bases and terrorists carried out political assassinations (including those of several moderate Tamil politicians) and suicide bombings. By end of the century, more than 60,000 people had been killed in the ethnic conflict.

President Kumaratunga was injured when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at an election rally in Dec., 1999; a few days later, she narrowly won reelection. Subsequent attempts by Kumaratunga to negotiate a new constitution that would grant Tamils some autonomy proved unsuccessful, and fighting continued. In Oct., 2000, the PA remained the largest grouping after parliamentary elections, but it was six seats shy of an absolute majority, leading it form a coalition with a Muslim party. When that party withdrew, Kumaratunga suspended parliament (July–Sept., 2001) until she could form a coalition with the JVP, which had become a nationalist leftist party after 1989. Defections by members of the PA, however, ultimately forced her to dissolve parliament and call for new elections in December.

Following an opposition victory at the polls, the UNP's Ranil Wickremesinghe became prime minister, creating a politically divided government. He pledged to work with the president, and agreed to a truce and mediated negotiations with the Tamil guerrillas. The truce led to a formal cease-fire, brokered by Norway and signed in Feb., 2002, and off-and-on peace talks began the following September.

In Nov., 2003, the president suspended parliament and assumed control of the defense, interior, and information ministries, accusing the prime minister of yielding too much to the Tamil rebels in negotiations. She also briefly declared a state of emergency. The power struggle created a constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka, and paralyzed the government and its inconclusive negotiations with Tamil forces.

The crisis continued into 2004, and in January Kumaratunga claimed she was entitled to an additional year in office because of a secret swearing-in ceremony a year after she was elected to her second term. (Sri Lanka's supreme court ruled against her claim to an additional year in 2005.) The following month the president called early elections, which were held in April. Her United People's Freedom Alliance coalition (UPFA, the successor of the PA) won a plurality of the parliamentary seats, and she appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa prime minister.

Meanwhile, a split developed in the Tamil guerrillas in Mar., 2004, when the smaller eastern force broke away, but the following month the main northern force reasserted control in the east. The rebels accused the government of supporting the renegade faction and refused to restart the peace talks. Sri Lanka's coastal areas, especially in the south and east, were devastated by the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that was caused by an earthquake off NW Sumatra. More than 34,000 people died, and more than 800,000 displaced. Only Sumatra itself suffered greater loss of life.

An agreement between the government and the rebels to share the distribution of disaster aid seriously weakened the governing coalition when the JVP quit the government in protest. The JVP challenged the agreement in court, and although it was upheld in principle, the court's objection to aspects of it led to suspension (July, 2005) of its implementation. At the same time, there escalating Tamil attacks, and in August the foreign minister was assassinated. The government invoked emergency rule, and subsequently called for a renegotiation of the cease-fire agreement with the Tamil rebels to establish stronger sanctions for cease-fire violations.

In the 2005 presidential election, Prime Minister Rajapaksa formed an alliance with the JVP and Buddhist nationalists and came out strongly against autonomy for the Tamils, while his main opponent, the UNP's Wickremesinghe, was supported by Muslim and Tamil parties. Rajapaksa narrowly won the presidency, aided in part by violence and intimidation by the Tamil Tigers that kept Tamil voters from the polls in the north and east. Rajapaksa named as prime minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, a Sinhalese nationalist who had served in the post during 2000–2001.

By the end of 2005 the cease-fire with the Tamils appeared more breached than honored. A new round of Norwegian-sponsored peace talks began in Feb., 2006, but even their continuation was subject to difficult negotiations. In April the breaches of the cease-fire escalated sharply, and the Tamil Tigers withdrew from the talks. By the fall the country had returned to civil war in all but name, but attempts to restart negotiations continued. By the end of 2006 the rebels had declared the truce defunct, and the government had readopted antiterror measures that it had abandoned in 2002.

Fighting in E Sri Lanka that began in July, 2006, led to a government offensive that was initially focused on the east; it continued into subsequent years and steadily succeeded in reclaiming territory from the rebels, who had controlled some 5,800 sq mi (15,000 sq km) in 2006. In Jan., 2008, the government officially ended the truce with the rebels, and in heavy fighting during 2008, the government made significant further advances into rebel territory. By Jan., 2009, Sri Lankan forces had reopened a land route to Jaffna, which had been closed since 2000.

The military continued to have successes in subsequent weeks, confining the Tamil rebels to a relatively small coastal strip, but as many as 330,000 civilians were also trapped in the area. Many civilians fled the fighting in Apr., 2009, when a breach in the Tamil defenses allowed them to escape. By late May the Tamil Tigers had been destroyed as an military force, Prabhakaran had been killed, and the government had ended rebel control of Sri Lankan territory. Since the 1980s more than 70,000 people had died as a result of the conflict; according to government figures, some 22,000 rebels and 6,200 government troops died in the last 34 months of fighting. It is unclear how many civilians died in the last weeks of the fighting when the rebels were using them as human shields. Government forces were accused of killing Tamils indiscriminately during its offensive in 2009, and some estimates place civilian deaths as high as 40,000 during 2008–9.

In Sept., 2009, some 265,000 Tamil refugees remained confined to government camps, leading to criticism from the United Nations and international human rights groups; the government said that 70% would be resettled by November and all of them by the end of Jan., 2010. By December, some 130,000 remained in the camps, with at least 11,000 of those suspected of being former Tamil Tigers. Roughly two years later, all but about 1,000 suspected former Tamil Tigers had been released.

Seeking to benefit from his government's victory over the rebels, Rajapaksa called a presidential election two years early, and subsequently defeated (Jan., 2010) Sarath Fonseka, the general who had led Sri Lanka's forces but who had a falling out with the president. The campaign was marred by violence, mainly against the opposition, and by one-sided coverage by the government-controlled media, and the results were challenged by the opposition. Fonseka subsequently was arrested (February) by the military, accused of participating in politics while in uniform and other charges, and convicted later in the year after two trials. His trial by courts martial was questioned by legal experts, who said he should be tried in a civilian court, and his lawyer accused the army of assembling a group of prejudiced judges. (The convictions were reversed by Rajapaksa's successor.)

The events during the election, the arrest of Fonseka, and harassment of journalists and the opposition led the opposition and others to accuse the government of antidemocratic tendencies. Also in Feb., 2010, the president dissolved parliament; elections in April resulted in a landslide victory for the president's coalition against a divided opposition. Rajapaksa subsequently named D. M. Jayaratne as prime minister, and in September secured amendments to the constitution that abolished presidential term limits and increased presidential powers. Record monsoon rains in Jan., 2011, led to severe flooding in parts of the country; some 300,000 people were forced from their homes. In Sept., 2011, the emergency rule in effect since 2005 was ended, but at the same time new antiterrorism regulations were adopted that preserved some of the government's emergency powers. In the years after the Tamil Tigers were crushed the government undertook significant development in Tamil areas, but the continuing presence of the army there and human-rights violations by security forces undermined the reintegration of former rebel-held areas into Sri Lankan society.

In late 2012, the government impeached and removed (2013) the chief justice; though appointed by Rajapaksa, she had ruled against a government move to transfer control of the economic development budget from the provinces to the central government. The impeachment (declared illegal under Rajapaksa's successor) was seen as a further consolidation of power in Rajapaksa and his family, which controlled the defense and economic development ministries as well as the parliamentary speakership. In late 2014, Rajapaksa called an early presidential election for Jan., 2015. Maithripala Sirisena, a former health minister under Rajapaksa, defected from the SLFP and UPFA to run as the opposition unity candidate, and the president lost the support of a number of other prominent government supporters.

Rajapaksa, who had been expected to win handily, was defeated by Sirisena, who denounced the concentration of power in the Rajapaksa family hands and promised to reverse constitutional changes made under Rajapaksa and to reduce the powers of the presidency. Sirisena named the UNP's Wickremesinghe as prime minister of a minority government. In Apr., 2015, Sirisena, who had succeeded Rajapaksa as leader of the SLFP, secured passage of some reductions in the president's powers, though the changes were not as significant as he had wanted; presidential term limits were restored.

In June, 2015, the president dissolved the parliament and called for new elections in August in an effort to win support for his reforms. The UNP won a plurality in the elections, in which Rajapaksa sought to secure the prime ministership; Wickremesinghe subsequently remained prime minister, and the SLFP agreed to work with the UNP. In Oct., 2018, however, Sirisena dismissed the prime minister and replaced him with Rajapaksa, then suspended parliament, provoking a crisis as Wickremesinghe rejected his dismissal. Sirisena ordered parliament dissolved and elections be held, but the supreme court suspended his decree and later ruled it unconstitutional. Rajapaksa failed to win the confidence of parliament, and Wickremesinghe was affirmed in December as prime minister; Rajapaksa and many parliamentary members belonging to the SLFP joined the Sri Lanka People's Front (SLPP). In Apr., 2019, deadly bombings of churches and hotels by Islamist militants linked to the Islamic State killed more than 250 people on Easter, increasing religious tensions in the country; the security forces, which were overseen by the president, failed to act on reliable warnings before the attacks. The attacks hurt the tourist industry significantly.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defense minister and the brother of the former president who was the candidate of the Sri Lanka People's Freedom Alliance (which included the SLPP and SLFP), was elected president in Nov., 2019; Sirisena did not run. Subsequently, Wickremesinghe resigned as prime minister, and the new president appointed his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. In Mar., 2020, parliament was dissolved and new elections were slated for April but later postponed twice, ultimately to August, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the elections, Mahinda Rajapaksa led the SLPP to a landslide victory, and the legislature subsequently restored many presidential powers that had been trimmed in 2015.


See J. C. Holt, ed., The Sri Lanka Reader (2011); L. A. Mills, Ceylon under British Rule, 1795–1932 (1965); N. E. Weerasooria, Ceylon and Her People (4 vol., 1970–71); M. D. Raghavan, Tamil Culture in Ceylon (1971); L. M. Jacob, Sri Lanka: From Dominion to Republic (1973); R. F. Nyrop et al., Sri Lanka (1985); V. Samaraweera, Sri Lanka (1987); C. R. De Silva, Sri Lanka (1991); S. Subramanian, This Divided Island (2016).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sri Lanka


(Ceylon until 1972), Republic of Sri Lanka, a state on the island of the same name in the Indian Ocean, lying off the southeastern coast of the Hindustan Peninsula. Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Area, 65,600 sq km. Population, 13.7 million (1976). The capital is the city of Colombo. For administrative purposes the country is divided into nine provinces, which in turn are subdivided into 22 districts.

Sri Lanka is a republic. The present constitution was adopted on May 22, 1972 (amendments were adopted in 1977). The head of state is the president, elected for a term of six years. He is also the chief executive and the commander in chief of the armed forces. He has the right to dissolve the parliament. He appoints the prime minister and other ministers and determines their functions. The highest legislative body, a unicameral parliament, is the National State Assembly, whose members are elected for a term of six years. All citizens over 18 years of age have the right to vote. The government—the Council of Ministers—is headed by the prime minister.

Each district is administered by a government official, appointed by the president from among the members of parliament. Town, urban, and municipal councils and village committees constitute the local bodies of authority.

The judiciary comprises the Supreme Court, which also exercises appellate jurisdiction, district and magistrates’ courts (for criminal cases), and rural courts, which exercise jurisdiction with respect to petty crimes and civil disputes. The judges are appointed by the Council of Ministers, while the members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president.

The island’s coasts are primarily low-lying, with numerous lagoons. Rimmed by coral reefs, they are weakly indented, with isolated ingression-type gulfs.

Terrain. More than 80 percent of Sri Lanka is occupied by lowland plains, dotted with isolated rocky inselbergs. Located in the central and southern parts is a steed highland, with flattened surfaces and steep fault scarps; the upper stratum is formed by table surfaces and steep summits, including Mount Pidurutalagala, which rises to an elevation of 2,524 m, and Adam’s Peak.

Geological structure and mineral resources. Sri Lanka occupies part of the Hindustan Shield of the Indian Plate, the foundation of which is composed of gneisses, granite gneisses, charnockites, amphibolites, schists, quartzites, and marbles with intrusions of Upper Proterozoic granites (from approximately 1 billion years ago) and dikes of dolorites and pegmatites. Carbonatites also occur. Rocks of the foundation outcrop to the surface on nine-tenths of the territory of Sri Lanka; in the north the foundation is overlain by a mantle of Jurassic and Miocene sedimentary rocks, including sandstones, siltstones, argillites, limestones, sands, and clays. Coastal marine Quaternary deposits (pebbles, gravel, sand, and clay) are widespread on the Indian Ocean coast. Latérites are developed in the crystalline rocks.

The principal minerals are graphite (with total reserves of 20 million tons), precious and semiprecious stones (sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, topaz, moonstone, chrysoberyl, coastal-marine black sands containing ilmenite and rutile (2 million tons in the form of TiO2), zircon, and monazite. Other important minerals are kaolinite and other clays, as well as limestones, feldspars, and quartz sands.

Climate. The climate is the monsoon type; in the north and east it is subequatorial, and in the south and west, equatorial. The temperature is 26°–30°C on the plains, dropping to 15°–20°C in the mountains; it changes little in the course of the year. The greatest amount of precipitation (as much as 5,000 mm annually) falls on the southwestern slopes of the highland, primarily during the summer monsoon); in the foothills the annual precipitation reaches 2,000 mm. On the northeastern slopes of the highland and on the adjacent plains most of the precipitation, which amounts to 1,000–2,000 mm annually, falls during the winter monsoon; there is a dry season lasting eight to nine months. The least amount of precipitation, amounting to less than 1,000 mm a year, occurs on the northwestern and southwestern coasts. During the spring and autumn, many areas experience abundant convective afternoon showers.

Rivers and lakes. The river network is dense. Short, copious rivers, the largest of which is the Mahaweli Ganga, rise in the central highland and radiate out in all directions, forming waterfalls in the mountains. They are used for irrigation, primarily in the north and east; numerous reservoirs have been constructed.

Soil and flora. The soils are red earths and lateritic; there are bands of alluvial soils in the river valleys and on the coasts. Natural vegetation covers about three-fourths of the island. On the southwestern slopes of the mountains and in some parts of the foothills, humid equatorial forests have been preserved; with individual trees reaching 80 m in height, they are characterized by an enormous diversity of species. Trees include palms and dipter-ocarps; forests have’dense undergrowth and abundant mosses. The plains in the island’s northern and eastern parts and the adjacent highland slopes are covered with secondary deciduous forests, with trees of 9–12 m. The plateaus are occupied by savanna-type wasteland, consisting of high, coarse grasses and individual trees; elfin woodland occurs at elevations above 2,000 m. Thickets of prickly shrubs grow along the northwestern and southeastern shores; mangrove forests and coconut palms grow in certain areas near the coasts.

Fauna. The fauna is of the Indo-Malaysian type, with some Madagascar species, for example, lemurs. Mammals include elephants, leopards, lynx, five species of monkeys, deer, wild boars, and civets. There are numerous birds (parrots, peacocks, flamingos, storks), lizards, snakes, and crocodiles. There are also many types of insects, including butterflies, ants, termites, and malarial mosquitoes.

Preserves. The flora and fauna are preserved in botanical gardens (the largest is Peradeniya, near the city of Kandy), national parks (Gal Oya, Yala, Vilpatthu), and preserves (Rittigalla, Wasgomuva, Hakgala).

IU. K. EFREMOV (physical geographical characteristics) and R. E. TKACHEVA (geological structure and minerals)

Seventy percent of the population are Sinhalese, and 20 percent, Tamils. The Sinhalese, who number 9.8 million (1975; here and below the population figures are estimated), inhabit the western, central, and southern parts of the country; they speak Sinhalese. The Tamils, who number 2.6 million, comprise two separate groups: the Sri Lankan Tamils, who live in the northern and eastern parts of the country, and the Indian Tamils, who live in the central part; they speak Tamil. Minority ethnic groups of mixed origin include the Ceylon Moors (854,000), the Burghers of Ceylon (44,000), and Malays (42,000). The Veddas are the descendants of the oldest population.

Sinhalese is the official language. About 67 percent of the population (Sinhalese) are Buddhists, more than 17.5 percent (Tamils) are Hindus, 7 percent (Moors and Malays) are Muslims, and another 7 percent (the Burghers, some Tamils, and others) are Christians, primarily Catholics.

The natural population increase (2.2 percent annually in the period 1970–74) is due to a high birthrate and a significant decline in the death rate. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, a major role in the population increase was played by emigration from India, for the most part, of Tamil agricultural workers. In 1965 a state policy of controlling the birthrate was announced. In 1971, 51.3 percent of the population were males. A large proportion of the population is young; 43 percent are under the age of 15.

In 1971, 40.6 percent of the economically active population were engaged in agriculture; these were, for the most part, peasants and plantation workers. The average population density is more than 200 persons per sq km. In 1971 the urban population constituted 22.4 percent of the total.

The most important cities are Colombo (607,000; 1976), Jaffna, Kandy, Galle, and Moratuwa.

Rise of early state formations (to the eighth century A.D.). The area now occupied by Sri Lanka was settled during the Paleolithic period. The most ancient inhabitants were hunting tribes, probably the ancestors of the modern Veddas. The island underwent several waves of migration, primarily from India. According to written sources, the first Indian settlers, under the leadership of Prince Vijaya, came to the island in the fifth century B.C., bringing with them the culture of growing rice. The indigenous population intermixed with the new arrivals, thus giving rise to the Sinhalese ethnic group, centered in the north and southeast. Sinhalese settlements were self-sufficient village communities.

The first major state formation arose under Devanampiya Tissa in the third century B.C., a period of history called the Anuradhapura period, after the name of the state’s capital. Agriculture attained considerable development (there was intensive construction of irrigation networks), as did handicraft production and trade. Close state and cultural contacts with India facilitated the penetration of Buddhism. The Buddhist clergy played an important role in economic and cultural life. In the fifth century, internecine strife led to the disintegration of the state, which enabled the Tamil conquerors, orginally from southern India, to seize considerable parts of the island. In the sixth century Anuradhapura once again became the capital of the state. In the sixth and seventh centuries, the struggle for the throne continued between the Sinhalese and Tamil rulers.

Development of feudal relations (eighth to late 18th centuries). In the eighth century, a Sinhalese dynasty became firmly entrenched in Anuradhapura. Large landholdings were concentrated in the hands of the chief of state. Feudal relations began developing. From the eighth through 13th centuries Polonnaruwa was the capital of a large Sinhalese state, whose rulers waged a struggle against the separatism of the big feudal lords and repelled incursions from the southern Indian states, such as Pandya. The wars inflicted enormous damage and led to the disintegration of the unified state. In the 13th century the inhabitants began settling the central and southwestern regions of the island. In the 15th century three large states were formed: the Sinhalese kingdoms of Kotte (in the west and southwest) and Kandy (in the central regions) and the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna (in the north).

The country’s political fragmentation and economic weakness facilitated European expansion. In 1517 the first trade agreement was concluded between the Portuguese, who threatened to use military force, and the rulers of Kotte. The Portuguese obtained the right to export spices and other goods from the island to Europe. They created a network of forts along the western coast, and the fort of Colombo became their stronghold. To consolidate their domination, the Portuguese sent Catholic missionaries to the island for the purpose of converting the indigenous population to Catholicism. The protracted wars waged by the Portuguese against the Kandy state ended in defeat.

In the mid-17th century, the rivalry between the Dutch and the Portuguese over the island intensified. In 1658 the Dutch expelled the Portuguese and seized up to one-fourth of the island. The Dutch monopolized trade in cinnamon and a number of other items. The specialization of many regions in the production of commodity crops led to the development of commodity-monetary relations. The Dutch colonialists harshly exploited the country’s population, which led to an uprising in 1723. In the mid-18th century the conflict between the English and the Dutch for possession of the island intensified. In 1795–96, the Dutch were expelled.

British colonial domination; development of capitalist relations andgrowth of the national liberation movement(to 1917). The areas seized by the British colonialists were made part of the Madras Presidency, administered by the British East India Company. The British introduced heavy taxes. At the end of 1796, a major anti-British uprising broke out; it was suppressed by the British authorities, who nevertheless were compelled to abolish some of the taxes and promulgate administrative reforms. In 1802, Ceylon became a separate British colony. In order to consolidate their domination, the British colonial authorities decided to eliminate the independent Kandyan state. Great Britain’s war against Kandy in 1803–05 ended in a British defeat, but in 1815 the British succeeded in annexing the Kandyan state, the last stronghold of Sinhalese independence. The seizure of the Kandyan state exacerbated relations between the Kandyan feudal lords and the British colonialists. In 1818 almost all of the area formerly occupied by the Kandyan state was engulfed by an anti-British uprising, headed by the Kandyan aristocracy and the Buddhist clergy. The uprising was harshly suppressed, and the Kandyan feudal aristocracy was deprived of many privileges. The former Kandyan state was divided into 11 districts and placed under the control of British officials. A standardized administrative and taxation system was introduced throughout the entire island. In 1833 an advisory body—the Legislative Council—was instituted under the governor’s jurisdiction, and the trade monopoly of the British East India Company was transferred to the colonial authorities. The colonialists increased the tax burden, which engendered anti-British uprisings among the peasants in the areas of Kandy, Mátale, and Kurunegala (1848) under the leadership of the Kandyan aristocracy and the Buddhist clergy. The uncoordinated peasant detachments were unable to offer substantial resistance to the British forces.

In the 1830’s a plantation economy gradually developed on the lands taken from the peasants. By the 1850’s, vast tracts of land were occupied by coffee plantations. The expropriation of the rights of the peasants intensified. In the 1890’s tea became the chief export crop. The plantation crop production was dominated by British colonialists; Ceylonese landowners were also involved in plantation agriculture, but local capital was in a subordinate position.

The nascent Ceylonese bourgeoisie demanded political and economic rights. An indigenous intelligentsia began developing. The first national sociopolitical organization—the Ceylon League—was founded in 1864. Its members advocated increased Ceylonese participation in the country’s rule; in particular, they sought a Ceylonese majority in the Legislative Council. In the second half of the 19th century various educational and religious reforms were instituted. By the turn of the 20th century, the country’s transformation into an agrarian raw material adjunct of the home country was complete. Nevertheless, capitalist relations developed rapidly. A working class emerged, consisting primarily of plantation workers, mostly immigrants from India. Tenant farming became the predominant form of peasant land utilization. Criticism of the British colonial system by the indigenous bourgeoisie and other groupes of the population grew. The national liberation movement of the peoples of India exerted a considerable influence on the development of the anticolonialist struggle. At the beginning of the 20th century a number of bourgeois political organizations were formed that demanded the implementation of constitutional reforms. Leaders of the national liberation struggle included J. Peiris, P. Arunachalam, P. Rama-nathan, D. B. Jayatilaka, and E. W. Perera. The labor movement developed at the beginning of the 20th century, and one of the first major actions of the working class was a railroad strike (1912).

During World War I (1914–18), the colonial exploitation of Ceylon intensified. Traders and moneylenders took advantage of the colony’s dependence on the importation of foodstuffs and raised the prices on rice and other commodities. In 1915 spontaneous outbreaks occurred among the poorest groups of the urban and rural population against the Muslim traders. The British colonialists unleashed repressive actions against the participants in these outbreaks, as well as against the leaders of the national liberation movement. The terror imposed by the British colonial authorities impelled new groups of the Ceylonese people to join the liberation struggle.

Development of the struggle for national independence (1918–48). Led by the nationalist bourgeoisie, the anti-imperialist movement took on the form of a struggle for democratic reforms. In May, 1917, P. Arunachalam founded the Ceylon Reform League. In the period 1917–19, conferences of bourgeois representatives were convoked to revise the constitution. The Great October Socialist Revolution exerted an important influence on the development of the national liberation and labor movement on the island.

The first major political party—the Ceylon National Congress (CNC)—was founded in December 1919 by P. Arunachalam, P. Ramanathan, D. B. Jayatilaka, D. S. Senanayake, and F. R. Senanayake, among others. The CNC program included a demand for the creation of an elected Ceylonese majority in the Legislative Council, for implementation of the principle of territorial representation, and the formation of a responsible government. In 1922 the Ceylon Labor Union was formed.

Political and economic demonstrations by the working masses intensified during the worldwide economic crisis. Between 1929 and 1933 there were major strikes by dockworkers, streetcar operators, and printers. In 1931 a constitution was adopted, which provided for the creation of an elected parliament—the State Council. The introduction of universal suffrage was an important political victory for the democratic forces. In the 1931 and 1936 elections a majority of seats in the State Council were won by members of the CNC, representatives of the Sinhalese big bourgeoisie. At the beginning of the 1930’s, the first Marxist circles emerged, which established ties with the working class. The Suriya Mai aniticolonialist movement developed in the country (suriya mal is the name of the flower that was sold by the adherents of the movement to build up a fund to assist the workers); the movement attracted the broad masses to the anti-imperialist struggle. In 1935 the Socialist Equality Party (Lanka Sama Sa-maja Party; LSSP) was founded.

World War II (1939–45) brought enormous hardships to the people of Ceylon. There were severe food shortages, since Ceylon lost its traditional supplier of rice as a result of the Japanese occupation of Burma. The increase in prices on essential goods considerably surpassed the increase in wages. The export of the plantation products continued to bring in large profits to British firms and the big Ceylonese planters. In 1942 the CNC demanded the abolition of the colonial regime after the end of the war. A decisive struggle to consolidate the democratic forces and attain independence was led by the Communist Party of Ceylon (CPC), founded in July 1943. The growth of the anti-imperialist movement compelled the British government to appoint a commission to draft a new constitution for Ceylon. In 1945–46 the commission’s report and draft of a new constitution were made public. The refusal of the British imperialists to grant immediate independence provoked widespread protest. There were many large-scale demonstrations by the workers, including a general strike in May and June 1947. Under pressure from the national liberation movement of the peoples of Ceylon and the neighboring Asian countries, the British government on Feb. 4, 1948, granted dominion status to Ceylon.

After the achievement of political independence. After the achievement of independence, political power in the country was attained by the bourgeois United National Party (UNP; founded 1946), headed by D. S. Senanayake. According to the conditions of the Anglo-Ceylonese defense agreement (1947) the British were to retain troops and military bases on the island. The Sena-nayake government adopted a course that was not directed at the decisive abolition of the colonial heritage. The British monopolies continued to occupy the key positions in the export of plantation crops and to control the country’s economy. Persons of Indian origin were deprived of their citizenship and the right to vote. The policies of the UNP government were subjected to criticism by the working class and a number of national bourgeois groups. The policies of the UNP were opposed by a group of Tamil bourgeoisie, which in 1949 established the Federal Party (FP). In 1951 a national bourgeois group, led by Solomon Bandaranaike, split from the UNP and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), whose program included demands for the abolition of the colonial heritage and the implementation of progressive socioeconomic reforms. The forces in opposition to the government rallied around the SLFP and created the People’s United Front (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna; MEP), which defeated the UNP in the 1956 parliamentary elections. The Bandar-anaike government embarked on a program reinforcing the country’s independence and promulgating progressive socioeconomic reforms. British military bases were closed down in 1957. Diplomatic relations were established with the USSR (1957) and other socialist countries (1957–58). In 1958 an agreement was signed with the USSR on economic and technical cooperation. Plans for economic development were worked out. The government’s progressive course provoked dissatisfaction among the reactionary elements, who organized a conspiracy; Solomon Bandaranaike was assassinated in September 1959.

In the parliamentary elections held in March 1960, the UNP gained a victory, but the new government soon received a vote of no confidence. The SLFP emerged victorious in the 1960 parliamentary elections. The government was headed by the party’s new leader, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of Solomon Bandaranaike. It adopted a nonaligned course in foreign policy. The economic program sought to accelerate industrial development, restructure agriculture, and expand the state sector. The government nationalized three foreign oil companies (1963). With Soviet aid, it carried out the construction of enterprises. An agrarian reform was instituted in 1958 (the law on lands under rice), which sought to protect the rights of peasant tenant farmers and poor peasants. Important social and cultural reforms were also promulgated.

In the course of the struggle against the reactionaries, the left-wing forces gradually united; an expression of the growth of their solidarity was the creation in 1963 of the United Left Front (ULF), which included the CPC, the LSSP, and the MEP (the name adopted in 1960 by the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Ceylon, founded in 1951). In 1964 an SLFP-LSSP coalition government was formed. Because of the government’s attempts to further democratize the country, the right-wing members of the SLFP left the party. The opposition elements created a government crisis, and the coalition government was compelled to resign.

In the 1965 parliamentary elections, a relative majority of seats was won by the UNP. Dudley S. Senanayake, the UNP leader, assured himself of the support of the FP and a number of Sinhalese bourgeois parties and formed a government. The new government adopted a policy of encouraging the private sector and attracting foreign capital. The mass firing of workers and trade union leaders who had participated in the strike of Jan. 8, 1966, was carried out. Nevertheless, the workers continued their struggle to improve their economic position and political rights. A major strike under the leadership of the Joint Committee of Trade Union Actions took place at the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968; there were many strikes in 1968 and 1969.

Cooperation between the UNP and the FP was conditional upon a number of concessions to the Tamil leaders. A great deal of pressure on the UNP government was also exerted by the Sinhalese nationalists. Increasing disagreements between the Sinhalese and Tamils led to the withdrawal of the FP from the government in 1968. In June 1968 a platform was worked out for joint actions by the SLFP, the CPC, and LSSP; the United Front (UF), whose platform was supported by the country’s progressive forces, was created. In the May 1970 parliamentary elections, the UF emerged victorious, having won 115 seats out of a total of 151. The UF government, which included members of the SLFP, LSSP, and CPC, was headed by Sirimavo Bandaranaike. It proclaimed a program of broad democratic reforms directed at eliminating the remnants of colonialism. In foreign policy the government sought to expand cooperation with peace-loving nations. State control over important economic spheres, primarily foreign trade, increased, and the activities of the state sector were strengthened. The UF government came under the attack of right-wing forces, who took advantage of objective economic and political difficulties to sabotage the government’s efforts. The reactionary elements succeeded in provoking an antigovernment revolt by left-wing extremist youth (April and May 1971).

On May 22, 1972, Ceylon was proclaimed the Republic of Sri Lanka. The new constitution abolished all forms of the country’s dependence on Great Britain. Of great importance for strengthening the Republic of Sri Lanka’s independence was the promulgation of a peace-loving foreign policy. Contacts with the USSR and other socialist countries continued to expand. Sri Lanka has taken part in all the conferences of the nonaligned countries. It made a great contribution to the organization of the Fifth Conference of the Heads of State or Government of Nonaligned Countries, held in Colombo in August 1976.

Agrarian reforms were developed further. A maximum was established for the amount of land that could be owned, and excessive amounts held by large foreign and indigenous landowners were confiscated. However, the government was unable to improve substantially the position of the working masses; it could not prevent price increases on essential goods, nor could it bring a stop to the growth of unemployment. Pressure from the right wing of the SLFP complicated relations within the ruling coalition. The exacerbation of disagreements between the LSSP and the other parties of the coalition supporting the UF platform led to the withdrawal from the government of the LSSP in September 1975 and the CPC in February 1977. In May 1977 the CPC, LSSP, and People’s Democratic Party (founded 1977) formed the United Left Front. That same year, the Tamil nationalist parties created the Tamil United Liberation Front. In the parliamentary elections of the July 1977, the UNP emerged victorious. Its leader, J. R. Jayewardene, became head of the government. In February 1978 he became president.


The United National Party (UNP), founded in 1946, expresses the interests of the middle and upper bourgeoisie. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), founded in 1951, expresses the interests of various strata of the national bourgeoisie. The Lanka Sama Sa-maja Party (LSSP; Socialist Equality Party) was founded in 1935. The Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSR) was founded in 1943. The People’s Democratic Party was founded in 1977. The Federal Party (FP), founded in 1949, expresses the interests of Tamil bourgeois nationalist circles. The United Tamil Liberation Front (UTLF) is a bloc of the Tamil bourgeois parties that emerged from the United Tamil Front (UTF), founded in 1972.

The Ceylon Workers’ Congress, founded in 1936, unites plantation workers. The Sri Lanka Federation of Trade Unions (until 1965, the Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions) was founded in 1940. It is affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Ceylon Federation of Labor was founded in 1939. The Democratic Workers’ Congress was founded in 1956.

General state of the economy. Sri Lanka’s economy is dominated by agriculture, which accounts for more than one-third of the gross national product (industry accounts for only about one-eighth). The plantation economy, which emerged during the colonial period, forms the basis of the country’s present economy, which continues to be heavily dependent on the foreign market. After the achievement of independence, a number of state development programs (the latest in the period 1972–76) and reforms have been carried out; they are directed at transforming agriculture to increase food production, expanding power production and industrial construction, and strengthening the state’s control over foreign capital.

The growth of the state sector has been a key factor in the strengthening of the country’s economic independence and the creation of a national industry; for example, in 1976 the state sector accounted for approximately one-third of the entire industrial output. Under state ownership are the railroads, the port facilities, the major industrial enterprises, the electric power plants, and the irrigation installations. A system of state-sponsored corporations has been established (in 1973 there were about 84 such corporations, of which 26 were in industry); the corporations are responsible for the management of many industrial enterprises (and the construction of new facilities), plantations, and trade institutions. One example is the state petroleum corporation, which has established a monopoly on the importation and domestic trade of petroleum products and which controls the supply of foreign vessels; another state corporation is the tea export corporation.

As a result of the nationalization of plantations (by a 1975 law) owned by foreign and domestic capital (under conditions whereby specified compensation was paid), more than 400 tea, rubber, and coconut plantations, with a total area of 160,000 hectares (ha), were transferred to state control. All plantations with an area of more than 20 ha were nationalized. By the mid-1970’s, the proportion of foreign, primarily British, capital decreased sharply, to a level of 26 percent in tea production and 12 percent in rubber production. The activities of foreign banks have been curtailed; all financial operations pertaining to the tea trade are handled by the Central Bank of Ceylon.

Along with the growth of the state sector, the role of the private capitalist sector has been maintained and strengthened. The number of mixed state-private companies has increased. The restructuring of Sri Lanka’s economy has been financed by both domestic and foreign (albeit with certain limitations) capital investments and loans. The USSR and other socialist countries have granted substantial financial and technical aid to Sri Lanka, and a majority of the most important industrial enterprises of the state sector have been built with the aid of socialist countries.

Agriculture. The 1972 agrarian reform, which placed limits on large-scale landownership (a maximum of 20 ha), succeeded in somewhat curtailing landownership by the big landlords (by the beginning of 1975 more than 200,000 ha had been taken away from landlords). However, the nature of landownership and land tenure essentially remains unchanged. A considerable portion of the land is still concentrated in the hands of the relatively large-scale landowners, temples, and monasteries. Much of the peasantry lacks land or has too little. Rent payments for the use of the lands have been somewhat curtailed. The following two types of farms predominate: capitalistic, primarily plantation, farms, which make extensive use of hired labor; and small, truck-garden or seminatural peasant farms (with average plots of about 0.3 ha), managed by tenant farmers or the owners themselves. The renting of land is widespread. In accordance with the present state plan for developing new lands, every peasant may buy 1.5–2 ha of irrigated land on credit and several ha of unirrigated land. The formation of farm cooperatives is an important feature of the agrarian changes.

About 37 percent of the country’s land area is used for agriculture (2.4 million ha in 1974), primarily in the Wet Zone; 895,000 ha are occupied by arable lands, 1.084 million ha by perennial plantation crops, and 439,000 ha by pastures and meadows. As of 1974, 430,000 ha were being irrigated. More than 40 percent (2.9 million ha) of the country is forested. During the years of independence there has been a 45-percent increase in the amount of land cultivated as a result of assimilation of state-owned lands in the Dry Zone (the northern and eastern parts of the island) and the expansion of irrigation construction. In 1970 complex hydraulic-engineering contruction was begun on the Mahaweli Ganga, a project developed by a group of UN experts under the direction of a Soviet engineer.

Plantation farming, concentrated in the central and southwestern parts of the island, specializes in the production of export crops—namely, tea, rubber, and coconut products. In 1976, Sri Lanka’s tea harvest accounted for nearly one-eighth of the world production; Sri Lanka ranks behind only India and China in tea production. The coconut harvest is considerable, one of the highest in the world; in the production of copra and export of coconut oil, Sri Lanka also ranks high on the world market. Sri Lanka is a major producer of natural rubber, ranking fourth in the world, after Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Food crops for domestic needs are grown primarily by the peasant farms. The principal food crop is rice, which is harvested twice a year. During the years of independence, the harvest of unmilled rice (paddy) has increased considerably, primarily owing to the state policy of subsidizing and granting credits to rice-growing farms and the achievement of somewhat higher harvest yields. However, the country’s rice production meets only 65–75 percent of the country’s needs. Other food crops include millet, corn, legumes, sweet potatoes, manioc, green vegetables, and spices—cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamon. Industrial crops include fiber and oil crops; among fruits grown are bananas and pineapples. (See Table 1 for the production of farm crops.)

Stock raising is poorly developed; cattle are primarily used as draft animals. In order to improve this branch of agriculture, state stock-raising farms are being established, and ways are being sought to expand the fodder base. As of 1975, there were 2.5 million head of cattle (including 700,000 buffalo) and 550,000 goats. Elephants are also used as work animals.

The fish catch amounted to 129,000 tons in 1975. There is also a pearl-fishing industry.

Industry. Sri Lanka’s industry is still characterized by the predominance of many small-scale enterprises, including cottage-type handicraft enterprises; individual large-scale enterprises have been constructed, for the most part, in the state sector.

The island is poor in mineral fuel, and consequently fuel is imported. Sri Lanka supplies the foreign market with high-grade graphite (the Bógala and Ragedara mines; 7,800 tons mined in 1975); small amounts of ilmenite, rutile, zircon, salt, and precious stones (rubies, sapphires, and aquamarines) are also mined. The principal source for expanding the energy base is waterpower. Construction is under way on state hydroelectric power plants on the Kehelgomu, Maskeliya, and other rivers.

Traditional branches of the processing industry are the processing of tea and rubber and the production of copra and coconut oil. The enterprises of these branches are located primarily in regions with large plantations. There are rice-cleaning enterprises, sugar refineries (output of raw sugar amounted to 28,000 tons in 1975), and other enterprises of the food industry, as well as textile enterprises (one of the largest textile enterprises in southern Asia was built in cooperation with the German Democratic Republic) and enterprises of the footwear and certain other branches of light industry.

Heavy industry is still in its infancy. In Oruvella, near Colombo,

Table 1. Principal agricultural crops
 Area (ha)Harvest (tons)
1Yearly average
Rice ...............505,000638,000597,000967,0001,875,0001,154,000
Tea ...............239,000240,000242,000217,000201,000
Rubber ...............107,000145,000150,0002
Coconuts ...............2,040,0001,350,0001,650,000
Copra3 ...............284,000109,000170,000

the first metallurgical plant, with a capacity of 50,000 tons of rolled steel per year, was built in 1967 (with the cooperation of the USSR). Machine-building and metalworking enterprises include mainly assembly plants, which supply equipment for light industry, transportation equipment, and agricultural equipment. Certain branches of industry are being expanded, such as the production of fertilizers, the oil-refining and rubber industries (a tire plant was built in Kelani, a suburb of Colombo, in 1967 with the cooperation of the USSR), the wood-products industry (a large plant has been built with the cooperation of Poland), and the production of construction materials (a plant has been built near Colombo with aid from the USSR). The principal industrial center is the city of Colombo and it environs.

The old-fashioned, traditional crafts are widespread, for example, blacksmithing, pottery-making, cloth weaving, basketry, the plaiting of bags, hats, and ropes, rug weaving, carving in wood, antler, ivory, and tortoiseshell, metal stamping, and the production of gold and silver ornaments with precious stones.

Transportation. The leading form of transportation is automotive transport, and the length of roads exceeds 21,500 km. There are about 1,500 km (1976) of railroads. Most of the overseas merchant marine is owned by British companies; Sri Lanka is also establishing its own fleet, which by mid-1976 totaled 36 vessels. About 5 million tons of cargo are handled by the ports, including Colombo, which handles up to 90 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports and more than one-half of its exports, Galle, and Trincomalee. Colombo has an international airport—Katunayaka Airport— located north of the capital.

Foreign trade. More than 90 percent of the total value of exports is provided by tea (40–60 percent of the monetary revenues), natural rubber, and coconut products. The principal imports are foodstuffs, which account for one-third to one-half of the total value of imports (707,000 tons of rice in 1975–76); other important imports are industrial goods, raw materials, and fuel. The chief foreign trading partners are China, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Australia, the USA, Pakistan, Japan, and India. The USSR and the socialist countries of Europe account for 5.2 percent (1975) of the value of foreign trade turnover.

The monetary unit is the Sri Lanka rupee. In May 1978, at the exchange rate of Gosbank of the USSR, 100 rupees equaled 4 rubles and 50 kopeks.


The armed forces comprise an army, air force, and navy. The supreme commander in chief is the president; direct leadership is exercised by the minister of defense. The armed forces, which consist of paid volunteers, number (1976) about 14,000 persons.

The army, with about 9,000 men, comprises one brigade, intelligence and artillery regiments, and military supply and service units. The weapons are of foreign make. The air force, which numbers about 2,300 men, has five combat and six transport airplanes, a communications squadron, about 20 trainers, and 15 helicopters. The navy, which numbers 2,400 men, has one frigate, five gunboats, and 23 patrol boats.

Medicine and public health. According to data of the World Health Organization (1972), the birthrate is 29.5 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate, 7.7; the infant mortality rate is 45.1 per 1,000 live births. Infectious and parasitic diseases predominate. Malaria and tuberculosis are widespread, as are gastrointestinal infections, which constitute the principal cause of death.

In 1973, Sri Lanka had 456 hospitals, with 39,700 beds (approximately three beds per 1,000 inhabitants). Outpatient care is provided by 334 polyclinics attached to hospitals, 546 dispensaries, and 1,300 maternity and child-welfare centers. In 1972 there were 3,200 physicians in Sri Lanka (one physician per 4,000 inhabitants), 280 stomatologists, and more than 11,000 other medical personnel, as well as more than 10,000 practitioners of traditional folk medicine—the Ayurvedas. Physicians are trained at two medical faculties at the universities.

In 1970–71 expenditures on health care made up 3.5 percent of the state budget.

Veterinary services. Foot-and-mouth disease, pasteurellosis, fowl pox, coccidiosis, and mastitis are widespread in Sri Lanka. Also registered have been leptospirosis of cattle (in regions where buffalo are bred), anthrax among cattle (rare), Newcastle’s disease, hoof rot, blackleg, salmonellosis, brucellosis, avian leukosis, rabies among dogs, cattle, and wild animals, anaplasmosis, babesiasis, theileriasis, fascioliasis, and mange.

As of 1976 there were 284 veterinarians in Sri Lanka; they are trained in the faculty of agriculture and veterinary science of the University of Sri Lanka and in India and other countries. There is a research center for veterinary science.


Sri Lanka has a high literacy rate; more than 80 percent (1974) of the adult population is literate. In 1972, on the initiative of the United Front government, an educational reform was instituted in the country, in accordance with which an 11-year school replaced the previous 12-year general-educational school: a primary school (five years), a junior (incomplete) secondary school (four years), and a senior (complete) secondary school (two years). Nine years of instruction—five in primary and four in the junior secondary school—are compulsory for children ranging in age from six to 14. During the 1974–75 school year, there were 1.370 million pupils in grades 1–5 and 1.064 million students in grades 6–11. Instruction is free and conducted in Sinhalese or Tamil; English is taught in the secondary schools. Teachers for the general-education schools are trained at two-year teacher-training colleges, based on the complete secondary school. In the 1973–74 academic year, there were 28 teacher-training colleges, with an enrollment of 9,300 students.

Teachers for the secondary schools are trained at the universities. Vocational and technical training is conducted after completing the nine-year school in two-year schools or the four-year technical institutes. The University of Sri Lanka (established 1972 through a merger of previously existing universities) has campuses in Peradeniya, Colombo, Vidyalankara, Vidyodaya, Katubedde, and Jaffna (opened in 1974). During the 1975–76 academic year, the university had an enrollment of more than 15,600 students.

The largest libraries are the Public Library in Colombo (with more than 132,000 volumes in 1975), the National Museum Library in Colombo (more than 500,000 volumes), and the university library in Peradeniya (400,000 volumes). Museums include the National Museums of Sri Lanka, which comprise the national museums in Colombo, Kandy, and Ratnapura and the folk museum in Anuradhapura.


Scientific research is coordinated by the National Science Council (founded 1968) under the Ministry of Industries and Scientific Affairs. The state finances projects related to the country’s economic development. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development provides funds for the Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (1955). Scientific personnel are primarily trained abroad. The leading scientific center is the University of Sri Lanka, where research in the natural sciences, history, sociology, and linguistics is conducted. Applied research is conducted at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (1965) and the institutes of the departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, such as the Tea Research Institute of Ceylon in Talawakele (founded 1925). The Ceylon Medical Research Institute (1900) works on the study and treatment of tropical diseases. Archaeological and ethnographic studies are concentrated at the Colombo National Museum.

The most important scientific societies are the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (1944) and the Royal Asiatic Society (1845), a branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain. With the aid of the USSR research is being conducted in hydraulic-engineering construction, industry, and agriculture. In collaboration with foreign scholars, including scholars from the USSR, the multivolume Buddhist Encyclopedia is being published.


In 1976 more than 30 periodicals were being published (in Sinhalese, Tamil, and English).

The most widespread newspapers, all published in Colombo, are the Sinhalese-language Lankadipa (since 1947; circulation, 67,000), Dinamina (1909; circulation, more than 129,000), and Dinakara (1977), the Tamil-language Virakesari (1930; circulation, 32,000), and the English-language Ceylon Daily News (1918; circulation, 65,000), and Ceylon Observer (1834; circulation, 5,000). The Communist Party of Sri Lanka publishes the following newspapers: the Sinhalese-language Aththa (1964; circulation, 17,500), the Tamil-language Desabhimani (1946; circulation, 10,000), and the English-language Forward (1950; circulation, 9,000). The Press Trust of Ceylon, a national cooperative news agency, was founded in 1951. The national information agency Lanka Tuvat was founded in 1978.

Radio broadcasting is directed by the state-sponsored Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (founded 1967). It is conducted in four languages—Sinhalese, Tamil, English, and Hindi.


Literature has developed primarily in Sinhalese, although literature in Tamil and English is also of some importance. The first literary works—the Dipavamsa chronicle (fourth century) and Mahavamsa chronicle (fifth century)—were written in the Pali language. In addition to historical facts, the Mahavamsa includes myths and legends. During the fourth and fifth centuries, various commentaries on the basic tenets of Buddhism were recorded. Circa the fifth century, jatakas, borrowed from India, were written in Pali. Literature in Pali formed the basis of Sinhalese literature. Works in Sanskrit also became widespread.

The first works in Sinhalese appeared in the sixth century. Verse and prose excerpts have been preserved, along with cave and rock inscriptions; later works contain references to the poets of the period. Medieval Sinhalese literature borrowed the genres of the chronicle and the epic poem from ancient Indian literature.

Medieval authors considered religious preaching to be the principal goal of creative art. The epic poem The Crest-Gem of Poetry by the Sinhalese king Parakrama Bahu II (1236–70) includes sections that, to a certain extent, reflected Parakrama’s own epoch. Beginning in the 13th century, prose acquired increasing importance, since its simpler language made it easier to expound the ideas of Buddhism (for example, The Flood of Nectar, 13th century, by Gurulugomi). Important prose works of the 13th century were Vidyachakravarti’s The Refuge of Buddha and Mayurapadathera’s The History of Offerings, a collection of sermons in which the hard lot of the peasants was first depicted in Sinhalese literature. A Garland of Jewels of the Good Doctrine, by the Buddhist monk Dharmasena, depicts the life of the peasants, along with their language and customs. In The Ornament of the Good Law (14th century), Dharmakirti wrote about the famine that had devastated the country and about peasant life and its many deprivations.

In the 14th century the translation of the jatakas into Sinhalese was completed. In the 15th century poetry once again acquired importance. Epistolary narrative poems provided a detailed description of Sri Lanka’s cities, villages, and monasteries. Sri Ránula wrote The Dove’s Message, The Starling’s Message, and The Diadem of Poetry. In Guttilaya, Vcettœve Thera expressed opposition to the king’s court. In the narrative poem The Ornament of the Buddha’s Virtues, Vidagama expressed displeasure with the greed and injustice of the powers that be. The last major representative of medieval poetry—Alagiyavanna Mohottala (late 16th and early 17th centuries)—in his narrative poem The Great War depicted the struggle of the Sinhalese King Rajasinha II against the Portuguese colonialists.

Colonization impeded the development of Sinhalese literature, but as early as the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, there was a noticeable increase in national self-awareness and a striving to retain originality and a national culture. The first Sinhalese novels were published in the first decade of the 20th century. S. de Silva spoke out in defense of national customs and Buddhism, and P. Sirisena (1875–1946) expressed similar ideas in the novel Jayatissa and Rosalind, or The Happy Marriage (1906). W. A. Silva (1892–1957), in such historical novels as Sunetra, or The Dark Age (1936), described the struggle of the people against the Portuguese; in the novel The Puppet Chieftain (1939), he satirized the wealthy landowners. Elements of realism are evident in his short stories.

The establishment of realism and the subsequent development of the Sinhalese literary language are linked with the writer and literary scholar M. Wickramasinghe (1891–1976), whose trilogy Changing Village (1944), The Last Century (1947), and The End of an Age (1949) depicted class stratification in the village, the rise of a new merchant class, and the emergence of a working class.

During the 1940’s the short-story genre gained importance; the leading short-story writers include H. Munidas (1903–57) and G. B. Senanayake (born 1903). The achievement of political independence (1948) and the ensuing democratic changes, as well as the adoption of Sinhalese as the official state language, gave new life to literature. During the 1950’s and 1960’s reality became the principal object of depiction. Humanity and sympathy for the simple working man characterize the works of E. Sarathchandra (born 1914) and K. Jayatilaka (born 1926), as well as the works of Gunadasa Amarasekara (born 1929), author of the novels Prisoners of Destiny (1955) and The Legless Ones (1961) and of short stories and poems depicting the life of the people. The plots of some of his short stories echo the works of N. V. Gogol and A. P. Chekhov. The heroes of Jayatilaka’s novels Those Who Have Suffered Defeat (1960) and Three Characters (1963) and his short stories are helpless in the face of life. The themes of disillusionment and confusion are at the center of Sarathchandra’s novels A Tired Man Sees Not the Path (1962) and A Day of Remembrance for the Dead (1965). Sarathchandra’s The Sinhalese Novel (1950) presents an analysis of the national literature from the mid-19th century to the 1950’s. A comparison of the urban and rural ways of life is the theme of Madawala Ratnayake’s novel Five Acres (1959). The novellas of L. Gunasekara depict village life.

At the end of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s, criticism of social relations increased. Kumara Karunaratna’s novella Colombo 7 (1972) and Gunadasa Liyanage’s novels Dona Kamalawathie (1971) and I Will Come Back, Mama (1973) expose the hypocrisy and corruption of the bourgeois politicians. The hero of contemporary prose joins the struggle for a better life, for example, in Heyiyammaruva (1971) by A. V. Suravira. The themes of poetry (S. Mahinda, Munidas Kumaranatunga, Sagara Palansuriya, G. H. Perera, Alwis Perera, Vilmalaratna, Kumaragama, Chandraratna Manavasimha) include the beauties of nature, the hard lot of the working masses, and the awakening of civic and national feelings. Sarathchandra’s plays Maname and Sinhabahu are based on ancient legends. The life of the people of Sri Lanka and social changes constitute the themes of works by Amaradasa Samaravira and Henri Jayasena.

In 1969 the progressive writers of Sri Lanka formed the organization called the “People’s Writers Front”, which since 1973 has published the literary newspaper Jana ruchiya. The journals Sahityaya, Sanskruti, and Kala puvat publish materials dealing with literary history and criticism.


In the course of many centuries the Tamil-language literature of Sri Lanka developed as part of India’s Tamil literature and thus lacked an independent, national character. With the upsurge in the national liberation movement at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries and with the growth of national self-awareness among the Tamils of Sri Lanka, Tamil literature assumed increasingly more original traits. The greatest development in the 20th century was attained by poetry and by prose, specifically, the novella and the one-act play. The Tamil writers have addressed social themes. Their heroes are the toilers of the city and the village—petty clerks, workers, peasants, and fishermen—voicing their protest against exploitation and social injustices. Popular prose writers and poets include S. P. Amara-singam, Varathar, J. Vijaytunga, C. V. Velupillai, S. Ganeshalingam, K. Daniel, D. D. Jiva, Ilangayarkone, V. A. Rajaratnam, Kanaga Senthinathan, Nirvai Ponnaiyan (born 1930), Sargunar Ponnuthuram, Premji, and Sokkalingam. The emergence of Tamil dramaturgy has been facilitated by the festivals in Colombo organized every year by the division of Tamil drama of the Cultural Council of Sri Lanka.

English-language literature originated in the 19th century and developed under the influence not only of the European but also of Sinhalese and Tamil literatures of Sri Lanka. R. L. Spittel published novellas, narrative poems, and stories, including Vanished Trails, or The Last of the Veddas (1950), Where the White Sambhur Roams, and Wild White Boy (1958). Popular writers include J. Vijayatunge, author of the short-story collections Grass for My Feet (1935) and Girl From the Rodiya Caste and Other Stories (1960); G. Virasuriya, author of the realistic novel Harijan in Trousers, drawn from the life of petty clerks; J. Gunawarhana (or Goonawardine), author of novellas in English and Sinhalese; R. Proctor, author of the novella The Fisherman’s Daughter and short stories; and Anna Ranasinghe (poems, 1971, 1975).

Children’s short stories and tales based on Sinhalese and Tamil folklore are also published.


The ancient period of the art of Sri Lanka (third century B.C. to eighth century A.D.), which owes much to the art of India, is represented by Buddhist monuments, concentrated, for the most part, in Anuradhapura.

During the early medieval period (eighth to 13th centuries), construction was carried out primarily in the new capital—Polon-naruwa—where Hindu temples were also erected. The monumentality and grandeur of the early stupas gave way to harmonic restraint in proportions, while retaining the former moderation (in comparison with India) in the interior and exterior sculptural decoration. Particularly characteristic for the medieval plastic arts of Sri Lanka are statues of Buddha, including huge rock statues, characterized by a sense of balance and clarity of strongly stylized forms. Also preserved are numerous examples of secular stone sculptures, metal statuettes of deities, and the well-known rock paintings of Sigiriya.

Under the colonial regime (beginning in the 16th century), the art of Sri Lanka, which on the whole had entered a period of decline, was developed only by village masters of temple paintings, artistic metalworking (utensils and weapons), wood carving (carved architectural details, furniture, tools, small boxes), carving in ivory (statuettes, panels, boxes, chalices, door stops, and combs), lacquer work, and work in stone and clay. Jewelry was also made, as well as artistic fabrics, mats, embroidered items, and wooden masks.

Professional easel art in Sri Lanka originated at the end of the 19th century under the influence of the official art of the British Academy of Arts. The first art association was the Ceylon Society of Arts (founded 1887; A. Amarasekere, J. D. A. Perera, T. Rajapaksha, and others). During the first half of the 20th century, a school of painting emerged in connection with the development of the liberation movement that combined national traditions with elements of the new European trends; this school included members of the 43 group (beginning in 1943; J. Dara-niyagala, G. Keyt, H. Peiris, and others) and the Society of Folk Arts, which included primarily nonprofessional masters working in the gouache technique (beginning in 1950; V. L. A. Mendis and others).

After the achievement of independence, the time was ripe for the formation of a national school of architecture; urban and rural complexes were erected that combined elements of national medieval and contemporary European architecture.


Sri Lanka’s theatrical art is rooted in the folk games, rituals, and dances of the various tribes that had settled the island in antiquity. Religious holidays were accompanied by songs and dances, and various spectacles were arranged in honor of the gods and legendary heroes. The chronicle-poem Mahavamsa (fifth century) attests to the ancient origin of the theater; it contains passing mention of dance spectacles and descriptions of the mandaran, a stage area where dancers and musicians performed. With the spread of Buddhism, the mystery-like drama appeared in the monasteries, propagandizing religious and philosophical doctrines. There also existed various forms of folk theater, some of which have been preserved, including the kolam, a masked dance and mime presentation whose origin was linked with magical religious rituals (it was widespread in the vicinity of Ambalangoda and Bentara), and the sokari (”threshing-floor” theater), a humorous theatrical production. A newer theatrical form, based on folk music and dance, arose—the nadagama, a unique musical spectacle with singing, dancing, and pantomime that became popular in the early 19th century (it is not staged in the 20th century, and only the songs have been preserved).

The emergence of the modern theater is closely linked with the growth of national self-awareness and the national liberation struggle of the peoples of Sri Lanka. At the end of the 19th century, plays clearly divided into acts appeared, the curtain was introduced, and women began performing on the stage. A new type of play, the nurtiya, while retaining the music and dance form of the nadagama, included dialogue. Among such plays were Romlin (1866) and Rolina (1879) by C. Don Bastian, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1885), and J. de Suva’s Siri Sangabo (1903), Vihara Maha Devi (1916), and other plays, constructed in accordance with the rules of Sanskrit drama. De Suva’s plays were staged by the professional companies Arya Subodha Natya Sabha and Vijaya Ranga Sabha. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, plays dealing with social issues appeared, such as B. Jayamanna’s Iranama and Hadisi Viniscaya, which are about urban workers.

The establishment of Sri Lanka’s independence (1948) facilitated the revival and development of national traditions. New theatrical forms emerged, including the ballet, which synthesized traditional and folkdance arts. In 1944 a ballet school and troupe were formed (known since 1955 as the Chitrasena Dance Company), under the direction of Chitrasena, Sri Lanka’s first professional dancer and choreographer. The company’s repertoire includes the ballets The Triumph of Peace, which depicts the struggle for peace, Kardiya (Salt Water), which deals with the life of fishermen, and Nala and Damayanti, which is based on the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. (In 1960 and 1963 the troupe toured the USSR.) The state Folk Dance Ensemble of Sri Lanka was founded in 1973 under the direction of Pani Bharata (it toured the USSR in 1974).

There are many amateur theatrical groups in Sri Lanka. A group at the university in Colombo is well known; its repertoire includes the plays by the contemporary Sinhalese playwright E. Sarathchandra Maname and Sinhabahu, as well as plays by A. P. Chekhov, O. Wilde, and other writers.



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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sri Lanka

Official name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Capital city: Colombo

Internet country code: .lk

Flag description: Yellow with two panels; the smaller hoist-side panel has two equal vertical bands of green (hoist side) and orange; the other panel is a large dark red rectangle with a yellow lion holding a sword, and there is a yellow bo leaf in each corner; the yellow field appears as a border around the entire flag and extends between the two panels

National anthem: “Sri Lanka Matha”

National flower: Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea stellata)

Geographical description: Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of India

Total area: 25,332 sq. mi. (65,610 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)

Nationality: noun: Sri Lankan(s); adjective: Sri Lankan

Population: 20,926,315 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 74%, Tamil 18%, Burgher (descen­dants of Dutch and Portuguese colonist) and others 8%

Languages spoken: Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, other 8% (English is commonly used in government and is spoken competent­ly by about 10% of the population)

Religions: Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10%

Legal Holidays:

Christmas DayDec 25
Day prior to Sinhala and Tamil New YearApr 13
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
May DayMay 1
National DayFeb 4
Sinhala and Tamil New YearApr 14
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

Sri Lanka

a republic in S Asia, occupying the island of Ceylon: settled by the Sinhalese from S India in about 550 bc; became a British colony 1802; gained independence in 1948, becoming a republic within the Commonwealth in 1972. Exports include tea, cocoa, cinnamon, and copra. Official languages: Sinhalese and Tamil; English is also widely spoken. Religion: Hinayana Buddhist majority. Currency: Sri Lanka rupee. Capital: Colombo (administrative), Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (legislative). Parts of the coast suffered badly in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Pop.: 19 218 000 (2004 est.). Area: 65 610 sq. km (25 332 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005