Sri Lanka Holidays presents you with the opportunity to visit historical & cultural sites of the Sinhalese. During Sri Lanka tours, while you tour ancient kingdoms with its rainwater reservoirs, temples & stupas it would be of value for you to have a printed copy of this web page titled Sinhalese History.
Pre-history of Sri Lanka, Garden of Eden & Adam's Bridge of Sri Lanka, Recorded History of Sri Lanka, Modern History of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a wondrous land whose history runs into 2550 years &
legends runs into Adam' Bridge and
Pre-history of Sri Lanka in an Indo-Aryan perspective
events in India
437- 366 BC
Spread of civilization.
Reign of King Pandukabaya. The concept of hospitals emerged & put into practice.
In the third century B. C the capital of Sri Lanka was Anuaradhapura. It was Pandukabhaya (437-366 BC) who developed the original Anuradhapura in to a city.. From the time Anuradhapura was raised by Pandukabhaya to the eminence of a city in the latter part of the fourth century B.C it remained as the capital of Sri Lanka for a about twelve centuries.
The Mahavamsa -Tika says that the early Aryans who came to this Island opened up new settlements in areas where water was easily available. Pandukabhaya built a tank to supply
water to the city, although there was already a tank built by Anuradha, his grand uncle.
Contemporary events in India
King Buddhadasa, a reputed Ayurvedic Physician & veterinary surgeon, establishes Animal Hospitals
Irrigation engineering on ascendancy: a brilliant invention called bisokotuwa, a sluice gate was introduced into the manmade rainwater reservoirs carving many square kilometres.
Convalescent homes were established.
The Greek historian Megasthenes describes pearls & elephants of Lanka.
Onescritus, who was an Admiral of the fleet of Alexander the Great describes the tamed & trained elephants of Taprobane (Lanka)
Reign of King Asoka the great, golden period, spread of Buddhism across India, China, Japan, Far East & Lanka, Lanka embraces Buddhism whole heartedly.
Reign of Devanam Piya Tissa, a contemporary of Emperor Asoka of India, the one & only Indian emperor to unite whole of India send Buddhist monks to all part of Asia.
Such was the Emperor's love of Lanka (called Tamraparni in King Asoka's Rock Edicts), non other than his son bhiksu (monk) Arhath Mahinda was entrusted with the task of establishing Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Aryan Sinhalese embraced Buddhism with such fervour, they began to believe Buddha had entrusted the care of pure Buddhism to the little island. Non violent Buddhism & a new born race, Sinhala become inseparable .
Arrival of the slip of the Bo tree in whose shelter Buddha achieved eternal enlightenment.
Foundation of the Mahavihara & Thuparama monuments
Inscriptions in Brahmi characters on cave shelters show first Buddhist communities.
Death of Arhath Mahinda in Lanka
Defeat of Tamil invader Elara, who ruled dry central plains. Restoration of Buddhist monuments destroyed by the Elara's Dravidian invaders by King Dutugamunu of Ruhuna.
Religious foundations at Mihitale & Anurdhapura. Victorious King Dutugamunu, who was already tormented by the 15 years of bloodshed in his war against the Dravidian invaders, in spite of the newly gained overwhelming strength gives up pursuing them at Elephant pass, slim strip of land leading to Jaffna. The invaders were" allowed to live as they pleased" (ancient scriptures) Buddhist teachings continued to be held supreme over the threat of marauding Dravidian invasions.
The lack of all religious rites in Buddhism was not keenly felt during the lifetime of Buddha. Personal devotion to him took the place of religious fervour. But since his cessation from suffering (eternal relief from bondage of birth & rebirth) this very devotion to him assumed the form of religious worship. His sacred relics, consisting of his bones, teeth, alms-bowl, cremation vessel & ashes from his funeral pyre, were enclosed in dome shaped monuments called Dagobas, or Stupas, & were honoured with offerings of lights, flowers, & incense. Pictures & statues of Buddha were multiplied on every side, & similarly honoured, being carried about in festival days in solemn procession. The places, too, associated with his birth, enlightenment, first preaching, & final extinction were considered especially sacred, & became the objects of veneration & pilgrimage & the occasion of recurring festivals.
First reign of King Vathagamani; interrupted by Tamil invaders from Southern India
Pali scriptures of Budhism were committed to writing.
Four Lankan envoys visit Rome in the reign of Emperor Claudius Caesar (10BC-54BC); Roman historian & naturalist Pliny chronicles Lanka in his histories.
Pliny makes reference to Lanka's relationship with China.
Greek historian Ptolemy records export of elephants from Lanka to Kalinga
Reign of Voharika Tissa; progress of Mahayana Buddhism
Reign of Mahasena;& the foundation of the Jetavana Dagoba, the largest dagoba or stupa in the world.
Reign of Sirimeghavana; the arrival of the Sacred Tooth relic of Buddha
The reign of King Mahanama. The translation into Pali of the Sinhalese commentaries of the Tripitaka (three books of Buddhism) was undertaken.
The Chinese scholar Fa-hsien visits Anuradhapura
Embassy to China; nuns sent to Nanking
South Indian invasion & domination; end of first Anuradhapura period.
Buddhist Monk Mahanama commence writing Mahavamsa (Great History) in Pali language (language of Buddhism) on palm-leaf tablets. A chronicle of Sinhalese kings who irrigated, cultivated the island, embraced Buddhism wholeheartedly & protected island & Buddhism from South Indian invasions.
Reign of King Dahtusena; end of brief South Indian domination; end of first Anuradhapura period. Patricide by Prince Kasyapa
Reign of Kasyapa;construction of Sigirya. Suicide of King Kasyapa in the battle against his brother Mogaallan
Reign of Mogallan 1; capital returned to Anuradhaopura; arrival of bikhshunie (Buddhist nun) Sangamiita, daughter of Emporer Asoka of India & arrival of hair relic.
King Silakala decrees the "preservation of life of all creatures" throughout the island
Reign of Aggabodhi1, Irrigation works
Reign of Aggabodhi 11. Rebuilding of the Thuparama
Internecine struggles; South Indian invasions.
A significant collection of ancient ceramic ware from the periods of six Chinese dynasties has been unearthed in Sri Lanka. The earliest ceramics are from the period of Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.D) Ceramics remains from North Sung, South Sung, Ming, Yuan, & Qing dynasties & ancient Chinese coins have been discovered. Chinese inscriptions found in some of the ancient ports of Lanka provide valuable information on ancient Sino-Lanka relationships & archaeological & historical values of Chinese ceramics found in Sri Lanka.
Reign of Manavamma; alliance with the Pallavas.
Reign of Aggabodhi V11, which brought the temporary abandonment of Anuradhapura in favour of Polonnaruwa
Reign of Sena 1. Pandyan conquest
Reign of Sena11;alliance with Pallavas against Pandyas
King Kassappa IV granted safety to all creatures on land & water following the footsteps of the ancient kings.
Pandyan king asks for aid against the Cholas & takes refuge in Sri Lanka
Chola (Tamilnadu) invasion;Anuradhapura is plundered, the king flees to Ruhuna (South of Sri Lanka)
Reign of Mahinda 1V. Rebuilding takes place at Anuradhapura.
Capture & sack of Anuradhapura. Mahinda 1V takes refuge in Ruhuna
Mahinda V captured by Cholas. Collapse of irrigation system & destruction of numerious Buddhist foundations
Defeat of Cholas at the hands of Sinhalse prince Keerthi of Ruhuna. Kingdom was liberated from Cholas.
Prince Kirti was crowned at Anuradhapura by the name king Vijayabahu
Capital transferred to Polonnaruwa. Religious foundations & irrigation works
Reign of Parakramabahu the great. Beginning of a period of Buddhist revival & construction of major irrigation networks.
Reign of Nissanka Malla
Destruction & tyranny of Kalinga Maga of Kerala
Reign of Parakramabahu 11
A succession of kings, up to Parakarambahu V111
Marco Polo visits Lanka & call it Seilan
Portugese arrive under Lorennco de Almeida; they soon occupy the island's coastal areas
The Portuguese found" Kola Amba-thota (harbour with leafy mango trees), (Colombo) a fine bay for the ships. The Muslims, who had been trading peacefully in the island by courtesy of the Sinhalese kings, were expelled by the Portuguese. Portuguese commence to monopolize the spice & cinnamon trade, which soon became of enormous importance to Europe
Dom Juan Dharmapala set up as puppet king by the Portuguese
Reign of King Rajasinha 1
Capital moved to Kandy
Reign of Rajasinghe 11
King Rajasinghe's army inflicted a major defeat on the Portuguese. But the Sinhalese King was not pleased with the bloodshed. Having seen the decapitated head of the Portuguese commander Constance de Sa, the king lamented. "How often did I ask thee not to make war on men, nor destroy my lands, but to let me live in peace, the Portuguese remaining absolute lords of the best part of Ceylon"
Dutch arrive & oust Portuguese after both land & sea battles. Following an epic siege of Colombo Fort, 73 Portuguese survivors surrendered to the Dutch.
"At three o'clock on the afternoon of the 12th May, 1656, we came out of the city, 73 very emaciated soldiers, all hat remained there, including some with broken arms & minus a, leg, & all looking like dead people... We then entered the house where we met the Dutch general & major, who received us very warmly & gave us a toast..." The Dutch officers said they looked forward to meeting the rest of the brave defenders. They were told there were no more surviving." At this they changed colour, a great sadness following the cheerfulness with which they received us"
Robert Knox, an English sailor, is captured by the king of Kandy
Crown colony Ceylon: Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Coffee, Tea, Rubber, highways, railways, missionary schools & colonial repression & exploitation
Dutch surrender to the British, who have become interested in Trincomalees's fine natural harbour
Reign of Sri Wickrama Rajasinha; ultimate betrayal of the nation to the British by Kandyan Ministers
Ceylon becomes a Crown Colony
The American Mission founds the Batticotta Seminary (later Jaffna College) in Tamil speaking Jaffna. The establishment of these Christian schools was a means of spreading Christianity in Sri Lanka.
Education & employment in Colonial Sri Lanka was restricted to Christians.
Buddhist Sinhalese & Hindu Tamils had to become Christians to advance themselves within the colonial administration.
This situation resulted in, at the independence in 1948 ( population then 8 million), 49 out of 103 schools were in the Tamils populated North & the Tamil populated East servicing an almost exclusively Tamil population: 12% of the population, the Tamils had access to 50% of the education institutions which translated into public sector employment.
At independence in 1948, 42% of the beurocracy Ceylon consisted of minority Tamils.
In effect successive European Colonial administrators relied heavily on the Tamil minority, local & immigrant from South India, to administer the country, since the bulk of the Sinhalese majority were opposed to European rule. This was compounded by the European colonial powers encouraging millions from South India to settle in Sri Lanka as a means of cheap labour to work in the tobacco plantations (Portuguese) in Jaffna & coffee, tea & rubber plantations in the central hills. Tea plantations (British) alone had over a million Indian labourers in the island, which at independence in 1948 had a population of only 8 million. This was a deliberate colonial policy to dilute & weaken majority Sinhalese who resisted colonial rule.
Sinhalese chieftains in Kandy, who despised king Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, voluntarily submitted to the British in 1815 by signing a pact with British at "Magul Maduwa" which stands to date close to "The Holy temple of Tooth Relic" by the Kandy lakeside.
Last Kandyan king deposed & exiled in Madras.
Soon the island was dotted with coffee, cinnamon & coconut plantations & a network of roads & railways was built to handle to new economic revolution. English became the official language of the rulers.
Ceylon's Rosetta stone was found; ola parchment at Mulgirigala that led to deciphering of classical Pali scripts, & the translation of the Mahawamsa.
Colebrooke Report (1831-32) was an important document in the history of the island. G.C. Mendis, considered by many to be the doyen of modern Sri Lankan history, considers the Colebrooke-Cameron reforms to be the dividing line between the past and present in Sri Lanka.
Under Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms, English becomes the language of administration.
A devastating leaf disease--hemleia vastratrix struck the coffee plantations and spread quickly throughout the plantation district, destroying the coffee industry within fifteen years. Climatic conditions for the cultivation of tea were excellent in Sri Lanka, especially in the hill country. By the end of the century, tea production on the Island had risen enormously.
The British were unable to persuade the Sinhalese to work cheaply & willingly on the plantations, so they imported large number of Dravidian labourers from India
The first official census conducted by the the Briish rulers: total population 2.8 million
Ruins of Polonnaruwa discovered
Sri Lanka's Anagarika Dharmapala founded the Mahabodhi Society & launch "Save Bodh Gaya" campaign. Bodh Gaya (Bihar), one of holiest of holy Buddhist sites in the world was threatened with irrecoverable devastation.
It was at Uruvela ( modern Maha Bodhi) that Prince Siddhartha, then an ascetic, attained eternal & total enlightenment following a prolonged meditation by means of middle path (golden means), having given up means of austerities which failed to achieve the ultimate objective of end to all suffering.
Bodh Gaya, today is one of the five most famous Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. Other four sites are Lumbini, near the Shakyan capital of Kapilavastu in the southern region of Nepal where Buddha was born; Deer Park at Saranath (Uttar Pradesh), just north of Varanasi the place of his first sermon; Kushinara, where Buddha left the world & eternal suffering.
"The Sinhalese people are not, in my opinion, happier or better than they were in the eighteenth century. Talk of progress, & the reality, are not the same. Civilzation is supposed to advance by the creation of new desires, to gratify which the individual must endeavour to improve his position. But in reality it is not quantity, but quality of wants that may be taken as evidence of progress in the Art of Living. No one acquainted with modern Sinhalese taste will pretend that it gives evidence of any improvement in the quality of wants. Indeed, it is sufficiently obvious that quantity, variety, & novelty are not really compatibale with quality."
Mediaeval Sinhalese Art : Sri Lankan Tamil scholor Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy comparing the period prior to British rule with the period of British rule
The Jaffna Association of Jaffna Tamils submits 50-50 representation formula for the Legislative Council in memo.
15th Aug. 1921
Tamil political party, Tamil Mahajan Sabha, once again takes up call for 50-50 representation. Herein a 12% of Tamil minority in Sri Lanka demands 50% representation in the legislative council. This would leave majority Sinhalese -70% of the population- with only 50% representation in the legislative council.
H. W. Codrington, B. A.(Oxon.) F. R. N. S. of Ceylon Civil Service publishes "Ceylon currency & coins"
H. W. Codrington publishes "Short history of Ceylon" history till year 1833 in about 50,000 words.
A Tamil scholor Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam's "Ancinet Jaffna" is published. In the final chapter on page 384 he mentions that the Sinhalese occupied Jaffna before the Tamils & goes on to give his reasons.
Universal franchise granted by the Donoughmore Constitution. No leader of Ceylon had agitated for it in the legislative Council. At best there were lone voices of the Lablour leader A. E. Gunasinghe & George E. de Silva, the Member of Kandy. Nowhere in British Empire was the experiment carried out in the decade of the nineteen thirtees.
The first General Election in Ceylon under universal franchise held in 1931 was boycotted by four electorates of Jaffna peninsula: Jafna, Kankesanturai, Kayats & Point Pedro giving unmistakable message Tamil predominant Jaffna peninsula was opposed to universal franchise.
The Jaffna Association repeats its demand for 50-50 representation: 50% for the Sinhalese who consists 70% of the population of the island, 25% for the Tamils, 25% for the other minorities.
G. G. Ponnambalam of Ceylon Tamil Community clamours for "fifty-fifty" representation in the state council with parity status with the Sinhalese speaking majority & All Tamil speaking minorities.
All Tamil speaking minorities, The Ceylon Tamils (descendants of invaders who later became settlers), the Indian Tamil (brought in to the island by the British colonialists for the tea plantations) & the Muslims put together accounted for only 30.1% of the population whereas the Sinhalese accounted for 69.2%. The exact parallel today is that the Ceylon Tamils demanding for two-thirds of the coastline of the entire nation & one third of the landmass, while accounting only one-eighth of the population.
Unlike India, where nationalists demanded a guarantee of independence as recompense for their support in the war effort, Sri Lanka committed itself wholeheartedly to the Allied war effort. Although the island was put under military jurisdiction during the war, the British and the Sri Lankans maintained cooperative relations. Sri Lankan pressure for political reform continued during the war, however, and increased as the Japanese threat receded and the war neared its end. The British eventually promised full participatory government after the war.
Soulbery Commission of the British Colonialist rulers rejects proposal of fifty-fifty presented by the all powerful All Ceylon Tamil Congress.
Contemporary events in India
Ceylonese led by Sir James Peiris, George E. De Silva, E. W. Perera, Ramathanan, Arunchalam, Coreas, Macan Markars,Caders, Razeek Fareed, Jayawardenes, A. E. Gonnasinghe procure independence from the British solely by means of negotiations without single drop of blood being shed.
Foreign occupation had a tremendous impact on the nation. Changes of laws & customs, clothing styles, religions & proper names were significant results of the colonial era, followed up with plantations of Tea, Rubber replacing Rice cultivation in numerous areas.
The population had grown from 800000 in the year 1802 to more than 7 million. Over a relatively short period, the island had developed an economy capable of supporting the burgeoning population. Roads, railways, schools, hospitals, hydroelectric projects, and large well operated agricultural plantations provided the infrastructure for a viable national economy.
A highly respected statesman, Mr. Don Stephen Sananayake becomes the first Prime Minister of Ceylon. Senanayake, the minister of agriculture in the pre-independent British appointed Ceylonese state council had devoted himself to the immense task of restoration of the derelict irrigation networks of ancient capitals of Anuradhapura & Polonnaruwa. Now, becoming Prime Minister of the independent Ceylon, Senanayake runs close at the heels of King Parakrabahu the great in the context of irrigation. The Gal Oya irrigation Project harnessing the waters of River Mahaweli, the longest river of the island would create an inland sea four times larger than Parakrama Samudra. It is named Senanayake Samudra.
Mahabodhi society founded by Angarika Dharmapala of Ceylon achieves its objective of rescuing Buddhist sacred site Bodh Gaya of India. Today Bodh Gaya is one of the World Heritage sites with monasteries & meditation centres run by Tibetan, Burmese, Thai & Vietnamese communities.
Bodh Gaya & its Mahabodhi Temple complex where prince Siddhartha, then an ascetic, attained supreme enlightenment, today is a vibrant pilgrimage site. With a 50 meter high pyramidal spire, the grand magnificent, restored Mahabodi temple stand on the sacred place & a golden image of the Buddha adorns the shrine. Built in 3rd century by BC by Mauryan emperor Ashoka, the temple had to be restored several times to overcome the ravages of time. Emperor Asoka's daughter Sangamitta had carried a sapling of the holy Bo (Peepal) tree to Sri Lanka where she went propagating Buddhism. Later, when the original Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya died, a cutting of the tree planted at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, was brought back & transplanted at Bodh Gaya, which is presently flourishing. Under the holy Bo tree is a lotus shaped red sandstone seat-the vajrasana- on which sat the Buddha while in meditation. On a rounded stone slab near the Bo tree the footprints of the Buddha are preserved. Ever year on Buddha Purnima, the birthday of Buddha, a large congregation is held here participated by Buddhists from all over the world.
Silver bell of Asia, Oxford educated S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, storms into office of Prime Minister promising administration in Sinhala. Sinhalese had been disappointed that in spite of the independence, in spite of being relieved from the suffering under the jack boot of colonialist masters, still being administrated in English language by the English educated Ceylonese elite. Leonard Wolfe, a British civil servant of Ceylon (husband of Virgina Wolf) vividly depicted the suffering of natives under English language administration in his famous book "A village in the Jungle" True to his promises, Sinhala, language of 72% of population was made the official language of Ceylon, by Bandaranaike.
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated. Courts of Law finds Buddhist monk Somarama guilty; but the nation wasn't convinced at all. There was a notorious local name & name of a foreign Intelligence Agency in the winds of conspiracy. Those were the days of the assassination of another nationalist, Patrick Lulumba. Ceylon's Warren commission + John Kennedy + Edgar Hoover + FBI + CIA + Mob + Marylyn Monroe + Lee Harvey Oswald + second gunman + Oliver Stone maze
Mrs Bandaranike, widow of slain Prime Minister, on the wave of sympathy, becomes world's first women Prime Minister.
Contemporary events in India
April Insurrection by Sinhalese.
Ceylon becomes a republic: Sri Lanka
Mahinda Rajapakse from Ruhuna (which gave birth to the hero of the nation King Dutugamunu, King Vijayabahu & an array of heroes) becomes executive president of Sri Lanka