Sri Lanka History

Sri Lanka History is incident full. Being an important trade port and oasis of Nature for sea farers of India , East Asia, Europe and Arabia of the ancient times. Sri Lanka has a fascinating documented history over 2500 years of Civilization.

1. Sri Lanka- Pre Historic Times

Sri Lanka has a recorded history since 543 B.C. Although records are not found of civilizations before 543 B.C., historical facts reveal that a civilization existed even long before from Rawana Times. It's believed that an Expelled prince Vijaya to be the first Aryan King of Sri Lanka . Since then many Kings Ruled Sri Lanka till 1815.

The Homo Sapiens first appeared in Sri Lanka about 500,000 B.C. Few artifacts have been found dating back to subsequent Paleolithic culture of the second Stone age period. Stone cultures endured until about 1000 B.C. The second phase of stone age may have ended some few centuries later with the establishment of metal. The Stone working culture was known as Balandoga Culture. They first made an impression on island life about 5000 B.C and spread through out the Sri Lanka . The Balangoda Manawaya survived until about 500 B.C and faded out under the advance of early settlers from India .

List of pre Historic Caves

  • Beli Lena – Kitulgala
  • Wavul Pane – Ratnapura


2. Anuradhapura Era (437 B.C. to 1017 A.D.)

Anuradhapura Kingdom was built by King Pandukabhya , son of Princess Unmada chithtra . The city was the first of it's kind with well designed sanitary system, Gardens, Irrigation and Water supply systems, Temples , cemeteries and burial grounds, etc. The city then became the capital city of Sri Lanka and flourished under many subsequent Kings who ruled for centuries.

Anuradhapura Kingdom was highly vulnerable to invasions from South India and suffered usurp of throne several times, by invading Kings from south India . Singhalese Kings have managed to defeat the invaders after reorganizing the troops, although the invading kings ruled in the mean time. One such historic battle held Between King Dutugamunu and South Indian King, Elara. In that, King Elara was defeated and King Dutugamunu ruled the country in single sovereignty.

The Anuradhapura Kingdom was under constant threat from south Indian kingdoms. King Mahinda V ascended to throne in 982 A.D, and was the last Sinhalese king to rule the country from this historic city. At this time the South Indian realm Chola , became very powerful under the Great Rajaraja (985- 1018 A.D) and conquered Sri Lanka . King Mahinda was captured and imprisoned in South India .

The South Indians ruled the country for the next 75 years. They shifted the Capital city to Polonnaruwa due to strategic reasons after considering the vulnerably for attacks from both native Sinhalese people and other south Indian Kingdoms.

3. Polonnaruwa Era ( AD 1065- 1120)

Polonnaruwa Era existed between AD 1065- 1120 . The governing period of this time was about 186 years and 19 rulers had sat on the throne in that period. During the final period in the Anuradhapura era, the cholas shifted the political power to Polonnaruwa, which was situated in the eastern side of the dry zone. The main reason was security, as it was regarded as a strategic location to guard against an invasion from Ruhuna, the refuge of the Sinhalese liberation force.

Still the Cholas were unsuccessful in defending themselves against Vijayabahu's offensive riot against Polonnaruwa. They Surrendered in 1070 and left the island.

Polonnaruwa had its own Buddhist architecture and irrigational network that had been built over the centuries by earlier sinhala rulers. (Ex- Minneria Tanks)
The First Sinhalese king to rule in this period was King Wijayabahu who ruled for 55 years after he defeated the cholas. (A.D. 1065-1120). He restored Buddhism to its former state and was also responsible for economic regeneration.

The Next famous King to take over from Vijayabahu is King Parakramabahu (A.D. 1164-1197) He unified the country under one rule and built a remarkable series of irrigation work including the massive Parakrama Samudraya.

Nissanka Malla was also a king to take notice of, because he also stabilized Sri Lanka during his period. But his death brought instability & a pirate named Magha, who came from south India conquered Polonnaruwa & executed many years of ruthless control over the island.

4. Dambadeniya Era (1215 to 1272 A.D)

Dambadeniya on the Kurunegala - Negombo road was a Royal capital in middle of the 13th century. Excavations have uncovered remains of the temple of the tooth relic and the Royal palace, ponds and Garden layouts, moats & city walls etc.

Historic in nature, majestic in repose is Dambadeniya, selected as the capital of the kingdom of Sri Lanka by king Vijayabahu the 3rd (1232-36). The sovereignty of the country was at stake as a result of invasions, which dislodged Polonnaruwa as the capital. Vijayabahu, the king of the Dambadeniya dynasty fought the invaders and established Dambadeniya. On the summit of the Dambadeniya rock he built fortifications and sturdy walls and gates. The city was made secure in its day by a moat, a marsh and ramparts round the royal palace. During the reign of king Parakramabahu (1236-70), Dambadeniya reached the zenith of its glory.

5. Yapahuwa Era (1272 to 1300 A.D)

Yapahuwa was considered as strategically important point since the Polonnaruwa era. Prince Buwanekabahu, the son of great Parakramabahu who ruled in Dabadeniya, was stationed at Yapahuwa to protect the kingdom against enemy attacks.

When the Dabadeniya kingdom fell after King Wijayabahu the 4th, The throne was taken by Prince Buwanekabahu, who ruled the kingdom from Yapahuwa. The sacred tooth Relic was brought from Dambadeniya to Yapahuwa and kept in the specially built palace. The ruins of this temple can be seen today and is considered one of the best archeologically valuable sites on the Island .

6. Kurunagala (1293 – 1341)

Kurunagala was a royal capital starting from Buvenekabhahu II (1293-1302). This was about half of the century which is now clarified by ruins and among these ruins there are parts of the temple of the tooth relic. One of the caves discovered by modern archeologists, the cave hermitage of Arankele, indicates that ancient times in Kurunegala, in addition to buddhist monks there has been forest dwelling (called Thapowana) hermitages called Brahmi. In the area the inscriptions of ancient brahmi donatives has been found. In the Ridigama Vihara, a temple near to the cave hermitage of Arankele, there had been a silver orc which belongs to the time of King Dutugemunu.

In the temple a reclining Buddha statue is seated, which belongs to the 18 century. The temple is attracted by a door frame with ivory carvings and alters tilled with Dutch tiles and an artificial lake under the shadow of the hill.

7. Gampola Era (1341 – 1415)

Gampola was made as the capital city of the Island by King Buwanekabahu the fourth, who ruled for 4 years in the mid fourteenth century. The last king of Gampola was King Buwanekabahu the fifth. He ruled the Island for 29 years. A separate city was build in Kotte during this time by a noble known as Alagakkonara.

Among the remnants of Gampola era, the most famous temples are Lankathilaka, Gadaladeniya and Ambekka Dewalaya. The ancient stone scripts ( Shila Lekhana ) of Lankathilaka temple helps to reveal a considerable amount of vital information regarding the Gampola era. The statue of Buddha of the temple indicates style of south Indian arts. The Ambekka Dewalaya possess a large collection of wood carvings, where no other temple in Sri Lanka owns such a collection.

8. Kotte Era (1415 – 1514)

Sri Lanka remained in an unstable situation during the 14th & the 15th centuries. King Parakramabahu vi (1415-1467), the last Sinhalese King managed to re-establish rule over the island. His power base was in Kotte.

In the later stages of his rule, Gampola was challenged and he appointed a prince of Gampola royal house as its administrator.

After the death of Parakramabahu, the island again plunged in to divisive struggle. Jaffna declared itself an independent Tamil kingdom under Pararajasekaram. (1497-1579)

The Dutch came to Sri Lanka in 1505, during the times of King Parakramabahu IX. The King made a pact with the Dutch as they were a powerful army than of the King's. The King granted permission to the Dutch to build a small fortress in Colombo . The Dutch began it's missionary service in Sri Lanka and some of the citizens were converted to Catholicism.

8. Kandyan Era (1514 – 1815)

After the death of King Parakramabahu the vi, Kandyans asserted their independence from Kotte. Portuguese arrived in the early 16th centaury, signifying the arrival of the Europeans.

They established a trading settlement in Colombo . By the year 1600, they converted some of the Sinhala royalty to Catholicism, and had a major control over the southwest coastal region.

By then Senarath (1604-1635), had established the kingdom of Kandy . His relationship with the Portuguese deteriorated in 1617 & his son Rajasinghe II also opposed the Portuguese, forming an alliance with the Dutch.

The Dutch alliance also broke down & they captured the eastern ports of the Kandyans.

The Dutch captured the forts, Colombo , Galle & Negombo . By then they had most of the regions of Sri Lanka under their rule. But Kandy maintained their independence.

The first British conquest took place during 1795-1796. They drove the Dutch out of the country & seized all the major ports. The Kandyan's grip of their own empire were weakening. They managed to beat back the first resistance by the British in 1803.

But eventually the British captured the hill country in 1815. The last of the Sri Lankan Kings were captured & in 1816 he was sent to be imprisoned in Vellor , India .

9. Portuguese Era (1505)

European ambitions arrived with the Portuguese during the early 16th century. The newcomers sought to establish a trading settlement in the growing port city of Colombo on the southwest coast. By then, the Sinhalese kingdom of Kotte had completely collapsed into petty partitions among three separate rulers.

The Portuguese were more interested in controlling the island's commerce than in absorbing its territory. In the process, they began to intrude in the affairs of the coastal regions. By the year 1600, after converting some of the Sinhalese royalty to Catholicism and breaking a strong bid for dominance by the rulers of the rebel state of Sitawaka, the Portuguese had effectively controlled the southwest coastal region and managed to snuff out the last Tamil kingdom ever to rule Jaffna as an independent state.

It was the attempt to bring the Kandyan kingdom under control that proved more troublesome, and eventually led to the demise of Portugal 's power in ceilao, as they called the country. Senarath (1604-1635) re-established the kingdom of kandy following a short-lived conquest by Sitawaka. He entered into a treaty with the Portuguese in 1617 but relations began to sour after Portuguese incursions into the Kandyan ports of Batticaloa and Trincomalee. Senarath's son, Rajasinha 2, conducted a vigorous campaign against Portugal , forming an alliance with the Dutch.

10. Dutch Times (1796)

The Primary interest of the Dutch, as in the East Indies and parts of Southeast Asia , was spices. They received a promise of a monopoly over the island's spice trade in return for help in driving out the Portuguese. But the Kandyan compact with the Dutch proved as ill-fated as the earlier alliance with the Portuguese.

The Dutch recaptured the eastern ports for the kandyans. But when they regained Galle and Negombo in 1641, they decided to keep these ports for themselves. The Hollanders also seized the Portuguese fort of Colombo in 1656 and drove the last of the Iberians from Ceylon , as it was now known, in the year 1658 with the capture of Jaffna . In defiance of their pact with the kandyan rulers, the Dutch held onto most of this captured territory. Sri Lanka had merely exchanged the rule of one European power for another. Through it all, the kandyan kingdom stubbornly maintained its independence. In the course of time, Kandy 's survival as an independent Sinhalese Kingdom led to the emergence of a dichotomy among the Sinhalese themselves - a distinction between the low country coastal people and the Kandyans of the interior.

11. British Rule - 1815-1948

When the British came to control the whole island after 1815 they established a quite distinctive imprint on the island's society and economy, this was most obvious in the introduction of plantation agriculture. During the British period coffee took over from cinnamon, but by the beginning of the 20th century, even though coffee had largely been wiped out by disease, plantation agriculture was the dominant pillar of the cash economy. Rice production stagnated and then declined, and Sri Lanka became dependent on the export of cash crops and the import of food. In 1948 it was only producing about 35% of its rice needed.

The colonial period also saw major social changes taking place . Under the Portuguese and then the Dutch the development of commercial activity in the coastal lowlands encouraged many "low country" Sinhalese to became involved in the newly emerging economic activity. In a process which continued in the early British colonial period, the low country Sinhalese became increasingly westernized, with the widespread adoption of an English education and the rise of an urban middle class, while the kandyan Sinhalese retained far stronger links with traditional and rural social customs . Despite British reforms in 1833 which introduced a uniform administrative system across the whole of Ceylon , wiping out the distinctive Kandyan political system, a contrast between Kandyan and low country Sinhalese persisted into the modern period.

However, an even more significant change took place in the 19th century. British commercial interests saw the opportunities presented for the cultivation of cash crops. Cinnamon and coconuts had been planted by the Dutch and became particularly important, but after 1815 the coffee production was spread to the kandyan Hills. Despite ups and downs production increased dramatically until 1875, when a catastrophic attack of a fungus disease wiped out almost the entire crops. It was replaced, particularly in the higher regions by tea.

Labour had already begun to prove a problam on the coffee plantations, and as tea spread the shortage became acute. Farmers have shown how private labour contractors were recruited to persuade labourers to come to Ceylon from the Tamil country of South India between 1843-1859. Over 900,000 men woman and children migrated to work as labourers.

The cost of their transport was deducted from their wages after they had arrived, and they could not leave until they had repaid their debt. Immigration on the scale created a massive change in the ethnic mix of the Highlands , with a particularly significant effect on the kandyan farmers, whose land was increasingly hemmed in by the spread of tea estates. The Indian tamils however remained entirely separate from the Sinhalese, returning to south India whenever possible and sending cash remittances home.


12. Arabian Travelers

Sri Lanka was called Taprobane and Serendib by Arabian Travelers. Arabian traders have visited Sri Lanka mainly for gems, spice and also other reasons.

IBAN BATUTA a famous traveler had visited Sri Lanka simply to climb Adam's Peak which they believed as the Holy Foot print of Adam. Many Arabian traders arrived in Beruwala and made pilgrimages to Adam's peak via Ratnapura where they traded Gems.

With the Portuguese taking control of the west coast the Arabian Traders reached the country through Batticaloa. The Traders sold Horses, Silk and Gold Jewellery.

Many traders got married to local women and some even served the King of Kandy. The Ancient Mosque by the sea at Beruwala was established by Arabian Traders many centuries ago.

Many Sri Lankans believe that Sinbad the sailor was here in Sri Lanka and he traveled to Ratnapura for Gems and Climbed the Sacred mountain Sri Pada as a Pilgrimage worship of Adam's Foot Print.


13. Early 20 th Century Political formations (1815-1948)

A. Calebrooke Commission

In failing to establish a laissez-faire state in Ceylon , British appointed a commission called Calebrooke -Cameron commission. The main concerns of the commission were to eliminate mercantilism, state monopolies, discriminatory administrative regulations and any interference in the economy. Above problem's were considered with regard to the Dutch rule and the commission was a major step to eliminate those mal-functions.

Calebrooke Commission showed an increased function during 1830s and 1840s. It's waves spread all over the political, economic and social spheres. Many of the proposals made by the commission, basically on administrative, economic, judicial, and educational were continued for next century.

The commission was recommended to keep country under one administrative system, and five provinces based on the culture and language of the people. Cameron made the changes in judicial to bring the justice in front of law. In 1633 his concept was granted.

Calebrooke Commission suggested an Executive Council, that to replace and reduce the power of the government and legislative council to discuss the legislative matters.

The Council consisted of three Sri Lankans to represent Sinhalese, Burghers, and Tamils in 1833. During the British colonization the English education was prominent. The Calebrooke Commission emphasized the importance of the education through the local languages.

B. Crew Maclum Amendments

In 1910, there was a distinct change in constitutional council, the number of members were increased to twenty one. Eleven of them were officially appointed and other ten were non-official. Out of non-official members, six were appointed by the governor, for different races and remaining four were elected.

One of the important steps in Maclum reforms was the establishing of the right for ballot. It was given to a limited number of people depending on their assets and level of education, which all with the right of ballot in the country were about four percent. The four of the non-official members, elected with limited ballot, included two Europeans, one Burger and one Sri Lankan, who was Ponnambalam Ramanathan.

Another main step was establishing the financial committee. The important issue was that this committee included the colonial secretary, colonial treasurer, revenue controller and all the non-officially elected members. The financial committee was able to control the revenue, at the time where there are no constitutional meetings. Non-officially elected members were allowed, for some extent, to involve in ruling.

However, there were not much changes in governor or in constitutional council. But the Maclum reforms were unable to satisfy the Sri Lankan, so there were clamors requesting for power and positions. This was a great annoyance to British because Second World War also started at this period. During this time Sri Lankan clamors were well organized. The Sri Lankan National society gave the leadership to most of the clamors. Sri Lankan National society in 1919, presented a set of constitutional reforms. It was included, increase of members of the constitutional council up to fifty, a divisional representation, handing over of the control of budget to the legislature, and electing both official and non-official members of executive council are some of the suggestions. Taking those in to consideration again there was a reformation in 1920, called Manning Reforms.

C. First Manning Reforms

A clear change in First Manning Reforms is increase of members in the constitutional council up to thirty seven. Fourteen of them were officially appointed and other twenty three were non-officials. For the first time in Sri Lankan history, the non-official members became the majority.

Sixteen of non-official agents were elected from with limited ballot, the remaining seven was appointed by the governor. When electing sixteen of the non-official agents, in spite of the race, the divisional representation was also introduced. Out of sixteen of the non-official agents, ten were elected divisionally, that is three from western province and each from other provinces. There was not much of a change to the governor's position. Three non-officials were elected to the executive council; however they were unable to exert much pressure.

Still the Sri Lankans were not satisfied and a set of changes were presented by the Sri Lankan National society. Those suggestions included;

1. Constitutional council with forty five members.
2. Twenty of them needed to be elected from poling divisions.
3. Selecting eleven for minority by nomination.
4. Selecting a speaker to Constitutional council from the members.
5. The executive council Consisting of three officials and three non-officials.
6. Lower the qualifications for the right of ballot.

While these changes were introduced by Sinhalese leaders of Sri Lankan National society, the Tamil leaders introduced their own changes. Taking these changes into consideration then, and it was presented to the colonial secretary by the governor Manning.

D. Second Manning Reforms

Under Second Manning Reforms, the number of members of the constitutional council were forty nine. Only twelve of them were officials, where as other thirty seven were non-officials. Out of the non-officials, twenty nine were elected, and others were nominated by the governor. The head of the constitutional council were handed over from the governor to a selected member. The main idea behind this was to keep the governor as a counselor. But still the governing authority of the country was the governor.
The Executive council was upgraded to ten members and four of them were selected from non-officials of constitutional council. But the other six officials were powerful enough to suppress the non-officials.

The second Manning Reforms had more weaknesses. The legislature was a weak institute. There were non-officials more than three times, than of the officials. But it was not a much constrain to the governor, due to racial difference between members of non-officials. The power and responsibility was separated; that is non-officials had no power, and therefore the Sri Lankans had responsibilities with no power.

Separation between constitutional council and executive council was a greater constraint, which should have had solidarity. Even four members from the constitutional council were selected to the executive council, but had no power.
The presence of both racial representation and divisional representation made conflicts between races, which was advantageous for British rulers. Even twenty nine was elected by ballot but the number of people with rights to ballot was lower. The power of the governor had to be reduced, since Sri Lanka was unable to use their minor power.

These weaknesses were presented to the colonial secretary by the governor Huckliford. Eventually the Donoughmore Commission was sent to Sri Lanka .

E. Donoughmore Commission 1937

In 1927 a royal commission under the Earl of Donoughmore arrived in Sri Lanka to find out why the representative government as charted by 1924 constitution had failed and make changes to over come the shortcomings. The commission proposed international adult franchise and an experimental system of government to be run by the executive committee, to amend the shortcomings.

The proposed donoughmore constitution proclaimed in 1931 to accommodate these new proposals in government. This was an unique document that provided Sri Lankans with self-government. The document assigned the highest level of authority to the British Governor. The legislative branch of the government, the State Council functioned in both an executive and legislative capacity. Seven committees performed executive duties. Each committee consisted of designated members of the State Council and was chaired by an elected Sri Lankan, who was addressed as minister. The board of ministers was formed with three British
officers of ministerial rank along with seven Sri Lankan ministers. The British ministers totally handled responsibility for Defense, External affairs, Finance, and Judicial matters.

The Donoughmore Constitution implemented in period of experimentation in participatory democracy. The executive committees did not tend to the development of national political parties. As a result the Great Council of the Sinhalese (Sinhala Maha Sabha) was originated. The Sinhala Maha Sabha was the strongest proponent of this resurgent ideology. Other communal grounds also tended to organize political parties including the Burgher Political Association in 1938, The Ceylon Indian Congress in 1939, and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1944.

F. Soulbery constitution (1944)

In 1944, a committee headed by Lord Soulbery arrived in Sri Lanka according to the statement made by Sri Lankan ministers. The commission inquired about the existing constitution and submitted a report to the British government. The report was similar to the Sri Lankan minister's propositions.
A new Government constitution was arranged based on the Soulbery propositions. An election was conducted according to the new legislation in 1947 and it was decided to negotiate with the electing government and give them a dominant status. The Soulbery legislation consisted of the following:

1. The 1947 Lanka Independence act.
2. The 1947 Lanka Independence Royal order.
3. The 1946 Lanka Governance Royal order.

The Soulbery constitution was spread throughout 25 years and put the base to the 1 st Republic constitution.

G. First Janaraja Constitution (1972)

Sri Lanka got a dominion type of freedom after 1948. Thereafter up to 1972 Sri Lanka had a constitution made by the Soulbery commission. Because of the weaknesses in Soulbery constitution, there was an increased demand for a new constitution around 1970. With Soulbery constitution Sri Lanka was unable to become an independent republic. The reasons are as follows:

1. Still the Queen of Great Britain was the ruler of the country.
2. Acceptance of the British Preach Council as Appeal court.
3. The Parliament was not completely independent.
4. The country was governed with an offered constitution and the parliament was unable to reform it.

Under such conditions Sri Lanka was still a part of the British. Also the Soulbery constitution had weak points that had to be corrected:

1. Presence of non-successful council.
2. Absolute authority of the Parliament had been limited.
3. Mention of basic rights and government policies were not included.

The Soulbery constitution was not a will of the Sri Lankan community. Therefore it does not represent the Sri Lankans and there was a necessity of a new constitution. In 1970, the Samagi Peramuna gave a promise at their political campaigns to change the constitution in order to make Sri Lanka an independent republic. Ultimately the Samagi Peramuna got more than two third majority. Dr. Colvin R. De Silva was the minister of constitution. Therefore Dr. Colvin R. De Silva was the president of the constituent assembly. The Soulbery constitution was revoked by the assembly completely. The new constitution was flexible and could be changed by the National Government Council. Some important new features are as follows:

1. It was stated that Sri Lanka was an independent country.
2. Introduction of president to the country.
3. Establishment of national government council.
4. Introduction of a supreme court and appeal court.
5. Introduction of constitutional court.
6. Inclusion of statements on basic rights and freedom.
7. Inclusion of a fundamental statements on government policies.
8. Establishment of Government counseling board and State Service Discipline Board.
9. Establishment of a court service counseling board and a Discipline Board.
10. Inclusion of National language, National religion, National Song, National Flag etc. to the constitution.

Unlike the British constitution, the new constitution was documented. It had mild non documented parts and had all the basics existence and function of the government.

H. Second Janaraja Constitution – 1978

The UNP (United National Party) government which was led by the Hon. J. R. Jayawardana came to power in 1977. With the new government there was again reformation to the constitution with establishment of the executive presidency. It was a rapid change to the constitution, in considering secular values.

At the election in 1977 the UNP government received two third majority, mainly because the adverse economic situation in the country during the reign of Samagi Peramuna. Therefore the main reason of success of the UNP during the election in 1977 was people's need for relief.

In 1978 august 31 the new constitution was approved. In new constitution the Country was considered as the ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka'. Here are some new features in this constitution:

1. Basically written and non flexible.
2. Introduction of executive presidency.
3. Still there was the cabinet, so it was a mixture of the cabinet and the presidency.
4. Cancellation of simple majority method and introduction of proportionally electing system.
5. Introduction of referendum.
6. Introduction of Ombudsman.
7. Extension of the chapter of basic rights and handing over of the power on rights to the supreme court.
8. Establishment of provincial councils.

Even with advanced changes the 1978 constitution is not much of a success. During the last twenty years after approval of the 1978 constitution there had been seventeen reforms. It indicates weaknesses of the constitution.



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