HomeHistoryThe History of Sri Lanka

The History of Sri Lanka

Around 500 BC, a group of people known as the Sinhalese arrived from India. The initial immigrants were led by Vijaya, according to mythology. Mahinda introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka at around 260BC, according to mythology. It quickly got ingrained in Sinhalese culture. Initially, however, Sri Lanka was split up into multiple states. They were unified into one kingdom by a man called Dutthagamani (161-137 BC). Dutthagamani was a renowned builder who built palaces and temples in addition to being a formidable monarch. Anuradhapura was the capital of the first Sri Lankan monarchy. Rice was for the Sri Lankan people; however, the rice must be grown in water. However, given Sri Lanka’s hot environment, water quickly evaporated. Rain provided some water throughout the heavy rains (October to April), but it was insufficient. People dammed rivers and streams to get more water (Peebles, 2006). The Cholas conquered north Sri Lanka in 993 and established Polonnaruwa as the metropolis. They conquered the south around 1017. However, the Sinhalese held firm while the Cholas retreated from Rohana in the southeast in 1030.

The Sinhalese monarch Vijayabahu reclaimed the north in 1070. However, following his death, he was replaced by weak rulers. Sri Lanka was partitioned into separate states. Then, in 1153, Parakramabahu the Great was crowned ruler of the Dakkinadesa kingdom. Sri Lanka was unified under this great monarch, and the watering system was restored. In 1183, he died. Sri Lankan dominance began to wane in the 13th century. India’s incursions were frequent, and there was political chaos (Roberts, 1994). The irrigation system began to fail, and people began to migrate to the Southwest. Polonnaruwa, the capital, was deserted in 1255. Tamils were established in North Sri Lanka in the 13th century, then Sri Lanka was split into three regions by 1505. Tamils resided in the north. There was a Sinhalese monarchy headquartered in Kotte in the Southwest, while in the center and east, there was a Sinhalese monarchy centered in Kandy.

When the Portuguese came in 1505, a new period in Sri Lanka’s history started. The Portuguese were looking for cinnamon. They dispatched an excursion to Colombo in 1517 to request permission to erect a fort. Kotte’s King Vijayabahu grudgingly agreed. On the other hand, the Portuguese commended the monarch for selling his cinnamon to them at a specific price. The Portuguese employed coercion when the king resisted. In 1518, the ruler of Kotte was inclined to concede to pay the Portuguese a yearly payment of cinnamon. The Portuguese won a battle in 1520-21 due to enhanced Portuguese demands (Wickramasinghe, 2014). The monarch lost the public’s support and was deposed by his three sons. King Bhuvanekbahu VI was the oldest son who became king until 1551. He did, however, agree to grant his two siblings their kingdoms inside Kotte to reign. The kingdom of Sitawaka was the biggest of them. The youngest was based in Rayigama, but it was merged into Sitawaka after its monarch died in 1538.

In 1636, King Rajasinha of Kandy sought assistance from the Dutch. (Portugal’s influence was dwindling, while Dutch might was growing.) In 1637, he met envoys from the Netherlands. In 1638, the Portuguese attempted another invasion but were defeated in the War of Gannoruwa. Between 1638 and 1640, the Dutch seized many ports but retained them rather than handing them up to Kandy, alleging their costs had not been reimbursed. In 1640, the Dutch and Portuguese reached an agreement, but the conflict restarted in 1652. The kingdom of Kandy once again started collaborating with the Dutch. This time, the Dutch invaded and conquered Colombo in 1656. They, however, refused to turn it to Kandy. Rather than that, they moved inland. They took Jaffna in 1658. That effectively brought an end to Portuguese dominance in Sri Lanka.

The Dutch expanded their authority, capturing Trincomalee mainly on the east coast in 1665 (Holt, 2011). Kandy retained its independence and coexisted uneasily with the Dutch colony to 1760 when they declared war against one another. The Dutch won the battle and compelled Kandy to sign an unfavorable treaty. Kandy was compelled to accept Dutch authority over the whole Sri Lankan coastline, including portions formerly Kandy territory, to a depth of four Sinhalese miles. However, Dutch rule was supplanted by Britain in 1796. In that year, the British conquered Jaffna and Colombo, thus ending Dutch sovereignty (Roberts, 1994). The British were zealous in their pursuit of Kandy. They were given their chance in 1815. Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe governed Kandy (1798-1815). He was a harsh king who his people despised. Several of his nobility collaborated with the British to assassinate him. British troops entered Kandy and encountered no opposition.

Sri Lanka became a Democrat Socialist republic on May 22, 1972. Communal riots erupted in July 1983 due to the Tamil Tigers ambushing and murdering 13 Sri Lankan Army troops using the electorate list, which included the precise residences of Tamils. Sinhalese mobs attacked the Tamil minority, destroying businesses and houses, inflicting severe beatings, and torching the Jaffna library. On May 18, 2009, the Sri Lankan government claimed complete victory. The Sri Lankan armed forces, headed by General Sarath Fonseka, officially ended its 26-year operation against the LTTE on May 19, 2009. Later on, its troops reclaimed all remaining LTTE-controlled territory in the Northern Province Elephant Pass, Killinochchi, and eventually the entire area of Mullaitivu. In January 2010, the presidential elections were concluded. Mahinda Rajapaksa won the vote with 59 percent of the popular vote, beating the unified opposing candidate, General Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka was apprehended and found guilty by a court-martial. Maithripala Sirisena ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election of January 2015, and Ranil Wickremesinghe stopped Rajapaksa’s intended comeback in the legislative election of the same year. As a consequence, the UNP and the SLFP formed a coalition government. Three luxury hotels in the commercial city of Colombo and three churches in Sri Lanka were struck in several subsequent Islamic terrorist suicide bombings on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 (Infolanka, 2021). At least 267 persons lost their lives, including at least 44 foreigners, eight suicide-bombers, and three law enforcement officers, with at least 500 more wounded.


Holt, J. (2011). The Sri Lanka reader: history, culture, politics. Duke University Press.

Infolanka. (2021). සිංහලයාගේ සැබෑ ඉතිහාසය. infolanka. Retrieved 15 July 2021, from https://infolanka.lk/en_US/1402-2/.

Peebles, P. (2006). The History of Sri Lanka. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Roberts, M. (1994). Exploring confrontation: Sri Lanka–politics, culture and history (Vol. 14). Taylor & Francis. Wickramasinghe, N. (2014). Sri Lanka in the modern age: a history. Oxford University Press

I Laksitha ,nature,history lover and blogger,

Most Popular