Sri Lanka Early History

By | November 6, 2021

The early settlement

The oldest part of the population on the island (old name in Sanskrit and Pali: Lanka, ancient Greek name: Taprobane) is represented by the Wedda. In prehistoric times, members of a presumably pre-Ravidian arable population immigrated from southern India over the Adam’s Bridge. Around the middle of the 1st millennium BC, according to philosophynearby, the ancestors of the Sinhalese came to Sri Lanka from northern India; they spoke a Central Indian dialect. A little later, the South Indian megalithic culture, carried by the Dravidian peoples, also became home in the north of Sri Lanka.

The Anuradhapura period

The first king of the island to be regarded with certainty as a historical figure was Devanampiya Tissa ; he ruled from about 250 to about 210 BC. In Anuradhapura. The Sinhalese king and people were converted to Buddhism by Mahinda, a son (?) Of the Indian king Ashoka. Around 200 BC BC South Indian Tamils ​​conquered most of the island, but were driven out by the later king Dutthagamani (161-137 BC). A renewed incursion of Dravidian conquerors was repulsed by King Vattagamani Abhaya (103 and 89-77 BC), during whose reign the first scriptures of Theravada Buddhism were written in Pali (“Pali Canon”) falls. In 67 AD, the Lambakanna dynasty came to the throne. Under King Manama (406-428) the monk scholar Buddhaghosa worked on the island. The next centuries were marked by frequent changes of rulers. Continued disputes for the throne between the Lambakanna and Moriya families and the associated recruitment of Tamil mercenaries increasingly involved the country in the clashes between the South Indian (Tamil) Hindu empires of the Pandya, Cera and Pallava, and later also the Cola. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka was very prosperous during this period due to the high level of its irrigation culture and its location at an important crossroads of world trade.

The development from the 10th to the 15th century

In 993 Rajaraja I from the South Indian Cola dynasty conquered the island and made it a province of the Cola Empire; Polonnaruwa became the administrative capital. Only King Vijayabahu I (1055–1114) ended Tamil rule in 1070. He took up connections to the also Buddhist Burma; since then, relations with Southeast Asia have developed. After his death, the empire was divided and only by Parakramabahu I.(1153–86) reunited after bloody fighting. The Sinhalese Empire experienced a political and cultural climax at that time, but later lost its importance as a result of battles for the throne and the decline of the irrigation culture. At times it was the prey of South Indian adventurers. The seat of government was moved from the 13th century to Dambadeniya (near Kurunegala), Kurunegala, Gampola (near Kandy) and Kotte in the rain-rich western areas. Under Parakramabahu II of Dambadeniya (1236-70) and Parakramabahu IV.from Kurunegala (1302–26) the empire once again experienced material and cultural heydays. In the 13./14. In the 17th century, a south Indian dynasty founded a Tamil state independent of the Sinhalese kings. Attempts by Muslims to take control of the island in the 15th century failed. Following a Chinese expedition (1410), there was brief Chinese influence. Parakramabahu VI. (1412–67) reunited the whole island under his rule and promoted religion, art and science. The empire then fell apart again, and from 1505 the Portuguese were able to establish themselves on the west coast.

The colonial age

The Portuguese took possession of the western coastal areas and the north during the 16th century. In 1656/58 Portugal was replaced as a colonial power by the Netherlands and in 1796 by Great Britain. In the Peace of Amiens (1802) Great Britain was awarded the island, which became a crown colony in the same year. The interior of the island and parts of the coast remained independent and were consolidated around 1600 as the Sinhala Empire with the capital Shrivardhanapura (Kandy). In 1815 the Sinhalese nobles appointed King Shrivikramarashasimha(since 1798) and subordinated his empire to the British Crown in the “Kandy Convention”. The Sinhalese were assured that the previous administrative system and the protection of the Buddhist religion would be retained. Unpopular administrative measures led to an uprising in 1818, after which the colonial administration declared a large part of the provisions of the convention to be invalid. Reforms (1833) introduced the standardization and modernization of the administrative and legal system (including the creation of a legislative council) and the replacement of the old system of feudal obligations; there was also an expansion of the infrastructure and the education system. For the plantation economy (especially coffee) workers from southern India were recruited from 1840. After the Depression of 1845, unrest broke out in the Kandy highlands in 1848 and was severely suppressed. The conversion of the plantations to tea cultivation began around 1880.

A political independence movement only developed after the riots of 1915; In 1919 the Ceylon National Congress was established, in which Tamils ​​and Sinhalese initially worked together (later split into a Tamil and a Sinhalese organization). Although the contrasts between the Sinhala (mostly Buddhist) majority of the population and the Tamil (mostly Hindu) minority, who lived during British colonial rule BC a. the administrative and educational elite stood in the way of the quest for independence, Great Britain gradually had to make concessions.

With the constitutional reform of 1931, the first steps towards the island’s self-government were taken. The introduction of the right to vote for all politically strengthened national consciousness v. a. of the Sinhalese majority population. Under Don Stephen Senanayake (* 1884, † 1952), Minister of Agriculture since 1931, the irrigation system in the dry zone was renewed and this area was repopulated. After the election victory of the United National Party (UNP) in 1947, the National Assembly elected its chairman Senanayake as prime minister.

Sri Lanka Early History