The island nation of Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, comprises of two primary ethnic groups — the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The first Sinhalese arrived on the island probably from northern India in the late sixth century B.C. The Tamils, from the Tamil region of India, arrived sometime later around the third century B.C.
Until colonial powers controlled Ceylon, Sinhalese and Tamil rulers fought for dominance over the island. This strife effectively divided the island into two parts. In the north, the primarily Hindu Tamils claimed control, while the south was predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese.
The first colonial power to arrive on the island was the Portuguese in 1505. The Dutch India Company later took possession from 1658 to 1796. Then the British took control, and in 1802 Ceylon became an English Crown colony. The British developed coffee, tea and rubber as primary island exports for nearly 1 1/2 centuries. However, on Feb. 4, 1948, after pressure from Ceylonese nationalist leaders (which briefly unified previously warring factions), Ceylon became a self-governing dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became the prime minister of Ceylon in 1956 and promoted Sinhalese nationalism by making Sinhala the country's only official language and giving state support to Buddhism. This marginalized the Tamil minority, and in 1959, Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. His widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the world's first female prime minister in 1960.
Soon after Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka ("resplendent island") in 1972, tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists began to escalate further, and war erupted in 1983.
After President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated at a May Day political rally in 1993, the next president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, promised to restore peace to the country but was herself injured in a terrorist attack. By early 2000, nearly 64,000 lives, mostly civilians, were claimed in the 18-year war.
Following a tenuous cease-fire in February 2002 between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), violence again intensified in 2006. In 2007, the government regained control of the Eastern Province. Then in May 2009, the government announced the defeat of the LTTE and that its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed.
Sri Lanka has always valued the importance of learning, and since the country gained independence in 1948, the government has made education one of its highest priorities. Over the past two decades, primary enrollment for both boys and girls has been well over 90 percent with enrollment for secondary education above 80 percent. This high rate of enrollment has been possible due to a well-developed network of public schools. Due in part to the success of high enrollment across the country, Sri Lanka is, academically speaking, one of the best performing countries in South Asia.
Although not a state religion, the constitution accords Buddhism the "foremost place" and commits the government to protecting it. The constitution also protects the rights of other minority religious groups to practice their beliefs freely. Even so, there have been some problem areas between different groups.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2008, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2008/108506.htm
Holidays and Festivals
Sri Lankan art has been largely influenced by Buddhist tradition and is expressed in various forms including painting, sculpture and architecture. Nature is a recurring theme in Sri Lankan art, as seen in the many temple paintings and carvings representing images of birds, elephants, wild animals, trees and flowers.
Sri Lankan music has been influenced by three dominant cultural traditions — Buddhism, European colonization (particularly the Portuguese), and historical as well as commercial Indian culture. For example, the hypnotic sound of the Kandyan drums in traditional Sri Lankan music is very much influenced by Buddhism and can still be heard in both Buddhist and Hindu temples today.
When the Portuguese first arrived on the island, they brought with them ukuleles and guitars as well as African slaves called kaffrinha. These slaves also brought their own form of music, further diversifying the musical roots of the island. The dance of the African slaves was known as baila.
Folk music in Sri Lanka is unique to members of different castes and is sung today as a form of cultural expression. However, such music originated as a way to pass the time while one was working. Today, much of Sri Lanka's modern music is influenced by the Bollywood culture in India.
Sports and Games
New Year's Day, Jan. 1
Duruthu Poya Day, Jan. 10
Tamil Thai Pongal Day, Jan. 14
National Day, Feb. 4
Navam Poya Day, Feb. 9
Maha Sivarathri Day, Feb. 23
Milad un-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet), March 9
Medin Poya Day, March 10
Bak Poya Day, April 9
Good Friday, April 10
Sinhala and Tamil New Year, April 13-14
May Day, May 1
Vesak (Buddha Day), May 8-9
Poson Poya Day, June 7
Esala Poya Day, July 6
Nikini Poya Day, Aug. 5
Binara Poya Day, Sept. 4
Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan), Sept. 21
Vap Poya Day, Oct. 3
Deepavali, Oct. 17
Il Poya Day, Nov. 2
Eid al-Adha (Hadji Festival Day), Nov. 28
Unduvap Poya Day, Dec. 1
Christmas Day, Dec. 25
Duruthu Poya Day, Dec. 31
Volleyball has long been a favorite sport on the island. However, the national pastime is either watching or playing cricket. Cricket fields are scattered across the island, and when big matches are televised, it's not unusual for businesses to close. In 1996, for example, the whole country shut down when the Sri Lankan team beat Australia in the finals to win the Cricket World Cup.
Rice is a main staple in Sri Lankan cuisine. Flavorful curries are used to make a wide variety of rice dishes ranging from meat or fish-based dishes to vegetables and even fruit. Along with the main curry dish, a typical Sri Lankan meal includes side dishes such as chutneys, pickles and sambols, which can be extremely spicy. Coconut sambol is the most famous and is made from ground coconut, chilies, dried Maldivian fish and lime juice. These ingredients are ground to a paste and eaten with rice. Along with rice and various curries, coconut milk is a common ingredient in Sri Lankan cuisine and gives it its unique flavor.
"Short eats" — a variety of hamburgers, hot dogs, Chinese rolls, patties and pastries — are a popular snack. Mallung is another popular dish, made of chopped leaves, grated coconut and red onions.
- 1 cup of masoor dal (whole red lentils)
- 1 teaspoon curry powder (Sri Lankan)
- 1 clove garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 green pepper
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
- 1/2 cup of coconut milk
- Basil leaves
Put masoor dal into a sauce pan and add 2 cups of water. Add all the above except the coconut milk and salt. Once the masoor dal becomes a sauce, add the coconut milk. Cook for about five minutes over medium heat.
If desired, you may sprinkle a little bit of fried onion and garlic on top of the curry to taste. Add salt to taste.
Compassion in Sri Lanka
Sinhala is the official language of Sri Lanka.
- Ow (Yes)
- Nae- (No)
- Sthuthiyi (Thank you)
- Sa-dha.ra.yen.piliganimu (You are welcome.)
- Karuna-ka.ra.la (Please)
- Sama-wenna. (Excuse me.)
- Hallo (Hello)
- Gihin ennam (Goodbye)
- A-yubo-wan, suba. Udhae-sa.nak (Good morning.)
- A-yubo-wan, suba. Ra-thriyak (Good night.)
- Engreesi (English)
- Oya-ge nama.Mokakdha? (What is your name?)
- Hambu una eka loku sathutak (Nice to meet you.)
- Kohomadha. Ithin? (How are you?)
- Hondha (Good)
- Nara.ka (Bad)
Sri Lanka Facts and Figures
Compassion's work in Sri Lanka began in 2010, with local churches reaching out to more than 1,000 babies and their mothers through partnership with Compassion's Child Survival Program. This program is designed to rescue and nurture children from the time of conception to age 4 who would otherwise have a very low chance of survival or healthy development. This partnership will provide Sri Lankan children and their mothers the opportunity to survive and thrive to become all God has created them to be.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Sri Lanka.
||21,324,791 (July 2010 estimate)
||307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
Sinhala (official) 74%, Tamil 18%, other 8%
Note: English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population
|English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
||Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)
||Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)
||Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
|Percentage of population urbanized
||15% (2008 estimate)
||82% (2008 estimate)
||Male: 73.08 years
Female: 77.28 years
|Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years
|Under-5 mortality rate
||15/1,000 (2008 estimate)
||8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$4,500 (2009 estimate)
||$46,000 (2009 estimate)
||Sri Lankan rupees (LKR)
||U.S. dollar (USD)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||3,800 (2007 estimate)
||1.2 million (2007 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day
||14% (1992-2007 study)
||Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2010; The State of the World's Children, 2009