The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon before 1972) is a tropical island nation off the southeast coast of the Indian subcontinent.
The island was known in ancient times as Lanka, Lankadeepa (Sanskrit for "resplendent land"), Simoundou, Taprobane (from the Sanskrit Tāmaraparnī), Serendib (from the Sanskrit Sinhala-dweepa), and Selan. During colonization, the island became known as Ceylon, a name still used on occasion. Its unique shape and proximity to the Indian mainland have led some to refer to the island as India's Teardrop.
Sri Lanka's earliest known inhabitants were the Wanniyala-Aetto. These people were displaced by the Sinhalese some time before the dawn of recorded history in Sri Lanka. Buddhism was introduced in the mid-3rd century BC, and a great civilization developed at such cities as Anuradhapura (kingdom from 200 BC to 1000 AD) and Polonnaruwa (c. 1070 to 1200). Buddhism ushered in a new civilization in Sri Lanka after the arrival of the Arahat Mahinda Thera, son of Emperor Asoka, who was ruler of the Magadha empire in India. Devanampiya Thissa, the king at the time of Mahinda Thero's arrival, embraced Buddhism and facilitated its spread by constructing temples and Buddhist institutions throughout the country. South Indian rulers, mostly of Tamil descent, attacked Sri Lanka on a number of occasions starting in the 3rd century BC. Occasionally, such invasions resulted in Tamil rule of the island for extended periods. Several Sinhala kings are noted for driving back the Tamil invasions and retaking the capital.
After the Polonnaruwa kingdom, the Sinhalese capital moved between several cities over the next centuries, partially to circumvent foreign invasion. The capital settled in Sri Jayewardenepura (Kotte) when coastal regions were occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch in the 17th century. During both Portuguese and Dutch rule of the coastal areas, the interior, hilly region of the island remained independent, with its capital, the city of Kandy. The entire island was ceded to the British Empire in 1796 and became a crown colony in 1802. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948. In 1972, its name was changed to Sri Lanka, and in 1978 the legislative and judicial capital was moved from Colombo to nearby Sri Jayewardanapura Kotte. The flag was also changed as orange and green vertical bars were added, representing the Tamil and Muslim minority populations.
Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority erupted in violence in 1983 following the killing of 13 soldiers of Sri Lankan Army in Jaffna. This led to riots throughout the country and the deaths of hundreds of Tamils over a three-day period; many more became refugees. Tens of thousands have died on both sides in the subsequent ethnic war that continues to fester.
After two decades of fighting, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government began a ceasefire in December 2001. Norway is mediating the peace process. The international anti-terrorism focus may have influenced the main Tamil rebel group to seek the ceasefire, as the LTTE was declared a terrorist organization by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Canada.
On December 26, 2004, one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history, the Indian Ocean earthquake, struck off the western coast of Sumatra. The earthquake and subsequent tsunamis reportedly killed over 220,000 people around the rim of the Indian Ocean. The impact on Sri Lanka was severe. The south and east coasts were devastated by the 10-metre high tsunami, and tens of thousands died.