Culture and heritage
How Sri Lanka came about
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, was ‘colonized’ from the Indian peninsula in the 6th century BC by Singhali, ancestors to the present day Sinhalese population, most likely from Northern India. In the 3rd century BC Buddhism was introduced, which to this day it is the biggest religion in the country.
Because of the different influences coming into Sri Lanka at different times of its early history, the main Buddhist religion has become a bit mixed with Hinduism. The Buddhists on the island also know a caste system, which is actually a part of the Hindu religion. When visiting Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka you will often find Krishna statues in corners hidden behind curtains.
There have been a series of different kingdoms throughout Sri Lanka’s history, which have left the most interesting buildings, temples and other places you can find on the island today, about which more information shortly.
When Sri Lanka was first discovered by Europeans, the Portuguese arrived in 1505, the island served for a long time as a port and a place where ships of the Portuguese and later the Dutch would take in food and water on their way to other destinations further east. The Dutch, who took over from the Portuguese in 1658, were also interested in trading cinnamon with the king of Kandy, but it was the English, who followed the Dutch in dominating the island in 1796, who really colonized the whole island and ruled it for about a hundred and fifty years, until independence in 1948. It was also the English who introduced tea to Sri Lanka, after trying to grow coffee had failed, and laid the bases for the world renowned Ceylon tea we know today. In 1972 the island changed its name and became Sri Lanka.
Shortly after gaining independence in 1948, the official language was changed to Sinhalese. When prime-minister Solomon Bandaranaike wanted to allow the Tamil language in certain areas of the island, he was killed by a Sinhalese extremist, and succeeded in office by his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first female prime-minister anywhere the world ever (!). Since those days there have been skirmishes, attacks, and killings between the two biggest ethnical groups on the island on and off, until the last conflict, the civil war that started in the eighties, was finally resolved in 2009 after the decisive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.
Places of interest
If you’re interested in culture and heritage, you would do well to visit the old royal cities, all of them UNESCO World Heritage, in the northern part of the island. They are situated closely together so you can visit them in really no time at all.
On your way back from Galle to Negombo airport, you could make a stopover in Hikkaduwa which was a hippie hangout in the sixties and still caters mainly to tourists with its hotels and handcrafts on display alongside the main road.