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Sri Lanka – More than just Pearl of the Indian Ocean
February 4, 2018, 10:33 pm
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A teardrop-shaped island cast adrift in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is filled with cultural and natural treasures. Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their marks here, making for a delightful mix of cultures and traditions, as well as ancient cities, monuments and grand colonial style architecture.

It is widely believed that the Sinhala people migrated to the island from north India, bringing their Indo-Aryan language and some version of Brahmanism with them, although Buddhism was introduced in their principal areas of settlement during the third-century BCE. 

The Tamils emigrated to the north of the island from southern India, bringing Hinduism and their Dravidian language with them. The Sinhalese, the Tamils, and various south Indian invaders built powerful kingdoms, with advanced agricultural projects and elaborate religious institutions, and periodically brought the island under the authority of a single regime.

Because of its important ports along the East-West trade routes and valuable goods, traders were drawn to the island. Some of these Arab traders made Sri Lanka their permanent home, adding Islam to the island's religious mix. In the early sixteenth century Portuguese traders introduced Christianity as they began to make use of the island, eventually gaining control over productive portions of it.

In 1638 the king of Kandy drove out the Portuguese with the help of the Dutch. The Dutch then kept the land for themselves, controlling all but the kingdom of Kandy until they were driven out by the British in 1796. In 1815 the British ousted the last king of Kandy, gaining control over all of Sri Lanka, which remained a British colony until 1948.

On 4 February, 1948, Ceylon, as the nation was then known, became politically independent of Great Britain, though it remained part of the Commonwealth.

The island’s position along hundreds of ancient trade routes and its proximity to India has resulted in a potpourri of visitors, immigrants, invaders, missionaries, traders and travelers, mostly from India, but also from East Asia and the Middle East. Many stayed on, and over the generations they assimilated and intermarried, converted and converted back again. The island’s history, like that of its ethnicities, is one of constant flux and shifting dominance.

Sri Lankan culture includes a lot of customs and rituals, which date back to more than 2000 years and these are often reflected in the art, architecture, sculptures, and even food of the nation. On the cultural front in the modern era, it is worth noting that the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, providing broadcasts in Singhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi, is the oldest-running radio station in Asia. It was set up in 1923 by British engineer Edward Harper just three years after public broadcasting began in Europe.

With a tropical climate in most parts of the country, a temperate clime in the central highlands and abundant rainfall throughout the year, the country is a major source for the production and export of tea, rubber, coffee, sugar and other agricultural commodities. It also has the largest biodiversity density in Asia and is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world.

In addition to being critical to the economy, tea is also an integral part of the culture and hospitality of the country. Sri Lankan Tea is highly sought after across the world, in fact, it is the fourth largest producer of tea and the second largest exporter, with around 20 percent of the teas sold around the world coming from Sri Lanka. Visiting the wide number of tea estates, staying in converted tea planter's cottages, or merely sipping a cuppa in a local tea shop is one of the great pleasures when traveling in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka also stands tall in human development index figures. With literacy rate of 92.5 percent Sri Lanka has one of the most literate populations amongst developing nations. Its youth literacy rate stands at 98 percent and primary school enrollment rate stands at over 99 percent. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that provide universal free education from primary to tertiary stage.

The universal ‘pro-poor’ health care system in the country has led to a life expectancy of 77.9 years that is 10 percent higher than the world average, as well as an infant mortality rate of 8.5 per 1,000 births and a maternal mortality rate of 0.39 per 1,000 births, which is level with figures from the developed countries. The country is also ranked 8th in World Giving Index, reflecting the high levels of contentment and charitable behavior among Sri Lankan people.

 

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