Geography & Climate
Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean, is located to the south of the Indian subcontinent. It lies between 5º55′ and 9º55′ north of the equator and between the eastern longitudes 79º42′ and 81º52′. Sri Lanka is shaped like a giant teardrop falling from the southern tip of the vast Indian subcontinent. It is separated from India by the 50-km-wide Palk Strait, although there is a series of stepping-stone coral islets known as Adam’s Bridge that almost form a land bridge between the two countries. Sri Lanka measures 435 km’s north to the south and 224 km’s east to the west, covering a total area of 65,610 sq.km’s.
Sri Lanka has an irregular surface with low-lying coastal plains running inland from the northern and eastern shores. The central and southern areas slope into the hills and mountains ranges of the Central Highlands. The highest peak is Pidurutalagala, which reaches an altitude of 2,524m (8,281ft).
The country’s coast consistx mainly of beaches and bays, with rocky cliffs in the northeast and southwest. Due to the southwestern location of the mountain range, precipitation is heavily weighted towards this area, with the the northern and eastern parts fall in the rain shadow of the Central Highlands. The wettest parts of the country in the south and west receive around 4000mm of rainfall annually. There are two major national parks, in the northwest and southeast, designated as such to protect the immense biodiversity of the country’s wildlife.
Sri Lanka climate is tropical and consists of distinct wet and dry seasons. The Yala monsoon brings abundant rainfall to the country’s western and southern regions from May to September; the area experiences its dry season during December through March. Altogether, the southwest receives around 4000mm of rainfall each year. The Maha monsoon affects northern and eastern Sri Lanka weather and often lasts from October to January, with the dry season usually lasting from May to September. This region receives approximately 1000mm of precipitation annually, significantly less than the other half of the country. There is also an inter-monsoonal period in October and November during which rain and thunderstorms occur frequently across the island.
Generally speaking, upland areas of Sri Lanka are cooler and more temperate, with a yearly average around 16-20ºC (60-68ºF), and coastal areas are warmer with average temperatures around 27ºC (80ºF). The March-June season experiences slightly higher temperatures (up to 33ºC / 92ºF), while the temperatures in November-January are a few degrees lower (around 24ºC / 75ºF at the coast). Sri Lanka weather along the shores is made more comfortable by cooling sea breezes. The surrounding sea remains rather constant at roughly 27ºC (80ºF) year-round. Humidity is typically rather high in Sri Lanka, averaging out at around 80% year-round.
The population of Sri Lanka is recorded as 20,271,464. Of this 18.3% lives in the urban sector, 77.3% lives in the rural sector and the balance 4.4% living in the estate sector.
annual growth rate of the population was computed from 1981 to 2012 as there was no complete enumeration in between. The average annual growth rate from 1981 to 2012 is 1.0%. The population increase from 1981 to 2012 in terms of numbers is 5,424,714, which amounts to a 36% increase.
The overall sex ratio in the country of 94 males per 100 females indicates that there are more females in Sri Lanka’s population than males
Economically active population who were 15 years or more stands at 51.9%. The corresponding figure for males and females is 75.8% and 30% respectively.
The total employment rate stands at 93.1%. The employment rate for males and females is 94.3% and 90.3% respectively. The total unemployment rate stands at 6.9%. The unemployment rate for males and females is 5.7% and 9.7% respectively. Women have a life expectancy of 76,9 years whereas men have one of 71,8 years
The Sinhalese make up 74.9% of the population (according to 2012 census) and are concentrated in the densely populated south-west and central parts of the Island. The Sri Lanka Tamils live predominantly in the north-east of the island forming the largest minority group at 11.2% (according to the 2012 census) of the population.
The Moors, who descend from Arab traders that settled in Sri Lanka, form the third largest ethnic group at 9.2% of the population. They are mostly concentrated in urban areas in the southern parts of the island with substantial populations in the Central and Eastern provinces. During times of Portuguese colonization, Moors were persecuted, and many forced to retreat to the central highlands and the eastern coast.
There are also Indian Tamils who form distinct ethnic group which comprises 4.2% of the population. The British brought them to Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers, and they remain concentrated in the “tea country” of south-central Sri Lanka
Smaller minorities include the Malays who descent from South East Asian settlers, and the Burghers, who are descendants of European colonists, principally from Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK.
Culture and traditions
Culture of Sri Lanka has moved through several phases in the course of history. It is a rich amalgamation of diverse cultural patterns. So many of the cultural strains of Sri Lanka are indigenous while several of them have been derived by the influences of migration, trade, religions and western colonisation. Culture of Sri Lanka has always grown under the umbrella of Buddhism, the dominant religion.
Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka more than 2300 years ago. In Buddhism Sri Lankan society had accepted a religious philosophy based on the rational, where tolerance played significant part. Buddhism did not develop in Sri Lanka as a state religion. It was liberal in its philosophical content to let other winds flow into the country. Sri Lanka has adopted the Hinayana or Theravada sect, which is regarded as the tradition coming down Buddha’s own disciples
Neighborhood to South India assisted Hinduism, but influence of Buddhism did not lessen. There was lesser influence of Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity, in addition to the pre-Buddhist worship of deities and animism. Some of ancient ways of worship still remain in the traditions and rituals of Sri Lanka. Trading relations with the Arabs, after the rise of Islam, saw the country coming incontact with Islam. From the early 16th century, Sri Lanka came under strong influence of the Christians, who came in search of its much valued spices, peacocks, gems and elephants. Gradually they also became rulers of the country.
People of Sri Lanka always believed in simple livelihood. Festivals coincided with the collecting of the harvest, and the important events in the Buddhist calendar. Pageantry cannot be kept apart from the cultural traditions of Sri Lanka. Most renowned event globally is the “Kandy Perehera”, the religious-festive procession held in Kandy in July/August each year, in honour of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. It is known as the festival of sight and sound. Sri Lanka is basically an agriculture based society.
Music traditions in Sri Lanka vary from folk music to religious chants. North India has left easily recognised influence on the music conventions of the country. In northern part of Sri Lanka, impact of Karnataka music of South India is obvious. As for the dances they have been developing from the very ancient days. North and South India, both have had their own influences on Sri Lankan tradition of dances. In modern days western ways have also influenced Sri Lankan traditions.
Five centuries before Christ, Sri Lanka was a land throbbing with vitality and a well-ordered civilization. Cities, palaces, reservoirs, parks, temples, monasteries, monuments and works of art bore testament to the character, imagination, culture, philosophy and faith of the people of Sri Lanka, the Resplendent Land. Vestiges of this ancient civilization are abundantly extant today.
The first major legendary reference to the island is found in the great Indian epic, the Ramayana, thought to have been written around 500 B.C.
The most valuable source of knowledge for the legends and historical heritage of Sri Lanka is the Mahavamsa (Great Genealogy or Dynasty), a chronicle compiled in Pali, in the sixth century.
Vijaya is the central legendary figure in the Mahavamsa. He was the grandson of an Indian princess Suppadevi from Vanga in northern India who had been abducted by an amorous lion, Simha, and son of their incestuous and half-leonine offspring, Sinhabahu & Sinhasivali. Along with 700 of his followers, perhaps from Kalinga (Orissa), Vijaya arrived in Lanka, and established himself as ruler with the help of Kuveni, a local demon-worshiping princess. Although Kuveni had given birth to two of Vijaya’s children, she was banished by the ruler, who then arranged a marriage with a princess from Madurai in southeastern India. Kuveni’s offspring are the folkloric ancestors of the present day Veddahs.
The Kingdom of Sri Lanka moved to Anuradhapura in 380 BC, during the reign of Pandukabhaya. Thereafter, Anuradhapura served as the capital of the country for nearly 1,400 years. Ancient Sri Lankans excelled at building certain types of structures (constructions) such as tanks, dagobasand palaces. The society underwent a major transformation during the reign ofDevanampiya Tissa, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC
The late Anuradhapura Period, which began in the year 459, saw the reign of King Kasyapa, and the construction of Sigiriya. The Polonnaruwa period, witnessed the transfer of the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in 1073. Famed explorer, Marco Polo, arrived in Sri Lanka in the period between 1254 and 1324, and, in 1505, the Portuguese landed, and occupied the island’s coastal regions.
Sri Lanka had always been an important port and trading post in the ancient world, and was increasingly frequented by merchant ships from the Middle East, Persia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. The islands were known to the first European explorers of South Asia and settled by many groups of Arab and Malay merchants. A Portuguese colonial mission arrived on the island in 1505 headed by the Lourenço de Almeida the son of Francisco de Almeida. At that point the island consisted of three kingdoms, namely Kandy in the central hills, Kotte at the Western coast, and Yarlpanam (Anglicised Jaffna) in the north. The Dutch arrived in the 17th century. Although much of the island came under the domain of European powers, the interior, hilly region of the island remained independent, with its capital in Kandy. The British East India Company established control of the island in 1796, declaring it a crown colony in 1802, although the island would not be officially connected with British India. The fall of the kingdom of Kandy in 1815 unified the island under British rule.
European colonists established a series of tea, cinnamon, rubber, sugar, coffee and indigo plantations. The British also brought a large number of indentured workers from Tamil Nadu to work in the plantation economy.
Following the war, popular pressure for independence intensified. On February 4, 1948 the country won its independence as the Commonwealth of Ceylon. Don Stephen Senanayake became the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. In 1972, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and the name was changed to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has its own indigenous scheme of traditional medicine (Ayurveda). This system has been practised for many centuries in the island nation. The Sri Lankan Ayurvedic tradition is a mixture of the Sinhala traditional medicine, Ayurveda and Siddha systems of India, Unani medicine of Greece through the Arabs, and most importantly, the Desheeya Chikitsa, which is the indigenous medicine of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka developed its own Ayurvedic system based on a series of prescriptions handed down from generation to generation over a period of 3,000 years. The ancient kings, who were also prominent physicians, sustained its survival and longevity. King Buddhadasa (398 AD), the most influential of these physicians, wrote the Sarartha Sangrahaya, a comprehensive manuscript which Sri Lankan physicians still use today for reference.
Ancient inscriptions on rock surfaces reveal that organized medical services have existed within the country for centuries. In fact, Sri Lanka claims to be the first country in the world to have established dedicated hospitals. The Sri Lankan mountainMihintale still has the ruins of what many believe to be the first hospital in the world. Old hospital sites now attract tourists, who marvel at the beautiful ruins. These places have come to symbolize a traditional sense of healing and care, which was so prevalent at that time.
Historically the Ayurvedic physicians enjoyed a noble position in the country’s social hierarchy due to their royal patronage. From this legacy stems a well-known Sri Lankan saying: “If you can not be a king, become a healer.” Along with Buddhism, the interrelationship between Ayurveda and royalty continues to influence politics in Sri Lanka.
Every full moon day is a public holiday known as poya. The most important is in May – Vesak Poya – which marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and Pariniwana (passing away). Worth seeing are the illuminated pandals (bamboo frameworks), hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha.
Sri Lanka’s most tourist-oriented festival is the Kandy Esala Perahera, held in Kandy over 10 days in late July to early August and climaxing on Esala Poya.Perahera means “procession” and that’s exactly what occurs nightly – a magical passing-by of drummers, dancers, whip-crackers, acrobats and robed elephants. A caparisoned tusker carries the reason for the festival, the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha for the people to venerate.
Hindu festivals include Vel, held in Colombo in July, in which God Skanda’s silver-plated chariot and vel (spear) are paraded across the city, and the Kataragama Festival in the deep south, also connected with Skanda, in which fire-walkers participate.
It was as far back as the year 1824 in which the British brought a tea plant from China toCeylon (as Sri Lanka was known at the time). It was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya and is considered to have been the first non-commercial tea plant in Sri Lanka.
After nearly two decades in 1867, James Taylor, Scottish by origin, planted 19 acres of tea in the city of Kandy in Ceylon, at the Loolecondra Estate as the first commercial tea plantation. The eventual sale of Loolecondra teas resulted in 1872, in Kandy and the first tea consignment to London in 1873. These pioneering efforts were done by trial and error and improved over the years via the introduction and improvement of tea processing machines and methods, by different individuals and companies.
When the country changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972, its premier industry was faced with a knotty problem. Ceylon was not only the former name of the country; it was also one of the world’s leading brands, familiar to consumers from Virginia to Vladivostok – a brand the industry had been actively promoting and investing in since the early 1930s. Abandoning it would deliver a setback from which there could be no easy recovery. And the cost of promoting and establishing an unfamiliar new brand – ‘Sri Lanka Tea’ – would be ruinous.
Indivisibly associated with the Ceylon Tea brand is the famous Lion of Ceylon logo, found only on packages of pure Ceylon tea packed in Sri Lanka prior to export. The logo is based on the Lion of Ceylon, an ancient heraldic device which decorates the national flag of Sri Lanka. It was first adopted by the Tea Propaganda Board, one of the precursors of the present Tea Board, and is a registered trademark in over a hundred countries around the world.
Sri Lanka climate can be at its most enjoyable in the drier seasons; the best time to travel to the west, south and upland areas of the island is during December to March, while the recommended travel season for the east coast region is April to September.
The most popular season for tourism is between December and March, when the country attracts Europeans fleeing the Northern Hemisphere’s winter weather. Christmas and the New Year are particularly popular for a Sri Lankan holiday, while July and August represent festival season on the island – if travelling during either time it is recommended to book well in advance to The island is certainly a year-round destination as there is usually one region of the country experiencing good weather, while others are hit by poorer conditions. The diverse topography of Sri Lanka allows for balmy beach holidays on the east coast from April to November, while the west is ideal for hitting the beach from December to March. However, be aware that Sri Lanka weather can be unpredictable during any season.
Best time to visit:
The western and southern areas experience their monsoon season during May to September while the northern and eastern areas are affected by the monsoon between October to January. The island is certainly a year-round destination as while one area is might be off-limits due to poor weather, the other region is likely to be experiencing good conditions.
The recommended time for a Sri Lankan getaway is during either coast’s dry season – April to November for the eastern coast and December to March for the west coast and central highlands. Christmas and the New Year are particularly popular times to go to Sri Lanka, while July and August represent festival season on the island – if travelling during either time it is recommended to book well in advance to guarantee accommodation.
Generally speaking, upland areas of Sri Lanka are cooler and more temperate, with a yearly average around 16-20ºC (60-68ºF), and coastal areas are warmer with average temperatures around 27ºC (80ºF). The March-June season experiences slightly higher temperatures of up to 33ºC (92ºF), while the temperatures in November-January are a few degrees lower at around 24ºC (75ºF) at the coast. Humidity is typically rather high in Sri Lanka, averaging out at around 80% year-round. As the nation is located in the tropics, the weather can be severely affected by El Niño. Though this irregular phenomenon only occurs around every three to seven years, it can impact an area’s weather for an extended length of time, raising the possibility of severe floods and storms.
Shopping in Sri Lanka can take many forms haggling with a handicraft-seller while sunbathing on the beach choosing fruit from the traditional village store, ‘the kade’ while side-stepping sacks of rice or checking out the bargain-priced latest international fashions (Sri Lanka is a major garment exporter) while enjoying the ambiance of a luxurious shopping centre in Colombo.
And there’s much inbetween. Visit a handicraft shop and familiarize yourself with traditional designs such as makara (a mythical animal, lion, swan, elephant and lotus which are most evident in brasswork (boxes, trays, lanterns, vases) and silverware (ornately carved and filigree jewellery, tea-sets) that make excellent souvenirs. In addition, ritual masks, lacquer ware, batik and handloom textiles, lace, and wood carvings are popular.
Last but certainly not least, Sri Lanka has the widest variety of precious stones among the world’s gem producing countries – blue sapphires, star sapphires, rubies, cat’s eye, garnets, moonstones, aquamarines and topazes being just a dazzling handful. What’s more, Sri Lanka naturally has a tradition in jewellery-making, so you can bring your gems to life.
Foods in Sri Lanka can be hot or very mild or can be combination being very much a question of individual preference. Sri Lankan food is unique for their Culture. Sri Lankan cuisine plays a vital role in the islanders’ life from the most auspicious Sinhala/ Hindu New Year to normal day-to-day practices. They make milk rice and special sweets with coconut milk, floor and Honey at cultural festivals. The curries come in many verities of colors and flavors blended in Sri Lankan Hot Spices has a great ayurvedic value when used in curries.
Most of the Sri Lankans eat vegetables. With a large community of farmers the Rice and curry is the main food in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka curries are known for their fiery hot spicy flavors and coconut milk is very distinct feature of Sri Lankan cuisine that different regions of country specialize in different types of dishes. The specialty in Sri Lankan food is that same food is differently made in different regions. Dishes from the North region of Sri Lanka have distinct south Indian flavors. Dishes from the South region of Sri Lanka can be Spicy, Hot or Mild. The meals of the southern region of Sri Lanka are known for their variety and fishing village though the coastal strip. Ambulthiyal a unique spicy fish preparation with thick gamboges “Goraka” paste. “Lunu dehi” (lime pickle) and jaadi (Pikled fish) are food items made from methods of preserving since they could dry them in sun during rainless days. Western region of Sri Lanka has foreign influence much more than other regions. Many items made using wheat flour always had made Sri Lankan dishes foreign. Since upper western coastal region is dry, fish is dried with salt as a preservative. This is called “Karawala” (dry fish).
Spices such as Cloves, Cardamoms, nutmeg and pepper are found in abundance throughout Kandy and Matale District in Central region of Sri Lanka. Staple diet of Sri Lanka is ‘Rice and curry’ the word ‘curry’ convering a multitude of dishes which are made according to different methods of cooking from Soups, meat, Sea food, Lentils, Vegetables, Sambols, Mallums, Phies to Achcharus. Curd and Treacle and Sweetmeats made from Rice flour and palm treacle, jiggery along with various types of fruits are additions to the meal as the dessert. The Palm, Coconut, Kithul, Palmyra from which the treacle is made will vary accordingly. Sri Lankans also like several juicy sweetmeats like Kavum, kokis, Halape, Thalaguli and Wattalapam etc. Sri Lankans also like to have drinks like tea and coffee.
Gems of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s gem industry has a very long and colorful history. Sri Lanka was affectionately known as Ratna-Dweepa which means Gem Island. The name is a reflection of its natural wealth. Marco Polo wrote that the island had the best sapphires, topazes, amethysts, and other gems in the world. Ptolemy, the 2nd century astronomer recorded that beryl and sapphire were the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s gem industry. Records from sailors that visited the island states that they brought back “jewels of Serendib”. Serendib was the ancient name given to the island by middle – eastern and Persian traders that crossed the Indian Ocean to trade gems from Sri Lanka to the East during the 4th and 5th century.
Sri Lanka, geologically speaking is an extremely old country. Ninety percent of the rocks of the island are of Precambrian age. Residual deposits are mainly found in flood plains of rivers and streams. The metamorphic types of gems constitute 90% of the gem deposits in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has the highest density of gem deposits compared to its landmass.Ratnapura contains the most gem deposits and derived its name from the gem industry. Ratnapura means “city of gems”.
The blue sapphires from Sri Lanka are known as Ceylon Sapphire. Ceylon Sapphires are reportedly unique in colour, clarity and lustre compared to the blue sapphires from other countries.