The earliest human remains found on the island of Sri Lanka date to about 35,000 years ago (Balangoda Man).
The proto-historical period begins roughly in the 3rd century, based on chronicles like the Mahavamsa, Dipavamsa, Silappatikaram, Manimekalai and the Culavamsa. The earliest documents of settlement in the Island are found in these chronicles. These chronicles cover the period since the establishment of the Kingdom of Tambapanni in the 6th century BCE. The first Sri Lankan ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, Pandukabhaya, is recorded for the 4th century BCE. Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BCE by Arhath Mahinda (son of the Indian emperor Ashoka). The first Tamil ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, Elara, an invader, is recorded for the 2nd century BCE.
The culture of Sri Lanka mixes modern elements with traditional aspects and is known for its regional diversity. Sri Lankan culture has long been influenced by the heritage of Theravada Buddhism passed on from India, and the religion’s legacy is particularly strong in Sri Lanka’s southern and central regions. South Indian cultural influences are especially pronounced in the northernmost reaches of the country. The history of colonial occupation has also left a mark on Sri Lanka’s identity, with Portuguese, Dutch, and British elements having intermingled with various traditional facets of Sri Lankan culture. Culturally, Sri Lanka, particularly the Sinhalese people, possesses strong links to both India and Southeast Asia.
Bundala National Park
Gangaramaya Navam Perahera
Sinhala and Tamil New Year
The Esala Perahera in Kandy
Sri Lanka boasts a fascinatingly idiosyncratic culinary heritage, the result of a unique fusion of local produce with recipes and spices brought to the island over the centuries by Indians, Arabs, Malays, Portuguese, Dutch and English.
The staple dish is rice and curry, at its finest a miniature banquet whose contrasting flavours – coconut milk, chillies, curry leaves, cinnamon, garlic and “Maldive fish” (an intensely flavoured pinch of sun-dried tuna) – bear witness to Sri Lanka’s status as one of the original spice islands. There are plenty of other unique specialities to explore and enjoy – hoppers, string hoppers, kottu rotty, lamprais and pittu – as well as plentiful seafood.
Sri Lankan cuisine can be incredibly fiery – sometimes on a par with Thai, and far hotter than most Indian cooking. Many of the island’s less gifted chefs compensate for a lack of culinary subtlety with liberal use of chilli powder; at the same time, as a tourist you’ll often be seen as a weak-kneed individual who is liable to faint at the merest suspicion of spiciness. You’ll often be asked how hot you want your food; “medium” usually gets you something that’s neither bland nor requires the use of a fire extinguisher. If you do overheat during a meal, remember that water only adds to the pain of a burnt palate; a mouthful of plain rice, bread or beer is much more effective.