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Sri Lanka

Palk Strait, Kotte, Bay of Bengal, Sri Jayawardenepura, Tamils

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Sri Lanka, in full, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, island republic in the Indian Ocean, lying off the southeastern tip of the Indian subcontinent. The Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar separate Sri Lanka from India. The Arabian Sea lies to the west, the Bay of Bengal to the northeast, and the Indian Ocean to the south. Colombo, situated on the western coast, is the largest city and the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. The administrative capital is Sri Jayawardenepura (Kotte), located about 16 km (about 10 mi) east of Colombo.

The population of Sri Lanka is about 20 million. Ethnic groups include the Sinhalese, who form the majority of the population, and the Tamils, who form the largest minority group. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy in terms of employment, but manufacturing generates the majority of export earnings. Sri Lanka has a democratic political system, with a directly elected president as head of state.

Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms ruled the island now known as Sri Lanka from ancient times until the 1500s, when Europeans established colonial rule. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British colonized the island. The island was a Portuguese colony from 1517 to 1658, a Dutch colony from 1658 to 1796, and a British colony from 1796 to 1948. The British colony, called Ceylon, gained independence in 1948. The newly independent nation retained the name Ceylon until the 1972 constitution renamed it Sri Lanka. Since independence Sri Lanka has maintained a democratic, multiparty system of government. A civil war that erupted in 1983 between the Sinhalese-dominated government and Tamil separatists, who demand the creation of an independent Tamil nation, remains unresolved.


For younger readers

Wanasundera, Nada P. Sri Lanka. 2nd ed. Marshall Cavendish, 1994. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Zimmerman, Robert. Sri Lanka. Children's Press, 1992. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Sri Lanka

Ross, Russell R., and Andrea Matles Savada. Sri Lanka: A Country Study. Library of Congress, 1990. Concise introduction to geography, history, economics, politics, and culture.

Rotberg, Robert I., ed. Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation. Brookings Institution Press, 1999. Examines the causes of war and the possibilities for peace in Sri Lanka.

Samarasinghe, S. W. Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Scarecrow, 1997. A guide to Sri Lanka's troubled history.

Zwier, Lawrence J. Sri Lanka: War-Torn Island. Lerner, 1998. General introduction to the country, with a discussion of current events. For young adult readers.


Samarasinghe, Vidyamali, B.A., Ph.D. Associate Professor of International Relations, School of International Service, American University. Coauthor ofA Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka and coeditor of Women at the Crossroads: A Sri Lankan Perspective.

Microsoft Encarta 2009. 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Article key phrases:

Palk Strait, Kotte, Bay of Bengal, Sri Jayawardenepura, Tamils, island republic, Arabian Sea, Dutch colony, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Portuguese colony, Sinhalese, population of Sri Lanka, Ceylon, colonial rule, British colony, Indian subcontinent, Ethnic groups, head of state, ancient times, terms of employment, largest city, elected president, Europeans, Indian Ocean, civil war, constitution, Agriculture, island, economy, creation, manufacturing

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