Independent island state in the Indian Ocean, just S of the S tip of India, with its capital at Colombo. Inhabited originally by aboriginal Veddas, it was conquered in the sixth century b.c. by the Sinhalese, whose capital at Anuradhapura became one of the chief world centers of Buddhism after the third century b.c. The island suffered many Hindu Tamil invasions from India, and the Tamils still form a large element in the population. It was visited in the 12th and 13th centuries a.d. by Arabs, attracted by the island’s spices.
The Travels of John Mand eville, written in the late Middle Ages, cited Taprobane as the source of immense wealth. In Europe the existence of a large island or group of island s south of India, called Taprobane, was known to the soldiers of Alexand er the Great. Under the Seleucids a mission actually reached southern India and recorded the island . It appears as a huge island in Ptolemy’s geography of the second century a.d.
Ceylon was therefore avidly sought by Renaissance Europeans and was settled in 1505 by the Por- tuguese, in 1658 by the Dutch, and in 1796 by the British. It became a British Crown colony in 1798 and was granted independence on February 4, 1948.
Armed rebellion against the government of Mrs. Band aranaike broke out in April 1971 but was quelled with foreign aid. Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972. Economic decline and corruption have plagued the nation. In elections held in 1977 Junius Richard Jayawardene defeated Band aranaike to become president, naming Ranasinghe Premadasa prime minister. In the 1980s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began a full-scale guerrilla war against the Sri Lankan army in the north and east, while Sinhalese student radicals assassinated government officials whom they believed were too soft on the Tamils. In 1987, India sent 42,000 troops to NE Sri Lanka. The Indian troops fought for a year and were asked to withdraw by the newly elected president Ramasinghe Premadasa in 1988.
In 1990, the fighting with the Tigers resumed and in 1993, Premadasa was assassinated in a suicide bombing. In 1995, the government troops in a largescale offensive captured the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna. The government has continued to be in crisis with battles and negotiations with the Tigers as well as heavy damage and loss of life in 2004 by the Indian Ocean tsunami from Sumatra.