Sri Lanka, also known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” and “the teardrop of India,” is a captivating country in South Asia. With its stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and warm hospitality, this small island nation is a must-visit destination. Whether you’re planning a short getaway or a two-week adventure, Sri Lanka has something for everyone. Join us as we explore some fascinating facts about this enchanting country.
23 Intriguing Facts about Sri Lanka
1. Land of Natural Beauty and Diversity
Sri Lanka is renowned for its breathtaking natural landscapes, including majestic mountains, pristine beaches, and rich biodiversity. Shaped like a teardrop, this South Asian gem is located just 54.8 km southeast of India.
2. Embracing Tradition: Ayubowan!
Upon arriving in Sri Lanka, you’ll be greeted with the traditional salutation “ayubowan,” which means “may you be blessed with a long life” in Sinhala, the official language of the country. It’s a gesture of warm welcome and can also be used to bid farewell.
3. Head Shaking 101
In most parts of the world, nodding your head up and down indicates agreement, while shaking it from side to side means “no.” However, Sri Lanka does things a little differently. Here, a nod means “no,” and a shake means “yes.” So, don’t be surprised if you need to adjust your usual head gestures while exploring this beautiful country.
4. A Melting Pot of Faiths
Though Buddhism holds the status of the official religion in Sri Lanka, the country prides itself on its religious diversity. While over 70% of Sri Lankans practice Buddhism, there are also significant populations of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, allowing people to follow their beliefs peacefully.
5. Experience the Local Flavors
When dining like a local in Sri Lanka, embrace the tradition of eating with your hands. While it may take some practice, it’s a unique way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Wash your hands before and after the meal, and use your right hand to mix rice and other dishes on your plate. Remember, your left hand is reserved for holding the plate.
6. A Tropical Island with Antarctic Roots
Surprisingly, Sri Lanka has a geological connection to Antarctica. Millions of years ago, when the supercontinent Pangea existed, Sri Lanka was attached to Antarctica. Today, this tropical paradise stands as a testament to Earth’s ever-changing landscapes.
7. The Art of Batik
As you explore Sri Lanka’s markets, you’ll come across vibrant fabrics dyed with the batik technique. This ancient dyeing process involves using wax to create intricate patterns on fabrics, preventing certain areas from absorbing the dye. The fabric is then dipped in colored dye and boiled to remove the wax, revealing beautiful patterns. You can even try your hand at batik by visiting specialized shops that offer workshops.
8. The Martial Art of Angampora
Deeply rooted in Sri Lankan culture is the traditional martial art of Angampora. This ancient combat system incorporates hand-to-hand combat, indigenous weapons, knives, and swords, along with self-defense techniques and meditation. Despite facing near extinction during British colonization, Angampora survived through the resilience of dedicated practitioners and has regained popularity in modern Sri Lanka.
9. Scaling New Heights in Colombo
Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, is home to South Asia’s tallest tower, the Lotus Tower. Soaring to a height of 1,150 feet, this iconic structure stands as a symbol of national development. Inspired by the lotus flower, a symbol of purity in Sri Lankan culture, the tower offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of Colombo from its rotating restaurant.
10. Dance to the Rhythm of Sri Lanka
Immerse yourself in Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage through its traditional dances. The country boasts three main types of classical Sri Lankan dances: Kandyan, Pahatha Rata Natum, and Sabaragamuwa. Each dance style features distinctive costumes, moves, masks, and accompanying drums. These dances originated from an ancient folk religion and were performed during ceremonies to seek blessings and ward off evil spirits.
11. Sri Lankan Tea: A World-Renowned Brew
Sri Lanka is renowned for its tea production, making it the largest exporter of tea in the world. Ceylon tea, known for its purity and flavor, accounts for a significant portion of the country’s exports. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit tea plantations, where you can witness the delicate process of tea leaf picking and processing. A visit to these tea estates also offers an opportunity to savor the unique flavors influenced by altitude, sunlight, temperature, and soil conditions.
12. Breaking Barriers: Sri Lanka’s First Female Prime Minister
In 1960, Sri Lanka made history by electing Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the world’s first female Prime Minister. Leading the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, she served three terms in office. She played a crucial role in various reforms, particularly in the banking, education, media, and trade sectors. Despite facing challenges, such as high inflation and unemployment, she left a lasting impact on the country.
13. The Power of Literacy
Sri Lanka prides itself on having the highest literacy rate in South Asia, with an impressive 92%. The country’s long-standing commitment to education and literacy dates back centuries. As early as the fifth century, Sinhala and Tamil writers documented religious stories and historical events, laying the foundation for a society steeped in knowledge.
14. Timeless Reverence: The Sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
Anuradhapura, a city in Sri Lanka, is home to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest living human-planted tree in the world. Dating back to 288 BC, this sacred bo tree holds immense significance for Buddhists. Devotees offer daily tributes to the tree, seeking blessings, good health, and bountiful harvests. The tree’s origin can be traced back to Bodhgaya, India, where Lord Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment under a similar tree.
15. Unpacking the Sri Lankan Flag
The Sri Lankan flag boasts vibrant colors, each holding a special meaning. The lion depicted on the flag represents the Sinhalese people and symbolizes the nation’s strength. The sword signifies the country’s sovereignty, while the four bo leaves represent the significance of Buddhism in Sri Lankan culture. The colors orange, green, red, and yellow represent Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Sinhalese people, and other ethnic groups, respectively.
16. A Mountain of Sacred Significance
Adam’s Peak, standing at 797 feet, holds deep spiritual significance for multiple religions. Buddhists believe the mountaintop footprint belongs to Buddha, while Muslims attribute it to Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Hindus associate the footprint with the deity Shiva, and Christians believe it to be connected to St. Thomas. Hiking to the summit of Adam’s Peak is a memorable experience, offering stunning vistas and visits to small temples along the way.
17. UNESCO Treasures
Sri Lanka boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, each a testament to the country’s rich history and cultural heritage. These sites include the Sacred City of Kandy, the Ancient City of Sigiriya, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, and the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka.
18. Serendipity: A Sri Lankan Gift to the World
The English word “serendipity” finds its origins in Sri Lanka. Traders from Persia and Arabia used to refer to the country as “Serendip.” The term gained prominence when English writer Horace Walpole coined the word in 1754 after reading a Persian fairy tale titled “The Three Princes of Serendip.” This captivating tale tells the story of princes who often made unexpected and delightful discoveries.
19. Volleyball: The National Game
Sri Lanka takes pride in its national game, volleyball. Introduced to the country in 1916, volleyball gained immense popularity and became an official sport in 1991. While cricket and soccer have usurped its popularity in recent times, volleyball remains a cherished sport among Sri Lankans.
20. Where Giants Roam
Sri Lanka is home to two of the world’s largest mammals—the blue whale and the elephant. These magnificent creatures grace the island’s oceans and landscapes. With over 3,000 wild elephants and more than 200 elephants in captivity, Sri Lanka offers unparalleled opportunities to witness these gentle giants in their natural habitats.
21. Elephant Extravaganza: The Gathering of Giants
Minneriya National Park plays host to an incredible natural spectacle—the largest gathering of elephants in the world. During the dry season, hundreds of elephants congregate near the park’s reservoir in search of water. Witnessing this awe-inspiring gathering, with up to 300 elephants present on any given day, is an unforgettable experience.
22. A Sacred Relic: The Temple of the Tooth
In the heart of Kandy lies the Temple of the Tooth, a revered Buddhist temple housing a sacred relic—Buddha’s tooth. Sri Lankans hold this relic in great veneration. To celebrate the tooth relic, the city of Kandy hosts the grand Esala Perahera festival every summer. This vibrant festival showcases traditional costumes, mesmerizing dances, and a magnificent parade featuring over 100 elephants.
23. Harnessing the Power of Water
Sri Lanka’s abundance of waterfalls and reservoirs has made hydropower a vital source of electricity for the country. Hydropower historically provided almost all of Sri Lanka’s electricity until the early 1990s. Today, it contributes around 20% of the island’s electricity, with 50% of the total coming from renewable resources. The country boasts 15 large hydroelectric power stations, with the Victoria Dam housing the largest among them.
Explore the Wonders of Sri Lanka
These fascinating facts about Sri Lanka offer a glimpse into the country’s rich history, diverse culture, and natural beauty. From its ancient traditions to its breathtaking landscapes, Sri Lanka promises an unforgettable journey. If you’re planning a visit, let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to check out our recommendations for day trips outside Colombo. So, pack your bags, embark on an adventure, and experience the wonders of this beautiful country firsthand.