Sri Lanka, known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, is a country that boasts a diverse linguistic landscape. The languages spoken in Sri Lanka reflect the country’s multiculturalism and its historical ties to various civilizations. In this article, we will explore the languages spoken in Sri Lanka, its population, religions, history, and more.
Population and Official Languages
According to the latest data from 2019, Sri Lanka’s population stands at approximately 21,361,667. The official languages of the country are Sinhala, which belongs to the Indo-Iranian language family, and Tamil, from the Dravidian language family.
Primary Languages Spoken
The majority of Sri Lankans communicate using Sinhala, which is spoken by 69% of the population. Tamil, another widely spoken language, is the primary language for 25.2% of Sri Lankans. Other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka also have their own languages, such as Malayalam, Ambalavasi, Mapilla, Telugu, Vaddars, and Waggai. However, these languages have relatively few speakers. English is widely spoken throughout the country.
People and Religion
Sri Lanka is a diverse nation, consisting of various ethnic groups and religions. The Sinhalese make up 69% of the population, while groups of Tamil expression account for 25.2% (including Muslims as a separate entity). The Burghers, descendants of mixed race or Indo-Portuguese Indo-Dutch, number around 2,200 and speak Sinhalese. The Vedda, a minority indigenous group, also reside in Sri Lanka.
In terms of religion, Buddhism dominates, with 70% of the population (including 90% of Sinhalese) practicing this faith. Hinduism is followed by 15% of the population (with 80% of Tamils), followed by Islam (8%) and Catholicism (7%), which is shared between Sinhalese and Tamil groups.
National Holiday and Holiday Schedule
Sri Lanka commemorates its independence on February 4th each year. Additionally, there are several other significant holidays and festivals celebrated throughout the year. Poya Days, which occur on the day of the full moon, hold special significance for Buddhists. Thai Pongal in January, Maha Shivaratri in February, Avurudu in April, and Diwali in November are among the other festivals celebrated in Sri Lanka. Christmas is also observed on December 25th.
The history of Sri Lanka is rich and complex, shaped by the arrival of different civilizations and influences. The island’s first inhabitants were believed to be the ancestors of the modern-day Vedda, a hunter-gatherer community. The Sinhalese, according to their scriptures, arrived from northern India in the 7th century BC. Buddhism was introduced around 300 BC, and the island experienced the establishment of a “hydraulic civilization,” characterized by a combination of religion and irrigation.
Over time, the island was divided into various kingdoms, including Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva. The Tamil people invaded from southern India, leading to conflicts and the displacement of the Sinhalese further south. Sri Lanka became a crucial trading hub along the east-west trade route, attracting Arab merchant ships and other traders.
European powers, including the Portuguese and Dutch, arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively. The British eventually gained control of Sri Lanka in 1796 and established it as the Royal Colony of Ceylon in 1815. The British colonial era brought significant developments such as schools, cricket pitches, and railways. The thriving tea industry emerged, alongside rubber, coconut, and cane sugar production, which prompted the immigration of Tamil-speaking workers.
The 20th century witnessed the rise of the national movement in Sri Lanka, driven by social demands from both Sinhalese and Tamils. Independence was granted in 1948, but tensions between the communities escalated. In 1972, Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka, and sporadic clashes eventually led to a civil war. The conflict ended in 2009, with an estimated 70,000 deaths.
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has a presidential system. The President, elected by universal suffrage for a term of six years, holds the positions of head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President appoints ministers, with the leader of the majority party in Parliament usually becoming the first minister. Parliament consists of 225 members elected for six years.
Famous Sri Lankans
Sri Lanka has produced notable individuals who have made significant contributions in various fields. Rukmani Devi, known as the “Nightingale of Sri Lanka,” was a highly acclaimed actress and singer. Clarence Wijewardana, a celebrated musician, is regarded as a pioneer of Sri Lankan pop music. Philip Christopher Ondaatje, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, has also garnered recognition for his adventurous spirit and philanthropic endeavors. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first female head of government in modern history, made significant strides in gender equality and changed the name of the country to Sri Lanka.
Etiquette and Shopping
When visiting Sri Lanka, it is important to respect local customs and etiquette. While the country’s tourism infrastructure is still developing, it offers a unique experience for travelers. It is recommended to rely on certified guides for in-depth information about major sites. It is also advisable to be cautious of drivers who may attempt to take you to shops or workshops for personal gain.
Tipping is expected in Sri Lanka, with suggested amounts for drivers and various service personnel. However, it is important to refrain from handing out money or items to people on the streets, as this encourages begging. If you wish to provide assistance, it is best to donate supplies directly to schools or clinics.
Food and Drink
Sri Lankan cuisine is renowned for its flavors and variety. Rice and curry, accompanied by meat, fish, vegetables, and condiments, form the foundation of Sri Lankan gastronomy. Sambol, a mixture of coconut flesh, grated pepper, and spices, is a popular condiment. Other notable dishes include Kiribath, a rice dish cooked in coconut milk, and cutlets, which are spicy croquettes made from potato and fish. Hoppers, rice pancakes served with various accompaniments, are a popular breakfast option. Sri Lanka also offers an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits, and sweet treats like curd and treacle.
When it comes to beverages, tap water is not safe to drink, so it is advisable to stick to bottled mineral water. Local brews, sodas, coconut water, and tea (black, green, and white) are widely available options.
Sri Lanka’s linguistic diversity, cultural heritage, and captivating history make it a fascinating destination for travelers. With its stunning landscapes, rich cuisine, and warm hospitality, Sri Lanka offers a unique experience that is sure to delight visitors.
For more information about traveling to Sri Lanka, visit DHPL Travels.