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A teardrop-shaped island cast adrift in the Indian Ocean, Sri lanka is filled with cultural and natural treasures. Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their marks here, making for a delightful mix of ancient cities, monuments and atmospheric colonial architecture.

At the same time, palm-fringed beaches are never far away and lush mountainous greenery beckons inland. It’s clear to see why Marco Polo proclaimed Sri Lanka to be one of the best islands in the world.

Sri Lanka is one of those places where history seems to fade into the mist of legend. Is not Adam’s Peak said to be the very place where Adam set foot on earth, having been sent out of heaven Isn’t that his footprint squarely on top of the mountain to prove it’s Or is it the Buddha’s footprint on Sri Pada And isn’t Adam’s Bridge (the chain of islands linking Sri Lanka to India) the very series of stepping stones Rama, aided by his faithful ally, the monkey god Hanuman, stepped across in his mission to rescue Sita from the clutches of the Rawana,King of Lanka, in the epic Ramayana.

The first entries in the Mahavamsa or Great History date back to 543BC, which coincides with the arrival of Prince Vijay in Sri Lanka. Some 300 years later, commenced the early Anuradhapura Period, with King Devanampiya Tissa as the first ruler. It was in this period that a sampling of the sacred Bo Tree, under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka.

The late Anuradhapura Period, which began in the year 459, saw the reign of King Kasyapa, and the construction of Sigiriya. The Polonnaruwa period, witnessed the transfer of the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in 1073. Famed explorer, Marco Polo, arrived in Sri Lanka in the period between 1254 and 1324, and, in 1505, the Portuguese landed, and occupied the island’s coastal regions.

The Sources Of The Prehistoric Period

Until recent times very little information was available regarding Sri Lanka’s Prehistoric period. It is due to the excavations, research and studies undertaken by Wilhelm G Solheim II, S. Deraniyagala and several other archaeologists from about the early 1970s that new information is being published. Deraniyagala’s unique discoveries within the country and their connections to Hoabinhian, Banchiang and other South-East-Asian pre-historic cultures are indeed exciting.

The Sources Of The Period Since 500 Bc

The most important sources of the period since 500 BC are the literary sources such as the great chronicle Mahavamsa together with its commentary Vamsatthappakasini, and its continuation the Chulavamsa. It is said that Sri Lanka is unique in the possession of a historical record so ancient, continuous and trustworthy, beginning with the occupation of the island by civilized men in the 5th century B.C. and continuing the story, under each successive King, for twenty two centuries. The Mahavamsa is primarily a dynamic and religious history as well, but it describes the main political events, such as invasions, conquests, civil wars and succession, disputes, and it throws light on social history as well. It is a poem written in elegant PALI Language and it was compiled initially in the sixth century AD by two learned Buddhist monks named Mahanama and Dhammakitti.

Other Sources

In addition to the Mahawamsa there are a large number of inscriptions in Sri Lanka; the total number already discovered exceeds 2500. It is believed that many more lithic records would be found in the country.

The earliest inscriptions are contemporary with the introduction of Buddhism in the 3rd century B.C. Well over 1000 epigraphs, mostly inscribed on caves, belong to the third, second and first centuries B.C. and they exist in every part of the dry zone, as well as in the old cave temples of the Colombo, Kegalla and Kandy districts.

The Prehistoric Period

It is intended to provide a detailed account of the prehistoric period of Sri Lanka as the historical information based on archaeological research and studies in respect of this period were not available. Hence not much publicity was given to this Historical period. However, consequent to the excavations and the research studies undertaken by Dr. S.U. Deraniyagala, he was able to reveal valuable information in respect of this period, which was hitherto unavailable.

According to pioneer archaeological investigations of Wilhelm G Solheim II that commenced in the nineteen seventies and several other archaeologists, much information is being dug out from South-East Asian countries that shows strong evidence of Pre-historic cultures that influenced the east as well as the west. Sri Lanka was on the ancient sea route from east to the west and as such became a subject of serious investigations by those experts for connections to South East Asian pre historical cultures.

According to Dr. Deraniyagala’s findings, thirty feet below the ground in the ancient city of Anuradhapura lie the remnants of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization dating back to 900-800 B.C. It has been further revealed that the inhabitants of Anuradhapura during that period were at an advanced level of civilization with iron technology, paddy cultivation, horse breeding and high grade pottery.

Deraniyagala also discovered several specimens of writing dating back at least to the 6th and 5th centuries before Christ (BC). These writings are in the form of early Brahmin script. This is a date earlier than the reign of Emperor Asoka circa 274 BC in India and coincides with the Mahavamsa account of the arrival of the North Indian impulse, in Sri Lanka the first of which was led by Vijay; Deraniyagala has reported that cultural traits such as the shapes of pottery undergo change at the same time.

According to Deraniyagala, Stone Age researches cover the period from 700,000 BC to 1000 BC and he has observed the interaction of man and environment during that period. Sri Lanka’s past climatic fluctuations for about 500,000 years have been delineated on the basis of those investigations and co-related with the evolution of Sri Lanka’s Stone Age. In his research, cultures have been studied in terms of stone tool technology, subsistence practices, settlement patterns, burial practices and physical anthropology. These studies have pioneered climatologist studies in South Asia and in the Tropics in general. It seems that for the first time it is securely established that humans of the Old Stone Age have inhabited Sri Lanka as early as 125,000 years ago and possibly 500,000 or more.

Much of the details in Deraniyagala’s findings commence from the excavations in several caves in the Sabaragamuwa Province which have exhibited stone tools displaying a high degree of sophistication in their design, which first came into prominence in Sri Lanka as early as 30,000 years ago. They preceded their first appearance in Europe by some 20,000 years.

Physical anthropology of Sri Lankan humans from 29,000 BC onwards has been studied in detail in collaboration with specialists from the Cornel University U.S.A. Based on these results Deraniyagala has expressed the view that one group of findings represent the earliest evidence of anatomically modern man to be discovered in South Asia so far. Moreover, it has been observed that there has been an unbroken line of descent from humans found at around 14,000 BC right down to the descendants of the Sri Lankan aborigines – the Veddhas.

Several assemblages of human remains from 14,000 BC down to the recent times have been studied in detail leading up to those conclusions. The methods and technology used for the researches are considered to be very up to date and in many ways have been applied for the first time in Asia.

The Periods during Which Sri Lanka Was Ruled By Local Kings or Rulers, Vijay a 483 BC To Sri Wickramarajasinha 1815 Ad. This is a period spanning over 24 centuries involving different periods of the History of Sri Lanka, as detailed above. Hence for the purpose of this publication it is intended to provide only a summary of each period of History, highlighting only the main occurrences, achievements and developments of that period.

Chronological Table of The Monarchs Of Sri Lanka

Compiling an accurate chronological table of the monorchs of Sri Lanka spanning a period of approximately 2500 years has been a perennial problem that scholars of Sri Lankan History have faced. The periods that troubled the scholars most were the Pre Anuradhapura period and the latter part of Kurunegala, Yapahuwa Gampola period and Kotte periods. After consulting many authoritative sources the author preferred to adopt the Chronology given in Walpola Rahula’s Book “History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka”, which is based on Geiger’s List of Kings up to Kassapa V (913-923 AD). From Dappula 111 (923 – 924 AD) the Chronological dates are based on that provided in Vol. I Pa/rt 11 “University of Ceylon History of Ceylon “, Book pp 843 – 847. The dates up to Sena 1(833 – 853 AD) are only approximate.

The Traditional history of Sri Lanka begins about the 5th century B.C. with the first settlement in this land of a people named Sinhala an Indo Aryan group who came from North India. About 70% of the people still inhabiting the island are known by that name. After considering all historical as well as traditional sources available several renowned- scholars have come to the conclusion that ancestors of the Sinhalese migrated to Sri Lanka first from the Indus river region in North India, where a group of people called KAMBOJAS also lived, in close proximity to them. It is also accepted by historians that there was a later immigration by Indo-Aryans in the Bengal Orissa region of the North East of India.

Mahavamsa the chronicle of the Sinhalese is considered to be one of the oldest and rare chronicles in the world where a continuing history of the nation is recorded from about the 550 B C. The original authorships are ascribed to Thera Mahanama (First Part) who was resident at Dighasandasenapti Pirivena (A Buddhist seat of learning for lay persons and the clergy) at Anuradhapura and Dharmakitti Thera (Second Part) in Polonnaruwa.