Traveling to Sri Lanka soon, doing a school project on the country or simply want to learn more about it? Check out these 55 interesting Sri Lanka facts.
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55 interesting Sri Lanka facts
This post is part of a series of fun facts posts I’m doing for every country I have articles about here on the blog. Given their nature, these posts are research-based and even though a lot of time has gone into them, it’s still possible a mistake has snuck in. If you see something that looks incorrect, please let me know at sofie [at] wonderfulwanderings.com and I’ll look into it. Thanks!
1. The Portuguese arrived on the island nation of Sri Lanka in 1505. They called it Ceilao. That name was later changed when it became a British Crown Colony. They westernized it into Ceylon, a name that lasted through its independence in 1948 and up until 1972 when it became Sri Lanka.
2. The history of Sri Lanka is very diverse and that diversity is reflected in the numerous religions found on the island. The major religion is Buddhism, but there are also large percentages of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. There are many sacred sites in Sri Lanka such as Kataragama, which is a holy site for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.
The country is also a Buddhist pilgrimage site, visited by thousands each year, as Buddha himself was said to have come to the island on three separate occasions.
3. Sri Lanka’s multicultural heritage has created an atmosphere where art, in many forms, has flourished. Much of the country’s classic works of art are heavily influenced by religion. The contemporary art scene is vibrant and encompasses painting, sculpture, digital creations, and performance art. The Nelum Pokuna Mawatha, or “Green Path” is an area located just opposite from the Colombo National Museum where budding artists and students display their works on the weekends.
4. The flag of The Republic of Sri Lanka is based on the gold figure of a lion, which was the symbol on the original flag of Ceylon. The lion is holding a sword, signifying Authority. There are several religious symbols on the flag as well, including four pipul leaves in recognition of Buddhists, a green stripe representing Muslims, and an orange strip which represents Hindus. The maroon background is the representation of the Sinhalese people.
This flag was officially adopted on December 17th, 1978. The famous historical site of Sigiriya also has a Lion’s Gate.
5. The death penalty is still in effect in Sri Lanka, although there have been no executions there since 1976. The method of execution is by hanging.
6. When visiting Sri Lanka, be aware of mosquitos, as they can carry dengue fever. The island has, however, won their war against malaria, reducing the number of cases annually by 99.9%.
7. The name “Sri Lanka” is Sanskrit for “resplendent island”. Although many establishments still use “Ceylon” in their names, the government has plans to rename all of the institutions over which it has control to “Sri Lanka”.
8. Despite being the 122nd smallest country in the world, Sri Lanka still manages to account for over 19% of tea exports, worldwide.
9. A very popular destination for tourists is The Cultural Triangle. It is anchored by the three historic Sinhalese capitals of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and Kandy. There are numerous historical sights in the area such as cave temples, Buddhist shrines, and impressive ruins of the capitals.
10. One of the earliest exports from Sri Lanka was coffee which thrived in the higher elevations. In the 1870s a disease wiped out entire coffee plantations, forcing the owners to switch to growing tea, for which they became well known worldwide.
11. The beautiful city of Trincomalee, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, has had to endure some trials in the past few years. The Civil War and a devastating tsunami caused some damage, but it is bouncing back and the tourist trade is returning. The scenic seafront and the historic colonial buildings are still there, waiting.
12. The literacy rate in Sri Lanka is the best in South Asia, at an impressive 92%.
13. One good rule when visiting Sri Lanka is “Respect the Buddha”. Tourists have been convicted for taking pictures which disrespected the Buddha and for displaying a tattoo of the Buddha. Some tourists have been deported and a few have now been refused entry to the country for their disrespectful behavior.
14. Because of its history, the cuisine of Sri Lanka is an interesting mixture of Indian, Dutch, Persian, Arab, British, and Portuguese influences. It is recognized as being among the spiciest food in the world, while also some of the healthiest and most aromatic.
15. The Official Sri Lankan national sport is volleyball, which was introduced there in 1916. This is true, even though soccer and cricket are more popular among the citizenry.
16. For those who love water-related activities, the East Coast of Sri Lanka is the place to go. There are beautiful beaches, fantastic surfing, clear water for snorkeling, and outstanding conditions for sport-fishing and even whale watching.
17. Sri Lanka had some unexpected neighbors in the past. 300 million years ago, when the mega-continent Pangea connected all of the current continents, Sri Lanka was actually joined to Antarctica.
18. Based on the earliest remains found on the island, Sri Lanka has had a human presence for at least 35,000 years.
19. What is arguably the most famous “footprint” in the world is located in Sri Lanka. Atop Adam’s Peak, one of the holiest locations in the country, is a hollow in the ground said by Buddhists to have been left by Buddha himself during one of his trips to the island. Christians and Muslims believe that the footprint was created by Adam after being exiled from Eden. Tamil Hindus say the footprint is that of their Lord Shiva.
20. At one time Sri Lanka was known to Persian and Arab traders as “Serendip”. Thanks to the Persian children’s story “The Three Princes of Serendip”, the English language now enjoys the use of the word “serendipity”. Apparently, the princes had a knack for inadvertently discovering things they weren’t actually looking for. Writer Horace Walpole first used the new word in 1754.
21. Sri Lanka has been given many nicknames, but the ones which have stuck over the years seem to be “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” and “Teardrop of India”, both based on the geography of the country.
22. True cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka. Remnants of cinnamon which may have come from Sri Lanka have been found in a 3,000-year-old flask discovered in what is now Israel. That would have meant a 3,000-mile trip to purchase the cinnamon.
23. History was made in Sri Lanka in July of 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female Prime Minister. Her Sri Lanka Freedom Party won the general election and catapulted her into the office where she remained for three terms.
24. In case it should ever come up in casual conversation, the oldest human-planted tree in the world is in Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. It is a sacred fig tree planted around 288 BCE.
25. In Sri Lanka, you can see the world’s largest marine mammal, the Blue Whale, and the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, all in one day.
26. In the southwestern lowlands of Sri Lanka is The Sinharaja Rainforest, one of the last of its kind in Asia. The animals who make this area their home, such as monkeys and elephants, roam freely alongside many other species. You will also find an incredible 170 kinds of orchids in the rainforest.
27. On the southwest coast of Sri Lanka is the city of Galle. Among its more interesting features is the Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1589. The fortifications were enlarged by the Dutch when they seized the port city in 1640.
Today you can walk the ramparts of this historic piece of architecture which has not only withstood centuries of use, but also the devastating tsunami of 2004.
28. Every year Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka is the site of the largest gathering of elephants at one time in Asia. During the dry season, the elephants come from the surrounding areas to take advantage of the Minneriya Reservoir. At the peak of the gathering, you can watch up to 300 elephants enjoying the Park, the water, and each others company.
29. Officially known as The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, the population is slightly over 21 million.
30. Famous throughout the world, Lipton Tea got its start in Sri Lanka when Sir Thomas Lipton purchased a 5500-acre tea plantation in what was then the high country of Ceylon in 1890.
31. The national flower of Sri Lanka is the Nil Mahanel, known to botanists as Nymphaea Stellata. It is known in English as the beautiful Water Lily.
32. Not the largest of island nations, Sri Lanka is only 65,610 square kilometers, making it only slightly larger than the state of West Virginia in the US.
33. Despite its size, Sri Lanka has an abundance of well-preserved historical sites. This accounts for the fact that the country has 8 UNESCO Heritage Sites.
34. The Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy, is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. It houses what is said to be an actual tooth of Buddha’s.
35. Be careful when looking for a hotel room in Sri Lanka. For reasons that even the locals don’t understand, many restaurants, bars, and cafes are called “hotels”.
36. Although tea, rubber, and coconut-based products are still among the major exports from Sri Lanka, there is also a thriving market for garments manufactured on the island.
37. Sri Lanka has a long and revered tradition of literature, both written and oral. By the fifth century, Sinhala and Tamil writers were already recording religious stories and historical events, in addition to secular topics.
38. Although marriages within the various ethnic groups are still, for the most part, arranged by the families of the couple, it is becoming more and more common for couples to arrange their own marriages in Sri Lanka.
39. Near the town of Dambulla, there is a massive column of stone around 660 feet high which was used as a fortress and capital during the reign of King Yasapa in 477 CE. The capital is considered one of the best examples of urban planning in the ancient world.
40. In the majority of countries, the act of nodding your head means “yes” and shaking your head from side to side means “no”. In Sri Lanka, it works just the opposite.
41. For reasons only the Sri Lankans may know, when online, they Google the word “Sex” more than any other country except for Bangladesh.
42. In 2004, Sri Lanka was hit by a tsunami from the Indian Ocean. More than 30,000 were killed and over 500,000 people lost their homes.
43. The Sri Lankan Civil War was fought from 1983 to 2009 as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam sought to create an independent Tamil state within Sri Lanka. Between 70,000 and 80,000 lives were lost during the conflict.
44. Because of the numerous waterfalls in Sri Lanka, they have become the chief source of electricity in the country through the use of hydroelectric generation systems.
45. The coastline of Sri Lanka is approximately 1340 kilometers long. Much of that coastline is made up of sandy beaches well-suited to water-related recreation including snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing.
46. Although it can be confusing at times, Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte Sri is considered the administrative capital of Sri Lanka, even though you may hear Colombo referred to as the de-facto capital. This is because Jayawardenapura-Kotte Sri is a satellite city of the urban area of Columbo.
47. The city of Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of Sri Lanka, has ruins that are dated back over 2,000 years.
48. The largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in the country is the famous Cave Monastery of Dambulla, which has five separate sanctuaries. It is an official World Heritage Site.
49. To become a member of Sri Lanka’s military forces one must be between 18 and 22 years of age. There is no conscription, so all service is voluntary and there is a 12-year service obligation.
50. Sri Lanka has both a President and a Prime Minister. Under their form of Democracy, the Prime Minister is the leader of the Cabinet and Deputy to the President.
51. Almost 5 million people fly in or out of Sri Lanka annually on one of their three registered air carriers.
52. For an island of its size, Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity of animals. This includes 433 species of birds, 245 species of butterflies, 96 species of snakes, and 383 species of spiders including 15 species of tarantulas.
53. For information and entertainment while in Sri Lanka, there are 5 government-operated TV stations and 25 private TV stations. As far as radio is concerned, the government has 19 stations, while there are 43 privately-owned radio outlets on the island.
54. According to the latest statistics, there are over 7 million internet users in Sri Lanka. This means that over 32% of the population have regular internet access.
55. Rubies, sapphires and other precious gems are mined in Sri Lanka. The town of Ratnapura is known as The Gem Capital of Sri Lanka.
And that’s it for our Sri Lanka fun facts!
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