Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the south eastern coast of India. Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sinhalese: ශ්රී ලංකාව Tamil: இலங்கை; known as Ceylon before 1972), located about 31 kilometres (19.3 mi) off the southern coast of India.
Area: 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq mi). Population (2007 est.): 21,128,773. Capitals: Colombo (executive), Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (legislative and judicial).
Because of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic maritime link between West Asia and South East Asia, and has been a center of Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times. Today, the country is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation, with Sinhalese (more than 70%), who are Theravada Buddhists. Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils, and Sri Lankan Tamils are the largest minorities. There are also Malays, Burghers (descendants of Dutch and Portuguese colonists), and Eurasians (descended from British colonists). In addition to the Buddhist majority, there are Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. The official language is Sinhalese (Sinhala); Tamil is a second national language, and English is commonly used in government.
The Sinhalese people are probably the result of aboriginal inhabitants (vedda) mixing with Indo-Aryans who began migrating from India the 5th century BC. The Tamils were later immigrants from Dravidian India, migrating over a period from the early centuries AD to c. 1200. Buddhism was introduced during the 3rd century BC. As Buddhism spread, the Sinhalese kingdom extended its political control over the island but lost it to invaders from southern India in the 10th century. Between 1200 and 1505, Sinhalese power gravitated to southwestern Sri Lanka, while a southern Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established the Tamil kingdom in the 14th century. Foreign invasions from India, China, and Malaya occurred in the 13th – 15th centuries. In 1505 the Portuguese arrived, and by 1619 they controlled most of the island. The Sinhalese enlisted the Dutch to help oust the Portuguese, and the island eventually came under the control of the Dutch East India Company, which relinquished it in 1796 to the British. In 1802 it became the British crown colony of Ceylon, which gained independence in 1948.
As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into civil war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in the conflict that continues to fester. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formalized a cease-fire in February 2002 with Norway brokering peace negotiations. Violence between the LTTE and government forces intensified in 2006 and the government regained control of the Eastern Province in 2007. In January 2008, the government officially withdrew from the ceasefire, and has begun engaging the LTTE in the northern portion of the country.