Sri Lanka, or Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, an island country in the Indian Ocean. Until 1972 it was known as Ceylon. Since 1948 Sri Lanka has been an independent country and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is a pear-shaped island, situated off the southern tip of India near the Equator. Several islands and Adam's Bridge, a 20-mile (32-km) chain of reefs, lie between Sri Lanka and the mainland.

Facts in brief about Sri Lanka
Capital: Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.
Official languages: Sinhala and Tamil.
Area: 25,332 mi2 (65,610 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 270 mi (435 km); east-west, 140 mi (225 km). Coastline—748 mi (1,204 km).
Elevation: Highest—Pidurutalagala, 8,281 ft (2,524 m). Lowest—sea level.
Population: Current estimate—20,140,000; density, 795 per mi2 (307 per km2); distribution, 80 percent rural, 20 percent urban. 2001 census—16,864,544 (17 of 25 districts only; the government's estimate for the complete 2001 census is 18,732,255).
Chief products: Agriculture—rubber, rice, tea, coconuts. Manufacturing—food products, rubber products, textiles.
National anthem: Sri Lanka Matha ("Sri Lanka, Motherland").
Flag: Sri Lanka's flag has a yellow background. At the left, a vertical green stripe stands for the Moors and a vertical orange stripe stands for the Tamils. At the right, a yellow lion on a crimson field is a symbol of precolonial Sri Lanka. Ornaments in the corners are bo leaves which are Buddhist symbols.
Money: Basic unit—Sri Lankan rupee. One hundred cents equal one rupee.
Physical Geography
Sri LankaSri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean.

A plain barely above sea level makes up the northern half of the island and continues around the coast of the southern half. South-central Sri Lanka, in contrast, is hilly and mountainous, reaching elevations of more than 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level. The highest peak is Pidurutalagala, which rises to 8,281 feet (2,524 m). From the mountains flow most of Sri Lanka's numerous but short rivers. Several of them provide irrigation water and hydroelectric power, but most are of little significance.

The lowland areas are tropically hot and humid, while the mountains are marked by cooler, less sultry, and considerably rainier weather. Average temperatures vary from about 80° F. (27° C.) along the coast to 60° F. (16° C.) high in the mountains. Throughout the year there is very little seasonal or daily variation. Rainfall ranges from about 50 inches (1,270 mm) a year in parts of the north to about 200 inches (5,080 mm) in the southwest, the distribution being determined largely by the monsoons and the island's physical ° features.

Tropical forests of varying kinds cover Sri Lanka's mountainsides. Tree-studded grasslands prevail on the drier foothills and plains. Among the many trees are satinwood, ebony, and teak. Though diminishing in number, large animals are still found wild in Sri Lanka. They include elephants, leopards, water buffalo, bears, deer, and boars. There are also monkeys of several species and a large variety of birds and reptiles, including such snakes as pythons, vipers, and cobras.


Historically, Sri Lanka's economy has been heavily dependent on agriculture, especially the production of a few export crops. Although agriculture remains dominant, Sri Lanka's dependence on agricultural exports has declined since the mid-1970's. By the early 1990's the export of textiles and garments had grown to provide more than half of the country's export earnings.

Sri Lanka has a mixed economy—some industries are nationalized, others are privately owned.

Agriculture employs nearly half of the people and provides the greatest share of the country's gross domestic product. Tea, rubber, and coconuts are the most valuable export crops. Rice, grown in paddies on about a third of the agricultural land, is the principal food of the people. Other food crops include cassava, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, coconuts, chickpeas, and chilies. Sri Lanka also produces various spices and tobacco.

The processing of agricultural products and the making of textiles and garments are the chief manufacturing activities. Among others are the making of chemicals, cement, paper, and rubber products, and the refining of petroleum. Most of the newer manufacturing plants are owned either by the government or by foreign companies.

Sri Lanka's mining industry produces graphite, ilmenite, and a wide range of precious and semiprecious stones, including sapphires, aquamarines, and rubies. The country's forests yield many kinds of valuable timber. Usually, logging is done with the aid of elephants.

Sri Lanka's railway system, which is government owned, connects inland areas with coastal ports. There is a fairly extensive system of hard-surfaced roads. Sri Lanka is served by domestic and international airlines. Colombo is the leading air terminal and one of Asia's major seaports.

The People

There are many racial and linguistic groups in Sri Lanka. The majority are Sinhalese, an Aryan (Indo-European) people. The Tamils, of Dravidian (ancient Indian) stock, are the next largest group. The Veddas, primitive aborigines, live in eastern Sri Lanka.

Sinhalese is the official language. English and Tamil are also spoken. Most of the Sinhalese practice Theravada Buddhism, the official religion. The Tamils are predominantly Hindu. There are large minorities of Muslims and Christians.

Education is free and compulsory through secondary school. The rate of literacy in Sri Lanka is more than 85 per cent, which is high for an Asian nation. Institutions of higher learning include the University of Colombo; the University of Peradeniya; and the University of Kelaniya, noted as a center of Buddhist learning.


Under the constitution of 1978, the country is officially called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The president, who serves as both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a six-year term. The premier heads the majority party in the Parliament. Members of Parliament are elected for six-year terms.