The recorded history of the island begins with the arrival of Vijaya, an exiled prince from Bengal in Eastern India on the day of the Buddha’s demise in 543 BC. This Indo-Aryan invasion of the island- then inhabited by tribes of Yakshas (lit spirits) initially took place in “Tambapanni” (copper-coloured sands) in what is probably Mannar in the North Western coast of the island.
The Aryans introduced the use of iron and an advanced form of agriculture and irrigation systems. They also introduced a stable system of government. Vijaya made Tambapanni the capital and ruled there for 38 years. According to the chronicles, Vijaya was succeeded as king by his nephew Pandvasdeva, who established his capital at Panduvas Nuwara in the 5th century BC. Anuradhagama founded earlier by a minister named Anuradha, was made the capital of a powerful kingdom under the rule of King Pandukabhaya and renamaed Anuradhapura. Thereafter Abhaya, Pandukahabaya and Mutasiva held the kingship until King Devanampiyatissa come to the throne.
Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in 307 BC by Arahat Mahainda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India, during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. This is the most important event in Sri Lankan history, as it set the country on the path to cultural greatness. The bringing of the Sri Mahabodhi or the sapling of the Bo tree at Buddhagaya and the introduction of the Bikkhuni sasana or the order of Buddhist Nuns also strengthened this historical event.
Sri Lanka was subject to invasion by Dravidians from the 3rd century BC onwards. As early as 237 BC two Tamil adventurers usurped the Sinhalese throne and ruled for 22 years. Later, a Chola general named Elara seized power for 44 years until he was overthrown and slain by King Dutugemunu, who succeeded in unifying the country in 161 BC.
The rise of three powerful South Indian states - the Cholas. Pandyas and Pallavas - resulted in repeated invasions from South India, until the kingdom of Anuradhapura, exposed to continuous attack and conquest, fell and was abandoned as the Sinhalese capital by the end of the 10th century AD. Vijayabahu I repulsed the invaders and established his capital at Polonnaruwa in the 11th century AD.
Invasions continued intermittently and the capital was moved to Dambadeniya in 1232, Yapahuwa in 1272, Kurunegala in 1302, Gampola in 1341 and Kotte in 1415 until the Portuguese arrived in 1505, when the main city was established at Kotte, in the west.
In 1505. The Portuguese came to trade in spices but assumed the rule of coastal areas until 1656, as did the Dutch who ousted them thereafter. The Dutch were in their turn displaced by the British in 1796 During this entire period of colonial contests and conquests, the highland kingdom, with its capital in Kandy, fiercely retained its independence despite many assaults. It was ceded in 1815 to the British, who thus established their rule over the whole island.
The struggle against the colonial power began in 1817 during the period of Governor Robert Brownrigg. The uprising was led by Vilbave and Keppetipola Disawe but was brutally suppressed by the British who captured and beheaded these heroes. The next struggle against the British was the Matale Rebellion led by Hnnedige Francisco Fernando alias Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda, in 1847-48 This too was suppressed by the British army. A peaceful political independence movement which aimed at achieving independence from the British Empire was initiated around the turn of the 20th century, led by the educated middle class and Sri Lanka finally achieved independence on February 4, 1948.
The first independent government was formed by the United National Party led by D.S.Senanayake. In 1960, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party won the general election and S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake’s widow Sirmavo Bandaranayake become prime minister. She has the distinction of being the first female prime minister in the world.