Wandering the shrines and historical sites of Sri Lanka it is evident that there is a vast and sprawling ancient past on this beautiful Indian Ocean Island. Archaeologists can trace its history back to the Stone Age, which is around 125,000 to 1000BC and spans the Yaksha and Naga peoples through to the Panduwas Nuwara civilization of 504 – 474BC. This period of prehistory can be glimpsed through the evidence of early man that can be found in the caves and caverns of Fa Hsien and Beli Lena among others, and although it is thought that the prehistoric peoples of Sri Lanka inhabited the whole island this is where the best traces are found.
Following the pre-historical era, documented Sri Lankan history is extensive and well-kept with records that date back to around the 3rdcentury BC. There are also numerous inscriptions that were made when Buddhism was introduced to the country. As well as the inscriptions, this history is documented in three books called the Mahavansa (Great Dynasty), which is a religious record, Clavansa and Dipavansa. These are considered hugely reliable sources of information about the ancient history of the Sri Lankan peoples and date to the 5th century BC. Some older writings can be found in caves that were made in the 3rd to the 1st centuries BC with many of these discovered in Colombo and Kandy.
Kandy the last capital of the Ancient Kings
Kandy is a wealth of ancient history and is located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. A major city that is considered the last capital of the Ancient Kings Era, it is home to the ancient Temple of the Tooth. The temple was built for the Relic of the Tooth of the Buddha, which is said to have been brought from Kalinga by Sri Meghavarna, who was ruler during 360s AD. The Temple of the Tooth can be found next to the Royal Palace and this location symbolises the 4th century tradition that links the Temple to the Sinhalese monarchy as they are traditional protectors of the Relic. This is considered one of the most sacred places of worship for Buddhists and Kandy has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988. Another ancient site that can still be visited near Kandy is the Gadaladeniya Temple at Pilimathalawa, which was built by the king Wickramabahu in 1344. It is located on a hilltop but you can get there easily by road. The temple has a main shrine room with a large statue of Buddha and a great view.
So many ancient sites
This is just one of the many excellent archaeological sites of the ancient Sri Lankans who were a truly remarkable people. These sites give great insights into how these civilizations worked and lived. The ruins at Sigiriya, for example, show aqueducts and reservoirs that were important for maintaining water supply during the dry season. The ancient Sri Lankans also used coins in around the 3rd century BC and had a hospital by the 4th century BC and there is evidence of engineering and complex architecture in the ruined cities around the country. This can be seen particularly in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura, the sacred city that was established in around the 3rd century BC.
Since the 6th century BC the Sinhala people populated Sri Lanka and surprisingly the Sinhalese language is closely related to Hindi, Bengali and Marathi which are all languages of northern India and not Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour southern India. Sinhalese is different to Tamil which has displaced Sinhalese in some areas of modern Sri Lanka.