This essay focuses on the political, economic, and cultural history of Sri Lanka. I discuss the rise and fall of kingdoms, colonial rulers, and Sri Lankan leaders who ruled this South Asian island during the past 2500 years – the Sinhalese and Tamil settlers, the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva Kingdoms, the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonialists, and political leaders in independent Sri Lanka. I wrote these lectures for
a Stanford Travel/Study program in Sri Lanka in February 2012.
I first discuss how Sinhalese and Tamil peoples settled Sri Lanka, what underpinned Sinhalese rule in Anuradhapura (3rd century BCE-10th century CE), and why the Polonnaruva Kingdom (10th-13th centuries) collapsed. I next contrast the policies of the first two colonial rulers of Ceylon – Portugal (1505-1658) and the Netherlands (1658-1796). I then look at Britain’s imperial rule of Ceylon (1796-1948) – its motives for colonizing, development of agricultural exports, and preparations for independence. Lastly, I examine independent Sri Lanka – its social welfare, political parties, civil war (1983-2009), economic policies, quality-of-life indicators, and policy challenges. A time line, a bibliography, and a description of sites that I visited in Sri Lanka are appended.
Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Colombo and Kotte, Anuradhapura, Tamil, Sigiriya, Polonnaruva, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Yala, Galle,