Posted on April 28th, 2019

Rajendra Alwis

(This article is to mark the Sri Lankan Sinhalese Heritage Day celebrated in the Canadian Parliament on 2019.04.27) 

Sri Lanka is a tropical island with a landmass of 65,610 km2 (25,332 sq. miles) separated from the subcontinent of India, situated in the Indian ocean, latitude between 6 and 10 North  and longitude 80 and 81 East. The total population of Sri Lanka, at present, is 21.44 million and the Sinhalese people accounts for 75% of it, and Ceylon Tamils and Indian Tamils, Moors, Malays, and Burghers make up the balance 25% of the population. In view of the majority of the Sinhalese people in the island’s population, during the classical times, Sri Lanka was known as Heladiva” meaning the country of the Sinhalese people. The Sinhalese   Language and its scripts are not spoken or used anywhere in the world other than Sri Lanka since it is solely a unique creation of Sinhalese people.  

The Sinhalese nation possesses an unwritten history of millenniums and a written history of 2500 years. Fossilized human remains that are compatible with the anatomical features of the  modern man have found in several Sri Lankan caves such as Fa Hien-lena, Batadomba-lena, Beli-lena, Bellanbandi Palassa, providing undisputable archeological proof that the country was inhabited by man as long as one million years  ago. These prehistoric humans that had been living in Sri Lank are referred to as ‘Balangoda maanawaya’ (Homosapien Balangodensis) in popular parlance, derived from his being responsible for the Mesolithic Balangoda culture” first defined in sites near Balangoda. Thus the history of Sinhalese people stretches back to millenniums with acceptable archeological tell-tale evidence. Further, in the light of the excavations done by Prof. Raj Somadeva, professor of Archology Kelaniya University, ‘Balangoda Man’ is the earliest reliably dated record of anatomically modern humans in South Asia and hence Sri Lanka receives an important place in the study of human evolution. 

Prof. Nageswara Rao, the vice-chancellor of Andhra University, addressing the Indian Science Congress, in January2019, explained that King Ravana of ancient Sri Lanka had invented the airplane and had 24 types of aircrafts. Explaining the scientific achievements of ancient Sri Lanka, particularly in the sphere of technology, he further said that Sri Lanka at that time had several air ports as well. Still there is a village in Sri Lanka named as Variyapola, meaning the Airport, believed to have used by King Ravana.   

The written history of Sri Lanka dawns with the arrival of prince Vijaya who came from India with his supporters in Sri Lanka which was then known as Tambapanni. According to Mahavansa, the ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty written in the 5th. Century C E, his landing in this new destination coincided on the day of passing away of the Buddha. On his arrival, he has heard the sound of an orchestrated music of a nearby wedding reception. This piece of historical information about a formal wedding avec musical entertainment is an undeniable proof of a rich cultural heritage.  The very first important person that prince Vijaya and his men have encountered in the island, according to the historical records, was Kuveni, the Yakka princess who represented this rich culture with the kith and kin of her clan, which we too have inherited vicariously. 

King Pandukabhaya (474 BC – 367BC) is the founder and the first ruler of the Anuradhapura kingdom and he established the system of Local Government in Sri Lanka for the first time in the world, according to the great chronical of Sri Lanka Mahavansa. In his tenth year of reign the king demarcated all the villages in the country and fixed the boundaries. Subsequently, introduced Gam-Sabhas (Village Councils) to administer the local affairs, and address people’s grievances and settle minor disputes. The royal functionaries entered villages only to arrest and indict high criminals. Major towns were administered by ‘Nagara Guttikas’, meaning Mayors, on behalf of the king. Their principal duties were water management, land allocation and maintain the law and order of their administrative peripheries. 

Further, King Pandukabhaya established lying-in homes and hospitals in various parts of the country. This is the earliest historical evidence we come across on the establishment of a hospitals anywhere in the world. The Sinhalese medical tradition dates back to well over 2000 years. Besides there are number of medical discoveries that are now being acknowledged by western medicine. According to Mahavansa the ancient Sinhalese kings are responsible for introducing the concept of hospitals to the world. 

During the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, Arahath Mahinda son of Indian Emperor, brought Buddhism to  Sri Lanka in 247 BC, an event which marked the beginning of the classical era of the country. King Devanampiyatissa who had already heard of Buddhism from his friend Emperor Asoka received the Buddhist missionaries with great respect and reverence.  

In their first conversation, Venerable Mahinda, in order to gauge the king’s intelligence and capacity to understand the Buddhist doctrine, posed some questions to him and the king answered them all quite rationally. This test is regarded as the first intelligence test recorded in the world history.  After this IQ test, we hear the next recorded IQ test in only in 1916, after more than 2000 years when French psychologist Alfred Binet developed an IQ test at the request of the French government to identify the students who needed assistance to pursue their education. 

Sri Lanka is the first country in the world that a diplomat has been sent to a foreign destination by the Sinhalese King Devanampiyatissa, in 247 B.C., for a diplomatic service. That was prince Arittha, the nephew of King, who was sent to India to meet Emperor Asoka and to make necessary arrangements for his re-coronation.   

Later on, the sapling of the sacred Bo Tree, known as the Sri Maha Bodhi, under which the Buddha attained the enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Therani, full sister of Arahath Mahinda. The Sri Maha Bodhi has existed in Anuradhapura for over 23 centuries and it is the oldest historically documented tree on the earth. 

In this context it is noteworthy that the Sinhalese clergy and laity are very respectful of other religions practised in the country. During the colonial times the Buddhist monks had accommodated Catholic missionaries in their temples and have even provided transport by allowing them to use the bullock carts owned by the temples. 

This is a fitting occasion to mention that another world record regarding the interfaith cordial relationship prevailing among the Sinhalese Buddhists.     Venerable Ittapane Dhammalankara Thero, Maha Nayaka of Kotte Chapter, Sri Lanka, has written a biography on Fr. Marcelline Jayakody titled Malpele Upan Pansale Piyathuma and this is the first book in the world written by a Buddhist prelate on a Catholic priest.  

Many intellectuals in the world have termed Sri Lankan civilization as a hydraulic civilization. A renowned British author R.L. Brohier (1935) records that the ancient Sri Lankans produced hydraulic engineering capable of building some of the largest man made irrigation works in the world. In fact, the development of irrigation system in Sri Lanka was not a process influenced by any written knowledge, but based on insight, experience and utilizing the thoughts of our ancestors. It is evident that Sinhalese people, more than 2000 years ago have meticulously considered the ways and means of storing water, including its delivery and management. It is clearly evident from the gigantic reservoirs like Parakrama Samudra”, Kalawewa” Minneriya”and the like.  

There are about 30,000 small reservoirs scattered throughout the North Central Province, and its outskirts, generally termed as Rajarata or Dry zone, supporting the agricultural communities. There is also a network of large cannels, some are more than 50 miles long and 40 feet wide, linked to the city of Anuradhapura and played an integral part in the development of the ancient capital. It is still a technological marvel that the gradient of some of these canals like Yoda-ela is only one inch slope per mile.  

Similarly, the water-sealed toilet systems in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and ornamental fountains at Sigiriya indicate high levels of skill in the management of urban water supply and waste water disposal systems in ancient Sri Lanka.  

Sri Lanka was under colonial rule by three major western powers; chronologically Portuguese (1505–1658) Dutch (1658–1796) and British (1796-1948).  Except for a period of 133 years when it was entirely under British rule Sri Lanka has been a Sovereign state throughout the history. Its location in the centre of the Indian Ocean while also being close to India Sri Lanka has attracted not only invaders, but also traders, pilgrims, travellers from many   neighbouring Asian countries, and Europeans as well, after they discovered the East. 

However, even after centuries of colonial domination for more than 443 years Sri Lankan culture preserved its identity despite the vicissitudes it was forced to face time and again. The British finally granted Independence to Sri Lanka on February 4th I in 1948. These three major European powers left behind three valuable souvenirs to Sri Lankans which they have cherished to date, that is, from Portuguese Catholic religion, from Dutch Roman Dutch Law which is still the law system in the country and the parliamentary system of government by the British.  

There are eight World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka identified by the UNESCO, namely; the sacred city of Anuradhapura (1982), the ancient city of Sigiriya (1982), the ancient city of Polonnaruwa (1982), the sacred city of Kandy (1988), the old town of Gale city (1988), Sinharaja Rain forest (1988), the Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991), and the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (2010). These sites are the crowning glory of the Sinhalese people duly recognised by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. 

The Sinhalese New Year is our main national festival that falls in the month of April which is celebrated by both Sinhalese and Tamils. Sri Lanka predominantly being an agricultural country, paddy cultivation is the main occupation of the majority of people. Harvest comes with the dawn of the month of April.  When the harvesting is over and the barns of the farmers are full, elated people have compelling reasons to celebrate the event. According to the Sinhalese calendar the month of April is known in Sinhalese as ‘Bak’ the word derived from a word in Sanskrit language ‘bhagya’ meaning fortune. Hence, it is this time of the year in Sri Lanka many marriages take place in the villages, where this festival is celebrated in all its orthodoxy. This is an ideal occasion for Sri Lankans living throughout the world to rededicate themselves to the task of reviving and sharing our time-honoured traditional values. 

Today many Sri Lankans, including all our brothers and sisters of all ethnic groups in the country are scattered all over the world.  And many of us have made Canada our second Motherland. Wherever they live, whether that be an ultra-modern city of a developed country or a remotest village of a developing county, they always carry the precious gift they have inherited from our Motherland, a friendly smile. Whenever, Sinhalese people meet their friends they use to greet them by saying ‘Ayubovan’, meaning ‘long live’. Traditionally, this word is used to welcome people at any time of the day, which is similar to the English word ‘Welcome’ or the French word ‘Bonjour’. 

So let me end up this write up by saying Ayubovan! 


  1. aloy Says:

    An interesting article!. I think we should write the meaning of Ayubowan in English where ever it is displayed as some take it as “welcome”.
    About a month ago I was visiting Singapore. At the exit of the plane our Sri Lankan crew were greeting the passengers who were disembarking with clasp hand and saying Ayubowan. A group of Indians some of whom were speaking a dravidian language and others speaking Hindi were laughing all the way to the terminal saying “Ayumohan”. I was surprised why these people who have enjoyed the hospitality of our country and in the treatment in the plane laughing like that. When I could not stand any longer, I walked up to them and asked whether they know the meaning of Ayubowan. They immediately said ‘welcome’. Perhaps they thought we are trying make them ‘mohanaya’. Therefore we should always display the meaning which is much more sublime than ‘Welcome’, next to Ayubowan.

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