The Royal Palace, Kandy
(Mary Evans Picture Library)
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As early as 1250 AD Marco Polo wrote about the island of Zeilan - the name used by Arab sailors for island or place of jewels. Portuguese and then Dutch corrupted Zeilan to Seelan and then with the arrival of the British, Seelan became, Ceylon. The islander name was Lanka from the Sanskrit Lankadeepa - resplendent island. Sri, means honourable as in honourable sir.
Legend claims the Hindu Mahavamsa, arrived from northern India sometime during the 6th century BC. In the 4th century from NW India came king Vijaya. His capital became Anuradhapura from where orders were given to irrigate and cultivate land and souls. Here would be one of the holiest centres of Buddhism. Then followed the Tamils of south India and inevitably, the island split between the two cultures.
The Dutch replaced the Portuguese as the ruling traders and were in turn dislodged by the British by 1796 who sent from Madras Robert Andrews to negotiate the first proper British foothold in Ceylon and one that had the blessing of the local princes. The Sinhalese Court wanted more than the British were willing to give. The British took Ceylon by force. Two years later there was a British governor and commander in chief. Ceylon became part of the Madras Presidency of the East India Company. But the presidency was a corrupt and bureaucratic mess.
True, schooling was introduced and a few attempts to get roads, buildings and land reform onto a surer footing had moderate success. In 1815 the whole island of Ceylon became British and remained so until 1948. There were a couple of rebellions during the eighteen hundreds but not much of any consequence. In fact the East India Company, losing much of its own authority to the British government, seems to have neglected Ceylon. Certainly that's the impression if we read the diaries and papers of Samuel White Baker. His view was that Ceylon was the most wonderful island but while the Company had been doing well in India, Ceylon was forgotten, had been virtually abandoned and its former glories all but ignored.Back to top