HISTORY: KEY DATES - Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide) (2015)

Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide) (2015)


Sri Lanka’s history has frequently been a violent one - though thankfully its most recent conflict, the civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lanka military, finally ended in 2009.


543 BC Death of the Buddha in India and the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India with 700 followers to become the island’s first king.

380 BC The island’s first capital is established at Anuradhapura.

c .250-210 BC Reign of Devanampiya Tissa. Indian Emperor Asoka converts the king and population to Buddhism.

205 BC The Indian warrior Elara captures Anuradhapura.

161-137 BC Elara is defeated by King Dutugemunu, and for the first time Sri Lanka is unified under a single Sinhalese monarch.

AD 993 The Cholas of South India capture Anuradhapura and the capital is moved to Polonnaruwa.


Toiling in the tea plantations

Scala Archives


1505 The Portuguese arrive and extract concessions from the king of Kotte.

1656 The Dutch oust the Portuguese and introduce Dutch law.

1796 The Dutch surrender their possessions on the island to the British, who have become interested in Trincomalee’s harbour.

1815 The last native king is captured at Kandy after the British conspire with his prime minister, ending 24 centuries of monarchy. For the first time, the whole island falls under foreign rule, becoming part of the British Empire.

1824 A revised form of government under Sir Edward Barnes and the building of roads open up the island to British settlers.

1867 Introduction of tea as a commercial crop for export coincides with the first railway line, from Colombo to Kandy to serve hill-country plantations.

1931 Universal franchise is granted.


1948 Ceylon is granted independence.

1959 Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike assassinated by a Buddhist monk.

1960 His widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, becomes world’s first woman prime minister.

1971 Armed rebellion by Maoist JVP in south leaves thousands dead.

1972 The country’s colonial name, Ceylon, is changed to Sri Lanka.

1978 A new constitution introduces the office of executive president and brings in proportional representation. J.R. Jayewardene becomes the first president.


A tsunami memorial at Kalutara

Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications


1983 ‘Black July’ sees the LTTE attack on the army in the north sparking ethnic clashes. Thousands of Tamil civilians in the south are murdered by Sinhalese mobs, leading to the outbreak of civil war.

1987-8 A second JVP insurrection. Thousands more die in the south.

1989 Ranasinghe Premadasa is elected president.

1993 Premadasa is assassinated by the LTTE.

1994 Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is elected president while her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, is prime minister.

1996 Sri Lanka’s fledgling cricket team wins the World Cup.

1999 Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is re-elected.

2004 South Asian tsunami kills more than 30,000 and leaves 100,000 homeless.

2006 Mahinda Rajapakse becomes president.

2007 The Sri Lankan army succeeds in driving the LTTE out of eastern Sri Lanka.

2009 The Sri Lankan army, led by General Sarath Fonseka, defeats the LTTE. Tiger leader Prabakaran is killed and all rebel-held territory reclaimed.

2010 Mahinda Rajapakse wins an early presidential election (his main opponent, General Sarath Fonseka, is arrested on conspiracy charges).

2015 Maithripala Sirisena ends Rajapakse’s presidency in what is regarded as the most significant election for decades.

2016 May landslides kill more than 100 people in central Sri Lanka, displacing over 1,000.