Sri Lankan temple

Small dagoba in Sri Lankan Buddhist temple

Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian Sri Lanka

Of the four major religions in Sri Lanka which the people of this spiritual island embrace, Buddhism predominates. It is a way of life rather than a religion. Buddhism came to the island from India during the reign of Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. and played a significant role in the establishment of subsequent Sinhalese kingdoms. It is regarded as the highest ethical and philosophical expression of Sinhalese culture and civilisation.

Around the 5th and 6th centuries AD, the Chola dynasty of south India usurped the throne of the Sinhalese kingdom and this led to a considerable number of immigrants from south India. Thus Hinduism was introduced into the northern parts of the island and shrines to Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha and Skanda were widely constructed.

In ancient times, Arab traders from the Middle East visited the island to do business, establishing trading hubs in settlements and ports along the western and southern coastline. During the time of Dutch rule, Malays from Indonesia – often they were soldiers – also settled on the island. Collectively known as Moors, they are predominantly followers of Islam.

Christianity was introduced to the island with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century and Roman Catholicism spread widely throughout the coastal areas. When the Portuguese were driven out by the Dutch, Protestantism and the Dutch Reformed Church arrived and these flourished during subsequent British rule.