Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Ceylon, called by the Greeks and Romans Taprobane, in the Arabian Nights Serendib, known as the Pearl of the Eastern Seas, is an island lying to the S.E. of India, and is almost connected with the mainland by the line of coral reefs and sandbanks known as Adam's Bridge, and extending for 62 miles. The nearest point, however, to the mainland is about 40 miles from Cape Casimir on the Coromandel coast. The island is separated from the mainland by Palk Strait and the Gulf of Manar, and is pear-shaped, the point being towards the north. It lies between lat. 5° 55' and 9° 51' N. and long. 79° 41' and 81° 54' E., having an extreme length of 270 miles, and a breadth of 146 miles, with an area of 24,000 square miles. The north is occupied by plains which rise gradually to the central highlands, and consist of ridges alternating with upland valleys, the highest point being the Pedrotallagalla Peak (8,260 ft.), overlooking a plateau which is 6,000 ft. above sea-level. Other heights are Tolapella (7,720 ft.), Kirrigalpota (7,810 ft.), and Adam's Peak (7,420 ft.). This mountain system forms a complete watershed, from which flow a number of rivers, Ceylon being a very well-watered country. Of these rivers the most important is the Mahavila-Ganga, which rises in the plateau above-mentioned, and flows northward, falling into the sea on the east coast, near Trincomalee. On the west coast are the Kalani-Ganga, the Kala-Ganga, and the Maya Oya. The soil throughout the island is very fertile, and the vegetation varied and luxuriant. The wealth of the island consists chiefly in its plantations of cinnamon, coffee, and cocoanut, while in the lowlands of the north tobacco is grown, and of late tea has begun to be largely cultivated. The cinnamon groves are in the southwest in the neighbourhood of the capital, Colombo, while the coffee plantations occupy the mountain slopes and valleys. There is much valuable timber, especially satin-wood, ebony, and calamander; and there are tree ferns, palms, rhododendrons, and many varieties of orchid; while the animal world embraces the elephant, bear, leopard, wild boar, deer, buffalo, humped ox, civet, monkey, crocodile, tortoise, lizard, cobra di capello, boa and some other species of serpent; and the birds are of countless varieties, from the eagle to the swallow, the lakes and lagoons abounding in flamingoes. The insects are numerous and interesting, especially the leaf and stick insects. Minerals are in great abundance, the chief among them being iron, plumbago, manganese, nitre, alum, and salt, and precious stones are plentiful - rubies, amethysts, garnets, sapphires, and the catseye. The pearl-fishing is intermittent but important, being a Government monopoly, and under the supervision of an inspector who reports when the time is ripe for fishing.

The climate of Ceylon and the seasons resemble those of the Indian coast so far as the time and nature of the monsoons are concerned, but the temperature is greatly modified and equalised by the fact of Ceylon being an island; the average for the year at Colombo being 80°, while the great table-land, now used as a sanatorium, has an average of 62°, and seldom or never rises above 70° in the shade. Of the harbours, the best is that of Trincomalee. on the east coast. This is a beautiful harbour, safe, and of great extent, and is the principal naval station of the Indian Seas. But from the remoteness of Trincomalee from the chief districts, vessels generally use the roadstead of Colombo, which is protected by a breakwater, and affords a safe anchorage, or the harbour of Galle, which, though small and of difficult access, is a port of call for the principal lines of steamers running eastward and westward.

Ceylon forms a colony altogether distinct from India, and is administered by a Governor appointed by the Crown, and aided by an executive council of five and a legislative council of fifteen. Agents are over the six provinces into which the island is divided, and the Supreme, Civil, and Criminal Court is in the capital Colombo, which is united by a railway to the ancient inland capital Candy. The natives of Ceylon consist (1) of Singhalese, who are considered the descendants of Aryan colonists, who arrived in the island in 543 B.C., and whose feminine-looking dress, and mode of wearing long hair turned back and fastened with a comb, give them almost the appearance of women; (2) the Kandyans, a sturdy and independent race of Highlanders; (3) the Tamils, who are descended from invaders of South Hindustan, and excel in physique both Singhalese and Kandyans; (4) the Moormen, who are thought to be Arab; and (5) the Veddahs, a wild race in the eastern parts of the island, who are thought to be aboriginal. There are also descendants of the former Portuguese and Dutch owners of Ceylon, who have been naturalised, and are called burghers.

The principal religion of the island is Buddhism (q.v.), mixed with some Brahmanism, and worship of Hindu deities, of which from time to time reformers endeavour to free themselves. Three times Buddha visited Ceylon, his footstep upon Adam's Peak is reverenced, and his sacred tooth is enshrined at Kandy. The Tamils are Brahman or Hindu in religion, and the Moormen Mohammedan.

The ancient ruins and traces of civilisation under the Singhalese kings are numerous and extensive, the remains of large cities having been found in the forests, and there are remains of magnificent tanks in various parts of the island. Among the many ancient temples and shrines of the past is the celebrated cave-temple of Dambula.

The first visit of the Portuguese to Ceylon was in 1505, and in 1517 they formed a trading settlement at Colombo. In 1658 they were driven out by the Dutch, and in 1796 the Dutch possessions were ceded to England, and formally annexed to the Crown. The King of Kandy was deposed in 1815, and his territories annexed by the British.