Sinhalese

From Academic Kids

The Sinhalese are the native inhabitants of Sri Lanka. They speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language.

According to legend, they are descended from the exiled Prince Vijaya and his party of several hundred who arrived on the island around 500 BC after having been made to leave their native Bengal. The recorded history of the Sinhalese can be found in two large chronicles, the Mahavamsa and the Chulavamsa, which are considered unique in terms of age and longevity, and cover the histories of the powerful ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Notable Sinhalese monarchs include Devanampiya Tissa (who converted to Buddhism in the 4th c BC), Parakramabahu the Great (c1164 - 1197) (who led an expedition to Thailand), and Mayadunne (1521 - 1581)(who led fierce resistence againt the Portuguese). Much of Sinhalese history was dominated by struggles against encroaching overseas powers such as the mighty Chola kingdom of south India, and European colonial powers. However, the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa were particularly renowned for their wealth and at certain points their military prowess.

Given its position at the junction of major trade routes spanning the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka inevitably became home to other ethnic groups as well as the Sinhalese, such as Sri Lanka's small Arab, Chinese and Burgher communities. This ongoing mingling of ethnic groups can be most obviously noticed in the Sinhalese language (Sinhala) itself, which has a vocabulary that borrows heavily from foreign languages, particularly Portuguese. However the core of the language is quite unlike that spoken by the Dravidian populace of the southern Subcontinent and is closest to Sanskrit and Pali, further giving credence to the idea that the Sinhalese are, ultimately, of north Indian extraction.

Sinhala is been used by one million muslim who live in Sri Lanka other than the Sinhalese. (Irshad Cassim)

They are generally considered to be a Caucasoid race, but display some traits of their Dravidian neighbors (Australoid with strong Caucasoid traits), possibly due to assimilation of Tamils. The vast majority live in Sri Lanka (mostly in the south and west of the island), but there are significant expatriate communities in Europe (notably the UK) and in North America (in particular Canada).

Most of the Sinhalese are Buddhists (85%), and are considered the only ethnic group who overwhelmingly adhere to the Theravada sect of Buddhism, though it should be noted that many Sinhalese Buddhists also venerate Hindu deities as well as indigenous gods. The remainder mostly belong to the Roman Catholic church, but there are Muslim and Hindu communities as well.

The past thirty or so years of Sinhalese history has been marred by ongoing ethnic strife with Tamils. (see Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka).

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