Sri Lanka (officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; known as Ceylon before 1972 and as Taprobane in ancient times), is an island country in South Asia, located about 31 kilometres (19.3 mi) off the southern coast of India. It is home to around twenty million people.
As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and South East Asia. It has also been a center of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times as well as being a bastion of Hinduism. The Sinhalese community forms the majority of the population; Tamils, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island, form the largest ethnic minority. Other communities include Moors, Burghers, Kaffirs and the Malays.
The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon – which is native to the country. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka’s tropical forests, beaches and landscape, as well as its rich cultural heritage, make it a world famous tourist destination. The island also boasts the first female Prime Minister in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
After over two thousand years of rule by local kingdoms, parts of Sri Lanka were colonized by Portugal and the Netherlands beginning in the 16th century, before control of the entire country was ceded to the British Empire in 1815. During World War II, Sri Lanka served as an important base for Allied forces in the fight against the Japanese Empire. A nationalist political movement arose in the country in the early 20th century with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually granted by the British after peaceful negotiations in 1948.