Sri Lanka was part of the Empire of Asoka during the 3rd century,
during which time the population was converted to Buddhism.
The Sinhalese inhabitants later moved their capital to Polonnaruva
in the south of the island to escape from repeated Tamil invasions
during the 11th and 12th centuries.
The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese, quickly supplanted
by the Dutch in the 17th century. In 1796 Sri Lanka (as Ceylon)
was acquired from the Dutch by the British.
Initially, administration of the island was shared between the
East India Company and the Crown, but the latter assumed full control
in 1802. Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) eventually won independence in
Religion plays an important role in Sri Lanka. Most public holidays
are based on religious festivals. The annual torchlight temple procession,
or Perahara, in which ornamentally covered elephants and hundreds
of dancers participate, draws thousands of devotees.
Pilgrimages also play an important role here.