Religion in Sri Lanka: Buddhism, Hinduism and Other Major Religions

One cannot discuss the aspects that make up Sri Lanka's identity without mentioning the religion in Sri Lanka. Several of the country's most famous attractions are associated with religious importance—the ruins of Anuradhapura, Dambulla's temples, Adam's Peak and the Dutch Reformed Church, to name a few. According to the 2012 census conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka, 70.1% of Sri Lankans were Buddhists, 12.6% were Hindus, 9.2% were Muslims, 6.2% were Roman Catholics, and 1.4% practised other forms of Christianity. 

Buddhism is the most predominant religion in Sri Lanka and is mainly prevalent in the southern districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantota, and Anuradhapura in central Sri Lanka. Hinduism is the dominant religion in northern Sri Lanka, such as the districts of Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. Islam is relatively common in Trincomalee and Ampara, two areas along the west coast of the country. Christianity is widely practised in Gampaha, and quite widespread in Puttalam.

Buddhism, Hinduism And Their Conflict in Sri Lanka

Buddhism, Religion in Sri Lanka
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Buddhism in Sri Lanka began with the arrival of Mahinda, the son of Indian ruler Ashoka, in the 3rd century BC; this was at the time of King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura's rule. Consequently, the king and his followers converted to Buddhism. This period also witnessed the construction of several stupas, viharas and monasteries. 

The significance of the religion in Sri Lanka decreased during the Cholan and the Pandyan invasions when many Buddhist structures were destroyed but reached its former glory under the rulers of the Polonnaruwa kingdom in the 12th century AD. Although there were numerous threats to the religion's importance and followers in the colonial era, they rapidly died out. Notable Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka include the Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy and the stupa at Mihintale.

Hinduism, Religion in Sri Lanka
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It is believed that Hinduism was the dominant religion in Sri Lanka before the advent of Buddhism. The spread of Hinduism, mainly Shaivism (the worship of Shiva), was likely due to the migration of Tamils from South India to Sri Lanka; this explains the dominance of Hinduism in the northern districts. The religion rose to prominence after the conquest by the Cholas. Like the Buddhists, the Hindus too faced attempts of conversion during the colonial period, which were slightly successful. Among the most sacred Hindu temples in the country are the Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee and the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in Jaffna.

The conflict of the two religions in Sri Lanka had its roots in the colonial period when there was political animosity between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. This hostility later resulted in the 25 year-long Sri Lankan Civil War, fought between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant organization, which had devastating effects on the country's people and buildings. Religious sites such as the Temple Of the Sacred Tooth Relic were also bombed. 

Islam in Sri Lanka

Islam, Religion in Sri Lanka
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Another minor religion in Sri Lanka is Islam, which was introduced by traders from the Middle East in the 7th century, who married and settled in Sri Lanka. The Muslim community mainly belongs to the ethnic groups of Sri Lankan Moors and Malays. Prominent mosques in Sri Lanka include the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque and the Dawatagaha Mosque in Colombo.

Christianity in Sri Lanka

Christianity, Religion in Sri Lanka
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Christianity, a minor religion in Sri Lanka, is also thought to have spread from India, perhaps after the arrival of St. Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century AD. The religion flourished during the colonial period after the establishment of Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese and Protestantism by the Dutch. The St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo and the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the district of Mannar are a few of the sacred churches in Sri Lanka.

The religion in Sri Lanka, comprised of diverse faiths, is an indispensable fragment of the country's rich history and culture. Although the conflicts between beliefs have caused horrific incidents, the country's people have gradually recovered despite the enormous losses, and continue to try their best to restore peace and harmony.

This post was published by Varsha Bhat

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