Sri Lanka

Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, UTC- June 1 - 30, 2004

Sri Lanka Report


The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from ciraca 200 B.C. to circa 1000 A.D) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established a Tamil Kingdom. Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted in violence in the mid-1980s. Tens of thousands have died in an ethnic war that continues to fester. After two decade of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began a ceasefire in December 2001, with Norway brokering peace negotiations.

Location: Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, South of India
Area: total: 65,610 sq km.
Climate: tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); Soputhwest monsoon (June to October)
Geography: note-strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes


Population: 19,905,165 (2003 est)
Note- Since the outbreak of hostilities between the government and armed Tamil swparatists in the mid-1980s, several hundred thousand Tamil civilians have fled the island: as of yearend 2000, approximately 65,000 were housed in 131 refugee camps in south India, another 40,000 lived outside the Indian camps, and more than 200,000 Tamils have sought refuge in the West (July 2004 est.)

Nationality: Sri Lankan
Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 74%, Tamil 18%, Moor 7%, Burgher, Malay, and Vedda 1 %
Religions: Buddhist 70%, Hindu 15%, Christian 8%, Muslim 7% (1999)
Languages: Sinhala (Official and national language) 74%, Tamil (National language) 18%, other 8%
Note-English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10 % of the population
Country name: conventional long form: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
conventional short form: Sri Lanka
former: Serendib, Ceylon
Government type: republic
Capital: Colombol note- Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is the legislative capital

National Archives of Sri Lanka


As early as the fifth century AD, an officer was in charge of the King’s Archives in Sri Lanka. The nineteenth-century account of Hay Macdowall reveals that an officer called “Maha Mohotti” maintained the archives of the Palace of Kandy during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Systematic record-keeping, however, was introduced by the Dutch who occupied the coastal districts of Sri Lanka between 1640 and 1656 and after that period in Colombo. In 1901, under the Britist, the post of archivist was created, and the Department of Government Archives was established in 1947. After independence in 1948, the National Archives Law no. 48 was enacted in 1973 and the Department of National Archives was established. In 1981 the Presidential Archives and reference service was created to preserve the official and semi-official records of the Executive Presidents. The current repository is an impressive building that was constructed between 1970 and 1976. Subsequently, the archives were transferred to this building. Since 1986, the repository’s capacities have fully utilized.

The holdings of the National Archives include the following:

· public records, consisting of Dutch period records (1640-1796), British period records (1796-1947) and records since independence (from 1948 onwards);
· legal deposits, consisting of newspapers in Sri Lanka (from 1832 onward, in Sinhala since 1862, in Tamil since 1864, in English since 1832 and other languages since 1869) and publications printed in Sri Lanka (from 1885 onward);
· donated, purchased and collected records, consisting of private manuscripts and books of individuals and institutions, historical manuscripts from temples and private individuals, the Horagolla Library of the Bandaranaike family and the Times collection of paper cuttings and photographs;
· maps of the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods (1505-1947) and maps produced since independence (Surveyor General’s maps);
· microfilms and microfiches of Portuguese records (1505-1656), Dutch records (18th century), British records (19th century), temple manuscripts and newspapers;
· governmental publications, consisting of Government Gazettes (from 1802 onwards), Blue Books (1821-1837), sessional papers (from 1862 onward), Administration Reports (from 1867 onwards) and Hansards (from 1870 onwards);
· books on Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka history, archival science, record management and conservation;
· audio-visual material, consisting of colour slides of temple paintings, cassettes and tapes of folk music and videos containing speeches of Excutive Presidents and cultural subjects.

Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa, Sri Lanka

The Theological College of Lanka founded in 1963and affliated with Senate of Serampore College, India.
Sponsered by: Methodist Church, Sri Lanka;
Church of Ceylon (Colombo Diocese);
Church of Ceylon (Kurunagale Diocese);
Baptist Sangamaya;
Presbyterian Church.

The college is conducting B.Th, B.D, Dipcs cources. In future college will start M.Theol programme.


Books: 21, 000 volumes ( English, Sinhala, Tamil)
Periodicals/Magazine: 100 (English, Sinhala, Tamil)
Classification: Dewey Decimal Classification
Cataloguing: Manual Catalogue system. We will try to computerize our library books.
Photocopier available.
Text book programme: English books translate into Sinhala

Archives – Church History Documentation Centre.


Theological college of Lanka punblications (journals, Newsletters, translated books), Individual Church history; Christian schools history in Sri Lanka, 17th century Dutch minutes, Baptism registrars, Souvenirs, Photographs, Private Collections (Bishop Lakshman Wickramasinghe, D T Niles, etc.) Christian organizations (YMCA,YWCA, NCC etc.), Annual Reports, Rare books, Ashram movement history, History of Homes (Talawa, House of Joy, Paynter’s Home, Evyling Nursary etc.), Periodicals, Phamplets, Newspapers cuttings etc.

We celebrated 40th anniversary in 2003. At that time we exhibited our Church History Documents. We plan to keep mobile exhibition in our country.

We wish to present two stories.

A story from the Pre-European period

From 1505 three European powers, namely the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, captured Sri Lanka (then known by many other names). The Christian story of Sri Lanka is generally known from the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese. There is, however, another story we can date back to earlier times. This story is an ancient story. According to this story, there were Christian communities long before the missionaries arrived in the 16th century.

Archaelogical evidence

a. There was a cross, found during excavations in 1912, in Anuradhapura, one-time capital of Sri Lanka. This cross is now in the Anuradhapura museum. This cross is similar to those found in India. Persian Christians lived in Sri Lanka from the 5th century. They brought this cross with them.
b. There is a bowl used for religious cleansing. This bowl is in museum in Vavuniya, to the north of Anuradhapura. Persian Christians are supposed to have used for baptisms.

A story from the Dutch period

The Dutch captured coastal area of Sri Lanka in 1656. The Portuguese had been in control of this area since 1505 until then and had introduced their faith. Because of that, there were a number of Roman Catholics. The Dutch harassed the Portuguese and Roman Catholics during the Dutch rule. Joseph Vaas arrived in Sri Lanka during this period in disguise, and strengthened the faith of the Roman Catholics. The king of Kandy welcomed him. He traveled around, mainly keeping to the border of the Kandyan kingdom. The Dutch also persecuted the Buddhists during this period. They destroyed many Buddhist places of worship. It was a time of persecution. This history torments our people until now, and for the slightest thing, non-Christians refer to the harassment during the Dutch period.

There is another story relate from this period. This is a very unusual story. There is a Buddhist Vihara called Ride Vihara at Ridigama on the border of the central part of Sri Lanka. There are some interesting ceramic tiles in the Vihara, on the flower table in front of the sleeping Buddha. There are about 100 of them. There are pictures on some of those ceramic tiles. Those pictures depict certain incidents in Christ’s life. One of those tiles contains a picture of two persons carrying an infant. Some say that the infant is the baby Jesus. Another marble has a picture of Christ doing a miracle from sky in front of two persons. These tiles are not fixed in any proper manner. They face in different directions. It could be that even the masons did not have any idea what these pictures were.

How did pictures depicting Christ come into a Buddhist place of worship? A Dutch Governor is supposed to have donated these ceramic tiles. Probably the Buddhist sangha would have accepted these ceramic tiles because the Governor gifted it. Although Ridi Vihare was in the Kandyan kingdom, there was some connection between the Dutch government and the Kandyan kingdom. The Dutch government supplied ships to send Sinhala envoys to Siyam (Myanmar) to bring upasampada when Buddhism was at a low level. It could be that the Dutch governor donated these ceramic tiles to the sangha at Ridi Vihare in appreciation of their work.

The Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa, launched a very exciting programme with the creation of the Church History Documentation Centre (CHDC). It is only about 15 years old. Until then the resources for writing and studying history were found in archives in Europe. Most of the resources on the history of Christianity in Sri Lanka were in Lisbon (Portugal), The Netherlands, and Britain. Further, the few local resources available were scattered in different denominational headquarters in Sri Lanka or with individuals. The CHDC takes an ecumenical approach in collecting together various resources scattered all over the island and preserves them. It was said that some time back, certain individual of a particular denomination was destroying old records when another official walked into the headquarters. This official was not able to save those records. Further, after the burning of the Jaffna library in,1981, and during and after the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka many other documents, mainly from the north of the country, were destroyed. If all the valuable documents can be collected, stored, and preserved in one place we can avoid such situations.

We have a major uphill task to identify the persons who have important documents. For that purpose someone has to be in the field, constantly traveling to different parts of the country. Once we identify documents, then we have to collect and preserve the documents of all Churches, events and individuals in an ecumenical setting. A researcher will have the opportunity to refer to most of the resources in one place. For this reason the CHDC is important. We are only at the initial stages, and we have to collect and preserve the prevailing documents. In this way, we can find many interesting documents by which to write our history using the resources of our people. We presume that this history is both connected and disconnected with the history of the colonial period.

The history of Christianity in Sri Lanka is an exciting history. To make it even more interesting and exciting, we need to identify new resources, and preserve them in an ecumenical setting for use by our present historians and by future historians.

The Sri Lanka country report presented by Sarah J Niles & Deepa N Rajarathne on 4th June, 2004 at Ecumenical Resource Centre, United Theological College, 63, Millers Road, Bagaloore for The Library and Archives Management for Asia – Basific Forum.

Theological College of Lanka
Sri Lanka.
T/fax: 0094-81-2575618


Contact Persons *

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary,,

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