Sinhalese people

Sinhalese people

Infobox Ethnic group

poptime=c. 15.0 million
regions = flagcountry|Sri Lankanbsp|6 14,100,000 [ [] ]
Other significant population centers:

region1 = flagcountry|UK
pop1 = 150,000
region2 = flagcountry|Thailand
pop2 = 62,000
region3 = flagcountry|Australia
pop3 = 59,000
region4 = flagcountry|United Arab Emirates
pop4 = 50,000
ref4 = [ [] ]
region5 = flagcountry|Italy
pop5 = 45,575
ref5 = [ [ CNEL Statistics of registered immigrants in Italy, year 2004] ]
region6 = flagcountry|Malaysia
pop6 = 25,328
region7 = flagcountry|New Zealand
pop7 = 24,000
region8 = flagcountry|United States
pop8 = 20,000
region9 = flagcountry|Oman
pop9 = 18,000
region10 = flagcountry|Qatar
pop10 = 17,000
region11 = flagcountry|Canada
pop11 = 15,400
region12 = flagcountry|Libya
pop12 = 13,000
region13 = flagcountry|Singapore
pop13 = 12,000
region14 = flagcountry|Maldives
pop14 = 7,500
region15 = flagcountry|Switzerland
pop15 = 1,000
region15 = flagcountry|Norway
pop15 = 300
rels=Predominantly Theravada Buddhism. Significant Christianity, other religions.
related=Indo-Aryans, Dravidians, Veddahs, Bengalis

The Sinhalese are the main ethnic group of Sri Lanka. They speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language and number approximately 15 million people with the vast majority found in Sri Lanka, while more than 400,000 live in other countries, mainly in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom [ [ Ethnologue report for language code:sin ] ]


The Sinhalese are also known as "Hela" or "Sinhela". These synonyms find their origins in the two words: "Sinha" (meaning "lion") and Hela (meaning "pristine"). The name "Sinhala" translates to "lion people" and refers to the myths regarding the descent of the legendary founder of the Sinhalese people, the prince Vijaya. The last royal dynasty on the island was the Sinha (Lion) royal dynasty and the word Sinha finds it origins here.


Legendary accounts relating to the Indian epic saga, the Sanskritic Ramayana, discuss mythological stories of deities battling over the fate of the ancient island of Lanka (presumably modern Sri Lanka), including that of the legendary King Raavana. The name of the island and its various peoples are often traced to the people and places named in the saga, or their supposed analogues.

According to local legend, the Sinhalese are descended from the exiled Prince Vijaya and his party of several hundred who arrived on the island between 543 to 483 BCE of an Aryan ethnicity being quite Caucasian after having been made to leave their native regions of Orissaand the Sinhapura kingdom in north west India. The origin legend and early recorded history of the Buddhist Sinhalese is chronicled in two historic documents, the Mahavamsa, written in Pāli roughly around the 4th century BCE, and the much later Chulavamsa (believed to have been penned in the 13 century CE by a Buddhist monk named Dhammakitti). These are unique sources with regard to age and longevity, and cover the histories of the powerful ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The Mahavansa describes the existence of fields of rice and reservoirs, indicating a well developed agrarian society. The oral tradition of the Sinhalese people also speaks of many royal dynasties prior to the Sinha royal dynasty: Manu, Tharaka, Mahabali, Raavana, etc.Many Sinhalese had been mixed from colonization of the Portuguese and the English but more likely the Portuguese, similar to the Burghers of the country where so much ancestry still lives in the country to date. As noticed there is also a large mix of Afro-Sinhalese shown towards many and has mixes of different ancestry of black not at all similar to the dravidian/ tamils of who came to Sri Lanka with the slaves sent around the world from India to countries spreading from South Africa to Mauritius to Guyana to Trinidad.Sinhalese are genuinely quite a unique looking race and can also be found spread in countries like the Maldives and Mauritius.
Buddhism was introduced to the Sinhalese from India by Mahinda, the son of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka the Great, during the 3rd century BCE. It has since been closely tied to both the Sinhalese identity and the history of Sri Lanka.

Genetic and anthropological assessments

Most Sinhalese, like most Indian populations show a high degree of genetic similarity that stems from a population that formed on the island roughly 12,000 years ago. A 2003 Stanford study analyzing the origins of various South Asian populations (including 40 Sinhalese and over 90 Tamils from Sri Lanka) found that most of the population of the island and India in general: taken together, these results show that Indian tribal and caste populations derive largely from the same genetic heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians and have received limited gene flow from external regions since the Holocene.

These findings are corroborated by numerous other studies including a 2004 Biomedical Central Study: Gene flow from West Eurasia - broadly, the average proportion of mtDNAs from West Eurasia among Indian caste populations is 17% (Table 2). In the western States of India and in Pakistan their share is greater, reaching over 30% in Kashmir and Gujarat, nearly 60% in Indian Punjab, and approximately 50% in Pakistan (Table 11, see Additional file 6, Figure 11, panel A). These frequencies demonstrate a general decline (SAA p < 0.05 Figure 4) towards the south (23%, 11% and 15% in Maharashtra, Kerala and Sri Lanka, respectively) and even more so towards the east of India (13% in Uttar Pradesh and around 7% in West Bengal and Bangladesh). The low (<3%) frequency of the western Eurasian mtDNAs in Rajasthan may be in part a statistical artifact due to the limited sample size of 35 Rajputs.

Overall, the evidence supports the strong possibility that the Sinhalese are largely indigenous to Sri Lanka and adopted the Indo-Aryan largely by cultural diffusion. Ultimately, the genetic evidence also shows substantial genetic drift that corresponds to geography and in the case of Sri Lanka supports the notion that most Sinhalese stem from very early migrants, rather than later invaders: Modern Pakistani, Indian, and Sinhalese donors, examined for combinations of mini- and microsatellite loci, along with a number of Y chromosome and mtDNA markers (24), show varying degrees of diversity, which is expected from their geographic position and ability to receive waves of migrants pulsing from Southwest Asia and West Asia at different times. DYS287 or Y chromosome Alu insertion polymorphism also clearly demonstrate the gradual decline in insert-positive Y chromosomes from Africa to East Asia, reaching a transition point from polymorphic levels (1 to 5%) to private polymorphism in Pakistan.

Thus, not surprisingly other studies done from different perspectives and goals substantiate these findings. In a 2003 American Journal of Human Genetics study entitled The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations, the 'West Asian', presumably Indo-Aryan and other, genetic indicators show that, their frequency is the highest in Indian and Pakistani Punjab, 60%, and diminishes threefold, to an average of 7%, in the rest of the caste groups in India... These findings all include sample groups from Sinhalese populations in Sri Lanka who were thus compared to other South Asian and other Eurasian groups. From an anthropological perspective, the modern Sinhalese represent a fusion of a wide variety that nonetheless is overwhelmingly indigenous to the island of Sri Lanka and the genetic variations (based on Y-chromosomes and MtDNA only) between the Sinhalese and their Tamil and Veddah neighbors appears to be largely marginal and may be restricted to a small degree of sporadic differences rather than anything universal although some genetic drift has taken place that corresponds to language barriers.

Geographic diaspora

The vast majority of the Sinhalese live in Sri Lanka (mostly in the south and west of the island), but there are significant expatriate communities in Southeast Asia, as well as the Middle East, where Sri Lankans are often employed as guest workers. Smaller communities also exist in Australia, Europe (notably the UK and Italy) and in North America (in particular Canada).


Sinhala, also known as "Helabasa", has two forms: spoken and written. The written form uses many words of Sanskrit origin, whereas the spoken form is unique. Many early Sinhala texts such as the "Hela Atuwa" were destroyed after their translation into Pali. Other significant Sinhala texts include "Amar Wathura", "Kavu Silumina", "Jathaka Potha" and "Sala Liheeniya".


Most of the Sinhalese (93%) are Buddhists. They are the only ethnic group in South Asia to adhere to the Theravada sect of Buddhism; many Sinhalese Buddhists additionally venerate Hindu deities as well as indigenous gods. [] There are also sizable Muslim-Sinhalese people who intermarried with Arab traders and become assimilated into the Sri Lankan Moor community.Fact|date=April 2008

Modern Sinhalese

The Sinhalese identify themselves through their Sinhala language, heritage and their Buddhist faith, which sets them apart from the main ethnic minority of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Tamils. In recent times, the Sinhalese majority have displayed a political and economic dominance over the island nation.

Due to a policy of universal healthcare provision, life expectancy is quite high reaching 72 years. Female emancipation has led to many social changes including greater parity between the sexes - prominent female politicians have included former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The Sinhalese have a stable birth rate and a population that has been growing at a relatively slow pace in comparison to India and other Asian countries. The Sinhalese make up about 74% of the Sri Lankan population.

inhalese ethnic flag

The Sinhalese ethnic flag is displayed at right.

When Vijaya, the first King of the island of Sri Lanka, arrived in Sri Lanka in 486 BCE, he brought with him a flag with a symbol of a lion on it. Since then the Lion symbol played a significant role in the history of Sri Lanka. It was used extensively by monarchs who followed King Vijaya and it became a symbol of freedom and hope. When the legendary King Dutugemunu embarked on the campaign in which he defeated the Indian King Elara, who had occupied part of Sri Lanka, he carried with him a banner which portrayed a lion carrying a sword on his right forepaw along with two other symbols, the Sun and the Moon.



* De Silva, K.M. "History of Sri Lanka" (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1981)
* Gunasekera, Tamara. "Hierarchy and Egalitarianism: Caste, Class, and Power in Sinhalese Peasant Society" (Athlone, 1994).
* Roberts, Michael. "Sri Lanka: Collective Identities Revisited" (Colombo-Marga Institute, 1997).
* Wickremeratne, Ananda. "Buddhism and Ethnicity in Sri Lanka: A Historical Analysis" (New Delhi-Vikas Publishing House, 1995).
* Fernando, Basil " [ Thoughts of a Sinhalese about some Sinhala habits] " (Asian Human Rights Commission, 2006).

Online references

* - [ Sri Lanka]
* [ The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations, Am. J. Hum. Genet. 72:313–332, 2003.]
* [ "Most of the extant mtDNA boundaries in South and Southwest Asia were likely shaped during the initial settlement of Eurasia by anatomically modern humans", Biomedical Central, BMC Genetics 2004, 5:26]
* [ Department of Census and Statistics-Sri Lanka]
* [ Ethnologue-Sinhala, a language of Sri Lanka]
* [ CIA Factbook-Sri Lanka]
* [ Genetic Clues to Dispersal in Human Populations: Retracing the Past from the Present] ("Science" 291, 2 March 2001).

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