Origins of Sinhalese and Tamil populations
Sinhalese people inhabit Sri Lanka and are the main ethnic group that make up about 74% of the total population of Sri Lanka. They are also referred to as the Hela, or Sinhala; the word Sinhala, meaning “lion people”. According to popular mythology, the Sinhalese people are descendants from the followers of Prince Vijaya who served exile (from 543-483 BC) in Sri Lanka and hailed from a North Eastern Indian kingdom called Singhapur (Modern day Singhur, West Bengal). Genetic studies have shown that the origins of the Sinhalese people lie mainly in West Bengal and South India, with links also to native 'Hela' tribes.
Tamils are a minority group residing in Sri Lanka (the majority of Tamils actually live in India in the state of Tamil Nadu) who predominantly migrated to the island as traders or invaders from South Indian Chola kingdom. They settled in north and eastern parts of the Sri Lankan island. Most Sri-Lankan Tamils are descendants from Chola Kingdom.
Geographical Distribution of Tamils and Sinhalese
The Sinhalese occupy the Central, Western and Southern parts of the island. The majority of Tamils live in the Northern and Eastern Province and there is a Tamil and Sinhalese minority all over the island nation.
Political Strife for a separate Tamil state
The relation between the Sinhalese and Sri-Lankan Tamils has been strained since Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948, which ensued at the time when the nation’s constitution was being drawn. The introduction of the Sinhala-only act in 1956 triggered riots in Sri Lanka. Further discrimination against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka in cultural, political, economic areas led to some Tamils harboring resentment against the Sinhalese groups and the Government.
Militant groups demanding independence for Tamils known as TNT and later as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formed in 1972. Since then, many Sinhalese and Tamils have been caught in this conflict and killed. The start of the civil war is said to have been in the July of 1983 with a deadly attack by LTTE on the Sri Lankan army. Many peace talks failed between the government and LTTE. From 1983 till the end of the civil war in 2009, there continued many offensive attacks both by LTTE and the Sri Lankan army. Attack by suicide bombers had become a trademark of the LTTE. This war forced many Tamils to find new homes in other countries like Canada and Australia.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan government mounted a concerted effort to use armed forces to eliminate the LTTE and their terrorism. While they were successful, there have been several allegations of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan government. The war also resulted in thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians being killed or displaced from their homes and pushed into refugee camps in other regions. The rights of Tamils (refugees and otherwise) continues to be an important diplomatic issue the Sri Lankan government is dealing with.
Differences in Language
Sinhalese people speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language also known as “Helabasa” and have two varieties, written and spoken. This language is influenced by Pali and Sanskrit. Tamils speak the language Tamil, which is a Dravidian language.
Differences in Religion
Sinhalese people follow the Buddhist Faith (Theravada School), which was introduced to them by Ashoka’s son Mahinda during the 3rd century BC. Though the majority of Sinhalese are Buddhists, a significant number are also Christians, due to the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence on the island. Tamils are mostly Hindus, with a significant Christian population.
Sinhalese culture encompasses many rituals and tradition which are greatly influenced by Buddhist festivals. A majority of Sri Lankan Tamils follow Hindu customs and traditions similar to south Indian rituals.
The tradition dress for Sinhalese is sarong and Kandyan for more formal occasions. Men wear a shirt with sarong, and women wear a sari (called Osari). The traditional dress of Sri Lankan Tamils is the sari, worn with a blouse and petticoat.
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