An ancient map featuring South India, and Sri Lanka, along with a compass, signifying the period of Sri Lanka after independence.

Sri Lanka, the splendid isle in the Indian Ocean is famous around the world as the pearl of the Indian ocean. It is filled with an abundance of resources. Let it be the appropriate weather conditions, alluring golden shores,  amazing wildlife, or the expertise of construction knowledge.  Of course, all these things coupled together have made this island one of the most significant tourist attractions.  Moreover, it is not a secret that Sri Lanka is well-known for its rich culture and traditions, as well as for its graceful history that dates back centuries. Bringing forth the amazing heritage from the royal dynasty, passing a colonial era, the journey Sri Lanka came this far is indeed impressive. It was in 1948 that Sri Lanka obtained independence from British rule. Still, if you are wondering about how Sri Lanka was after independence, there is simply a lot that you need to know. 

Yet, before that let us have a quick glance over the greatest history that runs along for more than 2500 years as well. Based on Pali chronicles like Mahawamsa , Dipawamsa, and Chulawamsa, the historical period begins roughly in the 3rd century.  However, after Sinhalese ancestors established the Kingdom – Thambapanni in the 6th century, 181 monarchs ruled it during Anuradhapura to Kandy periods. Sri Lanka was then invaded by the foreign rulers namely Portuguese (1597-1658), Dutch (1658-1796), and finally British (1815-1948), keeping a full stop to the Monarchy system in Sri Lanka. Indeed, there are a number of significant milestones that are worth exploring. So, why not? Let us start exploring the great history of Sri Lanka, and the impacts it had on shaping the history of Sri Lanka after independence as well. For a better idea, let us start with the post-colonial era. 

Post Colonial Era in Sri Lanka

After the colonial period of around 400 years, an independence movement started. The movement carried out with the intervention of some middle-class educated patriots of Sri Lanka. This independent movement was a peaceful political movement. Unlike in India, there was no bloodshed or severe demands. It was a peaceful transfer of powers from the British administration to Ceylon representation that took place. This was as a result of lots of planning, action, and commitment of the above-mentioned patriots at that time.  However, the aim of achieving independence for Sri Lanka finally became successful on the 04th February 1948. Sri Lankans celebrate and remember this special and historical occasion called independence day on the same date annually.

Subsequently, after the independence numerous significant occurrences took place in the history of Sri Lanka.  Those milestones paved the way for the changes  in the number of domains in and out. Eg:  administration, livelihood and the culture of Sri Lanka.

The Significant Milestones in the History of Sri Lanka after Independence

Let’s look at a few significant milestones in the post-colonial era, or after the independence of Sri Lanka as follows.

  1.  Becoming a Dominion (1948 – 1972)
  2. The armed revolt by JVP in 1971  
  3. Becoming a Republic  (1972–2009)    
  4. Black July In 1983    
  5. Civil War (1983 to 2009)    
  6. Armed revolt by JVP between 1988-1989    
  7. Sri Lanka after the civil war     
  8. Easter Attack in Sri Lanka 2019

Knowing just the incident might surely confuse you. Nothing to worry about. Let us have an insight of each one of these incidents in depth.

1. Becoming a Dominion (1948 – 1972)

Dominion status is the constitutional term of art used to express a commonwealth realm. This was common for most of the other countries invaded by the British Crown. They were Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, India, and Australia. Although Sri Lanka nominally achieved independence in 1948  under the Ceylon Independence Act 1947, it was in semi-independence status. Sri Lanka still had the link to the United Kingdom and remained within the British commonwealth under Queen Elizabeth 2. The coordination by the governor-general was essential. British monarch held final authority on all legislation of Sri Lanka.

  • The British Monarch from 1948-1952 held the titles by His Majesty George the Sixth 
  • 1952–1953 held the titles by Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second
  • 1953–1972 held the titles by Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second

Moreover, the application of Sri Lanka to join the UN at that time declined by Russia on this ground. 

Besides, there were many people who were holding important roles in the armed forces of Sri Lanka being a dominion. Let’s now have a look at some of them in brief.

  • Brigadier James Sinclair ( Earl of Caithness) was the first commander of the Ceylon Army. He was a British and the first Sri Lankan commander of the Ceylon Army was Gen. Anton Mutukumaru (A Tamil) Ceylon Army and renamed Sri Lanka Army in 1972.
  • Captain W. E. Banks  was the first Commander of the Royal Ceylon Navy in 1950. Rear Admiral Gerard Royce Maxwell De Mel was the first Sinhalese to head the Navy. He was the 4th Commander of the Royal Ceylon Navy.
  • Air Vice-Marshal Edward Rohan Ameresekere was the 3rd Commander of the Air Force.  He is the first Sri Lankan who held  this role.
  • Richard Aluwihare was the first non-British Inspector General of Police.
Institutes established while Sri Lanka Remained a Dominion

There were a number of institutes belonging to different domains that were established in Sri Lanka while it remained a Dominion. Some of them are as follows.

  • Ceylon Medical School – 1870, 
  • The Colombo Law College – 1875 
  • The Government Teaching College in 1893.
  • The University of Ceylon ( the only university in Ceylon) -1942 until it became University of Sri Lanka in 1972. Subsequently it separated into 4 independent universities in1978. They were the University of Colombo, University of Peradeniya, University of Kelaniya & Vidyodaya University

Not only the defense and education, but there we many other institutes as well. You can find some of them below.

  • The Ministry of Finance and the Treasury  formed in 1947
  • The establishment of the Central Bank of Ceylon  in 1949.
  • The designation of the Ceylon Rupee as the standard unit of monetary value of Ceylon. Ceylon became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 29th August 1950. The issuance of first paper money began in 1951 by the Central Bank of Ceylon.  It started with 1 rupee and 10 rupee notes with the portrait of the British Monarch. 
End of the dominion

Finally,  after remaining as a British dominion for nearly 2.5 decades, Sri Lanka achieved the status ‘republic of Sri Lanka’. That was on 22nd May 1972. This incident is an important milestone in the history of Sri Lanka after independence. People in Sri Lanka call it the “republic day”. Even at present people highly believe that Sri Lankans must celebrate their independence day on the 22nd May 1972. Thereafter, Sri Lanka continued its juroney, having William Gopallwa, as the first president and D. S. Senanayake as the prime minister of the republic Sri Lanka.

2. The armed revolt by JVP in 1971

In 1971, the country was under Prime minister Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranayake. It was during this period that the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) formed. JVP was a communist, Marxist, Leninist political movement of Ceylon bearing revolutionary opinions and principles. This party started an armed revolt against the government in 1971. That was to retaliate against the government for arresting their party’s founder /leader Rohana Wijeweera. He was a former medical student and former functionary of the Ceylon Communist Party.

The intention of these revolts of JVP was to seize power from the government in 1971. Their way to achieve it was by taking the country under their control by armed power.

Preparations of JVP for the revolts

The JVP insurgents made preparations for the riots by gaining control of the people selected by them. Majority was from the student socialist movements at a number of major university campuses. The people they mainly attracted for the purpose were  between the 16- to 25 age  range. The common attribute of those was the feeling that their economic interests have been neglected by the government.

JVP did not stop by that. They gradually started winning recruits and sympathizers within the armed forces as well. That was in order to get relevant information about the police stations, military facilities, and airports. They even formed education camps in the south and southwestern coasts. JVP taught and provided training in Marxism-Leninism and basic military skills to those who gathered around their principles. They organized the necessary weapons for the operation with funds supplied by their members. Furthermore, they relied on raids against police stations and army camps to secure weapons while manufacturing their own bombs.

The commencement of the revolts

Finally, they commenced the revolt by simultaneously attacking 92 police stations around the country. This took place within a single day( 5th of April 1971). They were present armed with shotguns and bombs wearing blue uniforms, military boots, and haversacks. This frightened the whole country. Subsequently, they continued to do selective kidnapping and capturing various cities and rural areas of the country. The areas thus invaded were under their control for several weeks. The JVP armed group thus managed to capture Matara, Ambalangoda in the Galle district within five days of the revolt’s commencement. Nevertheless, the JVP revolvers could not take over Galle city. That was as a result of the high security provided by the  Dutch colonial Fort, together with the army stronghold at that time.

The armed group of JVP continued raising funds for their insurrection by carrying out several robberies. Eg: Okkampitiya bank robbery, the Badulla mail bag robbery, the Ambalangoda bank robbery and the York Street robbery. 

The reaction of the government

However, in return, the government deployed the army, navy and air forces successfully across the country. The three forces suppressed the revolt. A curfew imposed, roadblocks setup, bridges, ports and airports secured overstretching the small armed forces tactfully. Prime Minister Bandaranaike also issued a distress call to friendly countries for support via telegram. The response from both governments were swift. Pakistan responded with airlifting troops and helicopters to Ratmalana Airport. They thus took over its defence helping out by releasing Ceylonese troops for other important duties. It was the Indian troops who took over the guarding RCyAF Katunayake. The Indian Navy deployed a naval cordon around Ceylon. Meanwhile Ceylon Navy deployed its sailors on ground operations and harbour defence. Later it was the Indian and Pakistani troops who took over this operation.

The armed revolt by JVP  thus overthrew the government with the aid of national and international expertise.  In June 1971, the JVP revolt ended as the first unsuccessful revolt by the said party. It had several impacts on the lives of Sri Lankans. Hence, this incident is an important milestone in the history of Sri Lanka after independence.

3. Becoming a Republic  (1972–2009)

After achieving complete independence in 1972, the name of Ceylon changed to “The Republic of Sri Lanka”. This special incident took place on the 22nd of 1972 discontinuing its link to the United Kingdom. That was under the government of Bandaranayake. This is surely one of the most important milestones in Sri Lankan history.

The legislature changed from bicameral to unicameral. The head of the country changed from the governor-general to the President. However, the effective executive power remained to the prime minister and the cabinet. Consequently, the huge economic power held by the state led to corruption, bias, and patronage in the country uncontrollably. After becoming a republic, the economy of Sri Lanka began to decline. A drastic downturn in the unemployment rate was notable. It had risen by 15% for five years compared to that of 1972. Sri Lanka underwent a number of political, social, and cultural changes and developments following this episode.

Social Impacts

Buddhism, neglected during the European rule,  was brought to the foremost place. It returned its place as the main religion of Sri Lanka. The Sinhala language identified as the official language of Sri Lanka.

Political Impacts

Meanwhile, the political parties underwent a change in July 1977. The very first election after achieving republic status took place in 1977.  The people who did not like to continue with the socialist policies of the Bandaranayake government defeated Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).  Taking the opportunity to vote against SLFP, they brought the UNP into power appointing J.R. Jayawardana as the Prime minister of republic Sri Lanka.

Political reforms

Jayawardana gave directions to rewrite the constitution of Sri Lanka. That was introducing a presidential system in a new face. The presidential system came into practice as a six-year term. This new presidential system was the second new presidential system in the world after that of France.  People elected J.R. Jayawardana as the first executive president and Ranasinghe Premadasa of the UNP, became prime minister. At that time the country’s name changed to the ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’. The president remained the head of state under this system. 

New economical practices under the new government

Under the new government, a complete turnaround in economic policy was in place. Sri Lanka was undergoing an economic imbalance during the SLFP government. The economy and its import substitution principles came back to life with new liberal economic principles with the new leadership. J R Jayawardana opened up the heavily state-controlled economy to market forces. Let the market be forced into international competition, which subsequently resulted in the country’s economic growth. The development achieved through the private sector paved the way for both foreign and local investment in the country.  Especially the open policies of the government highly encouraged the new investment.  The exports were enhanced, promoted, and more and more encouraged. This supported the economy of The democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to grow in a visibly positive way.  This incident is another important milestone in the history of Sri Lanka after independence.

4. Black July In 1983

Black July was a period as dark as its name calls. It was a period when both Sinhala and Tamil people in the country were uncertain of their lives. They were uncertain of whom they would lose the next second.  The flames of fright were always on its sparks in the hearts of thousands of parents in the country. 

Black July was anti-Tamil riots that took place in Sri Lanka. It was in action starting from 23rd July up to 30th July in the year 1983. The main reason for the arising of this insurrection was ” inequality”- the inequality the Tamils faced as an ethnic minority. There were some political parties that represented Tamil citizens from the North and the North East of the Country. They pointed out the main concerns from 1956. The concerns raised on the grounds of Sinhala only policy introduced in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the majority of the positions in the state sector were held by Tamils.  These were the people who began to face a challenge with the introduction of the Sinhala only policy.

Starting from that time, until 1983 the country was a fearful place to live. There were a number of murders, disappearances, riots, and other acts of violence. These acts reported within the communities of the country were very common to hear through the media. The opportunity was very little for Tamil citizens to receive higher education in the state universities. This situation led the riots to grow little by little. One of the main and unfortunate incidents was setting up fire to the University of Jaffna. That was in the year 1981 by a mob creating violence in the North.

Formation of LTTE

Consequently, all these incidents nourished the views of the political parties adequately. This was when the parties organized to take revenge.  The best example was the formation of a Tamil militant group in Sri Lanka.  It was called  Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tamil riots significantly took the revenge of the hostilities they faced.  That was on the 23rd of July in 1983. The LTTE planted a bomb under a military patrol vehicle in Thirunelveli and hijacked the four Bravo. (Four bravo was the call sign of a fifteen-man Srilankan Army patrol. This patrol was in operation in the Jaffna peninsula).  LTTE ambushed this patrol causing death to around fifteen men. That included army soldiers and rebels which was the cause for the commencement of the Black July in 1983. 

Starting from the night of 24th July 1983, the Sinhalese mobs searched and attacked the Tamil targets. Over a week number of incidents of burning, looting, killing, decapitation, and rape took place in the country. The whole incident ended up on the 30th of July of the same year. That was after arresting a few political leaders and banning several left-wing political parties of Sri Lanka who initiated the riots. These riots caused death to 400-3000 citizens and destroyed over 8000 houses and 5000 shops topped with over 300 dollar economic costs. 

5. Civil War (1983-2009)

Civil war in Sri Lanka between the period of 1983 and 2009 is one of the main incidents to draw attention when discussing the history of Sri Lanka after independence. The reason behind that importance is that , 1983-2009 is the time period during which Sri Lanka underwent  major economic down turns over years. The country lost many valuable lives. Particularly the loss faced by the families both Sinhalese and Tamil was priceless.

After experiencing the hostilities at the Black July many Sri Lankan Tamils flew to other countries who formed and joined militant groups and organized against the government of Sri Lanka. The main military group organized for this purpose was LTTE. The leader of this group was a Tamil freedom Guerilla- Velupillai Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran wanted to establish an independent Tamil state in the name of “Tamil Eelam” in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The war began from the Northern and North Eastern provinces initially and later spread to the other parts of the country from time to time. The inhuman practices of this group made many countries recognize LTTE as a terrorist group. 

Impact of the civil war on the tourism industry

As a result of the battle, Sri Lanka had to face a number of difficulties which resulted in the economic downturn of the country. The tourism industry of the country was one of the main means of income in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, one of the main domains affected by the civil war was also tourism. Initially, the industry collapsed in the Northern and North Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka where the war initiated. Later the industry of the whole country was affected in late 1995 with the series of bomb attacks including the central bank bomb, Dehiwala train bomb. Sri Lanka‘s reputation as one of the best tourist sites started shading away during this period.

Full stop to the civil war

Under the strong guidance of President Mahinda Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s heroic troops together with military and strategic forces managed to kill the LTTE leader in May 2009. That was after sacrificing approximately 80,000-100,000 lives of humans. 

The 30-year long civil war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government thus came to an end. That was after two decades of battling and two futile peace talks. This dark memory left battle scars and wounds in the country’s history and lives of millions of Sri Lankans. The people celebrated this occasion, expressing the relief they received after some long years. Hence, the end of the civil war is considered a significant milestone in the history of Sri Lanka after independence.

The LTTE supportive political party that represented the Tamil citizens in Sri Lanka agreed upon a federal solution. That was after agreeing to give up their demand of having a separate independent state for their own.

Subsequently, the Sri Lankan government was subjected to global criticism against breaching the human rights laws by the actions taken for the LTTE and the Tamils.  Apart from that, a number of major impacts were thereupon the Sri Lankan lives. Not only, that how this incident impacted the political stability of Sri Lanka is worth exploring. Likewise, there is a lot that followed the end of this civil war. Hence, we dedicated a separate section below, to share with you about these important factors. So, continue reading, and you will find more about them.

6.Armed revolt by JVP from 1988-1989

This is the second riot by JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna). Also known as ‘89 revolts’ or ‘JVP kalabala’, has been a milestone of brutality and bloodshed in the history of Sri Lanka. After the banning of JVP by the government following the black July, they prepared and organized back to knock down the government of J. R Jayawardana. The funds for the riots they collected through robberies, pistols, and shotguns. The weapons which especially had the government licence forcefully collected from the owners of them around the country served their purpose. JVP riots also raided the armories of the government. Their operations were not very hard as the forces have deployed their troops to control the Tamil militancy in the North and East of the country.

Some of the major attacks

Here are few of the major attacks performed by JVP.

  • Grenade attack in the Srilankan Parliament in 1987
  • Attack at the Temple of Tooth in 1989
  • Pallekele Army Camp attack in April 1987
  • Kallar Indian peace keeping force camp attack
  • Attack at Sri Lanka Air force base Katunayake and the Kothalawala defense academy stealing weapons and ammunition..
  • Bogambara Prison attack in 1987
  • Magazine Prison break in December 1988
  • Panagoda Cantonment attack in 1989
  • Digana Bank robery

The JVP targeted and captured the armories to collect weapons and ammunition in most of these attacks. The investigations later revealed that there were more than thirty soldiers in the forces who had links with JVP that had backed the attacks.

However, after a number of other incidents, the government arrested two leading members of  JVP. The questioning paved the way to arrest Rohana Wijeweera.  He had been living on a tea estate in the Ulapane area masquerading as a planter under the name of Attanayake. The government brought Wijeweera to Colombo. Afterward, the government claimed that Wijeweera died during a search operation on 13 November 1989 by a gunshot. 

With the death of Wijeweera, the violence of the JVP ceased gradually. 

7. Sri Lanka after the Civil War 

The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted for 30 years. It came to an end in May 2009 under the government of Mahinda Rajapakse. That is as a result of the heroism and talents of the three forces in Sri Lanka and the accurate guidance of the President and the defense leaders.

The tourism industry had been the third-largest foreign exchange earner of Sri Lanka prior to the war. Nevertheless, with the war situation Sri Lanka’s tourism industry collapsed severely.

The Emergence of the Tourism Industry after the Civil War

However, with the end of the civil war, people began to choose Sri Lanka as their tourist destination again. Not only the foreigners, but the local tourists also began to travel and witness the beauty of the country enjoying the freedom unlike before.

Within the first few months, the industry began to flourish once again better than how it was before. The incoming tourists increased from 450,000 per year (2009)to 1 million  (2012) within a short period of three years. Sri Lanka could earn over 2.98 billion dollars by 2015 through the tourism industry and increased further year by year. Many new places of entertainment, new hotels and other activities newly established in the country. By the end of the civil war, locations with historical, cultural, and religious importance- destroyed or damaged by the battle. The destruction was in thousands. However, with the emergence of the tourism industry in the country, the government conserved all those places and locations. The special tourist locations and historical places were preserved for the visits of both local and foreign.  

Reinstating of Losses

Nonetheless,  the scars were still there of the battle,  especially in the lives of people. The losses of family members and the loss of property were numberless. Indeed, the government took action to reinstate most of the physical losses. The government thus took care of the people who lived in refugee camps. Also, the government provided education to the children in the war zones. The relevant authorities took necessary action to built separate institutes and caring homes for the incapacitated soldiers by the war. The government also made arrangements to rehabilitate the LTTE soldiers as well to give them life back. Many child and women soldiers were thus rehabilitated and brought back to their feet. Consequently, today they lead their lives as normal human beings enjoying peace and freedom. Such incidents are important when talking about the history of Sri Lanka after independence.

Meanwhile, the international authorities started accusing the government of violating human rights in the final stages of the war. That was due to the casualties of many civilians.  Due to the high demand and global pressure, president Mahinda Rajapakse implemented the LLRC (Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission). The purpose of this commission was to provide relevant recommendations and peacebuilding within the country. Finally, LLRC acknowledged that although there were many casualties, they could not state which part is responsible for those accurately. However, both Sinhalese and Tamil politicians were pointed as accountable for the cause of the civil war.  

8. Easter Attack in Sri Lanka in 2019

Easter attack was a series of suicide bombings carried out by Islamic terrorists in Sri Lanka on the 21st of April 2019 – Easter Sunday. It was one of the terrific milestones in the history of Sri Lanka. The bombs were set in three churches in the country, three luxury hotels in the capital of Srilanka followed by a housing complex and a guest house. The estimated deaths were around 267 including 45 tourists who had been in Sri Lanka during this time. At least 500 people were injured and some are yet undergoing the post-attack shocks. 

On 25 April, the photos and the names of the suspected suicide bombers were released through media to the public by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) seeking public assistance for further investigation. On 28 April, the government and police of Sri Lanka revealed that the ester attacks were carried out by eight Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a local militant Islamist group with foreign connections as suspected. 

Political impact

The political authorities were highly accused by the public for not taking prior action to avoid these attacks. Furthermore, the opposition parties accused the government of not having a reliable security system and protocol handling in the country.  

Social impact 

The social impact after the easter attack was significant. The people had to live frightened veiled with the uncertainty of their lives. Any garment covering the face including the burqa and niqab has been banned in Sri Lanka ever since although people were compelled to wear face masks later due to Covid 19.  Many sports events for which the high expectations were kept were canceled and postponed across the country. 

Impact of the Easter Attack on the Tourism Industry

The post-Easter attack was another time when the tourism industry was severely affected in Sri Lanka. As estimated by the hotel association the loss in tourism earnings was about 1.5 billion dollars at that time after a drop-down of tourist arrivals to the country by 70%. Many workers associated with the hospitality industry and tourist guides were fired from their jobs. Many other countries warned and even banned their people from visiting Sri Lanka temporarily.  

The development in Sri Lanka after independence. 

During the time when Sri Lanka has been a domain of the UK, the development of the country was done as desired and expected by the crown. Mostly the development was done in a way that benefited the UK.

During 72 years after the achievement of independence,  Sri Lanka as a country has undergone a number of developments. They have been mainly in political, economic, social, and cultural domains. Facing many challenges such as the black July, thirty-year civil war, easter attack, and currently Covid 19, achieving a considerable development is not an easy task unless with the guidance of a good leader for a country.  

Significant Development in Sri lanka

There has been a significant development after many years from independence in the road system of Sri Lanka. That was after the conclusion of the civil war in 2009. The road system which had been in a severely bad condition was rapidly developed by the government of Mahinda Rajapakse. Further, highways came up and many more infrastructure was set. This led to the increased efficiency in the public transportation of the country which supported the economy as well.

When talking about the post-war development, the vast development in the tourism industry is unforgettable. The tourism industry was one of the main income sources of Sri Lanka. This reason made the urge for the government and relevant tourism authorities to provide necessary ways to flourish it.  Although the conflict knocked down the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, it could stand on its feet again. The main reason was due to Sri Lanka being one of the best tourist sites in the world. 

 Tourism industry highly supported the economy of the country Sri Lanka all the time. Even the success of the airline industry is based on this magic of tourism. The infrastructure of the country also developed in a supportive factor.


Finally, after going through all these factors on the history of Sri Lanka after independence, there is one special thing visible. That is, Sri Lanka has been striving hard to move forward-facing all the challenges that had come on its way. 

In my opinion, what the country has been lacking all these years is honest support from the government. It should also be topped with the positive attitude of the people in the country. It would be a treasure if rendered to shoulder the development and well being of the country. Obtaining the best use of the resources of the island wisely is also of utmost importance. Said practices would enable Sri Lanka to achieve more and more in the future learning from its history of 72 years after independence.