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Heritage - Land of Many Cultures
Most likely these early inhabitants, like the Sinhalese, came originally from India. Sri Lanka has seen successive waives of migration from the subcontinent over the centuries' the ancient chronicles bear witness to incursions by many different Indian people. Among these were the first ancestors of the Tamils, Sri Lanka's second-largest entnic group, we learn that a Tamil king ruled at Anuradhapura, the first centre of Sinhalese power, in the first century BC.
Anuradhapura today, with its vast, lovingly-restored stupas, its ruined palaces and artworks, reflects the development of Sinhalese civilization following the conversion of its rulers to Buddhism in the third century BC. It was to endure for 1,200 years before Indian incursions forced a shift in the centre of power to Polonnaruwa, further South. There, Sinhalese culture enjoyed a second efforescence to which the colossal sculptures of Gal Vihara and the delicate frescoes of Lankatilaka still bear witness.
Threatened by incursions on all sides, the mediaeval Sinhalese retreated to the interior of the island. As their influence declined, other polities grew stronger. Tami-speaking people have lived side by side with Sinhalese since earliest times, and by the fourteenth century aTamil kingdom occupied all the North and much of the Eastern Coast of the island. By this time, Lanka was thoroughly fragmented - contending petty kingdoms in the interior. Moorish influence in the west, Malays and Chinese setting up their own coastal enclaves. Many coastal settlements were Muslim, their founders being Indians, Arabs and North Africans of that religion; over the centuries, this melting-port of ethnicities became a new community, the Sri Lanka Moors.
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