Sri Lanka had been known by several different names
during it's long history of over 2,500 years. Some of the common names by
which Sri Lanka had been known in the past and are found in recorded history
are listed below in chronological order.
This is one of the most ancient names used for Sri Lanka,
and can be seen in the Ramayana, in which the island was simply referred to
Another ancient name for Sri Lanka was "Lankadeepa". This
is the name by which Sri Lanka was known at the time of Gautama Buddha, the
founder of the Buddhist religion 2,500 years ago. Diwa or Deepa means
island. Thus "Lakdiva also means "Island of Lanka". Bima in Sinhala means
Land. Thus "Lakbima" means "The land of Lanka".
The Island then acquired the name "Tambapanni", a name
which originated after Prince Vijaya and his 700 followers landed on the
west coast of the Island near Puttalam in the 5th century B.C. The sand on
this coastal stretch was copper colored with a reddish brown hue. Hence the
name Tamba-panni, Tamba meaning Copper.
This is another ancient name acquired by the Island."Sihaladeepa" means the
"island of the Sihala". Prince Vijaya and his followers were known as the
Sihala, because of Vijaya's supposed lion ancestry according to the
Mahawamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka's history.
This is an ancient name by which Sri lanka was known,in the earliest
reference to Sri Lanka in Indian Literature.In Kautalya's "Arthasastra" Sri Lanka is referred to as "Parasamudra",
meaning beyond the ocean.
This is an ancient name used by some ancient Greek writers to refer to Sri
Lanka. Historians are of the view that the name "Palaesimoundu" may have
been derived from the Indian name "Parasamudra".
This is an abbreviated form of the word "Palaesimoundu" also used by ancient
Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador to the court of the Mauryan King,
Chandragupta, and Eratosthenes one of the first Greek Geographers referred
to Sri Lanka as the "Island of Taprobane", probably derived from the
name"Tambapanni".Pliny(24-79 AD) and Ptolemy in the middle of the second
century A.D., both Greek Geographers referred to Sri Lanka as the "Island of
This is a name given by ancient Indians to Sri Lanka and seems to be derived
from the name "Sihaladeepa".
(10)Salike or Sileke-
This is another name given by ancient Indians to Sri Lanka and may have been
derived fom the name "Sihala".
The ancient name used by Tamils to refer to Sri Lanka.
The 10th Century Arab historian Al-Biruni or Abu Rihaan Muhammad called the
Island "Singaldip"-also derived from Sinhala and dipa.
(13)Serendib or Serendivi-
The name given by the Arabs to Sri Lanka is "Serendib"-"The Island of
Rubies"(Sri Lanka Rubies).The Arab traveller Ibn Batuta and the Arab
Geographer Al-Idrisi referred to Sri Lanka as "Serendib".
Ibn Shahriyar, the Arab author of the book Ajab-al-Hind meaning Marvels of
India, written in the year 960 A.D.refers to Sri Lanka by the usual Arab
term Serendib, but also states that the country was also known as"Saheelan",
which is another term used by the Arabs to refer to Sri Lanka.
(15)Zeylan or Seylan-
The Europeans referred to Sri Lanka as "Zeylan" or "Seylan", which is
derived from the Arabic word "Saheelan".
This is the name by which the British referred to Sri Lanka. The name Ceylon
is obviously derived from the word zeylan or Seylan, which in turn was
derived from tha Arabic word Saheelan.
At the time Sri Lanka was granted independence in 1948 by
the British, the country was still known as Ceylon. This name was maintained
until the year 1972,when the country became a full fledged Republic, and the
name was officially changed to Sri Lanka-"The
Resplendent Land". Again in the year 1978 with the adoption of a
new constitution that created an Executive Presidency the name of the
country was officially changed to the Democratic
Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.