Although the civil war in the north and east of the island has thwarted subsequent census plans, it was estimated that the population in 2000 stood near nineteen million. There are three official languages in Sri Lanka: Sinhala, Tamil, and English.
Sinhala, the language of the majority, and Tamil, spoken by Muslims as well as ethnic Tamils, are the primary languages of the island.
In Sinhala, the language of the majority, Sri means "blessed" and Lanka is the name of the island.
Language has been a volatile issue in Sri Lanka, particularly following independence when the "Sinhala Only" campaign came to the political fore, provoking resistance from the Sri Lankan Tamils in particular, and thus paving the way toward the civil war. The official symbols of Sri Lanka are largely drawn from those representing the Sinhala Buddhist majority.This population was concentrated in the wet zone and around the principal cities, although barely three million people were considered to live in urban areas.At that time, there were approximately eleven million Sinhalas, two million Sri Lankan Tamils, one million Tamils of recent Indian origin, 1.5 million Muslims, and less than seventy thousand people of other ethnicities.For instance, the color blocks on the nation's flag represent each of Sri Lanka's three major ethnic groups.The Sri Lankan elephant is a symbol of national heritage and of prosperity, both for its long association with wealth and royalty and for its association with Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wealth.The northern tip of the island is the traditional home to the Sri Lankan Tamils who consider Jaffna, its principal city, their cultural and political center.The dry lowlands of the eastern coast, site of fishing and rice cultivation, are particularly diverse both ethnically and culturally, with Muslims, Tamils, and Sinhalas composing almost equal portions of the population in some areas.The betel leaf and oil lamp are used to mark special occasions.Images of the island's natural resources, such as palm trees, gems, and beaches, are promoted as part of the tourist industry and other international commercial enterprises.The Dutch then kept the land for themselves, controlling all but the kingdom of Kandy until they were driven out by the British in 1796.In 1815 the British ousted the last king of Kandy, gaining control over all of Sri Lanka, which remained a British colony until 1948.