Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. Known until 1972 as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar, the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the Maldives.
As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and South East Asia. It was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Sri Lanka has also been a center of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times, being the nation where the Buddhist teachings were first written down as well as the oldest continually Buddhist country. Sri Lanka boasts a diverse range of cultures, languages and religions. The Sinhalese people form the majority of the population; Tamils, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island, form the largest ethnic minority. Other communities include Moors, Burghers, Kaffirs, Malays and the aboriginal Vedda people.
Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state which is governed by a semi-presidential system with its official seat of government in Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, the capital. The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, gems, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon, the last of which is native to the country. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka has led to the title The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. The island is laden with lush tropical forests, white beaches and diverse landscapes with rich biodiversity. The country lays claim to a long and colorful history of over three thousand years, having one of the longest documented histories in the world. Sri Lanka's rich culture can be attributed to the many different communities on the island.
Sri Lanka is a founding member state of SAARC and a member United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, G77 and Non-Aligned Movement. As of 2010, Sri Lanka was one of the fastest growing economies of the world. Its stock exchange was Asia's best performing stock market during 2009 and 2010.
The island of Sri Lanka lies atop the Indian tectonic plate, a minor plate within the Indo-Australian Plate. It is positioned in the Indian Ocean, to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal, between latitudes 5° and 10°N, and longitudes 79° and 82°E. Sri Lanka is separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. According to the Hindu mythology, a land bridge existed between the Indian mainland and Sri Lanka. It now amounts to only a chain of limestone shoals remaining above sea level. It was reportedly passable on foot up to 1480 AD, until cyclones deepened the channel.
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