Sri Lanka (pronunciation: //, // or / /; Sinhala: ශ්රී ලංකාව, śrī laṃkāva, Tamil: இலங்கை, ilaṅkai), officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. Known until 1972 as Ceylon (pron.: //, //, or //), Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest and the Maldives to the southwest.
Sri Lanka's documented history spans three thousand years. Its geographic location and deep harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War II. Sri Lanka is a diverse country home to many religions, ethnicities and languages. It is the land of the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Indian Tamils, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aboriginal Vedda. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and the first known Buddhist writings were composed on the island. The country's recent history has been marred by a thirty-year civil war which decisively but controversially ended in a military victory in 2009.
Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a presidential system. The capital, Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, is a suburb of the largest city, Colombo. An important producer of tea, coffee, gemstones, coconuts, rubber and the native cinnamon, Sri Lanka has been called The tear drop of India because of its shape and location and is known as "The Pearl of the Indian Ocean" because of its natural beauty. It is also known as "The nation of smiling people". The island contains tropical forests, and diverse landscapes with high biodiversity.
The country has had a long history of international engagement, being a founding member of SAARC and a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. It is also the only country in South Asia that is currently rated 'high' on the Human Development Index.
In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travellers by a variety of names. Known in India as Lanka or Sinhala, ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane pron.: // and Arabs referred to it as Serendib (the origin of the word "serendipity"). Ceilão was the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese when they arrived in 1505, which was transliterated into English as Ceylon. As a British crown colony, the island was known as Ceylon, and achieved independence as the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948.