Lion People

Early image of Native Sinhalese girls (photo by Skeen & Company, c 1920).

According to the Mahavamsa, or “Great Chronicle,” an epic poem that chronicles the kings of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese, or "lion people," (sinha means lion; hela means pristine) are the descendants of Prince Vijaya and his 700 followers who arrived in Sri Lanka in the 6th century BC after having been banished from Sinhapura in Bengal, Northeast India.

As translated by Dr. William Geiger, the Mahavamsa represents Prince Vijaya as a man of “evil conduct” whose followers were likewise, and that “many intolerable deeds of violence were done by them.” King Sinhabahu, having exhausted his patience with the young prince, ordered Vijaya and his followers to be “shaven over half the head” and to be put on a ship and sent away with their families.

The exiles left what is now Bangladesh and arrived first in Supparaka (now Sopara in the Thana district north of Bombay) but found it difficult to live there. They set out again and landed in Lanka, in the region of Thambapanni.

In the third century BC, Buddhism was introduced to the followers of Vijaya by Mahinda, son of Ashoka the Great, Mauryan Emperor. Buddhism has since flourished in Sri Lanka.

Learn more: The Mahavamsa