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Sri Lanka - Glossary Index
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook

      Glossary -- Sri Lanka

      Accelerated Mahaweli Program
      Begun in the 1960s as the Mahaweli Ganga Program, it "accelerated" in the 1980s. The project, damming the Mahaweli Ganga (river), was expected to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice and generate enough hydroelectric power to supply the entire nation.
      System of healing based on homeopathy and naturapthy, with an extensive use of herbs. There are ayurvedic doctors, hospitals, and colleges, all recognized by the government.
      Buddhist monk. When capitalized, an honorific title. The bhikkus are not priests or ministers in the Western sense of the terms.
      Slash-and-burn agriculture. Forest or shrub undergrowth is cleared by cutting and burning. Land is farmed until its productivity falls, then new area is cleared. This type of agriculture usually is associated with shifting cultivation.
      crown land(s)
      The equivalent of federal public lands in the United States. The crown lands were for the most part secured as state succession or as inheritance from the king of Kandy.
      Ethnic group; ancient Australoid race of southern India; a language family of India, Sri Lanka, and western Pakistan that includes Tamil, Telugu, Gondi, and Malayalam. See also Tamils.
      Sinhalese lower, minority caste who traditionally worked as toddy tappers.
      Tamil name for Sri Lanka.
      fiscal year (FY)
      calendar year.
      Goyigama, Govi
      Highest Sinhalese (cultivator) caste. Traditional ruling caste and leaders of established order, comprising at least half of the Sinhalese population. Agriculturalists, now challenged for status by Karavas (q.v.).
      gross domestic product (GDP)
      The total value of goods and services produced within a country's borders during a fixed period, usually one year. Obtained by adding the value contributed by each sector of the economy in the form of compensation of employees, profits, and depreciation (consumption of capital). Subsistence production is included and consists of the imputed value of production by the farm family for its own use and the imputed rental value of owner-occupied dwellings.
      gross national product (GNP)
      Gross domestic product (q.v.) plus the income received from abroad by residents, less payments remitted abroad to nonresidents.
      Indian Tamils
      Tamils whose forebears were brought from India in the late nineteenth century to work the tea and rubber plantations. The Indian Tamils were disenfranchised in Sri Lanka by legislation passed in 1948. See also Tamils.
      International Monetary Fund (IMF)
      Established along with the World Bank (q.v.) in 1945, the IMF is a specialized agency affiliated with the United Nations and is responsible for stabilizing international exchange rates and payments. The main business of the IMF is the provision of loans to its members (including industrialized and developing countries) when they experience balance of payments difficulties. These loans frequently carry conditions that require substantial internal economic adjustments by the recipients, most of which are developing countries.
      Caste below the Vellala (q.v.) in the Tamil caste system, but still a high caste; original occupation was fishing, although group branched out into commercial ventures.
      Lower Sinhalese (fisherman) caste that became wealthy because of access to English education and opportunities for involvement with plantation agriculture and modern commercial enterprise.
      Religious doctrine that each rebirth in the cycle of lives is based on the sum of the merit accumulated by an individual during his previous lives. Karma establishes the general tendency of a life but does not determine specific actions. In each life, the interaction between individual character and previously established karma forms the karma of succeeding lives.
      Greater monsoon--the main growing season under rain-fed conditions for paddy (rice) and most other annual crops. Sowing is between August and October, depending on the time of the monsoon, and the crop is harvested five to six months later.
      The release from the cycle of rebirths and the annihilation of the individual being that occurs on achievement of perfect spiritual understanding. More commonly known in the West as nirvana.
      Threshed, unmilled rice, which is the basis of the subsistence economy of much of South and Southeast Asia. It is grown on flooded or heavily irrigated flatland.
      The language of the Theravada Buddhist sacred scriptures. A Prakrit, or a language derived from Sanskrit.
      Monetary unit of Sri Lanka. The official exchange rate (par value) from January 16, 1952, to November 20, 1967, was Rs4.76 per US$1. In 1988 the official rate was approximately 32.32 rupees per US$1.
      Sinhalese lower, minority caste (cinnamon peelers).
      The total community of bhikkus (q.v.), or Buddhist monks, in the broadest and most abstract sense; the sangha is composed of all Buddhist sects and residential communities and is the traditional Buddhist elite.
      An Indo-European langauge of the Indo-Iranian group. It was derived from a Prakrit, or dialectical, form of Sanskrit. Majority language of Sri Lanka.
      The largest ethnic group, distinguished primarily by their language. As of 1981, Sinhalese constituted approximately 74 percent of the population; over 90 percent of them are Theravada Buddhists. Their ancestors probably migrated from northern India around 500 B.C.
      Sri Lankan Tamils
      Approximately two-thirds of the Tamils and those who have lived in Sri Lanka for many centuries. The Sri Lankan Tamils enjoy full voting rights. See also Tamils.
      Ethnic group, predominantly Hindu, whose language is Tamil, a Dravidian language spoken by the Tamil minority in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka; and which is the major regional language spoken in Tamil Nadu State, southeast India. Sri Lankan Tamils are descendants of settlers and invaders and are a native minority that represented approximately 12.6 percent of the population in 1981. Indian Tamils are descendants of estate laborers imported under British sponsorship to the island primarily in the nineteenth century, and represented approximately 5.5 percent of the population in 1981. The Indian Tamil population has been shrinking because of repatriation programs to Tamil Nadu.
      Theravada Buddhism
      Literally, the Buddhism that is "the way" or "doctrine of the elders." Sinhalese called their beliefs Theravada. Their tradition, frequently described as Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle), preserves a clear understanding of the Buddha as a man who achieved enlightenment and developed monks as accomplished followers of his teachings. This is in contradistinction to the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism, which often treats the Buddha as a superhuman and fills the universe with a pantheon of enlightened figures (bodhisattvas) who help others achieve enlightenment. The Sri Lankans, with rare exception, speak only of Theravada Buddhism, of which there is no central religious authority.
      Last descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Sri Lanka, predating arrival of the Sinhalese. Veddahs have not preserved their own language, live in small rural settlements, and have become more of a caste than a separate ethnic group. They are generally accepted as equal in rank to the Sinhalese Goyigama (q.v.) caste.
      Highest Tamil (cultivator) caste, the members of which traditionally dominated local commercial and educational elites and whose values had strong influence on Tamils of other castes. The group comprises more than half of the Tamil population.
      wet zone
      Area of southwest side of hill country and southestern plain receiving an average of 250 centimeters of rain per year.
      World Bank
      Informal name used to designate a group of three affiliated international institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IBRD, established in 1945, has the primary purpose of providing loans to developing countries for productive projects. The IDA, a legally separate loan fund but administered by the staff of the IBRD, was set up in 1960 to furnish credits to the poorest developing countries on much easier terms than those of conventional IBRD loans. The IFC, founded in 1956, supplements the activities of the IBRD through loans and assistance specifically designed to encourage the growth of productive private enterprises in the less developed countries. The president and certain senior officers of the IBRD hold the same positions in the IFC. The three institutions are owned by the governments of the countries that subscribe their capital. To participate in the World Bank group, member states must first belong to the International Monetary Fund (IMF--q.v.).
      Lesser monsoon--the secondary growing season for paddy (rice) and most other annual crops with sowing between April and May and harvesting four or five months later. For some foodstuffs and cotton, when grown in the dry zone under irrigation, the yala crop is more important than the maha (q.v.) crop.

    NOTE: The information regarding Sri Lanka on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Sri Lanka Glossary information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Sri Lanka Glossary should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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    Revised 20-Mar-05
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