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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.

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Although the members of these groups share many cultural practices, beliefs, and values, ethnic differences have become especially marked since the nation's independence in 1948.In the early sixteenth century Portuguese traders introduced Christianity as they began to make use of the island, eventually gaining control over productive portions of it.In 1638 the king of Kandy drove out the Portuguese with the help of the Dutch.The central highlands are famous for tea plantations and, in the southwestern part, gem mines.Kandy, the principal city of this central "Hill Country," was the seat of the last of the indigenous kingdoms and continues to be an important ritual, administrative, and tourist center.The players and events that are part of the wildly popular national cricket team serve as symbolic foci of national culture.

Further, the performance of certain islandwide customs, such as bowing in respect, serve as symbolic enactments of a national cultural identity.

The southern coastal lowlands are the site of coconut, rubber, and cinnamon estates, an active fishing industry, and beautiful beaches.

Located on the west coast is the island's largest city, Colombo, a hub of international commerce as well as the seat of government administration located on its outskirts in Sri Jayawardenepura. According to the islandwide census in 1981, there were nearly 15 million inhabitants of Sri Lanka.

Sinhala means "lion's blood" and the lion is the central image on the national flag.

Also pictured on the flag and other emblems of national culture are the leaves of the sacred Bo Tree under which the Buddha found enlightenment.

Other symbols central to Sri Lankan Buddhism and Sinhala mythology have also become icons of national identity, such as the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, the possession of which has provided legitimacy to Sinhala rulers for thousands of years.