Tamil is also the first language the majority of Moors and the Indian Tamils - according to the 2012 census 98% of Moors could speak Tamil but only 59% could speak Sinhala.Malays speak Sri Lanka Malay, a Creole language mixing Sinhala, Tamil and Malay.According to the Mahavamsa, the legendary Prince Vijaya named the land Tambapanni ("copper-red hands" or "copper-red earth"), because his followers' hands were reddened by the red soil of the area.
Use of English has declined since independence, but it continues to be spoken by many in the middle and upper middle classes, particularly in Colombo.According to the 2012 census 24% of the population could speak English.Density is highest in the south west where Colombo, the country's main port and industrial center, is located. Sri Lanka is ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. The Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka were considered to be "stateless" and over 300 000 Indian Tamils were deported back to India, due to the agreement between Sri Lanka and India in 1964.Of those aged 15 or over, 7,857,370 (51.6%) were economically active, 4,199,558 (27.6%) did housework, 1,431,105 (9.4%) were students, 914,934 (6.0%) were unable to work and 346,084 (2.3%) were pensioners. Under the pact, India granted citizenship to the remainder, some 200,000 of whom now live in India.The government is seeking to reverse the decline in the use of English, mainly for economic but also for political reasons.
According to the constitution Sinhala and Tamil are official languages whilst English is the link language.
The government has stated these Tamils will not be forced to return to India, although they are not technically citizens of Sri Lanka.
By the 1990s most Indian Tamils had received Sri Lankan citizenship, and some even were not granted Sri Lankan citizenship until 2003.
Sizeable minorities of both Sinhalese and Tamils are Christians, most of whom are Roman Catholic.
The Burgher population is mostly Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. The 1978 constitution, while assuring freedom of religion, gives "the foremost place" Buddhism.
The 19th-century Irish historian James Emerson Tennent theorized that Galle, a city in southern Sri Lanka, was the ancient seaport of Tarshish from which King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks, and other valuables.