SRI LANKA LIES practically in the center of the Indian Ocean and thus has climatic and cultural links with three continents. Monsoon winds, driving against Sri Lanka's peaks, support lush vegetation on the southern half of the island, but the northern half is a dry zone. The winds affect human culture as well, having brought wave after wave of immigrants and merchants following the southerly trade routes. Outsiders found a wide range of ecological niches on the coast, on the plains, or in the mountains, and they built a remarkably variegated civilization. Merchants long have sought Sri Lanka as the source of pearls, jewels, spices, and tea. Visitors for centuries have marvelled at the beauty and great diversity of the island.
The South Asian landmass to the north has strongly influenced Sri Lankan culture in the past and continues to do so. From an outlander's perspective, some of the main aspects of Sri Lankan society--language, caste, family structure--are regional variants of Indian civilization. From the perspective of the islander, however, the Indian influence is but the largest part of a continuing barrage of stimuli coming to Sri Lanka from all sides. The people of the island have absorbed these influences and built their own civilization.
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