The Sinhalese people are the majority population of the island of Sri Lanka. They constitute 74.5% of the Sri Lankan population and number approximately 15 million. The Sinhalese identity is based on language, historical heritage and religion. The Sinhalese speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language, and are predominantly Theravada Buddhists, although a small but significant percentage of Sinhalese follow branches of Christianity. The Sinhalese are mostly found in North central, Central, South and West Sri Lanka. According to legend they are the descendants of the exiled Prince Vijaya who arrived from North-East India to Sri Lanka in 543 BCE. The Sinhalese are also known as "Hela" or "Sinhala". These synonyms find their origins in the two words Sinha (meaning "lion") and Hela (meaning "pristine"). The name Sinhala translates to "lion people" and refers to the myths regarding the descent of the legendary founder of the Sinhalese people, the prince Vijaya.
Contributions by Khoikhoi, Snowolfd4, and Devanandan.