Her father, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, was a government minister at the time of her birth and later became Prime Minister - he was assassinated when Chandrika was fourteen. After his death, his wife and Chandrika's mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the world's first female Prime Minister.
Chandrika married the actor and politician Vijaya Kumartunga in 1978 - he was himself assassinated in 1988.
Chandrika herself became Prime Minister in 1994 and President shortly thereafter. She appointed her mother to succeed her as Prime Minister. Early in her term she made conciliatory moves towards the sepratist Tamil Tigers to attempt to end the on-going civil war, but failed, and has since pursued a more military-based strategy against them.
She was re-elected in 1999, having been injured by a Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning.
On November 4, 2003, whilst the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was visiting the United States, she suspended parliament and deployed troops to take control of the country, effectively putting the country into a State of Emergency.
According to news reports, this was motivated by a difference in policy between her and the Prime Minister regarding a negotiated peace settlement with the Tamil Tigers.