Were the Buddhists in Pre-Christian Lanka pure catikkaran “Tamils” whose mother tongue was Sinhala ?

Many Tamil nationalist writers have also referred to Vijaya and subsequent Lankan kings sending for wives to Madurai and other Indian Capitals, and suggested this is also as an example of the Tamilness of those times described by the Mahavamsa. In reality, the Kings of the Kera, Chola and Pandiya kingdoms cherished fair-skinned wives, just as Vijaya did when he gave up the brow-skinned kuveni and looked North. The south Indian queens were from North India. So, when a Lankan prince sought the sister of a queen in Madurai he was actually getting a North Indian princess.

l by Gam Vaesiya

(December 08, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mr. J. L. Devananda (JLD), writing to the electronic “Blog” maintained by D. B. S. Jeyaraj (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/3031) on the 27 of November provides a very provocative discussion of Tamil Buddhists in Ancient Lanka. Readers may recall that JLD had published two articles on the “Mahavamsa mentality” in Jeyraj’s blog sometime ago, to which Bandu de Silva wrote a detailed reply (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1922). JLD’s Mahavamsa article is essentially a re-affirmation of the ‘Tamil homeland concept’ (THC), and a renewal of some aspects of the 1930s politics of G. G. Ponnambalam. This includes the claim that the ‘National Question’ of Sri Lanka is due to the ‘Mahavamsa mentality’ of the Sinhalese.
THC does not deal with the awkward presence of Buddhist archaeological remains going back to at least the third century BCE. The new JLD article extends the THC by claiming that the early settlers were Tamil Buddhists, and that the “ancient Buddhist remains in the North and East of Sri Lanka are the remnants left by the Tamil Buddhists and not anybody else”. Thus exclusive ownership is claimed for the land as well as even its Buddhist religious ruins. Any Jain, Hindu ruins and the legacy of colonial Christianity in the North are also automatically annexed as part of the ‘Tamil homeland’. This is of course a simple re-statement of the Eelam ideology, regularly expressed in the columns of the Tamil Net, Tamil Canadian, Sangam.org and other separatist portals. Jeyraj’s Blogs are presented to a wider audience assuming an air of strategic open-mindedness, presumably opposed to the LTTE position. It should be noted that jeyraj has also espoused the ‘Federalidea.com’ electronic journal. The comments to the DLJ article brought out several issues including those of Sinhala place names in the North, as well as the perennial ‘chicken and egg’ questions like who were the “first settlers” of Sri Lanka’s north.
The Pre-christian Era
The last significant glaciation (ice age) of the earth may have occurred around 10,000 BCE, i.e., some 5 centuries before Buddhist times (Fig. 1 – Climate.jpg). An ice age lowers the water level of the ocean, and people as well as animals would cross between south India and Lanka. ‘Rama sethu’ would truly have been a promenade connecting the two land masses and homogenizing the biosphere. There were neither ‘Sinhalese’, nor ‘Tamils’ as ethnic identities at the time when the two land masses were connected, and hence the early settlers were Lankans, to use the oldest name for the Land found in any records. Those ancient people would have as their common language the Rig-Veda Prakrit of the Ancient Indian continent; Lanka was attached to the continent by that land link.
The end of the ice age raised the sea level and created the Rama-sagara (Palk straits). Mariners from India, from the Mediterranean and the East would have arrived from about the 8th century BCE. Given that Mahatitha (Mannar) was a great sea port, perhaps even during Phoenician times, ancient ‘Rajarata’ (the region which later became the Anuradhapura civilization) would have had many contacts from the North and the South of India, as well as from western and eastern lands on the sea route. The presence of place names like Alavakkaisirukkulam (Alavaka-aasiri-kulama) near Mannar, harking back to the Kirat name Alavaka is significant. Alavaka is a ‘Yakkha’ name mentioned in the Sutta Nipata, Samyutta Nikaya (Alavaka sutta). It is possible that one branch of the ‘Pre-Aryan Kirat’ people of Nepal possibly migrated to Lanka and were known as the Yakkha. (see ‘Kirat Vansavali. The Political History of India ‘, H. C. Ray Chawdhary). The Buddhist Lichchavis were probably Kirat people. The Kirat king Jatidasti ruled in parts of Modern Nepal during Buddha’s time. In any case, given the power of the North Indian empires in those early days when south India was still tribal, it is highly plausible that there were North Indian mercantile and naval contacts and migrations in Lanka long before Vijaya. Further more, ‘Yakka’ people are mentioned as inhabitants of Lanka in the Pali and Sanskrit literature referring to the period.
Another, definitely more southern group of people are the ‘Nagas’. Edward O. Wilson, the great Biologist has claimed that the fear and veneration of the Cobra or Serpent is a fundamental ‘meme’ possibly anchored in the DNA of the human species. Tribes and cults which venerated the Nagas existed in all tropical climes, be it in Asia or the Amazon. The Naga tribes existed in India as well as in Sri Lanka. Place names like Nagpur, Nakkur, Nallur and other cognate forms of ‘Nagapuram’ (Sanskrit) are found in areas having temples dedicated to the worship of the Naga, often with several heads. Even today ‘Natha Deiyyo‘, raised to the status of a Bodhisatva (Buddha-aspirant) is worshiped in Buddhist Sri Lanka, with the Damingamuva temple having an unbroken tradition dating back to at least the 5th century. The Naga temples of the North are now absorbed into main stream Hinduism and are found all over India and Northern Sri Lanka. In our view, the Nallur (ancient Nagapura) town of Jaffna was the capital of the ancient Nagas. Even the Pali chronicles record disputes among the Naga kings, and the Buddha’s legendary intervention in Nagadipa. The issue of the historicity of such visits of the Buddha is irrelevant to us here, as we merely note the existence of a historical tradition of the Nagas. The island of Nagadipa (Tamil: Nainativu) would have been a large landmass directly connected to the rest of the peninsula during the glaciation period, a few centuries before the Buddhist era. The Manimekali has mentioned the great Naga king Valavana (Tamil: Valai Vanan) who ruled the Nagadeep, possible three or four centuries BCE. Even today Nagadipa has the Nagaposani Amman temple, a clear example of how the Naga belief system has survived within low-brow Hinduism.
We may surmise that the southern Nagas were brown coloured people, while those Yakkas with a Kirat lineage were fair coloured people. This simply means that the inhabitants of the land had a wide range of skin colours. In fact, Kuveni, the “Yakka” princes mentioned in the Vijaya legend would have had a brown skin, since ku-veni literally means brown- coloured (ku-varni). The Yakkas, like the Kirats, probably spread into the hill country as well, and those who lived on the hills became the Malechchas, where the term ‘malaya’ for ‘hills’ provide an etymological link.
As we come to Asokan times, North India had become Buddhist. The language used through out were local forms of Prakrit, out of which arose the more formalized Sanskrit of the learned Brahamins. Of course, this Sanskrit existed in less developed form (e.g., in the Rig Veda) long before the time of Panini and other savants who formalized ‘Sanskrit as such’. The intellectual ferment of the 5-6 th centuries BCE, triggered by the end of the ice age a few centuries before, touched most of the ancient world, with Socrates in Hellas, Mahavira and Buddha in India, and Confucius in China. It would have been felt in Lanka too. Jainism first, and Buddhism next were the new kids on the block who began to move beyond North India. Thus, by the time Buddhism moved south, India and Lanka were using some slight variants of Asokan Prakrit. Asoka’s missionary efforts were the high points of a movement of language and culture that had started at least a century earlier. The Pali chronicles indicate that the Lankan king had no difficulty in communicating with the Indian emissary. This is consistent with the existence of a common language inferred from geological, inscriptional and literary evidence.
LJD begins by a reference to the Asokan Rock Edict No. III, and says that “Among the countries referred to are Cola, Pandya, and Tambapanni. This inscription was written in 258 B.C”. The reader would note that there is no reference to any sort of “Tamilakam, தமிழகம் ” in any of these early inscriptions. Also, when a writer gives the dates of inscriptions correct to three significant figures without much ado, the reader recognizes that the content has to be taken “cum grano salis”. Karthigesu Indrapala, in his book “The evolution of an Ethnic Identity (2006)” states that “the ethnic labels such as ‘Dameda’, ‘Ila’ and ‘Barata’, occurring in ancient inscriptions … no doubt had features that distinguished them from one another … It is unlikely that at that state language was a distinguishing feature” (p22-23).
The earliest reference to the word “Dameda”, (or “Damila”) is probably found in the Pali Akkiti jathaka, and in the Sanskrit/Prakrit writings, where it indicated a geographic location – a “Dakkina Desha”, somewhat as we would refer to the ‘middle-east’ today. The ‘Buddhist’ Jathakas are indeed an older, pre-buddhist heritage assimilated into Buddhism. As far as the northern Prakrit/Pali/Sanskrit writers were concerned, South India was ‘Dakkina’ or southern in location. The writers of the Pali chronicles of Lanka considered themselves to be descendants of North Indians, and they too referred to the south Indians as “Dameda”, just as Sri Lankas, while living east of the Arab lands, refer to them as “middle-eastern”. The Brahmi (prakrit) inscriptions at Mahadivikulama (Periyapuliyankulam) in Anuradhapura, and at Kuddavila (Kuduvil) in the Ruhuna also contain references to the name ‘Dameda’. The modern name ‘Dravidian’, covering not only Tamil, but Teugu, Malayalam, Kannada etc., as well as the form ‘Damila’ (Tamil) are both derivatives of the ancient form ‘Dameda’. We may safely follow Indrapala’s point of view and take it that a ‘Tamil’ ethnicity had not evolved at the time period of the third Rock Edict of Asoka. In effect, the most ancient inscriptions used ‘dameda’ to mean ‘southern’, while gradually this evolved to mean ‘ Demala’ or ‘Tamil’, and crystallized into its ethnic meaning during the Sangam period, in the early centuries of the common era (CE).
In addition to the worship of God Natha of the Nagas, the Jain belief system must have been important in Lanka, as it had already become important in south India. Jainism was intellectually more powerful than the tribal belief systems centered around village deities like Badhra-Kali, or Murugan. Those belief systems had not yet assimilated the intellectual strength of Brahaminic Hinduism. We have evidence of the initial rise of Jain influence from archeology (e.g., as discussed in the Cambridge History of India), as well as from some idioms and usage even in Old Tamil. In this essay we will concentrate mainly on Buddhism.
The acceptance of Buddhism by the King Devanam-Piyatissa (3rd Century BCE) probably led to all his subjects simply accepting the religion which was probably already known in Lanka, while keeping the animistic belief systems at a secondary level. A veritable cultural exchange began between India and Lanka, with Sangamittha Theri bringing the Bo sapling to Anuradhapura. The route, starting from the Dambakolathota (Kankesanthurai) to Anuradhapura (see maps) was full of Buddhist shrines most of which are in ruins today. Devananda claims that they belong to the Tamils and no one else.
These sites have place names that are most easily identifiable as Sinhalese (Elu) place names. Attempts to identify them as arising from Dravidian roots usually fail, as discussed by Velu Pillai in 1918. It is not only Indrapala in the mid sixties, but also the Tamil scholars of an earlier era like Rasanayagam in his Ancient Jaffna (1926), K. Velu Pillai in Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi (1918), Fr. Gnanapragarsar, Paul E. Peiris, and the British civil servants like J. P.. Lewis and Horsburg, Denham et., who noted these Sinhala place names in the North and East. A modern, detailed compendium of such place names and their probable etymologies are given in the website http://dh-web.org/place.names/. Many thousands of place names are discussed at this website, extending the earlier work, and the place names are shown to be of proto-indo-europen (PIE) form, and most likely to be of Sinhala origin.
Even the Brahmi inscription at Kuddavila, which says ‘Dameda Tisaya lena’, clearly means ‘cave (lena) in the southern (dameda) direction (tisaya → disava)’, and not a bizarre reference to a Tamil lady named ‘Tisaya’ in a cave. The word ‘dameda’ had not in any probability acquired an ethnic meaning at the time of the Kuddavila inscription. We discuss this issue further in dealing with the Tamil prakrit.
Interestingly enough, D. B. S. Jeyraj (responding to a comment by a reader of the JLD blog) claims that “Prof.Indrapala himself says his thesis is now outdated. He has written a book with fresh insights”. If it is implied that the new book, Evolution of an Ethnic Identity (2006) has somehow changed all this, then it is simply not so. As several blogers noted, the 2006-book totally side steps the question of Sinhala place names in the North and East, and deals with other matters. One has to assume that DBSJ is referring to a new book which has been written, but not yet published.
Given these contradictions, all this can be rectified if Devananda, Jeyraj and others with an exclusive Tamil mindeset (ETM) were to claim that the North was indeed populated by cātikkāran (சாதிக்காரன்) Tamils who were Sinhala Buddhists, in that they wrote their epigraphs and chronicles in Elu (ancient Sinhalese), governed and did all their daily business in Elu !
The Sangam and post-Sangam Era.
A slight variant of the Magadha Prakrit brought to the south by the Jains and the buddhists, now known as ‘Tamil Prakrit’ (and Vatteluttu), was the precursor of modern Dravidian languages. The eminent Tamil ephigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan lists 89 Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and 21 Early Vatteluttu inscriptions in Tamil Nadu and south Karnataka. The Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are mostly short inscriptions recording donations. They are found in inaccessible rock-caverns with stone beds for ascetics, mainly of the Jain and occasionally Buddhist followers.
The crystallization of a Tamil ethnic identity as well as the formation of a Tamil language distinct from the ‘Dravidian Prakrit’ occurred during the Sangam period. The Sangam period probably began around the 1st century BCE or later, while some scholars have attempted to push it to earlier times. Mahadevan himself prefers a later time, claiming that Brahmi rather than the Tamil we know today was used till almost the 6th century CE. Thus, revising some of his earlier readings and the chronology of the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, Mahadevan provides a century-wise dating for them, by broadly classifying the script into two groups: Early Tamil Brahmi (2nd century BCE to 1st century AD), and Late Tamil Brahmi (2-4th Centuries CE) – followed by Early Vatteluttu (5th-6th centuries CE). Mahadevan has claimed that Sinhala-Brahmi has palaeographic similarities with Mauryan Brahmi and also with Tamil Brahmi. Sinhala-Brahmi is, according to Mahadevan, “unique among the Prakrit based variants of Brahmi”. According to Mahadevan, Sinhala Brahmi has a Mauryan base as well as a substratum of Tamil Brahami. But this type of claim is highly equivocal. One could equally well say that the Tamil Brahmi has a Mauryan base as well as a substratum of Sinhla Brahmi! Many of these regional variants are so close that the problem becomes similar to sorting out variants of early Swiss German from one Canton to Canton to another.
That Lanka was well known as ‘Cinkalam’, சிங்களம், to early Tamil writers, or even as ‘Sinhaladeep’ to Indian writers in the early centuries of the Christian era is evident. Harisena in his Prasasthi of Samudragupta (~330 CE) of the famous Allahabad inscription, and Harsa (~606 CE) in the Drama Ratnavali refer to Sri Lanka as ‘Simhala”.
After all, Sinhala itself seems to have been present in the South Indian sub-continent during these times. Place names like ‘Nagarjuna Konda’ (kanda in sinhala = hill), and the existence of Buddhist temples in the neighborhood with Sinhalese monks and Sinhalese place names, demonstrates a reflux of Sinhalese Buddhism towards India in the early centuries of the common era. Potsherd graffiti, coins, as well as inscriptions with Sinhala Prakrit have been found in the Thanjavur, Arikamedu, Alangulam,Kudumanal, Kaveripattinam, etc., as reported by Jeyakumar, Mahadevan, Iracavelu and other writers. Even Karthigesu Indrapala has drawn attention to this in one of his footnotes (note 57). Anuradhapura was a powerful Kingdom in the early centuries CE, and its religious and linguistic influence extended well into South India at that time.
At that time there was no ‘Tamil Nadu’. Instead there were several kingdoms as well as tribal areas. As the Kera, Chola and Pandiya Dravidian kingdoms began to flourish in the wake of the collapse of the North Indian Mauryan power, these kingdoms began to adopt the sophistications of the North. Sanskrit and Brahminical Hinduism also began their ascendancy and strongly influenced the Dravidian languages. Even the bureaucracy of the Mauryas was copied by these kings. The Mudradara officials who bore the Mauryan king’s seal and gave official authentication to royal decrees became the “Mudliyars’ of the southern kingdoms. The title Peramukan for a village leader, closely allied to the proto-indo-european form Pera-mukha (first-face), and pramukha, and the Pali Pamukho/Pamukkho also began to appear in the Dravidian kingdoms. This very simple and transparent analysis is rejected by S. K. Sitrampalam writing in the hay-day of the LTTE regime, (1986/87), where it is claimed that Peramuka is an original Tamil word with no connections to the earlier existent PIE cognate words (already correctly interpreted by Paranavithana decades earlier). Similarly, in a felicitation volume to Prof. Subbarayalu, we read Sitrampalam’s claims that “Although many of the original Tamil forms were either Prakritised or got submerged in the development of the proto–Sinhala language, more than fifty percent of these place names in the Brahmi inscriptions point to their Tamil origin”. In effect, Iravatam Mahadevan’s recognition of the existence of a Tamil variant of the Magadhi Prakrit is pushed to an extreme to claim that words which have old PIE cognates dating back even to the Rig Veda are in fact self-standing Tamil words! Such claims are usually published in partisan news media like the ‘Tamil Canadian’, or in felicitation volumes not subject to peer review. Subsequently, references are given to such material and a corpus of ‘scholarly literature’ is created. It must be the influence of such claims that may have led DBSJ to claim that the conclusions of Indrapala’s thesis are now superseded!
Professor Kailasapathy writing some years before all this, had indeed warned of such excesses in the hands of Tamil nationalism.
Some months prior to the DBJ blog on Tamil Buddhism, DBSJ had a blog on the settlement of IDPs, where the etymology of the place name Kokachchankulam was debated at length. Of course, a meaning was sought in vain, in Tamil, and possibly in Malayalam, but not in Sinhala! That the place name came from the Sinhala name Koku-aththana (Datura) was too much for for a readership subject to decades of Tamil nationalist propaganda. Even in an earlier age, K. Velu Pillai in Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi explains how Tamil Pundits laboured in vain to interpret the place name ‘Chankattaravayal’ in terms of a purely Tamil or Hindu interpretation, never thinking of the Sinhalese form ‘Sangataraviya’ which refers to a Buddhist (or even Jain) fraternity of monks (sangha). This same exclusive Tamil mindset, as well as a lack of knowledge of the heavy Sanskrit content of Tamil makes it difficult for many ordinary Tamils to comprehend the origins of place names in Sri Lanka. That a ‘Tamil’ word may actually have come from Sanskrit/Prakrit going back to even the Rig Veda is not appreciated. For example, Kalyani is a popular Tamil name – stemming from Kalyanam/Marriage, and hence some one may conclude that the town of Kelaniya must be a Tamil place name! Puthtur, the ancient “Buthpura”, mentioned in the Pali literature of the land, and known to have Buddhist ruins is interpreted as “Puth-ur”, the “new town” within a purely Tamil etymology! That Sri Lanka is a tapestry of many cultures and languages is unacceptable to the exclusive Tamil mindset. Another example that was in the news recently was the railway-station sign board Omanthai, being written in its old Sinhala form as Omantha with its clear Sinhala meaning, while the Tamil form has absolutely no contextually useful or other meaning (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=35485). This word game of the ETM applies to almost all the Tamilzed place names in the North and East.
The Mahavamsa
Just as the place names are a painful matter which has to be resolved by either ignoring them or resorting to the approach of Sitramplam (where Tamil prakrit got submerged in the development of proto-sinhala), the Mahavamsa has been an irritant since the 1920 when Tamil Nationalism began to view the Sinhalese as antagonists. As recorded by the British Historian Dr. Jane Russell in her book on Communal Politics in the Donoughmore Era (1982), G. G. Ponnambalam was the first politician to drag the Mahavamsa into the political arena, in the 1930s. He and his supporters began to claim that it is a false document with no historical value, while at other times the names occurring in it were tamilized (e.g., Vijaya → Vijayan, Kasyapa → Kasi-appan etc.) and a Thamizha-vansam was presented. In reacting to this S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike began a Sinhala Buddhist campaign and the ‘communal politics’ of the 1930s came into being. However, what was happening in Ceylon was a pale shade of the the racist ideologies of Hitler or Stalinist idologies fanning Europe at the time. We inherited the racist ideologies as well as the Marxist ideologies planted into Sri Lanka in the 1930s, and grappled with two insurrections arising from them, to wit, those of the LTTE and the JVP.
At this time Geiger himself contributed an article to the Royal Asiatic Society Journal discussing the historicity of the Mahavamsa. Nevertheless, the political polemics continued. G. G. Ponnambalam’s strong attack on the Mahavamsa and the Sinhalese at a Nawalapitiya meeting in 1939, wrongly thinking that the audience was mostly Tamil, led to the first Sinhala-Tamil riot in 1939. While this spread to many towns, the British were quick to put it down unhesitatingly. Modern Tamil nationalists are simply re-living the politics of the 1930s, with little change. Here we note that the Tamil dissident writer Sebastian Rasalingam has written about early Tamil politics, the present-day Tamil mindset, and their links to the hierarchic caste-based society that prevailed in the North. JLD’s article on Jeyraj’s blog was also entitled “The Mahavamsa Mentality: Re-visiting Sinhala Buddhism in Sri Lanka” and contains the point of view of S. K. Sittramparam, A. Velupillai, P. Ragupathy, P. Pushparatnam, S. Krishnarajah and other modern followers of G. G. Ponnabalam.
In this instance we must be careful to note that Prof. K. Indratrna has taken a diametrically opposite route and written very favourably of the Mahavamsa (p35 et sec.). Actually, most educated Sinhalese are much less concerned about the Mahavamsa than are Tamil nationalists, and LJD’s claim that the Mahavamsa is a part of Sinhala Buddhist religion is a result of his lack of acquaintance with Sinhalese society.
Many Tamil nationalist writers have also referred to Vijaya and subsequent Lankan kings sending for wives to Madurai and other Indian Capitals, and suggested this is also as an example of the Tamilness of those times described by the Mahavamsa. In reality, the Kings of the Kera, Chola and Pandiya kingdoms cherished fair-skinned wives, just as Vijaya did when he gave up the brow-skinned kuveni and looked North. The south Indian queens were from North India. So, when a Lankan prince sought the sister of a queen in Madurai he was actually getting a North Indian princess. Thus the Mahavamsa itself states that Badhhakachchayana was a Sakyan princess. Another factor that should not be forgotten is that ethnicity was not as important as Caste in the ancient Indian ethos. A kshatriya had to marry a Kshtrya, as the acceptance of bastards by the populace was not automatic. After all, the Brahma created castes, and not ethnicities.
Dr. Jane Russell writes (page 131): “The Ceylon Tamils had no written document on the lines of the Mahavamsa to authenticate their singular and separate historical authority in Sri Lanka, a fact which Ceylon Tamil communalists found very irksome”. An epic presentation of the Tamil Kingdom of Jaffna, rather than the Tamizha-vamsam form of the Mahavamsa (with Kasi-appan replacing Kashyapa etc.) has been an alternative answer that has been pushed forward in the hay day of the LTTE. Actually, such re-writing of history began well before the Independence. The Tamil lawyers of Colombo led by S. J. V. Chelvanayagam in the 1940s sponsored the writing of a Tamil History of Lanka by Tambimuttu. This presents the earliest inhabitants as Tamils with Munnesvaram, Kajiragama, Kailayanatar kovil in Nallur, Tirukketisvaram in Manthota and Tirukkonesvaram in Trincomalee, Keeramali, etc., as pre-Christian Hindu centers of habitation and worship. More recently the historical claims have been pushed even up to some 25 centuries BCE! Thus R. Vigneswaran in his book ‘Rock cave temple of Thirukoneswaram’ (2002) says the first temple was constructed as a cave temple in 2590 BC. It was said to be built over an existing Siva lingam. These writers ignore the existence of Naga worship and other forms of worship authenticated by anthropology and even Darwinian evolutionary studies. As nothing else is known about such ancient times, this is mere folk lore by people who would turn around and become very empirical when they are ready to question the Mahavamsa.
Many historian and writers have discussed the Historical land claims of Tamil nationalists. A comprehensive, relatively recent account written in the hayday of the LTTE has been given by Michael Roberts (South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, n.s., Vol.XXVII, no.1, April 2004, available at http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/rob-ajwilson.pdf).
The Mahavamsa is the greatest epic poem in Pali, and is at least in the same class (with respect to historicity, literary value etc.) as the works of Valmiki, Herodotus or Pliny in their classical languages. Mahavamsa dealt with legend, intrigue, war, incest, and stories of kings, queens, conquerors, giants, ascetics, saints as well as ordinary men and women. Its hero is Dhutaagamini, who is given an equally worthy opponent in Elara (Ellalan). The book was written as poetry, ostensibly to create piety. Ancient People learnt their books by memory and recited them unlike in our age where the written word is dominant. The Mahavamsa was an instant hit in the “best-seller list” of the age, and traveled the silk route. It must have been recited by bars (sutas) and wondering reciters (kusilavas). It has its many versions in Burma, Cambodia and other parts of the Buddhist world. So, it is a part of the world heritage. Unfortunately, it remains indigestible to the exclusive mindset of the Tamils with their ‘exclusive Tamil homelands”, now extended to include the Buddhist ruins identified as Tamil-Buddhist ruins which belong to no one else. The Sinhalese place names are re-interpreted as Tamil Brahmi names! LJD and DBSJ are indeed working for a very strange version of ethnic reconciliation by assimilating the Sinhalese as a part of Tamil culture. G. G. Ponnambalam in his 1939 Nawalapitiya address said the same thing, and stated that the Sinhalese are a mongrel race (‘thuppahi’) descendant from the Tamils and that their culture is really those of Tamils, and this was the spark that ignited the first Sinhala-Tamil clash in Sri Lanka (reported in full in the newspaper, Hindu Organ, November 1, 1939).
After ninty years of arguing (from 1920), and after three decades of war, has anything changed in the Mahavamsa Mindset or the Exclusive-Tamil Mindset? Yes, even the Buddhist ruins are now claimed to be part of the exclusive Tamil heritage. That Sri lanka is actually a nation with a rich and varied tapestry of many peoples, with a thoroughly inter-mixed gene of ethnicity and cultural memes, and positioned on the Silk Route is forgotten, and an attempt is made to exclusively attach it to the Sangam tradition of South India.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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