By Udaya Gammanpila
The Tamil Eelam Supporters Organization (TESO) held a pro-Tamil Eelam Conference on 12 August in Tamil Nadu, under the patronage of its former Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi.
Organizers of the conference had to overcome several legal barriers since the LTTE is a banned organization in Sri Lanka. They took all possible steps to avoid any activity, which risks the banning of the conference.
Hence, they banned the use of LTTE emblems and photos of Prabhakaran inside the conference hall. This precaution was able to draw media attention. However, the media failed to capture a very important precaution taken by the organizers.
The back-banner of the stage read as ‘Eelam’s Tamil Rights Protection Conference’ although the organization’s name contained ‘Tamil Eelam’. They had deliberately replaced ‘Tamil Eelam’ with ‘Eelam’ to avoid another legal mishap, because there is a huge difference in the meanings of these two terms.
In 2003, a journalist posed an interesting question to me in an interview. He asked me “On what basis do you oppose Eelam?” In response, I said “I am not against Eelam at all. In fact, I love Eelam as much as my life”. He was shocked to hear that. He never expected that kind of answer from the Propaganda Secretary of the Sihala Urumaya. Thereafter, I had to explain the difference between Eelam and Tamil Eelam. I had then learnt the difference thanks to Prof Oliver Abeynayake.
According to the Tamil Lexicon published in 1926 by the University of Madras, Eelam means Sri Lanka. It is the Tamil term for Sri Lanka. According to the Lexicon, Eelam is the Tamilization of the Pali word ‘Sihala’. Sri Lanka has been known as Sihaladeepa, Heladeepa and Sinhale for more than two millennia.
When Western colonizers arrived in Sri Lanka, it was known as Sinhale. It was Portuguenized as Ceylan and Dutchnized as Seylan. Finally, it was Anglicized as Ceylon during British colonial rule. When Ceylon became a republic, the government decided to use ‘Sri Lanka’ as its official name to indicate to the world that ours is the country which was referred to as Lankapura in the Ramayanaya.
Eelam derived from Pali
The late 19th century linguists, Robert Caldwell and Hermann Gundert were of the view the name Eelam was derived from the Pali form Sihala for Sri Lanka. They cite the word as an example of the omission of initial sibilants in the adoption of Indo-Aryan words into Dravidian languages. However, the Eelamists challenge this analysis. They rely on Prof. Peter Schalk to prove their point. Although Prof Schalk has come forward to save Eelamists, he is not a linguist. He is a Professor in Theology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He has presented a very interesting opinion about Eelam.
Prof Schalk says there are literature and stone-scripts which belong to the 1st Century BC in Tamil Nadu referring to Sri Lanka as Eelam. However, the first reference to Sri Lanka as Sihala was found in a stone-script in Andhra Pradesh which belonged to the 3rd Century CE. Hence, he argues ‘Eelam’ was in use very much before ‘Sihala’ and in fact Sihala was derived from Eelam. He further argues Eelam was used to identify toddy made of coconut, which is commonly available in Sri Lanka. Later, Eelam was used to describe the country which produces toddy known in that name.
Prof. Schalk has committed several blunders in his opinion. Tamil Nadu is closer in proximity than Andhra Pradesh. Hence, it is natural to find early references to Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu. Tamils, because of limitations in their language, always Tamilize foreign words. They have Tamilized Sihala to Eelam. Nevertheless, people in Andhra Pradesh have used the word in its original form. If Eelam is an original Tamil word, there should be a Tamil meaning for it. No linguist or historian has expressed an opinion explaining the origin of Eelam linguistically or historically. Nevertheless, there is both linguistic and historical meaning for Sihala.
The Pali word Sihala derives from Sinhale. Sinha means lion in the Sinhala language. “le” means blood. According to legend as depicted in the historical chronicles, the Mahawamsa, Sinhabahu was the son of a Vanga princess and a lion. He killed his father and became king of Vanga. His son Vijaya migrated from North India to Sri Lanka and became the progenitor of the Sinhala people. Considering linguistic and historical evidence, we can assume that Sinhale means clan of lion blood. It is noteworthy there are several alternative views about the origin of Sinhale as well.
Although there are alternative opinions about the origin of the world Eelam, there is consensus about its meaning. Everybody accepts Eelam is the Tamil name for Sri Lanka. After independence from colonial rule, the government decided to abandon its historical name Sinhale and used “Sri Lanka” for the reasons explained beforehand. Tamils also gave up the traditional Tamil word for Sinhale and Tamilized Lanka as Ilangai.
Tamils first officially claimed the North and East of Sri Lanka as their traditional homeland at the first convention of the Federal Party (ITAK) held in 1951. There was no historical basis for the Tamils’ homeland theory. There never has been a Tamil kingdom in the North and East of Sri Lanka. There had been a kingdom ruled by Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula for a brief period and later conquered by the Portuguese. As a result, there was no historical Tamil name for their so-called historical homeland. Since the original Tamil word for Sri Lanka is Eelam, they named the so-called Tamil homeland within Sri Lanka as “Tamil Eelam”. Tamil Eelam means Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.
Difference between Eelam and Tamil Eelam
In the light of the above, the Tamil scholars knew the difference between Eelam and Tamil Eelam. Apparently, several leading Tamil Separatists were not aware of this fact. That is why they named their separatist movements as the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) and Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS). The separatists, who were aware of the difference, were always careful enough to refer to their so-called homeland as “Tamil Eelam” by naming their movements as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and People Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE).
It is now clear that Eelam means Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam means the separate Tamil state within Sri Lanka dreamt of by Tamil separatists. If the TESO used “Tamil Eelam” in its back-banner, their conference would have banned for promoting separatism in Sri Lanka. That is why they were reluctantly compelled to use ‘Eelam Tamils’ in the banner because there is no legal restriction to hold a conference about Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The above analysis gives an important message. “If you love Eelam, you should oppose Tamil Eelam”. Courtesy: Ceylon Today