The article by JL Devananda “Mahavamsa Mindset:Re-visiting Political Buddhism in Sri Lanka” that was posted on my blog some weeks ago evoked a passionate discussion although I did feel that some readers had missed the essence of what the writer was actually trying to say
Among the responses was an interesting and informative one by former Diplomat Bandu de Silva which was also published separately on my blog under the heading “Mahavamsa Mentality: Can the charge of Racism leveled against the Chronicle be sustained”?
Bandu de Silva’s article also had many responses and contributed further to the debate in these columns.
Now JL Devananda has written a lengthy, learned response to Bandu de Silva’s article and also to some of the arguments posted by commentators
I am posting Devananda’s response in two parts on this blog.
I do hope that the process of unlearning and re-learning will continue
Here is the first part – DBS Jeyaraj
“I DID NOT SAY MAHANAMA THERO WAS A RACIST OR THE MAHAVAMSA WAS A RACIST DOCTRINE”
By J.L. Devananda
(A Response (Part 1): “Mahavamsa Mentality”; Can the charge of “Racism” leveled against the chronicle be sustained?)
First of all, let me thank Mr. D.B.S. Jeyaraj for publishing my article in his blog (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1886) and Dr. Rajasingham Narendran for his response to my article on another website (http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/12/sinhala-mahavamsa-buddhism-revisited_29.html). Dr. Narendran has made a lot of effort to enlighten me by highlighting the positive aspects of the Mahavamsa. Of course, as Sri Lankans, we must appreciate the fact that the Mahavamsa is the greatest Epic Poem written in Pali in our country, but there is a saying, “no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides”. I remember the well respected Pali scholar (a Sinhalese), late Dr. E.W. Adikaram once said in an interview after the 1983 black July, the only way to have peace in Sri Lanka is by burning all the copies of the Mahavamsa. I am sure the Pali scholar must have perceived the negative side of it.
Let me also thank all the members who have commented (valuable feedback and constructive criticism) on my article and specially Mr. Bandu De Silva for his reply (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1922) to what he calls as ‘Polemics’. Shakespeare once said, ‘A rose, by any other name, will smell as sweet’. We in Sri Lanka have had the benefit of several waves of cultural influences. It is necessary that we should assess them with a certain amount of objective impartiality and admit the contributions made to our country by others. Our culture in the past has been a synthesis of different cultures, and in evolving a new culture these influences have to be taken into consideration. If the so called ‘Polemics’ can help at least a few members of our community (Sri Lankans) to burn the veils that have shut them from appreciating the beauty of pluralism and multi-cultural diversity that exists in our country for thousands of years and the secularism Sri Lankans practiced in the past as we saw in Kandy where the Sinhalese accepting the Nayakkar dynasty of Madurai, South India (presently Tamil Nadu) as their Kings, then let it be called by whatever name.
I am sorry to say that in his reply titled “Can the charge of “Racism” levelled against the chronicle be sustained?” the learned gentleman Mr. Bandu de Silva has totally missed my point. If anyone has read my article carefully, s/he would have understood that, I did not accuse Ven. Mahanama thero as a racist or his poetic literature (Mahavamsa mythology) that he wrote for the ‘serene joy and emotion of the pious’ as a racist doctrine. I even mentioned that during the turbulent period when Buddhism was under threat, the Mahavamsa author Ven. Mahanama and the Mahavihara monks had a genuine reason (cannot be blamed) for the mythology. Also, my article was not a document/paper on deep analysis of Sri Lankan historiography (which many number of academics and scholars have already done) but only a political overview to highlight the belief system (Myths and fallacies) of the present day Sri Lankan society or rather the Sinhala-Buddhist majority due to the influence of Mahavansa, which has manifested into a prejudiced way of thinking known as the Mahavansa-mindset [Rata (Sinhala Country) – Jathiya (Sinhala Nation/Race) – Aagama (Sinhala Buddhist Religion]. The outcome of such a state of mind is the Sinhalese-Buddhist Nationalism spanning from Anagarika Dharampala’s Revivalist Movement to Sinhalese-Buddhist Ultra-Nationalism of Jathika Chinthanaya and presently the Hela/Sinhala Urumaya that has lead to Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism, one of the main causes for the unresolved ethnic crises in Sri Lanka that has resulted and continue to cause misery to our Sri Lankan nation. Even though Politics, History (academic), and Religion (spirituality) are three different disciplines, in Sri Lanka they are interlinked, and in order to understand the mindset of the present day population of Sri Lanka, we need to pay attention to all the three, the only reason that dragged me into Mahavamsa and Buddhism. Having said that, even I do not want to engage in any ‘Polemics’ but at the same time I also do not want to disappoint my readers who are expecting a reply. This is only a clarification and should not be misunderstood as a rebuttal.
Without altering or diluting the original content of my writing, let me elaborate further on the major issues that are raised here (which I think is worth replying) with more reasoning/clarification with references and additional examples wherever possible to support my views. Once again it is not a deep analysis because if I were to do a deep analysis, each statement/paragraph that I have written (my article) can be expanded into separate articles and that is beyond the scope of my intention of highlighting the present day Sinhala-Buddhist (Mahavansa) mindset.
…..they who know truth as truth and untruth as untruth arrive at truth….. Dhammapada
1. Is Mahavamsa the History of Sri Lanka?
History is basically the capacity of the society in remembering the past. The mode of exerting this capacity differs from society to society. Archeology (ancient artifacts, ruins, potsherds, burials, coins, stone inscriptions, cave writings, rock edits, writings on Ola leaves, etc), ancient literature, chronicles, cultural anthropology, folk stories, historical linguists, etc are some of the tools to understand the history of a society.
1.0 The Chronicles
The Mahavihara monks of Anuradapura maintained Pali chronicles in Sri Lanka which were intended primarily to record the activities of the Theravada Buddhists. There are two sets of Chronicles on which the historians of Sri Lanka have placed their reliance for the study of the Island’s story. The Dipavamsa (5th century A.D), the Mahavamsa (6th century A.D), and the Culavamsa (12th century A.D) were written in Pali, while the later chronicles the Pujavali (13th century A.D), the Rajaratnakara (16th century A.D), and the Rajavali (18thcentury A.D), generally considered to be less reliable as historical documents than even the earlier Pali chronicles were written in Elu/Helu (Sinhala-Prakrit). There is also a commentary to Mahavamsa written in Pali by an unknown Buddhist monk in the 13th century AD known as the ‘Tika’ or Vansatthappakasini to explain/interpret the verses in Mahavamsa. It is the Tika that talks about a mysterious “Sihala atthakatha” (Vamsa text known as original source) that has disappeared after the Mahavamsa was written, the main reason for calling the Pali chronicle of the Mahavihara as the chronicle of the Sinhalese. (What is believed to be “Sihala Attakatha” is nothing but the Indian Epics and Puranas written in Sanskrit).
The Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle of historical poem) was written not as a history of Sri Lanka (or Sinhalese) but as a history of the Mahavihara (Theravada Buddhists). The Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa speaks ONLY of Theravada Buddhists and NOT Sinhala Buddhists. The original Mahavamsa (Mahawansha), is a historical poem written in Pali, which covers a period starting from the arrival of Vijaya (543 BC) to the time of Mahasena’s rule (334-361 BC) written by the Venerable Mahanama Thero, an uncle of King Dhatusena.
To study the history of Sri Lanka (put it into context) and its people (Sinhalese/Tamils), its ancient religions (Buddhism/Hinduism), its languages/scripts and its culture we need to also study/understand the history of India (North and South) because the origin (roots) begin from there and both histories were always interconnected (umbilical cord) until independence.
1.1. Theravada Glorified
From the archeological/epigraphic evidence and the chronicles itself, it is clear that during the same period there also existed other religions such as Mahayana Buddhism, Saivism, Vaishnavism, Jainism, etc but they were all left out. It is also clear that, not only Yakkas, Nagas, Demadas and Kalingas, but also a few other tribes such as Kabojas/kambojas, Milekas, Muridis, Merayas and Jhavakas have also lived in the island during that period but right from Devanampiya Tissa to the end of Anuradapura period the Mahavamsa glorifies only the Theravada Buddhist kings, even though their ethnic background is never mentioned (an ethnic group or a dynasty called Hela/Sinhala is not at all mentioned accept twice in the beginning chapter about Vijaya/Lion myth). Only the non-Buddhist kings were identified in the Mahavamsa (even though not mentioned in any epigraphy) as Damelars (outsiders/invaders). Therefore the Pali chronicles on which the authoritative history of the island is still based cannot be considered as a complete history of Sri Lanka or the history of the Sinhalese, and is also not much helpful to understand the Tamil history of Sri Lanka. In that sense, the Archaeological explorations and epigraphy are much more important than the biased and distorted past records of the chronicles that refers to events which happened many centuries earlier, as an account of the history of the island. In other words, we have to look for other sources to understand the actual history of the country and its people. Unfortunately none others, not even India (North & South) maintained any such chronological record or any other organized system to preserve their historical records, but that does not mean that they did not have a history or they do not have any other historical evidences.
The Pali chronicles were written long after the events described took place (some of them more than 1000 years). Therefore these cannot be considered as accurate records of the events. These were written by Theravada Buddhist priests who mainly tried to convey a religious message using the events to illustrate the importance of the Theravada Buddhist religion, hence a very biased version. The description of the events had a very heavy religious flavor and the history was modified to glorify those kings who patronized and supported Buddhism and those who did not were portrayed as “bad kings”, or “invaders”. There was also a tendency to remain silent on the issues which did not portray Buddhism in a favorable light.
1.2. Bias towards North India
It is also clear that the Mahavamsa is biased towards North India against the South. This may be because Buddhism and Pali came from there. It has been trying to minimize the South Indian component of the Lankan culture, adopting an anti-Tamil attitude and trying to maximize on an imaginary North Indian component of Lankan culture. Brahmanic revival, Bhakthi movement and extinction of Buddhism in India and the South Indian dynasties intervening in Sri Lanka may be the underlying reason for the formation of a Sinhala-Buddhist identity. To create the Sinhala-Buddhist society in the 5th century AD, the Mahavihara monks have imagined/visualized a mass ‘Aryan migration’ from North India during the proto-historic period. This myth created the foundation for the authoritative history of the island, conditioning the minds of the people from generation to generation and it still continues to the future generation. In reality, there is no objective evidence of an Aryan migration from North India; the ethnic structure in Sri Lanka is quite South Indian with close affinities to Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Many renowned Historians, Archaeologists, Geologists, Epigraphists, Genealogists, Anthropologists, etymologists and Linguistic Scholars have engaged in research, on the ancient history of Sri Lanka for more than 30 years, conducting Archaeological excavations. The latest Archeological and Genealogical discoveries in Sri Lanka using modern technology show that not only the Flora and Fauna but the people of South India and Sri Lanka are of the same stock. This has been further established by findings relating to their culture, language and religion which show that the people of these two regions were closely connected. The recent excavations in Rajarata (Anuradapura) by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and a team of archeologists discovered a very large number of inscribed potsherds with Brahmi writings going back to the 4th century BC, very clearly indicating that Anuradapura was settled by people who have adopted the South Indian Megalithic culture. Nevertheless, the modern archeologists and historians accept that the ancient people of Sri Lanka belonged to the Dravidian Language family and followed the Dravidian (Megalithic) culture. The findings also show that there was a strong similarity between the ancient people of Sri Lanka and those of South India. The geographical proximity of Sri Lanka and South India with 22 miles of shallow sea could have been the reason.
On the other hand, even the South Indian great Pali scholar Buddhaghosa who came to Sri Lanka from Tamil (Chola) country in the 5th Century AD and made a remarkable contribution to Buddhism was depicted (in the Mahavamsa) as a Brahmin from North India and born near Bodh Gaya showing a clear bias towards North Indians (Magadhi) against South. It also failed to mention the other South Indian Tamil Buddhist scholars such as Buddadatta and Dhammapala who worked with Buddhaghosa and contributed to the Pali canon.
1.3. Against Mahayana
The Mahavamsa is also highly biased towards Theravada against Mahayana. It failed to mention the influx of Mahāyana Buddhists from South India. All the kings who supported Mahayana were portrayed as the worst men possible. The biggest victim was Kassapa who was termed as a father-killer for a crime he probably never committed. There are still some Tamil Mahayana Buddhist establishments (Palli) in the east and possibly in the Jaffna peninsula. The best known was Velgam Vehera, which was renamed Rajaraja-perumpalli after the Cola emperor. Another was the Vikkirama-calamekan-perumpalli. The number of ancient Buddha statues found other than in Sri Lanka was in Tamil Nadu showing a strong presence of Buddhism.
1.4. Tamil Buddhist Epics
The well known Tamil Buddhist epics found were Manimekalai, Silappadhikaram, Valaiyapathi, Kundalakesi, and Jivaka Cintamani. The lost Tamil Buddhist works include the grammar Virasoliyam, the Abhidhamma work Siddhantattokai, the panegyric Tiruppadigam, and the biography Bimbisara Kada. Manimekalai, a purely Buddhist work of the 3rd Sangam period in Tamil literature is the most supreme and famous among the Buddhist work done in Tamil. It also talks about the Tamil Buddhists in the island/Nagadipa but, neither Manimekalai nor Silappathikaram is a historical work.
Commenting on the very great popularity of the story of Pattini in Sinhalese villages, Dr. Godakumbura writes: “Literature, dealing with Pattini and the origin of the worship, is very large, and most of it has come from Tamil sources.” He gives a fairly comprehensive list of Sinhalese writings based on the stories of Silappathikaram and Manimekalai.
The ancient Tamil literature and the excavations (archeological findings) in Jaffna proves the existence of Tamils including Tamil Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana) but there is no evidence what so ever to prove the existence of a separate Tamil Kingdom in Jaffna before the 13th century AD and the same goes to the Sinhalese. The temptation to consider that everything Buddhist in Sri Lanka is necessarily Sinhalese has to be resisted, as it must be remembered that the Tamils, Andhras, and Kalingas, also were at one time Buddhists, and had a very large share in the dissemination of Buddhist culture in the countries of South-East Asia.
The history of Sri Lanka, from the 3rd century A.D. to the 9th century A.D, is permeated with the influence of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. This includes from early historical times, the intrusion of Pali and Sanskrit languages and their spread among the ancient Tamils of Sri Lanka and their Dravidian culture, as well as the origin of the new language from Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil languages known as Elu/Helu (Sihala Prakrit).
1.5. Nagas (Chera/Sera), Pandyans/Pandu and Cholas/Sola (Damelas)
The evidence of the presence of Nagas in Sri Lanka during the early historic period and how they freely assimilated with the Pandu (Pandyans) through marriage is fully corroborated by the ancient artifacts, inscriptions literary work and the Pali chronicles. The Pali chronicle Mahavamsa projects the Non-Buddhists as Damelas (foreigners/invaders) but still it could not help linking the Pandyans of Tamil country even in the genesis of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka indicating the strong presence of Pandyans (Pandu) during that period. Let us not forget that the Nagas were not unique to Sri Lanka, in the early historic period, the Nagas not only occupied Nakanatu/Nagadipa in Sri Lanka but also Nagar-Kovil, Naga-Pattinam and a few other places in South India and as per Prof. Indrapala, both Nagas and Damelas were also moving back and forth between Sri Lanka and South India.
Today the Nayar (Nagar) from Chera (Kerala) are believed to be the descendants of Nagas. Dr. G. C. Mendis ‘Early History of Ceylon’, p. 23, Northern Ceylon is indicated as the Nagadipa which corresponds to Serentivu in Tamil.
“The Sera or Chera (presently Kerala) is the Dravidian equivalent of the Nagas. Chera Mandala has the same meaning as Naga Mandala” – ‘Anthropology in India’ (Bharatiya Vidiya Bhavan Publication).
The Arab traders/merchants who first landed in the North of the island called Serentivu/Serendipa as Serendip.
Let me give some examples of the Naga Kings who bore the Naga clan names,
The first Queen, Anula (47-41 BC) was the widow of Chora Naga and Kuda Tissa. She made Siva, the palace porter as her consort. Subsequently she poisoned Siva and lived with an Indian carpenter, Vatuka, a firewood carrier Dharubatissa, and a palace priest named Neeliya, all of whom she poisoned, till she finally ruled the country alone and continued to live an infamous life. She was burnt alive by Kuttakanna Tissa, the second son of Cula Maha Tissa, who found that he had the backing of all of the people of Lanka to put an end to such an ignominious sovereign. King Candamuka Siva (44-52 AD) the Son of Ila Naga married Damila Devi. Looking further, Khallata Naga (109BC) son of Saddha Tissa, Cora Naga (63BC) son of Valagamba and grandson of Saddha Tissa (incidentally he was the husband of Anula (48BC) whose first paramour was Siva), Ila Naga (36AD), Mahallaka Naga (136AD), grandson of Vasabha (67AD) and brother-in-law of Gajaba (114AD), Kudda Naga (188AD), grandson of Mahaliaka Naga, Siri Naga I (184AD), likewise grandson of Mahallaka Naga, Abhaya Naga (231AD), son of Siri Naga I, Siri Naga II (240 AD) grandson of Siri Naga I, Maha Naga (565AD) etc, and King Siva (515 AD) the Uncle of Kirti Sena.
The kings belonging to the Tissa and Lambakarana dynasties that ruled the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Anuradhapura were Prakrit speaking Nagas. Dutugemunu, the national hero of Sri Lanka, was a Naga king belonging to the Tissa dynasty. His mother Vihara Maha Devi was the daughter of the Naga king of Keleniya, and his father Kavan Tissa, was the great grandson of Maha Naga, who established a kingdom in Mahagama in Rohana. Maha Naga’s older brother, Devanampiya Tissa, a contemporary of Emperor Asoka, was the first king of the Tissa dynasty. Some of the Tissa kings who proudly bore Naga clan names were Khallata Naga (Dutugemunu’s nephew), Cora Naga, who was one of the many victims poisoned to death by the amorous Queen Anula, Mahadathika Maha Naga and Ila Naga. Yasa Lalaka Tissa was the last king of the first dynasty that ruled the Anurdhapura kingdom.
A few known names of the Naga poets of Sri Lanka who contributed to ancient Tamil literature are Elaththu Pootha Thevanar (whose compositions are included in anthologies known as Nattrinai, Kurunthokai and Puranaanooru), Mudingarayar, Musiri Asiriyar, Neelakandanar and Ela Nakar.
On the other hand, the old Tamil names found in South India – Sri Lanka region are very similar to those Prakrit names (do not end with an ‘N’ or an ‘M’). For example, some of the names of ancient Sri Lankan Tamil kings (mentioned in Mahavamsa) were Sena, Guttika, Elara, Pulahatha, Bahiya, Panayamara, Parinda, Dathiya, and so on. Similarly in South India, the names of the ancient Tamil kings, for example some Chola kings were Kulothunga Chola, Vikrma Chola, Aditya Chola, and so on. Some Pandya kings were Kulasekara Pandya, Vira Wickrama Pandya, Parakrama Pandya, Sundara Pandya, and so on. Some Chera kings were Kulashekhara Varma, Rajashekhara Varma, Rama Varma Kulashekhara, Goda Ravi Varma, Bhaskara Ravi Varma, Vira Kerala, Rajasimha, and so on.
Neither the epigraphy nor the Pali chronicles mention the ethnic background of the Buddhist kings of Sri Lanka. Since we cannot identify the ethnicity of them from the names, if not for the Mahavamsa, we would have never come to know that these non-Buddhist kings (such as Sena, Guttika, Elara) were Tamils. Similarly, some or most of the Theravada Buddhist kings of Sri Lanka (whose ethnicity is not known) also would have been Tamils but we will never know.
This only proves that the present day Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils originate from both Prakrit speaking Nagas, Tamil speaking Damelas (Pandyans & Chola), and all the other tribes that lived in the island other than the Veddas.
According to historians, it was only during the 9th century AD, the term Nagas totally disappeared from the stone inscriptions and the two major ethnic groups Hela/Sihala and Demela clearly appeared. Historians believe that the Nagas were assimilated into the two major ethnic groups Hela/Sihala and Demela. The Archeologist/Historian Dr. Parnawitharana says, “We know next to nothing about the pre-historic autochthonous people of Sri Lanka. They could have been the ancestors of the present day Sinhalese and Tamils.” As per Prof. K. Indrapala, ‘The Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are descended from the common ancestors who lived in the country in prehistoric and proto-historic times and have a shared history going back to over two thousand years’. If we agree with these historians, the people who call them Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils today originate from the same stock. What is seen from the evidences is that the Tamil identity of Sri Lanka was not only parallel to the Sinhala identity but also parallel to that of the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. It is not merely an extension of the Tamil identity of Tamil Nadu. The Sri Lankan Tamil social formation is an evolution and is a result of people interacting with the land of Sri Lanka throughout its phases of history.
Analyzing the Sinhala writings called Vittipota, W.A. De Silva states that from very early times the island was colonized by people from all parts of India. Therefore those inhabiting this country should not say that they belong to some one particular family or race.
The Sinhalese argue that they are unique to Sri Lanka (there is no other Sinhala Nadu) and therefore Sri Lanka is a Sinhala country. We should not forget that the Arab/Muslim traders married local (Sinhala/Tamil) women and therefore their decedents share the same ancient ancestry of the Sinhalese/Tamils. Since the Malay and Portuguese did not bring their womenfolk but married local women, even the Malays and Burghers also share the same ancestry. The fact is, as a race, not only the Sinhalese but also the Sri Lankan Tamils, Sri Lankan Muslims, Burghers, Malays and Veddas are all unique to Sri Lanka, they have no other place on earth, the only difference is they adopted a single language where as the Sinhalese adopted Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil, Vedda, a very few words from unknown origin and later Portuguese, Dutch, English and developed a new language (due to their heavy mixing).
1.6. Ancient Sri Lankan heritage
The ancient Sri Lankan heritage, the Vevas (tanks/reservoirs), Dagobas (dome enshrining sacred relics) and all other massive ancient structures were constructed by the Buddhist Nagas and Demelas (not Sinhalas). The development of wet rice cultivation, a rudimentary tank system, and iron technology were common features of development for both Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The tanks and fields, which were the main support of the kings and their armies and a large body of priests and monks, were damaged frequently either by wars between rival kings of the island supported by their sponsors in the Chola or the Pandyan country or through natural forces as well as sheer neglect. Repairs to these tanks and the maintenance of irrigation and cultivation could not be affected without the aid of specially trained men from the Tamil country. Sir James Emerson Tennent, Colonial Secretary to the British Government of Ceylon (1845-1850) tells us even during his time, the expertise/services from Tamil country had to be obtained for repairing tanks in the North Central Province.
1.7. Tamil Names Twisted
The Mahavamsa written a millanium after the events took place and a century after Deepavamsa, has added mythical/supernatural stories and legends (from Indian epics, not from mysterious Sihalattha katha) that are not known to Deepavamsa and at the same time some names/stories were twisted. Let me mention an example,
The Deepavamsa does not say king Panduvasudeva, it says Panduvasa. As per B.C. Law,
“It may as well be a Pali or Prakrit equivalent of Pandya Vasa meaning one from the Pandyan country i.e., A Pandya by his nationality”. (B. C. Law, ibid. p. 52).
How Pandu-Vasa in Deepavamsa became Pandu-Vasudeva in Mahavamsa is a mystery. (Vasudeva must have been adopted from the Indian epic Gita). The name Panduka is apparently of the same import. After the death of Panduvasa (Panduvasudeva) his eldest son Abhaya became the lawful king. Panduvasudeva’s mother is said to have been the daughter of the Mada king (‘Mada-Sanskrit Madura was the capital city of the Pandyans). Their son was named Panduka Abhaya, the name being a combination of the names of Panduvasa and Abhaya, the best example of a Naga-Pandya mix. Pandukka Abhaya gives his son a Tamil Saiva name Mutasiva (elder Siva). We are not told whom he married, but his second son Tissa succeeds him. His real Saiva name is not known. (Devanampiya is a title given to him by Emperor Asoka for accepting Buddhism, it is not a Tamil name). B. C. Law has pointed out that the name of neither Devanampiya Tissa nor of Dutugemunu, the two heroes of the Mahavamsa, is found in the early inscriptions. (B. C. Law, ibid. pp. 65-66).
True to the tradition of the early Buddhist writers in Sri Lanka who had twisted Tamil words sometimes out of recognition in transforming Dravidian names into Pali or Prakrit forms, Dr. Paranavitane, the first Sinhalese Archaeological Commissioner of Sri Lanka continued the same tradition.
1.9. Earlier Language and Script
The Hindu/Brahmanic scriptures Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, etc and the Indian epics Mahabaratha, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, etc were all written in Sanskrit (the sacred language of the Hindus). Similarly, the Buddhist scriptures and the Sri Lankan chronicles were written in Pali/Magadhi Prakrit (the sacred language of the Buddhists). Even the Tamil Theravada Buddhist monks of South India (Chola Sangha) have used Pali language in preference to Tamil in their writings.
One of the most significant areas in which the North Indian influence made a lasting impact in South India and Sri Lanka was the language. As trade between the Northern and Southern regions of India (including Sri Lanka) began to develop actively in the 1st millennium BC, the Prakrit became the lingua franca of this trade. Going by the earliest inscriptions in South India, it would appear that Prakrit had a greater impact in Andhra, Karnataka and Northern Tamil Nadu. But in Southern Tamil Nadu almost all the earliest stone inscriptions are in Old Tamil, some of them showing influence of Prakrith. It was the only region in South Asia where inscriptions were in a language not belonging to the Indo-Aryan sub-family.
The Sanskrit/Indo-Aryan Prakrit language is found in the Brahmi inscriptions in the 3rd century BC. Brahmi was used to write the early dialects of Prakrit. Its usage was mostly restricted to inscriptions on stones/rocks, caves, buildings and graves. Even though Brahmi script had been used throughout South Asia, it had regional variations. In addition, South Indian Brahmi needed special characters to write some special letters of Dravidian, especially Tamil.
Ancient Brahmi inscriptions of Lanka had been written in Prakrit language like other contemporary inscriptions of South Asia, excluding ancient Tamil country, but they have so many words which are not found in Prakrit or Sanskrit in other parts of South Asia. Early Brahmi inscriptions of Lanka have all the symbols of south Indian Brahmi. Paranavitana, believing the Mahavamsa version of the story, was very ingenuous in trying to argue that the early Brahmi script of Lanka was following the north Indian version of Brahmi, but a considerable number of them appear to be Tamil terms and they could be easily explained as Tamil terms, drawing comparable material from ancient Tamil Sangam literature as well as ancient Tamil Brahmi inscriptions.
Iravatham Mahadevan has published ‘Early Tamil Epigraphy’, which has been included in the prestigious Harvard Oriental Series, where he points out the occurrence of all the special sounds of early Tamil Brahmi letters among early Lankan Brahmi inscriptions.
In the 19th century AD, Wilhelm Geiger who translated the Mahavamsa studied the language of the inscriptions/island at various time intervals and gave some name labels. He labeled the earliest Prakrit/Sanskrit language spoken in the island as Prakrit-Sinhala but a somewhat developed Elu/Helu/Sihala language was found for the first time only on the 8th century AD Sigiri mirror wall and not before that. Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil and a very few words from unknown origin appear to have influenced the formation/evolution of the Elu/Helu language.
1.10. Outdated History
The 1965 PhD Student Mr. K. Indrapala
It is surprising that, like many pseudo-scholars, even Mr. Bandu de Silva says, Indrapala has had no reasons to alter the pronouncements he made in his 1965 PhD though he came under heavy ethnic pressure to rewrite history as the facts had not changed.
In any historical research, it is natural to change the views and assumptions, because up to now, we have no definite answers to so many unanswered questions in the fields of Archaeology, history, anthropology, epigraphy and etymology in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, daily we stumble across several new findings and they contribute to new historical vistas. Therefore, based on new facts, one’s earlier conclusion has to be compromised to adopt changes. History is a continuous process of investigation without any end in sight.
For example, for the last 40 years, the Sinhalese Pseudo-historians and bogus scholars (charlatans) had been using the Tamil PhD student Mr. Karthigesu Indrapala’s 1965 PhD thesis which was not in favour of the Tamils as a guide in all their arguments/writings. When the well renowned and recognized former History professor of the Jaffna University, the same Prof. Karthigesu Indrapala retired from his profession after 30 years of research as a Senior Archaeologist/Historian/epigraphist and a University Don. Prof. K. Indrapala published a book in 2005; 40 years after his 1965 PhD thesis where he says his PhD dissertation is completely out of date that even he does not have a copy of his 1965 PhD thesis what he wrote 40 years ago as a PhD student. It is absolutely natural that people change their opinions upon new findings (not ethnic pressure) but the bogus scholars (charlatans) want to still continue to quote the obsolete theories what Indrapala himself has abandoned.
This is what Prof K. Indrapala says about his 1965 thesis:
I was planning my postgraduate research, the late Prof. W.J.F. LaBrooy, my revered teacher and, at that time, Head of the department of History at the University, advised me to research into the early history of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for my doctoral dissertation, as he considered this aspect to be a serious gap in the known history of the Island.
The thesis was completed with the material that was available in the early 1960s.
As long as excavation work remains undone, I pointed out; much that is relevant to our study will be wanting… Even the inscriptions and literary works that we have used have proved to be inadequate in the reconstruction of a satisfactory history of the settlements and in the solution of many important problems.
The thesis was presented as the first major attempt to bring together all available evidence on the subject. THE FACT THAT IT WAS IN NO WAY A COMPLETE STUDY WAS ADMITTED. In view of these limitations and difficulties, while we may claim to have added something to our knowledge of the history of the Tamils of Ceylon, the account presented here is inevitably incomplete and not always definite. We have often been led to state our conclusions in hypothetical terms.
NEEDLESS TO SAY, THAT DISSERTATION IS NOW COMPLETELY OUT OF DATE. MY OWN PERSPECTIVES AND INTERPRETATIONS HAVE CHANGED SINCE ITS COMPLETION.
More importantly, significant developments, both in terms of archaeological research and changing historical perspectives, have taken place in the last four decades.
Another Historian that the Sinhalese Pseudo-scholars always quote is Nilakanta Sastri of Tamil Nadu. Nilakanta Sastri’s historical research was over 50 years old. According to historians/scholars in Tamil Nadu, Nilakanta Sastri’s Tamil proficiency was not good and he relied on others for understanding Tamil literary works. Thus he was not able to analyze the changing meaning of words over time. They say, the professional historiography in Tamil Nadu practiced during K. A. Nilakanta Sastri’s period there was rarely any interrogation of sources.
Dr. Senerath Paranavitana, an Archaeological Commissioner, was a dominating figure in archaeology, epigraphy, and ancient history of Lanka for more than fifty years during the last century. For him, the Mahavamsa was like a holy book. Instead of giving primacy to archaeology and epigraphy, and supplementing his findings with material from the Mahavamsa, he was trying his best to interpret archaeology and epigraphy in the light of the Mahavamsa. His research was one sided (biased), beginning with the conclusion (Mahavamsa), he was only finding evidence to prove his conclusion. If the archaeological/epigraphical findings did not match the conclusion (Mahavamsa) he redefined/misinterpreted them using his own theories, assumptions, hypothesis and analogies to prove that the Mahavamsa was right.
On his retirement as Archaeological Commissioner, he was appointed as Professor of Archaeology in the University of Ceylon (the only university in Lanka at that time) for a short period. The University of Ceylon had a project for publishing an authoritative history of the country and Prof. Paranavitana functioned as its editor. He was adopting the Mahavamsa as his guide, especially for the early period of Lankan history. He himself admitted that he had rejected some portions of a Tamil contributor to the volume on the ancient period of Lankan history, because those portions didn’t fit into what he considered Lankan history (Mahavamsa).
Prof. Paranavitana was a non-Buddhist but today we have people like Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero, the former leader of Jathika Hela Urumaya doing archaeological research especially in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Tamil ancient inscriptions, Hindu deity statues, and other artefacts found in favour of Tamils, suddenly disappearing is not a surprise.
2. The British and the Mahavamsa
It was only in the 19th century AD, the British re-discovered the Mahavamsa.
The first printed edition and English translation of the Mahavansha was published in 1837 by George Turnour, an historian and officer of the Ceylon Civil Service. A German translation of Mahavansha was completed by Wilhelm Geiger in 1912. This was then translated into English by Mabel Haynes Bode, and the English translation was revised by Geiger. English historians who wrote on Sri Lankan history are also responsible for the misrepresentation of Sri Lankan history as Sinhalese history.
Prof. K. Indrapala says in his book, ‘The evolution of an Ethnic Identity: The Tamils in Sri Lanka C. 300 BCE to C. 1200 CE’, it was in the nineteenth century, under the British rule, that the British officials adopted a keen interest in the history of the island. The European discovery of the Pali chronicles, the publication of early translations of the Mahavamsa and the acquisition of information relating to the ancient ruins lead to the first serious British attempt to write the early history of Sri Lanka in the middle of the nineteenth century.
2.1. Aryans and Dravidians
The colonial Orientalist ‘scholars’, who were enthusiastic to invent Indo-Aryan cousins in this part of the world, created enough myths in that process for Brahmanism in India and Sinhala-Buddhist elitism in Sri Lanka. It was in these early colonial writings, largely based on the uncritical acceptance of the local chronicles, that a new perspective of the ancient history of the island began to develop. The view that the Sinhalese were the ‘proper inhabitants’ of the island in ancient times and that the Tamils were invaders came to dominate colonial historical writings. In addition, since the Sinhala language was more of Indo-Aryan in nature, the British declared that the Sinhalese were Aryans from North India and the Tamils were Dravidians from South India. In recent years, several anthropologists and historians have shown how this perspective came to be developed in the colonial writings. It was only in the 19th century AD, the Sinhalese started to believe the myth that they are Aryans from North India and the proper inhabitants of Sri Lanka where as the Tamils are Dravidians and outsiders.
It is important to note that the Aryan theory was not merely something imposed from above by Orientalist ‘scholars’. It was eagerly welcomed by most Sinhala scholars who found the Aryan theory flattering in that it elevated them to the ranks of the kinsmen of their rulers. The combined result of the forces at work was the mischievous oversimplification of Sri Lankan History that the Sinhalese are Indo-Aryans who came from North India in the 6th century BC and the Dravidian Tamils are later migrants who came as invaders, traders and mercenaries to snatch a part of the promised land of the Sinhalese away. Influenced by the colonial historiography, the Sinhalese declared that they were indigenous to the island (first arrivals/natives), and that the Tamils were invaders (came later) from South India. The above facts and the non-existence of Tamil Buddhists during the colonial period (due to the aftermath of the 10th century Chola invasion) led the 19th century European Pali ‘scholars’ to assume and subsequently the present day Sri Lankans to believe that the ancient Buddhists and the Buddhists Kings of Sri Lanka were none other than Sinhalese. In Sri Lanka, any person who adopts Sinhala as mother tongue ipso facto is an Aryan. Most of the Sinhalese cannot even think/believe that there were Tamil Buddhists in the early period. If there were Buddhist remains in any part of Sri Lanka, by default it belonged to Sinhalese (only) and if there were Hindu remains it belonged to Tamils (only) whereas the Sinhalese worship most of the Hindu Gods.
2.2. Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism
The most influential figure in this field was the great German indologist, Max Muller. According to Prof. Leslie Gunawardana, scholars in late 19th century Sri Lanka took up Max Muller’s theories and injected a RACIALIST content into Sinhala nationalist thinking. One such scholar was Anagarika Dharmapala (Aka Don David Hewavitarana). Through publications such as the ‘Sinhala Bauddhaya’, ‘Sinhala Jatiya’, and the ‘Mahabodhi Journal’ during the period 1909 to 1915, he propagated the Mahavamsa as the Orthodox Theravada Buddhist doctrine of the Sinhala Buddhists. He called the Sinhala Buddhists as the only unique race (Arya-Sinhala) with a pure Aryan blood.
Today, the Maha Sangha and the Sinhala-Buddhist monks are NOT the disciples of Buddha; they are the disciples of Anagarika Dharmapala who believed in the Mahavamsa as an Orthodox Theravada Buddhist doctrine of the Sinhala Buddhists. In 1908, Dharmapala declared that Buddhism was “completely identified with the racial individuality of the people.” As Peter Schalk states: “This is probably one of the most conflict creating public statements made in the 20th century. It is also a statement that is detrimental nationally and internationally to the reputation of Buddhism. He stated explicitly that Lanka belongs to the Buddhist Sinhalese and for the Tamils there is South India.”
2.3. Buddhist monks and Politics
In 1946, the faculty at the Vidyālankara monastery approved without dissent a resolution declaring that monks should become politically active. The Vidhylankara monks moved the Dharmapalite revolution from nonsectarian social action in the villages to a political ideology that fused language, religion, and state. The radical monks formed the Lankā Eksat Bhiksu Mandalaya, the United Bhikku Organization of Śri Lankā. The seeds of a highly politicized Sinhalese Buddhism were now sown. As Seneviratne states, “By the mid 1950s it turned into a hegemonic Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism.”
It should be noted that none of those European Orientalist ‘scholars’ who translated and brought to light (or rather misinterpreted) the Sanskrit texts and Pali canon/chronicles ever attempted to do the same to the ancient Tamil texts and the writings on ola/palmaryh leaves which are believed to be destroyed when the Jaffna library was burnt. Some of them which were translated by Arumuga Navalar, Thamotharam Pillai and Saminathaiyar still wait for a comprehensive translation. The partiality in historiography by the British colonial rulers brought in new social gaps, confrontations and competition. With that started the Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalism spanning from Anagarika Dharampala’s revivalist movement through 1956 “silent revolution to Jathika Chinthanaya and Sinhala Urumaya in the 1990s is interpreted as a teleological linear history, at the end, intending the ethnic crisis at present.
2.4. History further Twisted
Continuing what was written by the English, the Sinhalese historians twisted and misrepresented and misappropriated the civilization achievements of the ancient Sri Lanka as the history of the newly conceived Aryan Sinhala race.
MAHAVANSAYA – Sinhala version was edited by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala thero (aka Don Niculas Gunawardhana). Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala along with Don Andris de Silva Batuvantudave have amended, modified, added and edited the Mahavamsa to suit the Sinhala race.
In the Trustworthiness of the Mahavamsa by Wilhelm Geiger the author says, I do not consider the final chapter 101 which has been added by Sumangala and Batuwantudawa, the authors of the edition princeps.
2.5. Sinhalese Confused
Most probably due to misinformation or lack of clear information, during the last few decades, the Sinhala Buddhists Nationalists were concocting many different versions of their history, some of them contradicting each other.
There is one group that totally believes in the Mahavamsa, that about two thousand five hundred years ago, Vijay and 700 men (Aryans) came from North India, took Tamil Pandya wives (Dravidians) from South India and formed the Sinhala race.
Another group, the followers of Anagarika Dhammapala believes the same but without the Tamil connection, that is, the Sinhalese are pure North Indian Aryans and did not mix with anybody.
Then there is another group known as the Jaathika Chinthanaya (national consciousness) movement founded by Gunadasa Amarasekera (Sinhala writer/poet and dentist) that believes, about two thousand five hundred years ago, Vijaya Singh and his clan (Aryans) came from North India and landed in Hela Diva and mixed with the Hela tribes that lived in Sri Lanka and formed a Sinhala Nation under king Pandukabhaya. From that cross breeding the name Sinhala came to all the progeny of these immigrants (Singh + Hela = Sinhala), and the Sinhala race/nation already existed during king Tissa’s period when Mahinda Thero brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka and during King Devanampiya Tissa’s period the Sinhalese became Buddhists and the Sinhala-Buddhist society was established.
Today, another group of Sinhalese-Buddhists by the name Hela Havula (Sinhalese literary organization founded by Munidasa Cumaratunga) have created a new theory (Siv + Hela = Sinhala) linking Ravana to the Sinhalas and totally contradicting the Mahavamsa to say that the Sinhalas are the original natives of Sri Lanka (even before Ravana) from the four tribes known as Siv-hela (Deva, Naga, Yakka, & Rakhsasa) and not migrants from India as mentioned in the Mahavamsa. Their theory is purely based on the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Some of them even want to add the Mahayana Buddhist text Lankavatara Sutta which is based on Ramayana to Sinhala-Buddhism.
None of the above versions have any archeological/epigraphic evidence in Sri Lanka or India and the present day historians do not accept any of the above as true. Till now, the actual history of Sri Lanka (Sinhalese and Tamils) is not likely to be concluded and we still have to wait for more archeological discoveries for any breakthrough.
To be continued …… – “Neither Epigraphy nor Pali chronicles say Dutugemunu was a Sinhala”