By Bandu de Silva
~ By contrast, the role of archaeology in the consideration of early Tamil identity has been more or less secondary. The common tendency is for South Indian historians to appropriate the archaeological data as a source of correlates for information gleaned from the texts – in other words, to use the material record to search out “known” historical patterns, events, or places…
~ Archaeologists are equally culpable; it has become customary for South Indian archaeologists to label sites and objects in Kerala and Tamil Nadu as “Tamil”, without considering whether signifiers exist in the material record that substantiate or refute this notion of cultural separateness. The underlying assumption continues to be that the documentary record serves as the best and most reliable source for knowledge about past identity. As will be demonstrated here, the archaeological data from protohistoric Kerala and Tamil Nadu is not so clear-cut and, in fact, appears to challenge the very notion of separate culture region… Dr. Shinu Abraham
The above quotation from an American Archaeologist is cited not as a critique of the methodology of Tamil historians, but to highlight the problems one encounters in interpreting history in the sub-continent, including Sri Lanka. It is then not surprising, that the interpretation of Sri Lankan history too has veered away scientific considerations, and over the recent years become subjected to ethno-centric considerations. This parochial view is well reflected in many recent contributions to the discussion of Sri Lankan history, in particular, from writers within the Sri Lankan Diaspora outside the Island and others.
1.1 Polemic as ‘Roses’
Polemic, like the proverbial Shakespearean rose can appear in different hues. Just as roses receive beautiful names of Queens and other prominent feminine personalities, polemic, when presented in ornate language and beautiful packages, can attract the attention of the uninitiated as absolute historical truths.
Even if one wanted to avoid reference to polemic, with the idea of keeping the debate on the Ancient Chronicles of the Sinhalese confined to an academic discussion, one finds, one is confronted with Mr. Devananda’s response couched in Mahavamsa-like ornate poetry compiled for the “serene joy and emotions” of its cheering fan base – the pro-“Eelam” Tamils who are out to find myths in support of the Tamil Homeland theory. As such, despite its loose style and many unrelated digressions where the author has treated lesser issues with disproportionate importance, his response more than beckons one to join in the debate, as the Mahavamsa itself has attracted.
Despite him disarming prospective critics by saying that his is not a ‘rebuttal’, and making a pronouncement that he did not claim the Mahavamsa or its compiler were ‘racists’ as has been alleged, his response cannot be treated lightly given what was actually written.
His claim that he did not engage in a “deep analysis of Sri Lankan historiography (which many number of academics and scholars have already done)….” exposes the fallacy even more. He remains very much engaged in trying to present a critique of the chronicles on what he thinks are historiographic issues. Despite his pious explanations, he is still looking intensely for loopholes in the chronicles to fit into his thesis.
That is to look at the Mahavamsa, as he says, “for the purpose of [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, he argues, 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……”. In this confused thinking, the chronicle remains the victim.
Mr. Devananda’s historical presentation contains three basic elements which he has subtly tried to introduce:
1. The antiquity of the Sri Lankan Tamil identity is equal if not older than its Sinhalese equivalent.
2. Sri Lankan Tamils were a majority in “their” districts from time immemorial.
3. All of the Islands unique historical attributes, hydraulic civilization, Buddhist remains, are a shared legacy of equal weighting between the Islands Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil identities.
4. 1.2 Some housekeeping details – The Layout
Mr. Devananda’s arguments will, consequently, be examined here in two parts. The first will address his subtle efforts to delegitimize the usefulness of the Mahavamsa, a chronicle which greater authorities have claimed as having served “in unravelling the history of southern Asia”, especially, “the mysterious mazes of Indian chronology” and more importantly, as a useful primary source for reconstructing the history of the island, which Mr. Devananda has done through his use of selected strands of historical research and deliberate distortions, like his treatment of statements by Dr. B.C. Law and misinformation on the Mahavamsa-Tika.
The second will be to address his primary motive for penning his first article, as put by him, “the political overview to highlight the belief system” which concludes with the accusation that the Sinhala-Buddhist community is guilty of using the Mahavamsa to racially discriminate against the minority communities, especially, the Tamil community.
2. Delegitimizing Mahavamsa
2.1 Pious Proclamations
I have no cause to join Mr. Devananda in an adversarial dispute. Besides, there is no level field despite his initial suggestion that “we in Sri Lanka have had the benefit of several waves of cultural influences and that 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; that 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”.
That pious proclamation, with which I agree one hundred present, has but evaporated into thin air as soon as it was expressed. What else could one infer from the following conclusion of Mr. Devananda?
“The entire body of claims of Sinhala chauvinism, and the Sinhalese and their entire historical perception, all their inflated claims are based on this cooked up and concocted historical work called Mahavamsa”.
That expression nullified all his pretentions in favour of a measured reading of the chronicles of the Sinhalese, and demonstrated, as the historian Jane Russell wrote in respect of G.G. Ponnambalam’s Mahavamsa bashing, (Jane Russell: Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, (1976, Tisara, Colombo), a latent envy over the presence of such a unique work whose value for the reconstruction of the history of the island has been of no little consequence, in addition to the contribution its made in unravelling the mystery of Indian chronology itself being only a small facet. Even the worst critic of the chronicles, Vincent Smith, admitted the contribution the Mahavamsa played in unravelling the mystery of the ruler named “Devanampiya” Piyadassi and the confusion over Indian chronology. (Incidentally, “Devanapiya-tissa” King of Sri Lanka is “Deva-Nambiya-Tissan” according to followers of Mr. Devananda and he says he was Naga/Tamil!).
What would Mr. Devananda and others say if one were to make a similar assessment as he did on the so called Jaffna chronicle “Yalpana Vaipava Malai”? Mudaliyar Rasanayagam and Fr. Gnapragasar subjected the compiler, Mylvagner Pullavar, to ridicule. Perhaps, they did not like him ascribing the origin of the Jaffna Tamils to Vijaya, the ‘bandit prince’ from North India whom the chronicles of the Sinhalese claim to be their progenitor; or his claiming of a strong Sinhalese presence in the peninsula. Dr. K. Indrapala and Dr. S. Pathmanathan too did not attach much significance to it as a reliable source of history.
Why limit the objectivity/impartiality with the caveat “with a certain amount of objective impartiality and admit the contributions made to our country by others”? Why not total objectivity/impartiality in examining the chronicles of the Sinhalese? Is there something to hide or to misrepresent?
That caveat is introduced after stating in the introduction that he did not engage in a “deep analysis of Sri Lankan historiography (which many number of academics and scholars have already done)….”. That looks like a bluff when one reads on. True! The objective was not to follow the standards in international scholarship when examining the usefulness of the chronicles from a historiographic point of view, but a condemnation of it as a “cooked up and concocted ….work”.
“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”.
So, what has he been doing? Looking for loopholes in the chronicles to fit into his thesis. That is to look at the Mahavamsa for the purpose of “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)”.
2.3 A Silver Lining
So despite his earlier declaration that he did not accuse Mahavamsa or its compiler of practising ‘racism’ as I had conceived he was doing, he has once again plunged into a wholesale examination of Mahavamsa thematically under the following subheads:
1. Is Mahavamsa the History of Sri Lanka?
2. The status of Chronicles
3. Theravada glorified
4. Bias towards North India
5. Bias against Mahayana
6. This was a good start and Mr. Devananda could have proved his credentials had he continued on that line. These form preliminaries which any Mahavamsa scholar could use in analyzing the text. The points are fairly well discussed, but the discussion was brief and he has deviated on many occasions along completely irrelevant directions to denigrate the chronicles as “cooked up and concocted historical work called Mahavamsa”.
He also deviated to down grade the chronicles, by trying to shift (post-date) the dates ascribed to the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa and Mahavamsa Tika (commentary), dates which have otherwise been corroborated by a galaxy of Pali scholars. For example, he preferred to defer the dates of Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa each by a century; and that of Mahavamsa Tika by 5 to 3 centuries. (See later).
2.4 Manipulating dates of Vamsa Literature
One can understand some scholars trying to give an older antiquity to literature they are interested in. The dates assigned to Sangam literature is one such example. I quoted Prof. Nilakantha Sastri for a 1st – 3rd century A.C date for the Sangam mythology which appears to be the counterpart of the Mahavamsa mythology. But fixing the dates of chronicles has to be done with reason. The preference for a later date for these chronicles, which runs in contradiction to the conventional series which is accepted by a galaxy of European/Sri Lankan and Indian scholars, could question the motives of Mr. Devananda doing so.
Is one to understand this preference as a subtle manipulation done in order to fit into the writer’s theory that the chronicle was compiled during a turbulent period when Buddhism was under threat from Hindu revival? I contested the idea of the Hindu revival around the time of compilation of the chronicles on the ground that such a revival did not pose a challenge to both Buddhism and Jainism even in India till the 7th century A.C. when the Bhakti movement assumed full ascendency. Gananath Obeysekera, quoting Nilakantha Sastri, even quotes a much later date (10th century) for the decline of Buddhism in South India as result from the ascendancy of the Bhakti cult. (Obeysekekera: Pattini Cult, p.519)
I see Mr. Devananda in his response has quietly dropped the reference to “Hindu challenge” and confined it simply to [an undefined] “threat”, while bringing the date of composition of the Mahavamsa closer to the time of the ascendancy of the Bhakhti movement. I stated that the threat was from Mahayana and not from Hinduism, which is clear from the internal evidence of both Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa which ended with the destruction of Mahavihara by King Mahasena under Mahayana influence.
The discussion of this issue is of critical importance, because one sees that the larger effort is to undermine the credibility and value of the chronicles as one of the major sources for reconstructing Sri Lankan history. So lowering the antiquity of the Sinhalese Vamsa literature could also serve a purpose towards that end. How interesting in this connection the subtle attempt to accord an earlier antiquity to the so called Jaffna Tamil chronicles going even to the extent of saying that the [Jaffna] Olas were lost in the fire at the Jaffna Library! While condemning that dastardly act, one could ask how strange that these Jaffna Olas remained unpublished even after a galaxy of scholars starting with Britto, Rasanayagam, Fr.Gnapragasam, K. Indrapala and S. Pathmanathan who have made profuse use of them to reject them as of little historical value, remained unpublished even after a long search for a Sri Lankan Tamil identity?
Though not citing Dr. B.C. Law directly, but using his observations, Mr. Devananda seems to question the acknowledged view of all reputed Mahavamsa scholars that have suggested that the chronicles were based on the earlier ‘Atthakatha Mahavamsa’. Is this because Dr. Law said that the reference to the earlier sources of the Mahavamsa was only found in the [11th – 13th century?] Mahavamsa Tika? It is ignored that the Tika quotes not only from these “Attahakatha Mahavamsa” but also other traditions maintained at the opposing Abhayagiri School (Uttara Vihara). It is not only the Tika, but earlier works like Dhampiya Atuva Getapadaya also cite quotations from these now extinct early ‘Atthakatas’.
On the same argument, is one to reject the antiquity assigned to Sangam literature because the beginnings are no longer traceable? (Sastri). There is a certain methodology used in textual criticism which has to be adhered to. Why is this issue being raised by Mr. Devananda except to gain more debating points?
2.5 On a ‘Hot Rock’ – Digression on Mahavamsa Tika
Mr. Devananda’s discussion under Mahavamsa Tika, quoting from Dr. B.C. Law, makes the attempt to down grade the antiquity of the chronicles abundantly clear. A single sentence from Dr. Law is quoted which says “they (the chronicles) offer a cheap fantastic explanation for the origin of the name of the Island ‘Sinhala’ because of Vijay’s father Sinhabahu since he had slain a lion”.
Is Mr. Devananda actually quoting from Dr. B.C. Law or is he himself spinning the long yarn presented under the name of Dr. C.B.C. Law? In fairness to Dr. Law, whom he cites as a great authority, and deservedly so, he should have divulged his source, but what did he do – only quoted the page (p.49), but not the name of the work. I am bold enough to say he has mischievously misquoted Dr. Law by extracting only part of the sentence to place his writing in an adversarial light.
This is what Dr. Law stated in his work “On the Chronicles of Ceylon”:
“…They will offer us cheap and fantastic explanations for the origin of the two names of the island, [Sihala and Tambapanni], Sihala because of the epithet Sihala earned by Vijaya’s father Sihabahu since he had slain a lion, and Tambapanni because of fact that on their landing on the island the hands of Vijaya’s companions were coloured with the dust of the red earth”.
Mr. Devananda does not refer to the etymology of the name “Tambapanni” to which Dr. Law refers to because it does not serve his purpose, besides the fact that the scholar’s argument on that other name being very weak. What he has written under this theme is to mislead readers by presenting all what is stated as Dr. Law’s writing by manipulating the accepted practice when an authority is quoted.
Dr. Law, as Mr. Devananda said of Prof. Nilakanta Sastri “was over 50 years old” when he made these remarks, is a historian of old vintage some of whose views have been revised in the light of more evidence and new methodology. For example, Dr. Law’s idea that the chronicler was playing on the idea of “red hands”, [of Vijaya’s followers] is something that one notices on the North Western sea coast even today. One can see how one’s clothes and body becomes red coloured within a short time after landing there even today. (Read “Tambapanniyo” by Deraline Brohier or visit the area now that it is accessible). So the chroniclers seem to have to have had a better knowledge of local geographical factors than the last mid century scholar.
Mr. Devananda’s misdirection did not stop with misquoting Dr. Law on the chronicles. It went further. For example, writing on the Mahavamsa Tika, while manipulating Dr. Law’s commentary about the chronicles which Mr. Devananda claims, is the result of interpolation, “…an interpolation crudely effected during the period the Tika was composed (circa XIII C). Besides this single Ola manuscript, ‘not more than 200 years old’ we have no other copies to check the authenticity of its contents”.
Isn’t this latter remark about the Mahavamsa Tika itself another false statement by Mr. Devananda? To suggest that Dr. Law assigns a more recent date for the Tika, there has to be evidence. Mr. Devananda’s intention here is to try to ascribe this comment to the learned scholar. If Dr. Law has said so Mr. Devananda should, in fairness to this great scholar, divulge the source without allowing this scholar to be badly contradicted.
As for the reference to a “single” Ola mss., Dr. G.P. Malalasekara in the 1935 introduction to the PTS edition of the Tika listed 15 sources used in its preparation, which included 14 mss beside the 1895 edition by Ganissara-Batuwantudawe. The mss were obtained from varied depositories including the British Museum, Cambridge University, Bibliotheqe Nationale, Paris, Royal Library, Pnom Penh, Royal Library, Thailand, The Colombo Museum, and a number of leading Buddhist temples in the island including Parama Dhamma Chetiya Piriven, Ratmalana, Vidyodaya Pirivena, Ambarukkharamaya, Welitara and Sailabimmbaramaya, Dodanduwa. Some of these Olas were written in Burmese and Cambodian scripts and others in Sinhalese script.
This Roman-script PTS edition of 1935 was carried out at the request of the then Archaeological Commissioner A.M. Hocart.
Here is what the erudite Pali scholar, Ven Akuretiye Amaravamsa Thero and H.W. Disanayake, the joint editors of the Sinhala translation of Vamsatthappakasini (Mahavamsa Tika), 1994, says in the introduction:
“…The Pali Text Society of London published the Critical Edition of Vamsatthapakasini (Mahavamsa Tika) in 1935 at the Oxford University Press in Roman script. It is the most erudite edition published so far and took about seven years to complete. Much effort was made to find a copy of the text. 15 copies were consulted in the process……”
True, none of these mss could claim to trace back to the 8th, 11th or 13th centuries in which the compilation is dated by respective critics. For that matter none of the extant texts in the Sangam works, which was collated by a French scholar as far I remember, for which great antiquity is assigned, were of the period to which the Sangam work is assigned, but more recently copied Olas. They had gone through the re-copying process similar to the Tika.
Is Mr. Devananda not trying to make an issue over this with ulterior motives, rather than engaging in a textual criticism?
In view of the above contradictory information which points to 14/15 mss., some written in Cambodian and Burmese script being utilized by Dr Malalasekera for the compilation of the 1935 edition, an explanation is needed from Mr. Devananda as to how he says that “Besides this single Ola manuscript, ‘not more than 200 years old’ we have no other copies to check the authenticity of its contents”.
Did Mr. Devananda, or who ever the author of that information, get this idea from the Gnanisara-Batuwantudawe edition of 1985, for which a single copy of the (Burmese) mss. had been used (but foot notes point to the use of other copies)? Yes, the Burmese copy of the text had been copied about 150 years earlier by an Elder named Kavisiha after an extensive effort.
This all may seem unnecessary detail, but it’s very important to understand Mr. Devananda’s mind-set if his bona fides as a serious scholar is not to be doubted, and that he has not tried to mislead readers through inadequate research or confusing them if not resorting to subterfuge.
What is the object of referring to the Tika as a late document? Not even of the 13th century as Mr. Devananda preferred to accept, but the Ola as one of a little over 200 years of age? There is no reference to the other 14 mss. used by in the PTS edition or their age. Similarly, the reference to the extant copy of Mahavamsa as a 19th century document must be with a purpose. Is it to meet the argument that the so called Jaffna Tamil chronicle, Yalpana Vaipava Malai of the 18th century has an older date/tradition?
His manipulation of Dr. B.C. Law’s writing itself can be seen as an attempt to confuse readers and further question the authority of the Sri Lankan chronicles besides bringing discredit to the learned scholar.
2.6 Mahayana Factor
Mr. Devananda has now used the Mahayana factor to develop another pressure point against the Mahavamsa (1.3), saying that the Mahavamsa is highly biased against Mahayana tradition. What is important to him is that the chronicle failed to mention the influx of Mahayana Buddhists from South India. How can one say that when several Mahayana incursions, culminating with the return of Ven. Samghamitta in the time of Mahasena, and causing serious harm to Mahavihara, are documented in Mahavamsa? The chronicle being a work of the Theravada school, surely, one cannot expect it to glorify the Mahayana influences.
Why drag in King Kassapa and say that he was accused by the Mahavamsa (Mahavihara) of being a “father-killer”, and then introduce a surmise that he was not? How does one know? The entire story in the Mahavamsa (second Part) is intriguing, including the father Dhatusena’s crime of burning alive his own sister, the mother-in law of the Commander of the army, Migara, for the latter whipping his daughter.
Reference to Tamil Mahayana establishments in the North and the East is intriguing when all Tamil scholarship is hiding the fact that the Portuguese chronicler, Fernao Qeyroz’s repeated references to the three shrines at Trincomalee as being under the Maha Thera of Arakan and administered by a Terunnanse and Ganinnanses whom Francis Xavier converted to Christianity.
Who said the chronicle is not biased towards Theravada when the whole objective of the chronicle was to extol Theravada-Mahavihara. While taking cover under the didactic proclamations – people at this point might now accuse me of beating round the bush, but I raise these issues because it exposes the underlying intention of Mr. Devananda when resorting to an unnecessary deviation from his main theme. The inclusion of some of these points is another attempt to further expose the Mahavamsa as a partisan text.
2.7 Tamil Buddhist Epics
The discussion under this theme has no relevance to the issue unless the objective was to show that a place called Nagadipa existed, and there were Tamil Buddhists there. Yes, there were Tamil Buddhists in South India too. That is how there are Cave inscriptions at Madura referring to donations to the Sangha though their donors are not identified by ethnicity. The reference in Manimekalai (a Tamil text of the late Sangam period provisionally dated as being from the 6th century) to Nagadipa only confirms the story in the Sri Lankan chronicles which are at least a few centuries earlier in date. Here is also confirmation of Buddha’s visit there. If Manimekalai did not get its story from Sri Lankan chronicles, the prospect of both sets of work drawing from a common source needs examination. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Sri Lankan chronicles were not alone in speaking of Buddha’s visit to Nagadipa, but that there was parallel South Indian story connecting Buddha with the Island. Should one reject the Manimekalai references also as mythology like the Sri Lankan chronicles?
2.8 Downgrading and upgrading historians
One frequent strategy adopted by polemists is to down-class those who support an alternate view while building up others who supports one’s own point of view.
The theme running through Mr. Devananda’s thesis is quite simple to understand. It is not to dissimilar to other more vocal Pro-Eelam writers and earlier scholars who are now afflicted by the ethno-centricism, shades of which can also be unfortunately adduced in Dr. K. Indrapala’s new book “The Evolution of a Tamil Identity”. Mr. Devananda’s presentation is more focused towards the current debate, arising after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. In fact, his writing became more intense after that as far as I am aware. That is the impression one gets looking at the inventory of his writing on online websites.
Let us look at what he says about the Sri Lankan Tamils and other Historians in general. Those who gave favourable accounts with regard to the antiquity of the Sri Lankan Tamil identity are acceptable but not those who exposed the truth or an alternate view, e.g. the exposure by Dr. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana – who is often quoted by Dr. Indrapala and now by Mr. Devananda in support of a chronology that equates Sri Lankan Tamil identity evolution with that of the Sinhala identity – of the absurdity of the interpretation of Eelam-oriented scholars like Dr. K. Velupillai’s take on the Vallipuram Gold Plate inscription, does not find a place in the quotations of Mr. Devananda and others who refer to his work. Gunawardana was not only a critic of ethnocentric writing by Tamil scholars, but equally of those he considered to fit that description amongst the Sinhalese, like Prof. K.N.O. Dharmadsa. For example, he looks at both together in his pamphlet “History writing in an ethnic environment”.
Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala
The [Tamil] historian, Dr. K. Indrapala presented a problem to the Pro-Eelam Historians of the early era because his findings did not support the theory of a continued Tamil presence before the 13th century – the foundation of the then and present day Tamil homeland concept. So his writing had to be attacked. He did not change his views when he was the Foundation Professor of History of the Jaffna University for many years as Mr. Devananda points out. It is no secret that Dr. Indrapala had to eventually run away from Jaffna when the intensity of the pressures from the separatist project became unbearable, precipitating him to leave and melt away down-under.
As a result, the role played by emotional estrangement – a 30 year self-induced exile, cannot be so easily dismissed as not having contributed in part, when in 2005, Dr. Indrapala released his new book “The Evolution of a Tamil Identity”, which appeared to support in part the conventional Pro-Eelam perspective of Sri Lankan Tamil History. Mr. Devananda has tried to white-wash him now though others attacked him mercilessly. So for Mr. Devananda, as for others, he is a “reformed Tamil scholar” now serving the Eelam cause.
Mr. Devananda resurrects him even beyond the point that Dr. Indrapala himself has gone. He uses Dr. Indrapala’s own recanting. Such childish explanations about the inadequacy – no! Total rejection of his own PhD research by the author himself – is something that one cannot expect of a historian of any standing, not to speak of a backbone. It is a different matter if new evidence has surfaced through the finds of new archival sources or archaeological evidence or even change in methodology. But none of these things have happened in this case.
Then the shame is that Dr. Indrapala says, as per Mr. Devananda, that he does not even possess a copy of his PhD Thesis! That speaks of both the pressures and his transmogrification under physical and psychological threat. The story would have been complete if he said that his PhD thesis is not even found in the archives of the institution in London where he submitted it –The University of London – though he himself may not have had a hand in spiriting it away. That is the level to which “Eelam Tamil” scholarship has descended in the pursuit of the Eelam goal!
One may question how Dr. Indrapala could still flaunt his Doctorate from the University of London, as he has done in the cover of the very book where he, according to Mr. Devananda, admits that the research was not only inadequate but definitively ‘wrong’?
However it must be said in fairness to Dr. Indrapala, a quality that earned him the respect of many a serious scholar, he has resisted attempts to lend support in an official capacity to a “historical homeland theory” based on the continuity of a Tamil presence on the island prior to the mid 13th century to the foundation of a Pandyan potentate in the Jaffna peninsula, who was incidentally retained in power by an army from Tanjore.
That is the truth. When the Portuguese conquered the Peninsula the foreign army left to a man and the peninsula was denuded of people. It was only after importation of Vellalas and their slaves that the peninsula once again became even more over-populated for a Dutch Governor to remark that “Jaffna was so full of people that they were on each others way on which account the country was too small to feed ……..”. (Memoir of Rycloff Van Geons, 26, Dec.1663, Tr. Reimers).
Dr. Indrapala could not out right contradict what he proclaimed in his PhD Thesis, because for one, nothing had substantially changed since his early work. So he had to work on the idea of Megalithic culture which he earlier dismissed stating that the people to whom the urn burials of the North West of the island belonged probably assimilated into the Sinhalese milieu. No new evidence has surfaced to change that observation. So with the support of historians like Sudarshan Seneviratne, who specialises on the “connectivity” theory, he formulated the “South India-Sri Lanka Region” (SISLR) model within which to place Sri Lankan [Tamil] history.
That helped him undermine the Sri Lankan contribution to the culture, technology and religion by submerging even the distinguishing features of Sri Lankan culture, technology in a wider deluge of the South Indian regional context. This has had the cascading effect of giving “piggy back” to South India even over the famous hydrological civilisation which has amazed the world. For transmogrified Dr. Indrapala, the inspiration, if not the well-springs had to come from no where else but South India. That is the anti-thesis of the North India-bias of the Mahavamsa and Mahavamsa historians which both Dr. Indrapala and Mr. Devananda are now attacking. Dr. Indrapala quotes that the world’s largest man-made reservoir is the ‘Grand Anicut’ in Kallanai (Tamil Nadu)!
Dr. Indrapala referred to Sinhalese prisoners being employed in building Cauvery dam in times of yore but not with the idea of giving credit to the contribution of these Sinhalese. (In contrast, Note the acknowledgement of the 13th century Kashmiri chronicle, Rajataranagani to the contribution of Sinhalese engineers).
No one has studied the similarity between irrigation works in Myanmar and Sri Lanka except the Cambridge scholar, Dr. Mrs. Stragaart, who made some brief references in her research before coming to that conclusion. (She was in touch with me during her research).
The oceanic factor is completely ignored in the Megalithic construct as in post historical developments. That is while archaeologists now find that pre-historic man had travelled across the seas from North Africa to the Grecian archipelago. (Boston University/ American School of Classical Studies, Athens/Ministry of Culture, Athens ).
But, our present writer, Mr. Devananda, uses Emerson Tennent’s statement that Tank builders were brought from South India by the British to restore the old irrigation tanks as evidence to demonstrate a Tamil Hand in the hydrological civilisation of Sri Lanka! This is an example of the polemical points scoring contained in Mr. Devananda’s further clarification. Why go to Tennent, or quote him where it suits? Why not quote his other more sweeping statement as well in respect of the first millennium of historical time (though I do not accept it)?
“…….That the Malabars were never identified with any plan for promoting the prosperity and embellishment of Ceylon, or with any undertaking for the permanent improvement of the island…..Unlike the Gangetic race who were the earliest colonists, and with whom originated every project for enriching and adorning the country, the Malabars aspired not to beautify or enrich, but to impoverish and deface …….. ” (Tennent: Ceylon, Vol I , p.340, Tisara).
Why not read the Administration Reports of the 19th century Government Agent of Trincomalee to understand what exploiters these so called “tank menders were”? For example, it is recorded they came in the season every year offering their services to repair the breaches in village tanks and the unsuspecting jungle folk fell into their traps to find the “repaired” breaches being washed away again with the first shower! They got the villagers to cut a few branches and place them in the breaches over which the “menders” a few sods of earth and collected whatever little belongings the poor folk had. So it was not a case of transfer of technology in the 19th century but sheer exploitations of unsuspecting innocent villagers as the British Government Agents noted.
Nilakantha Sastri, the venerated South Indian historian is not left out. Let Mr. Devananda himself speak:
“Another Historian that the Sinhalese Pseudo-scholars (I must be one of these pseudo-historians because I quoted him) 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.”
The only thing to do now with the writings of this great authority, who stood as a colossus among Indian historians, is to burn his volumes on Colas, Pandyas and Cheras and the History of South India (Oxford) run into Fourth Edition (1975) and 18th Impression in 2000 and other writings. Burn them! But will the South Indians agree? This is what historian Champakalakshmi wrote in the Introduction to the work “A History of South India” 8th Impression, 2000:
“In contemporary historiographical assessment, Sastri’s work has been termed as traditional/conventional… New and hitherto untrodden avenues of research have been opened up by the new approaches, creating an awareness and interest lacking in those ‘conventional’ works., which either imitated Sastri’s narrative method without his masterly technique and interpretative acumen or chose to confine them to dynastic history, administrative history, …and descriptive at history… the merits of conventional history are best illustrated by Sastri’s which is a basic text, as it contains several unassailable interpretative historical statements and a firm chronological base for an incredibly long span of peninsular history from the beginnings to the 17th century, which has stood the in depth researches … This would also explain why Sastri’s work remains basic to the ways in which further research based on the new understanding of south India’s contribution to the pan-Indian historical process….” .
I prefer to accept this Indian historian’s assessment in preference to Mr. Devananda’s.
Dr. Paranavitana was reserved for special treatment. None of the Tamil or Sinhalese scholars opened their mouth when he was alive/active. Dr. James Rutnam, though no accredited historian, spoke at the Jaffna Archaeological Society of the difficulty of countering Dr. Paranavitana because of his oceanic knowledge of Indian literature. Prof. A.L. Basham whom I associated closely told me the same thing at the ANU, adding that the academia had great respect for this scholar/archaeologist that one would not want to contradict him. That was commenting on the inter-linear inscriptions. Even the great authority, Nilakanta Sastri, was not spared by Paranavitana over the latter’s Malay origin thesis of Kalinga dynasty. Prof. Casparis in his Paranavitana commemoration article at the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka acknowledged Paranavitana’s intuition on this issue.
Why should Paranavitana treat the Mahavamsa “like a holy book”, as Mr. Devananda says, when he had nothing to gain. He was an archaeologist first. He was Sinhalese alright, but no Sinhalese Buddhist. Paranavitana even went to the extent of saying that “Abhiseka Jina” referred to in Mahavamsa was Jesus Christ! As government epigraphist, he could not have survived under H.W. Codrington as Archaeological Commissioner, if he showed any religious bias, especially, a Buddhist bias, even if he was not a Buddhist. He would not have got his foreign scholarships, anyway. So he had to remain Christian under the circumstances at the time!
But the accusation that he was trying his best to interpret archaeology and epigraphy in the light of the Mahavamsa can be examined. Isn’t that what all archaeologists from the time of H.C.P. Bell and others did? Why not, when such an excellent account of the builders/repairers of monuments/tanks was found in the chronicles, and were proved accurate by inscriptional evidence? That made Sri Lankan archaeology easier and make rapid progress in the early phase. Hugh Nevill, the British Civil Servant, who conducted excavations at Anuradhapura, in controversy with Bell over the identification of Abhayagiriya wrote “I know my Mahavamsa”. He conducted excavations with Mahavamsa in one hand and the spade in the other. He was proved right on the Abhayagiriya issue. He was the one who wrote that the Govt. Medical Officer was sleeping over Elara’s Tomb but Dr. James Rutnam and others accused Paranavitana for saying that! (Rutnum: Jaffna Archaeological Society lecture on Elara’s Tomb).
But Paranavitana is acceptable to Mr. Devananda and other critics when he says something acceptable to the Tamils. There are far too many occasions when his writing is accepted. Only a few will be quoted here.
He is quoted extensively by Mr. Devananda for saying that Buddha did not visit the Island. This is something that not only Paranavitana but many scholars have questioned. I myself do not subscribe to it though I am no accredited historian.
Mr. Devananda also accepts Paranavitana’s view as an argument when he says, “The Archaeologist/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”. He uses this to argue that 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.
No one also ever examined if the term “Dameda” could have been derived from a completely different source. (See under “Dameda” as Persian subjects).
R.A.L.H. Gunawardana and Sudarshan Senevirarne
These are two scholars whom the Pro-Eelam scholars often parade just as Mr. Devananda speaks of Sinhala scholars parading Dr. Indrapala (Pre-2005 scholar) and Nilakantha Sastri to support their thesis. They are selected not because of their scholarship but because they are Sinhalese. This is the characteristics of ‘polemists’. But, they ignore Gunawardana’s criticism of interpreting history to suit ethnic ideals. The Tamil scholarship’s interpretation of the Vallipuram Gold Plate inscription is one such case in point, where K. Velupillai agued that “the name of [Minister] ‘Isagiraya’ mentioned in the inscription was nothing but the composition of three words, namely, ‘Isa’ – ‘gi’ (Eelam) – ‘raya’ (King or ruler)”. This is even worse than the Mahavamsa fantasy of deriving the name ‘Simhala’ from a lion (beast) father!
Mr. Devananda even quotes Prof. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana who says that the Sinhala identity commenced after the advent of colonizers! If this is correct, even scholars can go nuts at times!
Dr. Indrapala has made profuse use of writings of these two scholars to advance his South India-Sri Lanka (SI SL) cultural zone model. (Indrapala: pp.84, 91).
Dr. B.C. Law
He is another authority quoted by Mr. Devananda to deconstruct the chronicles, albeit by misquoting him. See discussion under 1.3.5. A point to be noted is the importance attached to this historian of the first part of the last century while downgrading the erudite Indian historian Nilakanta Sastri’s writings and Dr. K. Indrapala’s Thesis as “out of date history”. (see 2.9.1 and 2.9.2 above). That fits into the Sinhalese adage “Kanta hitunama ‘Kabaragoyath’ penne ‘Talagoya’ wagey” (When one feels like eating even the [poisonous] water monitor it appears like the [relished] ‘iguana’). How well it fits scholastic circles represented by the likes of Mr. Devananda!
2.9 ‘Sihala’ and ‘Dameda’
No one has ever asked the question, why in the South Indian Brahmi cave inscriptions is there no reference at all to ‘Dameda’ or ‘Damila’ or any other appellation to denote the existence of a Tamil ethnicity or Tamil Linguistic group. Why? One of the first such references to the appellation ‘Dameda’ outside the Island records occur in conjunction with the appellation ‘Tambapanni’ in the Nagarjunakonda inscription of Upasika Bodhisri. This inscription talked about how Upasika Bodhisri dedicated a temple “For the benefit of the masters and of the fraternities (of monks) of Tambapamna (Ceylon) who have converted Kashmir, Gandhara Cina, Cilata (Skt, Kirata), Avaramta (Sk. Aparanta), Vanga, Vanavasi, Yavana (?), Damila(?), Palura (?) and the isle of Tamba-pamni (Ceylon)” (Vogel, Epigraphia Indica, XX, pp. 22, 23). In this case, according to the Madras Epigraphist, the terms ‘Damila’ and ‘Tambapanni’ are used to denote countries/lands and not people.
Was it not because there was no need to refer to themselves as ‘Damada’ or ‘Damila’ because they were the preponderant, as Paranavitana would have argued? The 3rd century B.C. Rock Edits of Asoka do not refer to Damila but to the tribes of “Coda, Padya, and Ketala puttas and Satiyaputtas”. The 2nd century B.C. Hathigumpha pillar inscription of the Kalinga ruler, Kharavela, refers to him breaking up “the confederacy of the T[r]amira countries of one hundred and thirteen years”. The Hathigumpha inscription is unique because it’s the first and only time the form “Tramira” is used. The Hathigumpha inscription is not without its controversy, Nilakantha Sastri associated Tramira with Damila, (Tramira = Dramira = Damila), this association is now being refuted by many scholars who point to a region in the Bay of Bengal, Tamralipta (Sanskrit: Tamra Lipta [Full of Copper]) as being the area mentioned in the inscription.
So it is in the 3rd – 4th century A.C. inscription at Nagarjunakonda that we first come across the first definitive evidence of the term ‘Damila’ being applied to a land. It is about that time that we find in the Sri Lankan chronicle, Dipavamsa, the term “Sihala” being applied to the land. (“Lankadipo ayam ahu sihena Sihala iti” – Dpv, IX, 1).
Mr. Devananda’s argument that the form Sihala/Simhala denoting a particular linguistic group was absent during the time of the Brahmi inscriptions, and that even in the Pali sources there are no references to ‘Sihala’ denoting either a totemistic group or a clan, is a direct borrowing from Dr. S.K. Sitrampalam, and supported by Prof. R.A.H.L. Gunawardana or vice versa. Sitrampalam even quoted Dr. G.C. Mendis to show it originally denoted the land and only later a particular linguistic group.
Why go so far when the 4th century Dipavamsa itself clearly stated that the land got its name from the lion? Dr. Sitrampalam while admitting this, also says:
“Of the Sri Lankan sources, the form Sihala/Simhala appears as the name of the Island for the first time in the Dipavamsa dateable to 4th Century A.D. Among the earliest epigraphic sources, it appears along with Damila as the name of the Island in the Nagarjunikonda inscription of India dateable to 3rd Century A.D. Hence the Vijayan myth of Mahavamsa is part of the process of the development of the Sinhala language acquiring a separate identity from that of Tamil language around 6/7th century A.D”.
Dr. Sitrampalam’s assertion that the form “Sihala”, based on the Nagarjunikonda inscription, is only associated with the Island is contradicted by Himanshu Prabha Ray’s reading of this inscription. Himanshu Prabha Ray in his book (The archaeology of seafaring in ancient South Asia), had this to say:
“An important inscription for this study is the Nagarjunakinda record dated to the fourteenth regal year of Virapurusadatta. It is significant that the record refers to the Iksvaku’s descent from the mythical Solar dynasty of Ayodhya, to which the Buddha is also said to have belonged. It documents the dedication of an apsidal shrine, a vihara, a hall for religious purposes, a tank and a mandava by Bodhisiri, the femal lay devotee, at Nagarjunakinda to the fraternity of Sihala (Sri Lankan) monks who had converted Kasmira, Gandhara, Cina, Kirata, Tosali, Asparanta, Vanga, Vanavasi, Yavana, Damila and Tambapanni (Epigraphia Indica XX: 23). There seems to be a correspndence between this list and the one mentioned in the Mahavamsa (chapter xii) that refers to missionaries sent to various regions after the Third Buddhist Council…”.
Based on this account, it would appear that “Sihala” is associated with the Sri Lankan Monks present at Nagarjunakinda, whilst reference to Tambapanni is made with regards to the Island. Damila is identified as a region that the “Sihala” monks converted. ( in this connection, it is interesting to note B.Raman’s view that the Brahmi cave inscriptions in Pandya, near Madurai could be reverse process from Sri Lanka. (Quoted by Deraniyagala).
Nevertheless, would the argument be, as Paranavitana made with regard to the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, apply equally to the Damila and Tamil Nadu? That there was no need for an identification of their separate Tamil identity in an area they regarded to be their own lands? There is no mention of other ethnic groups in these inscriptions either unlike in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, it is not explained why in the 9th/10th century inscriptions also there is no mention of ‘Sinhala’ land (Sinhala–bim) while there are five or so [isolated] references to ‘Demala’ lands (Demala keballa, Demala gam-bim) which Mr. Devananda quotes to substantiate Tamil presence. Does that quoted evidence mean that there were no Sinhalese in the island but only Tamils even in the 9th /10th centuries?
So, isn’t it better to avid ‘argumntum e silentio’ in both Sri Lankan and South Indian cases and approach the subject in less confrontational manner?
2.10 “Dameda” as Persian subjects
No one has ever examined if the origins of the “Dameda” could have been derived from any other source, other than the sources the “controversial” archaeologist/historian Paranavitana – according to Devananda – used to determine his origin theory. For example, the term “Trimili’ found applied to a people in the Lycian inscription [of two lines], indited above a panel of four male figures standing facing the figure identified as Autophradates, the Persian Satrap; and another inscription on the same monument present themselves as candidates calling for recognition. The dates suggested for the inscriptions are 380 – 370 B.C. which corresponds to the dates of the Sri Lankan cave inscriptions (Irano-Lycian Monuments, pp.137, 140, 147). The prospects of a Persian connection presented from this evidence is inviting investigation as there was present in Sri Lanka around the 1st century B.C., other people who figure in the Sri Lankan cave inscriptions, a people known as Kaboja’/ ‘Kabujika’ who too come from the Persian Satrapy of Kambuja which was renowned for the best horses. Reference to them in the cave inscriptions is as frequent as those for ‘Dameda’. Even on the reference to the people called ‘Dameda’, doesn’t Mr. Devananda try to mislead readers when he says ‘Dameda’ is the most frequent reference! Yes, if five out of 1300 plus inscriptions so far published represent a majority and one excludes the equal number of references to Kabuja/Kabujikas.
Even the reference to Sena-Guttika (horse-shippers) and the Elara legend (Anosharvan parallel) could point to a connection with the Persian mainland and maritime activity.
2.11 Twisting Names
Anyway, it is better than some have done in scanning the names of Sinhalese rulers. Mr. Devananda himself says Mahanama has twisted Tamil names of rulers. He says, “The Mahavamsa written a millenium 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”. This is an idea taken from Dr. B.C. Law.
This is only a ruse to pave the way for changing Sinhala names to Tamil names, a process which has been going on for a considerable time with inputs from names like G.G. Ponnambalam, Sachi Ponnambaam, now joined by Mr. Devananda. The twisting of conventional names to Tamil was done earlier by G.G. Ponnambalam for political purpose. (Russell) (See also 3.3 “Vellalas and Sinhala Nationalism”). Others have carried it further, for example, converting the name, Devanampiyatissa, to “Deva-nambiya-tissan”. Looks like etymology has gone to seed [or nuts!] as the British scholar Civil Servant, L.B.J. Turner would have said!
2.12 A reply to Earlier Language and Script
There has been a long debate by learned scholars on the early language and the Brahmi script of Sri Lanka and Southern India, all of which in their varied treatment cannot be discussed here. Mr. Devananda has reduced all that to a very simple statement that “…Early Brahmi inscriptions of Lanka have all the symbols of South Indian 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”. Devananda’s burden is to convince his audience that the language in the Sigiri graffiti, which he says is 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”, had no associated antiquity with regards to its development on the Island. This simplified statement is not meant for the learned but to confuse the uninitiated.
It is not proposed to open a long debate on this vexed subject but let me say that if one reads the earliest extant Sinhalese literature like the 9th century “Siyabas Lakara Dipani” (commentary), a work on poetics composed by (9th century) King Sena which follows the Sanskrit work of the Indian poet Dandin of the Pallava court, or even the earlier religious work of the ‘Vinaya’ like “Sikha Valanda” and “Sikha Valanda Vinisa”, and “Dhampiya Atuva getapadaya”, one can see that the language had to have been evolving for a considerable period of time for these great and difficult works to be presented in a refined form of the language, and in the case of King Sena’s work, as a guide to poets. They also show that they are only the later products of a language.
On the other hand, one is not certain about the foundations of so called “Tamil Brahmi letters” theory proposed by some Sri Lankan Tamil scholars like Sitrampalam and Raghupathy (Tissamaharama pottery fragment), though it is being flaunted by a few scholars as evidence, against the 1300 odd Brahmi cave inscriptions using Prakrit or ‘proto-Sinhala’, to project not only the presence of a ‘Tamil Brahmi’ but also as “evidence of the presence of ordinary Tamil speaking people in the population of that region (Tissamaharama) as early as 2200 years before present”.(Raghupathy quoted by Tamilnet, 28/7/2010).
The preoccupation seems to be to reject any Northern or Indigenous influence in the development of the Sinhala/Prakrit Brahmi script. It is true that South Indian Brahmi shows a few variations which are also noted in Sri Lankan Brahmi (P.E. Fernando), but whether there is enough grounds to reject the greater North Indian influence on the script of Sri Lanka (Buhler/Paranavitana) altogether is a big question. This subject has to be left to experts rather than to generalists and polemists.
However one fact that even a non-academic cannot refute, is to see that the early Prakritic language, or ‘proto-Sinhala’, and the Brahmi script in which it was written, had been such a unifying factor that almost every community group, which includes the ‘Dameda’, ‘Kambuja’ and even ‘Milaka’ (Mleccha? = Barbarians?) that Mr. Devananda has quoted from Sudarshan Seneviratne, (actually identified by Paranavitana in his masterly volumes, “Early Inscriptions of Ceylon”) that was present on the island around the time the cave inscriptions were inscribed (3rd century B.C. onwards, or even earlier if reference to potsherd scribbling found at the Anuradhapura Citadel are taken into account), had adopted the script and the language (proto-Sinhala) in which it was written.
What does that point to except that it was the early Prakrit/Proto-Sinhala language written in Brahmi which was the all pervading medium used in the island during the 3rd century B.C. to 1st century A.C. and that situation cannot be off set by a single claimed “Tamil Brahmi” scribbling found on a potsherd at Tissamaharama (P. Raghupathy/ Iravathan Mahadevan) – which incidentally was a port town that was frequented by many mariners, including ones from South India; [or a writing on a single Sangam age coin]. Raghupathy himself who depends entirely on Mahadevan’s reading of the script, admits that there could be alternative interpretations. (Tamilnet)
The following quotations taken from James W Gair’s copious writings (selected and edited by Barabara C. Lust, Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan islolate, a paper dedicated to my good friend from the kindergarten days, the former York University Professor of Linguistics, the late Prof. M.W. Sugathapala de Silva (“Suagthe” in Western academic circles) is worth quoting:
“…No one who has worked in Sinhala, Tami, and some Northern Indo-Aryan language such as Hindi can fail to get some global feeling of similarities shared by the first two in contradistinction to the latter. There is a danger, however, in drawing too ready conclusion about massive Dravidianisation of Sinhala, since it is easy to overlook similarities and differences in the opposite direction and ignore the less exciting question of the extent to which Sinhala has remained distinctively Indo-Aryan”. (Gair: 1976, 260).
“…Indeed, Sinhala has retained its Indo-Aryan identity despite the constant contact with Dravidian languages, a persistence that I referred to in the same paper as “minor miracle of linguistic and cultural history”. (Gair, 1976, p.259).
“…It has emerged as a language with a unique character within the south Asian linguistic area, a result of its Indo-Aryan origins, Dravidian influences as well, some of them from the languages of successive colonizers, but it is often overlooked in this regard that there was clearly, some other, apparently non-Dravidian, language or languages spoken in the island before the advent of the Sinhala. (Vedda language and other items in Sinhala which cannot be traced to either Indo-Aryan or Dravidian) [Hettiarachchi and M.W.S.]”
As Gair/Lust pointed out, the task of sorting out all this in the history of the Sinhala language, particularly when identifying the external influences and internal developments and their interactions, has barely begun though a start has been made (e.g. Silva 1961, Hettiarachchi 1974, Ratanajoti 1975, De Silva M.W.S. 1979, esp. ch 1 – chp.2; Gair 1979b, 1986b). This has to be put in perspective against the tendency, as seen even in South Indian Tamil scholarship as pointed out by Champakalaksmi (1996), Gurukkal (1989), Thapar (1989) and Shinu Abrahams quotes at the beginning, to rush to conclusions, now repeated by Mr. Devananda for the “serene joy and emotion” of the Tamil cheer fan-base, with the slightest evidence of a Tamil presence.
The same applies to interpretation of Megalithic data which Deraniyagala pointed out, still awaits exploration in a West Asian context and wider oceanic context as well as to literary references quoted in respect of the ‘Nagas’.
2.13 Tamil Presence /Lack of Sinhala presence
This is Mr. Devananda’s answer to the argument of a lack of Tamil presence or inscriptions in Sri Lanka till the time of the 11th century Cola rule. He quotes Sudarshan Seneviratne for the absence of the term ‘Sihala’ in the nearly 1300 cave inscriptions whereas there is ethnic identification of ‘Dameda’, ‘Kambuja’ and a number of others. Paranavitana’s argument that there was no need for such an identification for the Sinhalese which is rejected by Sudarshan Seneviratne, who offers no explanation as to why the South Indian cave inscriptions oddly too did not identify the donors as ‘Damila’ or ‘Dameda’. The silence is equally applicable to both sides. Equally, there is silence over the appearance of the term ‘Sihala’ in the 4th century Nagarjunakonda inscription of Upasika Bodhi Sri. (See section under ‘Dameda’ –‘Sinhala’).
2.14 Robert Knox and Tamil Presence
Mr. Devananda quotes Robert Knox’s observations after his escape from Kandy as proof of the existence of Tamils in Anuradhapura in the 18th century. What a discovery? That the Vanni was then administered as fiefs assigned to immigrant and other Vanniyas by Sinhalese rulers of Kotte and Sitawaka is ignored. Nuwarawewa (Nagore) was assigned to Suriyakumara of Malala family whose progeny (later Bulankulanmes) administered the region as Mahavanniya to the time of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and later under British rule. Suriyakumara’s brother-in-law was Bandara Vanniya of Mullaitivu who fought the British with a Sinhalese army and cannons supplied by the Sinhalese Dissawa. My friend, the late Prof. Suriyakumaran too claimed [noble] descent from the same family! (see De Silva, D.G.B.: “Vanniyas” – Hugh Nevill commemoration Lecture published in JRAS, 1995).
True, the Vanniya and his attendants may have spoken Tamil but that does not point to the local population whom Knox did not meet as they remained in their fields and chenas. (JRAS). Why not quote also that in the 19th century, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in his Memorandum to the Governor over the extension of the railway line to Jaffna, too claimed that Tamils had colonised up to Anuradhapura? And, that the town dwelling Tamils who were perhaps, the majority, were also responsible for using the trench cut by H.C.P. Bell in the so called ‘Elara Sohona’ to ease themselves early in the morning, and during later excavations, Dr. Paranavitana had to remove loads of human excreta from the place! Dr. James Rutnam was accusing Paranavitana for disgracing the hero Elara by his remark that the government Medical Officer was sleeping over Elara;s tomb!, not even knowing that the respected archaeologist was repeating what the British Civil Servant Hugh Nevill said; and ignoring what the Tamil residents had been doing at so called Elara Sohona!
2.15 ‘Sinhalas’ as Barbarians
Mr. Devananda quotes the Mahabharata as referring to the Sinhalas as ‘Mlecchas’. The Rg Veda referred to the people the Rg Vedic people met in India as ‘Mleccha’ and ‘Krsna-tvachah’ (dark [black]-skinned) and prohibited the Sanskrit language being imparted to them for fear of it being degraded. Who were the local people at the time of arrival of Rg Vedic people? South Indian scholars claim that the civilization the Rg Vedic people met in the Indus valley and Harappa and elsewhere was ‘Dravidian’, a view that has been hotly contested by other scholars.
This is not trying to gain brownie points. What it points to is that discrimination on the basis of skin colour and speech was present in Rg Vedic India. However, couldn’t we say with historian Madeline Reberioux that like in the case of the Greek analogy she presented there was a sense of superiority of culture, which was not racism.
It is not surprising that that discrimination continued to Mahabharata times. Why does one want to quote these derogatory remarks here in this debate? Does Mr. Devananda want to derive a certain satisfaction from quoting it? Is that also the purpose of quoting the Cola period inscription in South India (Raja Raja Cola’s time) which refers to Lanka as the land of ‘warlike’ people? Colonial writers too wrote on the ‘savage’ nature of some of the island’s people they encountered during their march to Kandy from Batticaloa. (See for example, Queyroz and Captain Johnson’s account). Wasn’t war imposed on the people and they had fight a defensive war?
Mahavamsa has never called the Tamils by such discriminatory terms despite their causing much damage to their religion, economy and land during invasions.
This is another bit of evidence which exposes Mr. Devnanda’s objective.
2.16 Colonial period of History – British and the Mahavamsa
There seems to be some shadow boxing here. Unnamed colonial ‘Oriental’ scholars are under attack for ‘uncritical acceptance of the local chronicles’. “The view that Sinhalese were the ‘proper inhabitants’ of the island in ancient times and that Tamils were invaders came to dominate colonial historical writing. In addition, since the Sinhalese language was more of Indo-Aryan in nature…” (this is admitted), it is claimed that “…the British declared that the Sinhalese were Aryans from North India and the Tamils were Dravidians from South India”. It is on this concept that “…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”.
Mr. Devananda does not place the blame for this on the colonialist alone. He says it was “eagerly welcomed by most Sinhalese scholars who found the Aryan theory flattering”. The combined result of the forces at work, according to him, 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”. Additionally, the nonexistence of Tamil Buddhists during the colonial period, led the 19th century European Pali ‘scholars’ (some doubts it looks like!) that ancient kings of Ceylon were none other than Sinhalese, is taken to support this Sri Lankan Tamil perception. Most of the Sinhalese are then accused of being unable to think/believe that there were Tamil Buddhists. “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)…”. [That could also be the reason for the perception among Sri Lankan Tamil scholars that all Hindus were Tamils/Dravidian and any Brahmin was Tamil].
The foremost among the British historians of the mid 19th century was Emerson Tennent, who was also at one time the Colonial Secretary in the island, and a great admirer of Tamil females in personal life. Mr. Tennent was acknowledged as a great historian by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. He is not mentioned by name by Mr. Devananda. One may rush to explain that positive assessment by Ramanathan as due to his [archaic] thinking compared to present day outlooks, but it could not be attributed to lack of intelligence. Now, Tennent was one of the worst critics of the Malabars who came to the island in the first millennium of the island’s history.
The danger of Mr. Devananda’s broad criticism of Colonial literature is the attempt to discredit off-hand all observations that appear to be detrimental to the Tamil people as being motivated by a Colonial Aryan supremacist view. This dismisses the many instances where Colonial officers have made very important observations to advance our understanding of the people and their habits during that phase of the Islands history.
R.A.H.L. Gunawardana is quoted for saying that Max Muller’s theories injected a RACIALIST content into Sinhala nationalist thinking. But as I shall detail later, quoting historian Dr. S. Gopal, son of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, who stated that Max Muller introduced into Indian thinking earlier “of the depth and vitality of Indian culture and these were the well-springs of Indian national consciousness which even Jawahrlal Nehru followed in the 1940s”. (Gopal, UNESCO, pp. 87-91).
TO BE CONTINUED