Compiled by Dr. Rajasingham Narendran
In his words Raghavan claims his book incorporates a number of cross-sectional studies of a number of Tamil societies in the different provinces and survey of the Northern Province, supplemented by a few incidental aspects in other provinces of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Office of the Village Officer in Nallur-in Feb 2010-pic courtesy of/by Sellathurai Balakumar
Raghavan has referred to books and research antecedent to his studies in a thorough manner and has referenced them throughout his book. What I have done is to quote what he had said and what he quotes others to have said, with a name reference only.
I have not attempted to interpret or comment on the subject myself. This is only an attempt to present little known information to those who have no access to this book and the insightful observations of Raghavan with reference to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. This is also an attempt to fill the gaps in the ‘Tales of two people’ in modern Sri Lanka.
Raghavan says his book does not claim anything more than a general introduction to the Tamil culture of Ceylon. The data are drawn from a great many disciplines: Archaeology, Anthropology, Folklore, Geography, History, religion, Sociology and Topography. A full bibliography is given at the end of the book to help those interested to delve deeper. His book is for the general reader and what I have chosen to highlight are thoughts, facts and information that are not generally mentioned when the story of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is told.
My intention is not to reproduce the book, but point to some interesting strands in the ‘Old’ story of the Tamils, to reinforce my position that Tamils are an ancient people of Sri Lanka, is the face of many who claim that we are a relatively new people, using the gaps in our story.
My intention is to also also highlight that the Tamils are an ancient people of the whole of Sri Lanka and are a major component of the founding material of this very old, but also a very young modern nation, in terms of time.
The ancient history of Sri Lanka as told is largely the story of the kings and queens and events relating to their lives. Raghavan tries to weave in the story of a people- the missing strand- into this inadequately told history. The absence of records regarding the rulers, does not negate the presence of the people and their story on our history
Part 1-Chapter 1: Part Introductory: The field of study: Racial & Cultural
1. Ilankai recalls to mind the classical name Lanka, bestowed on it by India’s epic poet, Valmiki. While other names have more or less yielded to time, the name Lanka shines with a splendour that has grown with the ages and today with the advent of national status, the name is more sacred than ever.
2. In the Pali Athakatha, Ceylon is throughout referred to as Simhala Dwipa or Tambapanni. In the frequency of its usage in later days, the name Simhala Dwipa prevails, very likely what remained of Lanka in the ages following the submergence of parts of it in the waters of the sea; what was left of the more extensive dominions of Ravana’s Lanka.
3. The more familiar term in Tamil is Ilam occurring in Tamil literature, as in the spoken word. As a land which has had a good deal of Tamil cultural influence in the Middle ages, the term found its way to Kerala. An illustration of this is the saying in Malayalam, “Whoever sees Ilam, will not see his home again”, which perhaps is largely true.
4. Cultural anthropology studies human societies with reference to their living conditions, each in its particular pattern of life. So far as Ceylon is concerned, the cultural outlook predominates. We may rightly visualize the word ‘Culture’ as an anthropological tabloid. In this little word you sum up the entire life history of a people in all its aspects, whether as a member of a family or as a limb of the wider aspects of the society in which he lives and moves and has his being. The customs and habits that regulate life in such matters as the production and preparation of food, dress, conditions of housing, matrimonial relations, behaviour and courtesy, symbolisms, traditions, ballads, myths and legends, folk songs and folklore, systems of medicine, magic and charms, religious doctrines, rituals and practices, festivals and ceremonies, system of education, music and dance, agricultural life, arts and crafts, all these and more too numerous to detail, are all implied by the word “culture”.
5. The historian in Ceylon as well as the sociologist has to face the fact that we have no studies of the Tamils of Ceylon, giving us an inter-related account corresponding to the Mahavamsa of the Sinhalese. Early Tamil writers of Tamilnadu as of Ceylon were poets who have left us a heritage of poetical compositions some of which rank among the highest productions of Tamil literature.
6. The era of the Arya Chakaravarties of Jaffna- from about the 8th to the 17th century, was an era of all round cultural progress and in the writings of the age, we have a number of poems expressive of the several sides of Jaffna society and culture. Of folk literature we have two sets of collections, the Kayilaya Malai the earlier and the Yalpana Vaipava Malai by Mylvagana Pulavar.
7. On grounds of ancestral racial and cultural heritage, the Veddhas, the Sinhalese and the Tamils are the three ‘Primary races of Ceylon” (Stoudt). The Veddhas are the aborigines of the Island. Practically, all authorities are agrees, that the Tamils have been in occupation of the Island “for over 2000 years” (Tennent and Paul Pieris).
8. Speaking of the Sinhalese, the latest data by Stoudt in his comprehensive studies on the racial composition of Ceylon, sums up the Sinhalese in these terms: “There is general agreement that the first large scale immigration into Ceylon in historic times came in fact as well in legend during the 6th century B.C and these Aryan-speaking immigrants from the North of India were in some part ancestral to the present day Sinhalese.
9. However, there is little doubt that the present day Sinhalese are a composite people which include, in addition to the predominant Aryan-speaking North Indian, admixtures from Dravidians of the South of India and especially in the Kandyan Highlands, from Veddoid aboriginals of India as well.
10. The above conclusion of Stoudt generally bears out the comprehensive studies of Hooton leading him to the observation that the Tamils and the Sinhalese are each a morphological type, of the composite Indo-Dravidian race, “a blend of a number of racial strains on a basic “Mediterranean race”.
11. The racial characters are generally similar in the Tamil as in the Sinhalese, which has disposed anthropologists, to remark that “the Tamils and Sinhalese are racially alike, but sharply distinguished in language and customs of life”.
Part 1-Chapter 2: Ancestry of the Ceylon Tamil
The commanding position of Ceylon at the Southernmost point of the mainland of Asia, on the worlds highways between the East and the West, has drawn to its shores divergent peoples, from early ages. Lured by pearls, gems and spices came foreign merchants-the Greek, the Romans and the Arabs. Besides trade, the footprint in Adam’s peak (Sri Pada) regarded by the Muslims as the sacred footprint of Adam, was an additional impetus to the Muslim world. Prompted by interests other than trade, came Malays from the Island of Java in the 13th century and in time spread over to different parts of Ceylon, mainly the Northern, Western and Southern Provinces.
1. Nearer home, the environmental geography of Ceylon in relation o South India, its next door neighbour, steadily exerted profound and enduring influences on Ceylon, historically, socially and culturally.
2. Tracing back the original homes of the Tamils, recent researches have in the main strengthened the hypothesis of the origin of the Dravidians from lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and the islands of the Aegean archipelago. Dominant racial strains and cultural traits of the Tamils found prevailing in varying proportions over North India and adjacent lands, lend substantial weight to this wider outlook of the original home of the Tamils, leading us to the proposition that however much the Tamils are concentrated in South India, where their language and culture are best preserved, they nevertheless were not indigenous to South India.
3. The dispersal of the Tamils over the ages from their homelands to the mainland of Asia, spreading over in strength to lands of South East Asia and beyond, and to the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, bear testimony to the international outlook of the Tamils from very early days.
4. The intimate cultural integration of Ceylon with Tamilnadu of South India is well sustained by several sources. Of literary evidence we have the epic poem Manimekali among “the greatest of the classical epic poems of Theravada Buddhism,” and the Cilapaddikaram, the epic of the Anklet, singing the chronicle of Kannagi.
5. The cult of goddess Kannnaki is a vital link between South India and Ceylon. Following the inauguration by Cheran Senguttuwan, of the temple to Goddess Kannaki at which King Gajabahu (171-193 AD, as Cilapathikaram tells us, the cult of the Goddess spread all over Ceylon, the Kannaki Amman of the Tamils, Goddess Pathini of the Sinhalese, the most vigorous perhaps of the folk cults of the Sinhalese.
6. Paul Pieris, the eminent Sinhalese civilian and historian, following his excavations of part of the site of Kantharodai, the earliest capital of the Kings of Jaffna said, “It will be seen that the village of Kantharodai has no reason to be ashamed of its contribution to our knowledge regarding the ancient history of out island. It stands to reason that a country which is only 30 miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fisherman every morning as they sailed out to catch their fish would have been occupied as soon as the continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail.
I suggest that the north of Sri Lanka was a flourishing settlement before Vijaya was born. I consider it as proved that any rate such was its condition before the commencement of the Christian era.”
7. In a similar vein, are his remarks (Paul Pieris) on the ancestral Hindu Temples of Ceylon: “Long before the arrival of Vijaya, there were in Lanka five recognised Iswarams of Siva which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tirukteeswaram near Mahathitha; Munneswaram dominating Salawatte and the Pearl fishery; Tondeswaram near Mantota; Tiruketheeswaram near the great bay of Kottiyar and Naguleswaram near Kankesanturai. Their situation close to these ports cannot be the result of accident or caprice and was probably determined by the concourse of a wealthy mercantile population whose religious wants called for attention.”
8. The situation of these large and ancestral shrines in widely separated parts of Ceylon is an obvious index to the range of distribution of the Tamils over Ceylon from very early ages, testifying to a strong Tamil population at the cardinal points and sea port towns of Ceylon. This would also indicate that the Tamils entered Ceylon at whatever port was most convenient of access, not necessarily from the major sea ports of the Jaffna Peninsula.
9. Says Tennent, “Jaffna has been peopled by Tamils for at least 2000 years, the original settlement being of a date coeval with the earliest Malabar (Tamil) invasion of the Island, and their chiefs continued to assume the rank and title of independent princes down to the 17th century. The Rajavaliya recounts the occasions on which they carried on wars with the Sinhala kings of the Island; and their authority and influence in the 14th century are attested by the protection which the Raja whose dominions extended as far as Chilaw, afforded to Ibn Batuta, when with his companions, he was permitted to visit the sacred foot-print on the summit of Adam’s Peak.”
10. The most significant role Jaffna filled in the annals of the Tamils in Ceylon, is to be sought in the fact that as the nearest to the Tamilnadu of South India, Jaffna was the earliest to come under strong, social, cultural and political influences from South India, and was occupied by the Tamils earlier than the rest of Ceylon, going back to the legendary days (Manimekalai; Cilapathikaram). Under a variety of forces, Jaffna developed as an independent sovereign power from early ages with its line of kings. Jaffna grew from strength to strength and in later ages, became a political factor in the history of Ceylon, to middle of 17th century when Jaffna passed into the hands of Portuguese. The Tamil kingdom of Jaffna indeed witnessed its growth and development side by side with the Sinhalese Kingdom at Anuradhapura. Politically and culturally, the Vijayan era set the stamp to the progressive growth of the Ceylon Tamils.
11. The Ceylon Tamils are intensely concentrated in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, regions which have come to be known as the homelands of Ceylon Tamil, and they are a strong minority in the rest of the provinces of Ceylon- a major element in the population of the Western, Central and North Western Provinces, particularly in the region between Puttalam and Kalpitiya.
Part 1, chapter 3: the Tamils and the Vijayan Era
1. In the reconstruction of the history of the Ceylon Tamil the early stages pose a problem of their own. This largely follows on the scarcity of absolute historical data, either of chronicles or of evidence from archaeology on a scale commensurate to the magnitude of the problem.
2. In this respect Sinhalese history strikes a parallel to early Tamil, much of the Vijayan epoch being built up from a complex of legends; so much so historians are disposed to begin the authentic history of Ceylon from the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 BC), the contemporary of Asoka, on the ground that it is only after the spread of Buddhism that an authentic account of the history of Ceylon emerges.
3. A definite stage in the pursuit of traditional lore of the Jaffna Peninsula is the publication in 1736 of “Yalpana Vaipava Malai” by Mylvagana Pulavar, which embodies earlier collections, the “Kailaya Malai”, “ Vaiya Padal”, “Pararajasekharan Ula” and “Raja Murai”
4. Of prime importance to the destinies of Jaffna have been her seaports the only gateway for ages between Ceylon and lands overseas, an index to which are the antiquities revealed by the sporadic excavations so far carried out at Kanthorodai and Mantai, Indian Punch-marked coins, Roman coins, objects of indigenous art and industry and Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. These and other objects of material culture disclosed in the small scale explorations elsewhere too, bear out the inter-related life the people lived.
5. Here I may draw attention to the cosmopolitanism in social relations, not only in Jaffna but also in other commercial centres on the mainland, such as Puhar, the Chola capital. What is found in the Jaffna peninsula, in the ancient capital cities and the maritime port of Mantai, is this cosmopolitan life of early Tamil commercial centres in India as in Ceylon.
6. In place names, Sinhalese place-names in Tamil areas and Tamil place-names in Sinhala areas, we may see a reflection of the inter-related social life the people lived, rather than any priority of occupation by either.
7. Assembling the data from the Mahavamsa and other sources, Fr. Gnanaprakasar, in the “The beginnings of Tamil Rule in Ceylon”, sums up the social impact:”The Pandyan sent out his own maiden daughter with 699 maidens chosen from among his nobility. The princess was attended by personal staff of 18 officers of state, 75 menial servants besides numerous slaves.
8. The Vijayan era was one of cordiality between South India and Ceylon. All through his long reign of 38 years, Vijaya sent the Pandyan king an annual present of “a shell pearl worth twice a hundred thousand (pieces of money)- Mahavamsa.
Part 1- Chapter 4: From the post-Vijayan to the Kandyan era.
1. We may pause for a while over the cryptic statement of the Mahavamsa, of the sequel to the victory of Prince Duttagamini over King Elara, says that,” When he had overpowered the thirty-two Damila Kings, he ruled over Lanka in single sovereignty”. Who are these 32 Damila Kings? There is no chronicle to clarify this bold statement. Nevertheless we cannot brush this aside as pure fancy.
2. The only reference we have, as to the existence of an independent royal dynasty in South East Ceylon in the second century B.C, supported by Paravitana’s researches on the inscriptions of Bovatagala, at a distance of about 30 miles from Kataragama. Paranavitana observes, “The origin of the Kshatriyas of Kataragama is obscure. The only mention of them in chronicles is in Chapter XIX, verse 54, of the Mahavamsa.
3. There is also a specific mention of ‘Kings’ of Kataragama in the Dhatuvamsa in the words, “Gothabaya, the ruler of Ruhuna killed the ten brother kings of Kataragama, and for the expiation of the crime, he built 50 viharas on either side of the Mahaveliganga.” The epigraphs of Bovatagala, carry the engraved symbol of a fish, the symbol of the Pandyan dynasty, is of interest.
Part 1-Chapter 6: Ceylon in Relation to the Pandya and Chola Kingdoms
1. According to the Yalpana Vaipava Malai , a conflict arose between Bhuvenekabahu 1 (1278-12/4), the Sinhalese king and the Arya Chakravarti of Jaffna over the rights of Pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar. The battle staged (1278 A.D), was severe and Arya Chakravarti triumphed over his adversary. As a consequence, it is claimed that “One flag, the flag of Yalpanam, waved over the whole of Lanka.” The sacred Relic and other treasures fell into the hands of the victor.
According to the Vaipava Malai,” this state of affairs continued for twelve years, and the Jaffna king restored the kingdom to Parakramabahu through the mediation of Kulasekera, King of the Pandyas (1268-1309), who personally guaranteed the annual payment of tribute by the Sinhalese king.”
2. The Rajavaliya says, “The Minister Alakeswara lived in the city of Raigama and the nephew of Parakramabahu remained in the city of Gampola, while the King Arya Chakravarti dwelt in the seaport of Yalpanapatuwa. Arya Chakravarti whose army and wealth were superior to those of other kings, caused tribute to be brought to him from the hill and low country districts and from the nine ports.”
Part 2- Chapter 10: Jaffna relations: At Home and Abroad
1. The geographical situation of Jaffna on the Northern seaboard of Ceylon, decided the role Jaffna was to fulfil in the life of early Ceylon. Jaffna indeed held the key to Ceylon of the early ages. The ports of her seaboard were the channels of communication between Ceylon and lands overseas. Envoys from Ceylon with gifts from Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 B.C) to Emperor Asoka (274-237 B.C) embarked at Jambukola, very likely the modern Jambuturai, in the vicinity of the present sea port of Kankesanturai. By the same route, the envoys returned with gifts from Asoka to King Tissa.
2. Adjacent to Jambuturai is the site reputed by the name of Tissamaluwa (Tissa’s Palace) marking the place where the sacred Bo-tree sapling was received by Devanampiya Tissa on its ceremonial arrival from India.
3. After these events King Tissa directed his attention to Nagadipa, where he built the Vihara known by his name Tissa Maha Vihara.
4. Piyaguka Tissa built a Vihara at a site known as Badakan, possibly Vallipuram of today. Piyaguka seems to have given his name to the island on the Jaffna lagoon, now known as Pungudutivu.
5. Piyangudipa of the Mahavamsa, this insular tract of Jaffna, has had a scared heritage. Here dwelt a brotherhood of Bhikus, led by Thera Gotama.
6. The Valipuram gold plate reveals that the Jaffna mainland was the Nagadipa of the pre-Christian times of Ceylon history, as well as occupied by Sinhalese Buddhists (Devendra, D.T)
7. The port that mattered more in Ceylon’s relations overseas was Mahathitha or Matota. Pandyan Brides for Vijaya and his companions landed here. This port figures in the Sangam literature in Tamil as Mantai.
Part 2-Chapter 11: The Arya Chakravarties.
1. Traditions narrated in the Mahavamsa and other Sinhalese chronicles, gives us grounds to sustain an earlier epoch in Jaffna, preceding that of the Arya Chakravartis. In common with the ancient civilizations of the world, the legendary era of Ceylon is a transitional phase, a link between the unchronicled and the historic ages.
2. The Mahavamsa speaks of a strong Naga factor distributed in the different parts of Ceylon particularly significant in the North and South-West, ruled over by Naga kings, with off shoots of the Naga over the North-west.
3. I may here draw attention to an extension of the Naga cultural complex, further inland in the South West. I refer to the Nayimana Tamil Inscription “The purport of the record is to register the grant by King Parakramabahu V1, of the pleasant village of Nayamana and adjacent lands to a Sattra (Chatram) of the Devalaya, for the maintenance permanently of charity to twelve Brahmans, at the alms-hall of the Devalaya.”
4. The third visit (of Lord Buddha) was to Kelaniya, at the personal invitation of Maniakkika, the Naga King of Kelaniya
5. Merged with the Sinhala Kingdom, Kelaniya progressively shed the Naga complex, though Naga traditions are a live factor of Kelaniya to this day.
Nevertheless as a separate Naga kingdom, Kelaniya ceased to exist, and nothing is heard of it in subsequent period. Against this silence, may be contrasted the heritage of the Naga kingdom of Nagadipa, Jaffna peninsula, the Manipallavam of the Tamil epic Manimekalai.
6. Mudaliyar Rasanayagam’s efforts and subsequent studies on the history of Jaffna have given us the probability of a succession of Naga rulers.
Such are the names, IIla Naga (95-101), Mahalla Naga (193-199), Kuja Naga (246-248), Kaunca Naga (243-244), Sri naga 1 ( 244-263), Sri Naga (244-263), Abhaya Naga (285-293) and Sri naga II (293-295). As we glance at their names, it is evident that a number of them. Are the same as those of the kings of Anuradhapura, as given in the Mahavamsa. This would seem to justify the inference that some of these kings may java been rulers of both Anuradhapura and Jaffna, pointing out to an era of co-ordination of relations and administration.
7. The Naga kings were succeeded by a line of kings bearing high-sounding title of Arya Chakaravarties.
Part 2- Chapter 12: The legend of Yalpanan: the Panan Minstrel
1. Uggrasimhan (795 AD), the reputed founder of the Kalinga dynasty, shifted his capital from Kadiramalai to Singai Nagar. Uggrasimhan was succeeded by Jayatunga (Jayasinga) whose reign gains in interest from the legend that the King was visited by a blind Panan Minstrel, the Yalpanan of the legends. Pleased with his music, the King rewarded him by the grant of a sandy waste land. Vaipava Mali calls the Panan minstrel, the blind poet Veera Raghavan. The story is one that occurs too in other folk-lore collections and poems as the Kailaya Malai, Vaiya Padal, Trincomalee Kalvettu and Dakshina Kailasa Puranam, as Rasanayagam tells us.
2. The name Yalpanam did not become popular among the inhabitants of Jaffna until the Portuguese built the town close to the Panan settlement and called it Jaffnapatnam and the British called it Jaffna.
(Tamil Culture in Ceylon- A General Introduction by M.D. Raghavan, Ceylon Printers Ltd, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka. 1965. The author, M.D Raghavan worked for the Department of National Museums in Sri Lanka and was involved in the verification of collections and the re-opening of the four National Museums of Colombo, Kandy, Ratnapura and Jaffna after Second World War.)