“What to do about Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana” – In reply to Ms. Ratnawalli’s article, appeared in The Nation on the 23 December, 2012
Posted on January 17th, 2013

The onset of Sinhala Ethnic consciousness and what to do with Dharshanie Ratnawalli?-By  Chandre Dharmawardana Ottawa, Canada

Ethnic consciousness in pre-Dutugamunu Lanka

When it comes to ancient history, historical linguistics and such matters, surprisingly little is known in any tangible sense although much is claimed by the practitioners of such studies. A few marks on a potsherd may be used to build a tall tale about a `Tamil community’ in Tissamaharama, or make claims for a mythical Ramayana story of an ancient  hela community. We are not questioning the importance of such studies. But we insist that where little is known, little is known.

 Yet, these writers hold their views firmly and engage in sharp disputes among them. The available empirical data are limited and each scholar embeds the data in his/her cultural or formative prejudices and defines, e.g., `history of languages in Sri Lanka’ or proposes founder ethnicities in the land. When confronted with other views they go into a shudder. This may perhaps be why Darshanie Ratnawalli went into a shudder and wrote in The Nation, (December 23 issue) about her being in a quandary as to `What to do about Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana‘. It seems to be a part of a longer `shuddering exercise’ done in installments by Ratnawalli, claiming e.g., that the distinguished historian Karthigesu Indrapala does not write history that meets her criteria.

 Ms. Ratnawalli wrote to me regarding an e-mail quote. 

I personally think there were no Damila or Sinhala in the 2nd century BC. The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Parkrit is close to Pali, but I personally think the ethnic distinctions came up probably after wars of Dutugamunu”¦“

 This was attributed to me and asked if she could use it. I could see no objection, and offered all my help. The context of my message (perhaps unclear from this quote) is that the ethnic consciousness of these early peoples (to identify themselves as Sinhalese or Tamils), did not ripen until the wars of Dutugamunu (2nd century BCE). This is not a statement of linguistic history, but a judgment about the onset of ethnic consciousness. I was not aware of what Ratnawalli wanted, she gave no clues to it and did not ask for any clarifications. I expected to see a pre-print destined for a peer-reviewed journal or for deposition in a pre-print registry or blog for comment. That is the usual practice in the basic sciences. So I was surprised to see a newspaper article, right out of the blue! Interestingly some academics seem to count newspaper articles as `publications’. I am now in a quandary as to what to do with Dharshanie Ratnawalli.

 Geiger, in his introduction to A dictionary of the Sinhalese Languag (pp. xviii-xx) discusses the similarities and differences between the earliest phase of Sinhalese that he calls `Sinhalese Prakrit’ and what he calls `Middle-Indian Prakrits’. This is consistent with what I said in the quote about linguistic history. However, such classifications proposed by linguists say nothing about the level of ethnic consciousness among the people who used `Sinhalese Prakrit’. Furthermore, middle-Indian Prakrit forms did not identify with specific ethnic groups, but played the role of a `lingua franca’, or rather a `lingua indica’.

 Prof D. E. Hettiarachchi was a linguistic scholar and the vice-chancellor of the university that I too had the honor of heading later. He was pleased to find a `science man’ interested in his field. I remember discussing the etymology of  words like `vathura’ (water), `pol’ (coconut), and other words of interest at that time (1970). Hettiarachchi, following A. M. Gunasekera attributed the word `Mudliyar’ to Tamil. However, when I argued that its origins may be from `Mudradhari’ – Asokan official bearing the king’s seal – he was open-minded enough to listen.

 Developing on J. R. Firth, I think Sugathapala de Silva used to argue that contextual levels, phonetics, phonology, and grammar have to be analyzed in understanding the origin of words and not just semantics. Furthermore, a people may be identified by a name like “ƒ”¹…”Middle-eastern’, or “ƒ”¹…”Dhakshina’, but such geographical tags do not become “ƒ”¹…”Arab’, or “ƒ”¹…”Dameda’ etc., until an ethnic consciousness arises.

 If in this process we are able to identify new emergent memes (in the sense of Dawkins) for a ripening ethnic consciousness, then we supersede mere linguistic evolution. However, it is the onset of ethnic consciousness that is hard to discern. In my view, such Sinhala identity arose in the aftermath of the Gaemunu-Elara war. The `Damila identity‘ also arose around the same period, with the rise of the Sangam Literary crystallization. It may be argued that such `crystallization’ of an ethnic consciousness is a gradual process with no sharp onset. However, mathematical theories of complex systems show that such onset occurs in short-time scales rather than gradually.

4 Responses to ““What to do about Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana” – In reply to Ms. Ratnawalli’s article, appeared in The Nation on the 23 December, 2012”

  1. Sri Rohana Says:

    Dr Dharmawardena
    It is great you have defended the Sinhala nation from idea’s of either N.G.O’s or Eurocentric pundits or tamil racist or tamil expansionists or anti Sinhala geobbelsian propaganda machine. Their common enemy is our greatest freedom fighter King Gemunu who lead Sinhala nation for their first freedom fight successfully and defeated tamil barbarian elara and other invaders from our mother land. This historic achievement cannot erased by any tamil racist propagandist as it is well written on world’s one of the oldest history book “Mahawansa”.
    Mahawansa is well written who are Sinhala nation and who are the invaders of Sri Lanka. Except Ratnawelli any cow knows that elara was an invader from tamil country (tamil nadu) and he invaded Sri Lanka and Gemunu the great, defeated tamil barbarian invader and it was a freedom fight. If King Gemunu was wrong then Churchill, Eisenhower and Stalin also wrong of defeating Hitler.
    Why not Ratnawelli write an article to British or American newspapers saying Churchill and Eisenhower are wrong to defeated Hitler. This is an open challenge to her. If she writes an article on that topic you will disappear in Thames River on the following day. Not only Churchill can she write any article about Velupillai Prabakaran’s terrorism. If she writes tamil racist terrorists will chop her in to pieces.
    “but I personally think the ethnic distinctions came up probably after wars of Dutugamunu…” Ms Ratnawelli”
    There was an ethnic distinction between Sinhala and tamil’s throughout the history. It never started after Great King Gemunu’s freedom fight. He started his freedom fight as he didn’t want any tamil invader in Sri Lanka and it was a right of Sinhala nation.
    Sinhala nation who civilized Hela country and tamils were from tamil nadu. There were totally different cultures. Majority of the present tamils migrated to Sri Lanka for a better life and brought to Sri Lanka by European invaders for sub slavery and they still follow their ancestor’s traditions. But Sinhala nation is independently civilized Sinhala country on their own vision and own requirements. This is the distinction between races.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Sinhala Dweepa had a totally different linguistic, cultural and religious make-up than Tamilakam even by the sixth century. Just because the two nations were only seperated by a narrow sea stretch, they resepected each others’ territory. There were no Tamils in the island until the 17th century large enough have a continuing Tamil community.

  3. Ramanie Says:

    “but I personally think the ethnic distinctions came up probably after wars of Dutugamunu…” Ms Ratnawelli”

    This statement defies logic! How can the ethnic distinctions come up only AFTER the wars of Dutu Gemunu when the war Dutu gemunu (a Sinhala prince) waged against Ellara (a Dravidian invader who set up a ‘kingdom’ in part of the country) was to liberate the country by kicking the dravidian invader out? There was already an ethnic distinction BEFORE the war- hence the need for the war! There has been a Sinhala royal dynasty in Sri Lanka for thousands of years of which Dutu Gemunu was a link. Dravidian invasions were dime a dozen then- but the Sinhala dynasty prevailed until the British formally put an end to it in 1815. (Just as well too because by that time the Sinhala nobility had fought amongst themselves and to stop the Sinhala king from marrying a daughter from a Sinhala nobleman that they were jealous of they had started a ‘tradition’ of getting brides for the Sinhala king from South India!!!) Thank heavens the British shut the whole rotting debacle down!

    If there was no ethnic distinction before the Dutu Gemunu war why does legend have it that one day when Queen Vihara Maha Devi (mother) questioned Dutu Gemunu why he was sleeping in his bed curled up Prince Dutu Gemunu is supposed to have said “mother! how can stretch my arms and legs properly and sleep when I am oppressed from the North by the Tamils, from the East by…….” and so on? I would say the war was the result of a situation where the Sinhala natives were feeling harrased and oppressed by the ever expanding attempts by the invaders up North- just like the modern day Dutu Gemunus did, the original Dutu Gemunu got up from his curled up sleep and said ‘enough is enough- I am going to kick some serious arse today!!!’ and the REST IS HISTORY!

  4. Nimal Says:

    Needless to go that back in to our history which we are not sure of.We see the evidence of south Indian domination in the island judging by the number of devales scattered all over until with a convention signed in 1815,we regained some hold on our land,but the new rulers then were more benevolent and people friendly,giving us the infrastructure we see even up to now.Before their appearance the man in the street had hardly any thing.thanks to the new rulers we had all the facilities of the developed nations that was denied to the people.Since these last rulers left our shores,we seems to have gone back in time to the bad old days,mainly by our politicians where their attire tell all, that seems to glorify our sad history of south Indian domination.This might give a leg up to the separatists that our leaders,unknowingly sleepwalking into our past.This is similar to modern Arab countries are walking back to the land of sharia law.
    Therefore secular and accepted modern lifestyle and administration is the solution to any separatist threat to the island.

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