Posted on April 8th, 2017

Gamini Gunawardane                             

This is a letter to the Editor of ‘The Island’ newspaper in response to the above mentioned nomenclature used by Prof. Hoole. Island editor did not publish it.

Dr. Sivasegaram, at the end of his response to the review of Prof. Rajan Hoole on Prof. Gananath Obeysekera’s book Doomed King’, in The Island of 11th Maech has stated: I would like a Sinhala scholar to explain the etymology of “devanampiya” which to me seems vastly different from what “deva-nambiya” means in Tamil. I would rather leave such matters to people of the calibre of the late Prof. Leslie Gunawardana or Prof. WI Siriweera.”

Since no scholar of the caliber preferred by Dr. Sivasegaram has responded so far, I thought I would venture the following explanation to the best of my knowledge, though I am by no means a scholar at all, but as a mere student of history.


If we break down the Pali word Devanampiya”, it would be as follows:

‘Deva’ is a deity.

‘Devaa’ is deities, (plural).

‘nam’ is the dative or genitive case (plural) suffix giving the meaning: ‘to’ or ‘of’.

‘piya’ is pleasing to or a person of whom the deities are pleased with.

Thus, Devaanampiya + Tissa gives the meaning Tissa who is pleasing to the deities or Tissa of whom deities are happy with.

It is stated in the Mahavansa that when Arahant Mahinda encountered Tissa the king in the forest chasing after a deer on a hunt, he had called out to him saying Tissa, Tissa”. The king stopped to see who it was who could call him by his name in his kingdom.

In the contemporary inscriptions, Tissa is mentioned as ‘Tisa maharaja’ in early Sinhala.


There is also a history as to how King Tissa came to assume the epithet ‘Devaanampiya’. It is said that King Tissa and Emperor Asoka were contemporaries. King Tissa is said to have sent a good will mission to call on King Asoka, with many valuable presents.  According to Prof. Sirimal Ranawella, formally Prof of History at the SJP, the King’s Envoy is reported to have left Sri Lanka by ship from Dambakola Patuna, the present Sambalthivu in Jaffna Peninsula, as stated in Mahavansa Ch.XI,20-24)     .

King Asoka is said to have been so pleased with the Mission that he had donated the paraphernalia for a coronation ceremony and requested King Tissa to coronate   himself afresh using this paraphernalia and also requesting him to adopt his own epithet Devaanampiya” which King Tissa followed. This is how he is said to have become ‘Devanampiyatissa’. Thereafter, it seems, in the absence of present day Face Book  phenomenon, the two became ‘Adrstha Mitras’ meaning, unseen friends. There seems to be some significance in this story, on that, when Asoka became a Buddhist, he is said sent message to Devanampiyatissa that he had  embraced Buddhism and requested his friend too to follow suite. Their friendship is supposed to have been so thick that, when King Asoka started his Buddhist Missionary campaign, he  chose his own son Ven. Mahinda tocarry the Buddha’s teaching to his friend Devanampiyatissa. Later king Asoka followed this gesture by sending his daughter, Ven. Sanghamitta Their, carrying sapling of the Bo Tree from Buddhagaya, which again King Devanmpiyatissa travelled all the way down to Dambakola Patuna, waded into the sea up to chest level, to receive with great reverence. This incident in fact is parallely recorded among the bas-relief sculptures found in Sanchi believed to have been built by King Asoka. These incidents show that there probably was constant communication between the two friends with much mutual respect.

There is also more recent history around this epithet ‘devanampiya’ which had important implication on modern historiography in India. When the British archeologists ‘discovered’ the many Asokan Pillars strewn over in India in their excavations in the mid 19th century, they came across a word among the inscriptions which they could not understand. And that word was ‘devanapiya’. These archeologists were also unable to determine the possible date of the Indian Emperor Asoka as by this time Buddhism was wiped out from India.

About the same time the British Civil Servant George Turnor who was stationed in Sri Lanka then, ‘discovered’ a copy of the Mahavansa at the Mulkirigala cave temple deep down in the Southern Province and he translated it into English for the first time. Then, the Mahavansa account of the unseen friendship between the two kings and the historical significance of their close relationship came to light through the name ‘Devanampiya’. The British Archeologists in  India and then  were able to resolve the mystery of the word ‘Devanapiya’ found on the Asokan pillar inscriptions and that the reference to ‘Devanapiya’ was to none other than Emperor Asoka himself. This discovery also led these archeologists and historians to fix the dates of Emperor Asoka’s reign, and thereby straighten the early chronology in Indian History, by reference to Mahavansa. So much for the historicity of the much maligned Mahavansa.

Gamini Gunawardane

10 Responses to ““Deva-nambiyatheesan””

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    This is part of an attempt to rob another’s history by the Racist Tamils, for they have no history to call their own. The whole of South India has been ruled by Brahmins from the North So in this feeble effort not recognised by any learned historian, they are trying to own Sinhala Kings as their own. One such attempt is to change the name of King Devanampiya Tissa to Devanampiyatheesan and King Kasyapa to Kasiappan!

    The difficulty here is Devanampiya Tissa has a meaning – Beloved of the Gods the same used by Emperor Asoka and Kasyapa is an age old name in Buddhist literature and in Sri Lanka. I wonder what the Tamil meaning of the word – Devanampiyatheesan is? Kaasiappan is simply an vulgar attempt at trying to tamilise the name Kasyapa!

    I believe it is this very people who defaced the Sigiriya frescoes. No deep and thorough investigation was carried out at the time in fear of reprisals. Racist Tamils simply cannot buy the idea that Sinhalese were and are the civilising force in Sri Lanka and the Racist Tamil claim to land in Sri Lanka is no further from those of the Indian Tamils to the Estate Plantations. They cannot accept the fact that story of the Sinhalese are etched in stone and in their works and literature from Point Pedro in the North to Dondra Heads in the South of Sri Lanka.

  2. helaya Says:

    Ratnapala, Not only racist Tamils. This Gananath Obeysekera and Senaviratna at UVA are the most traitorous individuals. They came US with help of some Tamil professor. This is how they for that. They both publish anti Sihala and anti Sri lanka BS. Dumb westerners believe what they say. Tamils having a bowl with this information.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Typical mentality of stateless people. They rob other’s nations, culture and history as they have no nation of their own. Similar to how a parasite would make its habitat on another living being.

    Etymology has no place when there is history. Etymology is no replacement or contender to history. That too well documented history. Devanampiyatissa or Devana Pe Tissa means the man with whom the gods are pleased with. The discussions he had with Venerable Mahinda is in Pali and the closest language to Pali is Sinhala.

    Tamils have no history in the island. The artificial ethnic group called Sri Lankan Tamils was created only in 1911. There was no ethnic group called Sri Lankan Tamils before 1911. Sri Lankan Tamils have a history of only 106 years in the island. Prior existence of Tamils in the island was only sporadic and temporary.

  4. Ratanapala Says:

    Gananath Obeysekera and Brian Seneviratne are coming from Christian Tamil families that became Sinhalese in recent years similar to the Bandaranaikes. In fact they are related. Their collusion with the British and now with the Racist Tamils is no surprise.

    Sinhalese are fine with those who want to assimilate, but hate traitors and who become Sinhalese and try to deny our land, culture and history.

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    Agree with Ratnapala,

    Sinhalese have no conflict who want to assimilate with us, but hate those who become “Sinhalese” and deny our land, culture, history and our Buddhist religion!

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oops! Sinhalese have “no conflict with those who want to assimilate with us”.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    I also agree with Ratanapala that we do not have a conflict with those who GENUINELY want to assimilate with us, but those who BETRAY our country and the People ought to be named as ‘UNPATRIOTIC’ and exposed to the public as such.

    During our travels abroad, I also heard of Tamil Diaspora people calling King Devanampiyatissa as ‘King Devanapiyateesan’. We were dismayed at the low levels to which Tamil Diaspora people were stooping to get their Tamil Eelam. It is high time the Tamil Diaspora realised that their lies, cheat & deceit do not get them the desired “happiness within” and Liberation, that they seek.

    Our sincere thanks to Mr Gamini Gunawardane for his analysis which we think is correct.

  8. Senerath Says:

    I have seen constant effort to change Sinhala names to sound like Tamil.

    Yapanaya = Yalpanaam
    Sri Lanka = Illankai
    Ratnapura = Rathnapuram
    Dutugemun = Thutugemunui
    Premadasa = Premathasan
    Wellawatte = Wellawattai

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    The Four Great Yogas, the highest Teachings of the Hindu religion, will bring Liberation.
    Even ten Eelams will not bring Liberation.

    Hatha Yoga, & Meditation (some follow a living Master teaching Raj Yoga), are already popular in the west, as well as in other parts of the world.

    The Buddha said : “one is high born or low born only through their own actions”.

  10. Lorenzo Says:


    Some are NOT deliberate. It is difficult for a Tamil speaker to SPELL these in English as Singhalese do. The choice of letters is different.

    Look at the spelling of SL. Some write it as Sri Lanka. Others Shri Lanka and others Srilanka.

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