Who came first – Sinhalese or Tamils? Part 1
Posted on August 12th, 2018

H. L. D. Mahindapala.

At first sight, the question of who landed first on Sri Lankan soil, repeated in the headline above, may seem silly, futile and irrelevant. But it should not be dismissed  lightly because the Tamil ideologues engaged in building up a case to acquire disproportionate power and territory, through military offensives, international interventions and national manipulations, take this historical issue very seriously. They realise that the foundations of the modern Sri Lankan state were laid in  the monumental historical achievements that go back to the pre-Christian era. The roots of the nation, as recorded in  history, go way back in time beyond 1948 to the landing of the Indo-Aryans encapsulated in the Vijayan legend. Then as now, it was multi-cultural society, with Nagas, Yakkas and Kuveni’s tribe. It was also people-oriented, and welfarist.

Any claim for a separate state against this historical background, therefore, must necessarily challenge the overwhelming historical past of the Indo-Aryans, who were later known as the Sinhalese. The Mahavamsa records that …(A)ll those (followers of Vijaya) were also (called) Sihala”. (Mahavamsa – VII: 42). This, it must  be noted, is the only time the Mahavamsa mentions the word Sihala”. Their dominant role subsequently as founders and makers of Sri Lankan nation stands as unassailable history found in the monumental evidence unearthed by the archaeologists, Indologists, numismatists, savants  of Oriental art and culture ( Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy) and historians in various fields, though the Tamil ideologues are  labouring to  challenge it.

The Tamil ideological endeavours have been to create a Tamil history that pre-dates that of the Sinhalese. They go back to Ravana, or claim Vijaya was a Saivite Hiindu. This throw back to a hazy  past is considered a necessary condition for them to justify their claim for a separate state. In the absence of a scholarly or authoritative history of Jaffna, they are compelled to hang on to a history of their own creation. The most popular version of the newly constructed history of the Tamils of the North found its political expression in the Vadukoddai Resolution. This document claims that the Tamils were the founders/co-founders of Sri Lankan  history. This claim, going back in time to the dim, distant beginnings of controversial history, is seen by them as a key argument to validate their demand for an ethnically cleansed territory occupied exclusively by the Tamils as a separate state called Eelam.

As seen in the Vadukoddai Resolution, they begin their claim to a separate state on this note of a divided nation, each possessing two separate ethnic states, from the dawn of time”. It says: Whereas, throughout the centuries from the dawn of history the Sinhalese and Tamil nations have divided between themselves the possession of Ceylon, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country in its Southern and Western parts from the river Walawe to that of Chilaw and the Tamils possessing the Northern and Eastern districts……” The Vadukoddai Resolution must be taken as the definitive and ultimate expression of their separatist politics because there is no other political  document of this magnitude endorsed by the Tamil leadership. The first legal/political document of historical and  political  importance endorsed by the Vellala elite was the Thesawalamai  in the Dutch period. Fifteen Saivite/Jaffna/Vellala (SJV) mudliyars endorsed it legitimizing the supremacy of the Vellalas in Jaffna. It has been the dominant law of the land since then. This document produced jointly by the Dutch colonial masters and the Vellala elite legitimised the  supremacy and the powers  of the Vellala caste. It even legalised the status of the Vellalas as slave-owners and their  powers to rule Jaffna with the laws embedded in the Thesawalamai.. It became the sacred Bible of  the ruling Vellala elite to  oppress, suppress and  persecute the low-caste who were reduced to subhuman outcasts.

The Vadukoddai Resolution is the second document of historical importance. It is a landmark political manifesto not only of their  version of history but also  future  politics. It should be noted that in the absence of an authoritative and objective  history of Jaffna the Vadukoddai version has been accepted by most Tamil ideologues as the official history of Jaffna. However, the arguments of most Jaffna ideologues, claiming chunks of history and territory as their exclusive property, do not pass any critical, objective or academic tests. Their version of history invariably has been tailored to fit into the politicised account narrated in the Vadukoddai Resolution which contains their standard litany of complaints aimed at demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists and their history. Following this pattern, for instance, C. V. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of Jaffna Provincial Council, took this habit to another level by passing a resolution accusing all Sinhala leaders from the time of independence as the persecutors and enemies of the Tamils. The Vadukoddai Resolution and Wigneswaran’s resolution are typical examples of how the Tamil ideologues fabricate and  distort  history to advance their communal politics.

Their politicised history claims that from the dawn of history the Sinhalese and Tamil nations have divided between themselves the possession of Ceylon.”  This is a sweeping generalisation without any historical substance to prove its veracity. If this is true then why is it that there is no record of Tamils settling down permanently to occupy the divided land between the two communities from the dawn  of history”? This only proves that the Tamils are forced to manufacture grandiose historical claims  to justify their claims for power and territory in their current political agenda.

If you take the landing of Vijaya (the Indo-Aryans) as the dawn of history” then the history that follows debunks this claim because the Tamils are not seen around in history as permanent settlers in possession of territory. After the arrival of Vijaya they surfaced as active participants in history only in the 13th century when the Tamils established permanent settlements in Jaffna. Not before. Of course, they might cite colonial invaders like Elara etc, as a part of their history occupying  territory. In this role they were like the Portuguese, Dutch and the British : an occupying force and not legitimate claimants to land. The indigenous makers of the nation, who were the dominant historical forces down the ages, fought all foreign occupiers and drove them out. The sacred soil of this nation has been enriched and fertilized by the blood of the Indo-Aryans who fought from the dawn of time” to drive out the Dravidian invaders. The history of the nation, from Vijithapura to Nandikadal, has been written in the blood of the Indo-Aryan / ”Sinhala” warriors who  fought and won the successive wars against  the Dravidians / Tamils.

The migratory, military and the  mercenary thrusts of the Dravidian forces from S. India failed each time  they attempted to crush the culture and civilisation established by the pioneering Indo-Aryans / ”Sihalas”. Unable to  break through the overwhelming historical evidence, the descendants of the Dravidians / Tamils have been struggling, particularly in the post-Independent era, to claim a supremacy that exists only in the domains outside known  history. Though the Tamils are wont to boast that they are the co-founders of Sri Lankan history they have not  been able to  provide  incontrovertible evidence to back it up. Even the historians” who wrote the Vadukoddai Resolution had to  jump from the dawn of history” to the Portuguese era providing no record of Tamil settlers until the 13th century. The vacuum, as seen in known history, was filled exclusively by the classical period of the Sinhala-Buddhists. Clearly, the premise on which the Tamils claim to be the first legitimate owners of the land  made history is not substantiated by testable and credible evidence.

The Vadukoddai Resolution is the second document of historical importance, after the Thesawalamai. It is a landmark political manifesto not only of their  version of history but also  future  politics. It should be noted that in the absence of an authoritative and objective  history of Jaffna the Vadukoddai version has been accepted by most Tamil ideologues as the official history of Jaffna. However, the arguments of most Jaffna ideologues, claiming chunks of history and territory as their exclusive property, do not pass any critical, objective or academic tests. Their version of history invariably has been tailored to fit into the politicised account narrated in the Vadukoddai Resolution which contains their standard litany of complaints aimed at demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists and their history. Following this pattern, for instance, C. V. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of Jaffna Provincial Council, took this habit to another level by passing a resolution accusing all Sinhala leaders from the time of independence as the persecutors and enemies of the Tamils. The Vadukoddai Resolution and Wigneswaran’s resolution are typical examples of how the Tamil ideologues fabricate and  distort  history to advance their communal politics.

Their politicised history claims that from the dawn of history the Sinhalese and Tamil nations have div ided between themselves the possession of Ceylon.”  This is a sweeping generalisation without any historical substance to prove its veracity. If this is true then why is it that there is no record of Tamils settling down permanently to occupy the divided land between the two communities from the dawn  of history”? Tamil historians agree the Tamil migrants from S. India settled down as settlers only in the 13th century. So if they were missing from  the Sri Lankan scene till the 13th century it leaves a gaping  hole  in the theory of dividing Ceylon between the Tamils and the Sinhalese from  the dawn of time. This only proves that the Tamils are forced to manufacture grandiose historical claims  to justify their claims for power and territory in their current political agenda.

However, the underlying manipulative strategy of these ideologues promoting this unsubstantiated Tamil version is simple: those who conquer yesterday’s history can be in command of today’s politics. They also act on the belief that powerful myths are more marketable and persuasive than dry facts. If, for instance, the Tamils could establish that they were the first to make history then they retain a moral superiority and legitimacy in modern political theory to occupy territory, or a share an equal measure of power in contemporary times. This is the wrong argument. The Tamils are entitled to equal  rights and dignity like any other Sri Lankan citizen, whether it be Burgher, Muslim or Sinhalese. For this they do  not need ethnic enclaves or separate powers. Modern constitutional theories and  models are available for a minority communities to gain their rights, if they are denied, by the majority. But the Tamil leadership took to the path of claiming excessive powers at the centre and separating later to achieve their aspirations” on two home-made theories : 1. Nationhood and 2. A history of a divided nation from the dawn of  history”.

Both theories have their origins in their claim to be the first owners/occupiers of land. It surfaced with G. G. Ponnambalam in the thirties when he was pushing for a disproportionate share of power for the Tamils. This was one of the main themes in his marathon speech to the State Council laying out his arguments for 50% of power in the state to 11% of Tamil minority.

One of the strands of his overall presentation was that the first settlers had a superior claim to land than the late-comers. He was aiming to claim equal partnership” as one of the two founding peoples”. But he conveniently overlooked in his selective argument the founding peoples” of Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand who were decimated and denied all their rights by the white late-comers. If his theory is accepted then the histories of these Western democracies will have to be re-written by reinstating the first settlers to an equal status of power and privileges with the late-comers. The overwhelming historical fact is that in Sri Lanka the minorities – the later-comers – have been given equal status and dignity which none of the minorities in the Western countries are entitled to today.

Besides, human history consists of new migrants constantly moving into new territory and making their contributions to the evolving story of man. If the theory of the first homo sapien originating in Africa / Ethiopia is correct then all nations have been built on migrants who fanned out from Africa to occupy territory in all points of the compass. In any case, how many homelands do the Tamils need – other than their one and only homeland in S. India – to satisfy their insatiable aspirations? Will they also, in due course, claim a homeland in Australia on the bogus theory advanced by some Tamils that they were the first to welcome Captain Cook at Botany Bay with offerings of thosai, vadai and poomalai?

The tensions and  conflicts arising from the issue of majoritarianism vs minoritarianism – an issue which plagues the global community today — began in the twenties of the 20th century for the   Sri Lankans and it is going to be with us in the foreseeable future. The twists and turns of this issue have dominated the national agenda to this day and will continue to do so as long as the Tamils continue to steer their politics on manufactured history. Historical claims and counter claims have played a key role in dragging the nation to death and destruction. Sri Lanka has proved to be a simmering – and sometimes explosive — cauldron for this issue of minoritarianism vs. majoritarianism. Incidentally, this represents the current trend of the majoritarian revolt challenging aggressive minoritarianism, running across the Western landscape, from Netanyahu in Israel to Donald Trump in USA.

The fires of aggressive minoritarianism were lit in the thirties by G. G. Ponnambalam when he launched an attack on the Sinhala-Buddhists in Nawalapitiya. In June 1939 it sparked off the first communal riots, that became a repetitive feature in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Part II tomorrow

6 Responses to “Who came first – Sinhalese or Tamils? Part 1”

  1. Christie Says:

    Tamils are Indians. British took Indian parasites all over the place.

  2. vyasan Says:

    Mr. Mahindapala, you don’t need all the details of the history to prove that the Sinhalese were the first settlers in Sri Lanka. Just the facts that during the ancient times the human beings had always been settling along with rivers and places where fresh water was easily available, and that all civilizations around the world first developed along river beds ( like the river Nile, river Sindh, for example). would amply testify who were the first settlers, apart from the aborigines, the Veddha. And when we look at the way the Sinhalese and Tamil people have settled in Sri Lanka since earlier times, it is easy for us to presume that the Sinhalese were the first settlers in Sri Lanka as they had settled in the South-Central part of Sri Lanka where plenty of rivers and fresh waters available whereas the Tamils had settled in the barren North-East part. Had it been the Tamils before the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, they would certainly have settled in the more fertile South and central part of Sri Lanka, rather than digging for waters (relying on the under groundwater) in the North-east!

  3. Dilrook Says:

    If real undiluted history is studied, this question doesn’t arise. Not only there was a Tamil homeland or traditional place of abode in the island, Tamil Nadu language speakers were not allowed to live in the island! Consistent with medieval and per-medieval conduct of nations around the world, extermination of outsiders was carried out in Sri Lanka. Those who spoke languages found elsewhere were considered outsiders. Lankan kings regularly massacred and/or traded as slaves, Tamil Nadu language speakers in the island; at times for no apparent reason. In some instances they even went to South India to kill them unable to find any in the island.

    Unfortunately, Olcott Buddhists deny reality and history books other than the Mahavamsa and portray ancient Sinhale island as a place of meditation, vegetarianism, non-violence, abstinence from indulgence and compassion. The reality is far too different as can be seen in inscriptions, Chulawamsa and a dozen other history books. Ancient Lanka manufactured or export steel for the manufacture of the famous Damascus Sword.

    It is easier to work with facts. May be facts don’t bode well with reconciliation and the political narrative. Hence we have Tamil nonsensical theories coming out of the woodwork.

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    QUOTE”Unfortunately, Olcott Buddhists deny reality and history books other than the Mahavamsa and portray ancient Sinhale island as a place of meditation, vegetarianism, non-violence, abstinence from indulgence and compassion. “UNQUOTE

    Extremely unfair, irrational and foolish statement !

    Surely meditation, vegetarianism, non-violence, abstinence from indulgence and compassion was there all the time and yet the kings did their duty.
    Current Tamil problem is not due to that. It is due to greed ( opposite on indulgence), hatred ( opposite of compassion) and violence ( opposite of non-violence) practiced by the rulers on their own race and apply generosity, compassion and non-violence to Tamils only.

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    Unfamiliar with the term “occott buddhost” and I replaced it with “Buddishts” in comment.

  6. Christie Says:

    Tamils and other Indians are found in all tropical colonies of the British Empire in fact the British-Indian Empire.

    It looks like the writer is trying to show the world Indian parasites all over the world were there for donkeys years.

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