The etymology of Sinhala language related to paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is vital anthropological and archaeological evidence of the history
Posted on December 22nd, 2019

Kudaligamage Geethanjana

Rajapakses, Geopolitics, ‘Eurocentric Developmentalism,’ and the western hegemony  (Part 22)

The etymology of Sinhala language related to paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka proves the ethnicity of the people who lived in this island since time immemorial and who built this splendid civilization. Paddy cultivation is the Jewel in the Sri Lankan cultural crown; therefore, paddy farmers must be appreciated and crowned with due cultural recognition. Protecting and conserving paddy cultivation in the island is equivalent to not only defending the nation’s heritage but also upholding the ownership of the people who inhabited the island beyond known history and who built this civilization to what it is.

When we carefully analyze the elements of Sri Lankan culture, we can find that most of the elements are originated from a central activity of survival, paddy farming, and Chena cultivation. Not only that; most of the art forms also originated from the same roots. For instance, traditional dancing in Sri Lanka largely related to the activities of paddy cultivation. Kohomba (Paddy) Kankariya, or Riddi (Water) Yagaya is a part of the rituals related to Paddy farming. No difference in traditional music as well. There are innumerable poems, vannams, folk songs to name a few that related to agricultural activities in Sri Lanka.

Above all, however, there is a significant political aspect related to paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka. In the backdrop of the public statement of the separatist ‘Wig’-naswaran, (The god Ishvara wearing a blond ‘wig’) who contested the Sinhala race’s historical relationship to the island, it might be timely and appropriate to bring this information to the public discussion.

Paddy farming, the main and most important part of food production

Like many Asian countries, rice is the main staple food in Sri Lanka. Seemingly, the Sinhalese had seriously considered from ancient times that sustaining a steady supply of rice to their communities as the most important and essential aspect of prosperity. It seemed to be the highest priority for them. For that fundamental reason, most of their cultural elements had revolved around this central economic activity.

However, the language used in this main economic activity is the key here. Although the language used in paddy cultivation is one of the most important anthropological evidence to identify the people who lived in this island nation for many millenniums, it had never been received deserved attention by the researchers. The paddy cultivation is amongst the most attentive and oldest occupational human activity in the island. The vocation demanded tons of knowledge comprising the research of the paddy plant, identifying its varieties, climatic and weather conditions that related to growing different varieties of the plant, required soil types for different paddy varieties, seed production and preservation, cross-breeding of different varieties and most importantly, irrigation and water management. When it comes to irrigation and water management, this complex task required engineering knowledge including surveying and leveling to construct large scale reservoirs and waterways. And these tasks are technological as well as scientific in nature. Sinhalese had developed the necessary technology to handle these tasks to the ultimate refinement.

This proves that paddy cultivation is a huge institution of knowledge. This knowledge had been preserved and distributed, transferred and communicated with a specific language. That language is none other than Sinhala. There are hundreds of thousands of original uncorrupt (Elu) Sinhala words to address all aspects of the vocation; therefore we can consider that Sinhalese had advanced the art of paddy farming and hydraulic engineering way before the Vijayan conquest occurred: because the Sihala language went through drastic changes in the post-Vijaya-conquest and after the introducing of the great doctrine Buddhism in 3rd century B.C. In addition, if this particular knowledge developed in the post-Vijaya conquest, then the language related to paddy cultivation and Vapi culture must be having Indian language connotations. The Sinhala words used in the paddy farming activities and ancient irrigation work are the oldest versions of Sinhala language and which has no Tamil, Pali, Sanskrit or any other Indo-European language origin in it. Paddy cultivation and Vapi culture and its related language are the living etymological testimony that can find in the island to prove who inhabited the land throughout history and beyond. There are no other languages related to this vocation with such a historical relationship to the distant past of the inhabitants.

It resonating again and again that paddy farming is archaeological and anthropological evidence that proves that the Sinhalese were inhabiting this island beyond the known history. Therefore rituals and customs related to it deserves due protection and preservation as one of the oldest archaeological and anthropological specimens of human activities in this land. The paddy farmers must be paid an appreciative stipend for still occupying in the vocation and maintaining this ancient knowledge and traditions. The culture of paddy cultivation must be well documented, well-looked-after in similar care to that of Sigiriya or any other archaeological site because, on one hand, it possesses a living knowledge and on the other hand, it holds the true story of the man who lived and built this marvelous civilization.

However, sadly, paddy farming is in the rapid decline in Sri Lanka. Paddy farmers have become a football kicked around by politicians. Paddy farmers lived in the fringe of the society for so long becoming useless species and even patients suffering from CKDU kidney decease today. Our politicians have been failed at least to ban the deadly chemicals that suspected for causing these sicknesses. Wouldn’t that be a part of the design of some unknown agenda of destroying this ancient activity and to completely erase the ethnocultural evidence it holds once and for all?

In the 1990s there were some discussions held in the ministry of finance with representatives from the American embassy and other world bodies about the future of paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka. The idea floating around was that Sri Lanka would be better off if it abandons paddy cultivation due to high production cost and to advice that importing rice from the world market at a cheaper price would be a better solution. (As they suggested, the USA would be a potential supplier of cheaper rice) And in parallel, there were some other discussions going on in the same ministry and other relevant authorities to privatize water resources in the island as well including ancient reservoirs. A brilliant plan for destroying an entire history of people. If my memory serves right, Dr. P.B. Jayasundara was the secretary of finance at that time. I hope Dr. Jayasundara might have abandoned those types of stupid and destructive neoliberal economic policies and agendas by now, otherwise, I believe he wouldn’t be able to become current Pres. Gotabhaya’s secretary. Because we firmly believe that Pres. Gotabhaya will revers all harmful neoliberal economic policies of our country and keep that beast within arm’s length.

The new president seems to understand the sensitivities of the relationship between paddy cultivation and Sri Lankan culture. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the relationship between the paddy plant and the inhabitants of the island is much older than that the relationship between Buddhism and Sinhalese. They built marvelous irrigation systems for paddy cultivation and consumed rice as their staple food much earlier than the known history of Sri Lanka.

I was born and raised in Colombo city, therefore, I know nothing about paddy cultivation other than the knowledge I have cultivated through the association of paddy farmers and through reading and direct association of my village friends. If I can understand the importance of paddy cultivation within our cultural heritage, then our policy planners in high echelons cannot have excuses not to. Personally, I know some of our high-level bureaucrats who are even in top-level positions today, believe that paddy cultivation must end in Sri Lanka due to high production cost. These ignoramuses think importing rice from the USA or any other country at a cheaper price might be a solution to the problem rather than finding solutions to cut down the cost for the rice-production in Sri Lanka. In the same breath, they even ready to negotiate to privatize water resources in Sri Lanka. They did so during Chandrika administration and the privatization of water had extended even including the ancient reservoirs. They are so insensitive not to recognize the relationship between Sri Lankan culture with the culture of paddy cultivation and water preservation and ancient irrigation system. They are so blind therefore could see this issue only through the supply and demand rules of economics. They wouldn’t bother to do the research to understand the relationship between the culture of Sri Lanka and the paddy plant and water management. Why Sri Lankan culture is so attached to paddy cultivation and related rituals? 

Paddy and Vapi culture

Sri Lankan culture is largely shaped up by the interrelations of paddy farming and the ethos and mythos of Vapi culture, together with related social norms that are still prevailing in the hinterland of the island. First of all, if we look into the history of the paddy plant, that along goes beyond the known history of mankind and the plant was here in Sri Lanka way before Vijaya conquest and Buddhism was introduced to the island. It is said that when prince Pandukabhaya dispatched his armies to engage the armies of Vijaya’s relatives, prince Pandukabhaya had to cross a vast patch of paddy fields in the present-day northwestern province. I assume this area must be the famous rice bowl in the region. Paddy cultivation and Vapi culture are not two different things but evolved parallelly in the same evolutionary scheme as it has been revealed by traditional language use in paddy farming and reservoir related activities, rituals and customs. The language used in paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is based on pre-Vijayan ‘Elu’ language roots and it has kept its unique form intact even to date. If the entire Vapi culture was a development of post-Buddhist civilization, the words used in the culture of paddy cultivation and reservoir related customs must have some language connotations of Endo-European languages. If there is anything that doesn’t have any relationship to post-Buddhist culture and language, it is the original Sinhala language used in paddy cultivation and Vapi culture in Sri Lanka. 

As I said repeatedly, the language use, belief systems and rituals related to Vapi culture and the traditions of paddy cultivation have no connection whatsoever with Indo-Aryan languages or the Sanskrit language origin. They are not even having any Dravidian languages origin either. For example, වක්කඩ  Wakkada, නියර  Niyara, ලියැද්ද Liyadda, බිත්තර වී ගෙඩිය  Bittara Vee gediya (they never called it a seed), වැටි   wati, කොසඹ Kosamba කොසඹා නුවර (Kosamba Nuwara means not a city of කොහොඹ Kohomba trees, but a region of paddy fields. Kosamba means Paddy or කුඹුරු ගොයම Kumburu/goyama). කොහොඹා කංකාරිය Kohomba Kankariya (Goyam kankariya ගොයම් කංකාරිය orRiddi yagaya රිද්ධි යාගය), Riddiරිද්දි could be another word for diya දිය (water) because, Ridee Bandilla රිදී බැඳිල්ල means, arresting water in Vapi language.) Kohomba Kankariya කොහොඹ කංකාරිය isa folk ritual traditionally played in Kamatha කමත after paddy harvesting, among other words, goyama ගොයම , piduru පිදුරු, heeya හීය , haama හෑම , da-kathi දෑකැති , ඇඹුල Ambula, නගුල Nagula, අම්බරුවන් Ambaruvan aresome of Elu words related to paddy cultivation of Vapi’ culture.

Then when we come to rituals and language that is related to reservoir related activities, they also are not derived from any of Indo-Aryan languages, Sanskrit or Dravidian language. Asta අස්තා is another word for Wewa වැව . Ihastawa වැව ඉහස්තාව = Iha+asta ඉහ+අස්තා is the catchment area of the reservoir. Iha ඉහ means up and Astha අස්තා means Wewa වැව. Therefore, Wewa වැව . Ihastawa වැව ඉහස්තාව meaning upper part of the reservoir. Horowwa හොරොව්ව (Sluice) Mada Horow මඩ හොරොව් and goda Horow ගොඩ හොරොව් , Biso Kotu බිසෝ කොටු, Athul Wana ඇතුල් වාන , Pita Wana පිට වාන, Isweti ඉස් වැටි , Potaa Weti පෝට වැටි, Kalingula or Kalingu Bamma කලිඟුල හෝ කලිඟු බැම්ම, Kulu Wew කුළු වැව් or Pota Wew පෝටා වැව්, Wew Thaawulla වැව් තාවුල්ල , Weda Inamaluwa වැඩ ඉන්නා මළුව , Ala Weli ඇල වේලි , Pera Wati පෙර වැටී , Biso Wew බිසෝ වැව් , Rala Pana රැළ පනා , Ridee Bandilla රිදී බැඳිල්ල are some of the words.

None of these words have been derived from Indo Aryan language streams, Sanskrit language or Dravidian languages. This reveals that these activities were part of the life of pre-Buddhist Lanka. If the activities of Vapi culture are pre-Buddhist, then we will have to accept the fact that this pre-Buddhist culture must have had a highly developed technology. There is no reason to deny these facts since Indian mythology already proved this in their epic Ramayana.

That means Vapi culture and its highest technological marvels are older than Buddhist Sri Lanka.

Then we find some evidence that proves the reservoir as a part of the landscape even before Vijaya conquest was taken place. This has been revealed when the chronicles describe the meeting of Kuweni and Vijaya. According to which, Vijaya meets Kuweni by the side of a big reservoir while she was spinning cotton yarns for fabric weaving.

By avoiding to mention the existence of a fully matured irrigational civilization prior to Vijaya conquest, even the greatest Sinhalese epic Mahavamsa has done the greatest injustice to Sinhalese, the true owners of Vapi civilization. This omission of pre-Buddhist culture eventually implies the entire achievements of Lankan civilization as a result of the introduction of the great doctrine of Buddhism and the resultant influx of cultural knowledge from India. But ironically, India doesn’t have any archaeological evidence of hydraulic engineering marvels in a similar scale.

However, Mahavamsa mentions that Pandukabhaya built the city of Anuradhapura and many reservoirs after the eradication of entire clan members of Vijaya regaining lost sovereignty of the native. That statement proves that the technology was existing there in the island before Buddhism was introduced. The evasion of Mahavamsa the details of pre-Buddhist culture, naturally questions about the true intention of the author of Mahavamsa, and these arrays of omissions of this epic make it more political than a historical document. It might be a very innocent omission, but it would have been better and the justice would have been served if that omission was avoided.

In regard to the liberation struggle of Pandukabhaya, it is also said that when Pandukabhaya was advancing his armies to engage the armies of Vijaya’s descendants, he had to cross a vast region of paddy fields; which obviously establishes a fully matured culture of paddy cultivation in prior to Vijaya’s arrival. In addition, according to Mahawamsa, it is said that prince Anuradha built a reservoir south of Anuradhapura in the 4th century B.C. All constructions were completed way before Buddhism being introduced. But Mahawamsa is silent about the larger part of pre-Buddhist history. We must understand that the history of Sri Lanka is much longer than what Mahavamsa has recorded.

If we really need to protect and preserve the heritage of the nation from being erased, we must ‘modernize’ paddy cultivation to attract future generations into it. And above all, paddy cultivation and its related cultural heritage must prevail within the new era of neoliberalism. So it is the duty of our researchers to record all customs, rituals, and knowledge related to Paddy cultivation and related knowledge of the Vapi culture for the reference of future generations. Therefore the culture and the language of paddy cultivation must be the subject matter and the research topic of our intellectuals due to its political significance in this era of separatism in the Indian Ocean region.

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