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TAMILS OF JAFFNA

The following are some useful extracts from Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala’s PhD thesis on Dravidian Settlements in Ceylon, University of London 1965.

Until the ninth century, with the exception of the megalithic remains of pomparippu and the possible exception of those of Katiraveli, there is no definite evidence regarding and Dravidian settlement in the island. (page 51)

No definite evidence regarding any significant Tamil settlement in the Batticaloa district of the Eastern Province, or in other parts of Southern Ceylon has so far come to light. It is possible that there were some Tamil settlers in the Battialoa district from the thirteenth century onwards; we get archeological, epigraphic and literary evidence pointing to Tamil settlements in the area. (page 233)

It may be recollected that several writers on the history of Jaffna, basing their studies on the traditional legends found in the late Tamil chronicles, have put forward certain theories claiming the establishment of Tamil settlements in Jaffna in the period of the Anuradhapura rulers. These theories are not accepted by serious students of history as they are not based on trustworthy data. Many of these have been convincingly dismissed by scholars in recent years.

It is therefore, not our intention to analyze these theories and take serious notice of writings which at best could be described as popular. (page 266)

Jaffna peninsula does not help us to know anything about the identity of the people who lived there in the pre-Christian centuries.

The Pali chronicle informs us that the port of Jambukola (Camputturai), on the eastern cost of the peninsula, was the main port of embarkation to Tamralipti in Eastern India from at least the time of King Devanampriya Tissa (250-210 B.C.). The two embassies from the island to the court of Asoka embarked on their voyage from Jambukola. Sangamitta arrived with the Bo-sapling at this port.
The Samudda-panna-sala, commemorating the arrival of the Bo sapling, and the Jambukola Vihara were built there by Devanampriya Tissa. These facts only reveal that the northern most part of the island was under the suzerainty of the Anuradhapura king in the third century B.C. and that Buddhism had begun to spread by that time in that part of the island as in the other parts. But it is in the second century AD that we get some evidence regarding the people living there.
The language of the gold plate inscription from Vallipuram, the earliest epigraphic record discovered in the Jffna peninsula, is the early form of Sinhalese, in which inscriptions of the time in other parts of the island were written.

This may suggest that the Sinhlese were settled in the Jaffna peninsula, or in some parts at least, in the second century A.D. There were perhaps Tamil traders in the port of Jambukola but there is no evidence that points to Tamil settlements in the peninsula. (page 268)

The gold plate from Vallipuram reveals that there were Buddhists in that part of the peninsula in the second century A.D. At the site of this inscription the foundations are in the premises of a modern Visnu temple. There is little doubt that the Visnu temple was the original Buddhist monument converted in to a Vaisnava establishment at a later date when Tamils settled in the area.
Such conversion of Buddhist establishments into Saiva and Vaisnava temples seems to have been a common phenomenon in the peninsula after it was settled by Dravidians.

In the premised of another Visnu temple at Moolai were discovered some ‘vestiges of ancient remains of walls’ and a broken sedent Buddha image. Again in a Saiva temple at Mahiyapitti a Buddha image was found under a stone step in the temple tank. A lime-stone Buddha image and the remains of an ancient dagaba were unearthed at Nilavarai, in Navakiri.

Among the debris were two sculptured fragments of shaped coral stones with a stone railing design.
According to D.T.Devendra, who conducted the excavation at this site, the dagaba can be dated at least to the tenth century A. D. Near these ruins are the foundations of an ancient building and in the middle of thesis a modern Siva temple. It has been conjectured, and rightly so, that the old foundations are those of the vihara attached to the ancient dagaba.

Buddha images have also been discovered in Uduvil, Kantarodai and Jaffna town. Kantarodai has yeilded very important Buddhist establishment in the region in early times.

Such artifacts as the glazed tiles and the circular discs discovered here have helped to connect the finds with those of Auradhapura.

The Sinhala Nampota, dated in its present form to the fourteenth or fifteenth century, preserved the names of some of the placed of Buddhist worship I the Jaffna peninsula, Kantarodai is mentioned among these places. The others are Nagakovila (Nakarkovil), Telipola (Tellippalai), Mallagama (Mallakam), Minuwangomu Viharaya (Vimankaram). Tanjidivayina
(Tana-tivu or kayts), Nagadivayina (Nkativu or Nayinatovu). Puvangudivayina (Punkutu-tivu) and Kradivayina (Karaitivu).

Of the Buddhist establishments in these places only the vihara and Dagabo at Nakativu have survived to this day. It is justifiable to assume that the Nampotalist dates back time when the Buddhist establishments of these places were well known centres of worship. This was probably before the thirteenth century, for after this date the people of the Jaffna peninsula were mainly Saivas.

The foregoing evidence points to the inevitable conclusion that in the Anuradhapura period, and possibly till about the twelfth century, there were Buddhists in the Jaffna peninsula.

Although it may appear reasonable to presume that these Buddhists were Sinhalese like those in other parts of the island, some have tried to argue that they were Tamils. While it is true that there were Tamil Buddhists in South India and Ceylon before the twelfth century and possibly even later, there is evidence to show that the Buddhists who occupied the Jaffna peninsula in the Anuradhapura period were Sinhalese.

We refer to the toponymic evidence which unmistakably points to the presence if Sinhala settlers in the peninsula before Tamils settled there.

In an area of only about nine hundred square miles covered by this peninsula, there occur over a thousand Sinhalese place names which have survived in a Tamil garb. (page 270-273)
The Yalppana-vaipava-malai, the Tamil chronicle of Jaffna, confirms this when it states that there were Sinhalese people in Jaffna at the time of the first Tamil colonisation of the area.

Secondly, the survival of Sinhalese elements on the local nomenclature indicates a slow and peaceful penetration of Tamils in the area rather than violent occupation. This is in contrast with the evidence of the place names of the North Central Province, where Sinhalese names have been largely replaced by Tamil names. The large percentage of Sinhalese element and the occurrence of Sinhala and Tamil compounds in the place names of Jaffna point to a long survival of the Sinhala population and an intimate intercourse between them and the Tamils.

This is also, borne out by the retention of some territorial names, like Valikamam (Sinhala- Valigama) and Maracci (Maracci-rata), which points to the retention of the old territorial divisions and tell strongly against wholesale extermination or displacement of the Sinhalese population.. (page 276)
The earliest evidence regarding the presence of Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula is possible from the Tamil inscription of Parakramabahu I (1153 - 1186) from Nainativu. We have seen earlier that till about the ninth century our evidence points to minor settlements of Tamils in such important ports as Mahatitha (Mannar) and Gokanna (Trincomalee) as well as in Anuradhapura, where there were considerable number of mercenary soldiers.

In the ninth and tenth centuries some villages in Rajarattha seem to have accommodated Tamil settlers but these were by no means numerous. it seems unlikely that there were many Tamil settlers in the Jaffna peninsula or in any part of the island other that the major ports and the capital city before the tenth century.

As we stated earlier, there were perhaps some Tamil traders in the ports of Jambukola and Uratota, in the Jaffna peninsula. But we have no evidence on this point.. (page 282)
The Sanskrit inscription from Trincomalee, discovered among the ruins of the Konesvram temple, refers to a personage names Cadaganga who went to Ceylon in1223. Paranavitana had identified this person with Kulakkottan.

The inscription is fragmentary and is engraved on a part of a stone door jamb. Among the decipherable words is the name Gokarna, the ancient name of Trincomalee and the root from which the name of the temple is derived (Gokarnesvara). (page 331)


In the Tamil Vanni districts only a few Dravidian style Saiva temples of the thirteenth century have been found. Among these the temples at Tirukkovil, Kapuralla, and Nallatanni-irakkam and the Saiva remains at Uruttirapuram and Kuruntanur are notable.

These certainly indicate the existence or Tamil settlements in those places in the thirteenth century.
But monumental remains of a different type attest to the destruction wrought by the invaders and the conversion of Buddhist institutions in to places of Saiva worship, effected by the new settlers, thus confirming the statements in the Sinhala sources.

The many scattered ruins of Buddhist monasteries and temples all over the Vanni region preserve the memory of the Sinhalese Buddhist settlements that once covered these parts.

Several of the pilima-ges (image houses) attached to the monasteries in places like Kovilkadu, Malikai, Omantai, Kankarayan-kulam, Iracentiran-kulam,Cinnappuvaracankulam and Madukanda were converted into Saiva tempels, often dedicated to Ganesa.

Buddha images or inscribed slabs from the Buddhist structures were used to make the Ganesa statues (J.P. Lewis, Manual of the Vanni Districts, pp. 297, 303-306, 311).
A number of small Saiva shrines have been found in association with Buddhist remains. The destruction of several of the Buddhist edifices and the conversion of pilima-ges into Saiva temples may have begun at the time of Magha.

In the North Central Province too, we find evidence of such activities. On Minneriya Road, close to Polonnaruwa, were discovered a few Saiva edifies which were build of materials from Buddhist structures.

A door jamb from one of the Saiva shrines there was found to bear part of an inscription of Parakramabahu 1.

A broken pillar shaft with Sinhalese writing of the tenth century was recovered from the enclosing wall of another shrine.

In one of the Visnu temples of Polonnaruwa, fragments of Nissankamalla’s stone inscriptions were found. In the same place, two fragments of a broken pillar with Sinhalese writing about the tenth century served as steps o one of the Vaisnava shrines.

A pillar in the mandapa of Siva Devale No. 5 at Polonnaruwa was discovered with a Sinhala inscription of the eleventh century on it. In Siva Devale No.7 a square stone asana with an inscription of Nissankamalla was used as a base for a linga.

Another of the Saiva shrines unearthed at Polonnaruwa yeilded a pillar with a Sinhalese inscription of Jayabahu 1.

These examples leave us in no doubt that materials from Buddhist structures were used in the building of Saiva and Vaisnava temples.

The date of most inscriptions found on the pillars and slabs is the twelfth century. The date of the construction of these Saiva and Vaisanava shrines is certainly later than that. (page 361-364)
The invasion of Kalinga Magha with the help of Kerala and Tamil mercenaries was far more violent than the earlier invasions. Its chief importance lies in the fact that it led to the permanent dislodgement of Sinhalese power from northern Ceylon, the confiscation by Tamils and Keralas of lands and properties belonging to the Sinhalese and the consequent migration of the official class and many of the common people to the south western regions. (page 395-396).

The Author:
Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala, a Sri Lankan Tamil, had his early education in Jaffna and later joined the academic staff of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in the late fifties after obtaining a Honours Degree in History from the same University.
In 1965 he was awarded the Ph D by the University of London, for his research on "Dravidian Settlements in Ceylon and the beginnings of the Jaffna Kingdom", which he did at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
The choice and approval of this subject was based on the fact that no reliable research had been done on the Dravidian/South Indian migrations to SriLanka before the tenth century.
On his return to Sri Lanka Indrapala was appointed to the academic staff of the History Department of the Jaffna campus. When the substance of his thesis regarding early Dravidian settlements came to be known from his lectures, talks and articles, he became very unpopular with the Tamil extremists and non-academic Tamil historians. Itis probably for this reason that he left the University and migrated to Australia, and it is also why this valuable thesis remains unpublished.
Non-academic Tamil historians such as C Rasanayagam, C S Navaratnam and Fr Gnanapragasar who has written on the Jaffna Kingdom, which emerged in the twelfth century had made unhistorical assumptions of the period before that date based on the early legendary and mythical sections of the Tamil Ylpana Vaipava Malai.



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