Were the Buddhists in Pre-Christian Lanka pure catikkaran “Tamils” whose mother tongue was Sinhala ?
Posted on December 5th, 2011

by Gam Vaesiya, Ontario, Canada.

Mr. J. L. Devananda (JLD), writing to the electronic “Blog” maintained by D. B. S. Jeyaraj  (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/3031) on the 27 of November provides a very provocative discussion of Tamil Buddhists in Ancient Lanka. Readers may recall that JLD had published two  articles on the “Mahavamsa mentality” in Jeyraj’s blog sometime ago, to which Bandu de Silva wrote a detailed reply (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1922). JLD’s  Mahavamsa article is essentially  a re-affirmation of the ‘Tamil homeland concept’ (THC), and a renewal of some aspects of the 1930s politics of G. G. Ponnambalam. This includes the claim that the ‘National Question’ of Sri Lanka is due to the ‘Mahavamsa mentality’ of the Sinhalese.

THC does not deal with the awkward presence of Buddhist archaeological remains going back to at least the third century BCE. The new JLD article extends the THC by claiming that the early settlers were Tamil Buddhists, and that the “ancient Buddhist remains in the North and East of Sri Lanka are the remnants left by the Tamil Buddhists and not anybody else”. Thus exclusive ownership is claimed for the land as well as even its Buddhist  religious ruins. Any Jain,  Hindu ruins and the legacy of colonial Christianity in the North are also automatically annexed as part of the ‘Tamil homeland’. This is of course a simple re-statement of the Eelam ideology, regularly expressed in the columns of the Tamil Net, TamilCanadian, Sangam.org and other separatist portals. Jeyraj’s Blogs are presented to a wider audience assuming an air of strategic  open-mindedness, presumably opposed to the LTTE position.  It should be noted that jeyraj has also espoused the ‘Federalidea.com’ electronic journal. The comments to the DLJ article brought out several issues including those of Sinhala place names in the North, as well as the perennial ‘chicken and egg’ questions like who were the “first settlers” of Sri Lanka’s north.

The Pre-christian Era
The last significant glaciation (ice age) of the earth may have occurred around 10,000 BCE, i.e., some 5 centuries before Buddhist times (Fig. 1 – Climate.jpg). An ice age lowers the water level of the ocean, and people as well as animals would cross between south India and Lanka. ‘Rama sethu’ would truly have been a promenade connecting the two land masses and homogenizing the biosphere. There were neither ‘Sinhalese’, nor ‘Tamils’ as ethnic identities at the time when the two land masses were connected, and hence the early settlers were Lankans, to use the oldest name for the Land found in any records. Those ancient people would have as their common language the Rig-Veda Prakrit of the Ancient Indian continent;  Lanka was attached to the continent by that land link.

The end of the ice age raised the sea level and created the  Rama-sagara (Palk straits).  Mariners from India, from the Mediterranean and the East would have arrived from about the 8th century BCE. Given that Mahatitha (Mannar) was a great sea port, perhaps even during Phoenician times,  ancient ‘Rajarata’ (the region which later became the Anuradhapura civilization) would have had many contacts from the North and the South of India, as well as from western and eastern lands on the sea route.  The presence of place names like Alavakkaisirukkulam (Alavaka-aasiri-kulama) near Mannar, harking back to the Kirat name Alavaka is significant. Alavaka is a ‘Yakkha’ name  mentioned in the Sutta Nipata, Samyutta Nikaya (Alavaka sutta). It is possible that one branch of the ‘Pre-Aryan Kirat’ people of Nepal possibly migrated to Lanka and were known as the Yakkha. (see ‘Kirat Vansavali. The Political History of India ‘, H. C. Ray Chawdhary). The Buddhist Lichchavis were probably Kirat people. The Kirat king Jatidasti ruled in parts of Modern Nepal during Buddha’s time. In any case, given the power of the North Indian empires in those early days when south India was still tribal, it is highly plausible that there were North Indian mercantile and naval contacts and migrations in Lanka long before Vijaya. Further more, ‘Yakka’ people are mentioned as inhabitants of Lanka in the Pali and Sanskrit literature referring to the period.

Another, definitely more southern group of people are the ‘Nagas’. Edward O. Wilson, the great Biologist has claimed that the fear and veneration of the Cobra or Serpent is a fundamental ‘meme’ possibly anchored in the DNA of the human species.  Tribes and cults which venerated the Nagas existed in all tropical climes, be it in Asia or  the Amazon. The Naga tribes existed in India as well as in Sri Lanka. Place names like Nagpur, Nakkur, Nallur and other cognate forms of  ‘Nagapuram’ (Sanskrit) are found in areas having temples dedicated to the worship of the Naga, often with several heads. Even today ‘Natha Deiyyo’, raised to the status of a Bodhisatva (Buddha-aspirant) is worshiped in Buddhist Sri Lanka, with the Damingamuva temple having an unbroken tradition dating back to at least the 5th century. The Naga temples of the North are now absorbed into main stream Hinduism and are found all over India and Northern Sri Lanka. In our view,  the Nallur (ancient Nagapura) town of Jaffna was the capital of the ancient Nagas. Even the Pali chronicles record disputes among the Naga kings, and the Buddha’s legendary intervention in Nagadipa. The issue of the historicity of such visits of the Buddha is irrelevant to us here, as we merely note the existence of a historical tradition of the Nagas. The island of Nagadipa (Tamil: Nainativu) would have been a large landmass directly connected to the rest of the peninsula during the glaciation period,  a few centuries before the Buddhist era. The Manimekali has mentioned the great Naga king Valavana (Tamil: Valai Vanan) who ruled the Nagadeep, possible three or four centuries BCE.   Even today Nagadipa has the Nagaposani Amman temple, a clear example of how the Naga belief system has survived within low-brow Hinduism.

We may surmise that the southern Nagas were brown coloured people, while those Yakkas with a Kirat lineage were fair coloured people. This simply means that the inhabitants of the land had a wide range of skin colours. In fact, Kuveni, the “Yakka” princes mentioned in the Vijaya legend would have had a brown skin, since ku-veni literally means brown- coloured (ku-varni). The Yakkas, like the Kirats, probably spread into the hill country as well, and those who lived on the hills became the Malechchas,  where the term ‘malaya’ for ‘hills’ provide an etymological link.

As we come to Asokan times, North India had become Buddhist. The language used through out were local forms of Prakrit, out of which arose the more formalized Sanskrit of the learned Brahamins. Of course, this Sanskrit existed in less developed form (e.g., in the Rig Veda) long before the time of Panini  and other savants who formalized ‘Sanskrit as such’. The intellectual ferment of the 5-6 th centuries BCE, triggered by the end of the ice age a few centuries before,  touched most of the ancient world, with Socrates in Hellas, Mahavira and Buddha  in India, and Confucius in China. It  would have been felt in Lanka too. Jainism first, and Buddhism next were the new kids on the block who began to move beyond North India. Thus, by the time Buddhism moved south, India and Lanka were using some slight variants of Asokan Prakrit.  Asoka’s missionary efforts were the high points of a  movement of language and culture that had started at least a century earlier. The Pali chronicles indicate that the Lankan king had no difficulty in communicating with the Indian emissary. This is consistent with the existence of a common language inferred from geological, inscriptional and literary evidence.

LJD begins by a reference to the Asokan Rock Edict No. III, and says that “Among the countries referred to are Cola, Pandya, and Tambapanni. This inscription was written in 258 B.C”.   The reader would note that there is no reference to any sort of “Tamilakam,   ƒÆ’‚ ®¤ƒÆ’‚ ®®ƒÆ’‚ ®¿ƒÆ’‚ ®´ƒÆ’‚ ®”‚¢ƒÆ’‚ ®®ƒÆ’‚ ¯ ” in any of these early inscriptions. Also, when a writer gives the dates of inscriptions correct to three significant figures without much ado, the reader recognizes that the content has to be taken “cum grano salis”. Karthigesu Indrapala, in his book “The evolution of an Ethnic Identity (2006)” states that  “the ethnic labels such as ‘Dameda’, ‘Ila’ and ‘Barata’, occurring in ancient inscriptions … no doubt had features that distinguished them from one another … It is unlikely that at that state language was a distinguishing feature” (p22-23).

The earliest reference to the word “Dameda”, (or “Damila”) is probably found in the Pali Akkiti jathaka, and in the Sanskrit/Prakrit writings, where it  indicated a geographic location – a “Dakkina Desha”, somewhat as we would refer to the ‘middle-east’ today. The ‘Buddhist’ Jathakas  are indeed an older, pre-buddhist  heritage assimilated into Buddhism. As far as the northern Prakrit/Pali/Sanskrit writers were concerned, South India was ‘Dakkina’ or southern in location.  The writers of the Pali chronicles of Lanka considered themselves to be descendants of North Indians, and they too referred to the south Indians as “Dameda”, just as Sri Lankas, while living east of the Arab lands, refer to them as “middle-eastern”. The Brahmi (prakrit) inscriptions at Mahadivikulama (Periyapuliyankulam) in Anuradhapura, and at Kuddavila (Kuduvil) in the Ruhuna also contain references to the name ‘Dameda’. The modern name ‘Dravidian’, covering not only Tamil, but Teugu, Malayalam, Kannada etc., as well as the form ‘Damila’ (Tamil) are both derivatives of  the ancient form ‘Dameda’. We may safely follow Indrapala’s point of view and take it that a ‘Tamil’ ethnicity had not evolved at the time period of the third Rock Edict of Asoka. In effect, the most ancient inscriptions used ‘dameda’ to mean ‘southern’, while gradually this evolved to mean ‘ Demala’ or ‘Tamil’, and crystallized into its ethnic meaning during the Sangam period, in the early centuries of the common era (CE).

In addition to the worship of God Natha of the Nagas, the Jain belief system must have been important in Lanka, as it had already become important in south India. Jainism was intellectually more powerful than the tribal belief systems centered around village deities like Badhra-Kali, or Murugan. Those belief systems had not yet assimilated the intellectual strength of  Brahaminic Hinduism. We  have evidence of the initial rise  of Jain influence  from archeology (e.g., as discussed in the Cambridge History of India), as well as from some idioms and usage even in Old Tamil. In this essay we will concentrate mainly on Buddhism.
 The acceptance of Buddhism by the King Devanam-Piyatissa (3rd Century BCE) probably led to all his subjects simply accepting the religion which was probably already known in Lanka, while keeping the animistic belief systems at a secondary level. A veritable cultural exchange began between India and Lanka, with Sangamittha Theri bringing the Bo sapling to Anuradhapura. The route, starting from the Dambakolathota (Kankesanthurai) to Anuradhapura (see maps) was full of Buddhist shrines most of which are in ruins today. Devananda claims that they belong to the Tamils and no one else.

These sites have place names that are most easily identifiable as Sinhalese (Elu) place names. Attempts to identify them as arising from Dravidian roots usually fail, as discussed by Velu Pillai in 1918. It is not only Indrapala in the mid sixties, but also the Tamil scholars of an earlier era like Rasanayagam in his Ancient Jaffna (1926), K. Velu Pillai in Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi (1918), Fr. Gnanapragarsar,  Paul E. Peiris,  and the British civil servants like J. P.. Lewis and Horsburg, Denham et.,  who noted these Sinhala place names in the North and East. A modern, detailed compendium of such place names and their probable etymologies are given in the website http://dh-web.org/place.names/. Many thousands of place names are discussed at this website, extending the earlier work, and the place names are shown to be of proto-indo-europen (PIE) form, and  most likely to be of Sinhala origin.
Even the Brahmi inscription at Kuddavila, which says ‘Dameda Tisaya lena’, clearly means ‘cave (lena)  in the southern (dameda)  direction (tisaya ƒÆ’‚¢”‚ “‘ disava)’, and not a bizarre reference to a Tamil lady named ‘Tisaya’ in a cave.  The word ‘dameda’ had not in any probability acquired an ethnic meaning at the time of the Kuddavila inscription. We discuss  this issue further in dealing with the Tamil prakrit.
Interestingly enough, D. B. S. Jeyraj (responding to a comment by a reader of  the JLD blog)  claims that “Prof.Indrapala himself says his thesis is now outdated. He has written a book with fresh insights”.  If  it is implied that the new book, Evolution of an Ethnic Identity (2006) has somehow changed all this, then it is simply not so. As several blogers  noted,  the 2006-book totally side steps the question of Sinhala place names in the North and East, and deals with other matters. One has to assume that DBSJ is referring to a new book which has been written, but not yet published.

Given  these contradictions, all this can be rectified if Devananda, Jeyraj and others with an exclusive Tamil mindeset (ETM) were to claim that the North was indeed populated by  cƒÆ’-¾tikkƒÆ’-¾ran (ƒÆ’‚ ®ƒ…‚¡ƒÆ’‚ ®¾ƒÆ’‚ ®¤ƒÆ’‚ ®¿ƒÆ’‚ ®”‚¢ƒÆ’‚ ¯ƒÆ’‚ ®”‚¢ƒÆ’‚ ®¾ƒÆ’‚ ®°ƒÆ’‚ ®©ƒÆ’‚ ¯) Tamils who were Sinhala Buddhists, in  that they wrote their epigraphs and chronicles in Elu (ancient Sinhalese), governed  and  did all their daily business in Elu !

The  Sangam and post-Sangam Era.

A slight variant of the Magadha Prakrit brought to the south by the Jains and the buddhists, now known as ‘Tamil Prakrit’ (and Vatteluttu), was the precursor of modern Dravidian languages.   The eminent  Tamil ephigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan lists 89 Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and 21 Early Vatteluttu inscriptions in Tamil Nadu and south Karnataka. The Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are mostly short inscriptions recording donations. They are found in inaccessible rock-caverns with stone beds for ascetics, mainly of the Jain and occasionally Buddhist followers.

 The crystallization of a Tamil ethnic identity as well as the formation of a Tamil language distinct from the ‘Dravidian Prakrit’ occurred during the Sangam period. The Sangam period probably began around the 1st century BCE or later, while some scholars have attempted to push it to earlier times. Mahadevan himself prefers a later time, claiming that Brahmi rather than the Tamil we know today was used till almost the 6th century CE. Thus, revising some of his earlier readings and the chronology of the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, Mahadevan provides a century-wise dating for them, by broadly classifying the script into two groups: Early Tamil Brahmi (2nd century BCE to 1st century AD), and Late Tamil Brahmi (2-4th Centuries CE) “”…” followed by Early Vatteluttu (5th-6th centuries CE).  Mahadevan has claimed that Sinhala-Brahmi has palaeographic similarities with Mauryan Brahmi and also with Tamil Brahmi. Sinhala-Brahmi is, according to Mahadevan, “unique among the Prakrit based variants of Brahmi”.  According to Mahadevan, Sinhala Brahmi has a Mauryan base as well as a substratum of Tamil Brahami.  But this type of claim is highly equivocal. One could equally well say that the Tamil Brahmi has a Mauryan base as well as a substratum of Sinhla Brahmi! Many of these regional variants are so close that the problem becomes similar to sorting out variants of early Swiss German from one Canton to Canton to another. 

That Lanka was well known as ‘Cinkalam’, ƒÆ’‚ ®ƒ…‚¡ƒÆ’‚ ®¿ƒÆ’‚ ®ƒ¢-¾‚¢ƒÆ’‚ ¯ƒÆ’‚ ®”‚¢ƒÆ’‚ ®³ƒÆ’‚ ®®ƒÆ’‚ ¯,  to early Tamil writers, or even as ‘Sinhaladeep’ to Indian writers in the early centuries of the Christian era is evident. Harisena in his Prasasthi of Samudragupta (~330 CE) of the famous Allahabad inscription, and Harsa (~606 CE) in the Drama Ratnavali refer to Sri Lanka as ‘Simhala”.

After all,  Sinhala itself seems to have been present in the South Indian sub-continent during these times. Place names like ‘Nagarjuna Konda’ (kanda in sinhala = hill), and the existence of Buddhist temples in the neighborhood with Sinhalese monks and Sinhalese place names,  demonstrates a reflux of Sinhalese Buddhism towards India in the early centuries of the common era. Potsherd graffiti, coins,  as well as inscriptions with Sinhala Prakrit have been found in the Thanjavur, Arikamedu, Alangulam,Kudumanal, Kaveripattinam, etc., as reported by Jeyakumar, Mahadevan, Iracavelu and other writers. Even Karthigesu Indrapala has drawn attention to this in one of his footnotes (note 57). Anuradhapura was a powerful Kingdom in the early centuries CE, and its religious and linguistic influence extended well into South India at that time.

At that time there was no ‘Tamil Nadu’. Instead there were several kingdoms as well as tribal areas. As the Kera, Chola and Pandiya Dravidian kingdoms began to flourish in the wake of the collapse of the North Indian Mauryan power, these kingdoms began to adopt the sophistications of the North. Sanskrit and Brahminical Hinduism also began their ascendancy and strongly influenced the Dravidian languages. Even the bureaucracy of the Mauryas was copied by these kings. The Mudradara officials who bore the Mauryan king’s seal and gave official authentication to royal decrees became the “Mudliyars’ of the southern kingdoms. The title Peramukan for a village leader, closely allied to the proto-indo-european form Pera-mukha (first-face), and pramukha, and the Pali Pamukho/Pamukkho also began to appear in the Dravidian kingdoms. This very simple and transparent analysis is rejected by S. K. Sitrampalam writing in the hay-day of the LTTE regime, (1986/87), where it is claimed that Peramuka is an original Tamil word with no connections to the earlier existent  PIE cognate words (already correctly interpreted by Paranavithana decades earlier). Similarly, in a felicitation volume to Prof. Subbarayalu, we read Sitrampalam’s  claims that “Although many of the original Tamil forms were either Prakritised or got submerged in the development of the proto””…”Sinhala language, more than fifty percent of these place names in the Brahmi inscriptions point to their Tamil origin”. In effect, Iravatam Mahadevan’s recognition of the existence of a Tamil variant of the Magadhi Prakrit is pushed to an extreme to claim that words which have old PIE cognates dating back even to the Rig Veda are in fact self-standing Tamil words! Such claims are usually published in partisan news media like the ‘Tamil Canadian’, or in felicitation volumes not subject to peer review. Subsequently, references are given to such material and a corpus of ‘scholarly literature’ is created. It must be the influence of such claims that may have led DBSJ to claim that the conclusions of Indrapala’s thesis are now superseded!

Professor Kailasapathy writing some years before all this, had indeed warned of such excesses in the hands of Tamil nationalism.

Some months prior to the DBJ blog on Tamil Buddhism, DBSJ had a blog on the settlement of IDPs, where the etymology of the place name Kokachchankulam was debated at length. Of course, a meaning was sought in vain, in Tamil, and possibly in Malayalam, but not in Sinhala! That the place name came from the Sinhala name Koku-aththana (Datura) was too much for for a readership subject to decades of Tamil nationalist propaganda. Even in an earlier age, K. Velu Pillai in Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi explains how Tamil Pundits laboured in vain to  interpret the place name ‘Chankattaravayal’ in terms of a purely Tamil or Hindu interpretation, never thinking of  the Sinhalese form ‘Sangataraviya’ which refers to a Buddhist (or even Jain) fraternity of monks (sangha).  This same exclusive Tamil mindset, as well as a lack of knowledge of the heavy Sanskrit content of Tamil makes it difficult for many ordinary Tamils to comprehend the origins of place names in Sri Lanka. That a ‘Tamil’ word may actually have come from Sanskrit/Prakrit going back to even the Rig Veda is not appreciated. For example,  Kalyani is a popular Tamil name “”…” stemming from Kalyanam/Marriage, and hence some one may conclude that the town of Kelaniya must be a Tamil place name! Puthtur, the ancient “Buthpura”, mentioned in the Pali literature of the land, and known to have Buddhist ruins is interpreted as “Puth-ur”, the “new town” within a  purely Tamil etymology! That Sri Lanka is a tapestry of many cultures and languages is unacceptable to the exclusive Tamil mindset. Another example that was in the news recently was the railway-station sign board Omanthai, being written in its old Sinhala form as Omantha with its clear Sinhala meaning, while the Tamil form has absolutely no contextually useful or other meaning (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=35485). This word game of the ETM applies to almost all the Tamilzed place names in the North and East.

The Mahavamsa
Just as the place names are a painful matter which has to be resolved by either ignoring them or resorting to the approach of Sitramplam (where Tamil prakrit got submerged in the development of proto-sinhala), the Mahavamsa has been an irritant since the 1920 when Tamil Nationalism began to view the Sinhalese as antagonists. As recorded by the British Historian Dr. Jane Russell in her book on Communal Politics in the Donoughmore Era (1982),  G. G. Ponnambalam was the first politician to drag the Mahavamsa into the political arena, in the 1930s. He and his supporters began to  claim that it is a false document with no historical value, while at other times the names occurring in it were tamilized (e.g., Vijaya ƒÆ’‚¢”‚ “‘  Vijayan, Kasyapa ƒÆ’‚¢”‚ “‘ Kasi-appan etc.) and a Thamizha-vansam was presented. In reacting to this S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike began a Sinhala Buddhist campaign and the ‘communal politics’ of the 1930s came into being. However, what was happening in Ceylon was a pale shade of the the racist ideologies of Hitler or Stalinist idologies fanning Europe at the time. We inherited the racist ideologies as well as the Marxist ideologies planted into Sri Lanka in the 1930s, and grappled with two insurrections arising from them, to wit, those of the LTTE and the JVP.

At this time Geiger himself contributed an article to the Royal Asiatic Society Journal discussing the historicity of the Mahavamsa. Nevertheless, the political polemics continued. G. G. Ponnambalam’s strong attack on the Mahavamsa and the Sinhalese at a Nawalapitiya meeting in 1939, wrongly thinking that the audience was mostly Tamil, led to the first Sinhala-Tamil riot in 1939. While this spread to many towns, the British were quick to put it down unhesitatingly. Modern Tamil nationalists are simply re-living the politics of the 1930s, with little change. Here we note that the Tamil dissident writer Sebastian Rasalingam has written about early Tamil politics, the present-day  Tamil mindset, and their links to the hierarchic caste-based society that prevailed in  the North.  JLD’s article on Jeyraj’s blog was also entitled “The Mahavamsa Mentality: Re-visiting Sinhala Buddhism in Sri Lanka” and contains the point of view of S. K. Sittramparam, A. Velupillai, P. Ragupathy, P. Pushparatnam,  S. Krishnarajah and other modern followers of G. G. Ponnabalam.

In this instance we must be careful to note that Prof. K. Indratrna has taken a diametrically opposite route and written very favourably of the Mahavamsa (p35 et sec.).  Actually, most educated Sinhalese are much less concerned about the Mahavamsa than are Tamil nationalists, and LJD’s claim that the Mahavamsa is a part of Sinhala Buddhist religion is a result of his lack of acquaintance with Sinhalese society.

Many Tamil nationalist writers have  also referred to Vijaya and subsequent Lankan kings sending for wives to Madurai and other Indian Capitals, and suggested this is also as an example of the Tamilness of those times described by the Mahavamsa. In reality, the Kings of the Kera, Chola and Pandiya kingdoms cherished fair-skinned wives, just as Vijaya did when he gave up the brow-skinned kuveni and looked North.   The south Indian  queens were from North India. So, when a Lankan prince sought the sister of a queen in Madurai he was actually getting a North Indian princess. Thus the Mahavamsa itself states that  Badhhakachchayana was a Sakyan princess. Another factor that should not be forgotten is that ethnicity was not as important as Caste in the ancient Indian ethos. A kshatriya had to marry a Kshtrya, as the acceptance of bastards by the populace was not automatic. After all, the Brahma created castes, and not ethnicities.

 Dr. Jane Russell writes (page 131): “The Ceylon Tamils had no written document on the lines of the Mahavamsa to authenticate their singular and separate historical authority in Sri Lanka, a fact which Ceylon Tamil communalists found very irksome”.  An epic presentation of the Tamil Kingdom of Jaffna, rather than the Tamizha-vamsam form of the Mahavamsa (with Kasi-appan replacing Kashyapa etc.) has been an alternative answer that has been pushed forward  in the hay day of the LTTE.  Actually, such re-writing of history began well before the Independence. The Tamil lawyers of Colombo led by S. J. V. Chelvanayagam in the 1940s sponsored the writing of  a Tamil History of Lanka by Tambimuttu. This presents the earliest inhabitants as Tamils with Munnesvaram, Kajiragama, Kailayanatar kovil in Nallur, Tirukketisvaram in Manthota and Tirukkonesvaram in Trincomalee, Keeramali, etc., as pre-Christian Hindu centers of habitation and  worship. More recently the historical claims have been pushed even up to some 25 centuries BCE! Thus R. Vigneswaran in his book “ƒ”¹…”Rock cave temple of Thirukoneswaram’ (2002) says the first temple was constructed as a cave temple in 2590 BC. It was said to be built over an existing Siva lingam. These writers ignore the existence of Naga worship and other forms of worship  authenticated by anthropology and even Darwinian evolutionary studies. As nothing else is known about such ancient times, this is mere folk lore by people who would turn around and become very empirical when they are ready to question the Mahavamsa.

Many historian and writers have discussed the Historical land claims of Tamil nationalists. A comprehensive, relatively recent  account written in the hayday of the LTTE has been given by Michael Roberts (South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, n.s., Vol.XXVII, no.1, April 2004, available at http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/rob-ajwilson.pdf).

The Mahavamsa is the greatest epic poem in Pali, and is at least in the same class (with respect to historicity, literary value etc.) as the works of Valmiki, Herodotus or Pliny in their classical languages. Mahavamsa dealt with legend, intrigue, war, incest, and stories of kings, queens,  conquerors, giants, ascetics, saints as well as ordinary men and women. Its hero is Dhutaagamini, who is given an equally worthy opponent in Elara (Ellalan). The book was written as poetry, ostensibly to create piety. Ancient People learnt their books by memory and recited them unlike in our age where the written word is dominant. The Mahavamsa was an instant hit in the “best-seller list” of the age,  and traveled the silk route. It must have been recited by bars (sutas) and wondering reciters (kusilavas). It has its many versions in Burma, Cambodia and other parts of the Buddhist world. So, it is a part of the world heritage.  Unfortunately, it remains indigestible to the exclusive mindset of the Tamils with their ‘exclusive Tamil homelands”, now extended to include the Buddhist ruins identified as Tamil-Buddhist ruins which belong to no one else. The Sinhalese place names are re-interpreted as Tamil Brahmi names! LJD and DBSJ are indeed working for a very strange version of  ethnic reconciliation by assimilating the Sinhalese as a  part of Tamil culture. G. G. Ponnambalam in his 1939 Nawalapitiya address said the same thing, and stated that the Sinhalese are a mongrel race (‘thuppahi’) descendant from the Tamils and that their culture is really those of Tamils, and this was the spark that ignited the first Sinhala-Tamil clash in Sri Lanka  (reported in full in the newspaper, Hindu Organ, November 1, 1939).


After ninty years of arguing (from 1920), and after  three decades of war, has anything changed in the Mahavamsa Mindset or the Exclusive-Tamil Mindset? Yes, even the Buddhist ruins are now claimed to be part of the exclusive Tamil heritage.  That Sri lanka is actually a nation with a rich and varied tapestry of many peoples, with a thoroughly inter-mixed gene of ethnicity and cultural memes, and positioned on the Silk Route is forgotten, and an attempt is made to exclusively attach it to the Sangam tradition of South India.

26 Responses to “Were the Buddhists in Pre-Christian Lanka pure catikkaran “Tamils” whose mother tongue was Sinhala ?”

  1. herman Says:

    Is it not true that even Hinduism had to “borrow” from the Mahavamsa to some extent? So now, the tamils are trying to get to the sinhala minds after failing from all other fronts!

  2. brahamin Says:

    This is a great article. I truly like the fact that these place names are marked and shown on maps. I didn’t realize that there were so many Sinhalese place-names or Buddhist shrines in the North.
    Luckily the ancient people left stone inscriptions as well as place names that have survived. If the LTTE had been there for a few more years, they would have blasted away all the stone inscriptions and rewritten history their way.

  3. Sirih Says:

    Last week ABC or Foxtel in Australia broadcast how Sanskrit evolve and since it has so many words similar to Greek and Latin, their assumption was Sanskrit was evolved from out side India.
    Program did mange to put it case perfectly including Aryan race is part of Rig-Veda… Fascinating program and also it gave me a new insight to the Sanskrit which I all along thought originated from India which is not true.
    Aryans means knowledgeable person or similar according to the Indian Prof.

  4. Raju Says:

    When Tamils were concocting there so called history they went around calling Jaffna and the North the bastion of Tamil civilisation and pointed out all the Hindu structures as “proof”. Then when archaeological activity discovered the ruins of Buddhist temples as well the foundations of certain Hindu temples being built upon Buddhist temple structures (that had been destroyed and converted) they quickly spun the “Tamil Buddhist” stories.

    The reality is of course Tamils have no history within Sri Lanka pre-dating Sinhala Buddhist history. The only “permanent” Tamil presence is from the 12th and 13th centuries revolving around the Chola invasions. These were repulsed and what was left of that (including the invaders/colonists) were concentrated in the peninsular submitting themselves to the Sinhala King, having to pay tribute, respect of authority and such.

    When the topic of history and “Tamil history” begins, they are quick to attack and insult Sinhala history, culture and people. Yet Sinhalese never do this in return –either out of Sinhala kindness and soft attitudes or knowing they (Tamils) have no history anyway and do not want to “upset” them. As of late i have seen the argument pedalled that questioning Tamils (their lies and sob stories) is not good because it will “upset race relations” and is now “not good for reconciliation”.

    So called Tamil history is based on attacking Sinhala history and trying to discredit it. Of course they struggle because all archaeological evidence supports what is contained within Mahavamsa (they try to silence Sinhalese from referring to or defending the Mahavamsa by blackening this great document as “racist”). Thus questioning them about anything including their bogus tales of “discrimination” and fraudulent “grievances” is “racism”. Intriguingly the moment the history debate turns sour for Tamils (upon citing the lack of archaeological evidence) they and their white backers are quick to state “history is not important, it is about the today and the now”.

    When you dig up so called Tamil history in the North and East you find the ruins of Sinhala civilisation beneath.

    Even the world “eelam” is the corrupted Tamil/South Indian word for “Sinhale”/”Sinhala”. As that is the name given to this land for its inhabitants by its inhabitants. It is only in 2007 they realised this “mistake” and changed it to Eezham or something like that. For all this time they had been demanding a “Tamil eelam” they were calling for a “Tamil land of the Sinhalese”. Their whole “homeland” project was nothing more than theft and deceit engraved in the name itself. That said Tamil culture is built on theft and deceit and they have no problem with doing so if it means self-advancement.

    Best of all the word “Tamil” itself was coined by the British.

  5. Raju Says:


    When archaeological activity was being done on Ashoka’s Empire and that portion of history the Indian archaeologists used Mahavamsa as a guide/basis for their work.


    A lot of place names in the North and East are the Tamilised version of the Sinhala names.

    The Tamil place names have no meaning in the Tamil language, where as the Sinhala names do have meaning.

    There was once a website which listed all the place names which had been Tamilised with maps as well.

  6. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    These distortions of the Sinhalese history by a frustrated bunch of Tamil Separatists, is an eye opener to the International Community who had been gullible enough to believe their previous fabrications such as discrimination, oppression etc (which helped them to get refugee status in foreign countries and live on free social benefits from the tax payer’s funds), to what low levels these people could stoop to, to continue to deceive the Westerners and live on their handouts.
    These Tamil separatists with no self esteem, might as well say that the whole of Sri Lanka (in pre-colonial times known as Sinhale ) as well as the whole of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were populated with Buddhist Tamils, Hindu Tamils, Christian Tamils and Muslim Tamils, who spoke different languages used in those regions and therefore, today have the right to demand separate states in each of the Indian states as well as Bangladesh and Pakistan?
    Applying their own stupid fabrication one could ask, who are the Tamil speaking Tamils in Sri Lanka today? Are they recent migrants, as these distortionists claim the early Tamil migrants spoke sinhala and were buddhists? In any case, since these Sinhalese speaking buddhist Tamils are not calling for the creation of a separate state, are those calling for such a state the recent Tamil speaking Hindu migrants and labourers brought from Tamil Nadu?
    One day will these jokers say that the Aboriginees of Australia and Canada were also Tamils who spoke other languages and followed different religons.

  7. AnuD Says:

    There is a Mahayaana Sutrha Called Lanakwathara – Sutrha. That one says, Ravana was waiting until Buddha Reappears from the Naga Kingdom. Those Days Ravana had lived near present Sri Pada. Probably, Buddha was in the Naga Kingdom which extended from North up to about Kelaniya area. The rest was the Ravana’s Kingdom.

  8. AnuD Says:

    How does the human clan called YAAPAAs fit into this. For example – Yapa-patuna. People lived in that area came from a clan called Yapa.

    Any comments ?

  9. Raju Says:

    @A. Sooriarachi,

    The West could care less and when handling Sri Lanka they all follow the British “advice”, knowing Tamils as loyal creatures with a “cat like affection” to them (description given by British “writers” at in the mid/late 1800s) compared to Sinhalese. Sinhalese who at the time naturally defended their home against devious invaders and conquerors (though to late at times) unlike freshly imported foreigners who’s loyalty is more to those who shipped them over en mass making their numbers swell.

    It is to the other nations of the world we must make our case to with the most energy and they will indeed deeply sympathetic. Of course no Government of Sri Lanka would dare venture into this area for fear of “branding” and “not helping reconciliation”. Yet it is they who have the resources (embassies etc) to make such contacts and forwarding of this buried truth.

    That does not mean we should not try unravelling the truth to all including the West.

    You might find this interesting (originally posted in Asiantribune by another individual):

    Journal of an Englishman (Edward Sullivan) who had visited “Ceylon” in the mid-19th century: “All labour on a coffee estate is performed by coolies from the Malabar coast; they are chiefly Tamuls,but amongst them are some Mahrattas from Kandeish. They are a docile,inoffensive race, and when well treated, they contract a certain cat-like affection for their masters and for particular localities”

    He goes on to say two paragraphs later (about the “Tamuls”): “They have no partiality whatever for the Cingalese; and if the rebellion of 1848 had come to a head, I have no doubt they would have protected their masters…”

  10. Raju Says:

    @A. Sooriarachi,

    The West could care less and when handling Sri Lanka they all follow the British “advice”, knowing Tamils as loyal creatures with a “cat like affection” to them (description given by British “writers” at in the mid/late 1800s) compared to Sinhalese. Sinhalese who at the time naturally defended their home against devious invaders and conquerors (though too late at times) unlike freshly imported foreigners who’s loyalty is more to those who shipped them over en mass making their numbers swell.

    It is to the other nations of the world we must make our case with the most energy and they will indeed be deeply sympathetic. Of course no Government of Sri Lanka would dare venture into this area for fear of a “branding” and for “not helping reconciliation”. Yet it is they who have the resources (embassies etc) to make such contacts and forwarding of this buried truth.

    That does not mean we should not try unravelling the truth to all including the West.

    You might find this interesting (originally posted in Asiantribune by another individual):

    Journal of an Englishman (Edward Sullivan) who had visited “Ceylon” in the mid-19th century: “All labour on a coffee estate is performed by coolies from the Malabar coast; they are chiefly Tamuls,but amongst them are some Mahrattas from Kandeish. They are a docile,inoffensive race, and when well treated, they contract a certain cat-like affection for their masters and for particular localities”

    He goes on to say two paragraphs later (about the “Tamuls”): “They have no partiality whatever for the Cingalese; and if the rebellion of 1848 had come to a head, I have no doubt they would have protected their masters…”

  11. Bodhi Says:

    Raju says ”
    There was once a website which listed all the place names which had been Tamilised with maps as well”.
    That website is listed in the article and in the second map shown here: http://dh-web.org/place.names/

    To ArunD who asks about YAAPA…
    if you go to the website and read the entry on Jaffna where you find the explanation given by Paranavitana that the place waqs called Japanaya (Ja=Java people, panaya=village) after the Javanese king ChnadraBahnu captured the North. Another theory is that it was “Yapa-patuna”, where Yapa is a “powerful government administrator”.

  12. Bodhi Says:

    Raju says “Tamil itself was coined by the British”! But read the article, and it says it came from the Sanskrit words “Dameda”, and Damila” and that originally meant “southern” because South India was southern to the Sanskrit writers who lived in the North, many many centuries ago.
    So the name tamil was not given by the British, but derived from Damila, and the article says the world for Damila in Tamil is “Thamil” (As in Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi).
    So the British have nothing to do with it.

  13. brahamin Says:

    Sirih’s comment: ABC-TV may say that Sanskrit came from outside India, but there is also a vast amount of evidence against it. I think it is a truly Indian product. Latin, Greek English, French and German have borrowed a vast amount of words from Latin which came much later than Sanskrit and so must have got them from sanskrit.

    One interesting thing said in this article is that the God of the nagas, i.e., Naka Deva is what became “Nath Deviyo”. Indeed, Na trees (Naa Gas) are always planted near the Naatha Devalaya.

  14. Dilrook Says:

    Sri Lanka was populated with modern humans long before (34,000 years ago) the last ice age (10,000 years ago). Either way there were no Sinhalese or Tamils at that time.

    It was Yapane that became Jaffna.

    Yapane —> Japane —-> Jafane —> Jaffna
    Y = J in local and Portuguese languages and P = F in local languages.

    It was not Yarlpanam that became Jaffna.

    There is no “L” or “M” sound in Jaffna. This shows Jaffna was known as Yapane at that time and it was the Sinhala place name.

    Whatever the arguments about Tamil Buddhists and Sinhala Buddhists, ancient Buddhist sites in the north must belong to today’s Buddhists. The fact that almost all Buddhists are Sinhalese is irrelevant.

    Naga as mentioned in Mahabharata and Mahawamsa was a predominantly a North Indian tribe. The only Naga sect in South India was in South West India but most Naga kingdoms were in North India.

    Regions in the far north
    North of Himalayas (Tibet)
    Kasmira Region (Kashmir)
    River Iravati (Punjab)
    Kurukshetra Region (Hariyana)
    Kerala Region
    Ganges in Himalayas (Uttarakhand)
    Ganges Basin (Uttar Pradesh)
    Magahda Kingdom (Bihar)


    Mahavamsa and Mahabharata Nagas should not be confused with general serpent worshipping people. History whenever relating to Nagas is specific.

    So the Naga argument of linking to Tamil/Dravidian Nagas/Nakas fail.

    The widespread inter-connected Naga kingdoms may explain how the news of Chulodara-Mahodara conflict reached Lord Buddha via the Maghadha region.

  15. Raju Says:


    Thanks! I don’t know how I missed that link, and it is indeed the same site (originally they used a geo-cities website and shifted URLs, hence they “disappeared” to me at least).

    I am unsure on the claim regarding the origins of the word “Thamil/Tamil” being “native” to South India because it has never been used/seen till the European period.

    Sinhalese call Tamils “demala”. This word originally meant “enemy of the Dharma”. It is from the word Dharma that the word “demala” has been derived. Even the Portuguese were called “demalas” at first. For they like South Indians before them were invading conquerors who attacked and desecrated Buddhist sites and massacred Buddhists. No one else uses this word “demala” when referring to Tamils up to this day, except Sinhalese entirely due to the deep historical connection and activities of anti-Buddhist conquerors and destroyers. It may have been used elsewhere in this context as well to describe anti-Buddhist groups and killers. But today seems to be used nowhere else except by Sinhalese to describe/name Tamils.

    The word/name “Tamil/Thamil/Tamul” appeared most concretely in the mid 17th century.

  16. Ariya Says:

    ජෙයරාජ් ඉන්නෙත් ටොරොන්ටෝ නගරයේ, ගම් වැසියාත් ඉනිනේ ඒ නගරේමයි, ඉතින් දෙන්නම කතා කරන්නේ ටොරොන්ටෝ නගරේ ඉඳල කිලොමීටර් 14000 කටත් එහා තියෙන ලංකාව ගැන. හැබැයි ලංකාවට ඇවිල්ල මේ ගැන කතා කරන්න දෙන්නම කැමැති නැහැ.

  17. Lorenzo Says:

    “Journal of an Englishman (Edward Sullivan) who had visited “Ceylon” in the mid-19th century: “All labour on a coffee estate is performed by coolies from the Malabar coast; they are chiefly Tamuls,but amongst them are some Mahrattas from Kandeish. They are a docile,inoffensive race, and when well treated, they contract a certain cat-like affection for their masters and for particular localities”

    He goes on to say two paragraphs later (about the “Tamuls”): “They have no partiality whatever for the Cingalese; and if the rebellion of 1848 had come to a head, I have no doubt they would have protected their masters…”

    Very interesting!

    1. This may explain why now they have created “cat-like” attraction to white masters.

    2. And also why they were taken around the world (e.g. SL, Malaysia, Fiji, South Africa, etc.) as slaves.

    3. If we follow the master role, they may even be good followers!

    It is said that a good servant is a bad master. Have we messed up the situation by mixing the two?

  18. thurai Says:

    everyman in the world have good side and bad side of their life. We Sri Lankans also the same. We are
    under one Government now. We have enough bad experince by Speaking we are Tamil ,Muslim and Sinhalese.
    Tamils who come to south of Sri Lanka never refused to speak Sinhala, and the Sinhalese in the North never
    hate the Tamils. Historians and Politicians never bring end of any conflict. Most of their life depends on
    fueling the fire. We have to lay a foundation to built a peaceful generation in Sri Lanka. Not going back
    to the history and take sword and Horses.

  19. Christie Says:

    These Tamils in the Island nation are no different to 100 million of their close relatives accross the Palk Strait, Tamils in far places like Fiji. Malaya, Singapore, Mauritius, Kenya, Mauritius, South Afrca and so on to name a few.

    Greatest Indian ever to live Lal Bahadhur Shastri who saw the effect of the caste system and the Indian colonialism took steps to alleviate the suffering of the victims. He signed the “Sirima Shastri Pact” to send back a significant number of Indian colonial parasites.

    It is time for the non-Indians of the Island nation to unite and seek freedom from these Indian colonial parasites.

  20. brahamin Says:

    Raju says the word Dameda appeared in the 17th century. Read the mahavamsa. Its says two dameda by the name of Sena and Guttika captured power. That was about 150 years before Dutugamunu. Dameda is also the origin of the word “dravida”, and means “southern” and nothing to do with “against the Dharma”. Read the mahavamsa.

  21. brahamin Says:

    Ariya says Jeyraj is in Torornto, and Jeyraj gets another Tamil writer names Devananda to attack Sri lanka. But Aria who lives in Sri lanka does not write to defend Sri lanka. instead he attacks people who come to the defence of Sri lanka. So, he is working on the side of Jeyraj and other Diaspora Tailms. So could it be possible that “Ariya” is the assumed name of a man/woman who has gone to Sri Lanka to de-stabilize the place by doing unpatriotic things? Being in Sri lanka alone is not enough. You will be judged by your actions man! In any case, how do we know where you are.
    Buddhists say that the mind is the most important thing, as was mentioned in some discussions in lankaweb. If Jeyraj’s mind, and Devanada’s mind, and GamVaesiya’s mind are concerned about Sri lanka, that is all that matters — we don’t care where their bodies and brains are.

  22. Fran Diaz Says:

    Where are the Buddhist Tamils of today in Sri Lanka ? I myself have never met any Tamil speaking Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Also, Buddhism has not flourished in Tamil Nadu, as opposed to Sri Lanka. As such, Tamil claims to Buddhism in the North is rather slim, we are sorry to state.
    A person is judged by his actions, not by his birth status, said the Buddha. The Buddha was against the Caste structure and resulting discrimination. Buddhism erases Caste. Can Buddhism (or any other religion) be an acceptable religion to a Caste bound society such as Tamil people ?

    Re language, Sinhala is the language of Lanka. English can be the link language. Tamil is an Official Language. There are no parts of Lanka that belong to Tamil people only, historically or otherwise. Tamil leaders make false and dangerous promises to Tamil people by creating mythical Eelams/Eezahms. How can Tamil people live in peace with the rest of the population of Lanka when Tamil leaders constantly pull them into disharmony/divisional politics – is it done to please some Tamil Nadu leaders and some western leaders ?

    It is time to unite as Sri Lankans and look for PRACTICAL solutions to our day to day problems, in all parts of Lanka. Constant bad & unpredictable weather patterns from Global Warming (Climate Change) demands that we plan now to contend with the sea eating into the land, and food preservation for food shortages due to bad weather, and also better methods of health care for all. For that we need clever & sincere politicians, professionals, intellectuals, concerned others from all sectors of society, and a population that has studied Science & Technology mainly. We think that even Buddhist priests can make a significant contribution to society if they too studied some Sc&Tech.

  23. Christie Says:

    Hindu Tamils and other Hindu Indians are the problem of the Island nation and other parts of the Indian Empire.

    These subjects unite and demand freedom from the Indian Imperialists.

    Issues raised in this article are nonsense to upset the subjects of Indian Imerialists.

    This is non-violent aggression and oppression in the best of Hindu Indian Imperialism.

  24. Raju Says:

    “brahamin Says:

    December 6th, 2011 at 6:31 am
    Raju says the word Dameda appeared in the 17th century.

    Read properly please. I said the word “tamil/thamil/tamul” comes from the 17th century. Prior to the 17th century you never see this word.

    Why did Sinhalese refer to the Portuguese as “demalas” for decades following the first encounter?? Perhaps foreign destroyers and killers get the same name (at first) considering prior to the Portuguese invasion the only other people similar to their brutality and barbarity Sinhalese had encountered came from South India.

  25. brahamin Says:

    Re: Raju – I see that you are distinguishing between D and T or Th.
    That is indeed true in english or portuguese. But in the Dravidian languages Tamil, Telugu, kannanda and Malayalam there is no D sound; only a T and a different Th sound.
    It is in Sansklrit and Sinhala that we write Dameda, Damila etc. In the Dravidian languages there is only the T or Th sound, and they use that for both th and D indiscriminately by ட=T or Th=த .
    So they write vadukkkoddai or vatukkottai with ட at the T.
    But tamil will be “thamil”, தமிழ், and that is since Samgam times, i.e., at least from the 6th century if not before.
    The pronunciation can depend on the context of the sentence.

  26. Bodhi Says:

    @Brahamin – Hi don’t forget that the real name of Vaddukkoddai is Batakotte, i.e., the kotuva which had bhatayo. This sinhala place name existed till 1900, and so it was an ancient garrison town. The tamil language does not have a B, and so they putt a V there and changed the name.

    The same thing is happening in the South. Go to any station along the railway and you will see
    Kauthara -> Kaluththurei; galla–>Kaali; Panadure–> Pananthurei; Kegalle –> Kekaallai; Badulla –> bathulai;
    rathnaputa –> iraththinapuri, Tangalle –> Thankallai; and so on. But NO ONE PROTESTS. On the other hand, the moment
    Omanthai was AT LAST CORREDCTLY writtenas Omantha in Sinhala and English, a lot of protests were started by tamils.

    here is a newsreport on the “Sri lanka ONLINE” saying:
    Omanthai, Palai railway line construction in progress – by Sandasen Marasinghe Irangika Range and Disna Mudalige – The construction of the railway line from Omanthai to Palai is in progress, according to an answer tabled by Deputy Transport Minister The sinhala reporters are using the Tamilized forms, where as these maps given in thisarticle and in their website (dh-wrb.org/place.names/) gives a full list of the sinhala forms.

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