The Concept of  Trauma in the Ancient Sri Lankan Societies
Posted on February 22nd, 2017

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 

According to the archaeological evidence, the island was inhabited as early as 10,000 B.C.  The Sri Lanka’s ancient cultural heritage dates back over 2,500 years. The Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3ed Century. The Buddhism became an integral part of Sinhalese culture and civilization.  Sri Lanka became one of the few countries with a very vast and rich cultural diversity. The Sri Lankan culture was influenced by India and subsequently by Europe. The European influence was a result of invasion from the Dutch and Portuguese and finally the British in the 19th Century.

The concept of combat trauma dates back to the ancient times. Combat trauma had a profound historical, cultural, social, and religious significance to Sri Lanka and the notion of combat trauma is not new to the Sri Lankans. Throughout the Sri Lankan history, there were foreign invasions, internal conflicts and the Islanders had to confront fearsome battles.

According to the Mahawansa – the great chronicle history of Sri Lanka and one of the oldest chronologies in the world (a German translation of Mahavamsa was completed by the Deutsche Academic Wilhelm Geiger in 1912) describes the devastating impact of the great Wijithapura Battle that occurred in 205 B.C. The triumphant King Dutugemunu experienced severe depressive feelings soon after the battle. This could have been a negative emotional reaction due to post combat depression. The King had guilty feelings over the men that perished in the war. He felt that he was personally responsible for these lives. Later the King’s emotional suffering was healed by a monk.

From 103B.C to 89 B.C, Sri Lanka faced a series of foreign invasions from South India. The King Walagamba fought against the invaders for a long period. When he reestablished his kingdom, the King Walagamba was exhausted following long battles. The enemies had destroyed the irrigation systems, the economy had been collapsed and the country was suffering a starvation. The population manly consisted of war widows and orphans. The King Walagamba took unmourns measures to heal the land that was tormented by 14 year war.

In 110 A.D, South Indian Sovereigns invaded Sri Lanka and took 12,000 people as prisoners. The Bhilla tribal men kidnaped young healthy Sinhala males to work in the South Indian paddy fields. The men suffered immensely in these ancient day gulags. The King Gajaba conquered these kingdoms and rescued the POWs. Up-to-date the fear of Bhilla tribal men remains in the Sri Lankan collective unconscious. Even today, if a child does a mischief parents often say Billa the boogeyman will come and get you.

The King Wijayabahu who ruled Sri Lanka from 1055AD to 1110 AD had to fight   against the  Chola  invaders. His military campaign lasted for 17 years. During these years, he faced numerous war related stress conditions.

The Western Nations arrived in 1505 AD and until 1815 A.D, the Sri Lankans fought against three Western Nations- the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. Some of the local warriors who fought against the foreign invaders later became the victims of combat trauma.

According to the Western chronological records, the first patients who showed PTSD like symptomatology were recorded in 1666. These records were based on Samuel Pepy’s diary which described the bizarre behavior pattern of   the survivors of the Great Fire of London.  Samuel Pepy vividly portrayed the nightmares, intrusions and flashbacks experienced by these survivors.

Although the Western World recorded PTSD like symptoms in 1666 the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe – the 16th century monarch of Sri Lanka is believed to have suffered from combat related PTSD and his disturbed behavior was recorded in the ancient scripts. The king’s abnormal behavior pattern was described in the Chulawansaya – the ancient chronicle and by the Portuguese historian Fernão de Queyroz .  In his publication titled ‘Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon Queyroz writes about the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe ‘s behavior in the later stages in detail. These writings came prior to Samuel Pepy’s diary.

The Portuguese came to Sri Lanka in 1505 and launched a massive armed campaign against the islanders. The King Seethawaka Rajasinghe (1544 A.D – 1593 A.D) was a great warrior who came to the battlefield at the age of 16. He fought against the Portuguese invaders and witnessed many deaths and destructions. He was a fearless fighter who used proficient war tactics and overpowered the fully equipped and fully trained Portuguese Army that was considered as a superpower in the 16th century World. The King Seethawaka Rajasinghe defeated the Portuguese in a number of decisive battles. His military campaigns prevented Sri Lanka becoming a Portuguese Colony. Following long years of combat, the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe was exhausted and unquestionably suffered from battle fatigue. In the later years, the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe showed outburst of anger, irritability, deep mistrust, alienation, emotional numbing and various other PTSD related symptoms.

5 Responses to “The Concept of  Trauma in the Ancient Sri Lankan Societies”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Going back in history, way back is wrong because what we know is not going to be accurate. History glorify criminals and rascals as heroes, while people who did much to be appreciated and remembered is forgotten and even condemned.
    What will history write about the notorious ASP visited in remand prison by the former Prez CBK and what will they write about the notorious fellow visited by the last Prez in prison. Then the fake general who were locked up for multiple murders and even a statue is erected?
    In future history might say these are heroes who were unjustly treated and the heads of the states went to prisons to give them comfort while the naughty judges and the juries have incarcerated and a brave President came back to power in the nick of time and pardoned them.
    Sounds rosy in a 100 years, little to show how the suffering lived and little these guys did to the people and country. This the type of fake history that people in our country being asked to accept and believe.
    It seems Sri Lankans are one of the few people glorify history, perhaps as some solace. I meet many people from countries with a history which they too could boast about but they know it’s pointless going back but moving on. It seems that we are still trying to invent the wheel.

  2. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    It is utterly wrong to say that the Sri Lankans are one of the few people glorify history, perhaps as some solace.

    Perhaps, Nimal never had a chance to get his primary education in England.

    In England everyone should learn about British history in primary and secondary education level up to GCSE ( O level) and that will become the foundation for everyone’s’ love of their country.

    The great thing is that you don’t need to teach patriotism. All you need to do is teach a completely objective, accurate account and the outcome is naturally patriotic because it is such a great story.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    I fully agree with NeelaMahaYoda.

    Britain, the Netherland, Portugal, Italy, Russia, USA, Japan, France, India, Arabia, Israel, China, Mongolia, etc. (essentially all nations with a history) glorify extreme violence within and outside their nations in their histories.

    Sri Lanka must not be the exception.

    Sri Lanka used genocide in warfare against South Indian invaders (circa 1070 AD) when genocide was the norm in protecting people against invaders. Lankans used slaves to trade their way (circa 750 AD) when slave trade was the norm. Lanka used brutal ‘small army tactics’ against the Portuguese (circa 1600 AD) when these were the norm. It is foolish to look at historical events through today’s norms. Such a foolish approach assumes the world doesn’t develop and remains static for thousands of years.

    This does not mean these acts must be repeated in this age. On the contrary, it only means acts of all countries are justified by the times and by the legal regimen in place.

    Sri Lankans can be extremely proud of their history. In fact, historically Sri Lanka seems to have used modern day humanitarian concepts way ahead of their times.

    e.g. Proportionality in weapons and tactics use and collateral damage, treating enemy combatants with reasonable dignity, very limited use of slaves given that all other countries used slaves extensively, very limited caste (India), status (Europe) and tribal (African) discrimination, absence of ideological warfare (India, Middle East, Europe) and near total absence of invasions into other lands.

    I completely endorse NeelaMahaYoda’s final sentence. Just teach a completely objective and accurate account of history with reference to the times and let people make up their own minds. In this space I recommend those ignorant to watch British light rumour children’s history program series ‘Horrible Histories’ which has segments titled ‘Rotten Romans’, ‘Vile Victorians’, etc.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    ‘British light rumour’ should be corrected as British light humour.

  5. Nimal Says:


    Yes they are taught history,but never glorified it or praised it,because they jolly well know how horrible it was.It wasn’t the talking point at a getogether and people are not losing sleep overit.It is the pathatic some Sri Lankans that go on about it,truly pathatic.

    Progressive Sri Lankans here (very few I say) agree with me as they seem to be the high achievers in this very competitive UK.Likes of us just can’t take shelter or solace in the unknown history which doesn’t pay my bills for pay my staff and above all my taxes.We are in the real world.

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