A Problem of History

The late Mr. Anthony Gnana Prakasam B.A. (London), Advocate, Barrister (Inns of Court) and Barrister (Sorbonne), one of those multi-facetted geniuses which Yalpanam is so prolific in producing generation after generation, … once said, "History is a mystery".

Elara (210-161BC), believe it or not a Tamil, was the 13th ruler of "Sri Lanka," assuming the Mahavamsa postulate of a "single-nation-state," reflecting a "Sinhala-Buddhist-Consciousness".

The latter, by the way, raises the question which has been asked before as to whether the two (Sinhala & Buddhist) must always be yoked together like Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, or whether there could not possibly have been, even in a remote corner of the island, people who were Buddhist but not Sinhala-speaking or in the alternative, Sinhala-speaking though not Buddhist.

Be that as it may, Elara moves on to the stage of Sri Lanka history, a la Mahavamsa, a mere 46 years after Devanampiya Tissa (247 BC). Even before him there seem to have been Sena and Guttika, who were the 10th and 11th rulers. The 5th ruler, Mutasiva, a somewhat Saivite sounding name, was the son of Pandukabhaya the 4th ruler, and he was succeeded by his 4 sons, Devanampiya Tissa, Uttiya, and then came the above named S. and G.

Again, after Dutugemunu (161-137BC) and the reigns of his brother, Saddha Tissa (137-119BC) and the latter’s four sons, Tullatthana, Lajjitissa, Khallatanaga, and Valagamba (119- 103BC), five Tamils, Pulahattha, Bahiya, Panayamaraka, Pilayamaraka and Dathika (103-89 BC) took over the reins, within the relatively short period of 34 years of Dutugemunu’s death, till Valagamba’s restoration in 89 BC. On this point, the Mahavamsa is pretty clear that these parties and their predecessors were "Tamils."

The aforesaid historical scenario, however, invites the obvious historical inference of the presence at that time of a large "Tamil" population of high standing, holding key positions in society and government, and commanding extensive resources of land and peasant power, and money from business, especially the lucrative entrepot trade with the opportunities it provided for purchasing munitions and allegiances (as in our times).

Elara it must be remembered reigned for 40 years - longer than any of our post-independence rulers. We all know how, as in the case of the S.L.F.P. and Sirima after just 7 years, and the U.N.P. and J.R.J., Premadasa and D.B.W. after only 17 years, the foundations fell apart under their feet in the run-up to the general elections that followed. Yet Elara had the staying power to not only hold his regime together for 40 years, upto the time of his death, but to even attract the loyalties of the "Sinhala" generals - Gamini and Dighabaya, up to the last.

We are told Elara had been a horse-trader in his early years. We know from our experience and hearsay of the goings-on in corporate entities, how difficult it is for a single or group of Directors of a Board to stage a "coup" against the remaining members. How much more difficult then for a foreign horse-trader to have wrested power from a brother of Devanampiya Tissa, even if as I believe, he was not the ruler of the "Sinhala Buddhist unitary state," but only a chieftain of the Anuradhapura principality or locality.

It is unreasonable to infer that a horse trader could have found his way to the highest position in the land (assuming, again, the "single-nation-state"), if there were not an existing politico-socio-economic infrastructure in place that rendered it possible. Mind you, the ruler Elara ousted was Asela, Devanampiya Tissa’s brother and before him the aforementioned S. and G. had ousted another brother, Sura Tissa. No. Any reasonable, prudent person will agree that Dr. W. I. Siriweera’s description of the "epic" as a "feudal power game" was absolutely correct.

I revert, at this point, to my oft-stated thesis that the Sri Lankan Tamils, by and large, are not aliens but natives of the soil, being as much mutual descendants of the indigenous Hela (Eela) people, with the difference that one adopted a Prakrit of Sanskrit as language and Buddhism as religion, and the other Tamil and Saivism, respectively. Having said this, I must allow for the fact that the early "Tamils" in Sri Lanka (as in South India) were profoundly Jain and Buddhist. Hence, as I pointed out previously, they would have gone to form the non-Tweedledum-Tweedledee population of Buddhist residents of the country who were not Sinhala-speaking.

Viewed totally, with a son of Pandukabhaya enjoying the name of Mutasiva, himself the father of Devanampiya Tissa, and Devanampiya Tissa’s second son to succeed him, bearing the name of Mahasiva, and the number of "nagas" abounding in the regnal titles of the rulers of the "Single-Sinhala-Buddhist-Nation-State" i.e. Khallata Naga (109BC) son of Saddha Tissa, Cora Naga (63BC) son of Valagamba and grandson of Saddha Tissa (incidentally he was the husband of Anula (48BC) whose first paramour was Siva), Ila Naga (36AD) Mahallaka Naga (136AD), grandson of Vasabha (67AD) and brother-in-law of Gajaba (114AD) Kudda Naga (188AD), grandson of Mahaliaka Naga, Siri Naga I (184AD), likewise grandson of Mahallaka Naga, Abhaya Naga (231AD), son of Siri Naga I, Siri Naga II (240 AD) grandson of Siri Naga I, Maha Naga (565AD) etc., we cannot help agreeing with Dr. Siriweera’s statement that "the Mahavamsa was more a national epic of the Sinhala Buddhists of the orthodox Theravada sector than a dynamic history of the island." For who were the "Nagas" if not get unabsorbed residue of the original inhabitants of this country (whether they were four distinct peoples, Yakkhas, Nagas, Asuras and Rakshasas, or fewer sharing these names, we shall never know or find out, as long as we cling to the Mahavamsa for divination).

Taken in combination with the insights to be to be gained from the Ramayana epic, we may visualize settlement of these people wherever nature was bountiful and provided water, tillable land, navigation, access to the sea and land routes, and trade, etc. Scattered throughout the land would have been these units of skilled, efficient and organized people, but their interaction with each other and the Tamil immigrants and their Saivite priests, and the Prakrit-speaking immigrants from "Lata" and "Lada," and the Pali-speaking Buddhist missionary monks, we will never be able to learn, let alone get to know, if we remain as deaf, dumb and blind, except to the effusions of the oracle, otherwise called the Mahavamsa.

Elara came from Chola and was an "invader." So what! Could Karunanidhi, let alone Jayalalitha, invade the island today and seat themselves in power for a 40 year stretch if there were not powerful forces entrenched in the country e.g. the Tamil Feudal chiefs permanently settled in the country favoring their cause?

On the other hand a Sri Lankan Tamil of middle lower class background, named V. Prabhakaran has succeeded in combating the "Legitimate Sinhala-Buddhist Unitary State" simply because he is not an invader but a son of the soil. As a descendant of families that have lived in the country from the dawn of history, under whatever label may have been fixed on them from age to age, and he and his forces draw strength from this fact, and cannot, therefore, be easily defeated.

This is the point I keep returning to, and I do not think it can be called Tamil chauvinism or xenophobia. By the time the Mahavamsa was written by Dhatusena’s brother, the monk Mahanama, in or around 460 AD, about 1004 years would seem to have elapsed since the approximate date of Vijaya’s arrival, and about 707 years since Devanampiya Tissa’s accession.

Dr. Siriweera is right in saying that over this long period the "element of conflict in the relations between the "Sinhalese" and the "Tamil" had crystallized. The immense changes in the relations between the two parties that have taken place in the just 48 years since Independence is an another example of this.

Dr. Indrapalan can go and fly a kite. He is obviously of that camp of Tamils, who luckily grow fewer in number each day, who believed in buttering the powers-that-be in order to earn their daily bread. A lenient construction to be placed on his utterance is that it is a reference to those castes or tribes or groups of families that migrated from S. India to Sri Lanka, not merely to Yalpaanam, but along the entire western sea-board, (where they now form stout defenders of the Sinhala Buddhist unitary state line of thought) in the wake of the Muslim invasions and the displacement caused by the wars that ensued, commencing in the 10th century.

There are several "noble" families in the Viligamam province of Yalpanam who trace their descent to Chola chiefs who arrived with the expansion of the Chola Empire, e.g. the Wirt Senathi Raja family of Alaveddy to which belongs Sri Retnapupathy Senathi Raja, my mother.

There is no getting away from Dr. Siriweera’s interpretation that the Elara-Dutugemunu campaign was not a racial war fought between the "Sinhala" and "Tamil" people. These two peoples were living in the country, side by side, in several places, since the beginning of human settlement. However, by the time of the writing of the Mahavamsa around 460 AD the identities of these people as "Tamil", "Sinhala", "Buddhist", "Saivite" etc. had begun to crystallize. No story, not even the Dutugemnu-Elara story, could be "the cornerstone" of a thing that never was i.e. the "Sinhala-Buddhist-Unitary-State" of this country.

What one may ask, happened to Dutugemunu’s maternal grandfather’s state i.e. Kelaniya? Was it overrun by a second tidal wave? Obviously there was not one but several such states or units of government co-existing in the country. It just so happened that the ruler of one such i.e. Tissamaharama moved against that of another i.e. Anuradhapura and won the contest.

The country, like now, was never a single unitary state, whether Sinhala-Buddhist or not, whatever Dr. Colvin R. de Silva or Professor G. L. Pieris may say. Particularly after Parakrama Bahu’s sister’s son, the Kalinga prince, Vijaya Bahu II succeeded him (1186 AD), thereby initiating the Kalinga dynasty which lasted till Narendra Sinha of Kandy (1707-1739 AD), there was definitely no ‘unitary" state, as I have pointed out elsewhere.

Nallur as a seat of government under the Kshatriya Aryachakravarti’s of the eastern Ganga line of the Kalinga Vamsa (from 1215 AD) actually ante-dated the other co-existent capitals of Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Rayigama, Kotte, Sitawake and Kandy, under the closely interrelated and inbred rulers of the same Kalinga family group.

I hold no brief for Elara. He may have been an "invader". But I do dissent from describing Dutugemumu as a "liberator" -- from what? Unless we give the term the infinitely elastic sense in which each of the major "Sinhala" political parties claims to have "liberated" the country and its peoples with every election it wins, I don’t have to be a racist to dissent from the "Sinhala Buddhist history of the country" theory.

But I will not - repeat not, accept that as a Sri Lankan Tamil, I am a member of an immigrant minority. On the contrary, I am a member of indigenous majority in my own homeland of "Eelam", the contiguous territory of traditional Tamil habitation in this country, as identified by a census.

The Tamil problem in Sri Lanka is a problem not of history, but of the mischievous mystification of history by people with an ax to grind and reputation to foster.

Rest assured that all Sri Lankan or should I say Eelam Tamils would agree with this view.

Adapted from a recent article by E.A. Naganathan.

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