by CV. Wigneswaran, Colombo Telegraph, December 16, 2021
Someone asked me; We read in the press your response to a question recently. You seem to be making sweeping statements about the Sinhalese. As far as we know the Sinhalese were the original inhabitants of this Island and the Tamils came in the 10th Century AD after the Chola Conquest. What proof have you about what you say?
My response was; Professor Wijeyanayake from London like many other Sinhala Scholars wrote in the Sunday Observer of 17th November 1996 as follows- “The Origin of the Sinhala Race is in Lanka. There is no scientific evidence of Indians originating in India who spoke Sinhala”. Sinhalese are those who speak the Sinhala Language. Of course these days there are Sinhalese who have forgotten their mother language and have embraced other languages like English and French in their countries of emigration. But in early times the Sinhalese would have been those who spoke the Sinhala Language mainly. Without the Sinhala Language there could have been no Sinhalese.
When did the Sinhala Language come into being?
The earliest Sinhala work was Siyabaslakara around 848 CE (9th Century AD). The next was Dhampiya-atuva Gatapadayo which came out around 918 CE (10th Century AD). Pali words are used both in a modified and pure form quite heavily in this latter work. The first Sinhala grammar Sidath Sangaraya belongs to the 13th Century AD. The inscriptions before the 7th Century AD do not mention Sinhala as a language and ethnicity of the people. The term “Sihala” (Lion in Pali) occurs for the first time in the Dipawansa (5th Century AD). Only once is the term coming up to say the Island was known as Sihala on account of the presence of Lions.
In the Mahawansa the term Sihala appears twice. But there is no reference to the people called Sinhalese nor the Language called Sinhala. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana in his book “The People of the Lion: The Sinhala identity and ideology in History and Historiography” (Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities Vol V:1-2 (1979)) claims that before the 12th Century AD the Sinhala identity did not cover a whole people in Sri Lanka but only a small ruling class. This meant even by 12th Century AD Sinhala had not become a full-fledged people’s language yet. What you have been fed to believe as per your question is pseudo history created before the 1970s.
After the 1970s even Sinhala historians have begun to doubt the story of Sri Lanka history starting with the coming of Vijaya from North India. Now our history books do not start with the coming of Vijaya as before. They start with the Stone Age civilization which was long prior to (the fictitious) Vijaya landing in Sri Lanka. Our history books now accept that permanent settlements, agriculture, use of skills, use of iron, urbanisation etc took place in this Island before the coming of (the fictitious) Vijaya. It is interesting to note that none of the books on ancient history of any of the States in North India refer to the emigration of a person called Vijaya with 700 followers from their shores at any time in their ancient history. So now we start history from dates anterior to the coming of (the fictitious) Vijaya. Historically it is more plausible to believe that Mahawamsa written in Pali was a fiction written for the glorification of Buddhism. In fact the author mentions so at the end of every stanza.
But so far our Sinhala historians have not officially identified who these people who lived in this Country before the coming of (the fictitious) Vijaya were. This is because any attempt to tell the truth will be beneficial to the Tamils and the pseudo history of the Sinhalese hitherto purveyed would get exposed! I am told there was pressure recently to prevent the author of “Demala Baudhayo” bringing out a reprint of his book.
The importance of the 1970s and the post 1970s period lies in the fact that scientific archaeological research began to take place here from then on. Not only that, our local researchers were helped by erudite foreign archaeologists from France, Germany, Britain and USA together with UNESCO experts. The pseudo Sinhala Buddhist historians found it difficult to make progress due to this.
There is now archaeological evidence that pre historic Stone Age people lived in this Island from over 125000 years ago according to excavations made in Iranaimadu in Kilinochchi District and in certain areas in Southern Sri Lanka. Dr. Siran Deraniyagala brought these matters out, through his researches.
The Stone Age could be generally divided into three periods 1. Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) (Before 10000 BC) 2. Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) (Between 10000 BC and 8000 BC) 3. Neolithic (New Stone Age) (from 8000 BC to 3000BC). (Greek – lithos – Stone). But in certain regions the Mesolithic period may have started even before 10000 BC.
There is evidence that from 30000 years ago the Mesolithic people lived in our Hill Country as well as the Low Lands. About 75 evidences have been unearthed. Also there is evidence to show that majority of these Mesolithic people lived mainly in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka. They led a nomadic life. Their advancement in civilization is perceivable from the findings in caves, hills and on level ground.
They attribute close similarities in life style between these people and those who lived in the South of present Tamil Nadu. These are confirmed by experts in the fields of archaeology, humanities, philology and history. About 200 words found in the Tamil Language spoken by these people were taken into the Sinhala language later.
It has been authoritatively said that the stone implements used by our Mesolithic people were same as those used in Thirunelveli District in South India. According to Professor Indrapala this civilization spread from South India to North Sri Lanka and thereafter spread to other parts of Sri Lanka.
Around 3000 years ago early Iron Age was introduced to this Island. There too we see very close similarities between what was found in Southern Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Vimala Begley who conducted researches in Kantharodai in the 1970s concluded that those who inhabited the Jaffna Peninsula in ancient times had very close relationship with the Southern part of present Tamil Nadu.
Their cultural affinity in Sri Lanka extended from Kantharodai upto Puttalam. Pomparipu in the Puttalam District especially, had very close resemblance to what is found in Kantharodai. Professor Sudarshan Seneviratne too has confirmed this finding. Professor Indrapala too confirms that the culture of the Stone Age people in Sri Lanka came within the ambit of the South Indian cultural ambience of that time.
Thus the idea that the early inhabitants of Sri Lanka came from North India is now not accepted. It is agreed that long before the time of Mahawamsa, Sri Lanka enjoyed a culture similar to South India and those ancients were the progenitors of the present Sinhalese and Tamils. Professor Senaka Bandaranayake has said that these ancients had no ethnic differences but only cultural differences. These differences he says could have existed even before the time of the visit of the so-called Vijaya to the Island. If we examine the culture and life habits of the ancient Stone Age people they had a habit of inscribing their name or the names of those who shaped the clay pots and utensils, on them. This habit is seen to have existed both in South India and Sri Lanka during that period. This habit is not visible in any other part of India. These writings on clay pots have been unearthed in Tamil Nadu and in Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura pots belong to a period over 2750 years. The writings on pots have been identified as Tamil letters in the Tamil Language. Writing started in North India only about 2300 years ago. But both in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka these writings have been found to exist much earlier. Now the historians believe that the art of writing went from the South to North India.
Recent Keeladi excavations in Madurai, South India shown evidence of a civilization anterior to all others in India. Thus, before the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, the fact that the progenitors of the present Sinhalese and the Tamils lived here, has been accepted scientifically. The recent DNA tests confirmed this.
When we examine the writings in Sinhala, Professor Fernando, Professor Saddha Mangala Karunaratne and Professor Ariya Abeysinghe have said that before the North Indian Prakrit was introduced with Buddhism into Sri Lanka, the Script similar to the South Indian Script was available in Sri Lanka. We could gather from their researches that Tamil Script and Tamil Language and Dravidian words were in use in Sri Lanka before Sinhala Language came into use. That is why I boldly said the language of our ancients was Tamil and the original indigenous population of Sri Lanka were Tamil.
Buddhism spread in this Island from 3rd Century BC onwards. Over 1500 identified inscriptions confirm this. These inscriptions have Brahmi script from North India plus Tamil Script inscribed on them. There were no Sinhala script nor Sinhala language nor Sinhalese people then. Thus it is clear that Tamil Language was in use in Sri Lanka prior to the introduction of Buddhism and before the introduction of North Indian Brahmi Script.
Even though Professor Paranavithana tried to identify the North Indian Prakrit as old Sinhala Script and tried to show wherever Prakrit was in use the Sinhalese lived there, this statement of the Professor is now not accepted because with the spread of Buddhism, the Prakrit script too spread all over South and South East Asia and was in use for over 700 years as the script of inscriptions. Prakrit was not old Sinhala. If it was, Sinhala language should have been spoken in other South East Asian Countries too.
But in Tamil Nadu the language of the Buddhist inscriptions was Tamil. If we examine the 1500 Brahmi inscriptions in Sri Lanka even though Northern Brahmi was generally used, in addition many Tamil words were also used. Specially the names of individual Tamils were referred to in Tamil. Relationships among individuals were referred to in the Tamil Language. Place names have been written in Tamil. Even titles of Tamil rulers were written in Tamil. This shows the existence of the Tamil language in Sri Lanka before the introduction of Buddhism and hence Tamils were the original inhabitants of this Island at the time Buddhism was introduced.
If we examine the evolution of Sinhala language we have a parallel in the evolution of Malayalam. The present Kerala was part of Tamil speaking regions in Tamil Nadu. They were ruled by Chera Kings. The transformation of Tamil to Malayalam took place due to the heavy influence of Sanskrit from 10 th Century AD on the Tamil language. Tamil plus Sanskrit brought in Malayalam. Hence I referred to a new language in the offing in Chennai today. Tamil plus English might produce Tamilish in 25 to 50 years.
Similarly the introduction of Pali language in Sri Lanka as the language of Buddhism when it mixed with the local Tamil language it developed into a new language called Sinhalese around the 6th or 7th Century AD.
The evidence for this could be found in Sigiriya. Sigiriya inscriptions of 5th Century AD portray early Sinhalese not yet developed into a proper language. Thus there is no evidence that the Sinhala language existed before the 7th Century AD. The Sinhala Script developed due to the mixing of Brahmi letters with the Pallava period grantha letters.
The Sinhala literature like Rajavaliya and Poojavaliya belong to the 13th Century AD.
Your question contains reference to the Tamils coming here only during the Chola conquest in 10th Century. There had been Tamils living in this Island from long, long time ago. May be from the time of the Lemurian Continent which is now under the Indian sea. Earliest Tamil Sangam period and the Second Sangam period (Muthat Sangam and Idai Sangam) have been referred to in the last Sangam period (Kadai Sangam) literature and the literary works of the earlier Sangam Periods are referred to in the Kadai Sangam literature. Tamil is one of the earliest languages of this World if not the earliest. There have been Pandya, Pallava, Chola conquests of Sri Lanka from ancient times. Thus there have been waves of Tamil intrusions. But the original Tamils of Sri Lanka have been occupying this Country from over 3000 years ago. The present tendency to refer to Buddhism as that of the Sinhalese and Hinduism as that of the Tamils, is erroneous. When religions are introduced into a Country they are not introduced to be followed only by particular races. When Buddhism was introduced into this Island there were no Sinhalese. Thus the Tamil King Devanampiya Theesan got converted to Buddhism.
There is considerable evidence to show the existence of Tamil Buddhists in Pali literature and Brahmic inscriptions. Tamil Kings were given the titles Buddha thasan and Buddhadevan when they supported Buddhism and Buddhist causes.
Up to 15 th or 16 th Century there were Tamil Buddhists according to Pali literature. The inscriptions of Nainatheevu in North Sri Lanka refer to Tamil Buddhists. Professor Sunil Ariyaratne in his “Demala Baudhayo” refers to Tamil Buddhists.
In recent times Sinhalese portraying themselves as Buddhists and Tamils as Hindus has brought about polarization says Professor Pushparatnam. This could have been avoided he says.
When I was living in the old Anuradhapura Town in the 1940s there were Tamils who owned lots of lands around Nuwara Wewa who were more or less Demala Baudhayos. Even I used to go to Ruwanwelisaya and Mahabodhi to worship with my parents (both Hindus). We joined the Buddhists who came from nearby villages to do “Pongal” during Poson. Buddhist philosophy influenced me considerably. Together with Dr. Adikaram and others, we were votaries of Philosopher J. Krishnamurthi whose teachings were close to Buddhist philosophy. Of course later, Hindu Saints were able to point out the limitations of the Buddhist philosophy to me.
Professor Pushparatnam has said even the Mahawansa is a useful reference Book to prove the existence of Tamils at the time of the arrival of Vijaya.
Mahawansa refers to 700 Tamil Brides from Madurai together with 1000 Tamil families employed in 18 professions being brought down to Sri Lanka on Vijaya’s request. That means more Tamil families came into the Country from Madurai than the 701 who came from elsewhere! This is according to the Mahawansa!
Even the so called statement of Dushta Gamini that the Tamils are on one side and the sea on the other side, refers to the existence of large amount of Tamils in the country at that time says Professor Pushparatnam. Ellalan was a Tamil King thus how could anyone say Tamils for the first time arrived at the time of Chola conquest in the 10th century AD?
Finally a word about Homeland of the Tamils. Before the Bakthi Cult was born in Tamil Nadu there is evidence of Tamils living outside the North and East as well. Pali Literature and certain inscriptions refer to the presence and influence of Tamils in Anuradhapura.
Before Independence the influence of Tamils in Anuradhapura was considerable in the Old Town. The new Town was constructed, one is forced to deduce, to reduce and negate the Tamil influence in Anuradhapura.
Mahawansa refers to 32 Petty Tamil Kings Dutugemunu had to overcome before reaching Ellalan’s Capital. Coins of that period have been unearthed which point to Tamil presence from South to North. There are Tamil letters in those Coins. Names of Tamil Petty Kings are found in some of them. After the Bakthi Cult prospered in the North and East many Tamils living in other parts of Sri Lanka preferred to go to the North and East since the famous Hindu Temples lay there. This was a time when Jainism and Buddhism were beginning to go out of vogue due to the re- emergence of Saivaism consequent to the Bakthi Cult. The Thevarams of Nayanmars in South India referred to Thiruketheeswaram and Thirukoneswaram in Sri Lanka.
Especially there is reference to Trincomalee being a full -fledged Saivite Tamil City. When the Cholas were ruling from Polannaruwa their commercial outlet was Trincomalee. The North and East were a distinct area of Tamil habitation during the Chola Rule. The Jaffna Kingdom was consequent and subsequent to the Chola Rule. From 13th Century to 17th Century the Jaffna Kingdom existed. Puttalam came under the rule of the Jaffna King. Udapu is still a Tamil Village.
When the Dutch during their rule brought out Coins they referred to the North and East separately and had them minted in Tamil. Thus the North and East were the homelands of the Tamils.
To conclude – the Tamils were the Original inhabitants of this Island and there have been several waves of Tamil conquest but they only added to the Original indigenous Tamils who continued to live here from pre-historic times. Chola conquest was only one such intrusion from South India. Sinhala Language and Sinhala Race are very recent chronologically though the Sinhalese and the Tamils have had common progenitors from ancient times.
*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, Member of Parliament – Jaffna District.