The Tamils in India, Ceylon and Malaya

North Indian Ancestry for the Singhalese People

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The claim of North Indian ancestry of the Singhalese people rests on the legend of Vijaya. The legend deals with the arrival of Vijaya and his 700 followers in Ceylon in the 5th century BC. According to the Mahavamsa, Vijaya is the son of a lion that is believed to have sexual relations with a woman, his mother.

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Consecration of Prince Vijaya, detail from Ajanta cave mural in Sri Lanka

It is purely a myth. Historians have stated that the Mahavamsa lacks historicity and therefore could not be an authority. How is it possible for a woman to traverse from the west of India to the east and arrive at Sinhapura, which is located in Anga. According to General Cunningham, the father is Indian archaeology who in his book, “The Historical Geography of India”, had stated that Sinhapura was in Kalinga. Kalinga had not yet been Aryanised and peopled by Mlecca. Kalinga had ney been Aryanised. If Vijaya had come from Kalinga, then his followers must also have come from Kalinga. Kalingans who colonized Jaffna, established Sinhapura. Sinhapura was known as Singai Nagar, which served as the capital of the Aryachakarvathy rulers until the capture of Jaffna by Sapumalkumariah. The Mahavamsa had also changed the year of arrival of Vijaya, to coincide with the death of Buddha. Again, in order to give the Sinhalese a North Indian ancestry, it was claimed that he had married a lady from Buddha’s Sakya clan. The name of Panduvasa was changed to Panduvasudewa, which happened to be the name of a North Indian monarch during the Mahabaratha wars. According to K. Parker, a historian of great repute, the exile of Vijaya and his followers from Vijaya’s father’s realm, appear to be fictitious. Dr. D. C. Mendes says that the story of Vijaya seems to have been evolved to explain the origin of the Sinhala people. The Mahavamsa claim that Elalan was a Chola Prince is wrong. The Chola Kingdom only came into existence during the first century AD. Despite all the weight of evidence against the Aryan ancestry, there is a persistent belief that Vijaya and his followers came from Anga and the Sinhalese descended from Vijaya and his followers. There is no evidence of anything resembling Sinhala in North India.

The Sinhalese people have been shown to have come about through the fusion of the Nagas, Tamils, Kalingan and the Yaksas. The Sinhalese language, though showing some affinity to North Indian Prakrit, was profoundly influenced by the Dravidian languages.

Gate Mudhaliar, W. P. Gunawardene says that the determining factor of a language is its structure and not vocabulary. Sinhalese is essentially a Dravidian language. It got its vocabulary from Pali and Sanskrit, mainly through Tamil and the study of Sanskrit literature. Father Closett, the linguist, also came to the same conclusion. The Sinhalese grammar of the 13th century AD, drew much from the Tamil grammar virasoliam. It was studied in the Buddhist colleges throughout Ceylon. The Lokopakarya contains translations from the Thirukurral. Mahapadarangojatakakarya, the Singhalese version of the Mahabaratha war, was translated from Tamil. According to S. Paranavitana, the vast majority of people are descended from the Yaksas, Nagas and Tamils. Those who are Buddhists became Singhalese. The Tamils who remain Hindus absorb the Nagas and Yaksas as well. Dr. S. Bandaranayika says this has continued even in recent times. In 1952, there was an advertisement in the Ceylon Daily Mail reading, “I Veerasingham Francis Ratnasingham will henceforth be known as Vernon Francis Ratnasinghe”. This shows how easy it is to become Singhalese. And the process continues even in recent times. Dr. P. Ragupathy exerts after extensive research that the Singhala and Tamil identities stem from a common cultural stratum.

In the early days, it made for tolerance and religious accommodation. The Buddhists were not persecuted under Elala. The Mahavamsa claim that the Elalan Dutagamani conflict is religious is not true. According to K. M. de Silva, Singhala Kings who practiced Buddhism supported Hindu Temples and also allowed Hindu deities to be worshipped. The Hindus and Buddhists, jointly worshipping at Kataragama and the Buddhists visiting the Nagaposhani Temple at Nainativu should be noted. Dutagamani is on record as having built the temple for Skanda at Kataragama. E. R. Saratchandra says that most Singhalese plays were translated from the Tamil originals. Godakumbara says that the words Kolama and Nadagama have Tamil roots.

India and Ceylon Affairs

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India’s involvement in Ceylon goes back to many years. India gave its culture, religions and languages to the Ceylonese. Indian rulers particularly those from South India, carried out conquests and got involved in the dynastic struggles of Ceylon rulers. The most important conquest of the early days was the conquest of Ceylon by Kalingan Megah. It is believed that the Pallavas started from Ceylon, got themselves established in an area between the Godavari and Krishna rivers. They learned the Aryan methods of administration and accepted Aryan practices. They then expanded into India. The Nayaks from India had later become kings in Kandy.

Indian involvement in Ceylon particularly politics came about with the formation of the Ceylon National Congress modeled on the Indian National Congress in the early part of the 20th century by Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam. The Jaffna Youth Congress was established. Indian leaders like Nehru addressed the Jaffna Youth Congress in Jaffna. The Youth Congress became very much influenced by the Indian National Congress’ call for full swaraj (full independence) from the British. It was this demand for full swaraj from the Indian National Congress that prevented Gandhi, the sole representative of the Congress at the Roundtable Conference in 1930, from accepting the offer of dominion status that was offered by the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald. The Youth Congress became of the refusal of the British to give full swaraj, decided to boycott the Donoughmore Constitution in Ceylon. The Jaffna population was taken in by the Youth Congress, which was led by the people in Jaffna and not Colombo. It boycotted the Donoughmore Constitution. No one was elected from the Northern Province to the State Council set up by the new Constitution. It was to the detriment of the Ceylon Tamils.

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Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam

After independence, the Ceylon Government disenfranchised the Indian workers who were brought by the British to work on the estates, both rubber and tea. They had helped in the economic development but this was not considered important. The Indian government protested. After negotiations, it was decided to repatriate workers that were willing to go back. The problem was partly solved.

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Former Sir Lankan President, Jeyawardene

There were grievances felt by Ceylon Tamils. They felt they were discriminated against in jobs, university education and in the use of their language. Earlier, the State Council had decided that Singhalese and Tamil would replace English as the official language after independence. But with pressure from Singhalese chauvinists, the Singhala Only Act was passed. There was a demand for a separate state by the Tamils. Youths, under the leadership of Prabakaran, were preparing for an armed struggle. The Tigers who were first trained y the Palestinian George Habash, later began training in South India. Mrs. Indira Gandhi feared the pro-Western government of Jeyawardene. She had hoped that the Tigers would destabilize the government of Jeyawardene. She denied any knowledge of the Tigers’ training in South India. After the pogrom in 1983 where thousands of Tamils were killed,  Mrs Gandhi sent one Parthasarathy. Later there was the Chitamparam Natwar Singh visit. During Rajiv Gandhi’s regime, the Indo-Ceylon accord was signed in 1987. One provision of the Accord was to confer Ceylon citizenship on stateless Indians but this was never implemented. With the signing of the accord came 100,000 Indian troops as a Peace Keeping Force. It was intended for the rebels to surrender their arms. Provisions in the Accord stated that the rebels should hand in their arms to the Indians. Mr. Jeyawardene believed that eventually the Tigers would fight the Indian troops and he was proved right. This was the best chance of settling the ethnic question and the Tigers should have sided with the Indians. The Tigers fought the Indians and this was a big mistake.

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Former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi

In the election for the Northeastern (the merged Northern and Eastern) Province provided for, the Tamil United Liberation Front (or TULF) did not take part. As the TULF was already discredited in the eyes of the people. Only the EPRLF-ENDLF, a pro-Indian coalition took part. Mr. Varadaraja Perumal was elected Chief Minister. The Tigers did not support the Northeast Government and again fell into the trap of Mr. Jayawardene. The administration of the Northeast was taken over by the President. During an election rally, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by what was believed to be a Tiger cadre. The Tigers were banned in India. India was keen to destroy the Tigers. In the war between the Sri Lankan Army and the Tigers, India sided with the Sri Lankan forces. The Tigers were finally defeated in 2009, with Chinese arms and Indian radar assistance.

My Book, The Tamils in India, Ceylon and Malaya

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My book, The Tamils in India, Ceylon and Malaya, was published this year. It is currently available at MPH Bookstores in Malaysia. The book can also be ordered via the Internet through my distributors, Gerak Budaya. I am very grateful for all of their kind advice and assistance in distributing my book. I am currently involved in a project to convert it into an E-Book format. This will be announced shortly.

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It has been the result of much research and dedication to the subject. It harnessed all the knowledge I have gleaned over the years on the subject, which is very dear to me and my conscience.

I have received a lot of help from various people. My brother-in law Mr S.Sivanathan got me all seven volumes of Thurston’s Castes and Tribes of Southern India. My nephew R.Tharmaraj obtained many books from India. My children Punita, Vishnu Kumar and Sumitra also got me a lot of books. So did my friend Mr A.Poobalan who got me many books from Ceylon. I owned the set of Encyclopedia Britannica that was used. The circumstances did not permit me to do research from primary sources.

In the project, I have adopted both the chronological and topical approach. This appeared to be the most suited. The Tamils have settled in various parts of the world. Let others compliment it. The typing was done mainly by my children particularly my son Vishnu Kumar who in spite of other important duties spent quite a lot of time typing my work. The project has taken a long time. The subject was wide and it required sufficient reading. I had to present a truthful and unbiased account.

In writing the history of Jaffna, I had to depend on the research findings of Dr Paul Peiris and Mudaliar C.Rasanayagam. Mudaliar C.Rasanayagam has dismissed Kailayamalai, Yarlpana Vaipava Malai and Vyapadal as unreliable. But the Vanni conquest during the early years of Chakravarthy rule, the Vyapadal appears reliable. I have considered all South Indians as Tamils. The people of Andhra Desa, Karnataka and Kerala were once part of the Tamil cultural region. The Singhalese too have been defined as Tamils as most are Tamils of South India with a springkling of Kalingans.

The cover design is my own. My printer has helped me in many ways and I am very thankful. My friends Dr V.Selvaratnam, Mr Veloo Saminathan and Dato’ R.Kumarasingham have been constant sources of encouragement.

My book is dedicated to the memory of my loving wife, Rasawathy. It is my hope that this will be one of the legacies that I can leave for my granddaughter, Divhya.

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Rasawathy Nadason Visvanathan