Ancient India

The Nagas

Posted on

The people who migrated to the Indian peninsula were the Negroids and the Australites. These people spread to the various parts of India. During the duration of the Indus valley civilization which was purely an Indian development these people were joined by the long head fair skinned east Mediterranean people. The Nagas occupied the Nabada region of the Indus civilization. The Kuru – Panchalas who were expanding drove the Yadavas out of Sourasena. The Yadavas in turn drove the Nagas from the Nabada region and created the Yadava Boja states of western India. The Nagas moved south and settled in the Malabar and the Coromandel coast of south India. The Nagas brought about a great deal of development including the bringing south of the north Dravida dialect Centamil which became the standard language of the Tamils.

In the Coromandel coast the Nagas who were traditional fishermen (the Paravas) founded the Madurai Kingdom with its capital first at Kokai and later at Madurai. The Nagas also founded Jaffna and occupied the north east of Ceylon island and the kingdom was called Nagadipa. They also moved into Keleniya and other places in Ceylon. The Naga capital at Nagadipa was Kathiramalai and the port was at Matota.


The three hillocks around which the Madurai Kingdom was built, Pasu Malai, Naga Malai and Yanai Malai

Many Hindu Nagas became Buddhists in South Indian and Jaffna. In Jaffna there appeared Buddhist monasteries and viharas as was discovered by Dr Paul Peries in his archaeological excavation of Jaffna. There also appeared many Buddhist shrines in Kathiramalai ( it was Kathiramalai during the Naga Hindu period and Kathirgoda when the Buddhist Nagas spoke Singhalese and today it is called Kantharodai. As a result of the work of the Nayanas and the Alwars who started the Bakti movement many in south India were reconverted to Hinduism. It was felt by the Buddhists in Ceylon that the return to Tamil would result in the return to Hinduism. A new language emerged to prevent this from happening. The Singhalese people who were formed by the Nagas, the Tamils, the Kalingans and the Vedas. In his study of the composition of the Singhalese people Dr Gautam K. Kshatrya of the University of Delhi stated in his paper that the Singhalese people were 70 percent South Indian Tamils which included the Nagas, 5 percent Vedas and 25 percent Bengalis. The Bengalis had not settled in Ceylon. In the past the Indian states of Anga, Wanga and Kalinga were settled by the same people and they intermingled. According to the Mahavamsa the King of Wanga married a princess from Kalinga. The story may not be true but it proves that the people of Wanga and Kalinga intermingled. Singhala nationalism and the religion of Buddhism became intertwined. In the early days those that professed Buddhism in Ceylon had no animosity toward the Hindus but slowly the idea that being Singhalese means that a person must be a Buddhist was cultivated.

Pali was used and it became the vehicle to meet the threat from Hinduism. Buddha’s teachings were always in the vernacular and transmitted orally. After Buddha’s death all Buddhist literature was translated into Pali. The Pali language came to Ceylon with Buddhism. It led to a serious study of the language. The teachings of the Buddha and the Jataka tales were in Pali. The use of Pali became more common after the arrival of 2 South Indian monks called Buddhagosa and Buddhadatta. Buddhagosa who had lived in Magdaga came to live at the Mahavira at Anuradhapura. His first work was Vasuddi Magga the way to purity. The next was Mahaattakatha the great community. He wrote also commentaries on the Venaya and also the Dharmapada and other works. Buddhadatta was a native of the Chola country. He came to Ceylon and later went back to his monarchy along the banks of the river Kaveri. He wrote the Pathmatha Depani and the Pathmatha Manjura secular works later followed. The Culawamsa and the Mahawamsa also appeared. R.A.L.H. Gunawardene observed that the Singhalese language development was a long process. The Singhalese language appeared to resemble the Indo Aryan language of North India. Writing in Pali was continued. There were glossaries and the like and then the life and virtues of the Buddha appeared. Dharmakurti wrote on the tooth relic and by 1250 AD literary Singhalese has appeared. The script took a more rounded shape. Tamil and Singhalese co existed for a long time.

The North Indian ancestry for the Singhalese was based on the legend of Vijaya. According to the Mahawamsa the princess who was a daughter of the King of Wanga and his Kalingan wife was imprisoned by a lion and had sexual relations with the lion and bore 2 children. This is unnatural. The son Sinhabahu after slaying his father the lion founded Singhapura which was claimed to be in Northern India but according to General Cunningham the father of Indian archaeology wrote in his book “The Historial Geography of India” that Singhapura was in Kalinga. According to the Mahawamsa Sinhabahu banished his son Vijaya and his 700 companions from the kingdom and they finally arrived in Ceylon. H.Parker in his book “Ancient Ceylon” wrote that the banishment of Vijaya and his 700 companions appeared to be fictitious. It is clear that the legend is steeped in myth. It is not possible for a lone woman with 2 children to traverse the Indian continent from the west to the east. The Boja states had been established by the Yadavas and were controlled by them. The states of Anga, Wanga and Kalinga were considered M’lecca as Agni Vasudeva has not burnt over the land and so it was unfit for habitation by Aryan Brahmins. The Mahawamsa also claimed that the Buddha visited Ceylon thrice. The first supposed visit is mentioned the Buddhist Tamil epic Manimekalai. According to the Manimekalai it was at Manipallavam whereas in the Mahawamsa it was claimed that it happened at Nagadipam. According to Dr K.M. de Silva the most powerful myth invented in Vijaya’s landing in Ceylon and the basis of the conception of the Singhalese as the chosen people of Buddha and Ceylon itself as a place of sanctity for the Buddhist religion. There was no perfect fit between Buddhism and the Singhalese language at that time.

In an attempt to make Ceylon appear as a land intended for Buddhists, Vijaya’s landing was made to coincide with the death of Buddha. Duta Gamani who defeated Elalan for the Anuradhapura throne was depicted as a Singhalese hero. Principalities ruled by Tamil speaking Hindu rulers which Duta Gamani had to cross were painted as hostile. Elalan was not Chola prince and in all possibility was a Velir who established principalities in Tamil areas. The Chola kingdom came into existence only in the 1st century AD. This is a mistake on the part of the author of the Mahawamsa. Elalan was a just king as admitted even by the Mahawamsa. Even as late at the 18th century AD the Singhala nobility would not cross the memorial of Elalan without alighting from their horses. Buddhists were not persecuted under Elalan’s rule. He helped both Hindu temples and Buddhist holy places. Kings who practiced Buddhism also endowed Hindu and Buddhist temples. Duta Gamani is on record as having rebuilt the temple of Skanda in Kateragama sacred to both Buddhist and Hindus. There was no enmity between the Tamils and the Singhalese at that time. Duta Gamani fought for the Buddhist against a foreign Hindu ruler.


Representation of the Temple of Skanda at Kateragama

In a further attempt to give the Singhalese a north Indian ancestry the name of Vijaya’s successor and the second ruler of the dynasty was changed from Panduwasa to Panduvasudeva. Panduvasudeva was a north Indian monarch during the Mahabharata war. Panduwasa was actually from Madurai. He was the nephew of Vijaya’s Madurai wife. Panduwasa was therefore a full blooded Tamil. A myth connected with this is to claim that Kenchana the wife of Panduwasa is a member of the Sakya clan to give him a connection with the Buddha. It was claimed that she floated down the river Ganges something that is impossible.

The Mahawamsa was written by a Bikku Mahanama in the 6th century AD. The Sangha had received a lot of land, endowments and privileges and there was a fear of losing them with the return to Hinduism. The Mahawamsa was written to pit the Buddhists against the Hindus.

King Gajabahu brought in the worship of Kanaki under the name of Patani Deviyo. The Singahalese poem Vayantimalaya, Pallangahalla and Patanihala was to connect to the worship of Kanaki. Gate Mudaliar W.P. Gunawardene saya that the important determining factor in a language is structure and not vocabulary. Therefore Singhalese is a Dravidian language. Father Closett the linguist also came to the same conclusion when he observed that Singhalese sentences were essentially Dravidian and the majority of the words are of Dravidian origin. Dr Godakumbara says that the Singhalese grammar drew a lot from the Tamil grammar Virasolium. K.M. de Silva remarks that there is considerable Tamil influence in vocabulary, idiom and grammatical structure in Singhalese. Tamil literary works were studied in Ceylon from early times. The Singhalese poem Subasilakarya drew from the Naladiyar. The poem Lokopakarya drew a lot from the Tirukural. According to E.R. Saratchandara many Singhalese nadagams were copied from Tamil originals. Mudaliar C. Rasanayagam drew attention to the fact that the lion used by the Nagas at Nagadipa became the standard used by the Singhalese. Perhaps the author of the Mahawamsa got his idea about the lion from the Nagas. The clergy tended to invent unrealistic events in their writing. The story of Vijaya was subject to this. Dr P. Ragupathy says that the Singhalese and Tamil identities stem from a common cultural stratum.

It is believed that Vijaya was a merchant prince from Singhapura in Kalinga who was impressed by the trade in Ceylon. He arrived in Ceylon and married Queen Kuveni for this purpose. She had fed Vijaya and his crew rice and other articles taken from ship wrecks. Finally Vijaya took over Kuveni’s kingdom and got her killed.

There is no harm in Buddhist Nagas being Singhalese but to claim a north Indian descent for the Singhalese is carrying on the Aryan – Dravidian spat. The Singhalese language being classed as a Indo Aryan language is wrong. There may have been prestige in one saying that he descended from the Aryans in view of the lightness of the skin colour. It should be noted that it was the Dravidians who first indulged in foreign trade and later embarked on overseas colonial expansion. The Kalingans like other Dravidians took to the sea. All Indians from South India are known as Kelings particularly in the Malay world.

The basic needs of mankind is adequate food, clean water, the ability to use the own language and to develop it, cultural expression, democracy and good governance, good hygiene and the provision of utilities. All religions preach the common virtues of kindness, honesty, humility, justice and the respect of others. A small minority of chauvinists who having their own agendas are not bothered about what happens by their actions and the instability that follows. The beauty of multi cultural diversity develops tourism, encourage local and foreign investments to bring about further economic development.

It is suggested that the reliable history of Ceylon starts with the coming of Buddhism. Buddhism came to Ceylon when Mahindra the brother of Asoka was on a mission to south India and crossed over to Ceylon. It gives the lie to the Mahawamsa claim that Mahindra was the son of Asoka and Sangamitta was his sister and they flew into Ceylon from Magdaga. Sangamitta came to Ceylon later to found the order of nuns and she was not Asoka’s daughter. Tissa was a contemporary of Asoka and cannot claim to be his friend. In none of Asoka’s edicts is found the mention of Lanka and no reference was made to Asoka’s children. Vincent Smith the historian described the account in the Mahawamsa as a tissue of absurdities.

The Nagas became influential in Anuradhapura and became its rulers. The suffix Naga is clear indication that the rulers were of Naga origin. The monarchs were :

1. Mahalallakanaga – 135 AD

2. Buktikatissa (Mahalallakanags’s son) – 141 AD

3. Kanitthatissa – 165 AD

4. Culanaga – 193 AD

5. Kuddanaga – 195 AD

6. Sirinaga – 196 AD

7. Woharakatissa – 215 AD

8. Abeyanaga – 233 AD

9. Sirinaga the second – 245 AD

10. Vijaya – 247 AD

According to Mudaliar C. Rasanayagam the standard of the lion was used by the northern Nagas before the coming of Vijaya. It is possible that when the Nagas took over the Anuradhapura kingdom the lion emblem became the emblem of the dynasty. The Auradhapura kingdom did not cover the whole island of Ceylon. There were other states and principalities.