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.


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.

The Singhalese-Tamil Ethnic Tension

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Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the first President of the Ceylon National Congress, which he helped to establish, found that the chauvinistic group in the Congress failed to keep their word earlier given that a seat would be reserved for the Tamils in the Western Province. He then left the Congress as a result.

He felt that the best solution for the Tamils would be to go back to the administrative set-up that existed during the rule of the Portugese and the Dutch, where the Tamil and Singhalese areas were ruled separately. He did not advocate a separate Tamil state as claimed by some. He still believed in the unitary state. If he had advocated a separate Tamil state, why did his son, Mahadeva join the United National Party, which was formed by DS Senanayake.

Earlier, Tamil legislators had spoken in favour of Singhalese interests. Sir Muthu Cumarasami had spoken about the powers and privileges of the Anglican Church in Ceylon. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan had got Wesak Day declared a public holiday and he also got the Buddhist Temporalities Bill passed which protected Buddhist properties. He also questioned the excesses of the authorities in Ceylon under martial law after the Singhalese-Muslim riots of 1915. He went to England during the dangerous First World War years to present his case. On his return, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was put in a carriage and pulled by grateful Singhalese leaders. Mr. DS Senanayake the first Prime Minister of Ceylon, described Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan as the greatest Ceylonese who ever lived.

Mr. GG Ponnanbalam, a prominent lawyer and Cambridge graduate, proposed 50-50 solution for legislative representation. This may have angered the Singhalese leaders, who may have had hope of living peacefully with the minorities. As the cry got louder, the opposition to this increased.

The Solbury Commission had assured the minorities that their rights under the Constitution would be protected. Section 29 of the Solbury Commission stated that no legislation should be enacted;
1) the prohibits the free exercise of religion
2) makes people of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions for which persons of other communities and religions are not liable
3) confers on persons of any community privilege or advantage which is not given to other communities and religions
4) Alters the constitution of any religious body without the permission of the governing authority of that body.

It also provided for an upper house, the Senate, to which members of unrepresented interests can be appointed. The Jaffna paper, the Hindu Organ, called the 50-50 Proposal a mirage. It is difficult to understand why other Tamil leaders failed to convince Mr. Ponnambalam that his proposal is unattainable. During the discussions of the Solbury Commission, Mr. GG Ponnambalam also failed to support the Kandyan-Singhalese demand for federalism, which would have been good for the Tamils.

The unofficial Buddhist Commission of the 1950s made two important recommendations. One is that only Singhala should be the official language and that Section 29 of the Solbury Constitution should be inapplicable.

The chauvinistic Government of Mrs. Bandaranaike declared Ceylon a republic without consulting the other communities. Earlier, there was the standardization of University entrance. The matter was not handled properly. The minorities, particularly the Tamils felt that it was a discrimination against them. Tension was further increased. There was already a demand by Mr. Chelvanayakam for a Federal Government. It finally led to a civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Government. There was destruction in Tamil areas as a result of the war. Houses and farms were destroyed. The civilian population was subjected to daily shell bombardment. There was also bombing which included places of worship and hospitals.

Peace talks were held between the Tigers and the Government, and one sponsored by India. All failed. Later Indian intervention and the Norway-sponsored talks also failed.

In 2009, the Tamil Tigers were finally defeated. India gave radar assistance. Chinese provided arms. Karuna, the former Tiger commander who defected to the Government, gave valuable information. The military was sent to Tamil areas. The civilian population was subjected to all kinds of harassment. The military also interfered with internal trade and all other kinds of social activities.