Pseudo-histories of Tamils and Sinhalese
September 11, 2020
Who is the Sun King, Raavana or Prabhakaran?
By Chandre Dharmawardana
Tamil Nationalists are making their myths, extending their history to ancient times and claiming they were in Sri Lanka (and even in Africa, Babylon and Egypt) since the beginning of time, and that the Tamil language is the source of the ancient Sumerian language. Wigneswaran, the ex-Chief Minister of the Northern province, has captured the limelight by repeating these unsubstantiated fairy tales. He loves the publicity garnered from all this.
Some Sinhalese nationalist groups are also undermining well-established history and reviving old stories (specifically, the Raavana story) by giving them a huge new dimension. This is driven by popular media and the search for a sense of grandeur. The “Sinhalei” is said to be the center of all civilizations, with a history claimed to be going back to even 30,000 years BCE (i.e., some 275 centuries before the Buddha!). The Hela people are claimed to have developed a highly advanced civilization complete with airplanes, nuclear energy, etc. The more modest Ravana supporters put Raavana’s reign to some 4000 years BCE and not 30,000 BCE!
All this started with people like Raepiyel Tennakoon, Arnesen Ahubudu and the “Hela Havula” people initially led by Kumaratunga Munidasa. He even attacked the great poet Thotagamuwe Rahula as a plagiarist and a cheat. The Hela Havula people were against the presence of Sanskrit and other “foreign” words in Sinhala and wished to write only in pure Hela language. In the ensuing literary debates of the 1920s and 1930s, scholars like Sir Baron Jayatilleke, W. F. Gunawardena, Enulasiri Dharmawardhana, and writers like Martin Wickremasinghe and others wrote against Kumaratunga. A book on those literary debates (written in the early 1960s) appeared posthumously, a decade ago: See Godage Publishers, 2010 Kukavi Vaada Satya Prakashanee, by Enulasiri Dharmawardhana.
But the Hela Havula program was a low key linguistic effort, compared to what we have today. Their “plot” has been hijacked from them and highly amplified by modern media-savvy operators. A monk who is an SJP graduate, Ven. Manewa Wimelaratne is said to have an 8th century “pus-kola potha” (Ola Leaf book) that he allegedly refuses to show to anyone! The Ola leaf book is supposed to give details of another ancient text (presumably more ancient than the Deepawamsa etc.) called the “Vargapoornikaava” that nobody had heard of up till now. It is claimed to delineate the story of the Hela Vargaya (Hela genealogy)). The monk has written many books in Sinhala ( I have not read his books) and they are supposed to give intricate details of the royal lineage and deeds of Hela kings and queens since very ancient times. The monk is said to have studied linguistics at the SJP university.
All Indo-Aryan languages (including Pali, Sanskrit) are claimed to be derived from Sinhalese by the Raavana cult. Not surprisingly, there are also a number of kindred Buddhist monks who have identified the Buddha’s birthplace to be in Sri Lanka itself. Remarkable literature has been woven, with the standard Buddhist history rejected as an anti-national conspiracy to hide the truth. They claim that the various places mentioned in the life of the Buddha are all locations in Sri Lanka.
Tele Drama programmes, plays, novels and forth-coming films are minting money using the Ravana story. One novel is said to tell a gripping story of the US forces coming to destroy a Raavana Fortress up in the mountains, and how Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his forces saved it in the nick of time, or something like that. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had already become a mythical figure of the Raavana movement, even before he came forward to seek votes.
It is amazing that the “political observers of the left, of the right, and the weekly columnists of the well-funded NGOs that conduct ‘opinion polls”, failed to take account of the political dimension of the Raavana narrative. It is a narrative pushed forward, even by English newspapers like the Daily Mirror in weekly columns. If Colombo’s political “scientists” follow what ignites the Sinhala media rather than long-dead European writers with failed political programs, then they would have known who is widely regarded as the “Avathar” of Raavana today!
Indian tourists also have their own version of the Raavana Myth and they travel to Sri Lanka to visit places related to Raavana and Sita. Place names like “Sheetha Ella” (Cold waterfall) have been conveniently changed to “Sita Ella” (Sita’s waterfall). The Tourist Board is also supporting the Raavana myth and neglects the traditional Buddhist heritage. Important politicians, and some of the nationalist “Chintanaya” people, also like to identify themselves with this surge in popularity of Raavana, said to be of the “Soorya Wansha”. This has become the new royal lineage of Lanka. Some of the people of Kelaniya ‘Sarasaviya’, who brought out various types of political “Chinthanaya” that rejected rational scientific methodology, are also said to support the Raavana belief system. Their spiritual kin in the “Hela Suvaya Vedakama” (which rejects western medicine) wishes to establish a Sinhala medical system based on the revelations of Natha Deviyo and Vibhishana.
The Raavana cults are very popular with such groups, and a statue of the King Raavana has been erected circa 2014 in Kelaniya. Wigneswaran, during his five years as the Chief Minister, also constructed a statue of King Sankili sitting on a horse, to put some reality to his “Jaffna Kingdom” claims and fill the archeological emptiness of the Sankilli rule. Why didn’t the Chief Minister position King Sangkilli on a caparisoned Elephant and follow the South Indian tradition? In Indian iconography, kings ride in chariots pulled by horses. It is alleged that Wigneswaran was moved by statues of Western Monarchs on horseback!
Exhibitions and big Tamashas to commemorate Ravana have been held in Colombo. Ravana has been the subject of an exhibition of paintings titled ‘Indumini Ravana’ held about a decade ago in Colombo. The Devram Vihara monk, Ven. Kolonnuwe Sumangala (ex Member of Parliament) conducts an annual procession called the ‘Maha Raavana Perahera’. Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to its inauguration procession in 2013.
The armed forces are often identified as a “Ravana Balaya”.
One of my old students from Vidyodaya University from the 1970s era who lived in Canada had become a complete convert to the Ravana story. He began to send me letters attacking “The traitor Mahanama”, and asking me to read various Ravana books and write articles in support of the nonsense until we cut off communication. Labeling individuals opposed to the programme as traitors is something that the ITAK, and later the LTTE, also did. The LTTE also decided that the traitors should be executed!
Some government ministry has even given “research funds’ ‘ to carry out excavations to do “archaeological research” on the Raavana civilization hidden or destroyed by the Mahavihara monks, already in the 6th century. Claims that Indian sages like Pulasthi knew how to build rockets that could go to the Moon is being pushed by the Hindutva enthusiasts of Prime Minister Modi in India. They think that modern science is not needed, and they only have to find what the Rishi’s said, and re-implement them, to recover the past glory of Bharatha. In Sri Lanka, we have people who say that modern Science is actually “Patta Pal Boru” (a well-fabricated lie).
Meanwhile, Wigneswaran is pushing the Dravidasthan Myth (i.e. Greater Eelam that extends all the way from Tamil controlled electorates in North America through UK, EU, Tamil Nadu and to at least Malaysia). This surpasses the Hindutva myths of Modi and remains only second to China’s Belt Road Initiative. The Sri Lankan Raavana myth has captured the imagination of the Sinhalese far more effectively than the Dravidasthan-Eelamist myth of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and the Eelam myth which had its peak under Prabhakaran. Wigneswaran is merely one of the leading Jaffna representatives of the TGTE.
Kamalika Pieris has written about Ramayana and Sri Lanka, where some complementary material relevant to this topic may be found:http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2019/06/04/ramayana-and-sri-lanka-part-3/