Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle (1-2)

Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle

Chapter 1: The Context

by T. Sabaratnam, July 20, 2010
A journalist who reported the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for over 50 years

The belief that Sri Lanka had been blessed by Buddha is the prime factor that motivates the Sinhala people to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala- Buddhist country. The other factor is that the Sinhalese were the first human settlers. They believe that human settlements in Sri Lanka began with the arrival of Vijaya.

Tamils on the other hand believe that man lived in Sri Lanka from ancient times and Vijaya was an intruder and not the first human settler. They also believe that Hinduism was the religion of the Yakkhas and Nagas before they were converted by Buddha to Buddhism.

These two belief systems form the bedrock of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict.

The Problem

I was 14 when the election was held for the First Parliament of Ceylon (Sri Lanka from 1972) in 1947. We were all excited when G.G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, moved to Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Sri Lankan Tamils, to contest the sitting member Home Minister A. Mahadeva.

Ponnambalam had by then earned the image of protector of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and his oratorical skill had enthralled the youth. “Follow me, I’ll win for you your rights and restore your dignity,” was the message he preached.

Terrain Map of India, Indian Subcontinent, Arabian Sea MapHe was then campaigning for ‘Fifty-fifty’, a scheme his political party proposed for a fair sharing of power between the Sinhalese who formed the majority population and the minority communities. The scheme called for the allocation of 50 percent of the number of seats in parliament to the Sinhalese and the balance 50 percent for the minority communities. He proposed that Sri Lankan Tamils, the Muslims, the Indian Tamils and others elect their representatives through communally carved out electorates.

The Soulbury Commission rejected Ponnambalam’s 50-50 formula saying it was trying to reintroduce communal representation, it was complicated and unworkable and impeded the healthy progressive advance towards parliamentary self-government.

Ponnambalam continued his campaign despite its rejection calling the Soulbury Constitution a Charter of Slavery. He argued the new constitution which introduced a Westminster type of parliamentary system of government would ultimately concentrate state power in the hands of the Sinhala people and deprive the minority communities of their rights and dignity. His formula would prevent such a possibility, he argued.

Mahadeva who supported the Soulbury Constitution maintained that Ponnambalam’s scheme would make the Tamils dependent on the other minority groups, especially the Muslims and the plantation Tamils. He argued that the interests of those communities were different from that of Sri Lankan Tamils and Ponnambalam’s ‘solution’ would land the Tamils in a worse situation.

Mahadeva said that it was better to depend on the goodwill of the majority community than on the goodwill of the other minority communities. He explained to the public that they had persuaded Lord Soulbury, who headed the 3-member Commission that drafted the new constitution, to incorporate into the constitution a series of measures to safeguard the interests of the Tamil people.

The constitutional debate did not interest the voters. Ponnambalam’s campaign about the rights of the Tamil people and his pledge to protect their interests moved them. His claim that the Tamils were not invaders or foreigners as the Sinhalese contended but were indigenous people with a proud history interested them. They voted for him and his party in large numbers.

For us boys who did the slogan shouting and campaigning, Ponnambalam’s slogan was the tonic. We were intoxicated with his slogan: Proclaim yourself a Tamil and walk with your heads held high.

Its Origin

The Sinhala-Tamil conflict is as old as the history of the island. It is the outcome of the mutual fear and distrust the Sinhalese and Tamils have about each other. The Tamils feared that the Sinhalese, using their majority, would deny them, deny their legitimate rights and marginalize them. The Sinhalese feared that the Tamils, using the large population of Tamils in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu, would swamp them.

The Sinhalese claimed the island as their home and called the Tamils invaders and foreigners. They said Sri Lanka was blessed by Buddha thrice and wanted to preserve the island as the home of Theravada Buddhism. They said that the Sinhalese were the first humans to settle in Sri Lanka and hence the island belonged to them. They also said that the Sinhala race is found only in Sri Lanka and thus has to be preserved for the Sinhala people. “You have Tamil Nadu. Go back,” was the slogan the Sinhala revivalists shouted in the early part of the last century.

The Tamil response was equally emphatic. They said that their ancestors were living in Sri Lanka when Vijaya arrived with his followers. They asserted Hinduism was practiced in Sri Lanka long before Buddhism was introduced. They avered that Tamils were also indigenous people and they need not go back to Tamil Nadu.

Tamils argued that though they shared the common history and civilization with the Tamils of Tamil Nadu they had developed a separate and distinct identity as Sri Lankan Tamils. Though Tamil language is their mother tongue they had developed their own special characteristics and literature. They claimed that the Tamil they speak is pure and preserve the original characteristics of the language. Though they are Hindus, they said, they had adopted Saiva Siddantha practices as opposed to the Brahminical practices of Tamil Nadu. The Tamils of Sri Lanka wanted to preserve their distinct identity and continue to live as Sri Lankan Tamils, they argued.

The Sinhala-Tamil conflict is the result of several factors: location, trade route, history and population distribution playing major roles.


Sri Lanka is an island situated near the southeastern tip of the Indian subcontinent. It is separated from the Tamil Nadu coast by the Palk Strait, a shallow sea 34 kilometer wide at the nearest point. Fishermen, since ancient days, cross the Strait in less than six hours. In recent times the speedboats of Tamil militant groups cross it much quicker.

Legends and literature speak of a land bridge between Rameswaram in India and Thalaimanner in Sri Lanka. It is referred to as Rama Bridge or Adam’s Bridge. It earned the name Rama Bridge because Valimiki’s Ramayana, the Hindu epic written about 3000 years ago, says that it was built by an army of monkeys to enable Rama to cross over to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife Sita who was taken captive by Sri Lankan ruler Ravana. Valmiki’s epic was based on an oral tradition which historians claim was based on an actual event that occurred about 5000 years before the present (BP).

NASA digital image showing ancient bridge in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka

Geologists tell a different story about the ‘bridge’. They say it was formed due to geological process that occurred 20 million years ago when the plate on which India and Sri Lanka stands collided with the Asian landmass causing the formation of the Himalayan mountain range. The same collision resulted in the separation of Sri Lanka from India and in the formation of the Palk Strait.

Geologists add that India and Sri Lanka were connected during most of the last one million years. They become separated whenever the sea level rose due to the warming of the global climate. The two countries have been separated by the sea for the past 7000 years. The depth of the sea in the strait varies between one meter and 30 meters.

Satellite pictures taken by NASA and by the Marine and Water Resources Group of Space Application Centre of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) show a chain of shoals, coral reefs and a ridge beneath the sea. Reports of a NASA study speaks of the coral reef dating back 1.7 million years. A study conducted  by  a team from the Centre for Remote Sensing (CRS) of Bharahidasan University in Tiruchi in 2003 using modern dating techniques has concluded that the coral reefs are 3500 years old. The team headed by Professor S.M. Ramasamy studied the geological changes that took place along the Tamil Nadu coastline in the past 40,000 years. S.U. Deraniyagala, former Director-General of Archaeology, Sri Lanka says Sri Lanka was separated from India whenever the sea level fell due to global cooling and the last separation occurred 7000 years ago. Geologists say the satellite photographs show the submerged ‘land bridge’ that was once part of the land link between India and Sri Lanka.

Archaeologists say there was migration of plants, animals and human beings during the periods when Sri Lanka was connected to India by land. They add that several species of plants and animals indigenous to Sri Lanka had migrated from the Indian subcontinent when Sri Lanka was connected to India.  They give Sri Lankan elephant as an example.

Researchers believe elephants should have migrated to Sri Lanka during the early days when Sri Lanka was connected to India. They add that the submerged ‘land bridge’ was part of the original land link between India and Sri Lanka.Silk Route land & maritime

Trade Routes

Silk Route land & maritime

Map showing the Silk Route. Red line show the overland route and the line in blue the maritime route.

Trade routes also might have played a role in the migration of human beings to Sri Lanka in the early days. Sri Lanka, situated midway between China and the Mediterranean where powerful empires flourished during the pre- Christian era, served as a favourite port of call for the ships that travelled between them. It emerged as transit point for the fleet of Chinese boats carrying silk and ceramic ware and the Arabian vessels transporting spices from eastern countries to the African and Mediterranean empires. Sri Lanka became an important landmark on the famous silk and spice routes.

Sri Lanka also emerged as the centre where Indian merchants exchanged goods with their counterparts from China, Arabia and Africa. Jataka stories make several references to the voyages of Indian merchants to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka became a supplier of spices, gems, pearls, conch, ebony and elephants. Spices, incense, gems and pearls were exported to Africa and the Mediterranean countries. Elephants, ebony, conch and pearls were in great demand in India. Cinnamon was in use in ancient Egypt in about 3500 BP suggesting that there were trading links between Sri Lanka and Egypt.

Three ports of Sri Lanka are mentioned in the Mahavamsa, the semi-historical text of the Sinhalese: the ports of Mahatittha, Jambukola and Gokanna. Mahatittha is the Pali name for Mattoddam. In ancient Tamil literature it is referred to as Manthai. According to Prof. W.I. Siriweera, Mattoddam was the most important port of Sri Lanka. The port which was located at the mouth of Aruvi Aru (Malwatu Oya in Sinhala) in the Mannar district was on the silk and spice routes. The existence of pearl fisheries around this area also contributed towards its commercial activity.

It was also an important port for vessels coming from India and there was strong presence of Tamils in the area during most parts of history. The Mahavamsa says that Vijaya’s second wife who was from the Pandiyan royal family landed at Mattoddam.

A large number of articles of foreign origin including coins and porcelain-ware have been excavated in the environs of this port. Fragments of Roman pottery, coins and other artefacts have been found.

In the Sangam Tamil literature Mattoddam is referred to as one of the greatest ports on the seaboard of Sri Lanka and India. (C. Rasanayagam – Ancient Jaffna P. 14FF). One of the poems included in the Sangam anthology was by Eelattu Poothanthevanar from Manthai.

Jambukola is the next important ancient port. The Mahavamsa refers to it as Jambukola Pattuna. It has been identified as Sambalturai, close to Kankesanthurai. It served as the port to North India, more especially to the port of Tamralpiti in Bengal. Envoys of King Devanampiyatissa set sail to the Court of Emperor Asoka from this port. (Mahavamsa ch. 19. v23). Theri Sanghamitta  who brought the sapling of Sri Maha Bodhia of Gaya landed at Jambukola, and King Devanampiyatissa built the Jambukola Vihara outside this port to mark that historic event. Jambukola diminished in importance as Mattoddam gained prominence.

Mahavamsa also mentions the port of Gokanna. It records that Panduvasudeva landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara river. It also says that Badhahakacayana landed at Trincomalee. This eastern port served as the port of call for vessels coming from the eastern and far eastern countries. Mahavamsa says that King Mahasena built a Buddhist Vihara after demolishing a Hindu temple (The Mahavamsach 37,v.41) The Culavamsa also refers to this port.

Though not mentioned in Mahavamsa Urkavalthurai or Kayts is an old port which was mentioned in Pali and Tamil literatures. The Pali work Abitta Jataka refers to the Brahmin sage Akitta (Agastya) who had visited the island of Kara adjacent to Nagadipa. This is identified by some as the present Karaitivu or KarainagarManimekalai, one of the five great epics of Tamil literature, refers to a place called Manipallavam which might be Nainativu .

Human Settlement

Humans are known to have lived in various parts of India during the last one million years. During this period Sri Lanka was connected to India on several occasions. Dr. S.U. Deraniyagala has postulated that humans would have migrated to Sri Lanka during those periods. Findings at Iranaimadu indicate the existence of settlements of prehistoric people in Sri Lanka as early as 300,000 years ago. Archaeological excavations conducted in the coastal deposits near Bundala provide definite evidence for the existence of human settlements 125,000 years ago. The discovery of the hand-axes and scrapers of quartz and chert used by the people who lived in those settlements show they were hunters and gatherers.

Positive information is available about prehistoric human settlements during the period 37,000 years to 6500 years before the present (BP). About 50 sites in which people lived have been studied. Those sites are collectively termed Balangoda settlements and the people who lived there are referred to as Balangoda Man and their culture is called Balangoda culture.

There are three major caves in this area, the oldest, Fa Hien-lena, starts 37,000 years ago. The second, Batadomba-lena, starts around 31,000 years ago and the third, Beli-lena, around 30,000 years ago. These caves have produced evidence of stone tools. Bone remains of humans and animals and charcoal have been preserved in good condition. Balangoda male was about 174 cm tall and female around 166 cm. Their bones were robust, with thick skull-bones, prominent brow-ridges, depressed wide noses, heavy jaws and short necks. The teeth were conspicuously large.

The recent discovery at Pallemalala, Hambantota provides evidence for the existence of human settlements in the late stone stage, about 5000 to 6000 years before present. Skeletons of eleven persons buried in folded position had been unearthed and researchers feel that they belonged to a settlement of about 15 people. A large grinding stone and evidence of a fireplace were discovered. A large number of stone tools and animal bones have been found. Experts say that the animal bones look like they had been discarded after consumption of the marrow. Tools carved out of animal bone were also found here.

Archaeological evidence of the people who lived during the period of transition from the late stone age to the beginning of the Early Iron Age (EIA) is scarce. A human skeleton found at Godavaya in the Hambantota district has been dated to belong to the period 3000 to 5000 BP. Tools made of animal bones and stones were found near it. Excavations in the cave of Dorawaka-kanda near Kegalle indicate the use of pottery and stone stools. It is dated 4300 BP. Slag found at Mattoddam indicates the knowledge of copper-working. It was 1800 years old. The way of life of the people underwent a major change with the introduction of iron implements.

Archaeological research shows that EIA culture had established itself in Tamil Nadu by about 3200 years ago. It spread to Sri Lanka during the period 3000 to 2800 years ago.

Sudharshan Seneviratne, a leading authority on the subject of the origin and spread of EIA culture in South India and Sri Lanka, says that EIA culture first established itself in the southeastern plains near the estuaries of Tambaraparani, Vaigai, Kaveri, Ponni and Palar and their tributaries in Tamil Nadu before it crossed over to the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka watered by the rivers Aruvi Aru (Malwattu Oya), Kal Aru, Modaragam Aru, Elapat Aru (a tributary of Kala Oya) and Kala Oya. Seneviratne says that Sri Lanka received its impetus mainly from the Tambaraparani- Vaigai plains, the Pandyan territory.

Indrapala who confirmed this view says there was constant interaction between the people living in the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu and the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka, the coast between Puttalam and Mannar.

The earliest discoveries of EIA settlements of Tamil Nadu were from the Pandyan territory, Adichchanallur and Perumbur where those settlements were discovered. They are on the banks of the river Tambaraparani which flows into the sea at Pamban. Pomparippu where the EIA settlement was discovered first in Sri Lanka was near the mouth of Kala Oya which is almost opposite Adichchanallur. A significant concentration of EIA settlements was located between Kala Oya and its tributary Elapar Aru. Archaeologists have discovered seven EIA settlements in the coast between Aruvi Aru and Kala Oya, the region that falls within the Wilpattu National Park area.

Archeological research has now firmly established the existence of constant interaction between the EIA settlements of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Seneviratne says that the culture and the way of life of the people of the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan settlements were similar. Distinct similarity exists in paddy cultivation and burial.

The EIA culture, archaeologists estimate, brought immense change in the way of living of the Sri Lankan people. With that came cattle, horses, paddy cultivation and pottery. Iron technology helped the people to bring larger area under paddy cultivation and increase the yield.

Recent research initiated by Jaffna University has established that the spread of the EIA culture extended further north of Aruvi Aru. Most of the findings were from Poonari and the islands off the Jaffna peninsula. P. Pushparatnam has reported the discovery of EIA settlements in Mannitalai, Kalmunai, Vettukadu, Pallikuda, Pallavarayan, Ilavur and other places in the Poonari area in the mainland.

Archaeological discoveries show that human settlements existed in the Jaffna peninsula, especially in the islands. The skeletal remains of humans and the artifacts found in the burial sites, especially the pottery with graffiti symbols and the tools, show that people had led a settled and civilized life before the advent of the Iron Age. Evidence of the EIA culture is gradually emerging.

Pushparatnam excavated in September 2004 a new EIA urn burial site in Catti in Velanai. The offshore islands, particularly Nainativu (Nagadeepa), Karainagar and Velanai appear to have played an important part in the spread of the EIA culture into the northern part of Sri Lanka.

Some other EIA burial sites have also been discovered in the Jaffna peninsula in the last two decades. In Kantarodai, the only site with radiocarbon dates which reveal the existence of human settlements as early as 2600 years ago, no burials have been unearthed. In Anaikoddai which was excavated by a team led by Indrapala in 1980, several burials were discovered. A seal found in it has been dated to 2200 years ago.

Subsequently, P. Ragupathy discovered other burial sites at Karainagar and Velanai. Jaffna University is planning to survey the Jaffna peninsula, particularly the islands, since its researchers are convinced that EIA cultural spread branched off to the north as it reached the northwest. Indrapala says that Karainagar, Nainativu and Velanai played an important part in the spread of EIA culture in the Jaffna peninsula.

Archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Iron Age in Sri Lanka has been found at Anuradhapura, where a large city–settlement was founded before 2900 years ago. Then the settlement was about 15 hectares. By about 2700 years ago it had expanded to 50 hectares. A similar site from the same period has also been discovered near Aligala in Sigiriya.

Aboriginal People

Pali chronicles the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa speak about four tribes that lived in Sri Lanka when Vijaya arrived 2553 years ago (543 BC). The tribes were: Yakkha, Naga, Deva and Raksasa. Of these the Ramayana mentions the Raksasa and Deva tribes. They lived in the central part of Sri Lanka. According to the Ramayana they governed Sri Lanka 4380 years ago.A statue of Ravana in Madurai’s Meenakshi temple.

A statue of Ravana in Madurai’s Meenakshi temple.
Statue of Ravana in Madurai Meenadchi Amman Temple

Ramayana speaks about the Raksasa kingdom of Sri Lanka and its capital Lankapura, which it describes as a well-planned and prosperous city. Ramayana says that the people who lived in it were highly civilized.

Ramayana adds that the Raksasa kingdom situated in the central highlands of Sri Lanka was established by Kubera. His step- brother Ravana later took it over. Ramayana narrates the story of the abduction of Rama’s wife Sita by Ravana and her rescue by Rama in detail because it forms the core of the tale. It speaks about the construction of a land bridge, Ram Palam (Adam’s Bridge), by Hanuman between Rameswaram and Mannar which enabled Rama and his army to cross over to Sri Lanka.

Ramayana depicts Ravana as a devote Hindu who worshiped Siva, a great scholar, a capable ruler, a maestro of the Veena, author of books on medicine and astrology and an expert in many arts and a skilled military strategist. The Indian epic extols the beauty of Lankapura and its administrative structure.

Ravana is depicted as a person with ten heads. Various explanations have been offered by scholars. The common explanation says that he possessed the strength of ten persons. Another was that he possessed thorough knowledge of the four Vedas and six Upanishads.

The Sinhala historical tradition, Ravana Vamsa Valiya, traces the history of Sri Lanka from Ravana. Some books and several articles were written by Sinhala scholars and historians in recent times in support of that claim.

Several scholars have located the names of the places mentioned in Ramayana. Sirancee Gunawardene has identified the various places where Ravana held Sita during the period of captivity. He first held her inside Ravana Kite on the Southeastern coast. Then he took her to Sita Elisa. When Rama’s army advanced he took her to Ravana Ella cave which is about ten kilometers from Bandarawela. Several other places mentioned in the Ramayana have also been identified. Some scholars use the identification of the places to argue that the Ramayana story is based on an actual event.

Ramayana also contains reference to Nagas. Rama while sending Hanuman to Sri Lanka to search for Sita told him look for her in the capital of the Naga kingdom. The northern Naga kingdom was then under Ravana’s rule.

After Ravana’s defeat no information is available about the Raksasa tribe. They would have been subjugated by the Deva tribe which also lived during the same period and in the same region. Mahavamsa refers to the Devas in connection with their meeting with Buddha and conversion to Buddhism. It says that Sumana Saman, a leader of the Deva tribe came out of the central hills and met Buddha at Mahiyangana. Buddha gave him a few hairs from his head which were placed in a golden urn and enshrined in a sapphire stupa. Devas are believed to be the guardians of the mountain named Adams Peak.

Yakkhas and Nagas were the two tribes that lived in Sri Lanka when Vijaya and his followers landed in Sri Lanka. Yakkha people lived in the southern and central parts of Sri Lanka while Nagas occupied the western and northern portions of the country. Yakkhas lived from about 8000 years to 5000 years before the present.

The Yakkha had great skill in the construction of irrigation tanks. They were also great iron craftsmen and their smiths sold steel to the Arabian countries for sword making. They worshipped the sun and celebrated the annual New Year festival.

Mahabharata, the second oldest Indian epic, has a reference to the Naga tribe that ruled the northern part of Sri Lanka. In its account of Arjuna’s pilgrimage to the southern shrines and holy waters he crossed over to Sri Lanka to take a bath at Keerimalai and worshiped at one of the ancient Saiva temple Naguleswaram. He married a Naga princes. Mahabharata mentions Nagas as a highly civilized people living in India and Sri Lanka.

Mahavamsa refers to the Naga chieftaincies of Kalyani and Nagadeepa. Kalyani was situated in western Sri Lanka on the banks of Kelani river and Nagadeepa in the north, an island off the Jaffna peninsula. Possibly, other Naga chieftaincies existed along the northwestern coast between Puttalam and Nagadeepa. Archaeological finds of Poonari suggests it. Archaeologists have determined the area north of Aruvi Aru (Malwattu Oya) as Naga territory.

The Nagas were a prominent race in India and their names are still extant in various parts. Some countries in South East Asia, especially Cambodia, claim Naga origin. Whatever their origin, Rasanayagam says, a Naga kingdom did flourish in the north of the island from 8000 years to 1700 years before the present (300AD).

Ptolemy, the famous Greek geographer and astronomer who lived between 85 AD and 165 AD and travelled around the world refers to Naga kingdoms on the Coromandel coast and points out the place-names, Nagoor and Nagapatinam, in support. The fact that EIA settlements of Tamil Nadu and the northern Sri Lanka which bear similarities show that the early settlers of the north were Naga people.

The Nagas were good sea traders and Ptolemy observed that one of the oldest seaports of the Island was in the Northern part of the Jaffna Peninsula. They worshiped serpents, which is in the icon of Lord Siva. Hindu sculptures depict Siva wearing a serpent around his neck.

The occurrence of a large amount of personal names with the element Naga in the earliest cave inscriptions indicates their presence in different parts of the country. Names of six of the ten kings who ruled Anuradhapura between 135 AD and 248 AD, a period of 113 years have Naga in their names.


five temples map
Map showing the locations of the five ancient Sivan temples known as Pancha Eswarams.

The important find of a statuette of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of good fortune, in the Anaikoddai excavation confirms other evidence that the Naga people were Hindus. The Nagas’ religious practices still prevail among the Hindus and Buddhists. They worship serpents by offering milk and eggs. They do not keep garuda’s (falcon) pictures in the house because it is an enemy of serpents.

Hindu tradition maintains that the people, Yakkhas and Nagas, who lived during the pre- Buddhist era, were worshipers of Siva. The existence of five ancient Sivan temples around the island supports that belief. They are Thiruketheeshwaram and Muneshwaram in the West, Thondeshwaram in the South, Koneshwaram in the East and Naguleshwaram in the North.

Buddha’s Visits
The Mahiyangana Stupa

Mahavamsa seems to support the view that Yakkhas and Nagas were Hindus before Buddha converted them to Buddhism. The Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three different occasions, according to this text. His first visit was to Mahiyangana; the second to Nagadeepa, and the third was to Kalyani (Kelani).

The Buddha’s first visit took place on Durutu (January) Full Moon Day (528 BC), ninth month after He attained Enlightenment. He visited the Mahanaga Garden in Mahiyangana in central Sri Lanka where the Yakkhas who lived in the entire island met.  Buddha entered that assembly, preached his sermon and converted them. The Mahiyangana stupa stands at the very spot Buddha sat.
A painting depicting the scene where Buddha solving the conflict about the Gem Seat

Buddha’s second visit took place in the fifth year of His Enlightenment (523 B.C.). He visited Nagadeepa to settle a dispute between the Naga kings Culodara and Mahodara, uncle and nephew, over a jeweled throne and settled the dispute preaching the sermon on compassion.

His third visit took place in the eighth year after his attainment of Buddhahood (520 BC) He visited several places. He began His visit with Kelaniya, whose king Maniakkhika had invited Him during His visit to Nagadeepa, then went to Sripada where He placed his footprint, and went to Digavapi and then to Anuradhapura and sat and meditated in a place where the Bodhi tree now stands.

Buddhists believe that Buddha visited the places where the following stupas stand: Mutiyangana stupa in Badulla, Tissamaharvihara, Maricavatti or Mirisavati stupa, Jetavana stupa, Abhayagri stupa and Kirivihara at Kataragama.

Though historians dispute the veracity of Mahavamsa’s account of Buddha’s visits they have become an ingredient of the belief system of the Buddhists, including Tamil Buddhists, since ancient times. Manimekalai, one of the Tamil epics written in the 2nd. Century, talks about Buddha’s visit to Manipallavam which is identified as Nagathivy (Nagadeepa).

The belief that Sri Lanka had been blessed by Buddha is the prime factor that motivates the Sinhala people to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala- Buddhist country. The other factor is that the Sinhalese were the first human settlers. They believe that human settlements in Sri Lanka began with the arrival of Vijaya.

Tamils on the other hand believe that man lived in Sri Lanka from ancient times and Vijaya was an intruder and not the first human settler. They also believe that Hinduism was the religion of the Yakkhas and Nagas before they were converted by Buddha to Buddhism.

These two belief systems form the bedrock of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict.


The Context

Birth of Racial Consciousness



Chapter 2: Origins of Racial Conflict

by T. Sabaratnam, August 4, 2010
A journalist who reported the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for over 50 years

Devanampiyatissa’s proclamation that he was the King of Sri Lanka and his efforts to force the people of the country to accept Buddhism sowed the seeds of Tamil consciousness. Till the crowning of Devanampiyatissa Tamil chieftains of the north, east and other parts of the country never faced any interference from Anuradhapura rulers.

The seeds of Tamil consciousness Devanampiyatissa sowed sprouted soon after his death in 267 BC. It provided the environment for revolt by the Tamil chieftains…

Ellala’s rule helped transform the Sinhala people into a nation and Sinhala consciousness into Sinhala nationalism. This transformation took place through Dutthagamani’s 14-year war to win back the Anuradhapura Kingdom.

Impact of Vijaya’s Arrival

Though Vijaya never intended his arrival in Sri Lanka 2553 years ago (from 2010) laid the foundation for the racial conflict, the stories the Mahavamsa built around his arrival are still influencing the thinking and actions of the majority of the Sinhala people.

Mahavamsa has four stories connected to Buddha’s arrival. Firstly, he stepped on the reddish soil of the northwestern coast of the island on the very day Buddha passed away. Secondly, Buddha had sought the help of Vishnu through Indra to ensure the safe passage and protection of Vijaya. Thirdly, Vishnu directed Vijaya to Sri Lanka in keeping with Buddha’s wishes. Fourthly, when Vijaya arrived, Sri Lanka was an uninhabited land.

These stories form the bedrock of the Sinhala belief that Sri Lanka belongs to them and should be preserved as a Sinhala- Buddhist state. The first three stories provide the Buddhist connection and the fourth the basis for the claim that the Sinhalese were the first human settlers. This set of beliefs still governs the thinking of the Sinhala people.Landing of King Vijaya depicted in an Ajanta fresco

Landing of King Vijaya depicted in an Ajanta fresco

Landing of Vijaya depicted in the Ajanta fresco

Facts, as stated in the previous chapter, are different. Sri Lanka was inhabited when Vijaya arrived in 543 B.C. Human settlements had been there for at least 125,000 years. When Vijaya landed in Tambapanni, a port on the southern part of the mouth of Aruvi Aru (Malwatta Oya), the area was ruled by the Yakkha tribe. Yakkhas ruled the western and southern portions of the island while the Nagas ruled certain areas in the western portion and the north. Tambapanni, a flourishing exchange port, was on the route Indian traders used regularly.

Vijaya was a prince from Vanga (now West Bengal) who was expelled by his father, Sinhabahu the king, with his group of 700 youngsters for evil acts. They were put into boats and sent away. Vijaya was the elder of the twins to which his mother, Sinhasivali, gave birth. The younger boy was Sumitta.

Sinhabahu was the founder of the kingdom centered on the city of Singapura and his descendents came to be known as Sinhalese. In keeping with the tradition of olden days the lion story might have been spun around his birth and youth of Sinhabahu to make him the descendent of some supernatural occurrence. The Sinha association might have been due to the meaning of his name ‘lion-armed’. Sinhabahu was from the Aryan race.

Whatever the origin of the Sinhala race it is sufficient for our purpose that Vijaya and his 700 men were the first group of Aryans to enter Sri Lanka. Vijaya kissed the soil and planted the Lion Flag. He then met Yakkha princes Kuveni, conquered the Yakkhas, became their chieftain, married Kuveni who bore him two children, Deegahatta the son and Visala, the daughter. Vijaya deserted her and the children and married a Tamil princes, daughter of the Pandyan king. Vijaya then consecrated himself as the ruler. He died in 505 BC. This in essence is the story Mahavamsa tells about the arrival, marriages and the consecration of Vijaya.

According to Mahavamsa Vijaya founded the chieftaincy in Tambapanni and his ministers founded the settlements Ujjeni, Uruvela, Upatissagama, Vijita, and Anuradhagama, all around Tambapanni. They named the villages after their names. Vijaya who desired to be recognized as a king decided to marry a royal princes befitting his rank and his ministers decided to send messengers to the nearby Pandyan kingdom with the request for a royal princes to marry Vijaya. The mission to the Pandyan king and the king’s response are mentioned in the “Mahavamsa” (VII, 48-58):

The ministers, whose minds were eagerly bent upon the consecrating of their lord and who, although the means were difficult, had overcome all anxious fears about the matter, sent people entrusted with many precious gifts, jewels, pearls and so forth, to the city of Madura in South India to woo the daughter of the Pandu king for their lord, devoted as they were to their ruler, and they also sent to woo the daughters of others for the ministers and retainers. When the messengers were quickly come by ship to the city of Madura, they laid the gifts and letters before the king. The king took counsel with his ministers, and since he was minded to send his daughter to Lanka, he having first received also daughters of others for the ministers of Vijaya, nigh upon a hundred maidens, proclaimed with beat of drums: ‘ Those men here who are willing to let a daughter depart for Lanka shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their homes. By this sign shall we know that we may take them to ourselves.’

When he had thus obtained many maidens and had given compensation to their families, he sent his daughter, bedecked with all her ornaments, and all that was needful for the journey, and all the maidens whom he had fitted out, according to their rank, elephants withal and horses and wagons worthy of a king and craftsmen and a thousand families of the eighteen guilds, entrusted with a letter to the conqueror Vijaya. All this multitude of men disembarked at Mahatittha, for that very reason is that landing place known as Mahatittha.

The social impact of this event was studied by Fr. Gnanaprakasar. In his book, “The Beginnings of Tamil Rule in Ceylon.” He sums up the social impact thus:

The Pandyan sent out his own maiden daughter with 699 maidens chosen from among his nobility. These 700 ladies landed with their retinue safely at Cottiar. The princess was attended by a personal staff of 18 officers of state, 75 menial servants (being housekeepers, elephant keepers and charioteers) besides numerous slaves. It may reasonably be assumed that each of these 18 officers was accompanied by his wife and children, his men-servants and maidservants, male slaves and female slaves. In like manner each of the 699 noble maidens was accompanied by attendants, servants and slaves. And there were also numbers of families of each of the five sorts of tradesmen who came to Ceylon on this occasion.

Mahavamsa says that the princess was from the Pandyan capital “Dakshina Madura” which means southern Madura. Most of the modern Sinhala scholars have interpreted that to mean the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Mahavamsa adds that following the arrival of the Pandyan princess the ministers in full assembly consecrated Vijaya as the king.

The Second Aryan Input

Vijaya died in 505 BC after ruling Tambapanni for 38 years. He had no children able to inherit. He desired that his brother Sumitta should succeed him. Honouring his wish ministers invited Sumitta who was the ruler in Sinhapura. Sumitta sent his son Panduvasdeva and 32 others. They sailed along the trade route between Vanga and Sri Lanka and landed in the eastern port of Gokanna. Vijaya’s chief minister Upatissa who ruled Tambapanni as regent from Uppatissagama for one year till Panduvasdeva arrived handed over the chieftaincy to him in 504 BC. Panduvasdeva ruled from Upatissagama for 30 years.

This in brief, is the account given by Mahavamsa about the social formation of the Sinhala people. Mahavamsa speaks of no other population input from Vanga or from any other part of North India. It then speaks only about the absorption of Yakkhas and Nagas into the Sinhala social group.

The process of absorption was initiated by Vijaya. He incorporated the Yakkhas into his administrative and military structures. Mahavamsa has reference to the existence of Yakkha settlements outside Tambapanni. Researchers say that the Yakkha tribe was gradually absorbed into the Sinhala race during the next few centuries.

Abhaya, the eldest son, succeeded Panduvasdeva in 474 BC. His younger brother Tissa overthrew him after 20 years in 454 BC and ruled for 17 years. Tissa’s nephew and Panduvasudeva’s grandson Pandukabhaya captured power in 437 BC with the help of Yakkha chieftains and ruled for 60 years. He shifted the capital of his principality to Anuradhapura which according to archaeological evidence was developing as a settlement since 900BC.
Map showing the location of Anuradhapura

Pandukabhaya ensured the safety of his principality with the help of Yakkha chieftains. He appointed them as guardians for the three sides of Anuradhapura. The fourth side was the cemetery. During his rule Yakkhas formed the majority of the population of Anuradhapura. Pandukabhaya died in 367 BC and there was no notable change until Devanampiyatissa became the ruler in 307 BC.

Devanampiyatissa’s regime brought about a marked change in the lives of the Sinhala people and in the structure of their ruling body.  He consolidated his position by expanding the territory under his control by annexing the neighbouring chieftaincies. His brother Uttya conquered Kalyani, the Naga chieftaincy in the western coast. Another brother Mahanaga conquered the minor chieftaincies in Ruhuna.  Following these annexations Nagas of Kalyani and Yakkhas of Ruhuna were absorbed into the evolving Sinhala race.

Devanampiyatissa was instrumental for the introduction of Buddhism. He, a contemporary of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka, forged links with him soon after he became the ruler. He invited Asoka to send a missionary to convert him and his people to Buddhism. Asoka who was actively involved in the propagation of Buddhism sent Mahinda with the group of Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka.

Mahinda met Devanampiyatissa in Mihintala and converted him to Buddhism which resulted in the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Devanampiyatissa converted his family and his people to Buddhism, founded the Buddhist Sangha, Mahavihara, built Thuparama Stupa and Isurumuniya Rock Temple and engaged himself in Buddhist missionary work.

Introduction of Buddhism and trade would have brought some Aryans to Sri Lanka but their numbers would have been small.  On the other hand Tamil input might have been greater.

Birth of Sinhala State  (Editors note – There was no Sinhalese at this point of time in Sri Lanka. Devanampiya Tissa was a Naga king. His father was Mutha Sivan/ So please read the rest of the article bearing this in mind)

Devanampiyatissa consolidated his regime by crowning himself in the Indian style as the Maharajah of Sri Lanka. He obtained Asoka’s blessing and support. Asoka sent his royal insignia to signify his consent. Asoka’s acceptance helped Devanampiyatissa to proclaim himself as the overlord of Sri Lanka.

Though Mahavamsa claimed that Devanampiyatissa was the ruler of the entire country and that the whole of Sri Lanka had adopted Buddhism the reality was different. Most of the chieftaincies of the south, east and Vanni ignored his claim. But the chieftain who ruled Nagadeepa had accepted his overlordship.

Devanampiyatissa consecrated himself as the first king of Sri Lanka and established the first kingdom. Anuradhapura which had remained a principality till then was converted into a Kingdom. Sinhalese thus formed a state for themselves.File:Sanghamitta1.jpg

Sangamitta landing with the sapling of the Bodhi tree.

Encouraged by the active support he had so far received, Devanampiyatissa requested Asoka to send a branch of the Bo-tree under which Buddha attained Enlightenment along with Bhikkunis to inaugurate a monastic order for women. Asoka sent Sangamitta with a Bo-tree sapling.

Sanghamitta landed at Sambalturai (Jambukola), one of the ancient ports in the Jaffna peninsula, and was received by Devanampiyatissa’s emissaries who took chariots to transport her. This was the first instance the emerging Sinhala state interfered in the affairs of the Naga chieftaincy of Jaffna.

Devanampiyatissa sent emissaries to the chieftains in the north, east and the south to accept him as their overload. Chieftain of Nagadeepa accepted his claim, helped him to receive Sangamitta and permitted him to build Shamutha Pannai Shala Mandaba (hall) and Jambukola Vihara near the spot she landed. The chieftains from Vanni, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Kadiragama refused to accept Devanampiyatissa as their overlord and resisted his effort to impose Buddhism on them and their people.

Sanghamitta planted the sapling of the Bo-tree at Anuradhapura and started the Bhikkuni order. Mihintala where Mahinda converted Devanampiyatissa to Buddhism and the Bo-tree that Sanghamitta planted at Anuradhapura are part of Sinhala- Buddhist heritage and consciousness.

Devanampiyatissa’s proclamation that he was the King of Sri Lanka and his efforts to force the people of the country to accept Buddhism sowed the seeds of Tamil consciousness. Till the crowning of Devanampiyatissa Tamil chieftains of the north, east and other parts of the country never faced any interference from Anuradhapura rulers.

The seeds of Tamil consciousness Devanampiyatissa sowed sprouted soon after his death in 267 BC. It provided the environment for revolt by the Tamil chieftains. After his death his brothers, Uttiya, Mahasiva and Suratissa took turns in that order and ruled Anuradhapura for ten years each. But they could not maintain the vast kingdom Devanampiyatissa had established because they lacked the authority and charisma of their brother and because the necessary military and administrative infrastructure had not been built.

Tamil Threat

Sinhala- Tamil rivalry began in 177 BC during the reign of Suratissa. Two Tamils, Sena and Guttika, defeated Suratissa in battle and conquered Anuradhapura and ruled it for 22 years.  Anuradhapura was under Tamil threat for the next 149 years ending in 88 BC. Eight Tamil kings ruled Anuradhapura for a total of 82 years during that period. Mahavamsa calls them invaders from Tamil Nadu but Tamil historians and scholars feel that they were Tamil chieftains from Vanni who rebelled against the imposition of Buddhism. Their search of the records in Tamil Nadu for any reference to any invasion from Tamil Nadu during that period was not fruitful.

Recent research done in Poonari has thrown new light. Pushparatnam, Professoor and Head of the Department of History and Archaeology, University of Jaffna, discovered in Poonari ruins of buildings resembling a palace and two pieces of earthenware with Brahmi inscriptions which indicate the existence of an ancient chieftaincy in that area. He postulates that that chieftaincy might have been the precursor of the Kingdom of Jaffna. Kunarasa speculates whether Sena and Gutika were the chieftains from that chieftaincy.Elara’s bell and cow.jpg

Elara’s bell and cow.jpg

Painting: Cow ringing the bell hung by Ellala

Mahavamsa says that Sena and Gutika were horse dealers from Tamil Nadu. The fact that they ruled Anuradhapura for 22 years seems to suggest that they commanded a huge army. Asela, one of the sons of Suratissa’s elder brother Mahasiva, defeated the Tamil kings after a lot of preparation and an intense battle. Asela ruled Anuradhapura for only ten years. He was defeated by another Tamil, Ellala who ruled Anuradhapura for 44 years, 145 BC- 101 BC. His was the second Tamil rule of Anuradhapura.

Mahavamsa says that Ellala was a Chola prince who had brought a big army. It says he attacked the Anuradhapura kingdom from several directions and captured the city. He was a Hindu.Mahavamsa says that he was a man of ‘false’ beliefs, but it says that he was a just ruler. It adds that he did not give Buddhism the same support given by earlier rulers and charged that he neglected agriculture and irrigation.

Though Mahavamsa says that Ellala was a Chola Prince a folk drama popular among the Tamils Ellalan Koothu says that he was the son of Sena, one of the first Tamil rulers of Anuradhapura. From this and from the fact that Ellala evinced interest in the development of the agriculture of Vanni, Tamil scholars suggest that he was also from the ancient chieftaincy of Poonari. Ellala built Vaunikulam which is north of Anuradhapura.

Sinhala Nationalism

Ellala’s rule helped transform the Sinhala people into a nation and Sinhala consciousness into Sinhala nationalism. This transformation took place through Dutthagamani’s 14-year war to win back the Anuradhapura Kingdom.

Dutthagamani was the grandson of Mahanaga, a brother of Devanampiyatissa, who ruled the chieftaincy of Magama in Ruhuna and the son of Kavantissa and Viharamadevi. Kavantissa, who succeeded Mahanaga, consolidated his rule by defeating the minor rulers of the south but was reluctant to take on Ellala.

But Dutthagamani was determined to restore the rule of their dynasty at Anuradhapura. He raised a large army, motivated his soldiers drumming into their minds a sense of Sinhala patriotism and led them to battle. He succeeded in fulfilling his ambition after a 14- year military campaign. He defeated Ellala in duel in 161 BC and ruled Anuradhapura for 24 years.

Statue of Dutthagamani

Dutthagamani main achievement was to unite the Sinhala people and to bring most of the areas of the south under his rule rather than ending the Tamil threat to Anuradhapura. Thirty-three years after his death, Tamils conquered Anuradhapura again and ruled it for 12 years.Anuradhapura17.jpg

Succession disputes weakened Anuradhapura after Dutthagamani death.  Though Dutthagamani had a son, Saliva, his brother Saddhatissa succeeded him. Saddhatissa’s younger son, Thulathana, who succeeded him was killed within a month by his eldest brother Lanjatissa who reigned for nine years. Lanjatissa’s younger brother Khallatanaga was the next king He ruled for five years. Then Saddhatissa’s youngest son Walagam Bahu I ascended the throne in 104 BC. He was overthrown by a group of seven Tamil chieftains in the same year and five of them took turn and ruled Anuradhapura. Walagam Bahu I who fled to Ruhuna returned with a huge army and recaptured Anuradhapura in 88 BC.

The constant threat the Tamils posed to Anuradhapura during this period promoted Sinhala unity and nationalism and ingrained in their psyche a sense of threat.  The Sinhalese people developed the fear that the Tamils would destroy them- their race, religion, language and civilization. Sinhalese have inherited that fear perception.

Jaffna under Sinhala Rule

There was no Tamil attack on Anuradhapura from 88 BC to 429 AD except for the invasion of Karikala Cholan who invaded the Anuradhapura kingdom during the rule of Vankanasika Tissa (111 AD-114 AD) and took away a large number of captives to work as slaves on the dykes he was building at Kaveri for flood protection. Vankanasika Tissa’s son Gajabahu led an expedition to the Chola kingdom and brought back the captured people. It was this king who was present at the consecration of the Kannaki temple by the Chera king. He brought the Pathini cult to Sri Lanka,

During the period of the Lambakanna dynasty, 67 AD- 428 AD, the Jaffna peninsula was under the rule of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Vasabha, the founder of the dynasty brought most of the country including the Jaffna peninsula under his authority. That situation continued until the end of the period of the dynasty. Mahallakanaga, the fourth king of that dynasty, built the Salipapatha Vihara in the Jaffna peninsula. The sixth king Kanittha Tissa renovated a shrine and the tenth king Yoharikka Tissa constructed a wall around Tissa Vihara.

Two factors helped the spread of the Sinhala Buddhist influence to Jaffna during this period. Buddhism had become the popular religion in Tamil Nadu. Northern Province too had turned Buddhist. Buddhism thus served as a common vehicle of unity and accommodation. The other was that the Tamil chieftains who ruled Nagadeepa and the other chieftaincies of the north were weak and support from Tamil Nadu was not available.

The period between the 2nd Century and the 6th Century was a Dark Period of Tamil Nadu. It fell under the rule of Kalabhras who overthrew the established Tamil kings and some of the ruling families migrated northwards and founded enclaves for themselves away from the Kalabhras. Buddhism and Jainism grew deep roots in the society.

Kalabhra rule had its impact in Jaffna too. Kantarodai, which had developed as the main principality of the Jaffna peninsula (See the next chapter) too adopted Buddhism and emerged as the centre of Tamil Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Tamil researchers say that the archaeological evidence discovered in Kantarodai should be viewed in the context of the developments in Tamil Nadu and not in the context of the events in Southern Sri Lanka.

The decline of the Kalabharas began in early part of the 5th Century and the traditional Tamil kingdoms, Pandyas, Cholas and Cheras, reasserted their power. At the time the power of the Pandyan Kingdom grew there was disarray in Anuradhapura. A struggle for succession that followed the death of Mahanama in 428 AD brought three rulers in the next two years and using this unsettled state of affairs, Pandu, a Pandyan prince, invaded Sri Lanka and seized the throne in 429 AD.

The struggle for succession was the result of an intrigue by Mahanama, who was a younger brother of King Upatissa II. Mahanama had a secret love affair with Uppatissa II’s consort, a Tamil. He conspired with her and got her to murder Uppatissa II.

Mahanama succeeded Uppatissa II to the throne and made his brother’s consort, the Tamil, his queen.  On Mahanama’s death, their son Suvatisena succeeded him. The Buddhist monks objected to his consecration saying that his mother was a Tamil. The opposition was led by Mahanama Thera, a learned and reputed Buddhist monk.

He asked his cousin, Princess Samgha the daughter of Mahanama’s first wife, a Sinhalese, who was away in Bengal because she was married to a chieftain there, to return to Anuradhapura and claim the throne for her infant son Dhatusena. She contrived to have Suvantisena murdered but Laimintissa II was appointed the king. Princess Samgha got him deposed with the help of Kalabhresvara whom she appointed the regent. Mahanama Thera, an uncle of Dhatusena and his tutor was the man behind all these manipulations.

Their scheme collapsed when Pandu, utilizing this unstable situation, invaded Anuradhapura, killed Kalabhresvera and seized the throne. Princess Samgha fled to Ruhuna with Dhatusena. Mahanama Thera inspired the 16-year campaign that followed to dislodge the Tamils and reestablish the Sinhala rule in Anuradhapura.

Tamils ruled Anuradhapura till 455 AD, a period of 26 years before Dhatusena, a scion of the other powerful Sinhala clan, the Moriyas, recaptured the throne. The hold Anuradhapura had on outlying chieftaincies, especially in the north had weakened and  Dhatusena had a massive task of consolidating Sinhala rule during the 18 years, 455 AD-473 AD, of his rule. His uncle Mahanama was Dathusena’s pillar of strength. His support enabled him to restore to Anuradhapura its preeminent position.

Mahanama was also busy during this time compiling Mahawamsa. That contextual situation explains his bias in his otherwise excellent work. Through the two sets of stories mentioned earlier he motivated the Sinhalese to believe that Sri Lanka is their country and it should be preserved a Buddhist country. The two sets of stories woven around Buddha and Vijaya have become part of the Buddhist consciousness and have emerged as the pillars of Sinhala- Buddhist identity and nationalism.

Tamil influence

While Mahanama was whipping up Sinhala nationalism by portraying Tamils as invaders and foreigners and portraying Dhatusena’s 16-year struggle to push them out of Sri Lanka as a heroic act Dhatusena’s favourite son Moggallan fled to Tamil Nadu and returned with a huge Tamil army and defeated Kassapa in 491 AD.

Kassapa was the eldest son of Dhatusena but his right to succession was disputed because his mother, a Pallava princes, was considered inferior. Moggallan was born to Dhatusena’s second wife, a Sinhalese princes. Thus, Dhatusena groomed his second son Mogallan as his successor. Angered, Kassapa killed his father and usurped the throne. Moggallan, frightened for his life, escaped to Tamil Nadu and returned with a powerful army, defeated Kassapa and ascended the throne.
A painting in Sigiriya rock

This Kassapa- Moggalan dispute plunged Anuradhapura into instability and introduced two new factors into Sinhalese history. The first was the intense rivalry between two dynasties, the Moriyas and the Lambakannas. The second was the introduction of the Tamil military into Sinhala royal family disputes.

The dynastic dispute was intense and historians say that they fought to the bitter end. With Kassapa taking refuge in Sigiriya where he built the famous rock fort which turned out to be the storehouse of the fantastic Sigiriya frescoes, the hold of Anuradhapura over the outlying chieftaincies diminished. The chieftains of Ruhuna and northern and eastern parts of the country were not affected by the events happening in Anuradhapura and carried on on their own.

In Anuradhapura, which was plagued by suicides and murders Silakala, reestablished in 518 AD the Lambakanna rule but Mahanaga brought again the Moriya dynasty to power in 569 AD.  His immediate successors Aggabodhi I and Aggabodhi II managed to hold on to the Moriya rule but were unable to consolidate their power. Under Moggalana III Lambakannas overthrew the Sanghatissa II in 614 and the Moriya challenge to power petered out. Manawamma (684- 715) restored to Anuradhapura the predominant position it earlier enjoyed.

The Kassapa- Moggallan succession dispute brought in, as noted earlier, the Tamil military input into what was a Sinhala dispute. Moggallan and his son-in-law Silakala also set the precedent of fleeing to India when one’s opponent climbed to power. After Moggallan Tamils formed the important component of the armies of the Sinhala rulers. They joined the armies of the aspirants for power and also the armies of those in power. “They were also the nucleus of a powerful Tamil influence in the court,” says Silva in History of Sri Lanka p 23

Adds Nath Yogasundram in A Comprehensive History of Sri Lanka, p 78:, “There were Tamil ministers and, probably, even a prime minister. Potthakutthu was a Tamil minister who was powerful enough to place a puppet king named Datha in power after the death of Aggrabodhu IV in 683 AD. Potthakutthu continued to be the power behind the throne and when Datta died in 684 AD, he replaced him with another puppet king named Hatthadattha II. The latter only survived for six months before being put to death by Mavanamma (684-718 AD). Potthakutthu committed suicide by eating poisoned cakes on hearing of Hatthadattha’s death.” The second Lambakanna dynasty that lasted until the Pandyan invasion of 853 AD brought stability and during that period of one and a half centuries, Anuradhapura reasserted its dominance countrywide. Ruhuna was totally subjugated and the northern chieftains acknowledged the Anuradhapura rulers of their overlords.

Anuradhapura kings resumed their work of establishing Buddhism in the Jaffna peninsula. King Aggabodhi II (604-614 AD) converted the Unalomaha temple in Jaffna into Rajayathanathathu Vihara and donated an umbrella to the Amalathesia Chaitiya. Though no other literary or inscriptional evidence is available Buddhism was entrenched in some parts of the Jaffna peninsula.

(Next Friday: Emergence of Tamil Consciousness)



The Context

Birth of Racial Consciousness


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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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