My Explanation To The Devanampiya Tissa Controversy

My Explanation To The Devanampiya Tissa Controversy

By C.V. Wigneswaran –

I find controversies have arisen due to my identifying Devanampiya Theesan (Devanampiya Tissa) as a Tamil King. Let me briefly give my reasons for my conclusion. I use “Devanampiya Tissa” for easy understanding by the readers.

1. Sinhala as a language came into being after 6th Century AD. (Refer to Sigiriya graffiti). Devanampiya Tissa lived from 307 BC to 267 BC. His father was Mootha Sivan. Devanampiya Tissa lived about 800 years before the birth of the Sinhala language. Sinhalese are those who speak the Sinhala language. The Mahawansa refers to two Temples that existed over 100 years before Devanampiya Tissa. Professor Paranavitharana has identified one of the Temples as a Sivan Temple and the other as the living quarters of Brahmins. Thus even though Buddhism was introduced during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa the language in use at that time was a Dravidian language and certainly not Sinhala language. At least Devanampiya Tissa was a Demala Baudhaya!

King Devanampiya Tissa.jpg
King Tissa

The Sinhala language came about essentially on account of the influence Pali and Prakrit words had on the local Dravidian language.  Such effects of Prakrit on the original Dravidian Tamil language produced Kannada after 5th Century AD, Telungu in the 6th Century AD, and Malayalam in the 8th and 9th Century AD. Even the Sangam Tamil underwent certain changes since 6th Century AD. The influence of Pali in the formation of the Sinhala language was considerable while it was the influence of Prakrit which produced Kannada, Telungu and Malayalam. Thanks to Professor Malalasekera and other Sinhala language today has Sinhalacised lots of Hindi words in order to make their glossary adequate to deal with the changing world scenario.

The use of certain words during Asoka’s time does not make those words Sinhala words. It only meant Tissa in Prakrit and Thisai in Tamil were used at that time. Sinhala language came centuries later.   

2. The archaeological investigations that have taken place after 1970 have brought out the fact that the race, language, writing, religious beliefs and rituals, cultural history of the early people of Sri Lanka were similar to the South Indian cultural ambience of that era. Professor Sudershan Seneviratne has referred to the close resemblance between the Early Iron Age civilisation of South India and the early Sri Lankan civilisation. Kennedy refers to the people of that time as belonging to the same human species’ group. In 1999 certain Coins were excavated at Akkurugoda. Professor Iravatham Mahathevan has placed their time as before 2200 years. Professors Osmund Bope Arachchi and Raja Wickremasinghe have pointed out the “in” or “na’ sound as suffix to the names mentioned in the Coins which is peculiar to Tamil language. I am Wigneswaran. The name ends with “in” or “na”. This is peculiar to Tamil names. Some names on the Coins were Uthiran, Mahasaathan and Tisapura sada Nagarasan. It is significant that Mahawansa says Dutugemunu had to win over 32 Petty Tamil Kings in the South before meeting Ellalan in Anuradhapura.  Thus Tamils and their language existed 2200 years ago even in the deep South of Sri Lanka. Hence King Devanampiya Tissa could by no stretch of imagination be called Sinhala speaking. There were no Sinhalese at that time nor Sinhala language.

Thuparama in Anuradhapura, believed to have been constructed by Devanampiya Tissa

3. At the time Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC, Prakrit and Pali were also introduced. Prakrit was the vernacular language used while Pali was scriptural. Such introduction took place in many countries where Buddhism was introduced in South Asia. While Prakrit was found in inscriptions elsewhere until about 5th Century AD, in Tamil Nadu the language used was essentially Tamil though the influence of Prakrit was at times seen. The unique literature of the Tamils flourished during this time around the birth of the Christian era. The Sangam literature is an example. The Purananooru refers to Poothan Thevanaar of Eelam, which meant Tamil poets from Sri Lanka too contributed to the literature of the Tamils at that stage. Thus Tamilian poets were existent around that period in the North – Eastern Sri Lanka. So were Tamil Kings. Thus it is no wonder that Devanampiya Tissa was a Tamil.

4. The name Theesaan was used not only in respect of Devanampiya Tissa but also with regard to many other kings. The word comes from the Tamil word Thisai – which means direction. One who ruled the area in a particular thisai or direction is what it meant.

5. Mahavansa never referred to any Sinhala King who ruled Anuradhapura. But it referred to Tamil Kings.

Professors Saddhamangala Karunaratna and Ariya Abeysinghe have concluded that even before writings from King Asoka’s period were introduced into this Island the mode of writing from South India had already been introduced here.

Parkar is of opinion after perusing the Tamil inscriptions found in Vavuniya Periya Puliamkulam that such Tamil writing and Tamil names found therein show Tamils lived there before the birth of the Christian Era. Professor Indrapala has referred to Tamils living as a human unit over 2000 years ago by reading the inscriptions found in Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Ampara and Seruvil. So has Professor Iravatham Mahadevan referred to the presence of Tamils in Sri Lanka over 2000 years ago. Thus the language of Devanampiya Tissa was Tamil.

6. Finally let me refer to some interesting facts. There are no corresponding stories in Bihar nor Bengal nor anywhere else in North India akin to the story of a Lion King called Sinhabahu. There is no reference anywhere in Indian Texts to the exodus of 700 persons who were banished setting out from the shores of India at the corresponding time, and their reaching the shores of Sri Lanka. Hence the Mahawansa story of Vijaya and his 700 followers is a story hatched in Sri Lanka probably by the author of Mahawansa.

Furthermore even if we take Mahawansa as a reliable historical source (which it is not) yet what about the band of 700 Vijaya men marrying 700 Tamil girls from Pandya Kingdom and the settlement of 1000 families who were skilled in 18 professions / occupations?

Why are we not talking about the Pandyan influence on the Sinhalese community?

It is interesting to note that number of Tamil Munis from Madurai who were brought in 300 or 400 years ago to Sri Lanka for Don Juan Dharmapala’s coronation did not go back to Madurai but were given lands here. They married locally and are today the progenitors of many Muni families. I do not want to refer to any particular family name since many such Muni descendants are either known to me or are my dear friends.

I hope I have adequately explained myself. Any further questions from an advanced historical perspective must be addressed to our Professors both in the North and South. I mean real Professors, not the pseudo ones! 

*Justice C.V.Wigneswaran – Chief Minister, Northern Province

Please read the comments.

My Explanation To The Devanampiya Tissa Controversy


”Devanampiya Tissa” was a Tamil king North CM Wigneswaran

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

Descending from the family that produced Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, C.V. Wigneswaran is a celebrated Sri Lankan. Lawyer, Supreme Court Justice and now Chief Minister of the Northern Province, he is also a man unafraid to voice his convictions. Recovering recently from minor surgery, Wigneswaran responded, via email, to some questions from Ceylon Today over the debate on the proposed new Constitution.

Here is the first part of that email:

You visited the Mahanayake Theras recently. Later at a public event you said they suffer from misunderstandings. Could you please elaborate?

Answer: Firstly, they feel our request for Federalism is indeed a request to divide the country. Secondly they feel this country is Sinhala Buddhist and therefore all other communities must accept that Buddhism must be given the foremost place. Thirdly, one of the priests referred to Devanampiya Tissa as a Sinhala King.

There were other statements made by them from wrong perceptions. But let me deal with these three for the moment.

When the whole world says federalism is a constitutional method to keep disparate units together as one composite-whole, the priests continue to say that federalism is separation. I think they fear that recognition of the individuality of the North and East would one day allow the North and East to separate. There is no basis for that fear. If that were so each unit in a federal country would have separated. But that has not happened. French-speaking Quebec preferred to stay with English speaking Canada.

In reality, there is already a separate existence under the 13th Amendment in relation to each Province. Federalism is not going to make a significant difference in relation to the manner in which people presently live. If you bring into being a fully-fledged Federal Sri Lanka, giving federal rights to each of the nine Provinces, still there would not be any mass exodus of people from one Province to another. The fear that federalism entails all Tamils to be packed off to the North and East and the Sinhalese to the Southern areas is baseless. The choice is theirs. They are still Sri Lankans. They have a right to travel from Point Pedro to Dondra as citizens of this great country.

Further, the Colombo Tamils must realize they are living in a Cosmopolitan Metropolis. I believe there are more non-Sinhalese in the Greater Colombo area than Sinhalese. There would not be any need for the Colombo Tamils to move to the North or East. There would not be any mass exodus of Sinhalese from the North nor East. They could continue to live where they live now. They would be dealt with just as how the Centre now deals with the Tamils. The two Sinhalese Provincial Council Members amidst us in the NPC speak in Sinhalese in the Council. We reply them in Sinhala. Translations of documents are given and interpretation facilities are granted.

Therefore, the fears of the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera and the Members of his Karaka Sabha are baseless.
Next, is their belief that this country is Sinhala Buddhist. It is not so. A majority may be Sinhala Buddhists. That does not entitle them to call the country ‘Sinhala Buddhist’. Doing so amounts to bullying. In fact, the bringing in of the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ was also bullying. Brutally assaulting those who opposed the passing of the Act, was also bullying.

It is dictatorship of the majority!

Recent inscriptions and excavations have proved that the original inhabitants of this island were Dravidians. DNA tests show the Sinhalese to be the progeny of the original Dravidians. The Sinhala language came into use only by the 6th century AD. The Mahawansa is in Pali not in Sinhala. That was because the Sinhala language was yet to be born at that time and 40% of Sinhala words are from Tamil.

Also, for about 3 to 4 centuries, the Tamils in the North and East were Buddhists. Our famous literary works like Manimekalai were Buddhist in content. There were Buddhist Tamil places of learning in South India during that period. Thus, the original Buddhists of Sri Lanka were Tamils (The Demala Baudhayo). They gave up Buddhism when the four Nayanars emerged. By their uncanny spiritual powers and devotion, they were able to draw back the original Hindus who became Buddhists into the fold of Hinduism once again. Therefore, Buddhism was rejected by the Northern and Eastern Tamils quite some time ago. The archaeological remains in the North and East were left by the Demala Baudhayo, not Sinhala Baudhayo. Therefore, if Buddhism is to be given foremost place that should be relegated to the seven Provinces South of North and East because the Tamil speaking non-Buddhists are the majority in the North and East and the Hindus had rejected Buddhism long ago. North and East could be federal and secular.

Giving the foremost place to Buddhism does not have anything to do with the Buddha nor his teachings. It has something to do with the organized Buddhist religion which means the Priesthood would expect a special place for themselves and the right to interfere with the Government and its administration. That is what they do now bringing disrepute to the religion founded on the teachings of the Great Buddha. If the Constitution says the basic tenets of Buddhism viz. Metta, Karuna, Upekkha and Muditha should govern the actions and activities of all citizens, I do not think anyone would mind it. But it would be better to include also the charitable disposition of Christians, Brotherhood of Muslims and selfless love of Hindus into the equation. But giving foremost place to Buddhism in the Constitution would lead to the Sinhalese Buddhists building unwanted places of Buddhist worship in the North and East and surreptitiously converting our people. The Buddhist leaders who object to conversion by Christians and Muslims must not do themselves the very thing they object to of others.

Only a Hindu could point this out because we have never been known to convert others to our religion.

You would see that Buddhist priests are a law unto themselves in the North and East as elsewhere, while Buddhism being given the foremost place in our Constitution has given rise to such aberrations among our Buddhist clergy. Knowing what it does, should we continue to agitate for such a special position to one religion?

Referring to Devanampiya Tissa as a Sinhala King was historically wrong. There was no Sinhala language at the time he was alive. His name was Devanai Nampiya Theesan – one who believed in God – his name was Tamil.

Therefore, the Asgiriya priests should get rid of their misunderstandings and wrong beliefs before finding fault with us Tamils. They could refer to books by Tamil historians like Professors Pathmanathan, Sitrampalam, Indrapala (his latest book in 2005) and Pushparatnam to get the correct view of our past in the North and East.

Read the next part of Wigneswaran’s responses in next Sunday’s Ceylon Today.

About editor 3047 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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