THE JAFFNA PENINSULAR
During pre-historic times Ceylon is said to have been occupied by the Veddahs, Nagas and Yakkas. The Mahavamsa also refers to Lord Buddha’s visit to Nagadipa (the Island of Nainathivu) in order to settle a dispute regarding a throne between two Naga Kings. This legend is again supported by the Manimekalai. It is difficult to find out what the language of the Nagas was at that time. But it is clear that during the Sangam period the Nagas of Ceylon were well versed in Tamil.
Nagadipa was the original name of the Islands of the Jaffna Peninsula. Ptolemy’s map shows that a number of towns in Ceylon in the pre-Christian era had Tamil names. Megasthenes called Ceylon Taprobane but Pericles says that Taprobane was replaced by Palaesimundu, perhaps a corruption of Palayanakar. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana speak of the Nagas of Jaffna. The Mahavamsa says that Yakkas and Nagas occupied Ceylon before the advent of Vijaya.
Some Tamil Sangam poets were Nagas from Jaffna. The original language of the Nagas was perhaps Elu, a word from which Ceylon got the name ‘Eelam’. But before the Ariyanisation of Ceylon, Tamil was perhaps the language of the Nagas and was spoken in Ceylon.” Among the Sangam poets mentioned is Ilattup Putantevanar, who composed some verses in Kuruntokai, Akananuru and Narrinai. The Mahavamsa states that in the 6th-century B.c. there existed Naga strongholds at Nagadipa under Mahodarai, the Naga King among the Sangam works, a few personalities who were referred to, as ‘chieftains’ appear to have come from Jaffna. For example, Elini and Pittankorran” about whom verses appear in the Purananuru, appear to have come from Kudiraimalai, now identified with Kantherodai in Jaffna.
EVIDENCE OF EARLY SETTLEMENTS OF TAMILS
A large number of Sangam words spoken among the illiterate villagers of Jaffna again support our Sangam connections. Finds at Ponparippu also show that Tamils had lived not only in Jaffna, but in the vicinity of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and other interior parts of Ceylon. (The urn burials found in these parts are identical with the urn burials found in Adichanallur and other places of South India.) The Mahavamsa also refers to a clan known as Lumbakarnars who were ruling north of Ceylon in the first century A.D. Recent excavations at Kantharodai Buddhist stupas in which Sivaganams were found by Dr. Godakumbara, suggests that Tamils who were Saivites also had worshipped in this shrine.
Chroniclers state that King Vasabha who succeeded Subbha and ruled from Anuradhapura in 66 A.D. belonged to this clan. The Culavamsa also refers to the existence of the Lambakarna clan in the Pandya country. There is also evidence of a close connection between the Malavas of the Pandya country and the Lambakarna clan in Ceylon. Isigaraya, mentioned in the Gold Plate Inscriptions found at Vallipuram (dated 2nd century A.D.), was perhaps a Malava chieftain with the title of Raya, a suffix that many Tamil chieftains took. (As Mr. Pillai rightly observes, the northern part of Ceylon was the land of the Nagas in the centuries preceding and succeeding the Christian era. After a period of interregnum, a Tamil Kingdom started in Jaffna when Ukkure Singham established a kingdom.
The reference in the Yalpana Vypavamalai to Pandi Malavan who went to India during the period when Jaffna had no settled kingdom and invited a Chola prince, again shows the influence of the Vella community, and that Jaffna, after a period of anarchy was again ruled by the Chola prince. When the whole of Ceylon came under the sway of Tamil kings, as for example during the reign of Elara, Sena and Cuttika (75 B.c. to 55 B.c.); and after the invasion of Pandu and five others (43 A.D. to 62 A.D.), the rest of Ceylon came under the Tamil sway. But their conquest lasted only a short period and the Sinhalese kings were able to regain their supremacy. AS Codrington says, from the 5th century A.D. the Sinhalese kings were harassed by the Pandyans and the Cholas. This made the Sinhalese kings shift their seat of power from Anuradhapura to other places. The question as to when the independent Tamil Kingdom was established in Jaffna is a matter of controversy.
For a few centuries, Jaffna was ruled by Sinhalese kings. The Tamil armies brought by one of the claimants to the throne of Anuradhapura in the seventh century were the only soldiers who fought in wars. In the medieval period, the Sinhalese, as cultivators, appear never to have been a warlike people. The Sinhalese militia, therefore, was of no great military value.'” The mercenaries consisting chiefly of Dravidians were a deciding factor in wars. King Manabharna took refuge in the North (Uttaradesa). For some time he was in Kanchi, the capital of Pallava country. Later he is said to have regained the throne of Anuradhapura. Towards the end of the 8th century, it is stated that the Tamil chiefs were able to assert their independence for some time. The Culavamsa states that they refused to pay tributes to Mahinda till he subdued them. The Yalpana Vypavamalai refers to the Pallava influence. It speaks of some arrangement made by the Pallava kings, referred to as Thondaman, to get salt exported from the Jaffna kingdom and to deepen the lagoon for this purpose. The existence of Thondamannaru, a canal in Jaffna supports this tradition.
In the 9th century, when the Pandya king Sri Maru Sri Vallabha invaded Ceylon, the Tamils of the North rallied around him and helped him to defeat the army of Sena I. This led to the seizure of Anuradhapura by the Pandyan forces. During the IOth century, the Cholas invaded the island frequently and used the northern ports such as Manthotta and Urathurai (Kayts) as bases for their operations. Place names like Chembianpattu, Valarvaikoon Pallam, point to the fact that the Cholas had captured these places.
In one of the inscriptions of Rajadhiraja, it is stated that four kings of Ceylon lost their crowns at the hands of Rajadhiraja. The names of the kings are Vikramabahu, Veerasalamegha, Sri Mallabha and Madavarajah. The last of these kings have been identified as the King of Jaffna. According to K. K. Pillai, he was an adventurous member of the Rashtrakuta dynasty who gained control over some part of Ceylon between 1051 A.D. and 1052 A.D, Rasanayaga Mudaliyar, citing Indian inscriptions states that the Chola kings decapitated three Jaffna kings,'” As against this convincing evidence, some students of history appear
to think that the Tamils settled down only in the twelfth century in Jaffna.l3 A new discovery throws great light on the kingdom of Jaffna in the eighth century. Masudi, the great Mohammedan traveler, reached the Port of Jaffna in 912 A, D, and witnessed the funeral of a Hindu king. (This is described in the appendix; the writer is indebted to Dr. S. A. Imam for this information).’4
MASUDI’S VISIT 1N 912 A.D,
Masudi states that the King was placed on a low chariot and while it was being drawn, a woman swept the ground and threw dust on the hair of the dead king, exclaiming the futility of life and extolling the worship of God. Before the body was put on the funeral pyre, it was smeared with sandalwood and cut into four pieces with a sword. The Purananuru states that the body of a king who did not die in battle was placed on a tharappu and cut by a sword before being cremated. This was a custom among the Tamils during that period.
S. Vaiyapuri Pillai, in his work entitled Tamilar Panpatu states that it is a Tamil custom to place the body of a king or a warrior who did not die in battle, on a tharappu and cut into pieces before being cremated. Masudi had definitely witnessed the funeral of a Tamil king. The reference by the woman who threw dust at the dead king to the ” Eternal who is alive” was the reference to the Supreme Creator. This period was followed by the religious revival brought about by the Tamil saints. Therefore the ceremony referred to is definitely that of a Tamil king, since Buddhists do not believe in a supreme deity.
HISTORY OF THE NORTHERN PROVINCE
H. W. TAMBIAH
Scholars who attempt to lift the veil of obscurity that envelops the early (proto -, pre-) history of Jaffna face formidable obstacles: the scarcity of literary evidence, very few archaeological findings and biased interpretations of available data.
The earliest local Tamil chronicles on Jaffna were composed in the Middle Ages. A prose work entitled Yazhppana Vaipava Malai was compiled by poet Mayilvakana Pulavar in 1736 A.D. This work depended on earlier writings such as Kailaya Malai, Vaiya Padal, Pararasasekaran Ula and Raja Mural. These, composed not earlier than the fourteenth century A. D., contain folklore; legends and myths mixed with historical anecdotes.
References to Tamils of the North which are said to be found in the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, in the ancient Tamil Classics and in the devotional Tamil literature have yet to be critically studied and appraised.
As far as archaeology is concerned, one may mention four rounds of field Works.
Excavations were carried out in 1918 and 1919 at Kantarodai, the ancient capital of Jaffna, and at Vallipuram, a coastal town situated about six kilometers from Point Pedro. Punch-marked coins called puranas that were current in India during the time of Buddha (6th to 5th centuries B.C.) and copper rods – “kohl” sticks that were very similar to the ones Egyptians used to paint with and dating back to 2000 B.C. – were discovered. Sir Paul E. Pieris, who conducted these excavations, expressed his conviction that the Northern part of Sri Lanka was a “flourishing settlement” even before the birth of Vijaya, the legendary founder of the Sinhalese.
Excavations carried out in 1956 and 1957 at Pomparippu, Puttalam, a region intimately connected with the North, have revealed the existence of a culture bearing some resemblance to the South Indian Megalithic culture flourishing in the first millennium B.C. discovered at Adicha Nallur in the Tirunelveli region of Tamil Nadu: striking similarities are to be found in the features of Black and Red Rouletted pottery, in iron implements and in the style of urn burials.
Excavations were carried out in 1970 by a Pennsylvania University Museum team at Kantarodai. Though no burial monuments were found, the team reported the probable existence of a Megalithic stage of development in Jaffna.
Excavations were conducted between 1980 and 1983 which witnessed startling discoveries. The following conclusions are mainly based on these excavations.
· The first inhabitants of Sri Lanka might have migrated through a land bridge that linked up northwestern Sri Lanka with southeastern Tamil Nadu. This land connection physically existed till 7000 B.C. No wonder, scholars have maintained that “man did not evolve in Ceylon but… arrived in the island from the main continent of India” Besides, the close proximity of the Jaffna Peninsula to South India must have prompted periodic migration from the subcontinent to the northern coastal areas of Sri Lanka. One could not disagree with the statement of Paul Peiris that “it stands to reason that a country which is only 30 miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fishermen every morning as they sailed out to catch their fish, would have been occupied as soon as the Continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail”. In point or fact, in the course of the centuries, South Indians came to Sri Lanka either as successful traders, seamen, soldiers, artisans or refugees fleeing from political upheavals in their motherland.
· Jaffna was not the first habitat of the earliest migrants. A few microlithic (an earlier phase) tools were found at Poonakari and Mannittalai, two points very close to, but not inside, the Peninsula. This may have been due to the absence of microlithic tool material there.”
· The earliest inhabitants of Jaffna were Megalithic people. This culture had, in general, the following distinguishing features: tank-irrigated cultivation, developed settlements, a special pottery technique that produced Black and Red Wares, the introduction of iron technology and a certain style of the burial chamber. The urbanization “in South India, the rise of earliest kingdoms and chieftaincies in this region and the refinement of the language to the stage of producing the Cankam Tamil Literature were the culmination of the Megalithic culture”.
The Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka belonging to the third century B.C., having a close affinity with the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of South India, together with the fact of the similarity of clan names found both in the earliest written records of Sri Lanka and in the ancient Tamil Classics suggests “a common ethnicity between Sri Lanka and extreme peninsular India”. The Megalithic culture of Sri Lanka was, however, “a full-fledged and integral part of the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka, common to both Sinhalese and Tamil”
Pottery and a seal found at Anaikoddai and other material found at Kalapumi, Karainagar and Kantarodai establish beyond doubt that there were permanent settlements in the Jaffna Peninsula – at least in the third century BC. if not earlier.
The Brahmi scripts, found at Anaikoddai (and Kantarodai), assigned to third century B.C., occur “along with what could be assumed to be a previous system of writing”. This suggests that the “Megalithic culture arrived in Jaffna in the protohistoric times, and caused the emergence of rudimentary settlements and continued into the early historic times marked by urbanization”.
Jaffna may have offered itself as a habitat for Megalithic people for the following reasons:
i. Jaffna was a region of scrubs which could have been easily cleared by tools discovered by the developing iron technology
ii. There was fresh water at a low depth and the place abounded with natural ponds.
iii. The rain-flooded silt stretches and the taravai grasslands were suitable for farming and pasturing respectively.
iv. The lagoons and flood outlets were also conducive for settlements.
The earliest inhabitants of Jaffna were culturally “affiliated” to South India, spoke in a proto-Dravidian language, and practiced a religion “similar to that of Megalithic south India”; a statuette of Lakshmi, a Hindu goddess, is said to have been found at Anaikoddai.’
Even though it cannot be maintained categorically as the Tamil Tradition claims that the Nagars were the aboriginal inhabitants of Jaffna, one cannot easily dismiss the existence of a people in a region called Naganadu or Nagativu, mentioned, among others, by the Greek geographer Ptolemy. Cilappathikaram and Manimekalai, the twin classical Epics of the Tamils, mention Naganadu’s relations with Kavirippaddinam and a Chola prince respectively. The Pali chronicles of Sri Lanka relate the story of a quarrel between two rulers of Nagadipa. A gold plate belonging to the fifth century AD. mentions Jaffna as Nagadiva (Nagativu) and states that its regional ruler constructed a Buddhist vihara.’ The Tamil historiographical works of the Middle Ages mention gatiramalai near Kantarodai as the capital of a ruling dynasty before the establishment of the Kingdom of Jaffna around the mid-thirteenth century AD. It is then reasonable to assume that in the Peninsula there was a “city-state” in the early Christian era in parallel with “various ruling dynasties in different parts of Sri Lanka before the development Anuradhapura hegemony”.
Indeed, many similarities between the inhabitants of Nagadipa, called the Nagars and the Tamils of Jaffna have prompted some scholars to propound that the Tamils of India and Sri Lanka are the “lineal descendants” of the Naga people. P According to others, however, our knowledge of these earlier inhabitants is still very “hazy” and hence nothing definite can be said about them. But the weight of scholarly opinion is on the side of those who identify Jaffna with Nagadipa or Nagativu. According to one authority, “Nagadipa, the original name of the island of Jaffna is perhaps derived from the Nagas”. According to another, there “can be no doubt that the earliest commercial intercourse of the Greek and the Romans with Ceylon was confined to the northern and northwestern ports” Indeed, one of the ports on the seaboard of the Peninsula. Jambutturai is thought to be Jambukola from where envoys of Devanampiya Tissa (247-207B.C.) embarked with gifts to Emperor Asoka. According to A.C. Bouquet, the “proto-Dravidians” who were the dwellers in the Indus Valley and who were believers in nagas or snake-spirits had entered India and Sri Lanka at a very early age.
It is plausible that a common Megalithic cultural stratum in South India caused major cultural formations of Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Tulu, etc., other lesser formations such as the ancient Tamil fivefold social divisions based on the relationship between man and his environment, and “the development of Sinhala and Tamil formations in the Island of Sri Lanka… In the later centuries, the Sinhala- Buddhist formation developed into a major formation on par with other major formations of south India, whereas the Jaffna Tamil formation remained as a lesser formation.” It should be noted, however, that the Jaffna Tamil identity, and indeed the Northern Sri Lankan identity, was distinct from the South Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Sinhalese formations.
On a wider background: it may be useful to point out that it is the considered opinion of many that there were definitely influential Tamils in the North of Sri Lanka at least two hundred years before the Christian era.
Sinhalese tradition records a number of Tamil invasions from South India. In the second century BC., two Tamils, Sena and Guttaka, are credited to have assumed power over the northern portion of the Island (177-155 BC.). Another Tamil of “noble descent” from the Chola country Elara or Ellalan, seized the throne of the Sinhalese king at Anuradhapura and ruled a great part of the Island for 44 years at least as the “supreme ruler of the northern plain”, if not the “ruler of a united kingdom”. The defeat of this Tamil ruler at the hand of the Sinhalese Dutthagamini is regarded by some as the “first war of liberation against foreigners”. In the first century BC, seven Tamil chiefs, probably from the Pandya kingdom captured the northern part of the Island and administered it for fourteen years. (89-77 BC.)
The evolution of Megalithic settlements in Jaffna saw the birth of a principality in the first century BC. Kantarodai emerged “as an urbanized central place” which perhaps controlled the other settlements of the Peninsula not only politically, but economically and culturally as well. It had the “widest and the richest early settlement” and was “situated in the most potential agricultural strip of the Peninsula”. Ten sites, located mostly along the sea routes, have been identified as belonging to this phase of development and “many of these fresh settlements arose without agricultural hinterland” indicating that these settlements “had become specialized and interdependent in their activities”.
It is during this period just before the advent of the Christian era that Jaffna became a link in the South Asian and transoceanic maritime trade Two factors contributed to this development:
I. It was a common practice to use coastal passages in sea trade routes and the Roman and Indian ships went through the Gulf of Mannar id the Palk Strait crossing Mantai and Pampan to go from the western t of India to its eastern coast.
II. The Gulf of Mannar-Palk Strait route was also famous for its and conch shell diving.
Emissaries of Sri Lanka went to Rome in the reign of Emperor Claudius (40-54 A.D.). According to Pliny, a freedman of Annius Placamus, while sailing around Arabia, was caught by a storm and landed in Ceylon at the port of Hippuros. He was taken to the king with whom stayed for six months. The king thereafter sent an embassy to Rome. The name of the ambassador-in-chief appears to be Rachias (perhaps Rasiah) and, in the view of J.E.Tennent, he was a representative of the Raja of Jaffna.
It was during this phase that Buddhism became “an integral part of the heritage of Jaffna”. There are many places in the Jaffna Peninsula whose names are connected with Buddhist viharas. The Buddhist remains at Kantarodai, perhaps burial monuments of monks, are found in a group at a specific area with this distinctive feature: the architectural use of coral and limestone. It is interesting to note that the “limestone and coral architectural tradition of Jaffna in fact started with the Buddhist monuments and flourished for nearly two millennia till the advent of concrete”.
According to some, the ambassadors of Buddhism sent by Emperor Asoka landed in the Peninsula.
Buddhism, together with Prakrti, the language of Buddhism that helped to form a homogeneous population in the rest of Sri Lanka, failed to establish a permanent foothold in Jaffna. To be sure, it was able to cohabit or syncretize with the folk – religion (Hinduism) of Jaffna. However, perhaps at the end of the first millennium AD, many settlements with their Buddhist structures were abandoned.
Buddhism was unable to survive in Jaffna perhaps for two reasons:
1. The “sympathies of the people of the North with the old religion [Hinduism] outlived the reformation [Buddhism] brought to the land”, and
2. The people of Jaffna were ” in constant communion with their brethren in South India”,
Interestingly Pali chronicles that narrate events prior to sixth century A. D. are “virtually silent about the Peninsula except for certain rare remarks and treat it almost an alien land”.
The dark ages of the Jaffna Peninsula may be said to begin soon after the early centuries of the Christian era. At a time when other regional powers were consolidating their position, developing their identity and aspiring to imperialistic dominance, Jaffna underwent “economic and cultural subordination”. It is perhaps significant that no mention is made of Jaffna in the massive bhakti literature of the Tamils of South India.
It is speculated that the following factors contributed to the fate that befell Jaffna:
i. Jaffna could not cope with new developments such as planned deforestation and construction of dams and reservoirs to serve a hydraulic-based economy as was happening in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.
ii. There was a decline in the Roman trade and the ensuing Arab-Chinese trade made use of the port of Mantai which was situated more than sixty miles from Jaffna,
iii. The Anuradhapura hegemony had become a reality.
According to Sinhalese sources, six Tamil rulers seized power in the fifth century extended the authority to the southernmost part of the Island and remained in control for twenty-six years.
In this period a movement from the coastal area of the Peninsula to the eastern part of the Island may also be observed.
The Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa records that at the death of king Aggrabodhi in 781 AD, certain chiefs of the northern territory with its people seized the land by force and refused tribute to the king. Though this revolt was crushed by the successor of Aggrabodhi, this event says much about the politically fluid situation prevailing in the country. The tradition preserved by the Portuguese chronicler De Queiroz regarding a form of government by Vidanes, Arachis and Mudaliyars in Jaffna may also be a pointer to this state of affairs in this period.
According to Yazhppana Vaipavamalai, it was in the eighth century that Ugrasinghan, a prince of the dynasty of the legendary Vijaya, coming with an army from India, descended upon Sri Lanka and captured one half of the Island. He established his capital first at Katiramalai, known now as Kantarodai, and then shifted it to Singhai Nagar, a town on the eastern coast of the Jaffna Peninsula. Though the story of Ugrasinghan has generally been rejected by scholars,” some are of the view that this story is “based on a historical fact”, namely that Ugrasinghan has been confused with Manavamma who was helped by the Pallava King Narasinghavarman.
It is an undeniable fact, however, that Sinhalese kings brought Tamil soldiers from South India, some of whom began to play the role of king-makers. There was also an influential community of Tamil traders in the Sinhalese kingdom. In addition, inscriptions of the ninth century speak of Tamil settlements in the northern part of the Island.
During the rule of the Cholas in the eleventh century, the Tamils living on the Island were able to consolidate their positions in the militia and the administration of the Sinhalese kings. It may be assumed that more Tamils settled in the northern region during this period.
In 1215 AD, Magha of Kalinga conquered the Sinhalese kingdom with its capital in Polonnaruwa with the help of Dravidian soldiers. This invasion weakened the Sinhalese power to such an extent that any semblance of political unity in the Island disappeared.
Some maintain that events following the above invasion contributed to the development of the kingdom of Jaffna.
The fact that the Tamil invaders from South India ruled over the entire region of Nagadipa is significant. One assumes that there was support for them among the people of the Peninsula. Swami Gnana Prakasar’s opinion that the people of Nagadipa or Jaffna who were “never fully reconciled to the new belief [Buddhism] which came to be firmly established under Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 BC) and who had constant communication with the Tamils of the mainland… nurtured a spirit of revolt and were only too ready to stretch out a helping hand to any adventurer who would attempt to curb the sovereign power of the Sinhalese” may offer a clue to the success of some South Indian invasions.
After Magha, the Javakas led by Chandrabhanu came to power with the help of Tamil soldiers from South India and ruled over most of the territory that was previously under Magha. Chandrabhanu became almost a vassal of the Pandyas and was overthrown by them when he refused to send tribute.
As far as Jaffna was concerned, the legendary story of a Chola princess called Marutapuravalli marrying the king of Katiramalai is remembered in the later chronicles. One does not hear any more of Katiramalai, a fact which may point to a change of capitals.
In this period, migration from South India to Jaffna and the mainland of the North called Vanni seems to have been taking place. Pachilaippalli, an arid tract with sandy passes, became a central spot facilitating perhaps migrations to Vanni.
A new type of pottery classed as Grooved Rim Ware appears on the scene. Two Chola inscriptions belonging to the eleventh century, recording the imprisonment of the Sri Lankan King and the grant to a Nallur temple respectively, have been found in the Peninsula”
As far as religion was concerned, a brand of syncretism combining Buddhist beliefs and practices with Tamil Saivism and folk religion took place. Aiyanar was syncretized with Buddha.
In course of time, Buddhism was, on the wane. It was perhaps at this juncture that Saiva Siddhanta became the official religion of the Jaffna ruling class.
The eleventh to the fourteenth centuries witnessed a flurry of foreign and local trade. Many coins and Chinese ware of this period, a Tamil inscription of Parakramabahu I found at Nainativu and the observations of the Arab traveler Inn Battuta (14th century AD) about Jaffna corroborate this state of affairs.
By the end of the 13th century and not later than 1325 AD, the Tamil Kingdom of the North had “come on to the historical scene”.
This Tamil Saiva Kingdom, based partly on agrarian and partly on mercantile structure, had as its nucleus Uttaradesa, namely the northern division of Rajarata covering the areas of the northern part of the country.
The Kings of the Kingdom of Jaffna are known by the name of Arya Chakravartis. According to some, the descendants of Arya Chakravarti, a chieftain from the Pandya kingdom who became ruler of the northern part of the Island towards the end of the thirteenth century, came to be known as Arya Chakravartis. According to others, Jayabahu, who ruled the North while Magha ruled from Polonnaruwa, was probably the founder of the Arya rulers of the North. These rulers were originally a branch of the Ganga dynasty from Kalinga who had immigrated to Rameshwaram, South India, and had intermingled with the Brahmins of the area. It was to highlight their connection with the highest caste that they called themselves Aryas. Another school holds that Singhai Aryan, also known as Kulankaic Chakravarti, was the founder of the line of Arya Chakravartis. He was none other than Magha, alias Kalinga Magha, alias Kalinga Vijayabahu, who conquered Polonnaruwa in 1215.
The centre of power of the Northern Kingdom was the Jaffna Peninsula and hence it was known by the name of the Kingdom of Jaffna. Ibn Battuta, the Arab traveler who visited the capital in 1344 AD states that the Tamil King’s power extended up to Puttalam and that he was in control of the pearl fishery.
In the middle of the fourteenth century, the army of the Tamil King had penetrated as far south as Gampola and had driven the reigning Sinhalese King from his capital.
In the fifteenth century, however, there was a brief Sinhalese revival and the Kingdom of Jaffna was under Sinhalese rule for about seventeen years till the defeated Tamil King reconquered his kingdom with the help of the Tamil military chiefs from South India.
Under the Vijaya Nagara Empire of South India, the Tamil kingdom became its tributary and there followed a protective relationship. After its decline, Jaffna came under the sway of Tanjore and Madurai, two centres of power that succeeded the former Empire.
It is appropriate here to mention four factors, which contributed to the growth of the Tamil Kingdom.
In the first place, there was internecine dissension and discord among the Sinhalese rulers. As a result, they became weak to the extent that they had to pay tribute to the Northern Kingdom.
In the second place, the fall of Polonnaruwa meant that irrigation works of the north-central plain in the dry zone had to be abandoned and the area was left to develop into a jungle. This created a no man’s land, which became an effective barrier between the Kingdom of Jaffna and the Sinhalese kingdom.
In the third place, there was a vacuum of a competent imperial power during the period between the decline of the Cholas and the appearance of the Vijaya Nagara Empire.
In the fourth place, there was an influx of immigrants from South India to the only Tamil Kingdom in existence at the time, namely the Kingdom of Jaffna. This exodus took place, because
a. Tamils of South India had lost their last remaining state, the Pandya Kingdom, due to Islamic invasion in 1334 AD and
b. The Vijaya Nagara Empire was, in a way, a foreign power, since the tax collectors and military chiefs were Telegu lords. The high cast Vellalars, who wielded influence and power locally, were infuriated and deemed it fit to abandon their motherland, South India.
It may be appropriate to mention in this connection that whereas the settlers in Jaffna before the eleventh century are said to have come mostly from Kerala (Malabar), the immigrants of the Chola and Vijaya Nagara periods seem to have come from the eastern part of South India.
In many ways, the period extending from the early times up to the sixteenth centuries may be characterized as the Golden Age of the Tamils of Jaffna.
The capital of the Kings of Jaffna was Nallur. They resided at Kopay and ruled directly over the entire Peninsula and the neighbouring Islands together with the Island of Mannar and a portion of the mainland. Other territories in the North and the East were administered by hereditary chiefs called Vanniyars who paid obeisance and tribute to the king.
Kings assumed the alternate throne names Segarajasekaran and Pararajasekaran, and used the epithets Singaiyariyan (Lord of Singaingar, the earlier capital of the Kingdom of Jaffna), Setukavalan (Guardian of Setu or Rameshavaram) and Gangainadan (belonging to the country of the Ganges).
Their emblems were a recumbent bull –nanthi-, a Saiva symbol, and the expression Setu, indicating the place of their origin, Rameshvaram. The term setu was also used as an expression of benediction. These two emblems were also designed on their coins.
At the height of their power, the Kings had nearly 20,000 soldiers. This military prowess enabled them to conduct warfare against the Sinhalese Kings of the South during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The naval power of the Kings was such that they were able to establish military outposts in such distant places in the Island as Chilaw, Negombo and Colombo. Ibn Battuta testifies that he saw hundreds of ships belonging to the King of Jaffna on the Coromandel Coast of South India. It is reasonable to assume that this large fleet was used not only to transport goods but also soldiers. This naval strength of the Kings of Jaffna helped them to achieve a number of objectives:
· To control the Palk Strait and the pearl fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar.
· To cross over to South India when circumstances forced them to, and
· To make military expeditions along the sea into the areas of the Sinhalese.
The Kingdom of Jaffna, which was divided into various provinces with subdivisions of parrus (literally meaning a property or larger territorial units and ur or villages, the smallest unit, was administered on a “hierarchical and regional basis”.
At the summit was the King whose kingship was hereditary; he was usually succeeded by his eldest son.
Next in the hierarchy stood the adikaris who were the provincial administrators.
Then came the mudaliyars who functioned as judges and interpreters of the laws and customs of the land. It was also their duty to gather information of whatever was happening in the provinces and report to higher authorities.
Administrators of revenues called kankanis (superintendents) and kanakkappillais (accountants) came next in line. The letter had to keep records and maintain accounts.
Maniyam was the chief of the parrus. He was assisted by mudaliyars who were in turn assisted by udaiyars, persons of authority over a village or a group of villages. They were the custodians of law and order and gave assistance to survey land and collect revenues in the area under their control.
The village headman was called talaiyari, paddankaddi or adappanar and he assisted in the collection of taxes and was responsible for the maintenance of order in his territorial unit.
It may be mentioned in passing that each caste had a chief who supervised the performance of caste obligations and duties.
All these officials had an audience with the King called varicai twice a year. Presents such as plantains, fowls and butter were given to the sovereign in the name of the people under their administration. This assemblage offered an opportunity, on the on hand, for the King to receive ‘Information on various aspects of life in all parts of his kingdom and to ensure the continued allegiance of his subordinates who were either appointed or approved by him, and, on the other hand, for the territorial administrators entrusted to work for the common good to present petitions and requests on behalf of their people.
As far as the taxes levied by the King were concerned, the following were collected:
· Land tax – paid partly in money and partly in kind, included House tax
– Garden tax – on compounds where, among others, plantain trees, coconut and arecanut palms were grown and irrigated by water from the well, and
– Tree tax – on such trees as palmyrah, margosa and iluppai
· Poll tax– it was called talaivari‘ and collected from each individual
Professional tax- collected from members of each caste, and
· Commercial taxes – consisting of, among others,
1. the stamp duty on clothes (clothes could not be sold privately and had to have an official stamp)
2. taraku or levy on items of food, and
3. Port and customs duties.
Columbuthurai, which connects the Peninsula with the mainland at Poonakari with its ferry services, was the chief port, and there were customs check posts at the sand passes of Pachilaippalai.
Perhaps a peculiarity of Jaffna was the levy of license fee for the cremation of the dead.
All citizens of the Kingdom, with the exception of the old and the infirm, had to perform certain community services called uliyam. such as the construction of granaries and roads, loan of beasts of burden, beating of drums for officials who traveled from one part of the Kingdom to the other and provision of water and firewood. Uliyam was “a means of mobilizing resources for works of public utility and the royal establishments”.
A significant feature of the collection of revenues in the Kingdom of Jaffna was the fact that the revenues were collected in money and the officials were paid in cash, proving that there was a “considerable monetary circulation”. Indeed, in this respect, the Kingdom of Jaffna ” had reached a development higher than that found in the Southwestern and central parts of the Island”.
During this period, the Tamils of the North and East began to develop a distinctive social structure and cultural tradition of their own. Most of these were later collected into a code of laws called Tesavalamai or Nadduvalamai.
Jaffna developed into a major trading centre. This might have been due to the imaginative efforts of the rulers who, seeing that revenues “from land and other sources were limited, devised ingenious methods of collecting substantial income from commercial activities. They “exercised a monopolistic control over the trade of some important items and organized fleets for transporting merchandise to foreign countries”. In the fourteenth century, exploiting the political weakness of the Sinhalese Kings, the rulers of Jaffna “seem to have succeeded in directing the flow of supplies in cinnamon through a port under their control”.
New ports came into being and the old ones were expanded. Kayts became a center for shipbuilding and ship repairing.
Pearl fishery off the coast of Mannar was in the hands of the King. Elephants from the Vanni region were exported from Jaffna to India. Traders were also present in the southern parts of the Island. It is a tribute to the trading expertise of the Tamils of the Kingdom of Jaffna that an inscription of a Chinese admiral named Chen Ho is found in three languages: Chinese, Persian and Tamil.
Many industries flourished. Dyeing with chaya root was a notable occupation. A class of people became experts in digging up large quantities of chaya root in the Islands of Delft and Karaitivu and in the mainland villages such as Chulipuram and Ilavalai, and this occupation became their trade.
Another caste of people called Chayakkarar (dyers) dyed new clothes.
Women were engaged in cotton industry.
Palmyrah leaves were dyed with bark from trees such as blackberry (naval) and the tulip to obtain purple olas or leaves. These were used for decorative designs in the production of mats and baskets.
Weaving was a hereditary industry. Vannarpannai was one of the major centres of weaving in the Peninsula. Silkworms were reared for the purpose of weaving silk clothes.
Rope making from the fibres of Palmyrah and the barks of arththy was also a flourishing industry.
Saivism was elevated to the status of the kingdom’s official religion. Kandaswamy Temple in Nallur was the royal temple while the temple at Vallipuram near Point Pedro became popular.
The temple was the centre around which an ur or village was built. It is an accepted axiom of the Tamils that one should not live at a place where is no temple.
It is true to say that in the field of architecture, no original tradition developed partly because of the constant wars and partly because of the vital link with South India. Temples built during this period exhibit a special feature: ornamented and expensively sculptured tower called gopuram at their entrance.
In the field of education, both temple schools and village schools under schoolmasters were engaged in the task of imparting basic education.
In the literary sphere, an Academy of Tamil Literature was founded at Nallur in the fifteenth century by the King. Kings, some of whom were poets of no mean calibre, were patrons of writers and poets.
The study of medicine and astrology was greatly encouraged and the native system of medicine called Siddha, considered best suited to the climatic conditions of Jaffna, flourished.
All in all, before the conquest of Jaffna by the Portuguese, the Tamils of the North with their center in the Jaffna Peninsula were living in a well-defined area “which they had carved out as their permanent home”.” To bolster their identity, they had developed distinctive social structures, economic institutions and a way of life which they could call their own.
The conquest of Jaffna by the Portuguese under Captain General Constantine de Sa in 1620-21 spelt the demise of the independent Kingdom of Jaffna and the beginning of subjugation under colonial rulers.
The Portuguese who had conquered the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kotte in 1505 did not show much interest in Jaffna initially because Jaffna did not produce those commodities, which the Portuguese were keenly interested in. In the second half of the sixteenth century, however, they became aware of the strategic importance of Jaffna. In the first place, a stronghold in Jaffna would give the Portuguese complete control over trade and shipping within a triangle comprising Chilaw, Cape Comorin and Palk Strait. Secondly, Jaffna Peninsula served as a transit route through which the King of Kandy, who displayed strong resistance to the Portuguese, received military reinforcements from South India. This appraisal of Jaffna as a passageway to the South haunted the Portuguese right throughout their rule. Thirdly, Jaffna was not altogether devoid of resources. It was a trade center of elephants. Urukathurai, earlier known as Uratota, was the port to which elephants from other parts of the Island were brought and shipped abroad. Interestingly enough the present name of Kayts comes from the Portuguese: Cues dos elefantes-namely elephants guay guay.
A pretext to capture Jaffna presented itself when the King of Jaffna, Sekarasasekaran VII, known as Sankili, cruelly murdered about six hundred newly baptized Catholics in the island of Mannar. Constantine de Braganza led an expedition to Mannar in 1560 and captured it. Sankili sued for peace and promised to pay tribute so that the King could remain independent.
But the tributary status came to an end with the defeat and the death of the Tamil King Puviraja Pandaram Pararajasingham in 1591. The latter had attacked the Portuguese in Mannar with the help of the forces of Nayak of Tanjore. Besides, the Kings of Jaffna had obstructed the missionary work of conversion undertaken by the Portuguese and, what more, had aided the King of Randy to obtain help from South India. Edirmanasingham, the son of the former King, was installed as the new ruler. Thus started a period of Portugal-Jaffna clientship.
The newly appointed ruler, however, was sucked into the power struggle between the Nayak of Tanjore and the Portuguese. In 1620, the last ruler of Jaffna, Sankilian II, was captured and in the following years, Jaffna became part of Portugal’s Overseas Empire.
As a result of this annexation, the Portuguese became supreme in the Palk Strait and were able to control the lucrative trade of the pearl fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar. Jaffna Patnam (as they called it) was maintained as a separate entity from their other maritime possessions. Though the Portuguese followed the traditional system of administration, they heaped periodic tax burdens upon the people to the extent that these were “reduced to the almost misery.”
In sharp contrast to the number of forts in the South, they built only one in Jaffna town and another one at Kayts. This lack of enthusiasm to strengthen their position militarily may be due to their conviction that the people of Jaffna were “weak”, “quiet and mild” and not prone to rebellion without outside help.
The main contribution of Portuguese rule in Jaffna was the introduction of Roman Catholicism. Such a firm foundation of Catholicism was laid that the Church became, and still continues to be, a powerful, influential and healthy force in the life of the Tamils of the Peninsula.
Regrettably the Portuguese wantonly destroyed quite a number of Hindu temples and introduced many other measures against the Hindus.
In 1658 Mannar was captured by the Dutch. From there, they marched through the jungle lands of the Vanni and crossed over to the Peninsula at Poonakari. The Portuguese were trapped in the Jaffna fort and surrendered on 24 June.
The new rulers took interest in developing the resources of the land. Self-sufficiency in food was their prime aim. They got down thousands of slaves to work in the fields. While repairing the Kaddukkarai tank, renamed Giant’s tank because of its size, in the Mantote area outside the Peninsula, they encouraged the people of Jaffna to settle in Poonakari as cultivators.
Numerous wells were repaired in the Peninsula and the dwindling number of cattle was replaced by importing some from India.
Many industries such as weaving and rope-making were greatly encouraged.
A colony of Andhra weavers was brought from India and settled a Jaffna.
A land register called tombo was started. The system of land tenure was fixed.
The customary laws of Jaffna called Tesavalami was codified and promulgated. Tamil Mudaliyars were appointed over the four divisions of the Peninsula. The famous Dutch Fort in Jaffna, which has become newsworthy in the last few years, was built.
They were very harsh towards Roman Catholics and used all means at their disposal to suppress the Catholic Church.
An interesting memorial of their rule is the Dutch names for the islands lying off the Peninsula. Karaitivu became Amsterdam; Anailaitivu, Rotterdam; Nainativu, Harlem; Pungudutivu, Middleburgh; Neduntivu, Delft: and Velanai, Leyden. Another souvenir of their occupation of Jaffna may lie in the name of a cemetery “studded with the most expensive and extravagant old monuments” called Jaffna in Delft, Holland. The “best of Aristocrats” are buried in that cemetery.
It is important to note that, following the practice of the Portuguese; the Dutch too administered Jaffna as a separate entity without amalgamating it with their two Sinhalese possessions.
The Dutch Fort was the first to fall to the British in 1796. The Dutch ceded all their possessions in Sri Lanka to the British in 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens. It is to be remembered, however, that even earlier contacts between the Kandyan King and the English in Madras had taken place by way of Jaffna.
The British maintained the separate identity of the Tamil area until 1833. In that year, the British unified the Tamil regions with the Sinhalese areas for the purpose of administration, spelling an end to the “autonomous existence” of the Tamil regions and forming a “single political authority the government of Ceylon”
It is a valid assertion that “throughout the British colonial period, the Sinhalese and the Tamil people remained equal in their subordination to the British raj.”
The advent of the British ushered in an era of modernization for Sri Lanka. Free education was introduced and those who benefited most from this were the people of Jaffna. Young men were able to enter the civil, clerical and professional services in large numbers. In 1948, when the country was granted independence, the Tamils, mostly from the North, occupied roughly thirty percent of all posts available in government services. At the University of Ceylon, too, more than one-fourth of the places were occupied by the Tamils.
Certain events after Independence have made such a phenomenal impact on both communities of Sinhalese and Tamils psychologically that it has become almost impossible for them to live together as free and equal citizens of a modem nation. In a climate of conflict and confrontation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, Jaffna has come to symbolize struggle, liberation and Tamil nationalism. Proclamation of Sinhala as the Official Language of Sri Lanka, the planned colonization with Sinhalese settlers of areas considered part of the Tamil “Homeland”, the introduction of a quota system for University admission, riots and pogroms against the Tamils living in Sinhalese areas, and the militarization of the East and the North by successive Sinhalese governments, among others, have contributed, so the Tamils argue, to the present tragedy.
In the words of a writer, the above-mentioned events have led the “young Tamils in Jaffna, who, feeling the brunt of discrimination, deprivation of language rights and the indignity of living as aliens in their own country, have taken up arms in the struggle for liberation and for a separate Tamil state of Eelam in the North and East of Sri Lanka”.
If the measures adopted by successive Sri Lankan governments had contributed negatively to the alienation of the Tamils, there were other factors, which positively kindled the emergence of a cultural and linguistic consciousness among them.
The Hindu religious revival, social renewal and regional politics based on language and culture in India which produced movements such as the Arya Samaj, Swadeshi Movement and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had their share in the awakening of a distinct Tamil consciousness in Sri Lanka.
Scholars maintain that this awakening started as a religious revival during the time of Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879), which in course of time began to take the shape more of a literary renaissance. It is significant that eminent Jaffna Tamils such as C.W. Tamotarampillai and Visvanrrthapillai not only contributed to the revival of Tamil awareness in South India but also dominated the literary scene of the time.
Scholars, both Indian and Jaffnese, underlined the excellence of the Tamil language, its self-sufficiency and the need to be proud of being heirs to the glorious heritage of the culture of the Tamils. Tamil Classics were critically edited and original works such as Manonmaniam by Professor P. Sundarampillai were published. Journals such as Sindhanta Deepika- The Light of Truth (1897-1913) and the Tamilian Antiquary (1907-1914) commanded the day in their fields.
In Jaffna, a Tamil Academy was established in 1898 and conferences on Tamil Language and Literature were held in many places. At one such conference held in 1922, many Tamil scholars from India were invited to take part. In the same year, the Arya Dravida Basha Development Society was inaugurated.
In the field of Fine Arts, Carnatic Music and Bharata Naryam proclaimed divine arts and measures were taken to foster them.
In this process of self-assertion, three significant features may be observed:
Firstly, although an aspect of the Tamil Renaissance was the acceptance of Saivism in the form of Saiva Siddhanta as the ancient and the indigenous religion of the Tamils, there were quite a number of Christian scholars who were involved in this movement. Indeed, one may maintain that the process of the Tamil Renaissance was originated by, among others, De Nobili. Constantine: Beschi and Robert Caldwell – all foreign Christian missionaries and scholars. In course of time, eminent Christians took leading roles: Savariroya Pillai, L. D. Swami Kannupillai, T. Isaac Tambyah, Swami S. Gnana Prakasar and in our days X.S. Taninayagam Adikal. Hence the “Tamil ethnic identity remains linguistic and cultural”, in sharp contrast to the “all-inclusive ethnoreligious identity of the Sinhalese Buddhists”.
The second striking feature is the fact that those who were involved in this process belonged initially to the higher echelons of Tamil society. The traditionally oppressed classes were left out. In course of time, however, the lower castes “ushered in new experiences and visions into fiction, poetry and drama using hitherto unheard of dialects, idioms and expressions”. s3 The final feature is the importance the past and present history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka assumed in the middle of the present century. Works such as Sankili (1956) a historical play by K. Kanapathipillai, Tamils and Ceylon (l958) by C. S. Navaratnam, Tamil Culture in Ceylon (1962) by M.D. Raghavan, The Tamils in Early Ceylon (1964) by C. Sivaratnam, were pointers to the growing self-consciousness of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Tamil Culture, a journal edited by X. S. Thaninayagam Adikal, also played a momentous role in this process.
In conclusion, it may not be out of place to document the depth of the awareness of Tamil identity in the North (and East) in the first half of the nineties: the quantity and quality of output in the fields of literature, performance and fine arts were experiential, impressive and perhaps superior in certain respects to those that came from South India during this period.