Ancestry of the Ceylon Tamil

Ancestry of the Ceylon Tamil


[from Tamil Culture in Ceylon, published by Kalai Nilayam]

The Tamils and the Vijayan Era
From the Post-Vijayan to the Kandyan Era
A Tamil Dynasty of Kandyan Kings
Ceylon in Relation to the Pandya and Chola Kingdoms
Ceylon and the Vijayanagar Empire
About the Author


The history of the world is writ large in the story of the movements of people from land to land, from the pre-historic to the historic days. Thus evolved the variegated social landscape differing in structure and composition.

The commanding position of Ceylon at the Southernmost point of the mainland of Asia, on the world’s highways between the East and the West, has drawn to its shores divergent peoples, from early ages. Lured by the pearls, gems and spices, came foreign merchants — the Greeks, the Romans and the Arabs. Besides trade, the footprint on Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) regarded by the Muslims as the sacred footprint of Adam, was an additional impetus to the Muslim world. Prompted by interests other than trade, came the Malays from the Island of Java in the 18th century and in time spread over to different parts of Ceylon, mainly the Northern, Western and Southern Provinces.

While these in brief outline the main streams of relations of Ceylon with lands overseas, nearer home, the environmental geography of Ceylon in relation to South India, its next door neighbour, steadily exerted profound and enduring influences on Ceylon, historically, socially and culturally.

Tracing back the original homes of the Tamils, recent researches have in the main strengthened the hypothesis of the origin of the Dravidians from lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and the islands of the Aegean archipelago. Dominant racial strains and cultural traits of the Tamils found prevailing in varying proportions over North India and adjacent lands, lend substantial weight to this wider outlook of the original .home of the Tamils, leading us to the proposition that however much the Tamils are concentrated in South India, where their language and culture are best preserved, they nevertheless were not indigenous to South India. As the Dravidian problem is separately considered in the sequel, in some considerable detail, more need not be said of it here.

International Outlook of the Tamil

The dispersal of the Tamils over the ages from their homelands to the mainland of Asia, spreading over in strength to lands of South East Asia and beyond, and to the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, bear testimony to the international outlook of the Tamils from very early, days–a universality of outlook, an outlook which found ample expression at the Second International Conference – Seminar of. Tamil Studies held in Madras in January, 1968, attended by delegates and observers from forty-two countries. Ceylon sent a strong representation of delegates and observers.

Tamilnadu and Ceylon

The intimate cultural integration of Ceylon with the Tamilnadu of South India is well sustained by several sources. Of literary evidence we have the epic poem Manimekalai among “the greatest of the classical epic poems of Theravada Buddhism,” and the Cilappadikaram, the Epic of the Anklet, singing the chronicle of Kannaki. The cult of goddess Kannaki is a “vital link between South India and Ceylon. Following the inauguration by. Cheran Sengottuvan, of the temple to Goddess Kannaki, an inauguration at which Ceylon was represented by King Gajabahu (171 – 193 A.D.),1 as Cilappadikaram tells us, the cult of the Goddess spread all over Ceylon, the Kannaki Amman of the Tamils, Goddess Pattini of the Sinhalese, the most vigorous perhaps of the folk cults of the Sinhalese.

In the category of archaeological data, we have the observations of Paul Pieris, the eminent Sinhalese civilian and historian, following his excavation of part of the site of Kantharodai, the earliest capital of the kings of Jaffna.2 “It will be seen that the village of Kantharodai has no reason to be ashamed of its contribution to our knowledge regarding the ancient history of our island. It stands to reason that a country which is only 80 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. I suggest that the North of Ceylon was a flourishing settlement before Vijaya was born. I consider it as proved that at any rate such was its condition before the commencement of the Christian Era.” Memories of the past flash across one’s mind, as I felt, when I first visited the site a few years ago.

In a similar vein, are his remarks3 on the ancestral Hindu Temples of Ceylon

“Long before the arrival of Vijaya, there were in Lanka five recognised isvarams of Siva which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tiruketeeswaram near Mahatittha ; Munneswaram dominating Salawatta and the Pearl fishery ; Tondeswaram near Mantota ; Tirukoneswaram near the great bay of Kottiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanturai. Their situation close to these ports cannot be the result of accident or caprice and was probably determined by the concourse of a wealthy mercantile population whose religious wants called for attention.”

The situation of these large and ancestral shrines in widely separated parts of Ceylon, is an obvious index to the range of distribution of the Tamils over Ceylon from very early ages, testifying to a strong Tamil population at the cardinal points and sea port towns of Ceylon. This would also indicate that the Tamils entered Ceylon at whatever port was most convenient of access, not necessarily from the major sea ports of the Jaffna. Peninsula.

The Veddas, the Sinhalese and the Tamils are the three ” Primary Races ” of Ceylon. The Veddas are the aboriginals of the Island. As already stated, practically all authorities are agreed that the Tamils have been in occupation of the Island ” for over 2,000 years.” 4

Says Tennent,

” Jaffna has been peopled by Tamils for at least 2,000 years, the original settlement being of a date coeval with the earliest Malabar5 invasion of the Island, and their chiefs continued to assume the rank and title of independent princes down to the seventeenth century. The Rajavaliya recounts the occasions on which they carried on wars with the Sinhalese kings of the Island ; and their authority and influence in the fourteenth century are attested by the protection which the Raja whose dominions extended as far as Chilaw, afforded to Ibn Batuta, when with his companions, he was permitted to visit the sacred foot-print on the summit of Adam’s Peak.”

The more significant role that Jaffna filled in the annals of the Tamils in Ceylon, is to be sought in the fact that as the nearest to the Tamilnadu of South India, Jaffna was the earliest to come under strong social, cultural and political influences from South India, and was occupied by the Tamils earlier than the rest of Ceylon, going back to the legendary days. (Manimekalai ; the Cilappadikaram).

Under a variety of forces, Jaffna developed as an independent sovereign power from early ages with its own line of kings. Jaffna grew from strength to strength and in later ages, became a strong political factor in the history of Ceylon, to middle seventeenth century when Jaffna passed into the hands of the Portuguese. The Tamil kingdom of Jaffna indeed witnessed its growth and development side by side with the Sinhalese Kingdom at Anuradhapura. Politically and culturally, the Vijayan era set the stamp to the progressive growth of the Ceylon Tamil, the main lines of which are narrated in the next chapter.

The Ceylon Tamils are intensely concentrated in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, regions which have come to be known as the homelands of Ceylon Tamil, and they are a strong minority in the rest of the provinces of Ceylon — a major element in the population of the Western, Central and North-Western Provinces, particularly in the region between Puttalam and Kalpitiya.

The Tamils and the Vijayan Era
In the reconstruction of the history of the Ceylon Tamil the early stages pose a problem of their own. This largely follows on the scarcity of absolute historical data, either of chronicles or of evidence from archaeology on a scale commensurate to the magnitude of the problem.

There is some comfort in the thought that we have more or less specific knowledge of the centres vital to the early history of the Tamils. Sporadic explorations such as we have had over the past few decades at a few of the sites in the Northern Province hold out promise of a harvest of valuable materials on well planned systematic excavations of archaeological sites.

Within the limitations imposed by the lack of historical chronicles and the inadequacy of archaeological investigations, students of history are left to assess historical data from Tamil literary sources and from traditions and legends in an endeavour to bridge gaps in knowledge of the chronicle of the Ceylon Tamil. In this respect Sinhalese history strikes a parallel to early Tamil, much of the Vijayan epoch being built up from a complex of legends ; so much so historians are disposed to begin the authentic history of Ceylon from the reign of Devanampiya Tissa, (247 – 207 B.C.), the contemporary of Asoka, on the ground that it is only after the spread of Buddhism that an authentic account of the history of Ceylon emerges.

Notices and accounts by foreign travellers and mariners have made their own contribution to our knowledge of early Tamils. Not all these accounts have been fully investigated yet. Among literary sources, the more significant is the Tamil poetical literature of the Sangam age.

A definite stage in the pursuit of traditional lore of the Jaffna Peninsula is the publication in 1736 of ” Yalpana Vaipava Mani ” by Mylvagana Pulavar, which embodies earlier collections, the ” Kailaya Malai”, ” Vaiya Padal”, ” Pararajasekharan Ula” and ” Raja Murai.” The recent edition of ” Yalpana Vaipava Malai” by Mudaliyar Kula Sabanathan has made a notable contribution to the regeneration of this work.

Leaving aside for the moment these sources, legends and traditions, literature and travellers’ accounts, let us turn to facts of history ; of relations which inevitably followed on the close proximity of North Ceylon to the populous Tamilnadu of South India, leading in their wake to a variety of forces, social and political, which contributed to the growth of an independent Tamil sovereignty of Jaffna.

Of prime importance to the destinies of Jaffna have been her seaports the only gateway for ages between Ceylon and lands overseas, an index to which are the antiquities revealed by the sporadic excavations so far carried out at Kantharodai and Mantai, Indian Punch-marked coins, Roman coins, objects of indigenous art and industry and Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. These and other objects of material culture disclosed in the small scale explorations elsewhere too, bear out the inter-related life, the people lived.

Here I may draw attention to the cosmopolitanism in social relations, not only in Jaffna but also in other commercial centres on the mainland, such as Puhar, the Chola capital. What is found in the Jaffna peninsula, in the ancient capital cities and the maritime port of Mantai, is this cosmopolitan life of early Tamil commercial centres in India as in Ceylon.

So far as South Indian influences on Jaffna are concerned, the fact is too obvious to stress that Jaffna with its close proximity to the thickly populated Tamil districts of South India would have been occupied by the maritime Tamils earlier than by other racial elements. Illustrative of these relations, is the ancient site of Kantharodai, already referred to, first explored by Paul Pieris.6

In place-names, Sinhalese place-names in Tamil areas and Tamil place-names in Sinhalese areas, we may rightly see a reflection of the inter-related social life the people lived, rather than any priority of occupation by either.

We may now briefly outline the more significant of the historical relations between South India and the North Ceylon in the early ages. In the chronicle of the relations, the eponymous Vijaya set the pace with his matrimonial mission to the Pandyan king at Madura, to find a mate befitting his royal rank, in place of the Yakka princess, Kuveni. 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.”

Assembling the data from these and other sources, Fr. Gnanaprakasar, in ” The Beginnings of Tamil Rule in Ceylon,” 7 sums up the social impact :

” 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 horsekeepers, 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.”

The Vijayan era was one of cordiality between South India and Ceylon. All through his long reign of 88 years, Vijaya sent to the Pandyan king an annual present of ” a shell peal worth twice a hundred thousand ” (” pieces of money “). (Maha. VII : 72 – 74).

From the Post-Vijayan to the Kandyan Era
Trade as a fundamental factor in the early relations of South India and Ceylon finds frequent mention in the Mahavamsa. The retinue that accompanied the sacred Bo-sapling from India included ” families of traders.” The ruins of Vessagiri in Anuradhapura testifies to the time when merchants entered the Sangha. Here dwelt five hundred Vessas (Vaisyas) ” when they received the Pabbaja from the Great Thera ” (Maha. XX: 15 – 16 ).

The name occurs of the Brahmin Kundali, ” in whose possession was merchandise from overseas ” (Maha. XXIII: 23-41). The exports included horses. The Governor of Giri in the Village of Kudumbiyagana, had ” a Sindhu horse that would let no man mount him ” (Maha. XXIII, 71). That trade spearheaded political adventurism, is evident from the career of Sena and Guttika, sons of a freighter who brought horses and changed over from trade to political conquest. Coming at the head of an army, they overpowered King Suratissa (187 – 177 B.C.) and ruled at Anuradhapura (177 – 155 B.C.). This seems to have been the first of the Tamils to assert themselves over their neighbour Ceylon, at a time when the Sinhalese monarchy felt itself secure following the righteous rule of Devanampiya Tissa (247 – 207 B.C.).

” Love thy neighbour as thyself,” as a code of political ethics, has seldom found much of an application in the story of nations, however much it may be cherished as an ideal.

The trail of political conquest, set by Sena and Guttika, was pursued by Elara ” from the Chola country, a Damila of noble descent,” who seized the kingdom from Asela (155 – 145 B.C.) and ruled for forty-four years (145 – 101 B.C.) ” with even justice toward friend and foe on occasions of disputes at law.” (Maha. XXI: 13 – 15).

Elara was ultimately vanquished in open encounter by Prince Duttagamini. In the Mahavamsa statement (Ch. XXV: 115), that ” when he had thus overpowered thirty. two Damila kings, Duttagamini ruled over Lanka in single sovereignty,” we visualise both the strength of the Tamil resistance, and the heroic achievements of Prince Duttagamini.

Trade and politics continued to interact sporadically. ” Tissa, a Brahmin, led a rebellion in the reign of Valagamba ” and ” his following waxed great.” This is supposed to have given a handle to the Pandyan to enter the stage of Ceylon. The Mahavamsa narrates that five members of the Pandyan dynasty — Pulahatta, Bahiya, Panayamara, Piliyamaraka and Dhatika, ruled in political partnership for a total period of fifteen years from 44 to 29 B.C.

The history of Ceylon from the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (247 – 207 B.C.) to Mahasena (325 – 352 A.D.) is spoken of as the Asokan period of Ceylon history, a term based on the circumstance that Devanampiya Tissa and Emperor Asoka were contemporaries and the reign of Tissa inaugurated a spiritual and cultural renaissance, of the greatest consequence to Ceylon with the Asokan influences predominating, and the spread of Buddhism in Ceylon.

In the years intervening, before the era began of the Pallavas, appeared a Sinhalese Sovereign whose reputation has dhone ever since, in the person of King Gajabahu (171 – 193 A.D.).

Remarkable alike for his military deeds, as for his spirituality, he will ever be remembered for his inaugurating in Ceylon the cult of Goddess Pattini, on his return from South India. Of his presence at the consecration of the first Pattini shrine in South India by King Cheran Sengottuvan, we have evidence in the Tamil epic of the age, the Cilappadikaram of the 2nd century A.D . The Sinhalese poem Gajabakathava (the Chronicle of Gajabahu) sings these incidents in flowery language. Pattini cult is today among the most widely prevailing of the folk cults of the Sinhalese.

Before we come to the Pallava-Ceylon relations, we may pause awhile over the rather cryptic statement of the Mahavamsa, of the sequel to the victory of Prince Duttagamini over King Elara, already referred to, the statement that ” when he had overpowered thirty-two Damila Kings, he ruled over Lanka in single sovereignty.”

Who are these 32 Damila Kings ? There is no chronicle to clarify this bald statement. Nevertheless we cannot brush this aside as pure fancy. The term ” Kings,” need not be interpreted in the literal sense of the word. It may well have been used in the general sense of chiefs or nobles. The only reference we have, is to the existence of an independent royal dynasty in South East Ceylon in the second century B.C., supported by Paranavitana’s researches on the inscriptions of Bovatagala, at a distance of about 30 miles from Kataragama. Commenting on this offshoot of the Kshatriyas, Paranavitana observes,

” The origin of the Kshatriyas of Kataragama is obscure. The only mention of them in chronicles is in Chapter XIX, verse 54, of the Mahavamsa. There is no statement to show that the Kshatriyas of Kataragama, were connected with the royal dynasty then ruling at Anuradhapura. It appears possible that the Kshatriyas of Kataragama were connected with a stream of immigrants to the Island quite distinct from the main stream whose legends and traditions are the theme of the chronicles of Anuradhapura.”8

There is also a specific mention of ” Kings ” of Kataragama in the Dhatuvamsa in the words,

” Gothabhaya, the ruler of Ruhuna (South Ceylon) killed the ten brother kings of Kataragama, and for expiation of the crime, he built 50 viharas on either side of the Mahavaliganga.”

That the epigraphs of Bovatagala studied by Paranavitana, carry the engraved symbol of a fish, the symbol of the Pandya dynasty, is of interest, and we have the authoritative mention of the Mahavamsa of Elara, as a member of the Chola dynasty. These several pointers in their totality make it plausible that the thirty-two “kings,” whom Duttagamini had to vanquish after he overcame Elara, were the residue of the Tamil Kshatriya nobles who lingered on in South Ceylon. All this leads us to the strong presumption that there were pockets of Kshatriyas of South India in isolated and secluded regions of South Ceylon.

Now that we have cleared the ground relating to the ” kings ” that Duttagamini had to contend with, after he vanquished Elara, we may briefly relate the Ceylon-Pallava relations.

Spells of peace and war alternated in the chronicle of IndoCeylon relations of the early ages. Peaceful and cordial relations subsisted from 2nd century B.C. to 8th century A.D., the era of South Indian history covered by the Satavahanas and the Pallavas. Manavamma the Sinhalese King and Narasinhavarman the Pallava King (630 – 668) were friends and allies, and each with the help of the other, triumphed over his rival to the throne of Ceylon and of the Pallavas respectively, as dramatically narrated in the Mahavamsa (Ch. XLVII: 15).

Of historical and cultural interest in this connection is the Tiriyay rock inscription in the vicinity of Trincomalee — an inscription which bears out the cordial relations between the Sinhalese and the Pallava Kings. The observations of Paranavitana spotlight the cultural value of this inscription :—

” The script of this record is one of its main features of interest. It resembles Pallava-Grantha of about the seventh century, and in this script has been written the few inscriptions of this period found in Ceylon.” Paranavitana assigns the Tiriyay rock inscription to the closing decades of the seventh or the first half of the eighth century (E.Z., Vol. IV, 1934 – 4L pp. 152 – 153).

The close connection of Ceylon with the Andhra Kingdom after the break up of the Maurayan empire, profoundly influenced the Sinhalese school of painting, best seen in the frescoes of the rock-pockets of Sigiriya. Pallava connections of Ceylon are manifest in the temple architecture of the age.

The temple of Issurumuniya, at Anuradhapura, incorporating both structural and rock-cut techniques, and the rock-cut temple of Dambulla with its long facade built on the slopes of a high cliff, strongly recall the rock-cut Pallava temples of the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram, in the vicinity of the city of Madras. Of the Pallava style too, are the sculpture of ” Man and Horse ” at Issurumuniya and the magnificently sculptured realistic elephants on either side of a cleft in rocky surface by the pond at Issurumuniya. The elephant sculptures are remarkably like the elephants of Mahabalipuram. The parallel to the Pallava art extends even to the cleft in the rock, symbolic of the longitudinal cleavage of the extensive rock surface at Mahabalipuram, the cleft simulating the flow of the Ganga (the river Ganges). In typical Dravidian architecture is the Nalanda Gedige in the district of Kandy in the style of the monoliths of Mahabalipuram.

Of structural shrines of the Pallava period in Ceylon, we have the Koneswar temple at Trincomalee and the temple of Tiruketeeswaram in the North West. These are featured further on in some detail in our general section on religion.

The Pallavas were great navigators and Ceylon obviously marked a stage in their expansion over South East Asia. The Pallavas gave place in South India to the Cholas and the Pandyas, and Ceylon entered into a different phase of relations with these expansionist powers. Six Pandyan chiefs occupied the throne of the Sinhalese kings, in the course of the year 433 A.D. Dhatu Sena (460 – 478 A.D.) repelled the invaders, but agitations for the throne followed his death. Muggalana the rightful heir escaped to India and returned with reinforcements after a long period of eighteen years and fought and won back the kingdom from the usurper Kassapa, who had ruled as King from the castle he built over the precipitous rock of Sigiriya. Dynastic disturbances flared up again in the succeeding year. Kings Silameghavanna (617 A.D.), Agbo III (626 A.D.), Dhatopa Tissa I (626-641 A.D), Dhatopa Tissa II (650-658) and Manavamma (676-711), each in turn crossed over to South India for military reinforcements of Tamil mercenaries.

We have reached a stage in the history of Ceylon, when she had to contend with the rising powers of South India, the Pandyans and the Cholas, events dealt with in some detail in a subsequent chapter.

With the ascendancy of the dynasties of Kotte, and two rival kinsmen at Rayigam and Sitawaka, a fresh chapter opened in South Indian relations. Covering the period from 1373 to 1509, the one king of this era who ruled over entire Ceylon including the Tamil kingdom of the North, was King Parakrama Bahu VI (1415-1467). Politically the reign of this monarch is significant for Ceylon’s contacts with the new South Indian power, the Vijayanagar empire. Culturally considered, Hindu influence was dominant in the counsels of the Court, as in the fields of art, literature, music and the dance.

As the Kotte kingdom faded out by slow stages, in its wake rose the kingdom of Kandy, whose rise and progress synchronised with the European period of Ceylon history, of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British eras.

The reciprocal relations of South India in the closing stages of the Kandyan kingdom, are briefly related in the succeeding chapter.

The quick survey we have here made of Ceylon history covers the vast range of relations, political, social and cultural, of Ceylon with India in general and specifically with South India, from the close of the Vijayan to the opening of the Kandyan era, from 4th century B.C. to early 16th century A.D., the period of the history of Ceylon generally termed ” the Indian period of Ceylon history.” Socially, almost all the several social groups in the population of present day Ceylon entered the Island at some time or other, in the long span of the Island’s story. Of the social categories of South India, the main groups are the Tamils, the Keralas and the Andhras, in varying degrees, predominantly the Tamils, the racial and social factor most adjacent to Ceylon.

Inspite of wars of aggression that marked the Chola and the Pandyan periods of South Indian history, goodwill prevailed. Of particular asset were the matrimonial relations between Sinhalese and South India royalty. The example set by Vijaya, of matrimonial kinship, grew with the years, into something of a convention. Thus we see king Parakramabahu II (1238-1271), felicitating himself on his part in promoting matrimonial links : ” I have brought hither the king’s daughters from Jambudipa with gifts and thereby made the nobles of a foreign land your kinsmen.” Much the same link up is recorded of King Raja Sinha II (1686-1687) : ” He brought the king’s daughters hither from the town of Madura.” (Culavamsa, Ch. 87, 25).

A Tamil Dynasty of Kandyan Kings
We have now briefly reviewed the course of Ceylon history from the post-Vijayan to the era of the Kotte dynasty, the closing stages of which synchronised with the rise of the Kandyan monarchy, a dynasty of Kings who guided the destinies of Ceylon from 1591 to 1815, entrenched in the mountain fastnesses of Kandy. The Kandyan era in its later phase, witnessed the rise of a line of Kings bearing the title of the Malabar dynasty, ‘ Malabar’ in the strictly Ceylonese sense of Tamil, a usage begun by the Portuguese and continued by the Dutch, the British and the Sinhalese historians. By the Malabar dynasty, is meant the Nayakkar dynasty of Madurai, tracing descent from the Pandyan and later the Vijayanagar Kingdom. The Nayakkars of Madurai were governors of provinces under the Vijayanagar emperors. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire, the Nayakkars of Madurai, like those of Tanjore, assumed independence.

A Matrimonial Heritage

Malabar dynasty of Kandyan Kings may rightly be viewed, as a sequel to the matrimonial alliances of Sinhalese Kings with the South Indian royal families.

Stoudt (p. 42) sums up the story of inter-racial marriages between Sinhalese royalty and princesses of royal dynasties of South India, in these words :

” It is known that Sinhalese Kings, starting from Vijaya in 543 B.C., often married Tamil Hindu princesses from the South Indian Kingdoms of Pandya, in the Madura and Tinnevelly districts, Chola, along the Coromandel coast and Chera, on the South West coast. As late as the 17th century, Knox reports that the ” right and lawful Queen ” of the Kandyan Sinhalese King Rajasimha II ” was a Malabar brought from the Coast.” 9

King Narendra Sinha’s wife was a princess of Madura, daughter of Pitti Nayakkar. The King subsequently married her two sisters as well. His three wives bore him no heir. So at his death, Narendra Sinha nominated the brother of the Queens to succeed him, and he duly succeeded Narendra Sinha as King, under the throne name of Sri Wijaya Raja Sinha. Thus began the Malabar dynasty of Kandyan Kings. There were four kings of this dynasty, Sri Wijaya Raja Sinha (1739-1747), Kirti Sri Raja Sinha (1747-1780), Sri Rajadhi Raja Sinha (1780-1798) and Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha (1795-1815). With the accession of the latter, a fresh chapter opened in the history of Ceylon, progressively leading under a combination of circumstances, to the termination of the Kandyan royal dynasty and with it, the end of the Sinhalese monarchy, replaced by the British.

The only Tamil royal dynasty, apart from the Aryachakravarties of Jaffna, the Nayakkar dynasty of Kandy from 1739 to 1815, has had its own impact on the socio-cultural landscape of the Kandyan region. The political arena opened the door to Tamil social and cultural influences. The social and cultural impact has not been lost on the historians and administrators of the Colonial times. Thus Ivers :

” The original Keppitipolas were full blooded Tamils who came to the Island with some Malabar King presumably subsequent to 1739, when the Malabar dynasty was instituted and settled in Navagammuwa, near Rambukkana ” ( R. W. Ivers, Official Diary, Kegalla, 26-9-1881). ” In time they were considered aristocratic Sinhalese, having acquired the indigenous language, religion and customs.”

Evidently the retinue that accompanied the several kings and queens and other members of the royal family, were of all classes, nobles as well as commoners duly absorbed in the vast statecraft of the Kingdom and in the heirarchy of the Court and palace personnel.

Ceylon in Relation to the Pandya and Chola Kingdoms
Jaffna contacts with South Indian royal dynasties, the Pallava, the Chola and Pandya, and later the Vijayanagar were either incidental to the political relations of these dynasties with the Sinhalese monarchy or direct with Jaffna. By virtue of her geographical situation at the apex of Ceylon, Jaffna served in these intercourses, as the political springboard between South India and Ceylon, and Jaffna sea ports were the gateway to and from Ceylon. In the early days, relations between South India and Ceylon were purely social and matrimonial, relations which had far-reaching consequences in the later ages. Rivals for supremacy in South India turned for support to the Sinhalese kings who were thus drawn into the almost continuous struggles that were a feature of the martial life of the Middle Ages. These activities had their own repercussions on the political history of Ceylon.

To confine our attention to Jaffna. Specific mention of Jaffna occurs in the two Manimangalam 10 inscriptions, the first by the Chola king Rajadhiraja I (1018 – 1054), in 1046 A.D. and the second by Rajendra Chola in 1059 A.D. The earlier inscription speaks of ” three allied kings of the south, who arrayed themselves against the king.” The third of these kings bears the name Manabharana, whom the king vanquished and killed in the battlefield. In the second inscription, that of 1059, Manabharana is specifically featured as a king of Ceylon. As there was no Sinhalese king of this age of the name Manabharana, it is felt that the reference may be to a king of Jaffna. This is scarcely correct, as there was no king of Jaffna either by this name.

Apart from the inscriptions and their triumphant tone, we have no account of any political conflicts visualised in these records. The name Kanna Kuchiyar occurring in the inscription, meaning the people of the land from which the troops came, leads historians like Rasanayagam 11 to presume that it refers to the land of Jaffna, the land of the Kanna Kuchiyar, or men who wore their tuft of hair slung on a side of the head (Kanna or Karna).

The reference in the inscription to Manabharana, as king of Jaffna, seems susceptible of another interpretation — that he may well have been a prince of Jaffna royal line. This view finds support from a series of matrimonial alliances. The Sinhalese king Vijayabahu I (1070 – 1114), gave his sister Mitta in marriage to a Pandyan prince. His three sons by this alliance are Manabharana, Kitti Siri Megha and Sri Vallabha, names which seem to ring a close parallel to the names in the inscriptions. Vijayabahu’s queen, Tilokasundari was herself a princess of the Kalinga royal line (of Singai Nagar of Jaffna). Manabharana, the son of the Pandyan king by Mitta, the sister of Vijayabahu married his cousin, Ratnavali, the daughter of Vijayabahu. In the light of these affiliations, we may perhaps give some credence to the language of the inscription and presume that a prince of Jaffna and not a king may have been meant by the name Manabharana. This nevertheless is unsupported by any account of any conflict between the Chola kings and Jaffna.

In the literature of the age, we have in the Tamil poem, Chola Mandala Satakam by Kambar, the renowned court poet of Rajaraja II (1164 – 1173), reference to a generous gift of a thousand shipload of paddy by Sadayappa Mudali, a patron of the poet, to relieve a great famine of the time. The king is referred to as Pararaja Singham, alluded to as King of Kandy. How this anachronism crept in, we are unable to say. Perhaps it is an interpolation of later days. The fame that Kandy attained to in the later ages, may have been responsible for this patent error. Pararaja Singham may well have signified a king of Jaffna, who often took the throne name of Pararaja Sekharan, which may have been transformed to Pararaja Singham by the poet.

Of Chola relations, we have also the mention of an invasion of Jaffna by Rajendra Chola III, who is pictured as ” a very Rama in Northern Lanka, renowned as the abode of Virarakshasas.” (M.E.R. of 1912, Sect. 32: page 69 and Inscription No. 64 of 1892 and No. 42 of 1911).

Of Pandyan connections we have a series, almost all linked with dynastic rivalries. Sundara Pandya (1216 – 1244) A.D. sets the pace in Jaffna-Pandya relations, by soliciting the help of Jaffna king against his rival Vira Pandya. The Jaffna king readily responds and with his aid, Sundara Pandya regains the throne. This is borne out by the inscription of the 20th Year of Maravarman Sundara Pandya. Distinctive as the title Pararaja Sekharan has been, of the Jaffna kings, it is obviously justifiable to conclude as Rasanayagam does, that the king referred to in the inscription is an Arya Chakravarti of Jaffna.

It is likely that it is this event that is referred to in the Yalpana Vaipava Malai, of a Pandyan king seeking the aid of Singa Aryan, with whose reinforcements, the Pandyan regained the throne. An element of confusion is cast by the circumstance that the Pandyan king is featured as Chandra Sekharan and not as Sundara Pandya. Vaipava Malai, being a collection of oral chronicles, lapses of the sort do occur. This nevertheless does not seem to affect the basic core of the aid afforded by the Jaffna king to the Pandyan. Sundara Pandyan’s rule being from 1214 to 1244 A.D., the Arya Chakravarti who went to his aid, would presumably have been Vijaya Kulankai Chakravarti,otherwise known as Singai Aryan (1215 – 1240). We have also the allusion in the Tamil composition, Segaraja Sekara Malai, of help to Sundara Pandyan by a Jaffna king against a Hoysala.12

That it was not all a one-way traffic, is shown by a record which speaks of Jatavarman Vira Pandya coming to the aid of Jaffna in 1253 A.D. against the invasion of the Javakas from far off Java, led by Chandrabanu.13 That this event was something more than a passing-show is evident from reminiscences in Jaffna that recall Javaka contacts of North Ceylon. One of these is that part of Jaffna known today as Chavakacheri. A cultural trait active today is the Musical Kite of Jaffna, the home of which is the Indonesian Islands. In Ceylon the Musical Kite does not prevail anywhere outside Jaffna.

To resume our narrative of Jaffna relations with South India. The finale of these relations is something of which we have a number of differing versions. The personalities concerned are the triangular powers, the Sinhalese monarchy, Arya Chakravarti and the Pandyan. We may begin with the Culavamsa 14 account :

” Once when here in Lanka, a famine arose, there landed, sent with an army by the five brothers, the kings who held sway in the Pandu realm, a Damila general known by the name of Arya Chakravarti, who though he was no Arya, was yet a great dignitary of great power. He laid waste the kingdom in every direction and entered the proud stronghold, the town of Suhhagiri (Yapahu). The sacred Tooth Relic and all the costly treasures there, he seized and returned with them to the Pandu kingdom. There he made over the Tooth Relic to king Kula Sekhara, who was as the sun for the lotus blossom of the stem of the great kings of the Pandus.”

” As the ruler, Parakramabahu III (1303 – 1310) saw no other means but friendly negotiations, he set forth in the company of several able warriors, betook himself to the Pandu kingdom and sought out the ruler of the Pandus. By daily conversations he inclined himfavourably, received from the hands of the king the Tooth Relic, returned to the Island of Lanka and placed the Relic in the superb Pulathinagara in the former Relic Temple.” (Cul. V. 48-47).

The allusion to five brothers15 who ruled over the Pandyan kingdom jointly finds mention by Marco Polo 16 who, in an account of his travels in South India towards the close of the 13th century, speaks of ” five royal brothers and five crowned kings of the province of Malabar.” We are also informed of ” contemporary Chinese sources ” which tell us of ” the five brothers who were Sultans.” No corroboration of this is found from other sources, nor does any chronicle tell us of any cause of action between either the ” five brothers,” or Kulasekhara Pandyan, against Ceylon, resulting in ” the sacred Relic and all costly treasures ” of Yapahu being carried away as spoils of the fight.

The Jaffna version gives us an altogether different view. According to these accounts, in the Yalpana Vaipava Malai, a conflict arose between Bhuvenakabahu I (1278 – 12/4), the Sinhalese king and the Arya Chakravarti of Jaffna over the rights of Pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar. The battle staged (1278 A.D.). was severe and Arya Chakravarti triumphed over his adversary. As a consequence, it is claimed, that ” one flag, the flag of Yalpanam, waved over the whole of Lanka.” The sacred Relic and other treasures fell into the hands of the victor. According to the Vaipava Malai, ” this state of affairs continued for twelve years, and the Jaffna king restored the kingdom to Parakramabahu through the mediation of Kulasekhara, King of Pandya (1268 – 1309), who personally guaranteed the annual payment of tribute by the Sinhalese king.”

Paul Pieris,17 takes a balanced view with the statement that ” Arya Chakravarti was attempting to spread his domain over Sinhalese territories,” while he agrees that ” following the death of Pandita Parakramabahu (1235- 1270), repeated invasions from India took place and the Tooth Relic was captured by the Pandyans, who restored it on the personal intercession of the king who proceeded to India for the purpose.”

A dispassionate judgment would entitle us to favour the Yalpana Vaipava Malai account as the more probable of the two versions, an invasion by the Arya Chakravarti of Jaffna without engrafting an extraneous element in the person of a minister of the Pandyan King, Kulasekhara, a rather laboured proposition without anything to support it in the nature of any other evidence from Indian or Ceylon sources. The description of the political scene of the time as the Rajavaliya 18 presents it, of the position of the Arya Chakravarti vis-a-vis the other powers, is also in favour of a probability of a direct invasion by the Arya Chakravarti as more reasonable than the story as the Mahavamsa gives it :-

” The Minister Alakeswara lived in the city of Raiyagama and the nephew of Parakramabahu remained in the city of Gampola while the King Arya Chakravarti dwelt in the seaport of Yalpanapatuna. Arya Chakravarti whose army and wealth were superior to those of the other kings, caused tribute to be brought to him from the hill and low districts and from the nine ports.”

The Culavamsa’s eulogy, on the other hand, of the Pandyan King Kulasekhara in the words 19, ” the king who was as the sun of the lotus blossom of the stem of the great kings of the Pandus, ” is easy to understand. Whatever may be the different versions of the conflict, of one thing all are agreed, that it was solely through the intercession of the Pandyan King that the Tooth Relic and the treasures were restored to the Sinhalese.

To Sinhalese kings, the Tooth Relic stands for the very stability of the kingdom, and to all it has a foremost place in the religious life of the land. The high praise lavished on the Pandyan king by the Culavamsa, may more reasonably be viewed as an acknowledgment of the inestimable services of Kulasekhara in getting the Tooth Relic and costly treasures restored. Nor should we forget that despite differences of the latter days, the connection between the Sinhalese kings and the Pandyan dynasty has been one of the closest from the day that Vijaya and his followers espoused Pandyan wives, a relationship that developed in later ages in further matrimonial alliances.

The grandfather of Parakramabahu I was a Pandyan prince (Cul. 59, 41 – 44). It is as a reflection of all these traditions and mementoes of alliances, added to the signal services of Kulasekhara Pandyan in interceding between the Arya Chakravarti and King Bhuvenakabahu that the praise to the Pandyan king by Culavamsa may best be interpreted.

With the rise and expansion of the Vijayanagar empire, the Pandyan power progressively waned. That the Pandyan nevertheless continued to be a significant factor for some time in South Indian politics, we may presume from an expedition that Arikesari Parakrama Pandya (1422 – 1461) led against the Chera and Sinhala. 20 Among the battles he claims to have won, are mentioned those staged at Singai and Anura, very possibly signifying Singai Nagar, capital of Jaffna, and Anuradhapura, the Sinhalese capital. This invasion may be the invasion of 1451, which Philalethes 21 mentions in his history of Ceylon.

Ceylon and the Vijayanagar Empire

Vijayanagar coming into power, in the wake of the Chola and the Pandyan kingdoms, a new epoch opens in the history of South India. The influence that Vijayanagar exercised over the adjacent countries, is a measure of its strength and power. That the neighbouring kingdoms courted its favour, is a reasonable conclusion from the reference by Ferishta that ” the Rajas of Malabar, Ceylon and other countries kept ambassadors at the court of the king of Vijayanagar and sent annually rich presents.” This need not necessarily mean that Vijayanagar brought these countries under its dominance by might of arms.

The period of Vijayanagar empire, from the middle of the 14th to the end of the 17th century, covers so far as Ceylon is concerned, the reign of the kings of Rayigam and Kotte, whose dynasties together lasted from the late fourteenth to early sixteenth century. The two outstanding monarchs of this age are, Vira Alakeswara, at Rayigam and Parakramabahu VI (1415 – 1467), at Kotte, the king who brought all Ceylon under one umbrella. That Vijayanagar empire cast it spell over Ceylon of the days, is obvious. Nevertheless it was an influence different in character from the policies of the aggressive Chola and the Pandya.

Steering clear of speculations of earlier contacts, Vijayanagar relations with Ceylon commenced with the campaigns of Virupaksha against the neighbouring kingdoms, including Ceylon. Our main evidence of this, are the Ariyur Plates22 of Virupaksha I, 1390 A.D., according to which the Vijayanagar king, planted a pillar of victory in Sinhala. This event is presumed to have taken place between A.D. 1386 and 1390, judging from the circumstance that the Soraikkavur Plates of 13862, are silent on his Ceylon campaigns. The conquest of Simhala finds mention too in the poetical composition, Narayanaviiasam by Virupaksha.

Harihara II, in his Nallur inscription of 1399, speaks of himself as master of Purva, Pachima and Dakshina Samudradhisvara. This lends support to his encounters over Ceylon.

An invasion by Maha Desa Raja against the Sinhalese king at Gampola, chronicled in the Rajavaiiya,23 is also presumed to be a Vijayanagar invasion of Ceylon. Nevertheless this cannot be considered very authoritative, unsupported by evidence from other sources.

The observations of Fernao Nuniz,24 the Portuguese chronicler that ” Ajaras took Goa and Chaul and Dabull and Caillao and all the country of the Charamandal,” sounds authentic. Ajaras may very likely refer to Virupaksha Raja, and Caillao is obviously Ceylon.

From these several references we may conclude that the Vijayanagar kings following Virupaksha, left Ceylon alone until Devaraja II (1422 – 1446), came into power and turned his gaze on his neighbours including Ceylon. This obviously was a strategic move to assert his powers over his neighbours, as may be inferred from the title Dakshina Samudradhipati 25 he assumed following the military manoeuvres by his General Lakanna Dandanayaka. The objectives specifically included Yalpanam (Jaffna) and Ilam the rest of Ceylon. This we learn from a Vijayanagar inscription 26 of Saka (1362 – 1440 A.D.). The Jaffna king of the time may be Gunaveera Singai Aryan (1410 – 1440 A.D.), and the Sinhalese king, Parakramabahu VI (1415 – 1467). No details have come to light nevertheless, of any encounter between the forces of the Vijayanagar king and either Jaffna or Kotte. It might well have been a triumphant march, a show of might, without coming to a head in the form of a resort to arms.

Almost seven years after his first expedition, Lakanna appears to have staged a second expedition, as we gather from an account left by Abdur Razzak, the Persian ambassador to the court of Deva Raya II. This was probably impelled by the need to re-establish the waning allegiance of these neighbours, after a lapse of seven years. The General seems to have retracted his steps, without achieving anything, owing to untoward developments at the court of Vijayanagar, in the course of which a desperate effort was made on the life of the king himself. The reference to Lakanna having been ” on the frontiers of Ceylon,”27 does not justify the conclusion that this expedition was directed specifically against Jaffna alone. More reasonably it may be presumed that as he reached North Ceylon, he had to turn back owing to troubles at home alluded to above.

In regard to Vijayanagar-Ceylon relations in general, Salatore places the first expedition to Ceylon in 1415 A.D. and refutes the view that there was a Vijayanagar conquest of Ceylon after Virupaksha (Indian Antiquary, Volume LXI, 1932, pp. 228 et seq.).

As an example of the striking capacity of Parakramabahu VI, of Kotte, we have the reference to an expedition set out by the latter, against a chieftain of Tanjore, Malavaraja in retaliation to the arbitrary seizure of a Ceylon cargo of cinnamon by the chieftain and his men. According to Rajavaiiya, the chieftain was slain and much booty carried away, and an annual tribute was paid by the four villages near the port of Adirampet.28

About the Author

Dr. M. D. Raghavan was educated at the Madras and Oxford Universities. He participated in field work with the Anthropological Expedition to India by the Saxon State Institute, Germany led by Prof. Egon von Eickstedt in 1928. The first Head of the Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Dr. Raghavan was also President of the Ethnology and Folklore Section of the All-India Oriental Conference, 11th Session, held at Hyderabad.

On his retirement from the Indian Service. the Government of Ceylon appointed him in 1946 to the post of Ethnologist in the Department of National Museums, where his work covered a wide range of assignments : Ethnologist and Assistant Director, National Museums ; Member, Advisory Board for the Welfare of Backward Communities and Tribes ; Member, Arts Council of Ceylon. Panel of Folk Songs and Dances ; and Hilda Obeysekara Senior Research Fellow at the University of Ceylon for two years.

Dr. Raghavan is an accepted authority on the ethnography of Ceylon. He is known for the scholarship and meticulousness of his extensive studies in this field. Among his earlier studies is his pioneering work on the ballads of Kerala published in issues of the Indian Antiquary, Folk-lore, Nature and Oriental Literary Digest.

Dr. Raghavan is the author of a series of monographs in the Ethnological Survey of Ceylon that appeared in the Spolia Zeylanica journal of the National Museums of Ceylon. He has published several articles in Ceylon Today, the journal of the Department of Information, Government of Ceylon, in New Lanka and other Ceylon journals.


1 See XXXVIII, ” Mahavamsa “

2 & 3 Pieris, Paul E.: Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna, J.R.A.S. (C.B.), Vol. XXVIII, No. 12, p. 68 and Vol. XXV, No. 70, pp. 17-18.

4 Tennent : Ceylon Vol. II p. 539 ; Codrington : A Short History of Ceylon, p. 32 ; Paul Pieris : J. R. A. S. (C.B.), Vols. XXV and XXVIII : and Stoudt : the Physical Anthropology of Ceylon, Colombo National Museum, 1961, pp. 4 and 167.

5 ‘ Malabar ‘ in the sense of ‘ Tamil,’ a usage begun by the Portuguese and continued by the Sinhalese and British historians ever since.

  1. Pieris, Paul E.: Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna : J.R.A.S. (C.B.), Vol. p. 65
  2. Tamil Culture Vol1, III
  3. Ceylon Journal of Science, Section A, pp. 87, 38, 99, 100, 175, 178.
  4. Knox, R : An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon in the East Indies, p. 54. 28

10 Rasanayagam, C. : Ancient Jaffna, 1926, p. 278, et seq.

  1. Rasanayagam, C.: Ancient Jaffna, 1926, pp. 281 – 288.

12 & 13 Pillai, K. K.: South India and Ceylon, University of Madras, 1963, p. 127.

14 Culavamsa II, Ch. 90, V. 43 – 47.

  1. Rasanayagam, C.: Ancient Jaffna, 1926, pp. 844 et seq.
  2. Paul, S. C.: ” The Overlordship of Ceylon in the 18th, 14th and 15th Centuries,” J.R.A.S. (C.B.), XXVIII, p. 74, 1921.
  3. Paul Pieris : The Portuguese Era, Vol. II, p. 267.
  4. Rajavaliya. B. Gunasekara, Colombo, 1899, pp 66 – 67.
  5. Culavamsa II, Ch. 90 : 43 – 47.
  6. Travancore Archaeological Series, Vol. I. Inscriptions of the Later Pandyas, No. 2.
  7. Pi K. K.: South India and Ceylon ; University of Madras, 1964, p. 111.

22 Indian Antiquary, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 12.

23 Epigraphia Indica, Vol. VIII, pp. 800 – 801. 8 Rajavaliya, p. 268.

24 Sewell : A Forgotten Empire, p. 802.

25 South Indian Inscriptions, Vol. VIII, No. 428.

26 Annual Report of Epigraphy, Southern Circle, Madras Government, 144 of 1916.

27 and 28 Pillai, K. K., University of Madras : South India and Ceylon, p. 109.

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

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