The Historical Origins of the Tamil and Sinhala Peoples in Sri Lanka

The Historical Origins of the Tamil and Sinhala Peoples in Sri Lanka

Uncover the depths of Sri Lanka’s past to discern its cultural origins. Delve into its storied background to examine whether it is Tamil or Sinhala. Examine the evidence and ponder the question: what is the true identity of this nation?

An enigma of time, Sri Lanka is a land that has been molded by the forces of many eras. Its history is complex and intertwined with both Tamil and Sinhala people who have inhabited it for centuries. To understand the true essence of this nation, one must delve into its past to uncover how these two cultures have coalesced to form the country we know today.

Research reveals that hunter-gatherers were the earliest known inhabitants, settling in the region some 125,000 years ago. Subsequent waves of settlers followed suit, including Vedda people from India around 500 B.C., Tamils from South India around 300 B.C., and Sinhalese migrants from northern India in the 3rd century B.C.. This influx of new cultures created a diverse population that continues to live on the island to this day.

Throughout its history, Sri Lanka has experienced times of peace as well as strife amongst its various ethnic groups. In 1815, British colonial rule was established on the island until 1948 when it gained independence as Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). During this period, differences between Tamils and Sinhalese heightened due to political policies favoring one group over another which eventually led to civil war between 1983-2009; however a fragile peace agreement was reached in 2009 which still holds today.

In conclusion, Sri Lanka’s identity cannot be simply defined or reduced to one single culture or ethnicity; rather it is an amalgamation of different influences and experiences that have come together over time to form a unique nation with its own distinct identity.


A land of perplexing diversity, Sri Lanka lies off the southern coast of India. Long-standing ethnic groups have contributed to a complex history, notably Sinhala and Tamil. It is believed that in the 5th century BCE, Tamil people from South India settled on the island and their cultures blossomed over time. The 12th century saw the rise of Sinhala kings which increased the influence of Sinhala culture in politics and society. British colonialism further exacerbated tensions between these two communities as they fought for power and resources, leading to a civil war that lasted nearly three decades until 2009 when it was eventually brought to a close by the Sri Lankan government.

Presently, both Tamils and Sinhalese live side by side in many parts of Sri Lanka, though there are still underlying tensions between them. Nevertheless, efforts have been made to foster peace and reconciliation between them.

– History of the Sri Lankan Civil War and its Impact on Tamil and Sinhala Relations

The Sri Lankan civil war was an intricate saga, persisting for two decades and involving a multitude of players. The discord began in 1983 when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) headed by militant Tamil groups, initiated a fight for independence in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka. This struggle aimed to create a state dedicated to the Tamil minority who had been largely mistreated by the Sinhala majority. The government and military forces fiercely opposed this movement, which led to a full-fledged civil war.

The war lasted until 2009, bringing with it numerous human rights violations and atrocities on both sides. Over 70,000 lives were lost and hundreds of thousands more displaced due to this fighting. Furthermore, it caused immense psychological damage to both communities that still lingers today.

This conflict has had a huge impact on the relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka; there is still much distrust between these two ethnicities which has been intensified by current political tensions. Consequently, all attempts at reconciliation have been unsuccessful thus far. Nevertheless, some signs point towards potential change as younger generations become more open to discussion and cooperation between the two groups.

It is evident that comprehending what happened during this tumultuous period is essential for improving Tamil-Sinhala relations moving forward. Only through learning about the history of Sri Lankan civil war can we begin to bridge differences and cultivate peace between these two communities in Sri Lanka.

– Exploring the Ancient Roots of Tamil and Sinhala Cultures in Sri Lanka

The story of Sri Lanka is a complex one, with ancient roots that intertwine the Tamil and Sinhalese cultures. The Tamil people are believed to have arrived on the island in the early centuries before Christ and were heavily influenced by Hinduism, which shaped their language and culture. Around 500 BCE, the Sinhalese people began arriving from northern India and were heavily influenced by Buddhism. Despite their different origins, both cultures have been deeply intertwined over time, creating a unique blend of traditions that can still be seen today.

The Dravidians are believed to have migrated to Sri Lanka from India around 300 BCE and were divided into two major ethnic groups: the Pandyans in the north and Cholas in the south. The Pandyans had close ties with Hinduism while the Cholas embraced Buddhism; both cultures left an indelible mark on each other’s language, literature, art, architecture, music and dance forms.

The Sinhalese established their own kingdom in Anuradhapura which lasted until 1017 CE when it was annexed by the Chola Empire from South India. During this period many aspects of Sinhala culture were adopted by Tamils such as their language and literature as well as religious practices like Buddhism.

Today these two distinct yet intertwined cultures continue to influence each other despite their differences in origin and history. Many festivals such as Thaipusam (Tamil) or Vesak (Sinhala) are celebrated together throughout Sri Lanka regardless of ethnicity or religion; cultural rituals such as weddings are often shared between both communities; traditional foods like Kottu roti (Tamil) or Lamprais (Sinhala) are enjoyed together; even sports like cricket have become popular among both communities alike! Exploring these ancient roots reveals a captivating history that has woven modern-day Sri Lanka into its current state – a vibrant mix of two separate yet connected cultures that have been influencing each other for centuries!

– The Role of Religion in Shaping the History of Tamil and Sinhala Identities in Sri Lanka

Religion has been an indispensable part of the evolution of Tamil and Sinhala identities in Sri Lanka. The two major ethnic groups, Tamils and Sinhalese, have long been divided by language and faith. Despite the majority of Sri Lankans being Buddhist, a considerable minority are Hindu. This religious distinction has had a significant effect on the nation’s history, with each group having their own distinct cultural heritages and ways of life.

The origins of this separation can be traced back to Buddhism’s entrance into Sri Lanka during the 3rd century BCE. Over time, the Buddhist-dominant Sinhalese developed a singular language and culture which was distinct from that of their Hindu Tamil counterparts. This divergence was further entrenched by colonial rule which saw the Sinhalese gaining political power while the Tamils were largely barred from it. As such, both communities evolved separate identities over time with each incorporating their respective religions as essential components of their identity.

The part religion plays in forming these two exclusive identities has been exacerbated by more recent occurrences such as civil wars between Tamils and Sinhalese and anti-Tamil violence in 1983–1987. These events have further reinforced spiritual divisions between the two ethnicities leading to intensified tension between them even today.

Ultimately, religion has been a key factor in shaping Tamil and Sinhala identities in Sri Lanka, with each group’s identity being influenced by its respective faith over time. It has acted both as an element of unity amongst members of each group while also acting as a barrier between them. To guarantee peace and stability within Sri Lanka going forward, it is vital that both sides recognize this critical role that religion plays in forming their respective identities while at the same time striving for mutual understanding and respect for one another’s beliefs.

– Examining Historical Accounts of Conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka

A perplexing and tumultuous history of discord between the Tamils and Sinhalese of Sri Lanka has been ongoing for centuries, with both sides vying for power and resources since the British colonial period. In recent decades, this competition has escalated to a devastatingly violent civil war, leaving thousands dead and displaced on both sides. To gain insight into the underlying causes of this conflict as well as potential solutions, it is important to examine historical accounts.

It is believed that tensions between the two communities have been present since British rule, when preferential treatment was given to the majority Sinhalese population over the minority Tamil population. This sparked resentment among Tamils who felt their rights were being disregarded while economic disparities between them further fuelled tension as Tamils struggled to make ends meet while Sinhalese prospered under British rule.

After Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, further divisions arose as political parties representing each group vied for power – leading to increased violence between them in an effort to gain control. These conflicts intensified over time with both sides resorting to more extreme measures such as assassination attempts and bombings. The subsequent civil war was brutal and lasted more than twenty-five years until 2009 when a ceasefire agreement was reached between the government and rebel forces. Nevertheless, despite this agreement tensions remain high with sporadic outbreaks of violence still occurring today.

The examination of historical accounts pertaining to conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka can help us better comprehend its origins as well as identify steps needed for lasting peace in Sri Lanka. It is evident that deep-seated grievances exist on both sides which must be addressed if true harmony is ever achieved.

– Assessing the Impact of Colonialism on the Development of Tamil and Sinhala Communities in Sri Lanka

The effects of colonialism on the Tamil and Sinhala communities in Sri Lanka have been far-reaching and profound. From the moment British forces arrived in 1815, both groups were forced to endure drastic changes to their language, religion, education systems, laws and customs. The English language was imposed as the official language for government work, while missionaries sought to introduce Christianity as a replacement for traditional beliefs and practices. Education was also altered drastically with western-style teaching methods becoming the norm. Laws were changed to reflect those found in Britain, meaning certain customs such as caste system were no longer accepted or practiced.

Indirectly too, colonialism has caused economic disparities between Tamils and Sinhalese that still exist today. While some jobs became available to both groups due to British rule, there was still an unequal distribution of wealth between them resulting from differences in educational opportunities and access to resources such as land ownership. This inequality has led to increased tensions between the two groups over time, even after independence from Britain in 1948.

It is clear that colonialism has had a lasting impact on Tamil and Sinhala communities in Sri Lanka throughout history; its direct effects can be seen through changes made to language, religion, education systems and laws while its indirect effects are evident through economic disparities between them even now. It is essential that we recognize this legacy so that we can strive towards finding ways to bridge divides between these two communities going forward into the future.


A long and intricate narrative lies behind Sri Lanka, with both Tamil and Sinhala cultures resoundingly contributing to the story. In days of yore, the island was divided into two realms – one Sinhalese, the other Tamil – but in time these two civilizations have amalgamated to create a singular Sri Lankan personality. Nowadays, both languages are heard throughout the nation, with Tamils constituting around 11% of the populace and Sinhalese making up 74%..

Some questions with answers

Q1. What is the history of Sri Lanka?
A1. The history of Sri Lanka dates back to as early as the 3rd century BC, when it was known by various names such as Heladiva, Thambapanni, Taprobane and Serendib.

Q2. Is Sri Lanka Tamil or Sinhala?
A2. Sri Lanka is a multiethnic country with two major ethnic groups: Sinhalese and Tamils. The majority of the population are Sinhalese (74%) while Tamils make up about 18% of the population.

Q3. How long have both ethnic groups been in Sri Lanka?
A3. Both ethnic groups have lived in Sri Lanka for centuries. The Sinhalese arrived from India in the 6th century BC, while the Tamils are believed to have migrated from southern India in about 300 BC.

Q4. How has their relationship changed over time?
A4. Historically, there has been tension between the two ethnic groups due to political and economic differences and competition for resources. In recent years, there has been an effort to bridge these differences through dialogue and reconciliation efforts.

Q5. What is the current status of relations between them?

A5. Relations between Tamils and Sinhalese remain strained but there are signs that progress is being made towards peace and understanding between them. There is also an increasing recognition that both communities need to work together to ensure a prosperous future for all citizens of Sri Lanka.

Are converted Sinhalas responsible for Sri Lankan Tamil problem?

Compiled From Various Sources of Information.

— Many South Indians, not just Tamils but also Telugus and Malayalis, migrated to southern Sri Lanka and assimilated with the Sinhalese.

The Alagakkonaras, for example, who founded the Kingdom of Kotte and fought the Tamil Jaffna Kingdom were of Malayali origin but were assimilated with the Sinhalese. The last several kings of the Kingdom of Kandy were the Tamil-speaking Nayaks from Madurai who were of Telugu origin.

Apparently the language of their court was Tamil.

The man who started the ethnic conflict in the post-independent Sri Lanka was S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike with his imposition of Sinhala Only Act in 1956.

Rather than being of Telugu origin, it seems his forefather was a Tamil Chetti (a trading caste) from Tamil Nadu.

The ancestry of the Dias Bandaranaikes describe how an Indian officer ‘of high standing’ -a descendant of an Indian Chetty community, who migrated in the 16th century, serving under the Kings of Kandy and bearing the name Neela-Perumal, was made high priest of the Temple of God Saman and commanded to take the name of ‘Nayaka Pandaram’ in 1454, meaning chief record-keeper.

“For convenience in usage, it became ‘Pandara Nayake’, with time, the P was substituted with the locally palatable B; thus ‘BandaraNayake’, later evolved as Bandaranayake.

The Pandarams of India are Brahmins and keepers of Court and family records.”

Perumal is a Tamil name of Vishnu. The title Bandara used by the Kandyan nobility comes from the Tamil word pandaram, which according to the dictionary definition refers to a community of Sudra caste priests in South India and Sri Lanka.

According to Gananath Obeyesekere, the Pandarams were generally of Vellalar caste origin and were devotees of Siva and Skanda who migrated to Sri Lanka from South India in two waves in 13th and 14th century and assimilated with the Sinhalese.

Bandaranaike’s wealthy forefathers were opportunists who jumped from one religion to another, from Hinduism to Buddhism to various sects of Christianity, in order to curry favours with the different ruling powers. Bandaranaike himself was a political opportunist who converted to Buddhism from Christianity and whipped up Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalism by spearheading the Sinhala Only Movement, although as an English educated elite he wasn’t fluent in Sinhala himself.

J.R. Jayewardene, also a Christian convert to Buddhism, was another Sinhalese politician who was responsible for aggravating Tamil grievances as his rule saw the anti-Tamil pogroms of 1977, 1981 and 1983, the burning of the Jaffna public Library and the start of the civil war.

It appears he too had a South Indian, more specifically Tamil ancestry. Jayewardene’s great-grandfather was called Tambi Mudaliyar. Tambi or Thambi is a Tamil word for younger brother (also Prabhakaran’s nickname) and it’s also used as names by some Tamil Muslims.

Mudaliyar is a Tamil caste title which was also applied to some Sinhalese elite.

Tambi Mudaliyar was a willing servant of the colonialists, working as a spy for the Dutch against the British and then for the British against the Dutch.

He then became spy for the British against the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kandy and assisted his white masters in their conquest of the Kandy, from which he amassed a great fortune and established one of the most wealthiest and influential families in Ceylon. For his treachery some Sinhalese denounce him as a traitor while the British eulogised him for his loyalty, which appeared in a tribute after his death in the official Gazette of the British colonial government on 15 May 1830.

This Gazette also reveals the Tamil ancestry of Tambi Mudaliyar (also known as Don Adrian Wijesinghe Jayewardene), as summarised by K. M. De Silva and William Howard Wriggins:

He was descended from the Chetty community, a community of traders, which had emigrated from the Coromandel coast in India in the early years of the Dutch rule in the mid-17th century and settled in the vicinity of Colombo. Two or three generations before the birth of Don Adrian a male of his family had married a Sinhalese by the name of Jayewardene from the village of Welgama near Hanvalla some 20 miles from Colombo and from that time took on the name of Jayewardene.

Immigration from India to the south-west coastal regions of Sri Lanka had gone on for several centuries before the Dutch arrived and the process continued under their rule.

To locate an ancestor with these antecedents is, of course, unusual; it is a distinction the Jayewardenes share with the Bandaranaikes whose first known ancestor also hailed from South India, but in the early 16th century.

Don Adrian, then, had one ancestor of recent Indian origin, but by the time he himself appears on the stage of Sri Lanka’s history at the tail-end of the 18th century the process of ‘Sinhalisation’ of his family had been completed.

It’s interesting to note that not too long ago the Chetti community of Sri Lanka, now concentrated in Colombo area, were for the most part a Tamil-speaking community who were identified as a Tamil caste as their ancestors had settled in the island from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu during the colonial Portuguese rule and converted to Christianity; but today they claim a separate identity or are assimilated with the Sinhalese.

A prominent member of this community was Simon Casie Chetty, a distinguished Tamil scholar and a politician who represented the island’s Tamils at the Legislative Council of Ceylon in the 19th century.

In contrast, 21st century Chetti politician Jeyaraj Fernandopulle took an anti-Tamil position, such as justifying the forced eviction of Tamils from Colombo in 2007 and accusing the United Nation’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs of being a terrorist colluding with the LTTE.

He was later killed allegedly by the LTTE. Sinhalese with personal names Hettiarachige (meaning ‘chief of the Chettis’) are assimilated Tamil Chettis.

Many recently Sinhalized South Indians have become so anti-Tamil these days and claim a fake 2000+ years old Aryan ancestry.

They had mixed with the Sinhalese and today these people identify as Sinhalese only, possibly with no awareness of their Dravidian origins, hence it’s wrong to scapegoat the ancestries of their forefathers for today’s problems.

The Madurai nayaks of kandy is a result of marriage between sinhalese king and madurei nayak princess, Last sinhalese king sri veera parakrama Narendra Sinha, died in 1739 without an offspring from his queen.

His queen was a Madurai Nayak princess. Narendra Sinha’s had nominated a brother of his Madura queen to succeed him.And he was crowned under the assumed title of Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha.

Thus, Sri Vijaya Rajasinha succeeded the throne and established the Kandy Nayak line.


Sinhalese vs. Tamil

Sinhalese and Tamil races are the two predominant demographic divisions in Sri Lankan society. While there is a history of political strife between the two races, the Sri Lankan government defeated Tamil guerrillas in 2009 to stamp out the Tamil secessionist movement.

Comparison chart

ReligionA majority of Sinhalese people adhere to Theravada Buddhism. There is also a Christian minority.A majority of Tamils are Hindus with a significant minority practicing Christianity or Islam, and a small minority practicing Buddhism, Jainism and atheism.
LanguageSinhalese people speak Sinhala.Tamils speak Tamil.
Population150 lakhs (15 million)10 crore (100 million) people speak Tamil as their mother tongue. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil population is about 5 million or about 15% of the total population.
Geographical distributionSinhalese live in the Central, Western and Southern parts of Sri Lanka. It is alleged that in the late 20th century(and in 2002 during cease fire) , the LTTE drove out the Sinhalese population from North and East.Tamils are in a majority in the state of Tamil Nadu in India, and Northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka. There is also a large Tamil diaspora all around the world.
Traditional DressThe traditional dress of the Sinhalese people includes Sarong and Kandyan.The traditional dress of Tamil Women is saree and men is shirt and vēṭṭi.
Ancient History and originSinhalese language and culture came from North India, probably Bengal as Mahavamsa says.It is unclear how the Tamils came to Sri Lanka. Some suggest that they came from Southern India, while others suggest that they descend from the ancient Yakkhas and Nagas of Sri Lanka. As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian.

Origins of Sinhalese and Tamil populations

Sinhalese people inhabit Sri Lanka and are the main ethnic group that make up about 74% of the total population of Sri Lanka. They are also referred to as the Hela, or Sinhala; the word Sinhala, meaning “lion people”. According to popular mythology, the Sinhalese people are descendants from the followers of Prince Vijaya who served exile (from 543-483 BC) in Sri Lanka and hailed from a North Eastern Indian kingdom called Singhapur (Modern day Singhur, West Bengal). Genetic studies have shown that the origins of the Sinhalese people lie mainly in West Bengal and South India, with links also to native ‘Hela’ tribes.

Tamils are a minority group residing in Sri Lanka (the majority of Tamils actually live in India in the state of Tamil Nadu) who predominantly migrated to the island as traders or invaders from South Indian Chola kingdom. They settled in north and eastern parts of the Sri Lankan island. Most Sri-Lankan Tamils are descendants from Chola Kingdom.

Geographical Distribution of Tamils and Sinhalese

The Sinhalese occupy the Central, Western and Southern parts of the island. The majority of Tamils live in the Northern and Eastern Province and there is a Tamil and Sinhalese minority all over the island nation.

Political Strife for a separate Tamil state

The relation between the Sinhalese and Sri-Lankan Tamils has been strained since Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948, which ensued at the time when the nation’s constitution was being drawn. The introduction of the Sinhala-only act in 1956 triggered riots in Sri Lanka. Further discrimination against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka in cultural, political, economic areas led to some Tamils harboring resentment against the Sinhalese groups and the Government.

Militant groups demanding independence for Tamils known as TNT and later as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formed in 1972. Since then, many Sinhalese and Tamils have been caught in this conflict and killed. The start of the civil war is said to have been in the July of 1983 with a deadly attack by LTTE on the Sri Lankan army. Many peace talks failed between the government and LTTE. From 1983 till the end of the civil war in 2009, there continued many offensive attacks both by LTTE and the Sri Lankan army. Attack by suicide bombers had become a trademark of the LTTE. This war forced many Tamils to find new homes in other countries like Canada and Australia.

In 2009, the Sri Lankan government mounted a concerted effort to use armed forces to eliminate the LTTE and their terrorism. While they were successful, there have been several allegations of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan government. The war also resulted in thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians being killed or displaced from their homes and pushed into refugee camps in other regions.[1] The rights of Tamils (refugees and otherwise) continues to be an important diplomatic issue the Sri Lankan government is dealing with.

Differences in Language

Sinhalese people speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language also known as “Helabasa” and have two varieties, written and spoken. This language is influenced by Pali and Sanskrit. Tamils speak the language Tamil, which is a Dravidian language.

Differences in Religion

Sinhalese people follow the Buddhist Faith (Theravada School), which was introduced to them by Ashoka’s son Mahinda during the 3rd century BC. Though the majority of Sinhalese are Buddhists, a significant number are also Christians, due to the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence on the island. Tamils are mostly Hindus, with a significant Christian population.

Cultural Differences

Sinhalese culture encompasses many rituals and tradition which are greatly influenced by Buddhist festivals. A majority of Sri Lankan Tamils follow Hindu customs and traditions similar to south Indian rituals.

Traditional Dress

The tradition dress for Sinhalese is sarong and Kandyan for more formal occasions. Men wear a shirt with sarong, and women wear a sari (called Osari). The traditional dress of Sri Lankan Tamils is the sari, worn with a blouse and petticoat.


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