The History Of Sri Lanka In the Early Period

 

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean. This country has been the home to Sinhala people since 6th century BC. 'Ceylon' the name by which this island was known till 1972 was derived through Arabic and Portuguese corruptions, from the Sanskrit 'Sinhala'. It is by the name 'Simhala', or its dialetical forms, that this island and its people are generally referred to in classical Sanskrit literature, and most often later Pali as well as Sinhalese writings. The people who comprise about seventy four percent of the population of Sri Lanka even today, after the island has been subject to various historical changes during a period over two thousand years, call themselves and their language by that name, which has been languilised as Sinhalese.

 

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The language of the Sinhalese is linguistically related to Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and other Indo-aryan tongues of Northern India. The oldest form of all these languages is Vedic Sanskrit which was in existence in north India since around 1500 BC. Vedic Sanskrit in turn is connected to the language family of Indo European or Indo Germanic or Aryan whose territory for several thousand years has comprised Southwestern Asia and the greater part, but by no means all of Europe. One of the most popular branches of the Indo European family is the Indic to which Sinhalese is directly connected through its direct relationship to Sanskrit. Other popular Indo European branches are Slavic, Germanic and Roman or Latin. It can be noted that the distribution of Indo European has the form of a long belt stretching from western Europe to northwestern India, with an interruption only in Asia minor.
Extant evidence of their engineering skill and architectural achievements of the Sinhalese includes remnants of vast irrigation projects, many ruined cities, notably the ancient capital Anuradhapura, and numerous ruined shrines called dagobas. In its basic characteristic, Sinhalese differs from Tamil, the language of the south Indian people who are the nearest neighbors of Sri Lanka and who during the last thousand years, have displaced the earlier Sinhalese population of some areas in the Northern and Eastern parts of the island. That Sinhalese has been the speech of the people of this land for over two thousand years established by thousands of inscriptions on stone, the earliest of which belong to the third century BC.

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How the form of speech represented by the earliest epigraphs gradually changed to give rise to modern Sinhalese can be studied in considerable detail by a continuous series of inspirational and literary documents belonging to the subsequent centuries. Until the colonization of regions in the Southern hemisphere by various European nations during the last four centuries, Sri Lanka continued to be, for about two thousand years, the southernmost region of the globe where an Aryan language was spoken by the mass of people. This circumstance inverts the Sinhalese language, and the people who spoke and still speak it, with particular importance in the study of the world's history and civilizations.  

The fact that a large territory inhabited by peoples speaking non Aryan languages in North India clearly indicates that the ancestors of the present day Sinhalese migrated to this island from 'Aryavarta' the adobe of Aryanised-Indians as was known in ancient vedic and Sanskrit literature. Aryavarta was a part of Northwestern India and the Singhalese migration took pla ce sometime before the third century BC., when documents in old Sinhalese were first engraved on stone. The distance which separates the Sinhalese from their nearest Aryan kinsmen of north India also suggests that this migration was not an overland one, but along a sea route. The inference that we have drawn from the above premises is generally confirmed by the traditions handed down among the ancient Sinhalese and recorded in the chronicles.

According to these traditions the founder and the hero of the Sihalese race arrived in this island, with his followers by sea at the beginning of the Buddhist era, i.e. in the sixth century BC., some six hundred years before the date to which the earliest epigraphical monuments in Sri Lanka can be ascribed. The evidence of the distribution of the earlyy cave (Brahmi) inscriptions indicates that, by the third or second century BC., the ancient Sinhalese had occupied practically the whole of the island. It is therefore not unreasonable to infer that there was an interval of some two or three centuries between the date of the earliest settlement in the island of an Aryan speaking group of people, and that of the earliest Brahmi inscriptions in old Sinhalese.

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On the other hand there is no evidence to establish that a people of Dravidian stock were present in the present in the island at the time of the first Aryan settlements. Early Tamil literature contains nothing to indicate that Sri Lanka was a region in which that language was spoken by a considerable proportion of the people. In fact the boundaries of the Tamil land are given in authoritative Tamil works as the Venkata mountain (Tirupaty) on the north, Kumari (cape Comorin) on the south and the sea on the east and west, thus excluding Ceylon (reference; Tolkappiyam, Payiram,11,1-2; Silappadikaram, canto v111,11,1-2, and Adiyarkkunallar's comments). The ethnic term Draidian or its equivalent has not been found in any document that can be attributed to a date earlier than the time os Asoka. In face the earliest known occurence of the term (Dameda=Sanskrit. Dramida, Sinhalese, Demala) is in Brahmi in inscriptions attributable to about the second century BC found at Anuradhapura and Saruvila. In one of these inscriptions we find a merchant and a householder (Gahapati) who were mentioned as Damedas (Tamils). However, it is a noteworthy fact that no Tamil inscription has been found anywhere in Ceylon belonging to this ancient period. i.e. Third century BC. up to eight century AD. Furthermore the fact that the three inscriptions referred to above containing the word Dameda (Tamil) were also written in old Sinhalese indicate that Sinhalese language was well established even at that early period and was the common media of expression throughout the island.

Text; Bata Mahatisaha Gapati Dameda Cudahala lene translation; The care of lord Mahatisa and the Tamil householder cuda (reference; Epigraphical notes, 1996,pg68). (Archaeological department ref; no 2886).

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According to the Sri Lanka chronicles the original Aryan immigration pioneered by prince Vijaya from north India was of lion ancestry and he name Sihaladipa. The inscriptions of the Maruyan emperor,

Asoka (Lirca/BC. 268-232) Whose contemporary was Dewanam Piya Tissa of Sri Lanka, mention Tambapanni. It is another name for ancient Sri Lanka which originated from the fact that the hands of prince Vijaya's men were redened by the copper colored sand when they laid themselves down at their landing place. Asoka's inscriptions mention Tambapanni along with the kingdoms of Cola, Panda and Kerala as outside the limits of his dominions.

In Indian literature the earliest reference to Sri Lanka is in Kautalya's Arthasastra in which the island is mentioned under the name Para Samudra (beyond the ocean). This Sanskrit word for Sri Lanka was the forerunner of Palaesimoundu and Simondou of some of the Greek writers. About this same period one, admiral of Alexander the great, Megasthenes, Greek ambassador to the court of the Mauryan king Chandragupta, and Eratosthenes, the first of the geographers gave accounts in their works of what they had heard about Sri Lanka which they call the island of Taprobane (from Tambapanni). The historian Pliny relates that in the time of Claudius Saesar (41-54 AD) a freedman of Annius Plocamus, while coasting off Arabia, was carried by the winds and after drifting for fifteen days made land at Taprobane (Tambapanni, where he went ashore and was hospitably entertained by the king at the capital for six months. The freedman then returned to Rome bringing with him four Sinhalese ambassadors led by one Rachias (Sinhalese Rate Mahattaya) who were sent by the Sinhalese king to establish direct commercial contacts with Claudius. Numerous first-hand narratives of the country of Sri Lanka find its people become available to Greek and Roman geographers and this material formed the basis of the altogether exceptional account of the island compiled by the Greek geographer Ptolemy about the middle of the second century. Ptotelemy call Sri Lanks the island Taprobane which is called Salike and he adds that the inhabitants are commonly called Sail, (Salike and Salai are Greek versions for "Sinhala" Sinhalese).

 

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All of the above literary evidences both foreign and Sri Lankan were quoted to enumerate the fact that none of them connect the ancient Sri Lanka with any remarkable Tamil settlement. From Asoka's time religious and cultural intercourse between the Buddhist establishments of Sri Lanka and those of northern central and southern India had been maintained uninterruptedly and monks traveled to and for between Sri Lanka and the Indian sub continent. Inscriptions of the second / third century at Nagarjunakonda in the Krishna valley (Andra pradesh, south India) record the foundations of a monastery named Sihala vihara and the dedication of a monastery to the fraternities of Sri Lanka.

The Vallipuram gold plate inscription found in Vallipuram near Vadamaracchi has been dated by archaeologists to the region of king Vasabha circs 67-111 after Christ and this inscription mentions that the minister of king Vasabha whose name was Isigiriya built a vihara named "Piyagukatissa" while he was administering the Jaffina peninsula, (Nakadiva-Sanskrit Nagadipa). This is vital archaeological evidence that even in the first and the second centuries Nagadipa (Jaffna) was under the rule of Sinhalese kings.

 

As far as the invasions from Tamils are concerned according to chronicle the first Dravidians against whom the Sinhalese had to fight came to their island after the introduction of Buddhism, as mariners engaged in the horse-trade. Their names were Sena and Guttaka who jointly ruled the Northern tip of Sri Lanka for 22 years in the second century BC. Then Asela a younger brother of king Devanam Piya Tissa is said to have recaptured the throne from the two Tamils had ruled for ten years until Elara, another Tamil from the Cola country seized the kingdom and reigned for forty-four years (117BC-161 BC). After his defeat by the popular Sinhalese king Dutugamunu there was another invasion by seven Tamil chiefs who landed at Mahatittha (near manner) with a powerful force during the period of Sinhalese king Valagambahu (103BC-89 BC). Valagambahu regained the throne from them and reigned for further twelve years in the second century after Christ (AC).

Again during the Sinhalese king Vasabha's reign (circa.67-111 AD) the Colas in South India were becoming strong and aggressive under Karikala, a powerful king of the Cola country, although there is no mention in history of any invasion. But in the reign of his son and successor, Vankarasika Tissa (111-114 AD) there had been an invasion under an unnamed Cola king in the course of which twelve thousand Sinhalese were taken captive to south India. The next king Gajabahu son of Vankanasika Tissa fought back and victoriously broght back the Sinhalese prisoners taken to South India.

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After a considerable period of peace during the fifth century a Tamil named 'Pandu' invaded the island and seized the throne, from the Sinhalese king Mittasena (428-429 AD). Six Tamils ruled in succession for a little over a quarter of a century (429-455 AD). Finally they were defeated by Dhatusena, father of king Kasyapa of Sigiriya fame. Subsequently the country went through a period of civil wars for power among Sinhalese kings. The rise of the powerful Cola empire led to the downfall of the Anuradapura kingdom of Sinhalese kinship in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the eleventh century. The untiring attempts of the subsequent Sinhalese rulers to overthrow the Colas, the establishment of a new kingdom by Vijayabahu with Polonnaru as its capital in the elventh century (1055-1110 AD), the political instability that followed with the death of that king, the re-establishment of Sinhalese power by Parakramabahu the great (1153-1186 AD) and the numerous subsequent political changes of the second half ot he history of Sri Lanka up to the British rule in the nineteenth century are relatively well known to the public than the early period, hence we do not intend here to present long details of them. Our objective was to represent the early history of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese people in its proper perspective while trying to make clear any confessions regarding the Sinhalese origins nearly 2500 years ago in this island.

 

Finally, the word Elam used by the ethnic minded separatist Tamil groups to denote their graphical area as Tamil Ilam itself is an intermediate form of Sihila (Sinhala) through which the Tamil Elam originated from Sinhala.

It is un undeniable fact that under colonial rule the Tamils, though a minority, enjoyed a privileged position in our Country. The Tamil political leadership took that position as their due. These politicians were unable bear the thought of being a minority race when any government of Independent Ceylon would naturally be dominated by that little impoverished race called the Sinhalese, who happened to constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of Sri Lanka.

The Tamil demands for a separate State of Tamil Eelam was originally made by ITAK in 1949 before any communal riots against the Tamil people, and before any acts of so called 'discrimination' took place. These Tamil politicians did everything possible to create the riots to justify the creation of a seperate state to the world. The civil war for the creation of this State started in 1972 by the Youth Movement of TUF, later called the TULF. The now infamous LTTE terrorist group is break-away group of the TUF Youth Movement.   The 'Home Land' ITAK wanted for Tamils consists of 29% of Sri Lanka's land surface and 60% of her sea coast and territorial waters. Only 18% of the population of Sri Lanka are Tamils, and out of this 52% lives outside of Northern and Eastern Provinces which was to be this 'Home Land'. This 'Home Land' is to give 9% of the population is 29% of the Land and 60% of the sea cast.

Over 40%of the population in some Northern and Eastern areas these politicians wanted for its homeland were not tamils, and not all Tamil Politicians supported the creation of a Separate State.

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