The untold story of ancient Tamils in Sri Lanka

“And history may need to rewritten in the light of new evidence and argument. Much about Tamils needs to be unraveled and examined according to the author who is convinced and tries to convince that Tamils had been in the island from early years living peacefully with the Sinhalese.” Image: Workers tend to graves in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam Kopay Cemetery.

by Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai

(March 31, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) In a slim volume, Chelvadurai Manogaran, former Professor of Geography and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Parkside, endeavours to argue that the Tamils in the northern and eastern province of Sri Lanka have a legitimate claim to the right of self determination.

Manogaran has written a book on Ethnic Conflict and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka in 1987 and co-edited a book with Professor Bryan Pfaffenberger, The Sri Lankan Tamils: Ethnicity and Identity, published in 1994. He is no newcomer to handling the ethnic problem in a study and the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government’s forces, about which he has comments to offer.

He traces briefly the antecedents of the Sinhala - Tamil problem and enumerates some of the handicaps suffered by the Tamils in a section on the "Majoritarian System of Government and Minority Rights." As he asserts the "Purposes of the monograph is to show that Sri Lankan Tamils have a long history of settlement, dating back to proto-historic times... He refutes the view that the Tamils were late arrivals and bases his contention on the similarity of the language and scripts used by ancient South Indian Tamils and found in Sinhala writing. He cites the example of the use of the script in the Kuchaveli rock inscription in east Sri Lanka, and demonstrates that the scripts of the Sinhalese and Dravidian languages like Telungu are alike indicating relationship.

Additionally, Manogaran advances the idea that along with Tamil immigration to the island agricultural technology was transferred from South India to Sri Lanka. His evidence, as he states, is based on epigraphic records and ancient inscription which testify to a peaceful co-existence to the Tamils with the Sinhalese. He claims that the term Sinhalese is not applicable to the early period of the island’s history and the term Sinhala is even not mentioned in ancient inscriptions. On the contrary, according to the author, inscriptions reveal clear Tamil presence in the island in ancient times.

Manogaran furthermore devotes a few pages of his concise essay to the Nagas of Sri Lanka. They are considered to be a discrete group but like the Tamil speaking Dravidians of South India had continued to worship Siva. They constructed Siva temples but were also instrumental in the spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He draws his evidence from the Tamil epic Manimekalai, and the Mahavamsa when discussing the Buddha’s second visit to the island.

He concludes the final part of this account with a discussion on the contribution of the Eelam Tamils to the development of Tamil literature in the Sangam period. Manogaran states that "Tamil speaking people formed the backbone of the island’s society" until the 4th century AD, "When their identity began to be gradually submerged in Sinhalese - Buddhist society". The author also speaks of the paucity of written history on Sri Lankan Tamils and their tradition quoting Professor K. Kanapathi Pillai.

According to Manogaran there is an unwillingness on the part of the Sinhalese scholars, especially later, to acknowledge the Tamil presence despite evidence of an early settlement of the island by Dravadian speaking people who had migrated from south India from prehistoric years. He submits that only from the fourth century AD that the chronicles began to portray the Tamils as enemies of the Sri Lanka state. It was felt that the existence of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist society began to be felt to be under the constant threat of racial and cultural assimilation from Dravadian South India, emphasis Manogaran. Hence the animosity toward Tamil Hindus, he posits.

The extended essay by Chelvadurai Manogaran is bound to excite interest as well as controversy. The author’s views will be challenged and criticized by some and there can be debate and discussion. But, as a daily newspaper quoting Amartya Sen, warned "Do not mix myth with history", and one should be wary about accepting what is conveyed as historical facts in any controversy. Dr. Deraniyagala has correctly indicated "that the picture of our country’s early civilization is beginning to drastically change as a result of tests and excavations carried out here in recent years."

And history may need to rewritten in the light of new evidence and argument. Much about Tamils needs to be unraveled and examined according to the author who is convinced and tries to convince that Tamils had been in the island from early years living peacefully with the Sinhalese. Animosity against them arose later, affirms Managoran who dedicates the little monograph "Toward hope for peace in Sri Lanka."

(This is reviewed based on the “The untold story of ancient Tamils in Sri Lanka” written by Chelvadurai Manogaran, Chennai, Kumaran Publishers in 2000.)
- Sri Lanka Guardian
Anonymous said...

rather than leave the story untold,
it is better towrite it
and then study it
from all angles.

special emphasis should be on the deafening silence of these :so called facts"
and why they were never ever prrresented.
why did all the writers of the past,
more so in the past 500yrs
fail to notice it as such.
what was the connection to the Malabars and malays/
connectin with Cholas, Pandyas, and non tamil dravidians,
the lower, lowest and high caste, even the untouchables?

we all worship shiva and we do many other gods and deities[sub gods]

India can create gods, much faster than when the role is reversed.

The culture taches all the Lankans to respect others religions, beliefs, ways of life
and it definitely included gods.

what role if any, did these homeland claiming tamils play,
when the Jffna and the immediately southern areas were frequently invaded by Indians,
who never ever left a trace of their dedication to the indigent, tamil population?

Maybe there is[hope not created like what Prabha and others tried to do]
were there any ,reputable, aceptab;e .solid evidence/
If so, why did all the tamil and other scholars, ignore all this, all this time?

If we go back long enough,
we all brnched out from the same groups.but that is not questioned, except by those, who want to deny evolution, and its continuing role

but give it a snap creation,
in the image of godand thats where it all hit the skids.
which god,
which colour
which language
which heritage
colour of eyes
colour of hair
colour of skin, etc etc

without tryingto create or deny the existnce of some evidence,
let it all be clearly studied,
in great detail
Sri lanka has theb best chronicled history of the world
and there are many sources toconfirm these,
but it could have errors.
what was Elaras role in this tamil homeland?
we see no evidence, except that
god worship went paralel with that of Intelligence[budh]
and in polonnaruwa,
to make it more tolerable
the snadha kada pahana[moon stone, at the entrance of places]
had the bull removed, so thatthe sacred cow,
would not be trampled by mere :humans] or even gods.
what happened when almost all of India was buddhist, due to the Indian dissatisfaction,
with th extremes of the corupt brahmin priests,
and not with hinduism or Brahmin position.
Buddha necer relinquished Hinuism or the roots.
all these religions have incorporated all of Buddhas teachings
and the new religions, in the past 1500 to 2000 yrs,
have firmly incorporated these teachings, including those of hindus, Vedhas and Upanishads, Egyptian religions and many others.

If tamils had a clear presence,there is nothing wrong with it.

they are here now,
will evolve as we all evolve together,
let us find a solution to develop together,
and not dominate, as some tamils wanted ,before and soon after 1948
where they got used to the colonial divide and rule,
that gave the tamils 60-70% or more
of the lucrative[and the only] jobs in civil service, medicine, law, police and there was hardly any private sector,
until after 1977-1980

Tamils did not develop jafna,vanni or any other part.
just collected money to destroy the tamils and others, who supported the backward, less productive

the book leads as Untold story of tamils?

maybe it was untold, as there was not much to tell/

yet even if there is no evidence[like that for the existence of Christ]
still they can and should play an important role
in the recontruction of the vanni and Jaffna
that they destroyed so well,
and should now contribute to lanka
by making this area, profitable ,as it has been a drain on the country for many centuries,
as the history of the invaders, Portuhese, Dutch, British, clearly show.
And the tamils live south of jaffna, as they feel[as alwys,] it is better around the sinhalese[who protectd them from the tamils who murderedtamils]
and the rest who ran using the
Asyl8um claim[asylum from the terrorist tamils]
now they all have a chance,
to show it can be made whole, after all these centuries[even Bihar stopped the famines]
and make reparation, of all the damage done
and repair the wanton destruction.