"Hela Urumaya", "Ilat-Urimai", is this Sinhala or Tamil? - Sri Lanka Guardian


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Monday, December 15, 2008

"Hela Urumaya", "Ilat-Urimai", is this Sinhala or Tamil?

- Clearly then, the Sinhala word "Urumaya" is more closely and directly related to the Sanskrit word associated with shouldering ("Ura") the burden (and inheritance) of the dead person, than in Tamil itself where "Tol" has to await its own sanskritization before it could transmit the word to other languages. Evidently, the 19th century savant A. M. Gunasekera was too hasty in assigning "urumya" to the Tamil "Urimai".

by Gam Vaesiya

(December 15, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) The word "Urumaya" in sinhala, and "Urimai" in Tamil have essentially the same meaning. It is also used in the name of a Sinhala-Buddhist political party known as "Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). A number of writers, perhaps with political motives, have hastened to claim that the even the word "urumaya" is a word of Tamil origin. Is it really the case? This author, not being a member of any political party, would like to make a purely etymological evaluation of the matter.

Even the famous 19th century Sinhala scholar, A. M. Gunasekera, in his "Comprehensive Grammar of the Sinhalese Language", published in 1891, simply lists "Urumaya" as having originated from the Tamil "urimai", and lists some 450 words as being of Tamil origin. The work of Wilhelm Geiger and Theodore G. Perera in the 1930s corrected an erroneous trend and reclassified Sinhala as a language associated with the Indo-European group. However, the interaction of Tamil and Sinhala has been substantial, and M. H. Petere Silva had submitted a doctoral thesis on this very subject, at a time when Sugathadasa de Silva, Hettiarachchi and other linguists were opening a new chapter in the study of the origins of Sinhala words.

Nevertheless, popular as well as learned discussions of the origin of Sinhala or Tamil words are often NOT pushed sufficiently deeply. Given that both Tamil Prakrit and Sinhala Prakrit which existed in the pre-Chankam period had great similarities, and given that Sanskrit played the role of an ancestral source language to both Sinhala and Tamil, it is clearly important to always ask if older languages contained a likely source word before we simply conclude that a word came from Tamil or Sinhala to Sinhala or Tamil etc. In this article I will look at a few words which have been interpreted and mis-interpreted, perhaps because of pre-conceived political objectives, or inadequate thoroughness.

Urumaya, Urimai and Udakaada

The word "Urakaara" or "udakaada" exists in ancient Sanskrit, and signifies the next of kin of a dead person who shoulder the coffin. Similarly, "Ekarikthin" in Sanskrit is a co-heir. Thus "ura", (or possible "udara") or "shoulder" is the operative word here, and exists in Sinhala as well. It is indeed the custom in the villages, even today, to call upon the next of kin to be the pall bearers Thus we see that the word "Ura-kaara" easily leads to "urumakara" and "Urumaya", and signifies those who would carry the burden of the dead man. In non-Sanskrit Tamil, the word "ura" is not used for "shoulder". If we use the tilde (~) to indicate the lengthening of a sound, "To~l kotu" would be the term used to take on one's shoulder, the pole of a palanquin. Hence the word "urimai", and related words like "urimaik-ka~ran", are more likely to have arisen from the Sanskrit source word. In fact, several words like "urimai-man", "urimai-k-kanji" are related to funeral rights. Thus urimai-k-kanji" is the "broth poured into the mouth of a dying person".

Clearly then, the Sinhala word "Urumaya" is more closely and directly related to the Sanskrit word associated with shouldering ("Ura") the burden (and inheritance) of the dead person, than in Tamil itself where "Tol" has to await its own sanskritization before it could transmit the word to other languages. Evidently, the 19th century savant A. M. Gunasekera was too hasty in assigning "urumya" to the Tamil "Urimai".

Malaya, Malai, Pattana and Pattinam.

Kathigesu Indrapala is a well respected Peradeniya historian who had made well known, highly acclaimed investigations into the early Tamil settlements in Sri Lanka. His academic publications, especially his 1965 doctoral thesis submitted to the University of London, had found disfavor with Tamil Nationalists as it did not support the "Traditional Tamil Homelands" claims that were enunciated by the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi in 1949, and more definitively in the Vadukkodei (Batakotte) resolution of 1976. The empiricist tradition of historical writing of the 1960s has fallen foul of the highly charged nationalist politics of modern Sri Lanka. A less academic and more comprehensive publication of Dr. Indrapala, known as "The evolution of an Ethnic Identity" appeared in 2006 (Kumaran book house, Chennai). While this book adroitly avoided negating any of the detailed studies reported in his earlier work, Dr Indrapala bows to some of the prevailing sentiments in his search for the beginnings of a Tamil ethnic identity.

Dr. Indrapala's 1965 doctoral thesis as well as subsequent articles in learned journals had lead him to conclude that the Jaffna peninsula had a Sinhala Buddhist past. In this he was at one with earlier writers like Horsburg, Paul E. Pieries, Rasanayagam (author of "Ancient Jaffna), Gnanapragasam, and Velupillai ("Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi").If we limit ourselves to discussions of place names in Jaffna, Dr. Indrapala alluded to toponymic evidence involving over a thousand place names of distinctly Sinhala origin in "tamil garb". In "The evolution of an Ethnic Identity" Dr.Indrapala does not modify or revise any of those conclusions, nor does he bring them out. In fact one might say that the whole issue is avoided by concentrating on the settlements in the megalithic period.

However, in footnote 359, Dr. Indrapala turns very briefly, to the issue of some place names which occur in the Pali chronicles. The footnote reads: "Some of the early geographical names in the Pali chronicles also seem to indicate the influence of Dravidian languages. The territorial name Malaya, applied to the central highlands of Sri Lanka from the time of the earliest writings, is of non-Indo-Aryan origin". In support of this claim, he refers to the "Etymological Dictionary" of Burrow and Emeneau, two leading scholars of Dravidian linguistics. However, here again, just as with the scholar A. M. Gunasekera, we find that Burrow and Emeneau have not searched deep enough. It is true that Chankam Tamil sources begin to use the word "Malai" to denote "hilly terrain". However, an even earlier use of the word, "mleccha" in Sanskrit, and and "Milakkha" in Pali to mean "hillman" or "barbarian" as is well known and acknowledged in the corresponding dictionaries.

Geiger's Pali grammar had explicitly considered this case. It is entirely possible that both Sinhala and Tamil got the words "Malaya", and "Malai" from the Sanskrit which associated the "hillmen" with the "hilly terrain". Thus the conclusion that the "territorial name Malaya, applied to the central highlands of Sri Lanka from the time of the earliest writings, is of non-Indo-Aryan origin", has no basis and is highly debatable. After all, place names like "Kothmale", "Gilimale" have been known from ancient times.
Kothmale in particular is associated with prince Gamunu (DutuGaemunu).

Dr. Indrapala has just one more suggestion of a place name of Dravidian origin in the Pali chronicles, but here he does not have the support of Burrow and Emeneau. Dr.
Indrapala (footnote 359) writes: "The suffix -pattana in the names of two ports in the nothern parts of the island, Jambukola-pattana and Gonagamaka-pattana is also worth
considering. This suffix occurs in some ancient port names in south India Kaavirapattana/Kaavirippumpattinm, Naagapattna/Naakapattinam and Mayuraarupa-pattina), and pattinam is a word found in the Sangam with the meaning "coastal town", "coastal region". It is significant that names of ports in the southern part of Sri Lanka do not have this suffix". The answer to the issues raised bg Dr. Indrapala is found by looking at the Sanskrit and Pali source languages, as well as the usage in Sinhala. The word "pattana" occurs in Sinhala place names in a variety of forms, like "patuna", pathana", "paana" and "pana". It already occurs, long before the advent of the Sangam literature, in the Mahabhratha and in the Pali cannon (e.g., "Dharmapattana" is a name given to the city of "Sravasti"). The word "pattana" in these source languages means a town or village, irrespective of whether they are coastal towns or not. In Sanskrit we have usages like "Pattanadhipathi" and "pattanavanij" do denote the governor of the town, or a town-tradesman. So how can Dr. Indrapala not even consider these etymological facts, and instead claim that these are Dravidian names because such names are found in ancient south Indian Ports? In fact, such names were found in south Indian ports as well as elsewhere and we remind him of names of towns, "Devapattan", Majupattana, Naaripattna", "Brhdromapattana" etc., found in the Sanskrit literature. The name "Romakapattana" has been used for the city of Rome in Sanskrit. Cearly then, Dr. Indrapala's analysis of the suffix "-pattana" as a Dravidian word cannot be sustained.

Kudaa, Kunchi and Punchi

For our final example, we go to the last few lines of Dr. Indrapala's footnote 359. Dr. Indrapala writes: " Survivals in personal names, such as "kuncha" and "Kudaa", may also indicate Dravidian influence. These epithets meaning "younger" or "smaller" are given to a king of the second century CE (Kunca Naga in Pali and Kuda na in Elu). The only reason for claiming that the word is Dravidian is that "the word Kunci/Kuncu is still used for "smaller" or "younger" in Jaffna Tamil ...". Here again Dr. Indrapala could have examined the wide prevalence of this word form in a variety of Indo=European languages and Sinhalese as well. The Sinhala "punchi", and the English "puny", Sanskrit "Puttyaaati" are kindred words, while the Sinhala "kudaa", Sanskrit "Ksudra", and the German "Kurtz" fold back to link up with words like "curt" in English, "keti" (short), "chutti", "chooti etc., in Sinhala, as well as the French "petit". I do not need to work the reader through the Latin, Hindi or Bengali equivalents. It should be evident that the kindred words found in Jaffna also belong to the Indo-Aryan linguistic heritage. Thus Dr. Indrapala's suggestion that the name of the second century CE king "Kunca Naga", given in the Pali chronicles, implies a Dravidian influence is simply not tenable. If anything, it shows that the Tamil language has been influenced by Sanskrit to an extent far greater than is admitted by Tamil scholars, perhaps even prior to the Chankam period.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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