Sapumal Kumaraya and Puran Appu - Later avatars of Prince Aba?

by Gam Vaesiya

(December 07, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The use of the name "Aba" in Anthony Jackson's movie on the life and times of King Pandukabhaya has been a matter of extensive discussion. A number of writers had erroneously argued that "ABA" is a name of Hebrew origin. In a previous article (Link to an article) we pointed out that "Aba" is a name which goes back to the bedrock of Indic culture, and that it has metamorphasized into many distinct but closely related forms. Based on the response and the expression of interest evinced by various scholars, here we explore several other avatars of this name, with special attention to some of the names of notable figures in Sri Lanka's history.

Etymology of the name "Aba"

The oldest well-defined Indic language, at least according to the opinion of the majority of scholars, is the form of Sanskrit found in the Rig Veda. Many Prakrit forms are associated with this language, and contain variants and extentions of old Sanskrit, as well as many words which may be from other indigenous or exogenous sources. But for our purpose it suffices to look at Sanskrit, Pali, Sinhala and Tamil, while keeping an eye on cognate forms in the Mediterranean classical languages. Sinhala and Tamil usages, as well as Pali are often close to the Prakrit forms of early Sanskrit. It is these Prakrit forms which have links with the middle-eastern adaptations of basic words. The Sanskrit words "Pithru" (father), and "Maathru" (mothers) reappear in Prakrit forms as the abbreviated "Paa" and "Maa". These abbreviated forms were often further "softened" by the addition of a vowel in front of words beginning with consonants. Thus "Pa" and "Ma" change to "Apa" and "Ama", without negating its meaning, unlike in Sanskrit where Mara and Amara have opposite meanings. This principle of adding a vowel in front of certain consonants was raised to the level of a literary rule, particularly in Tamil during the Chankam period (circa 2nd century BCE), as seen in the ancient Tamil grammar "Tolkappian". It is this rule which changed, for example, "Lanka" to "Ilankai", and "Ranamaduva" to "Iraanamadu", by adding the vowel sound "I", in Tamil usage. We may also add that the Sanskrit "Rahsta" (Rajya) becomes "raasu" and acquires an "A" to change to "Arasu", as in the "Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchchi", the name of a political party that existed in Sri Lanka until 1976.

Thus we see that "Apa" and "Ama" mean "Father" and "Mother" even in the most ancient of Indic tradition. Father often means "Patriarch", "leader" or "king", and not just its simplest meaning. The sounds "p, b" and "v" are known to be interchangeable in usage, while endings can be rounded by converting "a" to "i" or "u". Thus it is clear that "Aba" can transform to "Appa", "Appu", "Abu", "Aba", "Abaas", and "Athas". The last two forms, as well as "Abu" are particularly prevalent in Arabic and pre-arabic (Hebrew) cultures. We have not yet been able to ascertain if such names or their variants are found in Babylonian clay tablets, Sumerian writings and other extremely ancient usages which predates the Rig Veda form of Sanskrit.

Western scholars have usually assigned the common European name "Albert" to "Old German". However, I have not found any discussions going beyond the time period of about the 4th century CE. The low German forms "Aber, Abert", and the French "Aubert", and the medieval form "Adalbert", clearly suggest that this could have been a European adaptation from the the Indic form "Aba". Here we may note that the old Greek form "Pappa" (vocative "O father") is very close to "Appa", while the Greek form "Tata" is the closest to "Papa". However, here it is not easy to determine if "Tata (Thaaththa)" comes from "head" (eg., "tete" in French, "Thatttaya" in Sinhala, "Theertha" in Sanskrit), or from "Papa". This is difficult to unravel, especially because "Patriarch" could also mean "Head" (of the clan).

Another line of development of the word "Paa" ends up as "Paapu" and "Baapu", and still mean "Father" or "Patriarch", particularly in Hindi. Thus Mahatma Gandhi was respectfully referred to as "Bapu". The Oriya version of the Mahabharata also uses the word "Baapu", while in Oriya itself it is used as "Baappa", an uncle or relation. Of course, Sinhala also uses the word "Baappa", and may well have come from the Kaalinga invaders who used Oriya, while their mercenary soldiers were mostly Malayalee. Finally "Baaba" is a diminutive affectionate form used for children. Thus we see that by now the original meaning is lost, and merely expresses some family relationship.

We should also note that the word "Abhaya", i.e,, the "one who is without fear" also falls into confluence with the meaning "Leader", or "Patriarch", or "Aba", since it is the leader who moves ahead without fear, against the enemy.

Mahavamsa adaptation of Baapu and Baahu.

Clearly the most interesting adaptation of "Baapu" is in its Sinhala form "Baahu". Although it may have meant "Bapu" or father initially, already by the time the Mahavamsa was written (circa 5th century CE), the more standard meaning of "Bahu", i.e., "arm" had begun to confound its original meaning. The Mahavamsa assigned the name "Sinha Bahu" to someone whose arms looked like those of a lion. Thus Geiger's translation ( says "The son's hands and feet were formed like a lion's and therefore she named him Sihabahu"). The older Deepavamsa does not talk of an actual lion, and no interpretation of the name to mean "lion's paws" can be introduced. In fact, the name "Sinhabahu" may even have been the seed for the reconstruction of a heroic legend involving the killing of an actual lion, rather than the more prosaic Patricide which seems to emerge from the pre-Mahavamsa account.

Thus we have in Sri Lanka's history, at least the three forms "Bahu", "Aba", and
Abhaya", where "Abhaya" and "Aba" or "baa" are used as cognates, while "Bahu" is
treated as a distinct name. After Pandukahabya (Pakundabhya), i.e., the "Aba" of
Jackson's movie, Valagam-Aba or Vattagamini Abhaya is followed by several kings who bear the name "Abhaya". Chulaabhya, Abhaya Naga, Gotaabhaya (Golu Aba 3rd century CE) form a line of rulers with the "Abhaya" name. Then the name "Baahu" becomes the preferred royal name, with VijayaBahu (1055 CE) whose name is often abbreviated to Vijaya-Ba. Then Jayabahu, Wickramabahu, Gajabahu are names which lead to Parakrambahu. The underlying relationship between Bahu and Aba continues to come out in their "hela forms" like "Paerakum-ba", but remain distinct from "Abhaya". The first appearance of the name Bhuvaneka-Bahu I is in 1272 CE, by which time the capital had shifted to Dambadeniya and Yaapahuva.

Sapumal Kumaaraya, Prince of the Champaka flower?

Bhuvanekabahu VI (1469 CE) or "Sapumal Kumaraya" (SK) was an adopted son of Parakramabahu the VI. The latter had a daughter (Ulakudaya Devi) but no son. SK was
the governor of Jaffna for 17 years under Parakramabahu VI. The latter had many Tamil officers of high standing working for him. The Kauvrava general Mannikka Talavan was married to a Sinhala noble women related to the king. When Talavan was killed (probably in the battle "Mukkuva Hatana"), his two sons were adopted by the king. The younger son was called the "Kudaa Kumaraya", while the older son was the "Sapu Mal Kumaraya". Most writers have simply and rather naively assumed that "Sapu mal" stands for the flower of the Champaka (Michelia champaca) tree, known as "Sapu" in sinhalese. The Mahavamsa does not discuss Sapumal Kumaraya, and we need to go to the Rajaavalaiya to understand the full context of the story. Also, H. C. P. Bell, the British archaeologists who preceeded Senerath Paranavithana, had given a genealogy of the rulers of the period in his Kegalle report. The fact that SK's younger brother was called "Kudaa Kumaaraya", suggests that the appellation "mal", i.e., "Mahal" implied that Sapu was the "elder prince". There is nothing in the Rajaavaliya account, or in the available historical accounts to link this Prince with the Sapu tree. However, the word "Abu" (i.e, Aba or Abhaya) can manifest itself as "Hapu", and indeed transform itself to "Sapu". Thus we suggest that "Sapu Mal Kumaarya" as written by the Rajaavaliya author refers to "Hapu the elder Prince", while the "Kuda Kumaarya", had been named after "Ambulagala", the brother of Parakramabahu VI. That too suggests that the elder prince was named Hapu (Abhaya), after Parakramabahu VI whose name is given as Parakura Obago (Abhaya) by the Portuguese historian Kuto. Later writings by Tamil folk historians dropped the "Mahal" part of the name, and translated "Sapu" as "campakam", and Sapumal Kumaarya is known in Tamil as "Sempaka-p Perumal", while the Rajavaliya mentions the name "Arya Vettayarum Perumal".

The name "Sapu" often occurs in Sinhalese family names, e.g., as "Hapua-arachchi".
Here again we believe that the name is derived from "Abu" or "Abhya", while
"Aarachchi" is a classic example of the transformation of the word "Raashtee", i.e., someone engaged in affairs of the state (public servant). The word "Raashtee" (i.e, of the "state", Raashta). It has acquires the vowel "a" in front to become "Araashtee", or "Arachchi". Of course, this addition of a pre-vowel is most typical of Tamil, but it is also found in early Prakrit. Unfortunately, this beautiful word has been replace by "Rajaye sevakaya", due to our amnesia of the origins of old Sinhala Prakrit-like words. Clearly then, "Hapu-arachchi" means "Abhaya the public servant".

Sapu Mahal Kumaarya, i.e, Abhaya the Elder Prince, is most famous for his conquest of Jaffna. He followed the western coast, i.e., via Mannarama (Mannar), Ranvaella (Poonakari) and Jaavakotte (Chaavakachcheri), and entered the city of Jaffna. In the "Kokila Sandesa" (verses 243-254), the Sinhala ode to Cuckoo the messenger bird, the itinaray of the Cuckoo is given as pasing through Mannarama, Maavatupatuna, Jaavakakotte (Chaavakachcheri), and Galmunnna (Kalmunai) to arrive in Yaapaapatuna. In either case, a western route has been followed. We show a map of Sapu Mahal Kumaraya's itinaray for the convenience of the reader. (More details
of old traditional place names may be found at the website
[External Link]). As seen from the map, the path taken by the Prince involves going thorough Ranvaella (Poonakari), Galmunna (Kalmunei) and Jaavakotte (Chavakachcheri). It is not at all clear if the Jaffna lagoon was shallow enough at that time to wade across, whether he used many boats to do so, or passed through today's Alimankada.

Suppa Devi, Mother of Vijaya

Having noted that the name "Sapu Mal Kumarya" very probably means "Abhaya, the Elder Prince", and having noted that "Sapu" is in fact a from of "Hapu" or "Baapu",
one may begin to re-examine the name "Suppa Devi". "Suppaa" is a feminine form of "Hapu" or "Bapu". In fact "Suppa Devi" very simply means "Queen of Bahu", since we
now understand how "Abu, Baabu, Baapu, Baahu" and "Sapu" are related avatars of the same word. Given that Vijaya's father was named "Sinha-Bahu" in the legend, it is entirely natural that Singha Bahu's queen be name "Bahu Devi", or "Suppa Devi". Of course the etymological basis of this analysis of "Suppaa" is not as strong as our discussion of the other names discussed here.

ChandraBhanu, the Javanese ruler of Jaffna.

The Jaffna peninsula contains many names which hark back to the times when Javanese people lived there. Jaffna itself may have been "Java Patuna", and from there became "Yapa Patuna". Javakotte (Chavakachccheri) was already mentiond.. While "Kotte", i.e., "kotuva" means "fortress", in the end it became a sanctuary for the Javanese, and this is reflected in the form "cheri" found in the name "Javaka-cheri" or "Chavakachcheri. Chandrabhanu was a Malayan king who invaded Lanka in 1247 CE, ostensibly to capture the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. In his first invaion his forces occupied the Jaffna peninsula. He was driven out using locally anufactured gunpwder, as described in the "Dambadeni Asna". In a susequent invasion the Sinhala king had the help of the Pandyan kings to oust Chandrabhanu. From the point of view of this article, it is Chandrabhanu's name that evokes our interest. Once again we see that the name of this king, "-Bhanu" is a variant of Bahu, Baapu etc., and once again means leader, Chieftain or Patriach..

Puran Appu, the 18th century Uva Patriot.

It was Lester James Pieris who in 1979 produced a film (Veera Puran Appu) to celebrate the life of Puran Appu. He was the Hero of the 1948 rebellion against the British, which unified the low-country Sinhalese and the Kandyans. Puran Appu was himself born in Moratuwa, moved to Ratnapura and the Uva. Puran Appu and others were initially successful, but finally fell to the British and were executed by a firing squad. A number of teledramas (e.g., "Mahathala Hatana") have also depicted aspects of Puran Appu's life. Unlike the 1818 rebellion which destroyed the resistance of the Kandyan upper classes against the British, the 1848 revolution involved the low country, the mid-country and the Uva-Welllassa. The failure of this rebellion finally exhausted the supply of leaders who could rise against the British, and there were no further armed uprisings of the people against the British.

Once again we note the name "Appu", i.e, the name "Aba" and "Abaya" resurfacing in a different guise, while "Puran" refers to a place name. It is particularly noteworthy that this form was more prevalent in the low-country areas. At this level of usage it does not have the same high distinction as the "Abhaya" or "Bahu" forms of Aba. In fact, today it is locally used as a form of address for a village worker, while the more honorific form is "Appuhaami", where "Haami" is the Sinhala form of "swami" (Sanskrit), and "Saami" (Pali). As for Puran Appu, he could very well be "Puran Abhaya", i.e., the Person from Purana who has no fear.

In India the name "Appu" is most popularly known as the name of a pet Elephant, beside its use as a name. The pet monkey in a Peter Sellers episode was also an "Appu". Thus we see how a single thread can yet exist among a multitudinous variety of linguistic adaptations of the word "Father", "Pa", or "Aba".
- Sri Lanka Guardian