The footprints of warriors and saints in the land of Alimankada (Elephant Pass), Killinochchi (Giraanikka) and Mullaitivu (Mooladoova).

By Gam Vaesiya, Ottawa Canada

(January 12, Ottawa, Sri Lanka Guardian) The year 2009 of the Common Era (CE) will go down in the chronicles of Sri Lanka for the eventful capture of Kilinochchi (Giranikke) from the Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) and the clearing of A9 with the liberation of Alimankada (Elephant Pass). The name of the little town, Kilinochchi, is itself of great interest. The word "kili", used in Tamil to denote "parrot" or "Giraa" in Sinhala, as well as the Kannada-Malayalm name (Nochchi) for the Nika tree (Vitex Negundo), both fit in with the folk tradition that this area was a saintly forest retreat or hermitage known as "Giraanika" in ancient times.

A Buddhist shrine known as the "Lumbini Vihara", dating to the 1st century CE has been claimed for this location in the website: In mod/ern times, it has initially been a sleepy little town on the Jaffna-Kandy road(A9). It gave the name to the whole electorate which was represented byV. Anandasangaree for 14 years. The town fell into the hands of the LTTE in 1990 when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) left. It was recaptured by the government in 1996, and by the LTTE in 1998. Thus, for a whole decade, ancient Giranikke, i.e., modern "Kilinochchi", acquired a great symbolic importance due to the LTTE who used it as their administrative "capital". Ranil Wickremasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga failed to properly assert the sovereign power vested in the state, and allowed foreign diplomats, non-governmental rganizations etc., to treat Kilinochchi as a "de facto" administrative centeer and military commandpost of the LTTE .

Ancient history and the "Pinpotha" Tradition

However, most Sri Lankans are unaware of the extremely rich history of this area south of Muramaale (Muhamale), and Alimankada (Elephant Pass), with the A9 road on the West and the Mooladoova (Mullaitivu) coast on the east. There is a tendency to think of this area as having been a "thick jungle" since ancient times. Nothing is further from the truth. This has been a land of serenity and peaceful life during the glory days of the Anuradhapura civilization. Unfortunately, just as it is the case today, it has also been the theatre of pitched battles when conquerors came and attacked the Anuradhapura and Polonnnaruwa kings. The kings and queens of those ancient times cared more about their kingly caste (Kshatriya vansa) than their ethnic origins. Thus a king or a queen may wed from a Sinhala, Vanga, Pandyan, Magha or even Chola royal families - i.e., kashtryas.

Nevertheless, the distinctive character of the rulers of Lanka was that they all presented themselves as "protectors of Buddhism", and used Sinhala as their administrative language. Thus it is that even kings and queens who clearly had significant Indian links left their edicts and stone inscriptions in Sinhala, and took great pains to list their "meritorious acts" towards the "saasana" (Buddhist order) in some sort of "Pin Potha (book of merit)". The Deepavamsa and the Mahavamsa themselves arose from an elaboration of such a "Pin Potha" tradition.

From Muramaale to Alimankada

What is known today as "Muhamale" was most probably known as "Muramaale", or "Girdle of watch-stations" in ancient times. That is, even in ancient times, modern "Muhamale" forward defense line (FDL) was a strategic FDL against invaders from the North. As we go south along the A9 road (or what is left of it), we come across a number of place names like Pallai (Palla), Soranpattu (Horanaa-pattuva) and Iyakachchi (Yakkachchiya) before we get to Alimankada (Elephant Pass) itself. There are also anumber of villages south of A9, like Alipalai, Tanmakkeni, as well as Urvanikanpattu. As had been noted by V. Suppiah, (author of the "Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi"), Mudliyar Rasanayagam (Author of "Ancient Jaffna") and many other recent scholars, the Jaffna peninsula is full of place names which make more sense when they are treated as having originated from Sinhala place names. Thus "Aliplai" is simply "Alipala", and "Tanmakkeni" is probably derived from a Buddhist (or possibly Jain) name like "Dharmakaenna" (See the map). This probably refers to a bathing pond or dug-out ("kaeneema" in Sinhala) used by monks. The place name "Urvanikanpattu" may have also arisen from a name like "Pooruvagam -pattu", i.e., "ancient village". It is associated with other Buddhist sites like "Sangatharavya" (modern "Chankattravayal") which are located quite close by. Clearly then, the war zone of today near this neck-like region close to Alimankada was, at one time, a peaceful retreat of the religious orders - i.e., the "Sangha".

The name "Iyakkaachchi", or "Yakkka-Aashritha" area invokes another, moreanimistic tradition, perhaps going back to the Kirat (Veddha) people who may have co-existed here from the earliest times. The Kirat people are North Indians, known as "Yakkahs" in the Pali cannon. The Sanskrit word Kirat signifies a "veddha"-like life style. Their history has been discussed in the "Kirata-vansavalee" by the Indian historian Ray Chaudhary. We had touched on this issue in our discussions of the name "ABAA", "apaa" and "paa" in our previous articles in the Sri Lanka Guardian , see for example,
mahatheetha-punranna-mannar-poornaryn.html ). We also noted that the consonant "p" in "pa" (father) is modified by the addition of the vowel "a" in early Prakrit, notably in Tamil to give “Appa” or “Aba”. Here again we see the firm hand of the "Tolkappian", the ancient Tamil grammar which requires the addition of a vowel sound (I) before adopting Sanskrit words (Yakkka, Lanka),, when such words are absorbed into regular Tamilized usage, as in "Iyakka" or Ilankai.

The name "Alimankada" arose from the use of elephants to wade across the shallow lagoon connecting the southern part (Vanni) with the Jaffna peninsula, then known as "Vaeligama". The name “Vanni”, itself means in Sinhala, the “forest”, and was also the source of the kings elephants. Even today, the castes which occupied themselves with the elephants are found mostly in the Vanni. The elephants were the "trucks" which transported goods to northern ports like Uruthota (Kayts) where Parakramabahu-I had an inscription, partly in Tamil, indicating his customs regulations to Dravidian sailors from South India.

The Alimankada gateway has always been of strategic importance. The Sri Lanka ministry of defence website (
states that "the fall of EPS has deprived LTTE, the most crucial strategic ground, at the 'Jaffna gateway', following an eight year odd occupation, which linked the Vanni mainland with the Jaffna peninsula. With the fall of EPS, troops are now poised at launching a decisive blow at the remaining LTTE strong points at Mulliyan, Chempiyanpattuwa, and (Kaddaikadu). The etymology of these place names, Mulliyan (Thibbotuvana), Chempiyanpattuva, Chundikulama (kumbavaeva) and Kaddaikadu (Gaetakaduva)" are discussed in some detail at the place-names website

South of Alimankada, and to Uruthirapuram (Gurusiripura)

On crossing south of Alimankada, instead of going south along A9 towards Paranthan (Puranthaenna) we may proceed west towards "Tadduvankoddei". This place name is basically the Sinhala form "Dedoova-Kotte", or the "Fort of two islets", a name which harks back to an ancient military installation. This takes us to Uriyan (Hiriyaya or Hoorayaya), and the name may have arisen from the name "Hoora" used for the Veddas. The road passes through Korakkankaddu (Kurakkana-kaduva) and veers south towards Velikkandal (Vaeli-Kadola) to join the Puranthaenna-Mooladoova (Paranthan - Mulativu) road. Not far from Vaeli-Kadola and Vaedda-Kachchiya (Vaddakkkachchi), we have two very ancient villages, "Punnainiravai" (Punyaniraviya), and "Uruthirapuram" (Gurusiripura). A large stupa existed (even in 1964) near the tank in Uruthithirapuram (Gurusiripura), with two ancient buildings containing stone pillars and other archaeological remnants. These have been completely destroyed by recent political activities. "Punniniravi" may, instead of being a name of Buddhist origin, be a place name associated with Mastwood ("Domba", Calophyllum inophyllum) as the word "punnaga" is found used in Pali and Sinhala-Prakrit for Mastwood.

While the place name "Uruthirapuram" may well have been cognate with the Sinhala "Gurusiripura", its Buddhist as well as Jain and Hindu roots are more complex and much deeper. Tantric Buddhists used the seeds of the plant "Elaeocarpus ganitrus" to make 'Japamaala' or rosaries. Apre-Buddhist Upanishad text is named 'Uruttiraatca'; Also, the the Sanskrit name 'Rudraksha' involves Indian mythology regarding the Asura fortress ‘tripura', and 'Rudraksha' seeds (tear drops) falling from the eye of Siva. Thus the 'Rudraksha' seeds have been used by Hindus in their rosaries from ancient times. In Sri Lanka the seed of the "Veralu" tree is sometimes used for this purpose. In the 'Buddhist' or 'Elu' form of the name, the Asura city has become 'siripura', and referring to a 'Guru', rather than to Siva is more consistent with the Upanishadic, Jain and Buddhist approach of distancing from the Hindu-God figures.

Is the Sinhala word for "Muddy place" (Madeh) kin of the Latin "Madeo"?

South of Gurusiripura, traveling on A35 we reach Murusumoddai
(Muratumotte) which fell into the hands of the Sri Lankan armed forces in early January 2009. The word forms "Moddai","Mode", Motte" etc., exist inmany Lankan-Tamil and Sinhala place names. It seems to be an adaptation of the Sinhala word for "a muddy place", i.e., "Made(h)" or "marsh. Here the reader would immediately note that in English we use the word "Mud", and may very well wonder about the origins of the remarkable words "mud" and "marsh". A Latin word for 'marsh' is 'madeo', while the Skrt. 'manda' means slime. In Tamil, words like "Ala, Alaru Alakkar, Ceru" etc., are used for "mud". Hence it is most likely that the "Moddai" ending found in
many place names is simply the Lankan-Tamil adaptation of the Sinhala word "Made(h)". Clearly, the presence of kinship among the English, Latin and Sinhala forms should not surprise anyone as these are all members of the Sanskrit-Pali family of Indian languages. More details of such place names are given at the website: www.geocities/place.names/.

If we proceed along A35 we head towards Puthukudurippu (Aluthkulissa), Mulliyavalai (Thibbotuvala) and Mullaitivu (Mooladoova). The ending "vala" in the Sinhala form does not mean "hole in the ground", but a "thicket" or "forest". Mulliyavalai was a bustling suburb of Mullaitivu, and has now become part of the last refuge of the LTTE, centered around Mulativu. . Today's Mulativu (or Mooladoova) was an eastern port during the Anuradhapura-Pollonnaruwa era. The name "Mooladoova" may have been given to it based on its use as a central depot of a sea port. Place
names like "Vattarappalai", or Yaathrapola", are found inside the lagoon, clearly displaying the nautical heritage of this town. The LTTE found in Mullaitivu an excellent center for its Sea Tigers as well as an isolated oasis for housing its prisons and training its cadre.

Mahayaana and Theethankara historical sites in Mullaitivu?

Commercial activity in ancient times went hand in hand with religious centers of worship. Even today 109 Buddhist archaeological sites have been identified in the Mooladoova district, and documented by D. Somasiri's Report, Archaeology Dept.1982. There is also evidence of Jain religious sites in the area. Unfortunately, the monument and the area named "Thirthankara", was mostly destroyed by the 2004 Dec. Tsunami. There are some "Tirthankarai" Hindu sites as well, since village religious practice involves an ecumenism well beyond the horizons of minds moulded by the exclusivist Hebrew-Christian approach to belief where you have to conform to dogma or labelled a heretic.. .

Hopefully, the Mullaitivu (Mooladoova) area would also be liberated by the armed forces in the near future, releasing the people who are trapped by the dicta of the battlefront. However, true liberation of these lands would require us to return to the civilized society that existed in these lands, centuries ago, before invaders, floods, mosquitos, forests and terrorists with sessesionist agendas came to rule this "Urveni Bhoomi".
- Sri Lanka Guardian