The missing link - how did the tiny Jaffna kingdom evolve into a larger Tamil homeland?

By Thomas Johnpulle

(March 23, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is widely accepted that there was an independent Jaffna Kingdom in Sri Lanka until 1619 when the Portuguese ended it for good. From the Portuguese, subject to a few complications, it went to the Dutch and thence to the British. Similarly there were two other independent kingdoms in the island, namely the Kotte Kingdom and the Kandy Kingdom. Portuguese succeeded in bringing the Kotte Kingdom under their direct control first and then proceeded to take Jaffna. The Kandy Kingdom couldn’t be conquered by them and it finally fell in 1815 under a historical agreement with the British. Had the Jaffna Kingdom been part of the Kotte Kingdom, it would have fallen automatically when Kotte fell. But that never happened which means it was a separate kingdom. Obviously some hold different views and the intention of this article is not to prove it but to discuss a more important issue.

However, when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) gained Independence in 1948, the recipient of Independence was one country.

What is strange about this is there was no significant movement to gain separate independence for the Jaffna Kingdom. There were very weak movements to demand it but these quickly died down. Had Tamil intellectuals from Jaffna demanded that the old Jaffna Kingdom be granted independence separately from the rest of the country, Britain would have considered it favourably. Apart from India and Pakistan, there are plenty of other examples.

On the other hand there were loud demands from Tamil politicians. The infamous 50:50 demand is one example which was outright rejected by the British as it would give Tamils (worded Tamil speaking people) an unfair advantage at the expense of the Sinhalas. It led to protests and the boycott of the first ever election in 1931 in some areas in the north.

So why wasn’t there a movement to gain independence for the Jaffna Kingdom?

The answer lies in economics!

The Jaffna Kingdom was a very small area that didn’t even cover the Northern Province by 1619. Trincomalee was under the Kandy Kingdom as per historical accounts. Given its worth for trade and shipping, the Portuguese and the Dutch tried various appeasement tactics aimed at the Kandy king hoping to use it but to little help. Robert Knox was arrested by the army of the Kandy Kingdom when he landed there. Therefore there is little doubt that Trincomalee was not part of the Jaffna Kingdom. There aren’t any contrary evidence anyway. On the western part, it is on recorded history that the present Madhu church was located in the Maddu area at the mercy of the Kandy king. Obviously it was a substantial distance from the boundary of the Jaffna Kingdom. Otherwise Tamil Catholics would not have agreed to it as it would have been unsafe and it would not have survived Dutch hostility.

These facts leave only a small area apart from the Jaffna peninsula for the Jaffna Kingdom. That too was in most part heavily underdeveloped by the 20th century. Even today apart from a few places, the rest remain hopelessly underdeveloped in Vanni. The total area of the then Jaffna district that included modern day Kilinochchi administrative district was 2,309 square kilometres. The rest of the old Jaffna Kingdom would have been a few more thousand square kilometres of vastly undeveloped area subject to a few townships. No one of the right mind was going to demand Independence for this area as it would be an economic calamity.

On the other hand, during the Dutch and British periods, Jaffna population grew fast. Rapid migration of Tamils from South India during the Dutch time for its plantation industry is considered a major reason. By 1953, just 5 years after Independence, the Jaffna (mainly Tamil) population was 492,000. This means a population density of 213 persons per square kilometre. This is extremely high as the country’s population density was just 123. In other words, Jaffna district population density in 1953 was 1.7 times higher than the island-wide density! According to 1946 population data, it would have been 177 persons per square kilometre for the Jaffna District and 96 persons per square kilometre for the island. (Source- Census of Ceylon) Therefore it didn’t make sense to demand the returning back of the old Jaffna Kingdom to its “owners” as there would be a massive and calamitous resource crunch.

Also by 1948 Ceylon Tamils comprised 35% of the public service. Had the old Jaffna Kingdom were to gain independence, many of such opportunities would have been lost as it’s area only needed just a fraction of them. This would have been a disaster for the very high population depending on government jobs. Also there was a serious lack of other industries in the area aggravating the situation.

This led to the demand of “Tamil Homelands” which encompassed an area of 19,000 square kilometres. This is more than three (3) times larger than the Jaffna Kingdom! And it also included areas of very high commercial value such as Trincomalee, Mannar, Batticaloa and Ampara. None of these was part of the Jaffna Kingdom when it fell to the Europeans. And hence an undoing of the taking of the Jaffna Kingdom would not have given them enough land which was essential for the economic survival of the people of Jaffna by the mid 1900s.

This is how the tiny Jaffna Kingdom grew exponentially to “Tamil Homelands”. And this is why the British were not agitated to undo the taking of the Jaffna Kingdom. In 1922 the area encompassing the north and the east of the island was termed “Tamil Eelam” by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam - undoubtedly one of the most educated Ceylonese at that time. The one island, two nations concept gathered momentum over the years in the guise of discrimination (although discrimination did take place to a significant extent). But most miraculously it was the Tamil Eelam demand that was (and is) seen as the solution to discrimination by those who promote it! This is bizarre. There is no logical connection between the “Tamil Homelands” concept and solving Tamil grievances.

The plan was not to make the demand from the British for the reestablishment of the status quo of the Jaffna Kingdom but to extort a much larger area from subsequent rulers based on a new set of “reasons” that can be applied and manipulated beyond the tiny old Jaffna Kingdom. This is how the tiny Jaffna Kingdom mysteriously grew to “Tamil Homelands”, a landmass more than three (3) times larger. Had they demanded independence for the old Jaffna Kingdom instead, it may have been granted. But it would have been in total calamity as it lacked resources for its very large population and had heavily underdeveloped areas. However, the journey towards “Tamil Homelands” was a horrible mishap and it has reached its bloody end without it in sight. It was a wrong decision.

There is a third way which is about preserving the island nation of Sri Lanka in one unit where people of all races live in harmony and where there is neither a Jaffna Kingdom nor “Tamil Homelands”. We rejected the Jaffna Kingdom in favour of much larger “Tamil Eelam” in early 1900s. A century later, we must reject “Tamil Eelam” in favour of Sri Lanka which is more than three (3) times larger with ample room to roam. There is no other way.
-Sri Lanka Guardian
Unknown said...


It is widely accepted that there was an independent Jaffna Kingdom in Sri Lanka until 1619 when the Portuguese ended it for good.... Unquote

What an utter nonsense the starting sentence of this article.Sri Lankan history is very much older than Portugeese era of 1619 & with clearly written history of more than 3000 years about the existence of Sinhalese people being their motherland, Sri Lanka, attributed to four clans as "SIV HELA" MEANING FOUR LANKANS(Yaksha, Naga, Maga, Dewa)where in famous Kuweni hailed under Yaksha clan.If the writer has any interest to dig the truth he could refer to good old sri lankan history going back to King Pandukabaya, Devanampiyatiss where Tamils inhabitancy was never heard in this tiny island during this old age.As a result of time to time South Indian invasions, Tamils used to arrive in SL & occupied in most nearest & safest areas to India being Jaffna.Famous are Elara & Sankili but time & again all such invasions were defeated by sinhalese kings & protectd the sinhalese identity of SL as one unitary country by kings like Dutugemunu, Gajaba, Parakramabahu & many more.As the writer projects in the same spirit, after another 100-200 years can Tamils in Central Colombo demand that Colombo is also a Tamil territory in addition to jaffna since wellawatte, Kotahena majority had been Tamils for decades, blindly ignoring the fact Colombo is an integral part under the control of Govt, of Sri Lanka, to safeguard her identity, Sinhalese fought etrnally with all foreign forces including South Indian Tamils.It is colorful hoodwinking by Tamil writers to distort the history of SL to make room for them to fabricate bogus claims advantageous for them.Unfortunately as a community Tamils cannot assimilate with any other community, besides not accepting Hindi as the state language in India for Madrasees, ideal proof is that why Keralites who are another off shoot of tamil origin in Tamilnadu later fought & segregated Kerala from Tamilnadu Territory, aboloished to accept Madras as their Capital & later named Trivandrum as Kerala's Capital.On and on Tamils never disclose the advantages given only to their community by Dutch through "Thesawalamai Law" on top of sinahalese & other communities in SL.Most arguably why Tamils ask a "Traditional Homeland" & not a "Motherland"??????????

Yogananthan B said...

A great write up. This is something I wondered since childhood. Thank you.

This is the time to question things we used to blindly believe. If our generation called a spade a spade half the misunderstandings would be not there.

At the same time I expect the Sinhala community also to look into their share of myths.

ඉයන් said...

Great Article. Very informative. I always wondered why the Tamil nation was not demanded in 1948. I think I found the answer. I wonder whether the maps of the Tamil kingdom are available in the history museums in England

middlepath said...

Correction: I think it was Ponnamabalam Ramanathan who initiated the "Tamil Homelands" claim, NOT Ponnambalam Arunachalam.
This is an important correction, and it needs to be sorted out clearly as to which of the brothers was responsible for the false claim. As far as I have read, Arunachalam was not an overly ambitious politician and was more scholarly and benign.

jean-pierre said...

Indeed it was Ponnambalam ramanathan who started it. But he was not concerned about race. he was more concerned about caste and, according to articles written by Rasalingam, led delegations to England asking the British to make the caste system a part of the constitution. That also made the Tamils of that era oppose giving citizenship to the Up-country Tamils! The demand for devolution on the basis of race was previously based on caste.

Sivanesan said...

Only extremists reject the existence of the Jaffna kingdom. There are enough evidence of it. Even Sinhala prices went and captured it at some point!

However, I reject the writer's claim that the Jaffna kingdom became Tamil homelands. Tamil homelands in Sri Lanka are older than the Jaffna kingdom. There aren't any maps but that was how it was.

By the sixteenth century the Jaffna kingdom was smaller than it's size a few hundred years ago.

Yogananthan B said...


You are right there. Mr PA was a scholar not a popular politician. But he entered politics after falling out with his brother, Mr PR. His late entry to politics was not very successful. He didn't live long thereafter. He caught a sickness on a pilgrimage to India and died.

Googled it. The following link gives more information.

Unknown said...

re: Article : the Missing Link etc...

Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was well respected
and liked by the Sinhalas. As far we know, he never advocated a "Tamil Ealam" ! Besides, in circa 1922, which time he was supposed to have wanted a "Tamil Ealam" from the N&E of Lanka for Tamils, the word "Tamil Ealam" had not even been coined together. Those words were put together much later by the Jaffna Tamil leaders.
There are other errors as pointed out by 'Yohanne".
How can we trust the content of the rest of the article by Thos.Johnpulle ?

Anonymous said...

The Dutch archives

"During the 17th century the Company was engaged in a war of attrition with the king of Kandy, who had close ties with Ceylon's Buddhist population. There was a narrow tongue of land at Elephant Pass a fort was built to guard the border with the king's territory. Elephants captured on Ceylon were herded past here to Jaffna to be sold in India, hence the name Elephant Pass."

by Humphry William Codrington

" The states over which the king of Kotte claimed suzerainty were the kingdoms of Sitawaka, of the {Seven) Korales, of Candea or the hill-country, and of Jaffna, and also the principality of the Four Korales There also were various Vanniyarships, who were bound bo by tribute to the king of Kotte. These were the two Panamas; Yala; Wellewaya Kosgama; Wellassa; Palugama; Batticaloa; Kottiyar; Trincomalee: and Puttalam. This last and Yala were held by several Vanniyars, Palugama by two, the others by one each. In the kingdom of Kotte itself were three Disawas, one over Matara, one over the Adikariya of Denawaka with the Agras or gem-pits of Sabaragamuwa. and one over the Adikariya of Nuwarakalawiya, the country forming the western half of the present North Central Province and stretching according to our document from Puttalam to Mannar."

Unknown said...

Insignificant correction:
Robert Knox, I think was arrested when they landed, ship wrecked, in the coast of Mannar.

Chola said...

The Tamils have lived in the Island of Sri Lanka from the beginning of its history. The Pali chronicles and the ancient stone inscriptions give enough evidence to prove that Tamils lived in the Island and the Tamil Kings have ruled the Northern (Anuradhapura/Polonnaruwa) Kingdom of Sri Lanka right from the ancient period.

During the ancient period the Nagas and Damilas (Tamils) living in both South India and North Sri Lanka (Nagapuram, Nagarkovil, Nagarcot, Nargapattinum, Nagakulam, Nagadivpa, etc) were considered as the natives (Ila/Eela/Hela), the ancient inhabitants of the region.. During the Early Historical Period, South India and Sri Lanka were not considered as two different countries. The Nagas and Damilas not only occupied both South India and Sri Lanka but they were also moving back and forth between Sri Lanka and South India.

Throughout history, the Northern (Anuradhapura/Polonnaruwa) Kingdom of Sri Lanka was always a separate kingdom ruled by either Naga or Tamil Kings and both Nagas and Tamils were Saivaites (worshipping God Siva) and living in both South India and Sri Lanka until the Buddhist missionary monk Arahant Mahinda introduced Buddhism, the Pali language (Magadi Prakith), Asokan Brahmi script and the Buddhist culture to the Nagas and Tamils of Sri Lanka.

It should be noted that the Tissa Dynasty started with Saivaite Naga king Tissa (307-267 BC) who was given the title Devanampiya by the Indian emperor (Devanampriya) Asoka for accepting Buddhism. The Saivaite Naga prince Tissa was the second Son of King Muta Siva (367-307 BC) and brother of king Maha Siva (257-247 BC). Muta Siva (367-307 BC) was the Son of King Pandu kabaya, and Pandu kabaya (437-367 BC) was the son-in-law of Giri Kanda Siva and Grandson of King Pandu Vasudeva (504-474 BC). Dutugemunu, the hero of the Sinhalese and the national hero of Sri Lanka, was a Buddhist Naga king (NOT Sinhala) belonging to the Tissa dynasty. There is NO evidence what so ever to prove that the Nagas were Sinhalese. There is no historical evidence to prove that King Dutugamunu was a Sinhala and King Dutugamunu has never claimed that he was a Sinhala. Today people assume, just because Elara was a Tamil, by default, his opponent the Naga king Dutugemunu must be a Sinhalese.

The Mahavamsa says there were Tamils in Anurahadpura (Northern Kingdom) not as visitors but as rulers even in the 1st century A.D. The Naga prince DutuGemunu had to conquer not just one Tamil king but 32 Tamil Chieftains around the Anuradhapura principality alone. How could there be 32 Tamil chieftains in the area of Anuradhapura alone, if there were no Tamil settlements? The Mahavamsa also says that DutuGemunu killed 66 thousand Tamils and the remaining Tamils either fled to South India or settled in the North. Now how could there be such large number of Tamils in the area of Anuradhapura alone, if there were no Tamil settlements?

If you read the book written by Robert Knox, when he escaped from prison, he had to go through several places and when he came to Anuradaburro (AnuradaPura), it was fully occupied by Tamils (NOT Sinhalese) even as recently as the colonial period.

The term Sihala first came into existence only in the Pali chronicles somewhere around the 4th Century AD. It was created by the authors of the Pali chronicles. The first few chapters of the Pali chronicles are nothing but Fiction created by its author. Prince Vijay, Sinhabahu, Kuweni and the Lion story was a creation of the Mahavamsa author, there is no evidence for their existence. None of the ancient stone inscriptions, cave writings, etc found so far mentions the term Sinhala. Even in the Pali chronicles, the term Sinhala appeared only twice in the early chapters of the entire Pali chronicles.

After the authors of the Pali chronicles invented the term Sinhala, with the help of the Buddhist kings/rulers, the Buddhist monks started developing a new language by mixing Pali with the languages spoken by Tamils and Nagas which was later known as Sinhala. Only during the 8th CAD, a fully developed Sinhala language appeared and those who spoke the language came to be known as Sinhalayas.

At least from Rajaraja Cholan (985 - 1014 CE), for a thousand years, the Tamils lived as a MAJORITY within a separate land area (NorthEast) with a separate religion, culture and language. They also had their own independent Kingdom such as the Jaffna Kingdom within their separate land until the Europeans arrived. When the Europeans arrived in Sri Lanka, what they clearly observed was that, there were two different ethnic groups having two different languages, religions, cultures, and living in two well defined and clearly and naturally (thick jungles, lakes, river, etc) demarcated land areas with their own kingdoms within their traditional lands. (There are many books written by the Portuguese, Dutch and British historians for evidence). The British, on seeing the naturally existing borders of the two ethnic groups used their technology to demarcate them as two separate regions (occupied by two separate races) and created the maps for the first time somewhere in the 1800s. Unfortunately, the same British later united the two regions into a unitary state and gave it to one ethnic group (Sinhalese) by creating a single majority and making a total mess in the region.

There is no evidence what so ever to prove that the Sinhalese lived in the North and East until independence. Only once in the entire history, a Sinhala prince from the South (half Tamil) Sapumal Kumaraya ruled the Northern Kingdom. The Buddhist remains in the North and East are the remnants left by the Tamil Buddhists and not anybody else. You cannot find a single Sinhala person or family claiming NorthEast province as habitancy or origin? All those Sinhalese who live in the NE province today are those settled by the government after the independence (1948) under the colonization scheme. If you ask them, each one of them will say that their grandfather or great grandfather is from down south, where as the Sri Lankan Tamils hail from the NE province and proudly proclaim the fact. The Sinhalese are the majority only in their land SouthWest. The Tamils are also a majority in their region (NorthEast) which nobody can deny. Some early historians assumed that Sinhalese would have lived in the North but today it is very clear that their assumptions were wrong. The Sinhalese are trying to twist, turn and manipulate the place names (Etymology) of NE to say they are Sinhala names. They are even trying to prove that the Buddhist remains in the NE, the remnants left by the ancient Tamil Buddhists belonged to the Sinhalese. Unfortunately today there is neither Tamil Buddhists nor Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is monopolized by the Sinhalese and they call it Sinhala-Buddhism which is Theravada Buddhism (Tripitaka) mixed up with Mahavamsa which is actually a violent barbaric form of Buddhism where killing Tamils is a part of the Sinhala (Mahavamsa) Buddhist scriptures created by its author.
During the last 1000 years, the Sinhala Language is never spoken in the NE region. It is only after 1948, the Sinhalese are trying to grab the Tamil lands by colonizing their people.

What the author of the above article did not understand is the Jaffna kingdom may have been smaller and places such as Trincomalee, Mannar, Batticaloa and Ampara would have come under the Kandyan kingdom but that does not mean that Trincomalee, Mannar, Batticaloa and Ampara were Sinhala areas occupied by the Sinhalese. These are all Tamil areas occupied by Tamils from ancient time. Irrespective of what kingdom they came under, they are all part of Tamil homeland.

Chinwi said...

A good article. In years I was thinking where was the so called Jaffna kingdom ?

In addition I would like to get clarifications to the followings also because if there was a separate Tamil Kingdom as you said there should be good answers to these questions.

Although you have not indicated British captured Tamil Kingdom and then handed it over to Sinhalese it is the popular idea spread by separatists (you can see many articles and forums repeating this in Internet.)

1. Portuguese and British records say thousands of their soldiers died over the years in the wars against Sinhale as they try to capture it.

Can any one tell me referring any reputed source how many wars and how many British and Portuguese soldiers died in the process of capturing ‘Tamil Kingdom’?

2.There were many rebellions against the British Rule as they breached the 1815 treaty later on. Thousands of Sinhalese people and their villages were burnt and destroyed by British in retaliation. We yearly celebrate many national heroes who lead these fights and lay their lives against invaded rulers.
Can you tell me how many rebellions emerged in Tamil Kingdom against this British rule and give me at least one name of a leader who lead his forces against British rulers in Tamil Kingdom ?

3. After loosing half of the population in rebellions such as Wellasa, Sinhalese comprised of a very high percentage of the Island. How come the percentage of Srilankan Tamils are very few if there was a separate Tamil kingdom thriving for 1000 years in this Island in parallel to Sinhala Kingdom ?

4. We have names of the Kings of the Island for over 3000 years and can see works done by them in all over the country.
Can any one give me the alike list of the Kings of 'Tamil Kingdom' and show me the work done by them ?

Thank You

Sinaha said...

Stop promoting a nonexistence Jaffna kingdom. What evidence exists of this Jaffna kingdom, any ruins, brick foundations? It is more likely that it was a "gramaseweka" were ran the region for Tamils to claim today it was a kingdom is absurd. I don't agree if it ever did, except that it was always a S. Indian ruler who had control over Jaffna until the Portuguese arrived.

Yogananthan B said...

Some commentators have missed the woods for the trees.

They keep thinking only about the validity of the Jaffna kingdom that they miss the whole point of the article.

The article is not about arguing the validity of the Jaffna kingdom. It is about how it was doctored to create the Tamil homeland concept which was not there before.

A very well written article despite a few irrelevant disputes.

Anonymous said...

Sri Lanka is motherland of Sinhala , Tamil, Muslims and every citizen.But Sri lanka is homeland of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.. Sinhala is mean siwhela. Siwhela are four originated groups. Those are Yakka,Naga,Raksha,Asura.. Those siwhela(sinhala) people's history go beyond more than 1 million years ago.. King Ravana was also sinhala buddhist king under kashayapa buddha.. Before 6000 years ago , Sri Lanka was developed well... There is no any tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.. IF you would need to take correct history of Sri Lanka.. Please refer to ..

Dayaa said...


The articles regarding the north homeland for tamils is rediculous.

History would be saying something and our politicians something else.
There is no point TODAY saying about all this.

What we need today is peace at any cost,and we all should be proud to say in any forum that we are "SRILANKANS." not Sinhalese Buddhists, Sinahalese Catholics, Jaffna Tamils, Batticaloa Tamils so on and so forth.

Lets not forget the following.
- In Jaffna district, if we tamils need Bread or other bakery Items, we need the Sinhalese.
- In South, we need Chillies, Rice, certain vegetables, which comes from the North. In the East so is the need of the traders, let it be Sinhalese, Muslims, Christians and so on.

We need each other to build a strong Srilanka with all communities living together where ever they want.

After all we are 25,000 sq km state.

Instead of researching history, lets as Srilankan's get to gether and form a group and canvass for the unity, stop the war, no racism or hatred for each other.
If we do these, we will be an example to the world.

Saman said...

History is important to learn from and plan for the future. In doing so, we have to think objectively and see how we can llearn from history to make Sri Lanka a united country where Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and other groups living their could live happily together as one Sri Lankan community. In my humble opinion, history should not be used as a dividing force, but as a force which allows us to build on the commonalities we share to make Sri Lanka a united, peaceful and prosperous country for all its inhabitants under one Sri Lankan flag.