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Reply: ‘Archaeology sparks new conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese’

By Mahinda Gunasekera

(April 19, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I came across the article written by Jeremy Page of Time Online, London on April 6, 2010, and write to clarify some of the issues mischievously raised by him with the apparent intent of creating bitterness and controversies between the Sinhalese and Tamil inhabitants of Sri Lanka on the subject of archaeology. The Sinhalese who have lived throughout the length and breadth of this land for the past 2600 years have evolved a unique civilization that has provided an advanced hydraulic system that sustained a mainly agrarian society which built magnificent monasteries, palaces, hospitals for humans and animals, and other works of architecture and art that have been discovered and since restored, that adorn most parts of the country, whilst yet others still remain to be found.

Tamil claims to a traditional homeland:

The main cause for Tamil nationalism has been the false and unsubstantiated claim by Tamil separatists to their having inhabited the northern and eastern regions of the island of Sri Lanka from the dawn of history, based on none other than the erroneous minute made by a British colonial administrator named Hugh Cleghorn in 1799, which the Tamil leaders cited at the time of adopting the infamous ‘Vadukkodai Resolution of 1976’ to seek the establishment of a separate Tamil state called “Eelam”, in what they referred to as the traditional homeland of the Tamils. Cleghorn displayed his ignorance when he also stated in the same report that the Sinhalese were descendants of the Siamese people who are of Mongolian extraction.

Cleghorn’s reference to Jaffna is very interesting:- "The inhabitants of Jaffna consist of a collection of various races. The greatest number are of Moorish extraction and are divided into several tribes known by the names of Lubbhas, Mopleys, Chittys and Choliars. They are distinguished by wearing little round caps on their close shaven heads. There are also a race of Malabars found here somewhat different from those of the continent." Now if we peruse this reference that ‘there are also a race of Malabars found here’ it is clear as crystal that there were a few Tamils in 1799 in Jaffna known as the Malabars, as all the Tamils have been referred to as Malabars at that time and earlier in all official documents of the Dutch and the early British period. Therefore if Cleghorn’s statement is to be accepted as he had a personal knowledge of the peninsula, it was the Muslims that were the majority in Jaffna which is today regarded as the cultural centre of the Tamils, just about two hundred years ago. It is therefore quite perplexing to learn that the Tamils were an insignificant minority in the main centre of their assumed homeland.

Archaeolgical Remains:

The vast array of ancient monuments and artifacts discovered throughout the length and breadth of Sri Lanka are those built by the Sinhalese kings and chieftains as centres of Buddhist learning and practice, that had been established in veneration of the Sublime Teachings which provided the cultural base and values of the indigenous population. In fact, out of the seven World Heritage Sites referred to in the article, five pertain to ancient Buddhist sites where the Sinhalese kings ruled in Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Sigirya, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, whilst the Galle Fort built by the Portuguese and Dutch invaders around the 16th and 17th centuries and the ancient forest reserve in the Singharaja National Park make up the remaining two sites so recognized.

Rock inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BC to the 16th century AD have been found in all parts of Sri Lanka except Jaffna. The earliest inscriptions from the 3rd century to the 2nd century AD were one to two lines in length in Brahmi script (similar to those decreed by Emperor Asoka in north India), inscribed on the drip ledge of caves, usually gifted for occupation by Buddhist monks. These early Brahmi inscriptions also indicate that the Sinhalese occupied the island. Nearly 2000 inscriptions have been found during the period 100 BC to 400 AD alone. Later inscriptions have been on rock walls, flat rock surfaces or stone slabs, and more extensive comprising as much as 16 long lines, in Sinhala, Pali, and Sanskrit. These inscriptions give information on early human settlements, provide information on Sinhala kings who ruled the land, whilst some yielded information on many different subjects including donors, beneficiaries and reasons for such gifts. Inscriptions give a human touch to ancient facts and also provide evidence of literacy. Over 3000 rock inscriptions have been discovered far exceeding that found in mainland China, photo records of which are available at the Cambridge university in Britain. If there had been an independent Tamil kingdom in and around the Jaffna peninsula in ancient times, at least a few Tamil inscriptions by Tamil kings of that era should have come to light, but so far none have been found.

Although no rock inscriptions have been found in Jaffna itself, a gold plate inscription had been discovered in Vallipuram, near Point Pedro, dating back to the reign of King Vasabha (67-111AD) detailing the construction of a Buddhist monastery in the Jaffna peninsula. A few other Sinhala inscriptions dating from the 10th to the 13th century AD have been found at the Kandarodai (Kadurugoda) Buddhist temple and at Thunukai, plus a few more within the Jaffna district. It is interesting to note that the earliest Tamil inscription discovered in the Jaffna District is by a Sinhala king, namely Parakramabahu I(1153-1186) who ruled at Polonnaruwa. This inscription was found at the entrance to the famous Nakapusani-Amman Temple in the small island now know as Nainativu or Nagadipa; and it contains certain trade regulations concerning wreckages off the port of Uratturai i.e. present day Kayts (UCR. Vol.XXI, pp.63-70). In the words of Dr. Karthigesu Indrapalan, the editor of this inscription and the Professor of History of the University of Jaffna, 'the fact that this edict was issued not by any subordinate official, but by the king himself shows that the monarch was in supreme control of the northern most region of the island (UCR.Vo.XXI,p.66). A few Tamil inscriptions too have been found during the period from the 11th to the 13th century in Polonnaruwa, Kantalai and Trincomalee in the east, following the invasion by South Indian Cola rulers who forcibly occupied the Polonnaruwa seat at the time.

Historical Evidence:

The history of the Sinhala people commencing with the founding of the Sinhala nation after the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his retinue in 543 BCE to the time of ceding power to the British in 1815, has been recorded in the Great Chronicle known as the Mahavamsa in the Pali language. The Mahavamsa is comprised of three parts written at different times in Lankan history. The monks had maintained this historical record from the 4th century BC similar to a modern day diary, referred to as “Dipavamsa”, with early information derived from another compilation known as “Mahavamsa Atthakatha”, and rock inscriptions of the time. These documents were combined into a single record by the Chief Buddhist Monk Mahanama of the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura in the 5th century AD to form the first part comprised of 37 chapters from 543 BC to the end of the 4th century AD. The second part covered the period from the 4th century to the 13th century AD, whilst the third and final part recorded the period from the 13th century to 1815. The latter two parts referred to as the “Culavamsa” are believed to have been written by several monks of the island linked to different temples, though credit for preparation of the second part is attributed to Venerable Dharmakirti Thera. Overall, the Chronicle with 79 chapters is referred to as the “Mahavamsa”, and has over 200,000 words of text contained in 960 pages. The Mahavamsa is the oldest and longest chronology of any nation or people of the world spanning a period of 2500 years.

The search for the original script of the “Mahavamsa” initiated by George Turnour, the British colonial administration’s Government Agent for the Sabaragamuwa Province in 1826, resulted in finding the entire 79 chapters of this historical manuscript in the Mulgirigala temple which had been established around 150 BC, close to Tangalle in the southern province. George Turnour translated, edited and arranged the text of the first 30 chapters which he published in 1836. It was later translated to German by Prof. Wilhelm Geiger in 1904 and re-translated to English. The Mahavamsa led to the discovery of the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa which had been covered by the dense foliage of the spreading jungle. In fact, it was the Mahavamsa that helped India to identify her Great Emperor Asoka and his magnificent work. Even other countries in South Asia have been able to establish the dates when important events took place in their lands through reference to the Mahavamsa. “Sinhalese history is authenticated by the concurrence of every evidence that can contribute to verify the annals of any country - "Ceylon" Pearl of the East by Harry Williams “.

The Mahavamsa does speak of the several invasions of Sri Lanka by the Tamils of South India belonging to the Pandyan and Chola regimes which came to occupy pockets of terrain for short periods from pre-Christian times, till such time as the indigenous Sinhalese rulers ousted them forcing them to retreat to their own territory. The Tamil Chola Warlord Elara’s forces captured the Rajarata (capital region) in the north in 205 BC where he ruled for 44 years before his defeat to Sri Lanka’s legendary King Dutugamunu in 161 BC. For 14 centuries then onward, Sri Lanka enjoyed comparative peace which helped in building the magnificent Buddhist monasteries and the unique hydraulic civilization that is marvelled even today. In the early part of the 13th century, the Sinhalese kingdom of Rajarata had weakened due to internal strife and three invasions from South India during which time nine monarchs sat on the throne within a space of 20 years. The prevailing disturbances and unsettled state, led Magha of Kalinga in India to invade the island in the year 1215 with an army of 24000. Magha’s forces employing extreme violence, desecrating and destroying sacred sites, succeeded in driving the Sinhalese rulers and people to the south, west and even causing the royal seat to be moved to Dambadeniya in the mountainous interior. It was Vijayabahu-III and his son Parakramabahu-II that regained the country from the Tamil invader who was driven out of Polonnaruwa in 1236.

Due to the instability in the country following the numerous invasions that took place in the early part of the 13th century, the local ruler of the Jaffna district called the Ariyachakravarti refused to acknowledge the authority of the kings of Dambadeniya and Gampola who was regarded as the supreme overlord or lawful emperor of Trisimhale (Rohana, Maya and Pihiti – former Rajarata). The Ariyachakravarti who ruled over the Jaffna peninsula and its immediate environs styled himself as the King of Jaffnapatam. This sub-kingdom lasted approximately 150 years, till King Parakramabahu VI sent an army led by Prince Sapumal to once again annex the region. The sub-kingdom of Jaffnapatam was a vassal state that paid tribute to the main seat of power in Kotte and later Kandy. ‘The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon (Ceilao)’ by the Portuguese historian, Father Fernao de Queroz states “As long as Rajapura (Anuradhapura) was the capital of Ceylon the whole island was subject to one king; but after the inundation of the lowlands and after the city of Cota (Kotte) became the metropolis, there were in the island 15 kinglets including Jaffnapatao, subject to the king of Cota, who therefore was considered to be Emperor, and the same title is in these days claimed by the king of Candea(Kandy).” He further states that “It remained under the Portugezen sway for upwards of 40 years, wrested from the Emperor by Philippo d'Olivero when he defeated the Cingalezen forces near Achiavelli (Achuvely) by the great pagoda.” The following account given in the 'A true and exact description of the great island of Ceylon' by Phillipus Baldaeus, a Dutch predikant who lived in Jaffna for about 9 years, also confirms the statement of de Queyroz. It can therefore be concluded that the sub-kingdom of Jaffnapatam which lasted roughly 150 years was not an independent kingdom, but a vassal state which paid tribute or taxes to the Sinhalese king that ruled over the entire island of Trisimhale.

What and Where is “EELAM” Pursued by the Armed Tamil Tiger Terrorists and Sought by the Extremist Elements of the Tamil Diaspora in the West:

Those seeking “Eelam” (ILAM) have been misled into believing that it is the traditional homeland of the Tamil people located in the northern and eastern provinces of the island of Sri Lanka, comprising 1/3rd of the land area spread over 2/3rd of the coast extending from the northwest to the southeast of the island including a big chunk of the north central and Uva-Vellassa areas which they claim to have inhabited from the dawn of history. The Tamil presence in Sri Lanka has been earlier dealt with in detail citing archaeological and historical documents. It would be interesting to also see the statements made by recognized authorities on Tamil language and history, to realize the true position and understand the foolish and deceitful attempt that is being made by extremist elements within the Tamil community to take away the history and only homeland of the indigenous Sinhalese people who founded this land known as Hela Diva, Sinhale, Trisimhale and Sri Lanka.

The Tamil Lexicon published under the authority of the highest seat of Tamil learning, i.e. the University of Madras, has the following entry: “ ILAM, n<>

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