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

By J.L. Devananda

(May 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recently while browsing the archives of Sri Lanka Guardian I accidently came across a reply to Jeremy Page’s article “Archaeology sparks new conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese” which appeared on Time Online, London on April 6, 2010, by one of the so called history scholar Mahinda Gunasekera dated April 19, 2010. I thought it is my duty to address the Pseudo-Historians and Bogus-Scholars like Mahinda Gunasekera who is trying to twist, turn, manipulate and misinterpret the Sri Lankan history.

The infamous Cleghorn’s minute and the Tamil Homeland

Mahinda Gunasekera begins with the Tamil claims to a traditional homeland and goes on to say that the Tamil separatists adopted the 1799 minute of the British colonial administrator named Hugh Cleghorn as the basis for their false claims. By extracting a few paragraphs from the British colonial officer Hugh Cleghorn’s minute which wrongly says the Sinhalese were descendants of the Siamese people and how it incorrectly refers to the inhabitants of Jaffna, Mahinda Gunasekera is clearly showing us how erroneous Hugh Cleghorn minute was, a job well done.

The first question that came into my mind was from where Mahinda Gunasekara found the connection between the Tamil separatists claim or rather the ‘Vadukkodai Resolution of 1976’ and the infamous Hugh Cleghorn’s minute of 1799?

It is not just the British officer Hugh Cleghorn who wrote about Sri Lanka and its people but there were many colonial officers, writers and historians among Portuguese, Dutch and British who have written about Sri Lanka and its people. A few examples were the Portuguese priest Fernao de Queyroz, the Portuguese historian Joao Ribeiro, the Dutch Predikant Philippus Baldaeus, Governor Rjklof Van Goens account dated 1675 referring to Eastern province (inhabitants of Batticalo), Jacob Burnand a Swiss soldier in the service of the Dutch, the English, Chief Justice in the British Government Sir Alexander Johnston, governor Sir Andrew Caldicott, and of course the prisoner of the kandyan kingdom Robert Knox are just a few.

We must be able to differentiate between what these Colonial gentlemen actually saw and experienced physically and what they personally believed and assumed due to their limited knowledge about the region and its people.

When the Europeans (Portuguese, Dutch and British) arrived, what all of them clearly observed and experienced during their period was that, there were two different Nations (Sinhalese and Tamils) having two different languages, religions, cultures, and living in two well defined and clearly and naturally demarcated (thick jungles, lakes, river, etc) land areas with their own kingdoms within their traditional lands. The Tamils lived as a majority within their separate land area (North & East) and the Sinhalese also lived as a majority within their land area (South & West). 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.

Now, let us see the assumptions these Colonial gentlemen made due to their lack of knowledge of the region and the people of Sri Lanka.

In the year 1498, Vasco De Gama's landing in Malabar (Kerela) marked the beginning of the era of foreign Intervention in the region. The Dutch preceded the Portuguese, and then the British East INDIA Company had been on the Malabar Coast since 1684. It was from Malabar that the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka. They found two different ethnic groups living in Sri Lanka in two different land areas, the one living closer to the Malabar/Coramandal coast had a similar language, religion and culture to the Malabars. Without any hesitation, they called them Malabars even though there was a Tamil King and the people spoke Tamil when they arrived. The Dutch who preceded them continued to call them Malabars and the British also called them Malabars but later when they realized that it was a mistaken identity, that they were not Malabars but Tamils, they corrected it. Similarly, due to Buddhism and the Buddhist culture, they also called the Sinhalese as the descendants of the Siamese people.

In fact it was the Europeans who first misinterpreted the Mahavamsa and believed that the Sinhalese were Aryans and labeled the early Prakrit language as Sinhala. Today, due to the latest scientific discoveries in the fields of archaeological, epigraphical and anthropological research, the modern historians such as Prof. Leslie Gunawardane, (professor in history and a former Vice Chancellor of University of Peradeniya) and many other qualified historians do not accept that the Sinhala language or the Sinhala race existed during the early historic period.

There is enough archeological evidence to prove that the Tamils have also lived outside the North & East (even in down South) but there is NO evidence what so ever to prove that the Sinhalese lived in the North & East. The census of Ceylon conducted in 1881 also indicates that the two Tamil provinces were inhabited almost exclusively by Tamils in the late nineteenth century (Census of Ceylon, 1881). The Sinhalese population constituted only 1.8% of the total population of the two Tamil provinces in 1881; Sinhalese accounted for only 0.51% of the total population of the Northern Province, and 4.2% of the Eastern Province.

Let me also mention that in the recorded history of Sri Lanka and the epigraphic evidence found till today, nowhere it mentioned that there was a mass influx/settlement of Tamils from South India to the North & East of Sri Lanka or there was a mass exodus of Sinhalese from the North and East to the South. In other words, that all the Sinhalese living in the North & East simply pack their bags and went to the South leaving all their lands to the newly arrived Tamils without any protest? Most of the Sinhalese have their ancestral native place name also as a part of their name, known as Vasagama. Is there any Sinhalese person from any part of Sri Lanka who can come out and say that his Vasagama is a name from any part of North or East? Even those Sinhalese who are living in the North and East today were colonized after 1948 by DS Senanayake. The so called Sinhala history scholars will never fail to say that the East was under the Kandyan Kingdom. It is true that some parts of the Eastern province came under the Kandyan Kingdom from time to time but it makes no difference to the Tamil position in regard to the inhabitancy of the Eastern province. The Tamils would have had and yet have no objection what so ever to the benevolent and accommodating rule of the kandyan kings whether they were Kalinga or Nayakkar, and see no inconsistency in the Tamil claim to the Eastern province even under the Kandyan rule. On the other hand, I have never come across a Sinhala person or family that claimed an Eastern province habitancy or origin. If you speak to the Sinhalese living in the Eastern province, each one of them will say that their grandfather or great grandfather is from the South where as there are any number of Tamils who hail from the East and proudly proclaim their habitancy.

Archaeological Remains and Historical Evidence

Until the Bhrami script was introduced to South India Sri Lanka Region (SISL), no writings or inscriptions was found available and therefore we do not know much about the history of the very ancient people of Sri Lanka (beyond 3rd century BC). Long before the Pali chronicles were written, the ancient 2nd century BC Bhrami stone inscriptions found in Sri Lanka mentions the word Dameda (Damela). The earliest inscriptions and also the early Pali chronicles attest to the presence of the Tamils (Demedas/Damilas) in the Early Historic Period. In fact, Dameda (Damela) is the most mentioned ethnic group in the epigraphy of Ceylon, with mention in five cave inscriptions. These inscriptions refer to the Tamil Vishaka (merchant), the Tamil householder Samana (residing) and a Tamil navika (or sailor). These inscriptions are further corroborated by a reference in the Mahavamsa which contains the expression "Damila Assandviks" i.e. those (Tamils) who brought horses in water-craft, horse merchants. For example, the Mahavamsa says the Damila rulers Sena & Guttika were sons of a horse merchant. Both Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa neither says Sena & Guttika were invaders (came from outside) nor from South India. They were Damilas and natives of Sri Lanka, sons of a horse merchant. There were Nagas and Damelas (Cholas, Pandyans and Chera) in South India and Sri Lanka (SISL region) even before 2nd century BC as per Samgam literature but unfortunately there is no written inscriptions till 2nd century BC. During the ancient period the Nagas and Damelas (Tamils) living in both South India and Sri Lanka (Nagapuram, Nagarkovil, Nargapattinum, Nagadivpa, etc) were considered as the natives, 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 Damelas not only occupied both South India and Sri Lanka but they were also moving back and forth between Sri Lanka and South India and also they had a shared interest in Buddhism. According to Prof. Deraniyagala, the excavations in both Sri Lanka and South India revels that, not only the Flora and Fauna but many other manmade structures, burials, Brami inscriptions, etc were all identical and he says, there were frequent people movement during the ancient period.

According to the Mahavamsa, the Naga King Dutugemunu had to conquer not just one Tamil king (Elara) but 32 Tamil Chieftains around the Anuradhapura principality alone. He also killed around sixty thousand Tamils in the war. How could there be 32 Tamil chieftains in the area of Anuradhapura alone, if there were no Tamils or Tamil settlements? Similarly, King Valgambha had to fight seven Pandian chieftains to reassume sovereignty at Anuradhapura. 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 AnuradaPura, he says it was fully occupied by Tamils (NOT Sinhalese). That means even recently, during the 17th CAD (colonial period) Anuradapura was inhabited by Tamils. Many Tamil place names in Anuradapura even today revels the above fact.

On the other hand, not a single stone inscription, cave writings, structures, or anything else (artifacts) found in Sri Lanka during the ancient period says anything about Hela/Sihala/Sinhala. There was NO such race/tribe/nation called Sinhala/Hela during that Early Historic Period. When Buddhism was under attack in the Tamil country, in order to protect Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Mahavihara monks assimilated all the Buddhists of Sri Lanka belonging to several different tribes (Naga, Damila, etc) into one group and called them Sihala. The word Sinhala/Hela first appeared in the Pali chronicles only in the 4th century AD and that also ONLY twice in the beginning chapters of the entire Deepavamsa/Mahavamsa. 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. The events that took place in India against Buddhism during that period prompted the Mahavihara monks in Sri Lanka to come up with a plan/strategy to protect Buddhism. Due to their strong devotion to Buddhism and desire to consolidate and protect this religion in Sri Lanka they decided to write the Pali chronicles Deepavamsa/Mahavamsa making Sri Lanka a Dammadeepa (chosen land of Buddha where Buddhism will prevail for 5000 years) and creating the Sinhala race by assimilating all the Buddhists from different tribes/ethnic groups into one race and making them the sustainers of Buddhism (Gouthama Buddha’s chosen people) to protect Buddhism in Sri Lanka for 5000 years until the next Maithriya Buddha arrive. It is the mahavihara monks who assimilated all the Buddhists from many different tribes together and called them Sihala (followers of Mythical Vijaya). There is NO historical evidence what so ever to prove Vijaya’s arrival with 700 men or to say there were Sinhalese during the Early Historic period. To date, no archaeological evidence has been found to prove 'Sihala' existed or anything about Vijaya’s arrival. The terms 'Sinhale', 'Hela', 'Sinhaladvipa, etc appeared very much later. Not a single stone inscription, cave writings or any other artifacts found during the ancient period say anything about Sihala. Not a single ancient king of Anuradapura/Polonnaruwa kingdom claimed that he is a Sinhala or Arya. None of the ancient Sri Lankan Kings or their kingdom was known as Sinhala. The Naga kings Devanampiya Tissa and Dutugemunu were NEVER known as Sinhala (there is no evidence what so ever) and due to ignorance the present day Sinhalese are talking about a non-existent ancient Sinhala heritage. The ancient Buddhist heritage built by the Naga/Damila belongs to both Tamils and Sinhalese. The ancient Buddhist remains in the North East are the remnants left by the Tamil Buddhists and not anybody else. They are part of the Tamil heritage that has to be protected and preserved by the Tamils. The Tamil Buddhists have even contributed to the Buddhist scriptures Tripitika. The Tamils are also one of the main contributors for the formation of the Sinhala race. According to Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne, there is no mention of the word Sinhala or Sinhala ethnicity in the thousand odd short inscriptions that come to us from this period. On the contrary, a vast majority of the host of clan names and titles that we come across in these inscriptions only show affinities with the clans of the ancient Tamil country.

The early foreign traders from Arabia, Persia, Rome, China and so on called Sri Lanka by many different names but NONE of them mentioned about a Sinhala or Tamil Kingdom because the Northern Kingdom of Anuradapura/Polonnaruwa were ruled alternatively by either a Naga King or a Damila King or by others. Only from around 10th to 13th CAD, the Buddhists (Sinhalese) moved from the Northern Anuradapura/Polonnwara kingdom to the South (Kotte/Kandy and many other kingdoms) while the Hindus (Tamils) moved from Anuradapura/Polonnwara kingdom to the North East (Jaffna Kingdom and Vanni Chiefdoms). The Tamil Kingdom in the North (Jaffna kingdom) and the Sinhala Kingdoms in the South (Kotte, Kandy, etc) came into existence only after 13th CAD (after Anuradapura/Polonnwara kingdoms). Even the Sinhala biased archeologist/researcher Dr. Senarat Paranavithana says, the vast majority of the people who today speak Sinhalese or Tamil must be ultimately be descended from those autochthonous people of whom we know next to nothing.

It is arrogance if the Sinhalese tell the Tamils of North East who have roots in Sri Lanka from the ancient Anuradhapura/Polonuwara period that they have no homeland in Sri Lanka and go back to Tamil Nadu if you cannot accept Sinhala-Buddhist language, religion and culture as the significant culture of Sri Lanka including the Tamil NorthEast.

Pseudo-Historians and Bogus Scholars (charlatans)

In any historical research, it is natural to change the views and assumptions, because up to now, we have no definite answers to so many unanswered questions in the fields of Archeology, history, anthropology, epigraphy and etymology in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, daily we stumble across several new findings and they contribute to new historical vistas. Therefore, based on new facts, one's earlier conclusion has to be compromised to adopt changes. History is a continuous process of investigation without any end in sight. For example, for the last 40 years, the Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinists, the Pseudo-historians and bogus scholars (charlatans) have built up a very strong love and affection towards the Tamil PhD student Karthigesu Indrapala due to his 1965 PhD thesis which was not in favor of the Tamils. When the well renowned and recognized former History professor of the Jaffna University, the same Prof. Karthigesu Indrapala retired from his profession after 30 years of research as a Senior Archeologist/Historian/epigraphist and a University Don, he settled down in Australia. All those who kept on using the PhD student Karthigesu Indrapala’s 1965 PhD thesis as a guide in all their writings must have had a heart attack when they read the book what Prof. K. Indrapala published in 2005, 40 years after his 1965 PhD thesis where he says his PhD dissertation is completely out of date that even he does not have a copy of his 1965 PhD thesis what he wrote 40 years ago as a PhD student. Therefore, it is absolutely natural that people change their opinions upon new findings.

Secondly, history is a social science and not science like Physics or Mathematics where logic can be used to arrive at conclusions. Logic is not a reliable tool for finding the truth. Logical assumptions based on unobserved facts leads to falsehood and that is what a few pseudo-historians like Mahinda Gunasekera are trying to do. Let me give an example, If you see the Sri Lankan parliament Hansard in 200 years time from now you will find the Governor of Jaffna during the early nineteen nineties was a Sinhalese (Mr. Tyrone Fernando), the Government agent of Jaffna during the same period was a Sinhalese (Mr. Lionel Fernando) and the army/Navy commanders of Jaffna were also Sinhalese. If the Pseudo-historians or bogus-Scholars like Mahinda Gunasekera use logical assumptions to analyze the history of Jaffna after 200 years from now, they will come to the conclusion and will conveniently argue that the population of Jaffna 200 years ago was Sinhalese. This is why we should never trust the history written by some Pseudo-historians based on unobserved facts/logical assumptions and NOT on archeological evidence.

My advice to pseudo-historians and bogus scholars (charlatans) like Mahinda Gunasekera who is trying to twist, turn manipulate and misinterpret the Sri Lankan history. As Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne says in his article ‘Educating Jeremy Page’, in his most valued book (The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity. 2005) Professor K. Indrapala inscribed the following moving dedication "To the innocents who lost their lives as a direct consequence of misinterpretation of history" which is a must read line by all blood-thirsty social fascists in any community. Please do not distort or abuse the Sri Lankan history but leave it to the real historians like Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne to deal with people like Jeremy Page.