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Name boards in Sinhala and Tamil

l by Bodhi Dhanapala

(September 12, Quebec, Sri Lanka Guardian) Apropos Mrs. Ann Abesekera's letter in The Island of Sept. 09 under the caption, "How insensitive can the government and army be to the feelings of the Tamil people when, for instance, Omanthai is re-named "Omantha" according to the new name board at the railway station which was opened some months ago?" I am afraid she has NOT looked at the railway signboard at all. The Tamil sign says Omanthai, and the Sinhala sign says Omantha (where it should more correctly be Omanda). It is NOT a renaming, but a re-using of the name that the Sinhala people have used from time immemorial in the Vannimava (Vavniya) region.

This country has a rich tapestry of many languages and cultures. Let us respect them all. It is not just the Tamil people who have sensitivities. Many of our cities have names in Tamil and Sinhala, and so let us use them in each respective language.

I invite Ann Abesekera to look at the destination board of ANY of the CTB buses going around in Colombo and see how, say, Nugegoda, or Kotahena, Tangalle or Dehiwala, are written in Tamil. They have become "Nugekoddai", "Kottachennai", "Thangallai", and "Thehiwalai". How come Ann Abesekera has never asked, how "insensitive has the government and the CTB been of Sinhalese sensibilities?". She probably cannot read Tamil.

What about classic names like Vaddukkoddai? Even in 1900 it was known as Batakotte.

No Gazette notification changing the name from Batakotte to Vaddukkoddai was ever issued. The American Seminary that existed there till tle latter part of the 19th century was called the "Batakotte Seminary". Today, the Sinhala form is completely sidelined. What about the feelings of the Sinhalese? People like Ann Abesekera are not touched because they may not be aware of the history of these place names. But there is no excuse. A whole host of scholars, from Paul E. Peris and Gnanapragasar to Paranavithana, Nicholas, and more recently Karthigesu Indrapala, Kalansuriya, Chandre Dharmawardana, Ven. Medhananda and others have written on this subject.

The scholarly and detailed website on place names maintained by Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana (at http://dh-web.org/place.names/ ) can be consulted by anyone with a mere mouse click!

What about Killinochchi? It was an ancient bird sanctuary known as Giranikke, a grove of Nika Trees (Vitex Negunda) where parrots lived. Even the Magha invader is said to have upheld the sanctuary and the Lumbini Vihara that was there. Today, the name Giranikke is totally sidelined by our writers and journalists.

What about Iluppaikadavi in the west cost a bit north of Puttalam? It is the Meepathota of the Sinhalese, known in the Mahavamsa in Pali as Madupatheetha, the port of entry of the Magha invader. The Magha simply translated the name, and we have the fait accompli of ignoring all Sinhala sensitivities and adopting the Tamil name while excluding all other names.

What about Malvathu Oya? It became "Aruvi Aru" during British times. However, most Sinhalese know it as "Malvathu Oya", the river that flows by Anuradhapura since time immemorial, and mentioned in all the chronicles and in many literary works!

The land-link between the Vanni and the Jaffna peninsula is known as Elephant Pass in English, Alimankada in Sinhala, and Anaiyiravu in Tamil. When the reconstruction of the railroad destroyed by the LTTE reaches this land link, what should the name board be? If we follow Ann Abeysekera's logic, we should commit cultural hara-kiri, jettison both names Alimankada and Elephanat Pass, and retain only the Tamil form "Anaiyiravu" to not to upset Tamil sensitivities.

Ann Abesekera should remember that Sri Lanka has both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages. So, let it be Omanthai in Tamil, and Omandtha (or Omanda) in Sinhala, rather than trying to impose just the Tamil form, by claiming that we need to uphold Tamil sensitivities, while ignoring Sinhala sensitivities.

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