Tamil Buddhists in the North - how about Tamil Jews?

| by V. Krishnarajan

( Decemver 12, California, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write to you regarding the article by J. L. Devananda (JLD) in the Sri Lanka Guardian entitled Tamil Buddhism in Ancient South India and Sri Lanka, and a reply article by Gam Vaesiya on Dec. 8, also in the Sri Lanka Guardian: Were the Buddhists in Pre-Christian Lanka. I see that Gam Vaesiya has also published more or less the same article in the Lankaweb, while JLD's article also appeared in J.B.S. Jeyraj's columns.

Why are we making theses claims? Will they strengthen out political status in Lanka or any where else?
J. L. Devananda has attempted to claim that the earliest people living in the North were Tamils, and also that they were Buddhists. More provocatively, he has also attempted to claim that the historical ruins of Buddhist temples, figurines etc., were left there by the Tamils and no body else. Gam vaesiya, quoting respected historians like Karthigesu Indrapala has argued that JLD's thesis is not supported and presents the traditonal thesis that these Northern Buddhist remnants are those left by Sinhala speakers. We also read these arguments claiming that Sinhala has a substratum of Tamil Brahmi, or that Tamil has some Sinhala words and a lot of Sanskrit words, etc etc., back and forth. We are even told in some books that even the Sanskrit of the Rig Veda has some Tamil words in it. So we are ready to claim that Tamils have been having a finger in the pie since time immemorial. We are told that the North and the East are the 'exclusive homelands of the Tamils, and that there were 'two nations' at such and such historic moments in the past.

As an ordinary Tamil who is looking at this debate from a distance, I must say that I do not have any strong urge to claim that Tamils were the first residents of Sri Lanka or anywhere else. In fact, if I were a Sinhalese, I would regard JLD's claims, tantamount to an exclusive claim for the Buddhist ruins, to be provocative and, in a manner of speaking, throwing the gauntlet at the Sinhalese. Is that good political tactics?

If we assume that Buddhism did come to Sri Lanka during the time of Asoka, the inhabitants of Lanka prior to that could have been Jains, Murugan worshippers, Naga worshippers, or even some Buddhists. They may have spoken some nondescript Prakrit as both Tamil Prakrit and Sinhala Prakrit are very close. The distinction is not the stuff out of which a political program could be built

After thirty years of war, and many more years going back to perhaps a century of disputation, I find this type of arguments quite counter-productive. JLD is not going to convince anyone that anybody knows for sure who lived in Lanka or south India in the 3rd century BC. We hear names like Chola, Pandiya, Kera etc. We hear of the legends of Vijaya, or the legends of Manimekalai. In my view, there must surely have been south-Indian people in Sri Lanka during the hay day of the Anuradhapura civilization
which was Buddhist. The early south-indians may have been identified as Pallava, Kera or Chola and not yet crystallized as Tamils.

But for simplicity let us call Them Tamils. A good number of such Tamil speaking people would have been Buddhists, while there would have been Hindus, especially during the Pollonaruva period.

So what?

Why are we making theses claims? Will they strengthen out political status in Lanka or any where else? Look at the English language. Medieval English has possible some 60% loan words from French. But would it help to hence claim that Shakespeare was a French playwrite?

I believe that the TNA, or electronic Bloggers like D. B. S. Jeyraj, or writers like JLD who come to claim the legacy of Buddhist shrines in the North for the Tamils are really doing a disservice of the Tamils. The TNA is still wanting to merge the North and the East, while even the TULF did not win significantly in the East in 1977, leaving aside the non-performance of the TNA in the East more recently.

The future of the Tamils lies not in constitutional haggling or writing history with the intention of claiming that we were there `before them', or that ' we Tamil Buddhists built that Stupa and not you Sinagalayas', etc. Our success in Sri Lanka depends on our economic power being strong enough to compensate for our weakness in numbers. The Jews of America are five million in number, but they are a small percentage. Nevertheless the Jewish lobby has more 'clout' than any other group in US politics.They have not got there by asking for an official status for Yiddish, or demanding that the Jewish areas of New York and adjoining states be merged to form a province or state (which would actually be bigger than the North and East in Sri Lanka) with powers devolved to it. After all, the Jews of America could even make strong claims of discrimination in the hands of the WASP majority and justify their demands for power devolution into a Yiddish homeland in the USA. But the Jews of America know far better than that.

If the Jews of America know better - why don't our Tamil politicians take a leaf from them? Why are our so-called Tamil leaders, writers and journalists following their old bankrupt Vaddukkoddai politics or Thimpu? If the Vaddukkoddai politics could not work in the 1970s and 1980s, under Jayawardena or Premadasa, what hope is there for that today, with the Tamil program decisively vanquished in battle, in politics, and with no Indian support?

The future of the Tamils lies in strong participation in commerce, banking, the professions, the media, and in every other influential walk of life, just as the American Jews do, while accepting the majority politics of the country. majority politics can be by-passed when we become economically strong. Ultimately, the politicians, be they American, Indian or Lankan, they listen to the power of money. The chinese know it too. The politics of the TNA, and the journalism of the DBSJ, JLD types would in the end subvert the possible success of Tamil prosperity and power, by creating suspicion and dissension between the minority community and the majority Sinhala Buddhists. The latter are like the WASPS, and we have to become the Jews, of Sri Lanka, and that is the only sensible game possible under the present circumstances.

The Muslims have known this game very well. They even had a "Sinhala Marikkar" minister in bada's caninet! Imagin what wonders we could have done if Chelva had also said yes to Bandaranaike's language policies and entered his cabinet? Out of sheer joy he would have granted what SJV wanted, and the Sinhalese would have been happy too.

But the high hubris of the proud lawyer class is not productive in politics.

If we had played such wise politics, we could have 'bought' Sri Lanka from the Sinhalese with no shots fired. We could have given enough capital to every Tamil to invest, with the vast amounts of money stupidly spent on paying the battle bills of the LTTE where our own kids became the cannon fodder. Even today the `trans-national government' has a lot of money. But its leaders have a lot of hubris too, and so they must prove their point and follow the same old bankrupt politics. D. B. S. Jeyraj and others, while being outside the loop, still continue to support the same old 'tamil homelands' politics, now with the claims of 'Tamil Buddhists', and the Tamil Periya-vamsam also fired into the melee!

What madness.