Origin of the Sinhala language and the Sinhalese

| by: Dr. S. K. Vadivel

Image Courtesy: Lankapura
( January 28, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This point of view of Sri Lanka’s early history is published in two parts. This is the second and concluding part Prof Wijeyanayake from London (like many other Sinhala scholars) wrote in the Sunday Observer of 17 November 1996: “The origin of the Sinhala race is in Lanka. There is no scientific evidence of Indians originating in India who speak Sinhalese.”

In the manner of Christian missionaries converting Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity in the 16th century A.D., Arahat Mahinda converted the Hindu King Devenampiya Tissa and his Hindu subjects (Tamils), to the Buddhist faith in 246 B.C. The vehicles of the Dhamma were the Pali and Sanskrit languages. Sinhala evolved through the intermingling of the Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit languages.

The term “Sihala” (lion in Pali) occurs for the first time in Sri Lankan sources in the Dipavamsa (4th-5th century A.D.) In this chronicle the term occurs only once, and in this cryptic verse it is stated that the Island was known as “Sihala” on account of the lion. “Lanka dipo ayam ahu sihena sihalaiti.” Dipavamsa Ch. 9. VI. In the Mahavamsa (5th-6th century A.D.) the term “Sihala” occurs only twice. In the epic Ramayana (400 B.C.), this Island was known as Lanka. There was no Sinhala race in Lanka before the Dipavamsa described the Buddhists as such. Even in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., what was to eventually become the Sinhala language had not evolved to the point where it was suitable for the compilation of important treatises like the Dipavamsa, Mahawamsa etc.

Mahanama, a Buddhist monk, the younger son of King Dhathusena, observing two groups of people in the 5th century A.D. – Hindus, speaking Tamil and the converts (Buddhists) speaking the new language (Sinhala) – hatched the story of Vijaya and his 700 followers (Bengalis), about 1000 years after their alleged landing, with the motive of projecting the Buddhists as a separate ethnic group, the Sinhalese.

King Muthu Siva ruled for 60 years. His second son Devanampiya Tissa succeeded him in 247 B.C. Devenampiya Tissa built the Thuparama and the Mihiyangana vihares and the vihare at Isurumuniya. Devanampiya Tissa’s brother Maha Nagan should have
succeeded him, but because Maha Nagan was suspected of having poisoned evenampiya Tissa’s son, Maha Nagan feared reprisals and fled to Ruhunu with his wife Anula. His other brothers, Uttiya, Maha Sivan and Sura Tissa, succeeded Devenampiya Tissa. Each of them reigned as king for ten years (207-177 B.C.).

It was during Uttiya’s reign that Arahat Mahinda died and his ashes were enshrined in the Mihintale stupa. During Sura Tissa’s reign, Sena and Guttika, sons of a south Indian freighter who were trading in horses, changed over from trade to political conquest. They
killed Sura Tissa and occupied the throne at Anuradhapura as kings from 177-155 B.C. They are the first Tamils from south India on record of occupying the throne at Anuradhapura.

King Elara from the Chola country pursued the trail of conquest set by Sena and Guttika. Elara killed king Devanampiya Tissa’s youngest brother Asela and captured the throne at Anuradhapura and ruled as king of Lanka for 44 years (145-101 B.C.).

Devnampiya Tissa’s brother Maha Nagan who fled to Ruhuna ruled over Magama. He was also a Buddhist like his brother Devanampiya Tissa and the others. He was the first to construct places of worship for the Buddhists in the Ruhuna. He built the Kiri Vihare, Sandagiri seya, Vilipiti Viharaya, Menik Dagaba and the Kudorappu Vihara. Viharas built by the Naga kings were known as Naga viharas. His son Yatala Tissa succeeded Maha Nagan. He built the Yatala cetiya. Professor Mendis Rohanadeera says that port cities like Kirinda, Godawaya, Rekava, Beraganla, Tangalle and Ambalantota throw light on the reality of Ruhuna having been the home of the Tamils of the Pandyan country.

Yatala Tissa was succeeded by his son Gothabhaya. Gothabhaya’s son was Kakkavanna Tissa (in Tamil: crow-coloured Tissa). Mahanama changed the name to Kavan Tissa. Kavan Tissa married Vihara Devi, daughter of the royal house of the Naga king of Kelaniya and a direct descendent of Uttiya. The couple begot two sons – Gemunu and Saddha Tissa. Gemunu was called Duttu Gemunu because he was insubordinate to his father.

The wars fought by Gemunu and Elara were not Sinhala-Tamil wars as maliciously projected by Mahanama. A careful examination of Gemunu’s pedigree will reveal that he was as much a Tamil as Elara, with the difference being that Gemunu was a Buddhist, whileElara was a Hindu. Elara was no enemy of the Buddhists. He was in fact, loved by the Buddhists. The strong hereditary Hindu element in Gemunu (present even today in all Sri Lankan Buddhists) made him a devotee of the Dravidian God Murukan at Kathirkamam. It is said in the Mahawamsa that Gemunu invoked the blessings of the Lord Murukan to endow him with strength to defeat King Elara in battle. Gemunu declared war on Elara for two valid reasons: (a) To take revenge on Elara for having killed King Asela (son of Muttu Siva, a relation on Gemunu’s paternal side) and usurping the throne. (b) His desire to become the king of Lanka and sit on the throne
at Anuradhapura.

Many, fighting on Gemunu’s side were Tamils who had embraced Buddhism. There were Tamils of the Buddhist faith, fighting on the side of Elara. One of the generals on Elara’s side was Mitta a Buddhist. Mitta’s sister’s son Nanda Mitta a Tamil (Buddhist), was one of the generals fighting in Gemunu’s army. Mahanama maliciously described the wars as Sinhala -Tamil wars. There was no Sinhala race in Lanka in the pre-Christian era.

After vanquishing King Elara, Gemunu had to fight thirty-two minor Tamil kings (Kshatriyas) in Ruhunu before ruling as a single sovereign over Lanka (101- 77 B.C.).So genuine was Gemunu’s admiration of King Elara’s valour and bravery that he erected a monument in the latter’s honour at the very spot he fell. King Gemunu decreed that the tomb shall be always honoured, i.e. all persons passing by the tomb are to silence their music, get down from their vehicles/horses and walk in silence until they pass the tomb. In direct contrast, the Sinhala-dominated government in 1948, during the period Dr. S. Paranavithame was commissioner of archaeology, maliciously built the government medical officers’ quarters over the tomb of a king who once ruled over Lanka justly and wisely, over friend and foe alike, without fear or favour for a period of 44 years (145-101 B.C.).

King Duttu Gemeunu died in 77 B.C. The Ruwanwali Seya, the Brazen Palace and the Mirisaveti stupa stand in his memory. His brother Saddha Tissa (77-59 B.C.) succeeded him. In Saddha Tissa’s memory stands the vihara at Digavapi.

Between the reign of Duttu Gemunu and the next important sovereign Valgambha are Thulatha Nagan, (59 BC for forty days), succeeded by his brother Lanja Tissa (59-50 B.C.). His brother Khallata Nagan (50-44 B.C.) succeeded Lanja Tissa. Khallata Nagan was succeeded by his younger brother Vatta Gamini alias Valgambha, who within six months of rule was chased out by a Brahmin named Tissa, who revolted against him.

Seven Tamils who came with their armies from south India supported the Brahmin. Undaunted, Valganlbha collected an army and chased away the seven brothers and regained his kingdom and ruled from (29-11 B.C.). Valgambha demolished the monastery at Giri and in its place built the much-venerated Abhayagiri vihara, in Ailuradhapura. Valgambha was succeeded by his nephew Mahasuli Maha Tissa (11-3 B.C. who was followed by Valgambha’s son Cora Nagan. Cora Nagan’s wife Anula poisoned him; she also poisoned her second husband Kutta Kanna, son of Mahasuli Maha Tissa.

It may be of interest and value to note that all kings from Muthu Siva (307-247 B.C.) right down to the beginning of the Christian era (a period of 300 years), were Tamils and barring King Muthu Siva, others were Buddhist by faith. The much adored and admired King Duttu Gemunu was a Tamil, both from his father’s side Kavan Tissa, and his mother’s side Vihara Devi, daughter of the Naga King of Kelaniya and a direct descendent of King Uttiya. They were of course, Buddhist by faith.

There is ample evidence that the districts of Hambantota, Galle, Amparai and Ratnapura were the home of Tamils of the Hindu faith who embraced the Buddhism during the 3rd –2nd centuries B.C. and adopted Sinhala as their mother tongue. The shrine dedicated to Lord Murukan at Kathirkamam and Lord Vishnu at Devinuwara is evidence of this. A shrine dedicated to Lord Chandreswara at Hambantota is no more due to the lack of patronage and subsequent neglect. Dr. Edward Muller, onetime commissioner of archaeology, in his “Records of Ceylon,” published in 1883 states, “There are Tamil Brahmi and Asokan Brahmi inscriptions on stones belonging to the 3rd century B.C. The earliest inscriptions in Sinhala are only of the 8th A.D.

Tamil inscriptions of the 2nd century B.C at Thalangoda Vihara, Matale will testify to the fact that Tamil-speaking Buddhist monks lived in caves in the neighbourhood of the vihara. Buddhists, who lived in the neighbourhood of the Diga Vapi vihara, built by King Saddha Tissa in the 2nd century B.C and Buddhists who lived in the neighbourhood of the Naga Vihara at Naga Deepa (Jaffna) wereTamils. Thousands of Tamils of the Buddhist faith who lived in south India during that era, i.e. 8th century A.D. later returned to the Hindu faith.

The Bovatagala inscriptions (30 miles off Kathirkamam) carry the engraved fish symbol of the Pandians. King Duttu Gemunu had to fight 32 Pandian chieftains at Ruhuna to become the sole ruler of Lanka. King Valgambha had to fight seven petty Pandian chieftains to reassume sovereignty at Anuradhapura.

According to Hugh Neville the oli of the Southern Province seen in the villages of Bope, Tiranagama, Madawatte and Bandattara are descendants of the Tamils of south India. They function as astrologers and ritual priests, conducting exorcism – tovil, bali and gara yakka (Matara suniam).

Dr. R. L. Brohier in ‘Discovering Ceylon,’ says, “a tank in Hambantota now called Magama wewa, was in ancient days known as “Pandikulam” - Ooru situ wewa, while even Dr. S. Paranavithana confirms that Ruhuna was the homeland of the Tamils in the preChristian era. The Murukan kovil at Kathirkamam and Vishnu kovil at Devinuwara confirm that fact.

Ratnapura, the Gem city: gem in Sinhala is menik; in Tamil it is ratna. The fact that the city is called Ratnapura and not Menik pura is evidence that the inhabitants of Sabaragamuwa in the ancient days were Tamils.

Nuwar Eliya: Nuwara is the corrupted form of the Tamil world Nagara. Eliya is the corrupted form of the Tamil word ‘veliye’ (outside) i.e. outside the city.

Nallathanni in Tamil is, ‘good (fresh) water.’ A village on the road to Adam’s Peak is called ‘Nalla thanni.’ This is evidence that the earliest pilgrims to Adam’s Peak were Tamil-speaking Hindus. At Devol Devale, Seenigama, among other rituals devotees also walk on embers or red-hot cinders. The Buddha denounced selfimmolation. This is evidence that the present Buddhists inherited these practices from their Hindu ancestors who embraced Buddhim in 246 B.C.

The Hindu element is patent in the lifestyle of every Sinhala-Buddhist. The 14th day in the month of April is not Hindu New Year’s day as erroneously believed. It is the New Year’s day of the Tamils. Buddhists in Sri Lanka observe that day as their New Year too.

Buddhists get their heads anointed, tie the ‘pirith noola,’ indulge in ‘ganu-denu,’ perform rituals, recite prayers, light incense to the Gods every morning before commencing business for the day, lay foundations at auspicious times etc. etc. It may therefore not be incorrect to assume that Sri Lankan Buddhists, who profess to follow Theravada Buddhism, are descendants of the Tamils (Hindus). No king of Lanka during its 2000 years history claimed that he was from an Aryan dynasty.

There are no walawuas and pattus in north India. The walawuas and pattus of south India became the walauwas and pattus of Lanka.

There are no Nayakes in north India. Senanayake, Bandaranaike, Alahakone, Kulathunge, Wickrema, Anuradha, Gunasinghe, Gunaratna etc are obviously Tamil names. Caste divisions are identical with those of the Tamils. North Indians do not worship Lord Mauruka but the Sinhalese worship Lord Muruka with great piety.

H. A. J. Hulugalle, in his booklet ‘Information for Tourists, 1947’ says in the first paragraph on page one: “The Sinhalese are a mixed race, their language has been vastly enriched with words from the Tamil vocabulary.” Mudliyar W. F. Gunawardene says the Sinhala language is primarily a Dravidian language. The structural foundation of Sinhala is Dravidian while the super-structure is Aryan.