Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Origin of Sinhala and Myth of Tamil homeland

[[Some time ago I posted this in an access-limited blog srilankapatriots.blogspot.com]]

From time to time somebody raises a list of questions about the origins of Sri Lankan nation. It is quite evident that these people are pretending sleepers whom you will never wake up. They are clinging onto whatever the mythical threads of history and trying to prove that Sri Lanka belongs to ethnic Tamils in order to justify the work of the most inhuman terrorist movement of our time. There seem to be no academic sense in the discussion. Nevertheless the misinformation and defamation needs to be clarified for the sake of truth and sanity.

Before we dig this dual tomb of Vijaya and Ravana we need to assert few facts. Even if Tamils inhabited Sri Lanka for eons, it is clearly irrelevant to the present day terror war. Today's war was caused by a terrorist group and worldwide support base of it. Since they took up arms and started terrorist acts, Sri Lanka Defence Forces are compelled to counter them [and they do well]. Once you take up arms the reactive party is without choice to inflict maximum damage on you and eliminate. So let the war be spoken in its language and leave aside history in battle front.

Apart from the war, this historical myth has no place in the broader political context either, as today’s world is not divided by some ancient lines. Americans accept that they stole lands of Red Indians and Aussies even apologized for what they did to Aborigines. Israel was casted out of Palesthene where latter was once created vice versa. Human settlements vary from time to time. If we mark the borders based on those of ancient lines, then the debate is as of which day? It makes no sense at all.

Hence the claim of Eealm based on the mythical history is a null point both militarily and politically. Nevertheless for the records and academic interest I would like to point how historically wrong these "homeland" claimers are.

Many of the conspiracy theorists seem to hate the ancient chronicles Mahawamsa. With due respect to ancient book, I agree that we cannot base our argument on the books alone. Most of these books are based on millennia old legend [by the time of writing] and fictional writing. They are mostly written as tribute to some ancient characters. We have the science of history called archeology which is way ahead of this art of history.

However, the conspiracy theorists cling onto same Mahavamsa on one point. The book states that Sri Lankan history started after Vijaya - the bandit prince - was chased from his Indian regional kingdom and they landed in Sri Lanka around 545BCE. It further affiliates the term "Sinhala" to be brought down to Sri Lanka by Vijaya. Conspiracy theorists take this idea to prove that Sinhala are invaders 2500 years ago, taking control over Sri Lanka’s then overwhelming population.

And then they contradict the book and invent the myth that those people who lived before Vijaya were Tamils. Book says that they were chased into indigenous lands in central Sri Lanka where Sri Lankan form of tribal aborigine people live even to date. Mighty double standards to use the book when it helps your claims, but discard the rest of it.

Valmiki's Ramayan states about history before Vijaya. But that book is even more factious and mythical. It is like folklore, in the tunes of Greek and Roman wars of gods. However the king of Sri Lanka as per the story of Ramayan - Ravana - stands to be an emperor of a major empire of his time. Although details, characters and times of the story are classified as fictional many history analysts agree that it shows clear evidence of a major kingdom in island of Sri Lanka long before Vijaya's arrival and history old wars between Sri Lanka and India.

What happens now is that everyone wants to be the children of Ravana in order to own the legacy and the historical rights for the sixty five thousand square killometers of Sri Lankan real estate.

Ravana may be mythical or real, but the kingdom of Sri Lanka and its population is apparent with chronicles themselves. As per Mahawamsa, Vijaya came with 700 people to a well inhabited island. Archeology in North Central Anuradhapura and Southern Ambilipitiya and Kirinda has unearthed settlements dating pre-Vijaya times. So it is proven beyond anything that there had been some civilization before Vijaya.

Not only Vijaya, there must have been many other immigrants to Sri Lanka, from most parts of India and other Asian locations too. Question is how big was the immigrant population with respect to natives? The archeological evidence asserts city based settlements and kingdom like structure. That means there were hundreds of thousands of people living in Sri Lanka for eons.

The bottom line is that several ship loads cannot change ethnicity of a major kingdom. Likely situation is that all the migrants including Vijaya got mixed with people who lived in Sri Lanka.

So I believe I provided enough reasons to disprove the claim that Vijaya and 700 people eradicated all the inhabitants in Sri Lanka or chased them to a corner. Instead what it looks to be is that Vijaya and 700 got integrated to the island population.

The word Sinhala is interpreted in many ways. Siw-hela and Sinha-le are two prominent debate points. Siw-Hela stands for the theory that there were four tribes belonging to Hela nation, before Vijaya, and they turned into Sinhala later. Sinha-le is a dance to the tune of Mahavamsa, representing Vijaya's blood[Le in Sinhala] of Lion tribe [Sinha].

Any of these theories stands a good possibility. Note that there was a tradition of calling the nation by the ethnicity of the king. Since Vijaya was the ruler of most parts of the island by his time, it is likely to be called by his ethnic background, especially by his fellow outsiders who had no link with other Sri Lankans by that time. In a similar extra ordinary way nation of Philipines is named after a king in Spain, but that does not mean Philipine of today is inhabited by Spanish. Nations are not always called as they wish to be.

In any case Sinhala is a pure word tussle. It is pretty hard to find the etymology.

However there seem to be casual reference to Sinhala in most history material. It is more about usage than etymology. Some names to call ancient Sri Lanka are derived from the word Sinhala, notably Ceylon. It is evident that most of ethnic groups lived in Sri Lanka but were called as a part of the Nation Sinhala. In ancient times Sinhala was used like terms Australian, American or Canadian. Underneath the national context many ethnic groups live.

But this changed in past millennium.

If you visit cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa there is evidence that some major invasion ending them in times ~1000CE and ~1200CE respectively. Evidence further proves that invaders were people of hindu faith of Dravidian [South Indian] origin. Tamils are Hindu Dravidians as well. As per conspiracy theorists, if Tamils were the prominent nation in Sri Lanka why do we see same Dravidians invading and destroying them?

Good evidence can be gained from the village names in predominantly Tamil regions of today. They are not genuine Tamil words. They are Tamilized Sinhala words. It means that the names were first in Sinhala and later converted into Tamil. This is an evidence that Tamils or Dravidians invaded Sinhala people and gained control. You can see the same phenomena in Australia, where original aboriginal town names are converted into English and pronounced in English accent. But the names show their non-English origin.

There is evidence in ancient Sri Lankan North that Dravidians invaded Sri Lanka and started migrating mainly within past millennium. Religious Shrines exhibit more Hindu items. Architecture changes towards Dravidian. There are artifacts found, belonging to Dravidian civilization - all these only within past millennium.
Sinhala kings have fought back to save parts of the island. Finally the Jaffna peninsula remained predominantly Dravidian populated whereas Sinhala [of all ethnic groups] migrated to southern parts. Fate of Wanni is unclear. Wanni is mostly full of jungles, and to date, the most sparsely populated region in Sri Lanka. I think Malaria caused by abandoned irrigation tanks made the region mostly uninhabitable. Again my reasoning is based on ruins and other archeological evidence in the regions.

The hostile entry of Tamils into Sri Lanka, and the uninhabitable land mass between them, stopped the phenomena of ethnic integration of Tamils into mainstream Sinhala. The nation of Sinhala turned into an ethnic group due to this segragation, and their petty internal differences blended and disappeared. The Dravidian invaders remained separate, in a different region. On top of this vibrant social distribution, Muslim traders settled around most ports of the island. Having a very different faith, big wealth and different life style, Muslims hardly integrated with the other two ethnic groups. If ever they did, that was always conversion towards Muslim. Later on Europeans came and left behind some other ethnic groups such as Burgher, Ja, Malay. Right now Sri Lanka is having a growing Chinese population as well.

So the greater Sri Lankan nation is a mixture of many ethnic groups. Tamils dwell in the regions of Dravidian control, speak their languages and believe in their faith; hence it is logical to believe that they are descendants of Dravidian invaders. Note that Today's Tamils of India are of Dravidian origin anyway. Sinhala is the majority, and ancient flag holder of the nation. But today in Sri Lanka they are regarded as a separate ethnic group.

Let us take up few imaginary questions.

Can there be a Tamil/Dravidian minority that lasted from the days of Vijaya until now?

It is very much impossible as the island is small and ethnic barriers would not last long. Only possibility is in a very remote region. But today's Tamils live in North and East. Those were the prime regions of Sinhala kingdom. The Dravidian invasion also occurred there. So it is impossible for a minority to survive.

Simply, ethnic purity over millenia long time frames is only possible if the ethnic group is separated from the rest by some terrain-like barrier.

Were there not any Dravidians living in Sri Lanka before invasion?

There may have been. As I said the Sinhala nation is a mix of all ethnic groups. So they must be part of Sinhala. Like Greek Australian, there must have been a time of Tamil Sinhala or Dravidian Sinhala. After some millennia the internal ethnic identities within Sinhala got lost as they integrated into one race.

This theory is the same for many races of today, such as English, Korean, Japanese or Chinese. At the beginning they comprised different sub groups and after some millenia it is blended into one race.

Can it be a total misleading by Mahavamsa and Sri Lankan civilization was indeed a Tamil one?

Archeology disproves. There is no evidence of a strong Dravidian/Tamil presence in Sri Lanka before 1000CE [invasion]. And Sri Lankan civilization was following Buddhism, and Tamils are Hindus.

As fellow blogger Calvin has pointed out in the comments section [thanks Calvin for this wonderful argument];
it is impossible to have Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils speak same language if they were two separate nations for two thousand and five hundred years. During that long time, Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils would definitely develop two different dialacts if not two entirely different languages. However, there is no major difference in the langauge in both sides, proving that people migrated from one to the other in recent times.

Is Sri Lanka Homeland of Tamils?

It is pretty hard to debate on a term as loosely defined as homeland. What is a homeland? It is simple and easy to think that Sri Lanka is the home land of all its residents, without any specialty. Tamils are included.

Why is there such a big cry from conspiracy theorists?

There are people who think that man never went to moon. But thinking so won't bring any benefit to them. Hence there is no big cry from those conspiracy theorists on Luna landing. But Tamil Homeland is different. It is used as the framework for the most lethal terror movement of the world - Tamil Tigers. As long as it is sellable they will sell it.

Homeland claim is [mis]used by the terror outfit as a basis for peace talks [when they want to buy time] and to walk away from discussion [when they are re-organized], to motivate cadres [school kids], to obtain support from Sri Lankan Tamil population, to raise money from migrant Tamils and to receive morale support from Tamilnadu and India.

Myth and con live as long as they have a market value, especially when the marketing is conducted with customer at gun point.

Yet, as it was proven for decades now, truth does prevail.


  1. The fact that this land belonged to Tamils in pre-Vijaya era has to be said a myth. I can safely accept though that Englishmen captured the nothern part of this country from a descendent of the "Arya Chakrawarthi" dynasty in late 1700s A.D., but this tamil dynasty was a late development in this country not having any roots beyond 1200 A.D. Even that development is mainly due to the lack of a powerful Sinhalese kingdom after the post-Anuradhapura era & also due to the shifting of the Sinhalese kingdom to more southern areas after the post-Polonnaruwa era. Coming back to the tale of Vijaya, it may most probably be the most well-known & decidicng incident among several such colonializations, but not the only one. Sri Lanka may have had a decent civilization & culture since the late iron ages even before Vijaya took over the kingdom in 6th century B.C.. The tale of Vijaya very much sounds that the major colonialization(s) from India which brought not just people but also their Indian culture & several sub cultures occurred somewhere near 6th century B.C.. Having said that, it doesn't really imply that all the current Sinhalese in this country are pure & direct descendents from Vijaya & his 700 crew. In general, Sinhalese (including me as well !) are a race which has mixed & well blended roots. It may be a mix of natives, various different Indians/Javas/Malayans came to this country over a period of 20+ centuries starting from the 6th century B.C. (or may be even beyond) to the 15-16th century A.D. All these may have been absorped into the main Sinhalese Buddhist culture & the caste system existed here in olden ages so that none of these people didn't carry their very original culture & the naming system anymore though few hints would be visible if you dig deeper into the surnames associated with several different castes among Sinhalese. That also can be quite misleading at times as not all these names have been the very original surnames descending from ealry centuries, rather the ones adopted in post-15th century A.D. in almost all the cases, some being as lately as in early 19th century as well. Only the Malays, Javas, Moors etc. who had accumulated here after the 15-16th century or so, may not have been well aborped into the traditional Sinhalese Buddhist system due to various social reasons developed later, so they may be visible as clearly separate sub cultures. So Sinhalese may not be a pure breed as some of these extremists would argure here, rather a mix of several different groups under a common languague & Buddhist culture. Even the language of Sinhalese, though said to be a descendent of Brahmi, may never be a pure one at that. The current Sinhala language has some very clear genetic relationships to few Indian Dravidian languages as well. Just check the alphabets of Malayalam & Kannada for instance. You'll be amazed to see how most symbols & their sounds stand almost identical between these few languages, especially between Mlayalam & Sinhala, & to a lesser extent between Kannada & Sinhala. In most general sense, these three languages are a mix of early Brahmi & few middle age dravidian languages; all fall under the common umbrella of Indo-European languages. So in general, Sinhlase are a well blended & evolved race, so is its langauge Sinhala. Neither is a pure breed. No such exists in this world in fact.

  2. HLANGL;

    Many thanks for the comment.

    Let me state few more fcts relevant.

    - Cholas invaded SL in 993 CE. But were defeated in 150yrs. Again in 1215v came a ruthless South Indian invasion.

    - There shud be tamils living in SL before taht, but they may not have had a prominant and dominant in regions. It was probably the capital based minority.

    - Tamils settlled in Jaffna peninsula after 1215, and Sinhala left North and North Central. This was caused/ and resulted by teh vast regions of Wanni becoming uninhabitable due to abandoned/destroyed irrgation. Most likely is that Wanni was mostly arid, except for insignificent populations.

    - However subsequent Sinhala kingdoms return to North. At times Jaffna was under Sinhala kings from 1215 till 1619. So you cannot say taht even the peninsula was outright independant. Wanni paid taxes to both sides, and as I said, was mostly arid.

    - 1619 portugese captured Jaffna.

    - It was during dutch and English days that they populated the arid Wanni with imported and Jaffna tamils for plantations.

    - Most location names in Wanni/Jaffna are sinhala names tamilized. Not genuine tamil names.

    - Not only south Indian, but also north indian languages share common features of Sinhala. Sinhala vocabulary is strongly related to Sanskrit, Tamil and Portugese.

  3. "Sinhala vocabulary is strongly related to Sanskrit, Tamil and Portugese." Yes, true, but what I meant was the genetic relationships, the relationships which exist between the alphabets, vowels/consonents & their sounds. These genetic relationships give more hints regarding the evolution of a particluar language, from which languages it evolved into its current state I mean. The words can be added from any language later due to various other social, trade & regional impacts. We do have examples from several different european languages (i.e. Portugese, Dutch, English) but Sinhalese language don't have much visible genetic impact from these languages. In most cases these have affected only the vocabulary of the already developed & stabilized language, not the alphabet or its sounds. Sanskrit has affected, no doubt, in fact it's also a descendent of early Brahmi, plus it has few visible links to the early european languages, especially to Latin, German, etc. In fact, the whole Indo-Aryan language family is a subset of more general Indo-European language family. Went a bit out of the topic, but these always fascinates anyone who's keen on these subjects, so no harm in stretching a bit I guess.