By Rajan Hoole –
Citizenship was not originally a contested area. At the first session of the Ceylon National Congress, on 11th December 1919, where Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was elected president, it was assumed without dissent that all communities in the Island would be represented. In 1927, the Donoughmore Commissioners, who proposed universal adult franchise for ordinary residents did not themselves envisage a distinction. But it was clear to the Sinhalese plutocrats that under the scheme of one man – one vote, the balance of power would shift to the labouring classes.
In 1928, W.A. de Silva, president of the Ceylon National Congress, wanted the most vulnerable Plantation Tamils denied the vote because ‘their highly deprived living conditions and isolation made their vote a danger to the ‘community.’’ Any outsider visiting them was legally an intruder and subject to prosecution. Asked by the Indian journalist, Sant Nihal Singh, why not remove the restrictive regime in the Plantations, including his own, and allow the labour freedom to mix freely? De Silva admitted that then, the chief reason for denying them the vote would be gone. Seeing such specious denial of the vote made universal franchise farcical, the British Administration settled for minimum five years residence as condition for the vote.
Proof of five years residence seemed reasonable in 1929 and the Plantation Tamils too exercised the franchise in the 1931 and 1936 elections, but were by 20 years of insult and administrative harassment based on small-minded technicalities, rendered voteless in 1949. In 1941 the Legal Secretary had told the Council that 80% of the Plantation Tamils were either born here or had resided more than 10 years. Any government with a meagre sense of justice would in 1948 have taken the five years’ residence for granted. But even though they were paupers at the backbone of the economy, they were denied citizenship and the vote, making them slaves, on the risible pretext that they were, as D.S. Senanayake put it, citizens of India.
During the 20 years of the Donoughmore era, education too followed the social hierarchy; in 1927 a teacher in an English medium school could earn Rs. 70 to 200 and in a vernacular school from Rs.35 to Rs. 60. But the estate children were nominally taught reading, writing and arithmetic by teachers paid almost a plantation labourer’s salary of Rs. 20 a month in 1948. The labour was totally unprepared for the challenges of contesting disenfranchisement in the courts by proof of five years’ residence, even when many judges were sympathetic. The Registration bill of 1941 aimed at the Plantation Tamils, showed Senanayake whom the British favoured for the transfer of power, with the Left opposition jailed, established a stranglehold over the House. Amazingly, with the Left behind bars, no Sinhalese voted against the Bill. When the independence bill was put to the State Council in 1945, no Ceylon Tamil was willing to face up to the tragedy in train.
In the process, we destroyed the trust and good neighbourliness within the country to the point of driving the Tamil minority to seek lethal weapons; and in the unfolding dynamic, the majority and minority sought to overcome internal dissent by terror.
In today’s reality, this was defending the unaffordable Army doubling up as archaeological experts; scouring the North-East for tokens that could be turned into grandiose monuments for the Sinhalese among non-Sinhalese; and in turn driving the starving Sinhalese to desperate measures.
Academic historians and archaeologists have from their dull enclaves been shot into stardom as their professions became politicised. Written history will be of value only if it broadly reflects truth, rather than confirms the reader’s bias. The writer must interrogate his writing to check the validity of his conclusions.
To prove that the Indian labourers came only for short stay, Prof. S.U. Kodikara argued from the comparatively low proportion of unemployable elderly persons on the estates in the early 20th Century, that the elderly generally returned to India. But, in truth, conditions were harsh and the relative death rate very high, so that few survived to return. The blackout of Indian labour’s crucial contribution which kept the economy afloat, during the second world war and long after, to the tune of 65 per cent of our foreign earnings until 1965, is an injustice committed by both Sinhalese and Tamil politicians. That began the move to devalue everything Tamil.
The systematic denial of the Pallava (namely Tamil) contribution to Buddhist Art was to suppress the Tamil role. With scant evidence, the credit was shifted further north to inspiration from Amaravati of the 3rd century. This necessitates suppression of an episode of Indian Tamil immigration in the 8th to 10th centuries that led to excellence in art, expansion of trade, identification and internationalisation of the port of Trincomalee and the coming of China, by invitation.
Movement between Lanka and India was there all along, be it religion, trade, war or peace
The political need for the citizenship Act therefore inserted an official culture of systematic falsehood. Lankan professor of archaeology, Sirima Kiribamune, in ‘Tamils in Ancient and Mediaeval Sri Lanka’ of 1985, says, passing over the Pallava era in silence: “the 8th century, which saw some dynastic stability in the country, appears to have been relatively free of Indian troop movements.” Of Manavamma’s return following more than 20 years in service of the Pallavas, K.M. de Silva, remarks that there was augmentation of royal authority and sophistication of administration.
D.K. Dohanian, however, points out in his paper ‘Sinhalese Sculptures in the Pallava Style’ in Archives of Asian Art Vol. 36 (1983), Duke University Press:
“Lanka’s awareness of Indian neighbours was never so dynamic than during the nearly four hundred years following the flight of the Sinhalese prince Manavamma to political asylum in [Pallava] Kanchi, to the court of Narasimhavarman I. In 684 AD he captured the throne of Lanka in the wake of naval aid from the Pallava monarch, which set off from Mamallapuram. Following his reign of about 35 years, he was succeeded by his sons Aggabodhi V (AD 718 – 724), Kassapa III (724 – 730) and Mahinda I (730 – 733). These sons of Manavamma both shared his exile and were born in the Pallava country. In consequence Pallava influence at the Sinhalese court was quite strong.
“Both the stability and prestige of the Government of Lanka were related to the unbroken alliance with the Pallavas that lasted until the extinction of the Pallava dynasty near the end of the 9th Century. During this time the kingdom of Lanka benefitted from the might of the Pallavas” – who in the late 7th or 8th Century AD turned Trincomalee into a throbbing port city, judging by its wealth from the seabed ruins of Koneswaram Temple, and Mahayana Buddhist remains all over.
The relevant history of Tamil Nadu – inspiration of Budhism and Jainism
Tamil Nadu has a blank in its history, after the 3rd Century AD, up to about 550 AD. Nilakanta Shastri tells us in his History of South India: “This dark period marked by the ascendancy of Buddhism and probably also of Jainism, was characterised also by great literary activity in Tamil.” Though characterising it ‘the dark period,’ being the great historian he was, Shastri followed with the brighter side of what has been termed the Kalabhra era, a time that saw the golden age of Tamil literature. He added: “Most of the works grouped under the head, The eighteen minor works were written during this period as also the Silappadikaram, Manimekalai and other works. Many of the authors were votaries of the heretical sects.”
It was a period marked by pluralism, if not secularism. David Shulman is a citizen of Israel, who works actively for justice to the Palestinians, from whom we in the University of Jaffna were privileged to have a visit. In his book of 2016, Tamil – a biography – provides a solution to the Kalabhra riddle that avoids the fantastic: “The once prevalent notion of a dark interregnum in which a mysterious dynasty of ‘Kalbhras’ penetrated with devastating effect, into the Tamil country now seems rather exaggerated, if not, indeed, entirely fictive.”
The Kalabhra period had witnessed a social upheaval in which the Buddhists and Jains gained in economic importance. In dealing with a revolution, which was largely pacific, the Pallavas, the emergent power in the Chola country from 550 AD on, whose rulers in turn embraced Jainism and Hinduism, wisely chose to buy into the revolution rather than suppress it. Thus, the Pallava capital Kanchipuram became a city of Jain, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist learning. The merchant marine of the time with Kanchipuram as headquarters carried Mahayana Buddhism and the Tamil language to East Asia. The social atmosphere of the time is captured in the Silappadikaram and Manimehalai, and in Anne E. Monius’ book ‘Imagining a Place for Buddhism.’
Amaravati or Pallava?
Senarat Paranavitana, the doyen of Ceylon’s archaeologists, in his Art of the Ancient Sinhalese (1971), advances the ‘overwhelming’ influence of ‘Andhra art on that of early Ceylon and a branch of that school in Ceylon, producing the sculptures on the frontispieces of the ancient stupas.’ This was speculative, given the censorship of Mahayana in the chronicles of Ceylon and the 400 years that separated Amaravati from the flowering of Pallava art. Nilakanta Shastri traces Roman influence in the ‘vigorous and supple realism, characteristic of all Indian sculpture, particularly from the days of Asoka and Sanchi to the Pallava sculptures of Mamallapuram … Roman influence in the art of Amaravati that foreshadows that of Aihole and Mamallapuram.’
Osmund Bopearachchi, from Sorbonne, one of our eminent archaeologists has pointed to the mass discoveries from the 7th and 8th centuries of statues of Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara, the protector of sailors, along the island’s ports, rivers, and overland routes. He also points to famous Mahayana Buddhist statues in the southeast of the island, as in Budurugala, from this period. But he remarkably fails to make the crucial Pallava connection and leaves these facts as curiosities hanging in the air. The Amaravati claim is focused on one instance. Paranavitana quoted the authority of Ananda Coomaraswamy on the well-known statue in the Abhayagiri grounds [in Anuradhapura], ‘dignified as are the Buddhist statues of Amaravati, the great Buddha at Anuradhapura surpasses them in grandeur.’
Dohanian (ibid) adds: “Perhaps the most celebrated Sinhalese sculpture in the Pallava style is the stone Buddha of the Outer Circular Road in Anuradhapura [cited by] Coomaraswamay … Though originally from the Mahayanist shrine at Abhayagiri vihara, with three similar, if not identical Buddha images, it has been given space in virtually every publication on Buddhism and Buddhist art in modern times. The stone sculpture isolated from its shrine has been much commented upon, and has been placed within dates, ranging as a rule from the 2nd century A.D. to the fifth; there have been some attempts to date it much earlier … The shrine of which this image is a component has been dated within the first half of the eighth century, and I have demonstrated elsewhere, that the sculpture was contemporary, in manufacture, with the shrine.
“Although most scholars have been content to see ‘Gupta’ qualities in it, this image most convincingly resembles the figures carved on the face of the great rock at Mamallapuram, the ancient city of the Pallavas.”
No Lankan scholar seemed to have commented on Dohanian’s paper of 1983. At a seminar in University College London on 6th July 2005, Bopearachchi, repeated Paranavitana’s thesis on the ‘overwhelming’ influence of Amaravati-Nagajunakonda art on the earliest Buddha images in Sri Lanka as having ‘gained unanimous acceptance.’ This he partially retracted on 30th December 2014, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts:
“D.K. Dohanian sees a parallel between this type of ascetic Avalokiteśvara and Śiva of the early Pallava style depicted … in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). If this hypothesis is correct, the stone Avalokiteśvara images cannot be dated before the 7th century because the Pallava sculptures at Mamallapuram are generally dated to the reign of Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE).”
But Dohanian’s case on the actual origin of the Statue and its date to 8th Century AD went unanswered. All the while local archaeological publications have tried to protect the State’s ideological positions on the East of the country, particularly Trincomalee.
The East, a Pallava Lake
The Culavamsa tells us that in his second and successful attempt after 20 years, the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, had ‘numerous strong ships of different shape built’ in Mamallapuram and sent Manavamma who successfully conquered Ceylon in 684 AD. The convoy resembled a ‘floating town.’ C.W. Nicholas identifies the place he landed as Mahatittha in Mannar (pp.76, 77) on Ceylon’s western seaboard. However, the Culavamsa speaks of Parakramabahu I sending an expedition from the East to punish the King of Burma from Pallavanka (Palvakki), identified by Codrington as an inlet between Thiriyai (27 miles from Trinco) and Kuchchaveli (20 miles from Trinco) on the north road.
The Pallavas were in conflict with the Pandyas, who overlooked Ceylon’s western seaboard, where the water is shallow and would not readily admit large vessels (Pliny on Taprobane, Chap 24.(22.)). The Culavamsa on the Pallava convoy speaks of ‘numerous strong ships.’
Assuming the destination of the Pallava forces was Anuradhapura, there was a well-traversed route from Thiriyai to Anuradhapura. This is also suggested by the Mahayana shrine Girikanda Caitiya with Sanskrit inscriptions in Pallava Grantha of about 7th Century AD, founded by guilds of merchants named Trapassuka and Vallika. Nearby Kuchchaveli too has a Mahayana inscription in Pallava Grantha. It is reasonable to assume that the Pallavas in sending forces into Lanka, saw the utility of the East Coast to expand their trade activities. It opens the likelihood that Spatana Portus in Ptolemy’s map represented Thiriyai rather than Trincomalee.
Nilakanta Shastri records (p.139) that Pallava Narasimhavarnan’s son and successor, Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha during his reign (700-728) marked by peace and prosperity, ‘sent embassies to China and maritime trade flourished greatly in his time.’ We may take this as the time Trincomalee was opened to international shipping from China to the Arabian Peninsula, permitting spread of the contemporary message of Islam to the far east. The time agrees with the paean to Koneswaram by the 9th Century lyricist Tirugnanasambandar, who sang “Konamalai and the peerless God who dwelleth on Konamalai, to the sound of the roaring Ocean and rows of Kalal and the anklets, and half whose body is shared by the Maid of the Mountains and who rides the sacred bull.”
Once more we refer to David Shulman’s Tamil – a Biography: “Prehistory proceeds into protohistory and from there to the historical light of day … To return briefly to the problem of dating: once again we find ourselves working backwards from the eighth century record, converging on some legendary figure who might easily be situated, together with other heroes from the mythic past … I think we can conclude that this layer of consolidated tradition constitutes something good and true – not in the sense of brute historical facts, but in the sense that Tamil literary tradition achieved a certain semi-standardised form at that time [in Pandya Madurai of the 5th – 8th Century].”
The history in the Mahavamsa we discern followed Shulman’s formula. We know that the Tamil Buddhist monks who wrote or presided over the writing of the Mahavamsa, Buddhadatta Thera (5th Century) and Culavamsa, Dhammakitti Maha Thera (13th Century), were undoubtedly familiar with history writing in the Pandya country (T.N. Ramachandran, Hisselle Dhammaratana Mahāthera). Manavamma seeing Muruga riding the peacock at Gokanna belongs to this category of history. The peacock is fictitious, but it points to the location of meditation, Gokanna, as near Kataragama.
On Trincomalee, further evidence is related by Tijana Radeska in the Vintage News (6 Sept.2016): “Arthur C. Clarke uncovered ruined masonry, architecture, and idol images of the sunken original temple — including carved columns with flower insignias, and stones in the form of elephant heads — spread on the shallow surrounding seabed. The pillar, as well as the ruins, display Tamil, Pallava, and Chola architectural influence of the 3rd-9th-century era, corroborated by the discovery of Pallava Grantha and Chola script inscriptions and Hindu images found in the premises …” C. Nandagopal, Univ. of Kelaniya, adds, ‘As the emblem of power and imperial status elephants are given a significant place in the Pallava royal regalia and occupy the sacred precinct of temple architecture.’
On the development of Trincomalee first by the Pallavas, followed by the Cholas, there is a great deal more evidence in the form of artefacts and inscriptions apart from the remains of Koneswaram in the sea. The building of the port and temple were supported by land grants to surrounding villages, a tradition continued almost to this day (Van Senden’s diary (1786)), a 10th Century Tamil slab inscription at Nilaveli (S. Gunasingam). Neither the Pallavas nor Cholas let religion jeopardise trade. In fact, in 1090 the king of Sri Vijaya (Sumatra – Island of Gold) sent an embassy to Kulottunga with the request to issue a grant of villages to the two Buddhaviharas built at Nagappattinam – known as the Rajaraja Perumpalli and the Rajendra Perumpalli. The administration of Trincomalee by trade guilds such as the Ainnuruwar explains its continuity under changes from Pallava, to Chola to Parakramabahu (Dinuka Kekulawala, Kelaniya).
Until the Pallava intrusion in the 7th century, Trincomalee was hardly noticed. C.W. Nicholas in the special issue of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Ceylon Branch of 1963, referring to Ptolemy’s celebrated map of AD 150, confirms the obscurity of Trincomalee then, “If the River Ganges is the Mahavali Ganga, it is extraordinary that no port is marked at its mouth and the great harbour of Trincomalee had no name … In the Chronicles the port of Trincomalee is called Gokannatittha or Gonagamaka: it is mentioned as a landing place in the 5th century B.C., though this account is probably legendary, and again in the 3rd century…” The latter to newly erected Gokanna Vihara in Trincomalee, claiming precedence over Koneswaram Temple, supposedly destroyed in the 3rd Century.
The foregoing might also answer another question – the origin of the Kataragama Muruga shrine, latterly supported by the kings of Kandy, and patronised by Tamil speakers. The best introduction to this question is given by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in his essay, ’The Worship of Muruga or Skanda.’ This may be termed the ancient religion of Ceylon, enriched by a steady stream of Indian immigrants and pilgrims from prehistoric times.
We observed that the Pallavas came by the east coast. It suggests further possibilities. One mile west of the Mahayana shrine of Thiriyai lies the hill Kandasamy Malai dedicated to Muruga. Further south just north of Kathirkamam is a seaside shrine to Muruga at Uhanthamalai in Tamil – Okanda in Sinhalese.
What this suggests to us is that before Mahayana expanded in Tamil Nadu, about 4th Century AD, its sailors were worshippers of Muruga. Thus, Mahayana shrines followed Muruga shrines in tandem along the East coast. Hence the Mahayana shrines in the South, including Budurugala, in the same area as Kathirkamam. Pilgrims from the North to Kathirkamam too have followed on foot the coastal route from the North. Muruga’s power over the Sinhalese too should not be underestimated.
Arunachalam tells us, “In the great annual perahera in Kandy, [Muruga] had always a leading place; Buddha’s Tooth, now the chief feature of the procession, formed no part of it till the middle of the 18th Century, when it was introduced by the order of King Kirtti Sri Rajasinha to humour the Buddhist monks, he had imported from Siam … both among Buddhists and Hindus he is the god par excellence. According to ancient tradition of which he was informed by Mudaliar Mendis Gunasekara, who gave him the poem Kanda Upata, King Dutugemunu paid obeisance at the Kathirkamam shrine before he went north to take on the Tamil king Elala, and after killing him, fulfilled his vow by refurbishing the Kathirkamam shrine. The 2nd Century AD map of Ptolemy marks Kathirkamam as Dionisi Civitas (City of Dionysius, a place of religious orgies).
We are left with a picture of continuous immigration from India. E.B. Denham writing in Ceylon Census of 1911 says of another festival, “[It] is now regarded as a very sacred occurrence by the Catholics of Ceylon, and even of Southern India. But they are not the only people who form the vast crowd that each year, during the month of July, convert the quiet little village of Talavillu into a large bustling town, improvised with huts made of boughs and cadjans. Muhammadans, Gentiles, individuals of all shades of religious opinion, flock thither as to a large fair.” He adds, “With a through connection with India, Mannar may once again enjoy a prosperity which has been graphically described by many writers.” But, alas, that prosperity has evaded us.
We may note that Koneswaram rose as a port of international fame only when there was peace within Lanka and peace between China, India and Lanka. But our Indian labour came on the basis of solemn promises. We acted like a super-power in the way we treated them.