Nagadeepa & Nainathivu: Upholding All Parts Of The Cultural Mosaic

Filed under: Colombo Telegraph,MORE OPINION,Opinion,Popular Columns |

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana

Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana

It has been reported that some Northern Provincial Council (NPC) members have initiated moves to change the name of Nagadeepa to Nainathivu, triggering polarization of opinion back to the feverish days of the TNA rallies in Vaddukkoddai (a town known even up to 1900 as Batakotte, marked as such in Dutch maps). That was a time when the gory verses of Kasi Ananthan calling for the blood of “traitors” were hailed as liberating “poetry”.

Ever since the railway connected Colombo with Jaffna in 1905, Northerners have moved into Colombo and suburbs, and then more well do to went on to even better climes abroad. Today, in Colombo we see a vibrant multi-ethnic society where Tamil culture is more alive than in Jaffna. Some businesses in Dehiwala have Tamil and English sign boards with names like “Dehiwalai”. But the Sinhalese have not protested. It is common to see buses with Tamilized destination names (in Tamil characters) where Tangalle becomes Tangallai and Halavatha becomes Chilapam, with absolutely no protest from the Sinhalese.

Unfortunately, Tamil nationalism and its cousin, Sinhala nationalism changed the open discussion of such topics. Toponymic studies have become a hot potato where a mere discussion of place names becomes like the positioning of “kajan” fences in Jaffna as they move back and forth claiming territory! The souring of the minds of even scholars of the caliber of A. J. Wilson from about 1965 onwards has been documented by Michael Roberts (Michael Roberts: Tamil nationalism: Journal of South Asian Studies, n.s., Vol.XXVII, no.1, April 2004

A vast number of place names in the North and East are most likely to be of Sinhala origin, as was pointed out even by Tamil Pandits like Rasanayagam, K. Velupillai and colonial civil servants. Velupillai, in his Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi devotes a whole chapter to Sinhala place names in Jaffna. These were further extended by Paul E. Peiris, Nicholas, Paranavithana and others, and in a doctoral thesis by Dr. Indrapala Karthigesu. Ven. Medhananda and others have followed suite. I have attempted to complement and compile what is known, and put them together as a website for scrutiny by interested scholars.

However, the question of etymology is not an issue to the ordinary citizen. For him, Colombo can be “Kolomba” or “Kolompu” depending on his language, just as Brussels is Bruxelles to a Francophone. They constitute the rich cultural tapestry that Sri Lanka acquired by being a nation on the silk route. Scholars like Rasanayagam and Velupillai were overjoyed to see that Iluppaikadavai identifies as the Meepaathota of the Sinhalese (Madhupatheetha of the Mahavamsa), while “Chenakaladi” near Batticaloa (Madakalapuwa) is identified as “Sinhala vaadiya“. On the other hand, place names like Chempian aru, Chempiyan pattu are most likely of Chola Origin, evoking the name of a Chola queen. I have listed some three thousand place names and their tentative toponymic details in the website that I referred to, while noting uncertainties in such research.

A good antidote to mono-ethnic nationalism (a.k.a racism) is to label the place-names with names in both languages where possible (at least in Parenthesis if the name is mainly to evoke hisotry). At least the train stations and the bus stations should have sign boards, with not only the current name, by older historical names. For example, Killinochchi, should be complemented with the name “Giranikke“, evoking the fact that even the Magha invader of the 10th century respected this bird sanctuary in a forest of “Nika trees” (Vitex Negundo). First-century CE stone pillars, and ruins of a shrine named Lumbini Vihara existed there. Today we have also the left-overs of the Eelam-IV battles. These matters are surely equally interesting to the tourist as well as to those residents who can shed their narrow communalism.

Many places in the Jaffna peninsula (Nagadeepa, or Waeligama at different times, c.f., Sigiri griffiti etc.) are well known to Buddhists as they are listed (in the “Nampotha”, and other texts) as places of pilgrimage. I have prepared an interactive internet map giving Sinhala, English and Tamil names, and more details (see Interactive English map of pre-CE Buddhist sites in Jaffna.)

Most observers in the south seem to feel that the NPC, since its inception in 2013 has shown a deep interest in pushing forward contentious issues while mouthing “reconciliation”. The NPC passed its contentious charge of “Genocide” against all governments since 1948. This is a beefed up 21st century version of G. G. Ponnambalam’s orations in front of the Soulbury commission claiming that the British Raj had grievously discriminated against the Tamils in government jobs, Anuradhapura preservation, agriculture, medicine, not developing a port in Jaffna and so on (See Dr. Jane Russell, Communal Politics under The Donoughmore Constitution, p. 312 et sec. ). The TNA leaders were LTTE spokesmen during Prabhakaran’s time, and still claim an LTTE political legacy. It has been alleged that they have prevented the resettlement of Muslims and Sinhalese who were driven away from the North by the ethnic cleansings of the LTTE. Mr. Ariyaneththiran who entered Parliament (after the LTTE paved the way for him by abducting Rasanayagam) in 2004 claims that the Muslims were not cleansed out. A hartal harking to the 1980s has been launched in this ambiance to force the courts to free LTTE prisoners. Even if the objectives were laudable, the inherent dangers in launching such hartals are mind boggling.

So let me invite the Honorable members of the Northern Provincial Council to consider place names as enriching the national cultural heritage, with valuable tourist potential. It should be a launch pad for inter-communal linkage, as in Rasanayagam, rather than a bone of contention. One may disagree with the interpretations, but so what!

Print Friendly

175 Responses to Nagadeepa & Nainathivu: Upholding All Parts Of The Cultural Mosaic

  1. 9
    2
    “Nainathivu” (Nayinaartheevu) is the only name (used in all the three languages of Sri Lanka) in all official documents including the government gazette notifications and other such government documents, until a gazette notification published recently substituting “Nagatheepam” as the name for the island in Tamil, and Nagadeepa, in Sinhala. (In English, I am informed no change was made, and Nainativu was used). The name Nainativu, has been the only name used to call this island, for the last several centuries, at least for over a thousand years, I would say. On the other hand, according to the Gold Plate Inscription of King Vasaba (AD:66-111) the entire Jaffna peninsula was known to the Sinhalese as Nakadiva (Nagadeepa). The Jaffna peninsula was known to the Tamils, at about this period as “Naaka Naadu”. This is very clear from the Tamil Buddhist epic of “Manimekalai” belonging to circa third century A.D. Manipallawam was the name for Nainativu during the Manimekalai period, circa 3rd century AD. Nainar or Nayinaar is the name of the deity of the Nagas, the Serpent God. There are many other temples too, of course now referred to as “Hindu temples”, which have been taken over forcibly from Naga worshippers, who were non-Hindu, but Tamils. Nayinaar Kovil, is the name of an ancient temple-town in the Ramanathapuram District of Tamil Nadu. Although the name of the town still remains the same, the ancient temple of the Serpent God, had been converted into a Naganaatha Swami Kovil, and poojas are conducted by the brahmin priests there. There are other temples such as the ones at Nagar Kovil, Naga Pattinam etc. which were also places of worship of the pre-brahmin local Tamil-Nagas. Sinhalese Buddhists started to come to Nayinaartheevu or Nainativu on pilgrimage, since 1944 when a Buddhist temple was established on this island. They began to call this island “Nagathivayina” from the “Nampoththa” days, 15th century AD, when Jaffna Kingdom was briefly under Sinhala occupation. But, the official name used, to call this island was/is Nayinaartheevu or Nainativu for all times from time immemorial. The recent resolution of the NPC is not asking for a name change. The official name remains Nainativu to date. No one has changed this. It is for the correction of the recent gazette notification, where the name was mentioned as Nagatheepam, in Tamil, and Nagadeepa, in Sinhala, without consulting the NPC and MPs from the district.

    Nagesu Singam
    November 19, 2015 at 2:03 am
    Reply

  2. 8
    3
    The good professor may also claim that as there are old Buddhist temples and other relics found in Tamil Nadu also the Sinhalese should lay claim to Tamil Nadu and that the Tamils there are in fact originally Sinhalese.

    Piranha
    November 19, 2015 at 4:11 am
    Reply

  3. 6
    4
    Indeed there are stories saying Great Chola King Raja Rajendra built many Buddhist temples here..question is where? The racist ex-Archeoligical Commissioner Paranavitharana dynamited many Tamils inscriptions and monuments during his time …and finally make a joke by declaring that he has found the ashes of Gemunu .. There should an archeological both vertical and horizontal excavation around all ancient buddhists temples involving foreign experts to find the truth and nail the canard of Sinlalease and Buddhst ayatollahs. The right place for con book Mahavamsa is garbage bin . ..only idiots will believe this con book …which say the great great great grandfather of Sinhalese was a lion …and Kalingadesh so better Sinhalese can pack now and go back to Bihar the most developed (??)state in poverty India Cheers

    cholan
    November 19, 2015 at 8:59 pm
    Reply

    • 1
      3
      Cholan: You are a nut case man, A mad mad Tamil, A loser.

      Jim softy
      November 20, 2015 at 10:11 am
      Reply

  4. 4
    1
    Who this idiot Professor is? Who made him as a “Professor”?Why he is doing his research in a nonsense topic. He can spend his time in a more useful way, say how to make a happy bicultural land. We Sri Lankans have suffered enough of this racial babbling brought us to the current state. Let us remember how the once “SRI” letters in Sinhala on the motor vehicle number plate and the Tamils anti SRI slogans created unnecessary rift among the Sri Lankans. For God sake please stop all this racial nonsense. After so many years of suffering, at least the present Government is trying to bring a national reconciliation.If the Sinhalese prefer, let them refer to a Sri Lankan village or a town by its Sinhala name and the Tamils by the Tamil name. Why the hell all this fuss?

    Bman Rama
    November 20, 2015 at 12:43 am
    Reply

  5. 3
    1
    Prof, “The souring of the minds of even scholars of the caliber of A. J. Wilson from about 1965 onwards has been documented by Michael Roberts” Why do you have to rely on Michale Roberts (The big liar on war crimes) to interpret? Prof. A. J. Wilson (son-in-law of Federal Party leader S.J.V. Chelvanayakam) in his book ‘The Break-up of Sri Lanka’ (Chapter 3: Competition for State Power) has stated: “The last policy decision which compelled the Tamil elites to turn in despair to the concept of a separate state was the decision of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s 1970-7 government to give preference to Sinhalese-medium students over Tamil-medium students in admissions to the universities”.

    Anpu
    November 20, 2015 at 2:24 am
    Reply

  6. 4
    1
    The good(?bad) professor also knows YALPANAM is called Yapanaya by Sinhala people. It doesn’t imply one has to sihalise the Tamil name of the city nor country. If he tries to fan the flames race/ethnicity he may see the State of Eelam in his life time.

    Tomsam
    November 20, 2015 at 4:10 am
    Reply

  7. 3
    0
    Dr RN: Who were the historians, anthropologists and linguists who changed the name of Ceylon to Sri Lanka? Sirimavo Bandaranayake, Felix Dias Bandaranayake or Dr Colvin R de Silva? The parliamentarians and provincial councillors are representatives of the people of the area. They live with the people and know what name was in use for centuries. That is more important than anything else. The problem with our people is that we have learnt too much for too long, and yet a JSC qualified Appuhamy has the capacity to defeat us easily. You are talking about a committee of qualified intellectuals. Who will appoint this committee? President Sirisena or PM Ranil Wickremasinghe? Who will be appointed in the committee? More Sinhala members or more Tamil members? What will be the conlcusion they (or at least the majority of them) will arrive at? You cannot look into it far enough to see the reality, because you are an educated Tamil. That is why I believe a leader like Pirabakaran, who had not attended any university, but who can understand the mind-set of the Sinhalese, should come on the Tamil political scene again, to lead our people. We do not need doctors and lawyers any more.

    Nagesu Singam
    November 20, 2015 at 7:43 am
    Reply

    • 1
      0
      The only time the politicians were right in changing names! The island was called Lankawa and Illankai by a majority. Of our citizens, although officially Ceylon. All name changes or modifications should be approved by the National Languages Commission after wide consultations. Any change decided should be subject to appeal to the Supreme Court. Further, all changes made since independence should be reconsidered through acceptable mechanisms. Dr.RN

      Dr. Rajasingham. Narendran
      November 22, 2015 at 3:29 pm
      Reply

  8. 6
    1
    Professor needs to come out from his cultural limitations to do proper research. He carefully takes Tamil version of place names of South such as “Tangalai” where he completely forgets that Yaarlpaanam becomes Yapanaya in Sinhala and Paruththiththurai becomes Pethuruthuduwa in Sinhala, with absolutely no protest from the Tamils. If you have no problem is calling a place with a different name in a different language, for what reason you are calling this country as Sri Lanka, instead of Ceylon? Let me ask this question: Will Professor tolerate if Tangalle becomes Tangallai in Sinhala official documents too? So the issue is not about names. It is about preserving a culture. People will have their version of names, that is the richness of culture. The author also speaks about speeches made by TNA, but completely forgets or hides that equally if not more hate speeches were made by people of BBS, NFF (Wimal Weerawansa) and even Mahinda Rajapakse. At the same time, there are powerful members of TNA like Sumanthiran trying hard to build the bridge between communities. I am sure that the author is aware of about similar people amoung the Sinhalese too.

    a voter
    November 20, 2015 at 7:57 am
    Reply

    • 5
      3
      Prabaharan as leader again! Most of our politicians are not to fit to lead us. They know little and are also incapable of learning . They are the albatross around our necks. Name me ten amongst them who are fit to lead a much hurt people. I thought C. V. Wigneswaran would be the leader we need at this juncture of our history. He has tturned out to be an utter dissappointment. Dr.RN

      Dr. Rajasingham Narendran
      November 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm
      Reply

    • 1
      1
      Sumanthiran MP trying to build bridges between communities? Sumanthiran will sell Tamils lock stock and barrel for a few pieces of silver.He tried hard to get the Ministry of Rehabilitation but Ranil W did not think it worthwhile.He was jeered,hooted and manhandled in Australia recently.Very recently in Jaffna too he has been humiliated at a public event.He is the Judas of the Tamil community.

      uncommon man
      November 22, 2015 at 5:06 pm
      Reply

      • 1
        0
        uncommon man “He was jeered,hooted and manhandled in Australia recently.” It was very decent of them to jeer, hoot, and manhandle him in Australia or elsewhere. The stupid Tamils have not changed an iota even after 30 years of self destruction. Australia should send those thugs back to Mullivaaikal to fight the already ended Tamil Eelam war. The Sri Lankan state may have some of VP’s uniform. “Sumanthiran will sell Tamils lock stock and barrel for a few pieces of silver.” VP the psychopath did better than what Sumanthiran would do or would not do. Sacks of rupees from RAW, US dollars in Europe, Premadasa’s boxes of Sri Lankan rupees, Mahinda’s fees to rig presidential election were few bribes that cannot be compared with whatever Ranil offers him now.

        Native Vedda
        November 22, 2015 at 7:35 pm
        Reply

        • 0
          0
          Dear NV, A very good response to the nonsense being dished on the web by those who yet want to ride the Tiger! Dr.RN

          Dr.Rajasingham Narendran
          November 24, 2015 at 7:30 am
          Reply

  9. 0
    1
    “Iluppaikadavai identifies as the Meepaathota of the Sinhalese (Madhupatheetha of the Mahavamsa), Ceylao (later Ceylon) a Portuguese place because the Portuguese books mention Sri LAnka as Ceylao?

    Lansi lady
    November 21, 2015 at 5:37 am
    Reply

  10. 0
    0
    Sir, I think we must ask UN to intevene in this matter and solve this history problems

    sivkumaran sivaguru
    January 24, 2016 at 7:50 pm
    Reply

  11. 0
    0
    We need UN historians to solve this problems. But your govt. wount

    sivkumaran sivaguru
    January 24, 2016 at 7:52 pm
    Reply

Leave a Reply

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Comment approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details.
Your email address will not be published.