Colombo Telegraph

R.A.L.H Gunawardana’s Separation From His Pali Dictionary At A Crucial Time

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli

“It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.” “Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,” said Legolas. “And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for”. Return of the King, Lord of the Ring, Book V, Chapter 9

In 1967, as a young man of 30, R.A.L.H (Leslie) Gunawardana successfully challenged S. Paranavitana’s Ceylon-Malaysia fixation and won renown. This feat of reason and research was published as “Ceylon and Malaysia: A Study of Professor S. Paranavitana’s Research on the Relations Between the Two Regions” (full text here). Gunawardana’s achievement became almost a milestone along the memory lane of Paranavitana. Professor J. G. de Casparis memorializing Paranavitana wrote (1996); “As we all know Paranavitana devoted some his most penetrating studies to ‘Ceylon and Malaysia in ancient times’. The arguments used by Paranavitana in favour of his identifications are not as strong as they may have appeared at first. Thus, the main identifications on which the close relations between Sri Lanka and ‘Malaysia’ are based have been convincingly invalidated by RALH Gunawardana in…”

In 1995 (“Historiography In a Time of Ethnic Conflict[i]”,p1), a mature Leslie Gunawardana noticed that the ethnic conflict was blighting Sri Lanka’s intellectual activity and scholarly production, causing “a notable relaxation of intellectual rigour in research” and a “dismal intellectual climate”. Naturally he wasn’t referring to himself. However, between 1967 and 1995 interesting things had happened to Gunawardana too. In the derivation of the old Sinhala word “aya” in his “Prelude to The State, 1982[ii]”, we glimpse a Leslie Gunawardana with an intellectual rigour so relaxed that it seems to be on vacation in a dismal intellectual climate.

 “At twenty-eight of the 269 sites of ancient inscriptions are to be found records set up by individuals who may be identified as rulers of minor principalities. In these records they bear the titles Rajha (var. Raja), Gamani (var.Gamini) or Aya. While the first two of these titles have been generally accepted as denoting the status of ruler, Paranavitana and other scholars who followed him have traced the derivation of Aya and its Pāli equivalent Ayya to Sanskrit Ārya. However, the Pāli equivalent of the Sanskrit Ārya is Ariya. While both these terms, ārya and ariya have been used in an honorific sense with a cultural and religious connotation, there is no evidence to suggest that they had been used to denote political leadership…”– (p. 7)

The passage continues. But I will pause to insert an explanation. The Pāli equivalent of the Sanskrit “Ārya” is not only “Ariya”. The Vedic word “Ārya” has three equivalents in Pāli. The elementary intellectual rigour of an undergraduate would have sufficed to find this out from a standard Pāli dictionary;

Ariya (adj. — n.) [Vedic ārya, of uncertain etym. The other Pāli forms are ayira & ayya]-(PTS dictionary entry here)

Ayira (& Ayyira) (n. — adj.) [Vedic ārya, Metathesis for ariya as diaeretic form of ārya, of which the contracted (assimilation) form is ayya. (Look it up)

Ayya (n. — adj.) [contracted form for the diaeretic ariya (q. v. for etym.). See also ayira] (a) (n.) gentleman, sire, lord, master… (Look it up)

Had I been Gunawardana’s supervisor, I would have said; “Leslie, I am glad that your inability to connect the Pāli “ayya” to the Old Indian “ārya” has a simple explanation. You didn’t have your Pāli dictionary with you! Possibly, somebody borrowed it and never returned it. But my dear fellow, you wrote “Prelude to the State” while at the University of Koyoto as Visiting Research Scholar. Couldn’t you have gone to the library and er… researched? Never mind. Water under the bridge. But Leslie, another horrific possibility occurs to me. Forget “ayya” with the conjoint consonant. What about “aya”?  You seem totally unaware that it’s a word occurring in other middle Indo-Aryan dialects too.

Leslie, the way I see it, you were afflicted with two handicaps. Number one; as already described, you were sundered from your Pāli dictionary at a crucial time. Number two; you have only read Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol. 1 in bits and pieces. A historian Leslie should be reading history books with the same avidity that an adolescent girl reads bodice rippers. If you had you wouldn’t have missed page cvi of IC1;

“But there is a term of respect applied to Buddhist monks in the North Indian Brahmi inscriptions, (Bharhut Inscriptions (CII, Vol. II, pt. II) by H. Luders, E. Waldschmidt and M.A. Mehendale, p.191 and The Monuments of Sanchi by Sir John Marshal and Alfred Foucher, Vol. I, p. 295; Inscription No.265.) that has been avoided in our documents. This is aya, equivalent to Skt. ārya and P. ayya, meaning ‘Aryan’ or ‘Noble’. This term in our inscriptions, is reserved for princes.”

These two handicaps Leslie led you to the erroneous conclusion that “aya” and “ayya” are isolated Sri Lankan usages with no north Indian roots. And it’s this error which sets the stage for your final denouement re “aya”;

(Interrupted passage from “Prelude”-p7 continues) “…Though it may be correct to assume that the greater majority of vocables in the ancient inscriptions of Sri Lanka have parallels in Sanskrit and the Prakritic languages, it is quite likely that some others may have a Tamil origin. The term marumakanake and its variants…are good examples of words traceable to a Tamil origin…Similarly, it is possible to compare aya and ayya with the Tamil terms ayyā (var. Kannada ayya, Malayalam ayyan, Tulu ayye) and ai. The term ayyā and its variants have been used as modes of addressing superiors. The term ai, which is represented by the ninth letter of the Tamil alphabet, has been used in in certain instances to denote “lord” and “master”, as in the Tirukkural, and in other instances as in the Cudamaninikantu, to denote “ruler. Hence it seems very likely that Aya was a word of Tamil derivation which the same meaning as Rajha and Gamani”

Leslie I wonder if you were aware of the process called the Aryanization[iii] (by older historians such as Nilakanta Sastri) or Sanskritization (as per the newer historians) of the South? If you were not aware, your researches into “aya” could have given you an instinctive understanding of it; provided that you had enough sense to refrain from researching during your separation from your Pāli dictionary. You had the Madras Tamil Lexicon and Burrow and Emeneau (as you tell us in fn. 33,) and learned the “lord” and “master” and “ruler” and “superior” connotations of “ai” and “ayya” in Dravidian.

The missing dictionary Leslie could have informed you of the Indo-Aryan provenance of the word ayya; (ayyā pl. the worthy gentlemen, the worthies), amhākam ayyo our worthy Sir (adj.) worthy, gentlemanly, honourable; The voc. is used as a polite form of address (cp. Ger. “Sie” and E. address “Esq.”) like E. Sir, milord or simply “you” with the implication of a pluralis majestatis; ayyā in addressing several; nom. sg. as voc. (for all genders & numbers) ayyo; f. ayyā lady, mistress (= mother of a prince); voc. ayye my lady; ayya putta lit. son of an Ariyan, i. e. an aristocratic (young) man gentleman (cp. in meaning kulaputta); thus (a) son of my master (lit.) said by a servant; lord, master, “governor”(by a servant); by a wife to her husband; prince (see W.Z.K.M. xii., 1898, 75 sq. & Epigraphia Indica iii.137 sq.) J vi.146.

What a moment of epiphany you missed Leslie. Here is a middle Indo-Aryan word deriving from the Old Indo-Aryan “ārya”; occurring in the Pali texts, Old Sinhalese and North Indian Prakrit inscriptions; and also creating an echo in Old Tamil. You would have run crying eureka and informed your colleagues that you discovered “Aryanization/Sanskritization of the South”. But they would have informed you “Er…Les it has already been discovered…by other people”. But perhaps not. As you say it was a dismal intellectual climate[iv] in SL at the time”.

 @  and

[i] Historiography In a Time of Ethnic Conflict, Construction of the Past in Contemporary Sri Lanka, R.A.L.H. Gunawardana, Social Scientists’ Association, Colombo, 1995.

[ii] Prelude to the State: An Early Phase in the Evolution of Political Institutions in Ancient Sri Lanka, The Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities, 1982, Published in 1985.

[iii] I am not saying that Gunawardana needed an understanding of Aryanization/Sanskritization of the South to understand the etymology of “aya” in Old Sinhalese and “ayya” in Pāli. A timely encounter with a dictionary and page cvi, IC, Vol.1, would have sufficed. However, familiarity with the concept of ‘Aryanization/Sanskritization of the South’ could have helped him to appreciate why it was “possible to compare aya and ayya with the Tamil terms ayyā (var. Kannada ayya, Malayalam ayyan, Tulu ayye) and ai”; why that Tamil term and its variants were used as modes of addressing superiors; and why the term ai, were used in in certain instances to denote “lord” and “master”. By 1980, the realization that both the Tamil country and Sri Lanka were recipients of the Great Indian Tradition from the North was already old news.

Nilakanta Sastri had opined

“There does not exist a single line of Tamil literature written before the Tamils came into contact with, and let us add accepted with genuine appreciation, the Indo-Aryan culture of North Indian origin”. (See Vedic Roots of Early Tamil Culture” By Michel Danino).

Epitomizing this acculturation,

“Chola and Chera kings proudly claimed descent from Lord Rama or from kings of the Lunar dynasty – in other words, an “Aryan” descent. (Ibid). “The Pandya capital is called “southern Madhura” to distinguish it from “northern Madhura,” i.e., Mathura, the famed domicile of Krsna Vasudeva, after which the Pandya Madhura obviously was named (cf. Dessigane et al. 1960, I: xiv; Sircar 1971: 27 n. I; Hardy 1983:156).” (See Asko Parpola here)

And more to the point for Leslie, with his “ai lords and masters” are the following points articulated in Parpola, op.cit;

“The Ay rulers of the eighth-ninth century south Travancore likewise traced their descent from the Yadavas (Champakalakshmi 1981: 34)”… The Vedic (Yadava) trio of the two Asvins and Usas, integrated with agricultural and pastoral deities, became the Vaisnava trio… It seems to me that it was this second wave of Pandu princes coming by sea to Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu who brought with them the Vaisnava religion to the south… Such a migration of the Yadavas is known from the northern Sanskrit sources too…”

Clarence Maloney:1970 :-

“It is clear that the script, formal religions, dynastic traditions, and other features of the civilization of the early Tamils developed from assimilation and adaptation of the Indian Great Tradition (which cannot be termed “Sanskritization” in this case, as the language medium was Prakrit, or Pali)…It appears that the process of acculturation of the Pandiyan region were similar to those which occurred in Ceylon and in the lands across the Bay of Bengal. Moreover, the culture that developed in Ceylon with the arrival of various immigrants, who blended with the indigenous population to form the Sinhalese, was a dynamic force which spilled over into the Pandyan region, as we shall note below. To some extent, both coasts of the Indo-Ceylon straits may be thought of having acted as a single center of diffusion of Indian civilization of the far south.”

As Clarence Maloney explained once commenting under one of my articles on CT, the difference between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu with regard to the diffusion of the Indu-Aryan culture is reflected in the different language choices of the Pandus of Lanka and the Pandyas of South India. “The difference is that the Sinhala ancestors kept their language, but the Pandiyas took up the local language”

[iv] There’s some evidence that the same human drives that cause the President to be indulgent towards a romping Mervin Silva may have operated in Leslie’s colleagues and encouraged the eventual graduation of this historian from mere incompetence (which may be the case in aya) to actual dishonesty (which is strongly indicated in his misrepresentation of Paranavitana highlighted in my previous episode). The evidence comes from insider information;

“At least one specialist, a colleague of Gunawardana’s, disagrees quite strongly with his interpretation of the late Anuradhapura period, but is not prepared to disturb their friendship by taking this up in print…”- (footnote 13)

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