By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka: A Haunted Nation – The Social Underpinnings Of Communal Violence– Part 8
The spirit of the times has been such that these homeland papers have been enthusiastically received by the local press and quoted ever since in a bid to block any political accommodation on the Tamil Homeland issue. It is partly to do with a flawed academic tradition, which has either supported or not been critical enough of official history. Historical pro- cesses are so varied that it is often notoriously erroneous to try projecting back into the past as G.H. Peiris had explicitly tried. Language and religious practices can change within a genera- tion. When it comes to ancient societies, records left behind by the ruling class (e.g. the Mahavamsa of Ceylon and parts of the Bible) tend to give a picture of homogeneity that is radically misleading of societies lacking the centralising machinery of modern times.
When ancient Israel in the time of King Solomon (circa 960 BC) was at the height of its power, there was indeed a Jewish state. A care- ful reading of the Bible would show, however, that Israel was not then a Jewish country, as modern Zionists would insist.
1 Kings 9:20 – 23 and 2 Chronicles 2:17 – 18 tell us much about the non-Jews in ancient Is- rael. Among them were the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They were sub- ject to a tribute of bond service and Solomon used them as ‘bearers of burdens’ and ‘hewers in the mountain’ during the building of the great temple. The Jews themselves were not subject to bond service, but were required to give military service and occupied all important positions in the Palace and administration. It was quite evi- dently a society in which the Jews were a minor- ity ruling class. Such were ancient societies in general, and what has come to us in the form of chronicles, inscriptions and archaeological re- mains have little to say about the different lan- guages and way of life of the commoners – the majority – who lived and died in obscurity.
Sri Lanka, which is separated from India by a very narrow strip of water and is a meeting place of traffic between West and East Asia must surely have been subject to a host of influences. In the debate about original possession, many articles have appeared in the press recently, pointing out that many place names in Jaffna have a Sinhalese affinity. There is no problem in that. But there are other surprises too and in the most unlikely places.
Several rivers which were used in small-tank irrigation in the south-east of this country have names suffixed by ‘Ara’ rather than ‘Oya’. The large reservoir known as Pandikulam was listed among the tanks repaired by Parakhrama Bahu I (AD 1153-86), but its location was long un- known, although known to the folk of the area. Its location appeared in a sessional paper placed before the Ceylon Legislative Council in 1867, titled ‘Dambavinne Ratemahatmaya’s Report on Ir- rigation Works, Wellawaya Division No.1′. The con- tour of Pandikulam was mapped and presented in R.L. Brohier’s Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon, Vols. I-III, 1934-35. This again lies in the Sinhalese heartland in the deep South. The first large tank in this country – Minneri – attributed to Maha Sena about the third century AD, is suffixed by ‘eri’ – a sheet of water – readily recognisable in Tamil.
The word ‘kulam’ in Tamil (Sanskritised as kula) is described by the Rt. Rev. Robert Caldwell (A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages) as being derived from the pure Dravidian root kulu – cold. The word ‘aru’ (ara- Sinhalese form) meaning river in Tamil (correlative root eri, a tank) is said to have Semitic (Coptic-jaro and Hebrew-yor) rather than Indo-Aryan affinities.
Arguments to claims of ancient possession are, thus unwarranted. The history of Sri Lanka, which represents the confluence of diverse in- fluences, cannot be strait-jacketed into Sinhalese or Tamil History. Indeed the small sketch above may suggest regular ancient contact between the Pandyan country in the modern Tamil Nadu and Magama, the ancient port of Rohana, in the south-east of this island. On the earlier references to Gokanna (Shrine of Siva) in the Mahavamsa, the internal evidence strongly sug- gests that this was located near Magama. (See Mahavamsa 45:58-59 where Gonnagama and Gonnavitti are in Tissamaharama and especially 57:5 to Gokanna Vihara, with allusions to the nearby shrine of Skanda-Muruga in Kataragama. Erakkavilla and Brahman Kalanda, both in Rohana, which occur alongside Gokanna in 37:41 (circa 3rd century AD) point to the South rather than to the East. The reference to the Gokanna (Shrine of Siva) in Trincomalee occurs much later in the Mahavamsa in the 12th cen- tury AD). Conventional academic scholarship locates the earlier references also in Trincomalee. Other links are perhaps evi- denced by the cult of Skanda-Muruga and the insignia occurring in the inscriptions of King Dutugemunu (e.g. Maha Tabowa tank inscrip- tion, 1A in page 5 of Taprobanian Vol. I, ed. Hugh Nevill, 1887). In the latter, rather than the lion, we have the Pandyan carp with a cross in the middle (the Mina) along with the torch (the Sula). (See also Sect.5.4.)
From the few records we have, which tell us very little in comparison with the vast spectrum of life that has vanished without a trace, it is futile to parcel out ancient South India and Sri Lanka into ethnic enclaves (e.g. Sinhalese, Tamil, Malayali etc.) which had no meaning then. All that we may say with certainty is that there was in this region a constant confluence of peoples, influences, ideas, words, technical terms, vo- cabularies and symbols, that were readily adapted to local needs.
To be continued..