By Kumar David –
At first it seemed like a fracas between two aging crack-pots; but it could get serious. A bloke from Galle and a few other SLPP jokers have merged into the melee and on the Tamil side there are more than a few who are biding their time to join the brawl. People thought that the experts – historians and archaeologists – would weigh in to establish the facts without ideological bias; but they have chickened out. I really don’t care whether Tamil, Sinhalese or Double-Dutch is the older or smarter tongue, so I can without bias tell Colombo Telegraph readers what the experts say. I have learnt what Sri Lanka’s two very best historians, Leslie (RALH) Gunawardana and Sudharshan Seneviratne have popularised, read books by Indrapala’s, bits and pieces of K.M. de Silva’s tome, what was readily available of Gananath; also, what Britannica and Wikipedia say on related topics. Let me blurt out this little learning till an expert chooses to speak.
It seems that Wiggy is right on three points: Tamil is one of the oldest living languages; living means it is still spoken and Chinese, Greek and Tamil may be the oldest. Second, many but may not be most Tamils in South India and Lanka were Buddhists in ‘BC times’ before the onward march of Saivism inundated the community in ‘AD times’, especially during the apogee of Chola power. There is evidence for widespread practice of Buddhism and Jainism before it was pushed out, maybe between the first century BC and the third century AD – experts disagree on details but not the main storyline.
And thirdly, Sinhala became the lingua franca of southern Lanka during the fourth to sixth centuries AD. The language of the elite and the clergy prior to Mahavamsa times was Prakrit while a classical version called Pali was used by the learned. Sinhala came later; Hela, or Elu or Helu champions have a point. The mass of the people, I guess many thousands, lived in small tribes and communities in olden times and a collective name for their speech is Hela or Elu; hence the pundits’ case for going back to the original Hela stuff. Vijeya and his horde were a 500-strong raiding band who spoke some Indian dialect and were assimilated; no big deal. The folks in the north were similar tribal bands but probably linguistically Tamilised under South Indian influence from BC times. It seems that in terms of stock and genes the Tamils and Sinhalese are mainly decedents of these tribal pools though these days they want to tear each other’s guts out.
Here’s the interesting bit according to the experts. The difference between our warring idiots is not race – same gene pool – it is ethnic, that is language, religion and culture. After the high period of Chola conquest two separate cultures ossified in different portions of the island; hence the two fossilised communities we confront today. This comes across most clearly in Leslie and Indrapala’s writings. However, the propensity for conflict does not disappear, ethnicities can clash as much as races because friction is about material and social benefits. Still, if the mass mind knows that the two sides are racially much the same people in conflict over benefits and politics, visceral hatred of the ‘other’ will be diminished.
Though I said Wiggy was right on three points I also suspect he is up to a mischievous mission. He suspects that the GR-MR government will screw the Muslims first and then turn on the Tamils soon. (Will the beef ban be followed by a murunga and thala-thel ban?). Seriously though, it is possible that Wiggy is anticipating tough times ahead for the Tamils and calculates that future Tamil leadership belongs to the one who is willing to walk the talk. Tamil militancy, essentially, was the product of Sinhala not Tamil politics; will that history repeat itself? We need to wait and see, time will tell, but right now the ball is in the Sinhala-GR-MR court. There are other Tamil nationalists, including most who pretend to be in the pro-SLPP camp, watching and willing to cash in when the opportunity comes.
To finish where I started the Wiggy-Fonny Adipudi should be watched more closely and sensible people must douse the fire without delay. Some monks and some racist State and Cabinet Ministers are merchants of death, but GR-MR can’t/won’t leash them.