7 December, 2022


Wiggy May Outwit GR-MR & TNA: Tamil Buddhism & Oldness Of Sinhala Lingo Are Beside The Point

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran is not laying traps to snare GR-MR or the TNA; that’s not the import of my title. I am suggesting is that wily old Wiggy is calculating that these worthies will snare themselves in traps of their own making, and then his line will pay off. His expectation is that the regime will turn explicitly anti-Tamil and his second calculation is that the TNA is too deeply mired in compromises to extricate itself. Of course, I am attributing motives to him; but in politics it’s ok for analysts to make assumptions about why leaders do this or that and I am within limits of fairness in imputing not unreasonable motives to Wiggy.

This of course is in addition to the fun he must be having watching Field Marshals and Rear Admirals frothing at the mouth. The more they froth the better it plays into his gambit. The old fox’s trick is to say incendiary stuff like: ‘Tamil was the original language of the island, the Sinhala tongue emerged only in the Sixth or Seventh Century AD’; ‘Tamils were the first Buddhists in Lanka and switched to Saivism in early BC’; ‘Dushata Kaamini was a Tamil Buddhist fighting Ellalan a Tamil Saivite’. Stuff like that, even if true, the mere utterance will make ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ blood boil. 

Leaving to one side whether Wiggy is stirring things up for larks or for political gain, what’s the historical and anthropological evidence. The Wiggyy-Fonny adipudi seemed at first a brawl between two aging crack-pots and I thought experts would weigh in and sort out fact from fiction sans ethnic and ideological bias. But all experts have chickened out, which tells us how explosive the topic is. I have over the years done some amateur reading so fools need to drift in where angels are cowardly to tread. I don’t care whether Tamil, Sinhalese or Double-Dutch is older or whether the Tamils or the Sinhalese first sniffed religious opium. What I have learnt is from writings of Lanka’s best historian, Leslie (RALH) Gunawardana and anthropologist Sudharshan Seneviratne. I am also very familiar with Indrapala’s excellent Evolution of Ethnic Identity, portions of K.M. de Silva’s tome, what was readily available of Gananath, and Wikipedia level stuff. Let me blurt out this little learning till an expert picks up the courage to speak.

Mahinda, Wiggy and Vasu are obvious; the older lady may be Mrs Wiggy.
Is the family on Wiggy’s right his two sons, a daughter-in-law and grandkids? Who is Tarzan?

Yes, Tamil is one of the oldest living languages; living means it is still spoken. Chinese, Greek and Tamil may be the oldest. Second, many (most?) Tamils in South India and Lanka were Buddhists in ‘BC times’ before the onward march of Saivism inundated them in ‘AD times’, especially during the apogee of Chola power. There is evidence of widespread practice of Buddhism and Jainism in Southern India and the northern and eastern parts of this island before it was pushed out between the first century BC and the third century AD. The third point is what has got the experts into a funk; they don’t want to be lynched. Sinhala became the lingua franca of southern Lanka during the fifth to sixth centuries AD; that is quite recently. 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. In olden times the mass of the people, a few thousand, lived in small tribes and communities and a collective name for their speech is Hela or Elu or Helu; hence the case made by certain pundits for going back to the original Hela stuff has a point. 

Vijeya and his horde were a raiding band who spoke an Indian dialect and were assimilated by the tribes and communities who proliferated across the island. Only a few hundred strong they could not have made large sperm donations. The originals in the north were tribal groups but linguistically Tamilised by South Indian migration from BC times. Genetically, Tamil and Sinhalese folk are to a large extent, decedents of these tribal pools though these days all they want to do is gouge each other’s eyes out. Then the interesting bit follows. The difference between our warring idiots is not race – they are much the 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 among racially similar peoples. These are the two mentally retarded communities we confront today; this comes across clearly in Leslie and Indrapala’s writings but they put it politely. However, propensity for conflict does not disappear; ethnicities can hate each other as much as races because friction is about material and social benefits. But hopefully, if the mass mind knows that the two are of racially the same stock in conflict over benefits and politics, visceral hatred of the ‘other’ may diminish.   

Wiggy suspects that the GR-MR government will screw the Muslims first and then turn on the Tamils. He like the rest of us is anticipating tough times ahead for economy and at that time what is more profitable for the regime than the race-card? Many Venerables and State and Cabinet Ministers are merchants of death that GR-MR dare not leash, and that indicates where power lies.  The TNA is too compromised. Its efforts were not unprincipled; it correctly judged that without a deal with the Sinhalese the Tamils will get nowhere. It picked on yahapalana because the UNP is liberal as opposed to the SLPP and SLFP which are of Sinha-Buddhist ethos. The poor sods ended up as empty handed as Chelva and the FP but not quite as stone dead as Prabaharan. It seems unlikely that the TNA can rise again, but true, stranger things have happened.

Moody’s Investor Service last week dropped Lanka’s sovereign rating from B2 to Caa1, a two-tier drop bypassing B3. The agency defines Caa as “speculative, of poor standing and subject to very high credit risk”; that is junk! The corresponding grade in Standard & Poor and Fitch is CCC, CC or C. While rating agencies have responsibility to both lender and debtor the double whammy is harsh; a one tier downgrade was unavoidable since medium-term prospects for the economy are poor. Recent improvements (remittances rising to pre-COVID levels, sharp reduction in imports, fall in 2020 balance of payments deficit from a feared $8 billion to an expected $6 billion deficit, and enhanced activity in the domestic economy) though loudly touted by the Finance Ministry seem to have been dismissed by the agency as short-term gains. Sadly, the outlook is a looming fiscal (budget) deficit, deterioration of asset quality and a depressing employment picture. Not all of Cabraal’s rantings could have deflected a one-tier downgrade. Wiggy reckons that the regime will go after the minorities when troubles multiply. Maybe he reckons ‘Why would a post-20A regime not do just what autocrats do when cornered by a flailing economy?’ 

Wiggy is palpably mischievous and enjoys baiting the ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ fraternity. For proof peruse the hundreds of naïve, goofy and brain-dead comments following any Viggy piece in the Colombo Telegraph. On the serious side I think he calculates that Tamil leadership will go next to the one who walks the talk; he who is most boldly Tamil! Though Tamil militancy was the outcome of Sinhala politics even a militant Viggy will eventually have to cut a deal; there is no other option. The Tamil stand-off has no realisable solution other than cutting a deal with the Sinhalese state. Muslims have always been of this view. Viggy is upper middle-class; a liberal intellectual who speaks and writes the Queen’s English like, well like a judge. He is a Royalist who must have just missed entry to St Thomas by a few marks. But strangely he is also an obscurantist. I don’t know what to make of a man who is a devotee of the late Swami Premananda convicted on multiple counts of murder and rape in India in 1997. See -[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._V._Vigneswaran  and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Premananda_(guru)]

Late Note: Though the infection rate is now declining the 1000+ that tested positive for COVID in the Gampaha District signal a ‘community outbreak’ described as spread by mechanisms that cannot be traced to contact with a ‘recently-returned person’ or foreign visitor. This is alarming; community outbreaks are very difficult to control; no one knows where this sneaky bug is hiding. If GR and team impose production and industry disrupting curfews again, damage to the economy will be devastating and follow hard on Moody’s downgrade of our credit rating to junk. In the wake of previous mutilation this will act as a geometric multiplier. The possible closure of BIA will further deflate business confidence. If the economy goes into a tailspin the regime will need some drama to distract attention: Dump 20A? Blame minorities for something? Discover ever more welcome crimes of the “previous regime”? The second possibility relates to today’s column.

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Latest comments

  • 11

    More than 400 years of European occupation was not able to convert more than 10% of Sinhalese to Catholic/ Christian faith but 70 years of Chola occupation was enough to all Tamils (says they were Buddhists) of SL to become Hindus. Why only Tamils wanted to convert?

    • 3

      Good question. But you know the obvious answer to that – namely there were no Tamils living here permanently, until after the late 13th century, i.e. after the last Pandyan invasion in 1384 AD. By that time, the few Tamils who were Buddhists in south India had converted to Hinduism centuries earlier, so the Tamil colonists/settlers who came here were Hindus. Buddhism was never a significant religion among Tamils. Tamil Buddhism is like saying French Buddhism or something like that. When the Tamil invader Sankili destroyed Buddhist viharas and ethnically cleansed the Buddhists from Jaffna in 1544 AD, all the Buddhists were Sinhalese.
      Of the Tamils who came here as traders, soldiers etc some might have settled here throughout the centuries, and some of them might have been Buddhists too. But they have got assimilated into Sinhalese. That is where we get Tamil loanwords in our language, and not because this lot who are occupying the north have been here from ancient times. Tamils try to hunt for Tamil loanwords in Sinhala to prove that they have been here from ancient times. But Tamil has only a couple of Sinhala loanwords and none from the Vaedda language.

  • 9

    If old inhabitants of Sri Lanka are Tamils why didn’t they wrote anything in Tamil in SL until 10th century Chola invasion.

    • 12

      Mad Chingkalla racist woman Latha Aka Kanthi Latha stop posting rubbish and lies . Lot of inscriptions in Thamizh Brahmi found in the island . Many 2500 years old but nothing in Chingkallam . All Thamizh were not Buddhist like now the majority still remained Hindu but t a good portion considered themselves primarily Buddhist. This was the same in the Indian mainland. Buddhism never eclipsed Hinduism but was part of it . This is why Hinduism returned without any problems. Even the so called nominally Buddhist ones were still worshipping Hindu gods and following Hindu culture , just like what many so called Chingkalla Buddhist do. All your leaders when there is a problem run the Kathirkammam to worship Thamizh god Lord Murugan or go to ancient Thamizh Hindu temples Tirupathi or Kuruvayoor now in Andhra just over the border or in once Thamizh Kerala . Very rarely do they visit Buddhist places of worship , always running to Hindu temples when they have problems. This is not only your politcians but most Chingkallams. May be even you. As for your sc called Chingkalla Catholics 90% of them are Thamizh Catholics, now calling themselves Chingkalla Catholics. Many imported from Thamizh Nadu during the Portuguese era and settled along the north west and western coasts.

  • 16

    Justice Wigneswaran’s provocative contribution is welcome as an initiative to start a process of discussion about Tamil Buddhism. I hope he will continue to be provocative. We should be grateful to have such a brave person among us.

    I prefer to say Buddhism among Tamil speakers. It creates an opening for at least two kinds of Buddhisms, one of Sinhala Buddhism among converted Tamil speakers and one of Buddhism indigenized in Tamil culture. In all contributions above we do not learn what is meant.

    Sinhala Buddhism among converted Tamil speakers is complex. It is Pali Buddhism first translated to Sinhala and from Sinhala to Tamil. “Tamil” refers here to the language of the speakers and not to Buddhism which is Sinhala Buddhism in Tamil attire. An example is Dhammapada translated into Sinhala from Pali and from Sinhala to Tamil and used in proselytisation.

    As for Buddhism indigenized in Tamil culture, “Tamil” refers to Buddhism. Examples are Vallipuram, Kantarotai and Periyakulam.

    I suppose that when Justice Wigneswaran talks about Tamil Buddhism he means Buddhism indigenized in Tamil culture.

    Peter Schalk, Uppsala, Sweden

    • 12

      Yes he talks about the Buddhism indigenized in the Thamizh culture, that was quite prevalent until around 12 AD in the Thamizh country in South India as well as in NE Sri Lanka. and not this so called Chingkalla Buddhism now in Thamizh attire , which is very recent and very unwanted. Like what you stated all these ancient Buddhist ruins found in NE of the island , many Mahayana is from these ancient indigenous Tamizh Buddhists or the so Buddhism indigenized in the Thamizh culture. Chingkllams never belonged to the Mahayana Buddhist sect, however ancient Thamizh Buddhist belonged to both the Theravadha and Mahayana sects. Now Chingkallams are trying to claim all these ancient Thamizh Buddhist ruins both Theravadha and Mahayana found in the NE like in Vallipuram , Kantarodai, Periyakulam and in the east as theirs . Now even Hindu temples as theirs. They are trying to steal and hijack the ancient Thamizh Hindu and Buddhist history in the island as their , to create an exclusive Chingkalla Buddhist Fascist state with a fake history to justify this. It was from this ancient indiginzed Thamizh Buddhism that Zen or Chan Buddhism was spread to China and Japan by a Thamizh Buddhist monk named Bodhi Dharma.

    • 6

      Peter Schalk
      We are honored by your contributions. I am not aware of any Buddhist materials translated from either Pali or Sanskrit, in those days. As you worked, it is not denying Tamils Buddhists of pre Christian era in Ceylon and Tamil Nadu. Kanchi Academy, by understanding, was teaching Pali & Sanskrit and then the religions. So it is unlikely the non-Hindu religions had higher conversion rate within Tamil community in that time. Even Hindu epics were first translated into Tamil in Kolothungan- Chola King’s time. By that time Buddhism had left Tamil Nadu. The two Buddhist works from Aimperumkappiyam, (“Five Great Epics” of Sangam time,) Manimekalai & Kundalakesi are original Tamil creations. Same case with Jains too. Until today Vedas are not translated though Mantras are written in Grantham scripts. The famous contemporary Tamil “Sinhala Buddhist”, Suren Raghavan, Ex Northern Province Governor and now an appointed MP in SLPP, onetime said that Sinhala Buddhists think only Sinhalese can be Buddhists. Other than him, almost all current Tamil “Sinhala Buddhist” are converted by some kind of pressure into Sinhala Buddhism. This was not the case with that time Tamil Buddhists; they all were converted by education. In Chilow-Negombo areas, they are some Sinhalese are still referred as Negombo Tamils. But they are fully converted to Sinhala and then Buddhism or Christianity.

  • 9

    Our history clearly says how & when Mahayana Buddhism influenced in the past. If you knew about kings named Walagamba & Mahasen and Abhayagiriya you should have known it.

    • 5

      Yes they were only influenced but the so called Chingkallams and their Sangha remained strongly Theravadha and were not influenced at all, vast difference from some kings only getting influenced but the population not practicing to a population that is influenced , practicing and building Mahayana Buddhist monuments. Stop posting half truths m twisting history now to suit your genocidal Chingkalla Buddhist Fascist racist agenda. Racist Latha Aka Kanthilatha.

  • 2

    Sorry the link does not work it is the Sri Lankan Guardian ” Tamil Buddhism in Ancient South India and Sri Lanka by J.L Devananda dated 28.11.2011

  • 1

    ” Jans ca vak- sudha- sutir mani- sutis ca Rohana Nanyatra Simhala- dvipan mukta- suits ca sagarah”

    People who produce the Nectar of speech, Rohana Mountains which produce Gems and the ocean that produce Pearls- these are nowhere found together but in the Island of Sri Lanka.

    Balaramanaya Act X verse 49

  • 3

    This is what observed in ancient Tamil scripts in India.

    The student of the present Tamil script cannot be trace the origin due to the lack of inscriptions in typical Tamil script beyond 9 Century AD the 200 odd dated pre Christ inscriptions found in the whole of the Tamil speaking area of India is also written in a script similar to that used by the Sinhalese. There again those inscriptions use over 30% of the words are loan words from Sanskrit & Sinhalese.

  • 2

    Lanka Canuk

    Monk Buddhagosha translated Buddhist canon from Sinhala in to Pali. He came to SL because they were lost in India. This is a recorded fact in history. Those were used by all other Theravada Buddhist countries. He did it for that purpose. He translated Buddha vachana (words) so, after him if somebody tried the same, he could have given somewhat different meaning, so people get puzzle what is the right one. That is why originals were burnt.

    • 4

      If the Pali Cannon was originally written in the ‘Sihalabhasa’ and kept preserved for many centuries before it was translated by the Mahaviharic Bikkus (Buddhaghosa and others) into Pali then what happened to the original text in ‘Sihalabhasa’?
      In a land where all the ancient Buddhist artifacts and records were kept preserved and protected for millenniums by the Monks and the Kings, why such an important original religious scripture has not been kept safely? They could have continued to preserve it (the so called original ‘Sinhala’ version) till today but unfortunately it disappeared or rather believed to be destroyed (burnt) after it was translated into Pali (who in his/her right mind will burn it?). Is that not a crime committed by the Mahaviharic Bikkus to the Sinhala nation of ‘Sihaladipa’ by depriving them from reading the Buddhist scriptures in their own language? How did the Sinhala King and the Sinhala-Buddhist monks allow that to happen?
      Actually, what is believed to be written by Buddhaghosa in the preface of his Pali commentaries where he mentioned ‘Sihalabhasa’ must be a recent addition by others with an ulterior motive. We do not see any texts/literature written in Prakrit or Helu or Sinhala before the 9th century AD. Every texts (literature/chronicles/cannon) before that was written in Pali.

  • 2


    Why it is difficult you to understand the early language in SL is old Sinhalese? You think it is old Bengali? Hindi? Gujarati? Marathi? These all languages have their own old forms. They differ from each other. Sinhala just can’t appear suddenly in 7th AD.

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