A PROBLEM OF HISTORY
(1998 October 28)
It was announced recently, over the Rupavahini that an association from Anamaduwa has published a booklet on teaching of history in schools. They have had a seminar or workshop or whatever, under the chairmanship of Dr. Sasanka Perera of the University of Kolomba, in the absence of Mr. Reggie Siriwardhana, where a discussion had taken place on some of the material included in the booklet. As I understand there is a recommendation to drop the Dutugemunu - Elara story from the school texts. It appears that this story in the form it is taught today is an obstacle to bring 'peace' to this country. So they want a new story to be taught in the schools and already some people have created a story that is in agreement with their project, namely to erase the Sinhala Buddhist history of the country in order to appease the Tamil racists.
The Tamil racists would very much like to erase the Dutugemunu Elara story from the history books, as it is the corner stone of the formation of the Sinhala Buddhist unitary state of this country. The Tamil racists of the so-called moderate variety want to create a separate state going through a federal state while the LTTE kills people to establish it without an intermediate phase.
All histories are stories told by people. Some of these storytellers are called historians. The stories whether told by the historians or the others are relative and there is nothing to hide about it. The history as revealed in the Mahavansaya is relative to the Mahaviharaya just as much the present day histories created by some of the so-called historians and the others in the universities and the NGO's are relative to the project of Tamil racists. However any history has to be consistent with the evidence present in various forms such as archaeological ('historical' or 'pre-historical') artefacts. In this regard the Mahawansaya stands like a giant whereas the new history created by the Tamil racists has no credibility what so ever.
The history of the Dutugemunu - Elara new history starts with an article (sometimes these articles are referred to as research papers) presented by Dr. W. I. Siriweera, presently the vice chancellor at the Rajarata University, at a seminar organised by the social scientists association way back in December 1979. In that article, probably he wanted to establish that Dutugemunu and Elara were participants in a feudal power game. This is how he has stated this 'impression' in the above-mentioned article. (I quote from a book entitled "ethnicity and social change in Sri Lanka" published by the social scientists association, in which the articles presented at the above seminar appear). "However, reading between the lines in the Mahawansa account, one gets the impression that both Elara and Dutthagamani were participants in a feudal power game and not in a racial war fought between the Sinhalese and the Tamils" (page 57).
This impression of Dr. Siriweera, which he has acquired by reading the Mahawansaya 'between the lines', has now become the gospel truth of the Tamil racists. As far as I know no new 'material' has been found since 1979 on this all-important impression of Dr. Siriweera, but based on that, various people are agitating to recreate the Dutugemunu - Elara story claiming perhaps that their new story constitutes the objective history. It is not worthwhile to analyse these impressions that people have got reading between the lines, which passes for the new history written by the Tamil racists. However following the editor of the Mahavansaya, for the 'serene joy and emotion of the pious' (hudeejana pahan sanvegaya), let us go through some of the reading between the lines of Dr. Siriweera.
At the outset one must give credit to Dr. Siriweera for being consistent in his basic premise. On the Deepavansaya he says the following. "The objective of the Dipavamsaya was to relate the history of the visits of the Buddha and the introduction of Buddhism into the island which 'existed as Sihala after the lion.' Thus the author of the Dipavamsaya gave articulation to the Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness which was strengthened by subsequent chronicles." Dr. Siriweera observes that the Mahavansaya "was more a national epic of the Sinhala Buddhists of the orthodox Theravada sector than a dynamic history of the island."
While he does not admit that the Deepavansaya and the Mahavansaya reveal the history as such, the 'unbiased history', he has no hesitation in accepting the fact there was a Sinhala Buddhist consciousness even in the fourth century A.C. This implies that contrary to what many others who are either supporters or sympathisers of the Tamil racists have to say, the Sinhala Buddhist consciousness is not something that the British created in the nineteenth century. Those who are of the view that the Sinhala Buddhist consciousness was created by the British have to explain why the editors of the Deepavansaya and the Mahavansaya wrote those books as 'national epics of the Sinhala Buddhists', the way these classics are described by many of them. Dr. Siriweera unlike the others in his camp appears to be more consistent in this regard.
Now let us look at some of Dr. Siriweera's reading between the lines. He seems to believe that the Tamils and the Sinhala people had lived together in this country during the last 2500 years or so. The Deepavansaya as well as the Mahavansaya refer to Sena and Guttika as invaders. It may not be possible to decide that they were Tamils for two reasons. The Sinhala Vansakatha (chronicles) has a tradition of referring to any foreigner as a Tamil, so much so that, as pointed out by Dr. Vimala Wijesuriya, the Rajavaliya calls even the Portuguese as Tamils. Secondly by the time of Sena and Guttika even in South India there was no tribe or race that could be identified as Tamils. However the important fact is that they were invaders.
Dr. Siriweera tries to create the impression that the Tamils had been living in this country during the time of the king Kavanthissa forgetting conveniently that according to Dr. Indrapalan, the first Professor of History at the University of Yapanaya, there were no Tamil permanent settlements in Sri Lanka prior to the tenth century. There could have been few Tamils in Anuradhapura as is the case with many capitals in which foreigners are found. But that does not mean that there were Tamils in the country living side by side with the Sinhala people. The irony is that neither Dr. Siriweera nor anybody else can come out with any evidence, other than the references in the vansakathas themselves to Elara and his army, to establish the presence of Tamils (Cholas) during this period.
In the absence of such evidence one has to conclude with the Mahavansaya that Elara was an invader. The fact that there were Sinhala soldiers like Mithra, the uncle of Nandimithra, again ironically based on information given in the Mahavansaya, does not prove that Dutugemunu and Elara were only two feudal chieftains fighting for the throne. There wee Sinhala people in the British army. Even Keppitipola Disawe before he joined the Wellassa liberators was a member of the British army. However that did not make the British who violated the 1815 convention, non-invaders. Today there are so many professors and others who claim to be Sinhala people working for the Tamil racists but that does not mean that the Tamil leaders are non racists. The fact that Mithra was in the army of Elara only establishes that there have been political ancestors of the NGO members even then who were prepared to sell the country for a few privileges. In today's context not only foreign trips but even recognition as intellectuals can be considered as privileges.
Dr. Siriweera says by the time Mahavansaya was written 'the element of conflict in the relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils had crystalized.' However he continues to refer to the political threats posed by the Tamil feudal chiefs. His "impression" is that these so called Tamil feudal chiefs were permanent settlers in this country. The trouble with his 'impression' is that in order to have feudal chiefs it is necessary to have feudal Tamils living on a permanent basis in the country. When Dr. Indrapalan says that there were no Tamil settlements during this period the question has to be asked to whom did these Tamil feudal chiefs give the leadership. Dr. Siriweera prefers to make the impression that Elaras and Pandus were feudal chiefs and not invaders. This is not very much different from the BBC reference to the LTTE terrorists as liberators or freedom fighters.
Mahavansaya contrary to Dr. Siriweera's impression does not say that 'Elara and Dutugemunu were participants in a racial war fought between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.' This assumes that the Tamils and the Sinhala people were living in Sri Lanka and that there was a racial war. No, it is very clearly stated in the Mahavansaya that Elara came from Chola and that he was an invader Even if he did not come from Chola he would have come from some part in South Asia as an invader. Dutugemunu fought to defeat the invader and protect Buddhism. There was no symmetrical relationship between Elara and Dutugemunu. One was the invader whereas the other was the liberator.
Dr. Siriweera mentions Bhalluka also in his article. He says: "The name Bhalluka , which is given to the general who is said to have arrived from South India after Elara's death to fight Dutthagamani, bespeaks a non-Tamil origin. The Dravidian or Tamil equivalent of Bhalluka would have been Phalluka". Dr. Siriweera who is very good at creating impressions, by using phrases like the 'the general who is said to have arrived from South India' wants us to believe that Bhalluka was a resident in Sri Lanka. His only argument in this connection is that the Dravidian or the Tamil equivalent of Bhalluka would have been Palluka and that there cannot be any Tamil Bhallukas. According to this line of reasoning there cannot be Balendrans among the Tamils but only Palendrans. No Balasunderams but only Palasunderams.
Then he mentions that Gamani and Dighabaya, two Sinhala generals of Elara have been referred to as Tamils along with thirty other generals in the Mahavansaya. It cannot create such suspicion or surprise as even today those Sinhala professors and others who write on behalf of Tamil racism are referred to as Tamil racists along with those Tamils who are Tamil racists. Dr. Siriweera appears to be puzzled with the Velu part in the name of Velusumana. Since then many people have wondered whether Velusumana was a Tamil. Perhaps these people have never heard of the Veluvanaramaya in the Dambadiva. I am told that Velu in Pali means bamboo (una) and if I may also try to create an impression following Dr. Siriweera, Velusumana could mean Sumana who had something to do with bamboo. Even in names such as Kavanthissa, Dutugemunu the parts Kavan and Dutu describe those particular persons by the names Thissa and Gemunu. In today's context we have people referred to as Kaluathula, Polsumane etc.
The rest of Dr. Siriweera's article deals with Mahavansaya in general and has no direct reference to the Dutugemunu- Elara story. His main interest is to create an impression that the Mahavansaya is not impartial. However what transpires is nothing but the partiality of Dr. Siriweera towards Tamil racism.
The NGO's and organisations with NGO connections campaign to eliminate Dutugemunu-Elara story from school texts, based on so-called research papers in history, which try to 'create impressions by reading between the lines'. Has the historian Carr or anybody else has defined history is nothing but impressions of a few people who call themselves historians? The rewriting of history relative to Tamil racism is a project which itself has a history. The people involved with this project now clamour to include the history that they have created in the school texts. It is the Sinhala Buddhist history of the country that the Tamil racists refuse to accept. After all, the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka is a problem of history.