Midweek Review
Tamils as non Dravidians – Part II

by Nalin de Silva

Mr. Naganathan’s claim that the Tamils in Sri Lanka are the descendants of those Yakshas, Nagas and other tribes in the northern and eastern parts of the country who interbred with the Tamils from Southern Bharat raises a number of questions. He states that the indigenous tribes in Sri Lanka spoke Elu and the hence the name of the country, Eelam in Tamil. However he fails to mention whether Eelam is derived from Elu. He merely says hence Eelam the name of the country. How was the country known in Elu? Is Eelam a Tamil corruption of the original word for the country in Elu. Mr. Naganathan should have referred to the works of scholars rather than speculating on these matters. The dictionary published by the University of Madras gives the etymology of the word Eelam, where it is stated that Eelam is derived from Sihala.

I agree with Mr. Naganathan that the indigenous tribes in the country spoke Elu. Ven. Baddegama Vimalawansa thero has stated that the language spoken by the Yakshas, Nagas and the others was known as Hela. Elu is another word for Hela in Hela (or Elu) and there are references to both Hela and Elu in the Sinhala literature, denoting the Sinhala language. Elu, Hela, Sihala and Sinhala mean the same language that has gone through various stages of evolution as shown by numerous evidence from inscriptions and early Sinhala works. Most probably Elu, Helu, Hela, Sihela, Sihala and Sinhala denote terms used in Hela Basa to identify the language as it evolved through thousands of years. Not only the language but the word used to identify the language has evolved over the years. Nobody would call the language used in the Sinhala newspapers Elu or Hela today, though it has clearly evolved from the language used in the Vessagiri inscription. Today we use the words "pemini", and "nopemini" instead of "agatha" and "anagatha" found in early inscriptions. However even the present day Sinhalas, use the word "nonagatha" to describe the period of transition of the sun from Pisces to Aries, on the Sinhala new year day to indicate that the sun has neither arrived or not arrived fully in the constellation of Aries during that period.

The evolution from Elu to Sinhala should have been the subject of a number of studies by scholars but unfortunately only the Hela Havula, founded by the great grammarian Mr. Munidasa Cumaratunga is still interested in this work. How Elu or Hela absorbed words from the Prakrit languages of the Vedic civilisation, especially Magadhi (Pali ?) to become Sihela and then Sihala (Sihala could probably be either a corrupted version of Sihela, as it is easier to pronounce it than the latter or re-derived from Seehala the Magadhised version of Sihela) which after being exposed to Sanskrit later on, could have become the present Sinhala. Parallely the Sihela nation was formed during the time of King Pandukhabhaya by absorbing the "Aryans", meaning those who brought the Vedic civilisation to the country around 9th century BC, into the Hela tribes. Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera in his "Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya" reminds us that the language of Sinhala poetry is still Sihala in the sense that the Sinhala poets in general use a language that does not have many Sanskrit words. Dr. Punchi Bandara Sannasgala in the "Sinhala Sahithya Vanshaya" - History of Sinhalese Literature, mentions the Sinhala books, "Helatuwa", "Heladiv Abidana Vatha", "Heladiv Rajaniya", "Helu Kankhavitharaniya", "Helu Getapadaya", "Helu Dalada Vansa Kavya", "Helu Da Ruvanakara", "Helu Mahabodhi Vansaya", "Helusuthra", "Eluakaradiya", "Elu Aththanagalu Vansaya", "Elu Umanda", "Elu Daladavansa Kavya", "Elusandasa", "Elu Sandas Lakuna", "Elu Sandas Lakuna Sannaya", "Elu Silowa", "Elu Silo Sathakaya", "Eluhathvanagaluvanshaya", works starting with Hela, Helu or Elu. Some of the works mentioned are now known only by name. However some later authors have referred to these works and have quoted from them thus enabling scholars to study the language they had used. Dr. Sannasgala and many others have observed that the language in all these works clearly show how the Elu or Hela or Sihala or Sinhala has evolved over the years. A parallel evolution is observed in the Sinhala alphabet and the script from the ancient inscriptions to the present day alphabet and the script in the printed books. Incidentally, according to Dr. Sannasgala, Eluakaradiya is a Sinhala dictionary that had been used by Rev. Benjamin Clough in compiling a Sinhala - English dictionary in 1821. Neither Rev. Clough nor anybody else has used an Eluakaradiya to prepare a Tamil - English or even a Tamil - Sinhala dictionary. It has to be emphasised that even the Deepavansaya and the Mahavansaya written originally in Pali are based on Helatuwa. In any event it is clear that the indigenous Yakshas, Nagas and other tribes having interbred with the people who brought the Vedic civilisation to the country around the 9th century BC, had created a nation by about the 4th century BC, together with a culture and a language, that was not found in Bharat. The Hela or Sihala language and the culture may have many similarities with the languages and cultures of the Vedic civilisation but there are important differences as well. The Sinhalas are very open minded and through out history have not been reluctant to assimilate various features from other cultures and languages, including Tamil, in to their own culture and language, without losing their identity. Even Ashokan Buddhism was assimilated into the Sinhala culture resulting in a unique Sinhala Buddhist culture with not only gods and "bodhi poojas" but also "neketh" , "gammadu", "devolmadu", "bali", "thovil", "daha ata sanni" and what not, that may appear to be un-Buddhistic or irrational to those "scientific" and rationalist Buddhists. Sinhala Buddhism is neither Ashokan Buddhism nor any other Buddhism, just as much Anglicanism is not the same as Roman Catholicism. In all these cases we refer to cultures under the guise of religions. No religion exists purely as a religion in a vacuum but only in connection with a culture. If we refer to the Dhamma or the doctrine by the term religion, then the religions exist only in the libraries throughout the world. Even Dhamma is preached or discovered or whatever only in a cultural milieu. In the Buddhist literature it is said that the Bodhisathva went through the "pas maha belum" or looked for five requirements before he departed the "Thavthisa" to be conceived as the son of Maha Maya Devi. If the Bodhisathva was born into a European culture nearly 2600 years ago he would not have attained Buddhahood. Can anyone imagine an "Eskimo" Buddha? "Religions" could give rise to cultures and cultures in turn could give birth to and absorb "religions". (This is not a so-called dialectical relationship. Anybody with average intelligence can understand it without resorting to "dialectics" of either the idealistic or materialistic variety. There is nothing that can be understood with so-called dialectics that cannot be explained using formal logic. For a detailed analysis please refer to "Apohakaye Rupikaya" or Formalism of Dialectics.)

Though the Sinhalas in general had absorbed and assimilated from other cultures into their culture, there had been periods of blind imitation. But fortunately the periods of imitation had been short in a history of more than 2500 years. At present we are going through such a period, under the hegemony of western cultural imperialism and the sooner we get back to absorption and assimilation from blind imitation it would be for the benefit of the Sinhalas as well as the others living in this country.

Mr. Naganathan knows that unlike in the case of Elu and Sinhala there is no relationship between Elu and Tamil. While Elu has evolved in Sri Lanka to become Sinhala, Tamil is a language that has been created in Southern parts of India. All that Mr. Naganathan can claim is that those descendants of Yakshas, Nagas and other tribes who interbred with the Tamils from Southern parts of India became Tamils and Saivaites. As was mentioned last week Palk straits, though may be only 22 miles wide, separates Jaffna from the Indian mainland. If the Tamils came to Sri Lanka as settlers long time ago they would have interbred with the locals and as in the case of "Aryans" a separate language and a culture would have resulted. But the Tamils came as invaders and after ruling Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa as the case may be, for some time they were ousted by the Sinhala kings. The total period of these intermittent occupations does not exceed 168 years from the time of Sena Guttika to Magha and that explains why there was no new culture or language as a result of interbreeding that Mr. Naganathan has assumed to have taken place from a very early period in the history of the country. Prof. Indrapalan’s research corroborates these findings. There were no permanent Tamil settlements in this country before the 10th century BC according to Prof. Indrapalan and obviously there would not have been any interbreeding with the Tamils before that time.

Most of the Tamil population in the Jaffna peninsula are descendants of those who were brought from South India for tobacco cultivation by the Dutch. These immigrants were brought in large numbers by the Dutch and they outnumbered the locals in no time. By that time the locals would have been mainly Sinhalas and those who would have come with Magha, Chandrabhanu and the Arya Chakravarthins. They would have been a mixed stock speaking mainly Sinhala, with others speaking Malayalam (it is said that Magha came with an army of Kerala soldiers), Tamil and the language of the Kalingas. However as the Tamils outnumbered the others during and after the Dutch period the latter also would have been Tamilised together with the place names. The Tamils with Sinhala names in the present northern province are none other than those Sinhalas who would have been Tamilised later. Similarly people who migrated to the western parts of the country from southern parts of India, especially from Kerala, after the thirteenth century were Sinhalised and were absorbed into the Sinhala Buddhist culture.

Mr. Naganathan very often writes against what he calls "majoriatarinism". He propagates the view that the "majoriatarinism" has been masqueraded as democracy, however without formulating an alternate scheme. He is of the view that the Sinhaas are attempting to dominate the Tamils because the former are in the majority. It is not a case of domination but the Sinhalas asking Tamils and the other the ethnic communities to recognise the significance of the Sinhala culture, language and history in this country. However it is more than clear that the Tamils are not prepared to recognise the significance of the Sinhalthva in Sri Lanka and in order to deny the rightful place to the Sinhala people, their language, their culture and their history, in the country the Tamils have come up with so-called theories on the "origin" of the Tamils in the country. However Mr. Naganathan who accuses Sinhalas of majoriatarinism is guilty of the same offence. He not only does not offer an alternative to "majoriatarinism", but makes use of the very same concept with respect to the combined northern and the eastern provinces. He says: "We are the majority in our heartland in the North and East where Gautama the Buddha visited us and we are the natives of the country". Though he uses the words north and east he does not define them properly. If we assume the so-called heartland to be the present northern and the eastern provinces that were demarcated with the other seven provinces only as late as 1889, then Mr. Naganathan’s claim on behalf of the Tamils to those two provinces is based on two criteria. (i) The Tamils form the majority in the combined provinces. (ii) The Tamils are natives of the country being the descendents of those Yakshas and Nagas who interbred with the Tamils for thousands of years according to Mr. Naganathan. Now the criterion (ii) has no merit whatsoever and has to be discarded. What about criterion (i) ? How could Mr. Naganathan who vehemently opposes the so-called majoriatarinism of the Sinhalas resort to the majoriatarinism of the Tamils? It appears that Mr. Naganathan is opposed only to the majoriatarinism of the Sinhalas but not to that of the Tamils.

In any event the Tamils do not form a majority in the present eastern province. Even as late as 1921 the Tamils were confined to certain regions in a narrow strip along the eastern coast, as shown by Prof. G. H. Pieris. A recent book " Digamandulu Danavva" by Mr. Piyasena Kahandagamage gives more details of the demographic patterns in the districts of Ampara and Batticaloa. The Tamils came in large numbers to the present eastern province only during the colonial period. It was Tamil colonisation under western colonialism. The Sinhalas would have formed the majority even in the present eastern province until they were massacred by the British after the 1817-18 uprising. Mr. Naganathan who opposes majoriatarinism is not prepared to leave out the eastern province despite the fact that the Tamils are not in a majority in that province. Instead he and the others of his ilk look for the largest combined area in which the Tamils form a majority, while preaching against the so-called majoriatarinism of the Sinhalas.

People like Mr. Naganathan cannot wash their hands off from the murderous activities of the LTTE. The LTTE, when they bombed the Dalada Maligawa, showed the world that they are worse than the Talebans who smash Buddha statues in Afghanistan. The LTTE was fed on the theories of bogus history that were formulated by people like Mr. Naganathan. It is the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) or the Lanka Tamil State Party, the so-called Federal Party and the TULF that incited the generation of Prabhakaran against the Sinhalas with these bogus theories. It is unfortunate that after all these bloodshed Mr. Naganathan, pretending to be preaching against violence on one hand is adding fuel to the hatred of the LTTE against the Sinhalas, with his phoney theories on the other, in the traditions of the ITAK and the TULF.