Continuing from where we stopped at last week, let’s take a detailed look at the Tamil Householder’s Terrace Inscription.

Inscription of a Tamil householder and Tamil Buddhist monks during Anuradhapura Period

Describing further details about the Tamil Householder’s Terrace inscription, Professor Emeritus T. G. Kulatunga in his book, Purana Abhayagiri Viharaya adds more details to the interpretation. He says that the inscription is located on the premises of a Buddhist monastery, within the premises of the ancient Abhayagiriya Monastery. Surrounding buildings of this inscription are all remains of a Buddhist monastery. Therefore, this cannot be a householder’s or a merchants’ council situated within a monastery. Prof. Kulatunga says this is an offering for Buddhist monks by ‘Damila’ householders or Damila/Tamil devotees.

Tamil inscription from Abhayagiriya, Anuradhapura

“The inscription is of considerable significance as a historical document especially because of three considerations. Firstly, it is one of the oldest among the medieval Tamil inscriptions discovered hitherto in Sri Lanka. The letters on this slab represent a stage of palaeographical development, which is considerably older than that reflected in other Tamil inscriptions found in Anuradhapura. It could be assigned to the 8th century on palaeographical considerations. Secondly, it refers to a Bodhi (shrine) at the Abhayagiri Vihara and because of that reason this fragmentary inscription is of unusual importance as a historical document. Thirdly, the impression gained from other sources about the presence of Tamil Buddhists in Anuradhapura is confined by the contents of this inscription.” (Tamil Inscriptions in Sri Lanka – Volume I by
Prof. S. Pathmanathan).

The professor further writes, “Besides, there were in Anuradhapura some Tamils in positions of authority and influence who had extended support and patronage to Buddhism.”

The inscription of the Nankunattar from Anuradhapura

This is a slab inscription of the Tamil mercantile community called ‘Nankunattar’, which was found among the ruins at the northern sector of Anuradhapura. As per records, this is a greatly damaged slab with major gaps in the text.

Describing this inscription, Prof. Pathmanathan observes as follows;

“Because of gaps in the text, the context in which they are mentioned is not clear. Nevertheless, it may be assumed that the merchant community had donated a lamp to the palli and installed two images for worship. Sistanaganar may be a bodhisattva and the Utaiyar may be considered as the principal image of the monastery.”

This principle image of the monastery could be a statue of the Buddha.

Some ruins identified as Hindu shrines were discovered in 1892 in Anuradhapura during excavations. These are located on the way from the Abhayagiriya to Vijarama and between Pankuliya (Asokaramaya) and the Kuttam Pokuna. These are dated to the last years of the Anuradhapura Period or most probably to the Polonnaruwa Period (approximately to the 10th – 11th centuries).

In the year 1893 three inscriptions, written in the Tamil language were discovered here. These three are also about offerings and donations.

More Tamil inscriptions of Anuradhapura Period

“In the early years of the Department of Archaeology (DoA), the epigraphic records engraved in Grantha characters were also listed along with Tamil inscriptions. There were two such short records in the premises of Vihara No. 1 at Pankuliya. As some of the words, in the one found on the steps of the building are completely worn out the purpose of the record is not clear. As the names Kesari and Gandhakuti are visible, it may be assumed that a person called Kesari had performed an act of merit in connection with the institution called Gandhakuti. Another Sanskrit inscription found on the platform of the dagaba of the same vihara contains the expression bhitti santasatebhaya. It probably records the construction of a wall by a person called Santasati. A short pillar inscription from Vihara No.1 and Pankuliya describes an arrangement made by a woman called Kesari Araci for providing alms (to a person).” (Tamil Inscriptions in Sri Lanka – Volume I by Prof. S. Pathmanathan).

What is the need of reconstructing the accurate Tamil history of Sri Lanka?

The simplest answer to this is that reconstructing the correct history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka can dissolve myths and fables. Also, this clearly and bravely answers the question, whether there was a historic Tamil homeland on the island prior to the arrival of the Sinhala race or did the Tamils pre-lived the island and occupied the pre and proto-historic periods of the island. Thus, it is a timely need to bring forward historical and archaeological data and analyse them to reconstruct the Tamil history of Sri Lanka.

For decades, Buddhist heritage sites in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka have faced severe threats. These sites are being distorted and a cultural cleansing process has happened in these two provinces. All these racist acts are based on the belief that a mythical Tamil homeland or an Eelam existed in Sri Lanka. However, after studying the accurate facts of the history, based on chronicles, inscriptions, coins, and archaeological evidence, it is clear that such a Tamil homeland never existed in Sri Lanka. The Eelam is just another myth just as the myth of Ravana, Buddha born in Sri Lanka, and so on.

Also, these facts reveal that the Tamil-speaking community of ancient Sri Lanka since the Anuradhapura Period lived with the Sinhalese in harmony, donating offerings to Buddhist temples and later to Hindu shrines and involving in trade and travel in the island and in the region. Also, Tamil Buddhist monks were involved in religious activities and royal consorts were in the court of the Sinhala king. There had never been a historical struggle for a separate Tamil-only state nor did such a state exist on this island.

The ethnic identity of pre-historic inhabitants of the island

Although some Tamil scholars attempt to create a long history of Tamils in Sri Lanka linking their ethnicity to the pre and proto-history of the island, that attempt seems to be failing due to credible and solid evidence and arguments. During pre and proto-historic times, people were not organised as races or ethnicities. As our chronicles reveal, during this time those who lived on the island were organised as tribes such as the Yakkhas, Nagas, and Devas. These Yakkhas, Nagas, and Devas cannot be linked or identified as people of a race or ethnicity. It was after a few decades that they culturally and technologically evolved and organised as the Sinhala race, at least during the 5th century BCE. As per historical and archaeological evidence, no ‘race’ inhabited the island prior to this. Hence, to link the history of the Tamils of Sri Lanka to the pre and proto-history of Sri Lanka is baseless.

Post-Anuradhapura Period

We see evidence of a minor group of people who lived on the island of Sri Lanka. They spoke a language called Tamil and, referred to as ‘Damila’ or ‘Dravida’ in inscriptions, and were in Anuradhapura as merchants, householders, royal consorts, and Buddhist Bhikkus. The majority of these people were merchants or traders who travelled to the island for commercial purposes. It is significant that none of these early Tamil inscriptions say that these Tamil-speaking people did offerings for Hindu shrines or performed Hindu rituals; yet, surprisingly they were donating offerings or constructions to Buddhist shrines.

During the time of Polonnaruwa, the Tamil influence was notable as Tamil-speaking Cholas invaded Sri Lanka and ruled Rajarata. Since then, from time to time, Sinhala kings had married princesses from South India, not necessarily Tamils, but South Indians who spoke Dravidian languages, including Tamil and Telugu. However, we do not see Hindu influences on the island prior to the Polonnaruwa Period or towards the very end of the Anuradhapura Period, when the South Indian influences due to invasions and marriage alliances were notably high. Although Tamil or other Dravidian language-speaking communities lived on the island, they were a minority and also mainly Buddhists (Tamil Buddhist monks and Tamil Buddhist devotees) but not Hindus who had enough power to influence the culture of Sri Lanka.

The invasion of Kalinga Magha had a great negative impact on the Rajarata Civilisation as it was the major cause of the fall of the Rajarata Civilisation. Magha’s rule set the stage for a long-lasting foreign rule in the Northern parts of the island. Magha’s ethnicity is still uncertain as Prof. Senarath Paranavitana has a different view of where Kalinga was located in the ancient world. However, the invasion of Javaka Chandrabanu set the stage for the rise of the Arya Chakravarti dynasty in Jaffna. Their coins prove their ethnicity is linked to the Javaka land as Javaka Chandrabanu was from Java.

During the time of the Dutch and then the British rule, a large number of Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu-speaking groups from South India were brought to Sri Lanka for work. These groups of various casts and ethnicities settled in Sri Lanka in the North and in the hill country, forever changing the demography of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile in the hill country of Sri Lanka, by the 1740s, the stage was set for the rise of the Nayak royal dynasty of Sri Lanka. The Nayaks spoke Telugu as their language, as well as Tamil; therefore, identifying them as Tamil ethnicity is sceptical. If so, what is their true ethnicity? Where do they come from?

In our next week’s segment, we shall discuss Kalinga Magha, Javaka Chandrabanu, Arya Chakravarti dynasty, Prince Sapumal, and the Nayakkar dynasty.

To be continued…

(Information courtesy;Professor Emeritus T. G. Kulatunga, Professor Emeritus S. Pathmanathan, The Mahavamsa, Purana Abhayagiri Viharaya by Prof. T.G. Kulatunga, and Tamil Inscriptions in Sri Lanka – Volume I by Prof. S. Pathmanathan.)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Heritage: Ambassadors of peace (Part III)