Damedas or Damelas in local chronicles

The first Damilas to be mentioned in local chronicles are sailors who were engaged in Horse trading. These traders were inhabitants of the areas of the Sindh River banks or in the vicinity and travelled further south by sailing. During these sails, they must have been engaged in horse trading.

In A Concise History of Ceylon by Prof. Senarath Paranavitana and C.W. Nicholas the word Dameda is explained saying that the Brahmi inscriptions mentioning the ethnicity Dameda found in Sri Lanka could be the oldest inscriptions to mention them. In these inscriptions, Dameda or Damila individuals and groups are merchants, traders, or sailors.

The scholars Prof. Paranavitana and Nicholas further write that mentionings of Tamil merchants and sailors are in the ancient Sinhala language and they had Aryan or Sanskrit names. Thus, explaining this, they say that prior to Dravidians migrating into South India these groups of people must have lived in the lower Indus Valley area and that is why they were highly influenced by the Aryan culture.

In our previous segments, we have discussed the first mentioned Damedas or Damilas in Sinhala Brahmi inscriptions, also known as the Tamil Householder’s Terrace Inscription. Their names are; Shagasa, Nashathasa, Thisa, Kubira Sujatha, and Karawa. These names by any means do not echo the Dravidian language.

In this segment, we shall explore the incidents that Dameda or Damilas are mentioned in the local Pali and Sinhala chronicles. We must bring to your attention that the word Dameda or Damila is used in these early Brahmi inscriptions and chronicles to identify this specific ethnicity but not the word Dravida.

Assa Navika Puththa, Damila Sena Guttika

According to the 21st chapter of the Mahavamsa, two sons of a horse trader/sailor, Damila Sena, and Guttika usurped the throne from King Surathissa and ruled Anuradhapura for 22 long years. The Mahavamsa Teeka, Vansaththappakasini explains that Sena and Guttika ruled as pious rulers and not going against the traditional laws and administrative systems of the Sinhala kingdom.

According to the Thupavamsa, they were the sons of a horse-trading sailor and as per the Poojawaliya they were two brothers who traded horses for the island.

The 9th son of King Mutasiva, Prince Asela threw Sena and Guttika out of the throne and became the king.

As Prof. Paranavitana and Nicholas explain in A Concise History of Ceylon Sena and Guttika believed that our sins can be washed away by water. Thus, they had constructed a way to flow the waters of River Malwathu (Kadamba Nadee) closer to the city of Anuradhapura, close to their royal palace. This is the only construction that can be attributed to Sena and Guttika. They are introduced as Damila.

Although they have ruled for 22 years, no architectural or any other irrigational construction has been identified that can be attributed to them. Also, interestingly, until the final years of Anuradhapura Kingdom, there is no evidence of any non-Buddhist constructions of the Anuradhapura Period or in the city of Anuradhapura. However, as Sena and Guttika believed in washing away their sins with water, it is fair to assume that they were not followers of Buddhism.

Elaro Nama Damilo

The next mention of a Damila is the story of Elara. Elara is introduced by the Mahavamsa as arriving from the Chola Ratta, which is the Chola country. He is also introduced as Uju Jathiko and by his name Elaro who was a Damila. The Mahavamsa Teeka Vansaththappakasini explains these words and says that Uju Jathika means he who is not sly and cunning, but who is honest. Now the most interesting part is that Pali and Sinhala chroniclers take much interest in telling stories about the righteousness of Elara. He is not hated by the chroniclers.

Why is Elara not loathed by the chroniclers?

One may say that to highlight the greatness of Dutugamunu, the chronicler had intentionally praised the good nature of Elara and portrayed him as a righteous ruler. This argument can be seen as invalid as the chroniclers seem to be giving a fair account of each and every usurper and ruler of the island.

In contrast, one may see a clear difference in how Kalinga Magha is portrayed in the chronicles. He is loathed, hated, and feared by the chroniclers.

Hence it is believed that Elara’s true nature is authentically portrayed in local chronicles.

Stories about Elara

According to the Mahavamsa Elara had a bell hung up with a long rope at the head of his bed, so that those who desired a lawful judgment might ring it.

Once when his son was going in a chariot to the Tissa Tank, he killed (by accident) a young calf lying on the road by driving the wheel over its neck. The mother cow went to the palace and rang the bell, and the king severed the son’s head with that same chariot wheel.

Another story says that when a snake devoured a bird and the mother bird had rung the bell, Elara caught the snake, cut open its body, took out the bird, and hung the snake upon the tree.

On another occasion, while Elara was visiting the Bhikkus of the Cetiya-Giri to invite them to alms, his chariot’s yoke damaged a Stupa. When his ministers told him that the Stupa had been damaged, Elara lied down on the road and told the ministers to sever his head with the same wheel. At this point, the ministers enlightened the king that Buddha does not allow or accept injuries caused to a living being and therefore, talk to the Bhikkhus and solve the matter by renovating the stupa. It is said that he spent way more than the renovation cost renovate the damaged stupa.

Who was Elara; was he a Dravidian?

Elara is first described in the Mahavamsa as a Damila and his men are referred to as Damilas. This has led many modern historians, especially Tamil scholars to interpret him as a Tamil king. Now, this statement is actually problematic.

The 2nd century BCE has not seen the rise of any superior power of a Tamil kingdom in the Tamil country that had the power to invade neighbouring countries. 

Damila; was it a common term for all invaders?

The many political invasions that occurred during the historic times are referred to in local chronicles as Damila invaders from South India; which means, generally, whoever invaded
Sri Lanka during historic times, regardless of their ethnicity and the language they spoke, chroniclers have referred to them as Damilas.

The first known Damila invasion in
Sri Lanka was the invasion of Sena and Guttika during the time of Suratissa (247 – 237 BC). According to local chronicles, Sena and Guttika were horse merchants. To date, there is no evidence of the existence of Sena – Guttika or any invasion of Sri Lanka from South India of this time, being recorded in the history of South India.

The invasion during the time of Walagamba (103 BCE/ 89 – 77 BCE) is also referred to as the Seven Damilas in the chronicles. Some scholars suggest they were of Pallava origin. The Pallavas and Cholas were enemies in South India and the Pallavas were finally defeated by the Cholas in the 9th century CE.

The Damilas who invaded during the time of Mittasena (435 – 436 CE) are known as the Six Damilas, and were from the Pandya Kingdom. Even Though they are from the Pandya Kingdom, the chronicle refers to them as Damilas.

When narrating many other Pallava and Pandya political invasions and alliances during the Anuradhapura Period, the chronicles use the term Damila.

The four Nayak kings ruled Sri Lanka despite the fact that they spoke Telugu and they were not of the Tamil race, our historical texts and we still refer to them as the Damila/Demala or Tamil kings.

This leads to the suggestion that Elara, although referred to as a Damila, was not necessarily a Tamil. He could have been someone from any South Indian kingdom or even from some other foreign land, most probably where Buddhism was unknown. No evidence has been found in the Tamil country to say that Elara invaded Sri Lanka during the 2nd century BCE. Our argument is that Buddhism was known by this time in South India and Damila/Dameda Buddhists existed by this time in Sri Lanka.

What was Elara’s ethnicity?

Upon closely studying the many stories about Elara that are given in the chronicles, one can see a close resemblance between his acts with the Hammurabi Law of ancient Babylonia.

Also, it must be noted that during these times (Sena Guttika and Elara), Buddhism flourished in South India, and cities such as Kanchipuram were Buddhist centres where great Buddhist scholars resided within monasteries. Therefore, if Elara was from South India, it is irrational to believe that he was unaware of Buddha’s basic teachings.

The acts of Elara (seeking revenge and violent punishments) do not reflect Buddhist philosophy and the minister’s reply to him during the stupa incident shows that Elara was completely unaware of Buddhist philosophy.

This eye-for-an-eye law was not a common practice in ancient India but it was common in the region of ancient Babylonia and the ancient cultures of the Persian Gulf.

This region was politically powerful and culturally influential and its authority was spread through political, economic (trade), cultural, and religious strings to faraway lands such as India and Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, we must say that the identity of Elara is not yet figured out. His existence in South India is not proven, nor elsewhere yet, apart from Sri Lanka. Hence, attributing his ethnicity to the Tamil race is baseless. There is no doubt that he was a foreigner who most probably spoke a Dravidian language (there are about 80 Dravidian languages), who practised the eye-for-an-eye law, who was of noble descent, and who was not familiar with Buddhism.

He was of course a royal and that is why Dutugamunu honoured him in a way that reminds us of how Porus asked Alexander to, “Treat me as a king would treat another king.”

To be continued…

(Information courtesy; The Mahavamsa, The Arya Kingdom in North Ceylon by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana, A Concise History of Ceylon by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana and C.W. Nicholas, and Demala Wansayata Purwikawak by Kolat Senanayaka and Narada Karunathilake.)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy