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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Home  > The Tamil History - History & Geography > Beginnings of Tamil Rule in Eelam (Ceylon, Sri Lanka)

Beginnings of Tamil Rule in Eelam (Ceylon, Sri Lanka)

Nallur Swami S. Gnana Prakasar O.M.I.

In ancient times Ceylon was divided into four provinces, Nagadipa in the North, Kalyani in the South West, Rohana in the South East and Malaya in the Centre. Mediaeval Ceylon consisted of three Ratas or countries: The first was Pihiti or Rajarata, the King's country which almost coincided with the ancient Nagadipa and was situated roughly above the Dedura Oya and Mavaliganga: the second was Mya or Mahaya Rata, the country of the sub-king which was to the south of the Deduru Oya as far as kaluganga and the third was Ruhuna extending all over the East and South of the Island as cut off by the Kaluganga and Mavaliganga.

....the inhabitants of Nagadipa were never fully reconciled to the new belief which came to the firmly established under Devanampiya Tissa (247 - 207 B. C.) In their heart of hearts they clung to their old religion and had constant communication with the Tamils of the main land who were often found in their midst as merchants and dealers. They ever nurtured a spirit of revolt and were only to ready to stretch out a helping hand to any adventurer who would attempt to curb the sovereign power of the Sinhalese. An occasion soon presented itself.

When Suratassa was reigning at Anuradhapura the two Tamils Sena and Guttaka "sons of a freighter who brought horse hither" conquered the king "at the head of a great army." They were evidently from South India and were in the Island as dealers in horses like many other merchants who frequented the country. Where they raised their "great army" we are not told. If that army was not formed of the local Tamils, the latter certainly approved the two Indians seizing the Sinhalese throne. The Mahavamsa itself has but praise for the Tamil rulers. It says that the two brothers "reigned both together for twenty two years justly." (Mahavamsa Chapter 21) (B.C.237 - 215) If the usurpers had brought their army from India the chances are that a considerable accession would have been made to the Tamils of the North.

As pointed out by Tennent, there was a reason for the Sinhalese themselves to acquiesce in the rule of this country by Tamil from India which was so often repeated in the course of as many as fifteen centuries. 'I' had reason was the intimate relation which originally existed between Tamils and the Sinhalese. "Vijaya himself was connected by maternal descent with the king of Kalinga, now known as the Northern Circars; his second wife was the daughter of the king of Pandya, and the ladies who accompanied her to Ceylon were given in marriage to his ministers and officers. (Tennent Ceylon I. 394-5) Brito adds these interesting details: The Pandiyan sent out his own maiden daughter with 699 maidens chosen from among his nobility. These 700 ladies landed with their retinue safely at Cottiar. (Cassie Chetty's Gazetteer).

The princes was attended by a personal staff of 18 officers of state, 75 menial servants (being house-keepers, elephant-keepers and charioteers), besides numerous slaves. It may reasonably be assumed that each of these 18 officers was accompanied by his wives and children, his men-servants and maid-servants and his male-slaves and female-slaves. in like manner each of the 699 noble maidens was accompanied by attendants, servants and slaves, of both sexes. And there were also numbers of families of each of the five sorts of tradesmen who came to Ceylon on this occasion. (Rajavali p. 175, Tennent I 458).

These facts swell the number of the original Tamil colonists to at least twenty times that the Magadhi settlers. And it must be borne in mind that the way once made for these colonists was kept open by a communication which Vijaya carried on with Madura during his whole reign of 38 years. He sent pearls and chanks to his father-in-law from time to time of the annual value of two lakhs. Such a communication could not have failed to lead to a continual influx of the Tamils from the continent in his and the succeeding reigns. (Yalpana-Vaipavamalai, p. iv) "Intimate intercourse and consanguinity, were thus established from the remotest period. Adventurers from the opposite coast were encouraged by the previous settlers".

Such a reason might have naturally suggested itself to Elalan or Elara "a damila of noble descent" from the Chola country who, only ten years after Asela the Sinhalese Successor of Sena and Gultaka was in power, landed at Mahavatutota near Trincomalee with a large army and seized the throne. He reigned forty-four years over the entire Nagadipa or Rajarata, compelling the chieftains of Rohuna and Maya to acknowledge his supremacy and pay him tribute, "He reigned with even justice towards friend and foe" says the Mahavamsa which goes on adding some instances of his absolutely impartial justice: As the head of his bed he had a bell hung up with a long rope so that those who desired a judgement at law might ring it. the king had only one son and one daughter.

When once the son of the ruler was going in a car to the Tissa-tank, he killed unintentionally a young calf lying on the road with the mother cow, by driving the wheel over its neck. The cow came and dragged at the bell in bitterness of heart; and the king caused his son's head to be served (from his body) with that same well." Let us remark that this is a stock incident related in Tamil literature about the mythical Chola king Manu. After relating some other wonderful achievements in his life the Buddhist annalist says about the pious Hindu: "Only because he freed himself from the guilt of walking in the path of evil did this (monarch), though he had not put aside false beliefs, gain such miraculous power; how should not then an understanding man, established in pure belief, renounce here the guilt of walking in the path of evil?" Of Elalan the Pujavaliya adds that he established thirty two fortresses in Rajarata and employed twenty great champions. ( Extracts from the Pujavaliya by Mudaliyar B. Gunasekara, p. 15) But the allegation that the inhabitants of his realm began to practise their old religion openly. The Rajavaliya also seems to voice the sentiments of some bigots when it affirms that Elalan "reigned wickedly." (refer to page 7 of this chapter) (B.C. 205 - 161)

When Dutthagamani had slain Elalan in single combat and ascended the throne, Bhalluka the latter's nephew arrived from India with a following of 60,000 men at arms (or 30,00 according to the Rajavaliya) in response to his uncle's invitation. Learning that Elalan was no more he made a bid for the throne himself, but was defeated and killed. (Mahavamsa XXV, 77-97) That all his army was slain is doubtless an exaggeration by the Buddhist Chronicles. It is more probable that those who escaped with their lives found an asylum among their kinsmen of the Northern country.

The Rajavaliya mentions a more successful invasion in B.C. 103. "Seven Tamils landed on the Island of Lanka bringing with them 7000 men from the Soli country and drove out king Valagambahu. One of the seven Tamil having pursued the king, carried off his chief queen; another of them carried off the dish from which the Buddha used to eat. The remaining five Tamils succeeded one another and reigned 14 years."(Rajavaliya p.44)

That same Chronicle records that during the reign of Vankanasika Tissa (A.D. 110-113) a Chola king made a predatory descent on Ceylon and carried away 12,000 Sinhalese as slaves to work on the embankment of the Kavery. Gajabahu 1, the son and the successor of the Sinhalese king, avenged the outrage by invading the Chola country and bringing to Ceylon a large multitude of Cholas together with the redeemed captives. The Cholian Tamils are said to have been established in a number of villages of the Alutkuru Korale where they lost their identity among the Sinhalese inhabitants. (Ibid pp. 44-49) This is one of the many instances of infusing fresh Tamil blood into the Sinhalese people. It is also of interest to note that Gajabahu brought with him a jewelled anklet of the Goddess Pattini whose worship he introduced in Ceylon. He is also said to have brought back the bowl relic of the Buddha carried away in the days of king Valagambahu.(Cf. R. A. S., C. B. Vol. XIII, pp. 144-149. The Cilappatikaram mentions the visit to India of a Gajabahu king of Ceylon but on a friendly mission)

Anuradhapura was again taken by Pandu and five other Tamil chiefs from India in A.D. 436. All Sinhalese noble families fled to Rohana beyond the Mahavali-ganga. The entire land of Rajarata was under Tamil rule for twenty seven years. Five of the invaders occupied the throne one after another, when, Dhatu Sena was able to overpower them at last. With regard to this Singhalese king's reign Tennent remarks: "Dhatu Sena, after his victory, seems to have made an attempt, though an ineffectual one, to reverse the police that had operated under his predecessors as an incentive to the immigration of Malabars; settlement and intermarriages had been all along encouraged and even during the recent usurpation, many Sinhalese families of rank had formed connections with the Damilos. The schisms among the Buddhist themselves, tending as they did to engraft Brahmanical rites upon the doctrines of the purer faith, seem to have promoted and matured the intimacy between the two people; some of the Sinhalese king erected temples to the gods of the Hindus, and the promoters of the Wytulian heresy found a refuge from persecution amongst their sympathisers in the Dekkan."(Tennent I, 397-8)

If we may believe the Vaipavamalai's statement about Kulak-kodan's visit to Trincomalee, it was probably during the Tamil rule of this period that the Vanniyas from India began to colonize the country between Trincomalee and Mantota. The Tamil history mentions the correct date of king Pandu as Saka 358 which works out as A.D. 436. He is made to reign at Anuradhapura, another correct details. At Trincomalee Kulakkoddu-maharaja repaired the ruined Konesar temple and sending for the Vanniyar from the coast of India put them in charge of the temple and the lands he had allotted for its supports. Here Mailvakana-pulavar relates many legendary accounts taken doubtless from the Konesar Kalveddu and the Vijaya (Vaipavamalai p. 4-8) but the central fact of the Vanniyas being connected with the Konesar temple seems historical. In India they were a fighting caste. Probably large contingents of them had accompanied the Tamil invaders at various times and remained behind. Later, they set themselves up as petty chiefs in various parts of the north, some of them becoming or begin nominated as managers of the temple of Trincomalee. The Vaipavamalai also speaks of their Increasing in number and power in course of time. And the name and date of the king of rank of Atikaris are correctly given as Aggrabodhi (the first of the name) in the year 515, Saka year, which is A. D. 593. This is another purple patch in an otherwise confused medley of facts and legends.

Another invasion claimed by the Pallava Narasimhavarman (His grandfather Simha Vishna also claimed in one of his inscriptions to have vanquished the Sinhala king: Dubreuil: Pallavas p. 73) (630-668) but actually by Manavamma with the help of that Pallava king is noteworthy as having brought fresh accession to the Tamils in Ceylon. He was the son of Kasyapa 11 but was excluded from regal power by Dhathopatissa 11 who ascended the throne (664). Manavamma fled to India and took service under Narasimhavarman and was present at the battle of Vatapi in which the monarch defeated Pulakasan 11 in 642. Now manavamma retuned to Ceylon with an army furnished by Narasimhavarman and succeeded in taking Anuradhapura but had soon to return to this patron for further help. Invading Ceylon after the reign of three of its kings "he raised the imperial banner of sovereignty over all Lanka."(Mahavamsa Ch. XLVII) (671-726)

The story of Ukkairasingan in the Vaipavamalai looks like a travesty of Manavamma's first taking possession of the north and the south of Ceylon. In spite of many a wild fancy it gives a date for his invasion which makes the store likely to be based on some historical fact. Advocate Britto, the translator of the Vaipavamalai into English has a note about this in an unpublished work entitled Viruttiyam. It says "In Knighton (p.111) we read: There was a scion, Mahalaipamu, of the royal blood of Ceylon, who having obtained aid from an Indian king named Narasinha, invaded Ceylon, but was defeated. Repairing again to his patron, he obtained a large force, by means of which he was completely successful. And he ascended the throne in A.D. 72 The Saka years 717 of the Vaipavamalai is evidently a mistake for A.D. 717. The author of the Vaipavamalai lived in Jaffna during the Dutch period and collected his materials, as he says in his preface, from other authors some of whom probably gave their dates in A.D., and not in Saka. Accustomed to use the Saka year, the author sometimes adds the word Saka to the Christian year without first altering the Christian year to correspond with the Saka year. Sometimes he adds the number 78 o the Christian year, intending to subtract that number in order to reduce the Christian to the Saka year. This is an instance in which he adds the word Saka to the Christian year. If it is so, there is still a difference of three years. That difference is not great. Nor is it unaccountable. It may be that 717 A.D. is the year of the first and unsuccessful attempt, while 720 is the year of the conquest. According to the Sinhalese account Narasinkan is the name of the patron of the conqueror, According to the Tamil account, that same is the name of the Conqueror's son and successor.



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