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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 Heritage - History & Geography > History of the Tamils in Ealam and The Jaffna Kingdom - Dr Mathi Chandrakumar

 History of the Tamils in Ealam and
The Jaffna Kingdom

Dr Mathi Chandrakumar


Ancient Tamils from the time of their migration, probably from the Indus valley, to the south of India did not keep chronological records of their history. All available evidence of our past had been gathered from anthropological evidence and other artifacts left behind. Even at the height of Tamil civilisation, the Chola period, detailed records were not kept. Most of the history has been reconstructed from stone inscriptions.

In contrast when the motive for record keeping is driven by Religious fanaticism detailed chronological records were kept by many civilisations. There are a number of examples. Jews kept detailed records and these survive as the old testament of the bible. Similarly the Buddhist priests in Ealam kept their version of the history in the form of Mahavamsa and Culavamsa. Like the Bible there is evidence to suggest that these were written long after the events described took place. Therefore these cannot be considered as accurate records of the events. These were written by priests who mainly tried to convey a religious message using the events to illustrate the importance of the Buddhist religion, hence a very biased version. The description of the events had a very heavy religious flavor and the history was modified to glorify those kings who patronised and supported Buddhism and those who did not were portrayed as "bad kings". There was also a tendency to remain silent on the issues which did not portray Buddhism or the Sinhalese race in a favorable light.

Tamils who were inhabitants of Ealam from the ancient times and the Tamil invaders from Tamil Nadu in South India were despised, and were always portrayed in the most unfavourable light possible. De Silva expresses the same sentiments when he states “The Mahavamsa and its continuation Culavamsa were the work of Bhikkus and, naturally enough were permeated by a strong religious bias, and encrusted with miracle and invention. The central theme was the historic role of the Island as a bulwark of Buddhist civilisation, and in a deliberate attempt to underline this, it contrives to synchronise the advent of Vijaya with the parinabbana ( the passing away) of Buddha.”[1]

In spite of this silence, Mahavamsa and its continuation Culavamsa provides adequate clues to a strong Tamil presence in the Island of Ealam from the ancient times probably well before the arrival of the Sinhalese race. The aim of this paper is to reconstruct the history of Tamils in Ealam and to outline the origin of the Jaffna Kingdom. It can only be a brief summary which will give a glimpse of the glorious past. The discussions have to be left for further work as space does not favor a detailed analysis here.

Ancient History

Presence of Tamils in ancient Ealam has to be surmised as Mahavamsa, although does not mention it, gives clues in that it refers to the ministers of King Vijaya went to the City of Madura to woo the daughter of the Pandu King for their Lord[2]. Not only this indicates a strong suggestion of links between the Sinhala race and Tamils at a very early stage, but the Buddhist chronicle even goes as far as to suggest that the first king of the Sinhala had a Tamil wife. In addition in the earlier years where Mahavamsa is vague and the details probably not accurate there was evidence of Tamil Kings ruling the Sinhala race. There is evidence that in 177BC Two Tamil Kings usurped power at Anuradhapura and ruled for twenty two years to be followed ten years later by another, Elara who maintained himself in power for a much longer period - forty four years[3]. Mudaliyar Rasanayagam[4] following detailed research into ancient history including analysing the ancient Tamil Literature concluded that a Naga Kingdom existed in Jaffna in fifteenth century BC, the period generally allotted to the events described in the Mahavamsa. He also in his conclusions stated “in spite of the reticence of the Mahavamsa, very probably intentional, it will be clearly seen that for a thousand years after the advent of Vijaya, the principality in the North existed undisturbed, while the central power at Anuradhapura passed through several changes of dynasties and several storms of conquest”.

There is evidence from archeological investigations conducted at Pomparippu in the North West of the Island in 1956 and 1957 of a culture which bears some resemblance to the South Indian Megalithic culture[5]; the similarities are most noticeable in the Adichchanallur site across the water in South India. The Adichchanallur site is considered to belong to Tamil culture. There fore there is strong archeological evidence for the presence of Tamils in Ealam in 300 B.C in the North West of the Island.

De Silva recognises that several Kingdoms existed at that period in Ealam and the dynasty at Anuradhapura being one of them. He states[6] “The account of these events in the Mahavamsa is at once too bold in its outlines and too simplistic in narration. While Mahavamsa treats all kings of Sri Lanka since the mythical Vijaya as rulers of the whole Island, the inscriptional evidence points to a quite different situation, with the Anuradhapura kingdom - tradition attributes its foundation to Pandukabhaya, the third king of the Vijayan dynasty - merely the strongest, if that, among several in the Northern plain and in the Malaya and Rohana regions, as well as in other parts of the country”.

It could be concluded that Tamils were a well established race in Ancient Ealam at least by 300 B.C. They probably had their own kingdom as research appear to indicate. It is regrettable that they did not leave a permanent record to prove this fact.

The Chola period

The Tamils had a continuous presence in the Island from ancient times. However the next Key milestone in this chronology is the Chola period. The imperial Cholas established an empire which extended from Tamil nadu over the waters as far as the Malayan peninsula and North as far as the Ganges. Six hundreds years after the sangam age came to a close, the Cholas came back again on the stage of Tamil history as a determining factor. In the middle of 9th century a Chola chieftain called Vijayalaya ruling small territory north of the Kaviri established a Chola dynasty which was to expand into an empire[7].

Under Rajaraja the Great (983 - 1014) the Cholas embarked on a aggressive and ambitious programme of conquest which brought the Sinhalese Kingdom under direct rule: the Rajarata, the heartland of the Sinhalese kingdom was attached to the Chola empire[8]. Rajaraja’s son Rajendra in 1017 AD began the total reduction of the Island. The whole Island was brought under Chola rule. In the course of this expedition Chola captured the crown of the kings of Ceylon and those of their queens. A powerful army seized Sinhalese warriors , the wife of the king, his transport etc.; the queen and the daughter of the defeated king did not escape imprisonment[9]. A significant change introduced by the Cholas was the decision to shift the Capital from Anuradhapura to Pollanaruva, which subsequently became the Capital for the Sinhalese Kings as well.

The Jaffna Kingdom

Before during and after the Chola period the Tamils of Ealam became increasingly conscious of their ethnicity, which they sought to assert in terms of culture and religion. Thus the Tamils of Ealam became sources of support for South Indian invaders[10]. Mudaliyar Rasanayagam maintains that from fourth century AD to eighth century AD there were Kings in Jaffna who ruled independently during some periods and at other times under the Kings in Anuradhapura[11]. He also states that from the eighth century AD Kalinga King Ukkirasingan and his descendants ruled some times independently and at other times under the Cholas. The historical validity of these statements remains to be confirmed.

Thirteenth century was the period of Pandyan revival in South India. Under the Pandyan king Maravarman Kulasekharan (AD 1268 - AD 1308) armies were led by one Arya Chakravarthi who conquered the Sinhalese armies and brought the tooth relic of the Buddha from Ceylon to Madurai[12]. The history around this period is confused by the only recorded South East Asian invasion by a petty King from Malay peninsula Chandrabhanu of Tambaralinga. However it is well known that Ariyachakravarti the leader of the Pandyan Army of invasion was installed as a ruler of Jaffna. When the Pandyan empire in turn collapsed as a result of Muslim inroads into South India, Jaffna became an independent Kingdom under Aryachakravartis[13].

In the second half of the fourteenth century the fortunes of the sinhalese were on decline. Jaffna under the Aryachakravartis was much the most powerful kingdom in the Island. As Sinhala power declined the Tamils moved southwards to exact tribute from the southwest and central regions. By the middle of the fourteenth century the Jaffna kingdom had effective control over the northwest coast up to Puttalam. After an invasion in 1353, part of four Korales came under Tamil rule and thereafter, over the next two decades they probed into the Matale district and naval forces were dispatched to the west coast as far south as Panadura. The Jaffna Kingdom was poised for the establishment of Tamil supremacy over Srilanka, and were foiled in this primarily because it was soon embroiled with the powerful Vijayanagar empire in a grim struggle against the latter’s expansionist ambitions across Palk straits[14].

[1] De Silva K M, A History of Srilanka, UK 1981.

[2] The Mahavamsa. Geiger W 1912.

[3] The Mahavamsa. Geiger W 1912.

[4] Mudaliyar C Rasanayagam. Ancient Jaffna. New Delhi 1926

[5] Senaratne S P F. Prehistoric Archaeology in Ceylon. Colombo 1969.

[6] De Silva K M, A History of Srilanka, UK 1981.

[7] Chopra PN, Ravindran TK, Subrahmanian N. History of South India - Vol 1- Ancient Period. New Delhi 1979.

[8] De Silva K M, A History of Srilanka, UK 1981.

[9] Chopra PN, Ravindran TK, Subrahmanian N. History of South India - Vol 1- Ancient Period. New Delhi 1979.

[10] De Silva K M, A History of Srilanka, UK 1981.

[11] Mudaliyar C Rasanayagam. History of Jaffna. New Delhi 1933.

[12] Chopra PN, Ravindran TK, Subrahmanian N. History of South India - Vol 1- Ancient Period. New Delhi 1979.

[13] De Silva K M, A History of Srilanka, UK 1981.

[14] De Silva K M, A History of Srilanka, UK 1981.

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