By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Repeated invasion of Sri Lanka from South India in the ancient and medieval periods did shape the attitude of the Sinhalese towards the Tamils. But the relationship was not always antagonistic. There was ample and significant accommodation, tolerance and absorption of ideas and cultures between the two, right through. This fascinating tale of conflict and cooperation is told by Prof.Amaradasa Liyanagamage in his book: Society, State and Religion in Pre-Modern Sri Lanka (Social Scientists Association 2008).
According to Dr.Liyanagamage, by the 9 th., Century AD, the Sinhalese kings had beefed-up their defenses and had also taken to diplomacy to ward off South Indian predators. Since the mighty and expansionist Cholas of the Tamil Coromandel coast were the principal threat, the Sinhalese kings began striking alliances with the Pandyas, the rivals of the Cholas in Tamil Nadu. Diplomacy coupled with defense preparedness, helped the Sinhalese keep the peace for a millennium.
“It is pertinent to note that no invading force, including the most formidable imperial Cholas, succeeded in over-running and capturing the entire country. The southern half of the island remained free even during the worst times,” Dr.Liyanagamage points out. Even in the worst times in the 13.th, Century, when Parakramabahu II was faced with invasion of the Maghas, Chandrabhanu and the Pandyas, Southern Sri Lanka was free.
Did the invasions create an anti-Indian sentiment in Sri Lanka? “The overwhelming weight of evidence points to an answer in the negative,” asserts Dr.Liyanagamage. Jambudvipa or India, remained holy for the Sinhalese Buddhists. While Pali was the vehicle of Theravada Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, Lankan Buddhist monks learnt Sanskrit, wrote works in it and communicated with Indian scholars in that language.
The historian goes on to say that it would be an error to presume that relations with South India, the source of the invaders, had always been geared to the battlefront. “In point of fact, Sri Lanka’s commercial and cultural relations with South India seem to have been much closer and more cordial than is commonly believed and these relations have certainly left an impact on the island’s social and cultural evolution,” he says.
Interestingly, during some invasions, Buddhist monks, would seek refuge in lands in South India ruled by the rivals of the invaders. For example during Chola invasions the monks used to seek refuge in the Pandyan kingdom. Bhadanta Ananda Thera, in his book Upasakajanalankara, which he wrote while being in a monastery in the Pandyan country, says that during the ferocious Magha (Kalinga-Kerala) invasion of Sri Lanka, many Sinhala Buddhist elders including himself, had found shelter and succor in the Pandya and Chola countries.
The Atthakatha (Commentaries) composed between the 5 th., and 9 th., Centuries, which became an important part of Lankan Buddhist literature, were written mainly by South Indian monks such as Buddhadutta and Dharmapala. While Hinduism was the dominant religion in the Chola country, Buddhism survived in Kanchi, Kaviranagara and Nagapattana.
The splendid Chudamani Vihara built in Nagapatana by the Chola Emperor Raja Raja I (926-1014 AD) was repeatedly endowed by his successors. Buddhapriya Thera, the incumbent of the Chudamanivarma Vihara, a scholar of repute, was known as the “Cholia Dipankara” in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist establishments in the Tamil country and Sri Lanka maintained close links with each other. During the reign of Parakramabahu II (1236-1270) donations received during Higher Ordination ceremonies were shared with Buddhist institutions in Tamil Nadu.
Despite wars and even during wars between the South Indian forces and the Sri Lankan armies, Sri Lanka-South India trade flourished. Unlike these days when economic sanctions and trade restrictions are imposed in times of war or even a political conflict, those days trade and commerce were not interfered with. In the 12 th., and the 13 th., Centuries when wars were being fought, the “Trading Corporation of Lanka” flourished in the Chola and Pandya Kingdoms in Tamil Nadu. At the end of the 12 th., Century, during the reign of Parakramabahu’s wife Lilawati (she had four stints 1197–1200, 1209–10, and 1211–12) the Nanadesi merchants from South India flourished in her domain around Polonnaruwa.
Dr.Liyanagamage notes that invasions and commercial traffic led to the settling of Tamils and other South Indians in Sri Lanka. Contemporary records mentioned invaders coming with thousands of soldiers (ranging from 24,000 to 94,000 men). Many of them opted to settle down in Sri Lanka rather than go back. While small groups of Tamils or South Indians settled in every part of the island, it was only in the North that settlement occurred in a big way, enabling the formation of a Tamil kingdom. The decline of the Sinhalese Rajarata kingdom, made this easier.
According to historian Parnavitarana, the Jaffna kingdom was founded by the Aryachakravartis who were Brahmins from Rameswaram. They in turn traced their ancestry to the Ganga dynasty of Kalinga (present- day Odisha). During the 14 th., Century, the Aryachakravartis reached the pinnacle of their glory by establishing their power over the Sinhalese kindgoms in Central (Gampola), and South West Sri Lanka (Kotte/Colombo/Panadura). It was Parakramabahu VI (1415-1467) who reversed the trend by resisting the Aryachakravartis, taking the battle into Jaffna itself and putting his nominee as the Administrator. Interestingly the South Indian Keralite families of Alahakkonars and Alakeswaras (especially Gen.Nissanka Alahakonar) had a huge hand in defending Kotte and Panadura against the marauding Jaffna troops.
Repeated and destructive invasions by the Tamil kings of India did create ill feeling towards the Tamils (all South Indians were lumped together and called Damila and despised). But according to Dr.Liyanagamage, this was not always so. In the early days of encounter with the Tamils, the good qualities of the Tamil rulers were acknowledged and written about. Even Tamil usurpers like Sena, Guttika and Elara, were praised for their righteous rule. But in the chronicles of the 13 th.Century onwards, the Tamils came in for severe censure. Even Elara (205 BC to 161 BC) who was praised earlier, was portrayed as a man who “destroyed innumerable dagabas built by King Devanampiya Tissa and rules un-righteously for 44 years.” In these writings, unlike in the past, the opposing armies were identified as “Tamil” and “Sinhalese” and not as belonging to particular Kings.
Resentment against the “Damila” invaders reached a high point in the Pujavaliya written by a Buddhist monk who was an eyewitness to the depredations of the Magha invaders. Interestingly, all South Indians were dubbed “Damilas” though they were not all Tamils. Among them were Kalingas (from Odisha), Malalas (from Kerala), Doluvara (Tulu speakers from North Kerala and coastal Karnataka) and Karnata (from Karnataka).
Dr.Liyanagamage warns that it would be wrong to say that conflicts of those days were ethnic in nature – Sinhala against the Tamils and vice versa. Parakramabahu VI, who conquered Jaffna, was a patron of Hindu temples. A Tamils inscription at the Munneswaran Siva kovil in Chilaw records his contribution to the temple. “Most interestingly, the foundation of the Kandaswamy temple in Nallur in Jafffna, is attributed to Parakaramabahy VI”, Dr.Liyanage points out. Again, Ulakudaya Devi, the daughter of Parakramabahu VI, was married to a South Indian Tamil Nannur Tunaya.
The 15 th.Century poet Tottagamuwe Sri Rahula wrote that in the Tottagamuwe Vijayabahu Pirivena near Hikkaduwa, Tamil and Sanskrit were compulsory subjects apart from Sinhalese and Pali. Sinhalese works of the medieval period such as the Pujavaliya and Saddaramalankaraya had Tamil words. Even in the present-day spoken Sinhalese there are Tamil words especially in agriculture, land measurement and kinship terminology. And there are titles like Koon, Peruma, and Alaha which are of Tamil origin.