History is a methodical record of past events while traditional stories and myth coming down for generations are legend. Two thousand five hundred years of history from the advent of Prince Vijaya is recorded as written history in the great chronicle of Mahavamsa. Myth and traditional stories take us beyond this written history in the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Sri Lanka should be called Sinhale


History is a methodical record of past events while traditional stories and myth coming down for generations are legend. Two thousand five hundred years of history from the advent of Prince Vijaya is recorded as written history in the great chronicle of Mahavamsa. Myth and traditional stories take us beyond this written history in the Mahavamsa to a Ravana civilisation about 5,000 years ago, a Mahabali civilisation about 10,000 years ago, a Tharaka civilization about 20,000 years ago and a Manu civilization about 30,000 years ago. Though this is a mythical belief there is ample evidence through recent archeological findings in places such as Balangoda and Buttala to prove that man had lived in this island for more than 30,000 years.

The recorded history in the great chronicle Mahavamsa attributes Prince Vijaya’s arrival in this island to around 483 BC. There were four tribes living in this country then known as Heladiva. The four tribes were the Nagas, the Devas, the Rakshas and the Yakkhas. Since the country was inhabited by four tribes the country was also known as Sivuhela (Sivu meaning four). Prince Vijaya was crowned as King of Heladiva and was the ruler of this island for 38 years (483 to 445 BC). He married Yakkhini Princess Kuvanna who became his queen. However, there was no immediate integration between the Yakkha tribe and the immigrant Sinha tribe of Prince Vijaya from

A scene from the movie Vijaya-Kuweni. Prince Vijaya was crowned as King of Heladiva and was the ruler of this island for 38 years (483 to 445 BC).

North India. Therefore, with the demise of King Vijaya, his queen Kuvanna or their son did not become the ruler of this island. It was Panduvasudeva, a relative of King Vijaya from the Sinha tribe summoned from North India that became the next ruler of this island.

It is possible that the integration of the Sinha tribe with the indigenous people namely the Nagas, Devas, Rakshas and Yakkhas may have taken many more decades and would have been completed probably during the reign of Pandukabhaya (377 to 307 BC) who was the fourth King of the island after Vijaya’s arrival. King Pandukabhaya had many indigenous people joining his army to defeat his uncles and to become the ruler of the island probably because his paternal grandmother was an indigenous lady from a Hela tribe and not an immigrant from the Sinha tribe. It was during the reign of King Pandukabhaya that this island known as Heladiva or Sivuhela was identified as Sinhale after a complete integration of the immigrant Sinha tribe from North India with the four indigenous Hela tribes of this island.

The island which was henceforth known as Sinhale was divided into Ruhunu Rata, Pehiti Rata and Maya Rata for possibly administrative expediency and after this division the island was referred to as Thunsinhale. The supreme king or the emperor ruled the country from the capital city that was situated in the Pehiti Rata during ancient times and therefore was better known as the Raja Rata. Due to invasions initially from South India and subsequently from European countries the capital city was later relocated either in Maya or Ruhunu Rata. When the supreme king or emperor resident in the capital city that was located in one of these subdivisions the other two subdivisions were sometimes ruled by a sub king or a regent who was a close relative of the king but he was always subordinate to the supreme king or emperor residing in the capital city. During the advent of the first European power, the Portuguese, to this country in 1505 A.D the capital city was Sri Jayawardenapura in Kotte in the Maya Rata. The Portuguese gradually established control over the maritime provinces of the island.

The Dutch took over the rule of the maritime provinces from the Portuguese in 1656 A.D and in 1796 A.D the British took over the maritime provinces from the Dutch. When the European powers began to establish their rule over the maritime provinces, the kingdom of Sinhale gradually moved to the interior central hills and the capital city was finally established at Maha Nuwara in the Ruhunu Rata. Invading British forces found it difficult to approach the strategically situated Maha Nuwara that was in the central hills as it was virtually surrounded by the Mahawali River and thick jungle. A British expeditionary force that tried to capture the king of Sinhale in 1802 A.D was virtually annihilated during that attempt. The kingdom in the hills from where the king reigned was also known as Kanda Uda Pasrata which the British later called Kanda and subsequently Kandy.

The kingdom of Sinhale was ceded to the British by the Sinhalese chieftains through the Kandyan Convention signed on March 2, 1815 and was never conquered by the British. The name of the ceded country mentioned throughout the Sinhala and English text of this International Treaty is called Sinhale, the name by which the island was known through the centuries. The letter and spirit of the Convention was never observed by the British Colonial administration. This resulted in two rebellions. One was in 1818 and the other was in 1848. British were able to crush both these rebellions in the most ruthless manner. What transpired was best explained by an unimpeachable witness, an English Doctor serving in the British Army, Dr. John Davy, to the House of Commons Parliamentary Select Committee on Ceylon 1849/1850.

“It would be difficult to give the English reader an accurate idea of the manner in which during the rebellion, hostilities were carried on, on either side. It was partisan warfare, which from its very nature and circumstances, was severe and irregular; particularly when at its height and after lenient measures had been tried in vain. When a district rose in rebellion, one or more military posts were established in it; martial law was proclaimed; the dwellings of resisting inhabitants were burnt; their fruit trees were often cut down, and the country was scoured in all directions by small detachments, who were authorized to put to death all who made opposition, or were found with arms in their hands….”

Braybrooke, the Assistant Commissioner in Badulla, giving evidence before the House of Commons Parliament Select Committee on Ceylon states,

“During the rebellion of 1818 there were several unauthorized acts committed by officers upon men taken prisoners. Men were put to the death by orders of individual officers who had taken them prisoner without trial. In the province where I was serving at that time there was one officer Lieutenant J. Maclaine of the 73 Regiment who used to have men hung up while he was at his breakfast and retribution rapidly followed. This officer was shot a few days after by the Kandyans.”

If the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron needs to initiate an international inquiry to ascertain if war crimes and crimes against humanity had indeed been committed in this country, is it not more appropriate to first inquire into known acts of genocide committed by British troops when the two rebellions of 1818 and 1848 were suppressed before inquiring into unintentional collateral damage caused by government troops in 2009 when they defeated the LTTE?

The British colonial rule came to an end with the granting of independence to Ceylon on February 4, 1948. Independence was granted by the British to a country called Ceylon and not to the country called Sinhale that was ceded to them by the Sinhala chieftains, through the Kandyan Convention. The implication of this intentional or unintentional omission was overlooked by our national leaders at that point of time. Had independence been granted to the nation of Sinhale that was ceded to the British, then there would never have been any ambiguity with regard to the rightful ownership of this island. Just as much as the world accepts that France is the land of its indigenous people the French, Germany is the land of its indigenous people the Germans, China is the land of its indigenous people the Chinese, Japan is the land of its indigenous people the Japanese and so on and so forth, Sinhale would have been the land of its indigenous people the Sinhalese. There would never have been any room for a mythical Tamil homeland known as Eelam in this country.

The word ILAM (Eelam), today, comes into much prominence. It is, apparently, being used to connote the impression of “a land of the Tamils”. Indeed, the Tamil word ILAM was never before used in that sense. On the contrary, this Tamil word ILAM did not refer to Tamil land but to the “Land of the Sinhala people”. None other establishes this than the Tamil lexicon published under the authority of the highest seat of Tamil learning, namely the University of Madras. Page 328 of this Tamil lexicon has the following entry: ILAM, n< Pali, Sinhala, 1. Ceylon. What it says is that ILAM means the land of the Sinhala people. The Tamil word given as the meaning of ILAM reads “SINHALUM”. The term ILA in Tamil means “SINHALA”, having its origin in the word HELA, by which term the ancient people of LANKA were known. Thus ILAKKACHU in Tamil means “Sinhala Coins”- ILA means Sinhala, Kachchu means Coins. Similarly, since NADU means LAND, ILANADU means the Sinhala land. According to the said lexicon the word ILANADU was derived from ILAM. The foregoing establishes the fact that the word ILAM (Eelam) never referred to any Tamil land but always signified the Sinhala land.Therefore if one were to ask for ILAM (Eelam), what is being asked for is the traditional homeland of the Sinhala people.

Tamil culture evolved for centuries in Tamil Nadu in South India and not in this island which is the traditional homeland of the Sinhala people. Therefore, Tamil Nadu, the traditional homeland of the Tamils, is where they can practice self-determination and not in the northern and eastern parts of this island that is an integral part of the nation of Sinhale now better known as Sri Lanka. It was to establish a separate homeland for the Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of this island that the LTTE fought a war for three decades with the government of Sri Lanka.

Though the LTTE was convincingly defeated in 2009 some Tamil political leaders who are supported by the LTTE rump in the Tamil Diaspora still continue to speak about Tamil aspirations for self-determination and also with regard to the need to establish a traditional homeland for the Tamils in this country. These Tamil political leaders also aspire to have the Security Forces that protected and preserved the unity and territorial integrity of the nation by defeating LTTE terrorism removed from the Northern Province. Such aspirations are unrealistic and would never be acceded to by the Sinhala majority in this country even if undue international pressure is applied for a regime change in Sri Lanka. Therefore, these Tamil politicians, instead of following a path that would drag the Tamil minority once again to a dark age of war and destruction, should instead join hands with the Government of Sri Lanka to rapidly develop the area affected by the war to usher in peace and prosperity for the Tamil people living in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

It is true that there are many examples of new countries being formed overnight. In our immediate neighborhood the division of India into India and Pakistan or the creation of Bangladesh serves as good examples. However, the formation of nations does not happen overnight and in fact takes several centuries. A nation also has its own indigenous population and a language of its own. The nation of Sinhale had been in existence for more than 2,000 years and it had its own indigenous population the Sinhalese and a language namely Sinhala when it was ceded to the British on March 2, 1815.

This nation of Sinhale was identified as a country called Ceylon by the British. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party that was governing the country in 1972 promulgated a new constitution and Ceylon was renamed as the Republic of Sri Lanka without having used that opportunity to revert to the Nation of Sinhale which was the ancient identity of the island. Unlike in Sri Lanka the national leaders of Myanmar were much more patriotic and valued their historical identity. Therefore British colonial Burma reverted to its original name of Myanmar after independence.

What was the rationality behind our political leaders changing the name of the ancient island nation of Sinhale to that of a country called Sri Lanka? Did it not result in converting an ancient nation into just another country of recent origin? Was the name of the country changed to Sri Lanka because the governing party at that point of time was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party? What was the actual origin of this name Sri Lanka?

The meaning of Sri is resplendent. Admiring the beauty of this island, the people living in neighbouring India called it the Alankar Dwipa. The name Lanka was derived from the word Alankar by dropping the first letter A and the last letter R. Therefore Lanka was only a nick name used from ancient times for the beautiful island nation of Sinhale. When the new constitution was promulgated in 1972 our political leaders only succeeded in changing the name of the island to its ancient nickname instead of the real ancient name of Sinhale. This only diluted the claim of the indigenous Sinhala people to this island nation and further encouraged the Tamil separatist demand.
During the British colonial era, Indian Tamil indented labour was inducted to Burma too. However after independence the farthinking Burmese national leaders requested the Indian Tamils in that country to integrate into the majority Burmese society by changing their names to Burmese and those who were unwilling to do so were asked to return to India. This resulted in an increase in the majority Burmese population and a corresponding decrease in the minority Tamil population.

Even though the Indian Tamil indented labour spent much of their sweat and toil to develop the plantation industry in Ceylon, if an integration exercise similar to that practised in Burma had been suggested for this country after independence, that would never have been accepted by the Sinhalese people who believe that they belong to a pure race. Have they forgotten that their very race is a result of an integration of the indigenous Nagas, Devas, Rakshas and Yakkhas with a migrant Sinha tribe from India more than 2,000 years ago that resulted in the formation of the nation of Sinhale? It is also a fact that this island nation is strategically situated close to the main shipping route in the Indian Ocean. Therefore much integration was inevitable between foreigners and the Sinhalese people for many centuries and to believe that a pure Sinhala race exists today is nothing but fallacy. DNA tests have proven that the Sinhala race is far from pure and is very much mixed.

The country will celebrate its 66th year of independence from the British on February 4, 2014. Almost half the period after independence was spent fighting against Tamil separatist claims. Such claims would have been made irrelevant if independence had been granted by the British to the Nation of Sinhale that was ceded to them by the Sinhala Chieftains in 1815 or if our political leaders had the presence of mind to designate the country as the Nation of Sinhale in 1972 when a new constitution was promulgated. Both these opportunities were missed due to political inexpediency and the country suffered the consequences.

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