This is something I posted on the www.kalaya.org forum. I am also posting it here because it is mine and I don’t want to deprive my own blog of such a telling example of the vital, throbbing, pulsating, incisive style of writing which is all my own. Also there’s the possibility the forum moderators might edit it which will take away from the vital, throbbing, pulsating, incisive style. Also I haven’t posted since August 24th and my fabled readers must be getting impatient. Also if I don’t post within two months I am liable to be struck off kottu.
Inconsistent bits in Professor Nalin’s history of Tamils
I wonder if I may point out some inconsistent bits in Prof Nalin De Silva’s theories/hypotheses on the history of Tamils in Sri Lanka. He claims that Tamils became the majority in Jaffna only after the 17th Century when the Dutch brought over large numbers of Vellalas as agricultural laborers to cultivate Tobacco. Before that during the time span of roughly 400 years when the Arya Chakravarthi kings and then the Portuguese ruled and also during the early years of the Dutch rule, the majority in Jaffna according to Prof Nalin was Sinhala Buddhist.
“E kalaye yapanaye demala janaya nosity bawak meyin nokiyawey eheth ehi kepi penena demala sanskruthiyak nowunu bawa pehediliya”
“This is not meant to imply that there were no Tamil speaking people in Jaffna at this time. But it is clear that a distinct, significant, (dominant) Tamil culture did not prevail there”. http://www.kalaya.org/files/d090913.pdf
I am sorry but to me it’s far from pehediliy/clear. I can conjure three factors out of my knowledge pool that muddy this clearness.
One is Sankili, the last king of Jaffna, another is the person who wrote Yalpana Vaipamalei and the other is Prince Sapumal building the Nallur Kovil in Jaffna where he was sent to rule by King Parakramabahu vi the last king in Sri Lanka to realize the sacred aspiration of uniting the country.
Let’s take Sankili. According to what I learnt from http://www.kalaya.org/files/d090913.pdf Sankili was a son of the previous Arya Chakravarthi king by a Tamil woman and while the king was away paying homage to the suzerainty of the Sinhala king, Sankili snatched the throne.
Why in the name of sacred hegemony did Sankili become Tamil? Born to a king of the Arya Chakravarthi dynasty whose race was not Tamil according to Professor Nalin, and to a mother who belonged to a minority community in a kingdom where the prevalent, significant culture was not Tamil why did Sankily identify himself as Tamil? Wouldn’t a son adopt the race of the father especially when the father is of a dominant race such as Royalty? As I see it in my no doubt limited understanding only three hypotheses can explain away Sankili’s Tamilness.
1) The Arya Chakravarthi kings were Tamil
2) The Arya Cakravarthi Kings were not Tamil but their subjects were majority Tamil. So adopting his mother’s racial/cultural identity was a strategic decision. King by reason of his father’s dynasty and also the king of his people. Finally a home grown king after all these foreign kings.
3) Sankili was illegitimate and not considered a rightful heir and therefore was not brought up in the Court but by his mother and her people. That’s why he snatched the throne by force and that’s why he was Tamil even after ascending the throne.
Before trying to decide between these three hypotheses let’s leave them for the time being and move on to the other two factors that according to me muddy the clearness of Prof Nalin’s claim that people of the region corresponding to the kingdom of Jaffna were majority Sinhala Buddhist, until Vellalas imported for tobacco cultivation by the Dutch took root in Jaffna under Dutch and British sponsorship.
The person who wrote Yalpana Vaipamalei now. Who was he? Was he a recently domiciled Vellala agricultural laborer brought over by the Dutch around 1650? According to what I learnt on http://www.kalaya.org/files/r0003.pdf Yalpana Vaipamalei was written around 1736. It seems reasonable to suppose that the author Mailvahanam Pulavar can’t have been a Vellala laborer turned writer as it would take time for laborers to become learned writers steeped in the lore and legend of the host country and according to Prof Nalin the Vellalas brought by the Dutch didn’t really settle here at first. They kept going back to India after each harvest season. So the Dutch gave them land rights through thesavalamei in 1707. But they still went back. So it took the British to really make them settle down. Let’s listen to Prof Nalin,
“The Vellalas were brought by the Dutch in large numbers and as they did not come voluntarily they wanted to go back to their homeland after the harvest each season and in 1707 the Dutch had to codify the Thesavalamai Law, which was a law found among the Muslims in South India, according to late Mr. Gamini Iriyagolle, in order to prevent the Vellalas going back to India. However, even that failed and it was left to the British to reintroduce the Thesavalamai and take other measures to retain the Vellalas in Jaffna. Naturally the Vellalas cannot have a continuous history going back to a date beyond the seventeenth century…..”
Mailvahanam Pulavar. Lets look at him across the 274 years that separate us. He was no imported Vellala laborer . He represents the Tamil community of the kingdom of Jaffna before the radical demographic changes set in motion by the Dutch and consolidated under the British changed the natural order and character of that community. I can see him now. Setting out to write a historical mythological epic on the invitation of the reigning Dutch governor feeling a warm glow perhaps that he was following the time honored tradition of writing epics on the invitation of the reigning king.
It has become the accepted wisdom now among Sinhala historians of a certain ideological persuasion to attribute sinister agendas and anti Sinhala motivations to Pulavar and his literary patron. But that feels wrong to me. I think from a distance of 274 years we can safely look at Mailvahanam Pulavar without attributing to him all the evil motives and vested interests of a Channel Four journalist. For example rather than looking askance at him for writing that king Vijaya of lore and legend was a Hindu and he built Hindu kovils all over Sri Lanka and had to bring exiled and lost Buddhists to colonize the island because no Hindu was willing to come to such a godforsaken jungle, we should be able to understand that this was how Pulavar and his community internalized the prevalent Vijaya lore. A community of people will only absorb the prevailing legends of the land by making those legends theirs by modifications. That’s why the Siri Pada is Adams peak and means something else to Muslims. That’s why we have our own princess in the tower story; Unmade Chitra.
It’s tempting to go on trying to de-villainize Pulavar and make a case for why Yalpana Vaipamalei should have its proper place in Sri Lanka’s historical record and literary archives. But that’s not my objective. Without going that deep and without relying on Mailvahanam Pulavar’s bona-fides, purity of motives and historical accuracy it’s possible to prove that even before the imported Vellalas took root, even before Mailvahanam Pulavar’s old Jaffna Tamil community got drowned in the huge influx of imported Vellalas, the majority inside the boundaries of what used to be the Arya Chakravarthi kingdom of Jaffna were Tamil and the Sinhalese were a dwindling minority.
Think about it. You are Pulavar, writing a history of the Jaffna kingdom on the invitation of the Dutch governor and you write that the Arya Chakravarthi kings brought over Tamil families from South India and chased away the Sinhalese who were always resisting the Arya Chakravarthi rule, conspiring, getting themselves hanged or exiled. You write that during Sankili’s time the violence and the persecution unleashed against the resisting Sinhala Buddhist population reached its pinnacle and he demolished the Buddhist monuments and places of worship and chased away all the Sinhalese and they took refuge in the Wanni and in Kandy and never more came back to Jaffna. After writing all this wouldn’t Pulavar look silly if the majority in Jaffna was still Sinhala Buddhists in his time? Wouldn’t he look silly writing that by Sankili’s time Sinhala Buddhists had been all but eliminated from Jaffna, if the Dutch remembered how they found a Sinhala majority when they came to Jaffna?
If I wrote a history about how the Sinhala population was eliminated from Jaffna it follows naturally that in my time the Sinhala population was nil or dwindling in Jaffna. Because if on the contrary the Sinhala population was very much thriving and a majority in Jaffna then my history would instantly get invalidated and become a laughing stock. This is so elementary that I wonder why Prof Nalin De Silva did not notice this.
Nobody claims that Mailvahanam Pulavar was suffering from a contemporary reality distortion disorder. In fact the article http://www.kalaya.org/files/r0003.pdf says Yalpana Vaipamalei is on the whole, in the general drift consistent with other sources of Sri Lanka’s historical record specially during the Arya Chakravarthi era and the inconsistencies are only in the details; for example the omission of any mention of Prince Sapumal who ruled Jaffna after Parakramabahu VI defeated the incumbent Arya Chakravarthi and took the region back under Sri Lanka’s crown. So nobody accuses Pulavar of being out of touch with his contemporary reality which was the pre- Vellala post Arya Chakravarthi era Jaffna. It would not be possible for him to be out of touch with his current reality because he was writing for a contemporary audience, the Dutch governor who at least had to have been in touch with current reality of Jaffna by 1739. The only contemporary reality consistent with what he wrote was a Tamil majority Jaffna.
Mailvahanam Pulavar therefore demolishes Prof Nalin’s hypothesis that it was the Dutch and British sponsored influx of Vellalas which changed the Jaffna kingdom’s Sinhala majority demography. He does this unintentionally, unknowingly and with effortless ease simply by being alive in 1739 and writing Yalpana Vaipamalei, a historical mythological epic of the kingdom of Jaffna in the island of Sri Lanka, which among other things gives a consistent explanation of how the Sinhala Buddhist majority demographic pattern in the rest of the island got altered within the kingdom of Jaffna under the reign of Arya Chakravarthi kings.
If you remember or if you don’t go to the beginning of this article, I said that three things muddy the status of clearness enjoyed by Prof Nalin’s hypothesis that Jaffna was Sinhala Buddhist majority until the advent of Vellalas. The third thing or factor is Sapumal’s behavior once he was sent to rule Jaffna. Among other things he is supposed to have built the Nallur Kovil. For whom did he build a kovil? For himself? While it’s true that he was the adopted son of Parakramabahu vi, being the true son of some South Indian VIP, Sapumal unlike Sankili was Sinhalese by adoption, assimilation and royal decree.
“E kalaye yapanaye demala janaya nosity bawak meyin nokiyawey eheth ehi kepi penena demala sanskruthiyak nowunu bawa pehediliya”
“This is not meant to imply that there were no Tamil speaking people in Jaffna at this time. But it is clear that a distinct, significant Tamil culture did not prevail there”.
So for whom did Sapumal build this Kovil? For the Hindus Prof. Nalin will say. The Hindus comprising of more Velakkara Malayalams than Tamils, Prof Nalin will say following his usual tendency to sweep the Tamils under the carpet
“This is where Mr. Sivakumaran’s argument goes against what he tries to establish. He claims that there were Tamils and other Dravidians living in Sri Lanka at least from the seventh century. I would add further that there were more Malayalam speaking people than Tamils at that time. Even if it was not the case, if Malayalam speaking people have no continuous existence since then up to the present what special quality was there for the Tamils alone of all the Dravidian groups to have a continuous history from the seventh century to the present?” http://www.kalaya.org/i090722.html
But let me ask a question. What special quality was there in the Tamils that caused them to be so scarce in Jaffna prior to the importing of Vellala labour by the Dutch despite the repetitive claims in Yalpana Vaipamalei that many Tamil families were brought from South India by the Arya Chakravarthis and settled in Jaffna?
I feel like a scientist who has unearthed a fossil that bridges a vital gap in the fossil record or like an archeologist who has discovered artifacts of a lost civilization. I believe I have uncovered an invisible people through excavations in the www.kalaya.org web site.
“Naturally the Vellalas cannot have a continuous history going back to a date beyond the seventeenth century and the question one has to answer is whether there were any Tamil speaking people in Jaffna before the seventeenth century……”
Yes yes! There were.
Sankili’s mother was of these people.
These people gave Sankili his cultural and racial identity and some of them were massacred by Sankili when they gave in to the Portuguese and converted to Catholicism
They belonged to the Jaffna Hindu community for whose benefit prince Sapumal built the Nallur Kovil.
Mailvahanam Pulavar who wrote Yalapana Vaipamalei was of these people and in his living memory his people, these Tamil speaking people were the majority within the boundaries of the kingdom of Jaffna.
These people existed before the mass influx of a large number Vellalas transformed the Jafna Tamil community to a Vellala dominant caste hierarchy and so they were a natural Hindu community where the dominant caste was Brahmin. One can even surmise that Mailvahanam Pulavar was a Brahmin because he was a man of letters.
As for the three hypotheses that I gave earlier to explain why Sankili became a Tamil I haven’t enough knowledge to decide among them.
I have also noticed that even though Sankeliyan Elankesan keeps referring almost hysterically in his article http://www.kalaya.org/Elankesan_i060621.html to the existence of Dravidian Brahmic inscriptions in Sri Lanka prior to the introduction of North Indian Brahmic inscriptions, Prof Nalin has never within the articles to be found in Kalaya countered that claim or put forward a hypothesis that can incorporate it.
And those semi autonomous rulers of Wanni what were they?