THE JAFFNA PENINSULAR
During pre-historic times Ceylon is said to
have been occupied by the Veddahs, Nagas and Yakkas. The Mahavamsa also refers
to Lord Buddha's visit to Nagadipa (the Island of Nainathivu) in order to settle
a dispute regarding a throne between two Naga Kings. This legend is again
supported by the Manimekalai. It is difficult to find out what the language of
the Nagas was at that time. But it is clear that during the Sangam period the
Nagas of Ceylon were well versed in Tamil.
Nagadipa was the original name of the Islands
of the Jaffna Peninsula. Ptolemy's map shows that a number of towns in Ceylon in
the pre-Christian era had Tamil names. Megasthenes called Ceylon Taprobane but
Pericles says that Taprobane was replaced by Palaesimundu, perhaps a corruption
of Palayanakar. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana speak of the Nagas of Jaffna.
The Mahavamsa says that Yakkas and Nagas occupied Ceylon before the advent of
Some Tamil Sangam poets were Nagas from
Jaffna. The original language of the Nagas was perhaps Elu, a word from which
Ceylon got the name 'Eelam'. But before the Ariyanisation of Ceylon, Tamil was
perhaps the language of the Nagas and was spoken in Ceylon." Among the
Sangam poets mentioned is Ilattup Putantevanar, who composed some verses in
Kuruntokai, Akananuru and Narrinai. The Mahavamsa states that in the 6th century
B.c. there existed Naga strongholds at Nagadipa under Mahodarai, the Naga King
among the Sangam works, a few personalities who were referred to, as
'chieftains' appear to have come from Jaffna. For example Elini and Pittankorran"
about whom verses appear in the Purananuru, appear to have come from
Kudiraimalai, now identified with Kantherodai in Jaffna.
EVIDENCE OF EARLY SETTLEMENTS OF
A large number of Sangam words spoken among
the illiterate villagers of Jaffna again support our Sangam connections. Finds
at Ponparippu also show that Tamils had lived not only in Jaffna, but in the
vicinity of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and other interior parts of Ceylon. (The urn
burials found in these parts are identical with the urn burials found in
Adichanallur and other places of South India.) The Mahavamsa also refers to a
clan known as Lumbakarnars who were ruling north of Ceylon in the first century
A.D. Recent excavations at Kantharodai Buddhist stupas in which Sivaganams were
found by Dr. Godakumbara, suggests that Tamils who were Saivites also had
worshipped in this shrine.
Chroniclers state that King Vasabha who
succeeded Subbha and ruled from Anuradhapura in 66 A.D. belonged to this clan.
The Culavamsa also refers to the existence of the Lambakarna clan in the Pandya
country. There is also evidence of a close connection between the Malavas of the
Pandya country and the Lambakarna clan in Ceylon. Isigaraya, mentioned in the
Gold Plate Inscriptions found at Vallipuram (dated 2nd century A.D.), was
perhaps a Malava chieftain with the title of raya, a suffix that many Tamil
chieftains took. (As Mr. Pillai rightly observes, the northern part of Ceylon
was the land of the Nagas in the centuries preceding and succeeding the
Christian era. After a period of interregnum a Tamil Kingdom started in Jaffna
when Ukkure Singham established a kingdom.
The reference in the Yalpana Vypavamalai to
Pandi Malavan who went to India during the period when Jaffna had no settled
kingdom and invited a Chola prince, again shows the influence of the Vella
community, and that Jaffna, after a period of anarchy was again ruled by the
Chola prince. When the whole of Ceylon came under the sway of Tamil kings, as
for example during the reign of Elara, Sena and Cuttika (75 B.c. to 55 B.c.);
and after the invasion of Pandu and five others (43 A.D. to 62 A.D.) the rest of
Ceylon came under the Tamil sway. But their conquest lasted only a short period
and the Sinhalese kings were able to regain their supremacy. AS Codrington says,
from the 5th century A.D. the Sinhalese kings were harassed by the Pandyans and
the Cholas. This made the Sinhalese kings shift their seat of power from
Anuradhapura to other places. The question as to when an independent Tamil
Kingdom was established in Jaffna is a matter of controversy.
For a few centuries Jaffna was ruled by
Sinhalese kings. The Tamil armies brought by one of the claimants to the throne
of Anuradhapura in the seventh century, were the only soldiers who fought in
wars. In the medieval period, the Sinhalese, as cultivators, appear never to
have been a warlike people. The Sinhalese militia therefore was of no great
military value.'" The mercenaries consisting chiefly of Dravidians, were a
deciding factor in wars. King Manabharna took refuge in the North (Uttaradesa).
For some time he was in Kanchi, the capital of Pallava country. Later he is said
to have regained the throne of Anuradhapura. Towards the end of the 8th century,
it is stated that the Tamil chiefs were able to assert their independence for
some time. The Culavamsa states that they refused to pay tributes to Mahinda
till he subdued them. The Yalpana Vypavamalai refers to the Pallava influence.
It speaks of some arrangement made by the Pallava kings, referred to as
Thondaman, to get salt exported from the Jaffna kingdom and to deepen the lagoon
for this purpose. The existence of Thondamannaru, a canal in Jaffna supports
In the 9th century, when the Pandya king Sri
Maru Sri Vallabha invaded Ceylon, the Tamils of the North rallied round him and
helped him to defeat the army of Sena I. This led to the seizure of Anuradhapura
by the Pandyan forces. During the IOth century the Cholas invaded the island
frequently and used the northern ports such as Manthotta and Urathurai (Kayts)
as bases for their operations. Place names like Chembianpattu, Valarvaikoon
Pallam, point to the fact that the Cholas had captured these places.
In one of the inscriptions of Rajadhiraja, it
is stated that four kings of Ceylon lost their crowns at the hands of
Rajadhiraja. The names of the kings are Vikramabahu, Veerasalamegha, Sri
Mallabha and Madavarajah. The last of these kings has been identified as the
King of Jaffna. According to K. K. Pillai, he was an adventurous member of the
Rashtrakuta dynasty who gained control over some part of Ceylon between 1051
A.D. and 1052 A.D, Rasanayaga Mudaliyar, citing Indian inscriptions states that
the Chola kings decapitated three Jaffna kings,'" As against this
convincing evidence, some students of history appear
to think that the Tamils settled down only in
the twelfth century in Jaffna.l3 A new discovery throws great light on the
kingdom of Jaffna in the eighth century. Masudi, the great Mohammedan traveler,
reached the Port of Jaffna in 912 A,D, and witnessed the funeral of a Hindu
king. (This is described in the appendix; the writer is indebted to Dr. S. A.
Imam for this information).'4
MASUDI'S VISIT 1N 912 A.D,
Masudi states that the King was placed on a
low chariot and while it was being drawn, a woman swept the ground and threw
dust on the hair of the dead king, exclaiming the futility of life and extolling
the worship of God. Before the body was put on the funeral pyre, it was smeared
with sandalwood and cut into four pieces with a sword. The Purananuru states
that the body of a king who did not die in battle was placed on a tharappu and
cut by a sword before being cremated. This was a custom among the Tamils during
S. Vaiyapuri Pillai, in his work entitled
Tamilar Panpatu states that it is a Tamil custom to place the body of a king or
a warrior who did not die in battle, on a tharappu and cut into pieces before
being cremated. Masudi had definitely witnessed the funeral of a Tamil king. The
reference by the woman who threw dust at the dead king to the " Eternal who
is alive" was the reference to the Supreme Creator. This period was
followed by the religious revival brought about by the Tamil saints. Therefore
the ceremony referred to is definitely that of a Tamil king, since Buddhists do
not believe in a supreme deity.
HISTORY OF THE
Scholars who attempt
to lift the veil of obscurity that envelops the early (proto -, pre-) history of
Jaffna face formidable obstacles: scarcity of literary evidence, very few
archaeological findings and biased interpretations of available data.
The earliest local
Tamil chronicles on Jaffna were composed in the Middle Ages. A prose work
entitled Yazhppana Vaipava Malai was compiled by poet Mayilvakana Pulavar
in 1736 A.D. This work depended on earlier writings such as Kailaya Malai,
Vaiya Padal, Pararasasekaran Ula and Raja Mural. These,
composed not earlier than the fourteenth Century A. D., contain folklore;
legends and myths mixed with historical anecdotes.
References to Tamils
of the North which are said to be found in the Hindu epics of Ramayana
and Mahabharata, in the ancient Tamil Classics and in the
devotional Tamil literature have yet to be critically studied and appraised.
As far as
archaeology is concerned, one may mention four rounds of field Works.
carried out in 1918 and 1919 at Kantarodai, an ancient capital of Jaffna, and at
Vallipuram, a coastal town situated about six kilometers from Point Pedro.
Punch-marked coins called puranas that
were current in India during the time of Buddha (6th to 5th centuries B.C.) and
copper rods - "kohl" sticks that were very similar to the ones
Egyptians used to paint with and dating back to 2000 B.C. - were discovered. Sir
Paul E. Pieris, who conducted these excavations, expressed his conviction that
the Northern part of Sri Lanka was a "flourishing settlement" even
before the birth of Vijaya, the legendary founder of the Sinhalese.
out in 1956 and 1957 at Pomparippu, Puttalam, a region intimately connected with
the North, have revealed the existence of a culture bearing some resemblance to
the South Indian Megalithic culture flourishing in the first millennium B.C.
discovered at Adicha Nallur in the Tirunelveli region of Tamil Nadu: striking
similarities are to be found in the features of Black and Red Rouletted pottery,
in iron implements and in the style of urn burials.
carried out in 1970 by a Pennsylvania University Museum team at Kantarodai.
Though no burial monuments were found, the team reported the probable existence
of a Megalithic stage of development in Jaffna.
conducted between 1980 and 1983 which witnessed startling discoveries. The
following conclusions are mainly based on these excavations.
inhabitants of Sri Lanka might have migrated through a land bridge that linked
up northwestern Sri Lanka with southeastern Tamil Nadu. This land connection
physically existed till 7000 B.C. No wonder, scholars have maintained that
"man did not evolve in Ceylon but... arrived in the island from the main
continent of India" Besides, the close proximity of Jaffna Peninsula to
South India must have prompted periodic migration from the sub continent to the
northern coastal areas of Sri Lanka. One could not disagree with the statement
of Paul Peiris that "it stands to reason that a country which is only 30
miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fishermen every
morning as they sailed out to catch their fish, would have been occupied as soon
as the Continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail". In point
or fact, in the course of the centuries, South Indians came to Sri Lanka either
as successful traders, seamen, soldiers, artisans or refugees fleeing from
political upheavals in their motherland.
was not the first habitat of the earliest migrants. A few microlithic (an
earlier phase) tools were found at Poonakari and Mannittalai, two points very
close to, but not inside, the Peninsula. This may have been due to the absence
of microlithic tool material there."
earliest inhabitants of Jaffna were Megalithic people. This culture had in
general the following distinguishing features: tank-irrigated cultivation,
developed settlements, a special pottery technique which produced Black and Red
Wares, the introduction of iron technology and a certain style of burial
chamber. The urbanization "in South India, the rise of earliest kingdoms
and chieftaincies in this region and the refinement of the language to the stage
of producing the Cankam Tamil Literature were the culmination of the Megalithic
inscriptions of Sri Lanka belonging to the third century B.C., having close
affinity with the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of South India, together with the
fact of the similarity of clan names found both in the earliest written records
of Sri Lanka and in the ancient Tamil Classics suggest "a common ethnicity
between Sri Lanka and extreme peninsular India". The Megalithic culture of
Sri Lanka was, however, "a full-fledged and integral part of the cultural
heritage of Sri Lanka, common to both Sinhalese and Tamil"
Pottery and a seal
found at Anaikoddai and other material found at Kalapumi, Karainagar and
Kantarodai establish beyond doubt that there were permanent settlements in the
Jaffna Peninsula - at least in the third century BC. if not earlier.
scripts, found at Anaikoddai (and Kantarodai), assigned to third century B.C.,
occur "along with what could be assumed to be a previous system of
writing". This suggests that the "Megalithic culture arrived in Jaffna
in the protohistoric times, and caused the emergence of rudimentary settlements
and continued into the early historic times marked by urbanization".
may have offered itself as a habitat for Megalithic people for the following
i. Jaffna was a region of scrubs which could have
been easily cleared by tools discovered by the developing iron technology
ii. There was fresh water at low depth and
the place abounded with natural ponds.
iii. The rain-flooded silt stretches and the taravai
grasslands were suitable for farming and pasturing respectively.
iv. The lagoons and flood outlets were also
conducive for settlements.
inhabitants of Jaffna were culturally "affiliated" to South India,
spoke in a proto-dravidian language, and practiced a religion "similar to
that of the Megalithic south India"; a statuette of Lakshmi, a Hindu
goddess, is said to have been found at Anaikoddai.'
Even though it
cannot be maintained categorically as the Tamil Tradition claims that the Nagars
were the aboriginal inhabitants of Jaffna, one cannot easily dismiss the
existence of a people in a region called Naganadu or Nagativu, mentioned, among
others, by the Greek geographer Ptolemy. Cilappathikaram and Manimekalai,
the twin classical Epics of the Tamils, mention Naganadu's relations with
Kavirippaddinam and a Chola prince respectively. The Pali chronicles of Sri
Lanka relate the story of a quarrel between two rulers of Nagadipa. A gold plate
belonging to the fifth century AD. mentions Jaffna as Nagadiva (Nagativu) and
states that its regional ruler constructed a Buddhist vihara.' The Tamil
historiographical works of the Middle Ages mention gatiramalai near Kantarodai
as the capital of a ruling dynasty before the establishment of the Kindgom of
Jaffna around the mid thirteenth century AD. It is then reasonable to assume
that in the Peninsula there was a "city-state" in the early Christian
era in parallel with "various rulini dynasties in different parts of Sri
Lanka before the development Anuradhapura hegemony".
similarities between the inhabitants of Nagadipa, called the Nagars and the
Tamils of Jaffna have prompted some scholars to propound that the Tamils of
India and Sri Lanka are the "lineal descendants" of the Naga people.P
According to others, however, our knowledge of these earlier inhabitants is
still very "hazy" and hence nothing definite can be said about them.
But the weight of scholarly opinion is on the side of those who identify Jaffna
with Nagadipa or Nagativu. According to one authority, "Nagadipa, the
original name of the island of Jaffna is perhaps derived from the Nagas".
According to another, there "can be no doubt that the earliest commercial
intercourse of the Greek and the Romans with Ceylon was confined to the northern
and northwestern ports" Indeed, one of the ports on the seaboard of the
Peninsula. Jambutturai, is thought to be Jambukola from where envoys of
Devanampiya Tissa (247-207B.C.) embarked with gifts to Emperor Asoka. According
to A.C. Bouquet, the "proto-Dravidians" who were the dwellers in the
Indus Valley and who were believers in nagas or
snake-spirits had entered India and Sri Lanka at a very early age.
It is plausible that
a common Megalithic cultural stratum in South India caused major cultural
formations of Tamil, Kannada, Telugul Malayalam, Tulu, etc., other lesser
formations such as the ancient Tamil fivefold social divisions based on the
relationship between man and his environment, and "the development of
Sinhala and Tamil formations in the Island of Sri Lanka... In the later
centuries, the Sinhala- Buddhist formation developed into a major formation on
par with other major formations of south India, whereas the Jaffna Tamil
formation remained as a lesser formation." It should be noted, however,
that the Jaffna Tamil identity, and indeed the Northern Sri Lankan identity, was
distinct from the South Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Sinhalese formations.
On a wider
background: it may be useful to point out that it is the considered opinion of
many that there were definitely influential Tamils in the North of Sri Lanka at
least two hundred years before the Christian era.
tradition records a number of Tamil invasions from South India. In the second
century BC., two Tamils, Sena and Guttaka, are credited to have assumed power
over the northern portion of the Island (177-155 BC.). Another Tamil of
"noble descent" from the Chola country Elara or Ellalan, seized the
throne of the Sinhalese king at Anuradhapura and ruled a great part of the
Island for 44 years at least as the "supreme ruler of the northern
plain", if not the "ruler of a united kingdom". The defeat of
this Tamil ruler at the hand of the Sinhalese Dutthagamini is regarded by some
as the "first war of liberation against foreigners". In the first
century BC, seven Tamil chiefs, probably from the Pandya kingdom captured the
northern part of the Island and administered it for fourteen years. (89-77 BC.)
The evolution of
Megalithic settlements in Jaffna saw the birth of a principality in the first
century BC. Kantarodai emerged "as an urbanized central place" which
perhaps controlled the other settlements of :Peninsula not only politically, but
economically and culturally as well. It had the "widest and the richest
early settlement" and was "situated in the most potential agricultural
strip of the Peninsula". Ten sites, located mostly along the sea routes,
have been identified as belonging to this phase of development and "many of
these fresh settlements arose without agricultural hinterland" indicating
that these settlements "had become specialized and interdependent in their
It is during this
period just before the advent of the Christian era that Jaffna became a link in
the South Asian and transoceanic maritime trade Two factors contributed to this
I. It was a common practice to use coastal
passages in sea trade routes and the Roman and Indian ships went through the
Gulf of Mannar id the Palk Strait crossing Mantai and Pampan to go from the
western t of India to its eastern coast.
II. The Gulf of Mannar-Palk Strait route was
also famous for its and conch shell diving.
Emissaries of Sri
Lanka went to Rome in the reign of Emperor Claudis (40-54 A.D.). According to
Pliny, a freedman of Annius Placamus, while sailing round Arabia, was caught by
a storm and landed in Ceylon at the port of Hippuros. He was taken to the king
with whom stayed for six months. The king thereafter sent an embassy to Rome.
The name of the ambassador-in- chief appears to be Rachias (perhaps Rasiah) and,
in the view of J.E.Tennent, he was a representative of the Raja of Jaffna.
It was during this
phase that Buddhism became "an integral part the heritage of Jaffna".
There are many places in the Jaffna Peninsula whose names are connected with
Buddhist viharas. The Buddhist remains
at Kantarodai, perhaps burial monuments of monks, are found in a group at a
specific area with this distinctive feature: the architectural use of coral and
limestone. It is interesting to note that the "limestone and coral
architectural tradition of Jaffna in fact started with the Buddhist monuments
and flourished for nearly two millennia till the advent of concrete".
According to some,
the ambassadors of Buddhism sent by Emperor Asoka landed in the Peninsula.
with Prakrti, the language of Buddhism that helped to form a homogeneous
population in the rest of Sri Lanka, failed to establish a permanent foothold in
Jaffna. To be sure, it was able to cohabit or syncretise with the folk -
religion (Hinduism) of Jaffna. However, perhaps at the end of the first
millennium AD, many settlements with their Buddhist structures were abandoned.
Buddhism was unable to survive in Jaffna perhaps for two
1. The "sympathies of the people of the
North with the old religion [Hinduism] outlived the reformation [Buddhism]
brought to the land", and
2. The people of Jaffna were " in constant
communion with their brethren in South India",
chronicles which narrate events prior to sixth century A. D. are "virtually
silent about the Peninsula except for certain rare remarks and treat it almost
an alien land".
The dark ages of the
Jaffna Peninsula may be said to begin soon after the early centuries of the
Christian era. At a time when other regional powers were consolidating their
position, developing their identity and aspiring to imperialistic dominance,
Jaffna underwent "economic and cultural subordination". It is perhaps
significant that no mention is made of Jaffna in the massive bhakti literature
of the Tamils of South India.
is speculated that the following factors contributed to the fate that befell
i. Jaffna could not cope with new developments
such as planned deforestation and construction of dams and reservoirs to serve a
hydraulic-based economy as was happening in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.
ii. There was a decline in the Roman trade
and the ensuing Arab-Chinese trade made use of the port of Mantai which was
situated more than sixty miles from Jaffna,
iii. The Anuradhapura hegemony had become a
Sinhalese sources, six Tamil rulers seized power in the fifth century extended
the authority to the southern most part of the Island and remained in control
for twenty six years.
In this period a
movement from the coastal area of the Peninsula to the eastern part of the
Island may also be observed.
chronicle Mahavamsa records that at the death of king
Aggrabodhi in 781 AD, certain chiefs of the northern territory with its people
seized the land by force and refused tribute to the king. Though this revolt was
crushed by the successor of Aggrabodhi, this event says much about the
politically fluid situation prevailing in the country. Tradition preserved by
the Portuguese chronicler De Queyroz regarding a form of government by Vidanes,
Aratchis and Mudaliyars in Jaffna may also be a pointer to this state of
affairs in this period.
According to Yazhppana
Vaipavamalai, it was in the eighth century that Ugrasinghan, a prince
of the dynasty of the legendary Vijaya, coming with an army from India,
descended upon Sri Lanka and captured one half of the Island. He established his
capital first at Katiramalai, known now as Kantarodai, and then shifted it to
Singhai Nagar, a town on the eastern coast of the Jaffna Peninsula. Though the
story of Ugrasinghan has generally been rejected by scholars," some are of
the view that this story is "based on a historical fact", namely that
Ugrasinghan has been confused with Manavamma who was helped by the Pallava King
It is an undeniable
fact, however, that Sinhalese kings brought Tamil soldiers from South India,
some of whom them began to play the role of king-makers. There was also an
influential community of Tamil traders in the Sinhalese kingdom. In addition,
inscriptions of the ninth century speak of Tamil settlements in the northern
part of the Island.
During the rule of
the Cholas in the eleventh century, the Tamils living in the Island were able to
consolidate their positions in the militia and the administration of the
Sinhalese kings. It may be assumed that more Tamils settled in the northern
region during this period.
In 1215 AD, Magha of
Kalinga conquered the Sinhalese kingdom with its capital in Polonnaruwa with the
help of Dravidian soldiers. This invasion weakened the Sinhalese power to such
an extent that any semblance of political unity in the Island disappeared.
Some maintain that
events following the above invasion contributed to the development of the
kingdom of Jaffna.
The fact that the
Tamil invaders from South India ruled over the entire region of Nagadipa is
significant. One assumes that there was support for them among the people of the
Peninsula. Swami Gnana Prakasar's opinion that the people of Nagadipa or Jaffna
who were "never fully reconciled to the new belief [Buddhism] which came to
be firmly established under Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 BC) and who had constant
communication with the Tamils of the mainland... nurtured a spirit of revolt and
were only too ready to stretch out a helping hand to any adventurer who would
attempt to curb the sovereign power of the Sinhalese" may offer a clue to
the success of some South Indian invasions.
After Magha, the
Javakas led by Chandrabhanu came to power with the help of Tamil soldiers from
South India and ruled over most of the territory that were previously under
Magha. Chandrabhanu became almost a vassal of the Pandyas and was overthrown by
themwhen he refused to send tribute.
As far as Jaffna was
concerned, the legendary story of a Chola princess called Marutapuravalli
marrying the king of Katiramalai is remembered in the later chronicles. One does
not hear any more of Katiramalai, a fact which may point to a change of
In this period,
migration from South India to Jaffna and the mainland of the North called Vanni
seems to have been taking place. Pachilaippalli, an arid tract with sandy
passes, became a central spot facilitating perhaps migrations to Vanni.
A new type of
pottery classed as Grooved Rim Ware appears on the scene. Two Chola inscriptions
belonging to the eleventh century, recording the imprisonment of the Sri Lankan
King and the grant to a Nallur temple respectively, have been found in the
As far as religion
was concerned, a brand of syncretism combining Buddhist beliefs and practices
with Tamil Saivism and folk religion took place. Aiyanar was syncretised with
In coure of time
Buddhism was, on the wane. It was perhaps at this juncture that Saiva Siddhanta
became the official religion of the Jaffna ruling class.
The eleventh to the
fourteenth centuries witnessed a flurry of foreign and local trade. Many coins
and Chinese ware of this period, a Tamil inscription of Parakramabahu I found at
Nainativu and the observations of the Arab traveler Inn Battuta (14th century
AD) about Jaffna corroborate this state of affairs.
By the end of the
13th century and not later than 1325 AD, the Tamil Kingdom of the North had
"come on to the historical scene".
This Tamil Saiva
Kingdom, based partly on agrarian and partly on mercantile structure, had as its
nucleus Uttaradesa, namely the northern division of Rajarata covering the areas
of the northern part of the country.
The Kings of the
Kingdom of Jaffna are known by the name of Arya Chakravartis. According to some,
the descendants of Arya Chakravarti, a chieftain from the Pandya kingdom who
became ruler of the northern part of the Island towards the end of the
thirteenth century, came to be known as Arya Chakravartis. According to others,
Jayabahu,who ruled the North while Magha ruled from Polonnaruwa, was probably
the founder of the Arya rulers of the North. These rulers were originally a
branch of the Ganga dynasty from Kalinga who had immigrated to Rameshvaram,
South India, and had intermingled with the Brahmins of the area. It was to
highlight their connection with the highest caste that they called themselves
Aryas. Another school holds that Singhai Aryan, also known as Kulankaic
Chakravarti, was the founder of the line of Arya Chakravartis. He was none other
than Magha, alias Kalinga Magha, alias Kalinga Vijayabahu, who conquered
Polonnaruwa in 1215.
The centre of power
of the Northern Kingdom was the Jaffna Peninsula and hence it was known by the
name of the Kingdom of Jaffna. Ibn Battuta, the Arab traveler who visited the
capital in 1344 AD states that the Tamil King's power extended up to Puttalam
and that he was in control of the pearl fishery.
In the middle of
the fourteenth century, the army of the Tamil King had penetrated as far south
as Gampola and had driven the reigning Sinhalese King from his capital.
In the fifteenth
century, however, there was a brief Sinhalese revival and the Kingdom of Jaffna
was under Sinhalese rule for about seventeen years till the defeated Tamil King
reconquered his kingdom with the help of the Tamil military chiefs from South
Under the Viljaya
Nagara Empire of South India, the Tamil kingdom became its tributary and there
followed a protective relationship. After its decline, Jaffna came under the
sway of Tanjore and Madurai, two centres of power that succeeded the former
It is appropriate
here to mention four factors, which contributed to the growth of the Tamil
In the first place,
there was internecine dissension and discord among the Sinhalese rulers. As a
result, they became weak to the extent that they had to pay tribute to the
In the second
place, the fall of Polonnaruwa meant that irrigation works of the north central
plain in the dry zone had to be abandoned and the area was left to develop into
ajungle. This created a no-man's land, which became an effective barrier between
the Kingdom of Jaffna and the Sinhalese kingdom.
In the third place,
there was a vacuum of a competent imperial power during the period between the
decline of the Cholas and the appearance of the Vijaya Nagara Empire.
In the fourth
place, there was an influx of immigrants from South India to the only Tamil
Kingdom in existence at the time, namely the Kingdom of Jaffna. This exodus took
Tamils of South India had lost their last remaining state, the Pandya Kingdom,
due to Islamic invasion in 1334 AD.; and
The Vijaya Nagara Empire was, in a way, a foreign power, since the tax
collectors and military chiefs were Telegu lords. The high cast Vellalars, who
wielded influence and power locally, were infuriated and deemed it fit toabandon
their motherland, South India.
It may be
appropriate to mention in this connection that whereas the settlers in Jaffna
before the eleventh century are said to have come mostly from Kerala (Malabar),
the immigrants of the Chola and Vijaya Nagara periods seem to have come from the
eastern part of South India.
In many ways, the
period extending from the early times up to the sixteenth centuries may be
characterized as the Golden Age of the Tamils of Jaffna.
The capital of the
Kings of Jaffna was Nallur. They resided at Kopay and ruled directly over the
entire Peninsula and the neighbouring Islands together with the Island of Mannar
and a portion of the mainland. Other territories in the North and the East were
administered by hereditary chiefs called Vanniyars who paid obeisance and
tribute to the king.
Kings assumed the
alternate throne names Segarajasekaran and Pararajasekaran, and used the
epithets Singaiyariyan (Lord of Singaingar, the earlier capital of the Kingdom
of Jaffna), Setukavalan (Guardian of Setu or Rameshavaram) and Gangainadan
(belonging to the country of the Ganges).
Their emblems were
a recumbent bull -nanthi-, a Saiva symbol,
and the expression Setu, indicating the
place of their origin, Rameshvaram. The term setu was also used as an expression
of benediction. These two emblems were also designed on their coins.
At the height of
their power, the Kings had nearly 20,000 soldiers. This military prowess enabled
them to conduct warfare against the Sinhalese Kings of the South during the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The naval power of the Kings was such that
they were able to establish military outposts in such distant places in the
Island as Chilaw, Negombo and Colombo. Ibn Battuta testifies that he saw
hundreds of ships belonging to the King of Jaffna on the Coromandel Coast of
South India. It is reasonable to assume that this large fleet was used not only
to transport goods but also soldiers. This naval strength of the Kings of Jaffna
helped them to achieve a number of objectives:
To control the Palk Strait and the pearl fisheries in the
Gulf of Mannar.
To cross over to South India when circumstances forced them
To make military expeditions along the sea into the areas
of the Sinhalese.
The Kingdom of
Jaffna, which was divided into various provinces with subdivisions of parrus
(literally meaning property or larger territorial units and ur
or villages, the smallest unit, was administered on a "hierarchical and
At the summit was
the King whose kingship was hereditary; he was usually successed by his eldest
Next in the
hierarchy stood the adikaris who were the
Then came the mudaliyars
who functioned as judges and interpreters of the laws and customs of the land.
It was also their duty to gather information of whatever was happening in the
provinces and report to higher authorities.
revenues called kankanis (superintendents)
and kanakkappillais (accountants) came
next in line. The letter had to keep records and maintain accounts.
was the chief of the parrus. He was
assisted by mudaliyars who were in turn
assisted by udaiyars, persons of authority
over a village or a group of villages. They were the custodians of law and order
and gave assistance to survey land and collect revenues in the area under their
The village headman
was called talaiyari, paddankaddi or adappanar
and he assisted in the collection of taxes and was responsible for the
maintenance of order in his territorial unit.
It may be mentioned
in passing that each caste had a chief who supervised the performance of caste
obligations and duties.
All these officials
had an audience with the King called varicai
twice a year. Presents such as plantains, fowls and butter were given to the
sovereign in the name of the people under their administration. This assemblage
offered an opportunity, on the on hand, for the King to receive 'Information on
various aspects of life in all parts of his kingdom and to ensure the continued
allegiance of his subordinates who were either appointed or approved by him,
and, on the other hand, for the territorial administrators entrusted to work for
the common good to present petitions and requests on behalf of their people.
As far as the taxes
levied by the King were concerned, the following were collected:
- paid partly in money and partly in kind, included House tax
- Garden tax - on compounds where, among others, plantain trees, coconut and arecanut palms were grown and irrigated by water from the well, and
- Tree tax - on such trees as palmyrah, margosa and iluppai
it was called talaivari' and collected from each individual
Professional tax- collected from members of each caste, and
- consisting of, among others,
1. the stamp duty on clothes (clothes could not
be sold privately and had to have official stamp)
2. taraku or levy on items of food, and
3. Port and customs duties.
connects the Peninsula with the mainland at Poonakari with its ferry services,
was the chief port, and there were customs check posts at the sand passes of
peculiarity of Jaffna was the levy of licence fee for the cremation of the dead.
All citizens of the
Kingdom, with the exception of the old and the infirm, had to perform certain
community services called uliyam. such as
the construction of granaries and roads, loan of beasts of burden, beating of
drums for officials who traveled from one part of the Kingdom to the other and
provision of water and fire wood. Uliyam
was "a means of mobilizing resources for works of public utility and the
feature of the collection of revenues in the Kingdom of Jaffna was the fact that
the revenues were collected in money and the officials were paid in cash,
proving that there was a "considerable monetary circulation". Indeed,
in this respect, the Kingdom of Jaffna " had reached a development higher
than that found in the Southwestern and central parts of the Island".
During this period,
the Tamils of the North and East began to develop a distinctive social structure
and cultural tradition of their own. Most of these were later collected into a
code of laws called Tesavalamai or Nadduvalamai.
into a major trading centre. This might have been due to the imaginative efforts
of the rulers who, seeing that revenues "from land and other sources were
limited, devised ingenious methods of collecting substantial income from
commercial activities. They "exercised a monopolistic control over the
trade of some important items and organized fleets for transporting merchandise
to foreign countries". In the fourteenth century, exploiting the political
weakness of the Sinhalese Kings, the rulers of Jaffna "seem to have
succeeded in directing the flow of supplies in cinnamon through a port under
New ports came into
being and the old ones were expanded. Kayts became a center for shipbuilding and
Pearl fishery off
the coast of Mannar was in the hands of the King. Elephants from the Vanni
region were exported from Jaffna to India. Traders were also present in the
southern parts of the Island. It is a tribute to the trading expertise of the
Tamils of the Kingdom of Jaffna that an inscription of a Chinese admiral named
Chen Ho is found in three languages: Chinese, Persian and Tamil.
flourished. Dyeing with chaya root was a
notable occupation. A class of people became experts in digging up large
quantities of chaya root in the Islands of
Delft and Karaitivu and in the mainland villages such as Chulipuram and Ilavalai,
and this occupation became their trade.
Another caste of
people called Chayakkarar (dyers) dyed new clothes.
Women were engaged
in cotton industry.
Palmyrah leaves were
dyed with bark from trees such as blackberry (naval)
and tulip to obtain purple olas or leaves.
These were used for decorative designs in the production of mat and basket.
Weaving was a
hereditary industry. Vannarpannai was one of the major centres of weaving in the
Peninsula. Silk worms were reared for the purpose of weaving silk clothes.
Rope making from the
fibres of Palmyrah and the barks of arththy was
also a flourishing industry.
Saivism was elevated
to the status of the kingdom's official religion. Kandaswamy temple in Nallur
was the royal temple while the temple at Vallipuram near Point Pedro became
The temple was the
centre around which an ur or village was
built. It is an accepted axiom of the Tamils that one should not live at a place
where is no temple.
It is true to say
that in the field of architecture, no original tradition developed partly
because of the constant wars and partly because of the vital link with South
India. Temples built during this period exhibit a special feature: ornamented
and expensively sculptured tower called gopuram
at their entrance.
In the field of
education, both temple schools and village schools under schoolmasters were
engaged in the task of imparting basic education.
In the literary
sphere, an Academy of Tamil Literature was founded at Nallur in the fifteenth
century by the King. Kings, some of whom were poets of no mean calibre, were
patrons of writers and poets.
Study of medicine
and astrology was greatly encouraged and the native system of medicine called siddha,
considered best suited to the climactic conditions of Jaffna, flourished.
All in all, before
the conquest of Jaffna by the Portuguese, the Tamils of the North with their
center in the Jaffna Peninsula were living in a well-defined area "which
they had carved out as their permanent home"." To bolster their
identity, they had developed distinctive social structures, economic
institutions and a way of life which they could call their own.
The conquest of
Jaffna by the Portuguese under Captain General Constantine de Sa in 1620-21
spelt the demise of the independent Kingdom of Jaffna and the beginning of
subjugation under colonial rulers.
The Portuguese who
had conquered the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kotte in 1505 did not show much interest
in Jaffna initially because Jaffna did not produce those commodities, which the
Portuguese were keenly interested in. In the second half of the sixteenth
century, however, they became aware of the strategic importance of Jaffna. In
the first place, a stronghold in Jaffna would give Portuguese complete control
over trade and shipping within a triangle comprising Chilaw, Cape Comorin and
Palk Strait. Secondly, Jaffna Peninsula served as transit route through which
the King of Kandy, who displayed strong resistance to the Portuguese, received
military reinforcements from South India. This appraisal of Jaffna as a
passageway to the South haunted the Portuguese right throughout their rule.
Thirdly, Jaffna was not altogether devoid of resources. It was a trade center of
elephants. Urukathurai, earlier known as Uratota, was the port to which
elephants from other parts of the Island were brought and shipped abroad.
Interestingly enough the present name of Kayts comes from the Portuguese: Cues
dos elefantes-namely elephantes guay guay.
A pretext to
capture Jaffna presented itself when the King of Jaffna, Sekarasasekaran VII,
known as Sankili, cruelly murdered about six hundred newly baptised Catholics in
the island of Mannar. Constantine de Braganza led an expedition to Mannar in
1560 and captured it. Sankili sued for peace and promised to pay tribute, so
that the King could remain independent.
But the tributary
status came to an end with the defeat and the death of the Tamil King Puviraja
Pandaram Pararajasingham in 1591. The latter had attacked the Portuguese in
Mannar with the help of the forces of Nayak of Tanjore. Besides, the Kings of
Jaffna had obstructed the missionary work of conversion undertaken by the
Portuguese and, what more, had aided the King of Randy to obtain help from South
India. Edirmanasingham, the son of the former King, was installed as the new
ruler. Thus started a period of Portugal-Jaffna clientship.
The newly appointed
ruler, however, was sucked into the power struggle between the Nayak of Tanjore
and the Portuguese. In 1620, the last ruler of Jaffna, Sankilian II, was
captured and in the following years Jaffna became part of Portugal's Overseas
As a result of this
annexation, Portuguese became supreme in the Palk Strait and were able to
control the lucrative trade off the pearl fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar.
Jaffna Patnam (as they called it) was maintained as a separate entity from their
other maritime possessions. Though the Portuguese followed the traditional
system of administration, they heaped periodically tax burdens upon the people
to the extent that these were "reduced to the almost misery."
In sharp contrast to
the number of forts in the South, they built only one in Jaffna town and another
one at Kayts. This lack of enthusiasm to strengthen their position militarily
may be due to their conviction that the people of Jaffna were "weak",
"quiet and mild" and not prone to rebellion without outside help.
contribution of Portuguese rule in Jaffna was the introduction of Roman
Catholicism. Such a firm foundation of Catholicism was laid that the Church
became, and still continues to be, a powerful, influential and healthy force in
the life of the Tamils of the Peninsula.
Portuguese wantonly destroyed quite a number of Hindu temples and introduced
many other measures against the Hindus.
In 1658 Mannar was
captured by the Dutch. From there, they marched through the jungle lands of the
Vanni and crossed over to the Peninsula at Poonakari. The Portuguese were
trapped in the Jaffna fort and surrendered on 24 June.
The new rulers took
interest in developing the resources of the land. Self-sufficiency in food was
their prime aim. They got down thousands of slaves to work in the fields. While
repairing the Kaddukkarai tank, renamed Giant's tank because of its size, in the
Mantote area outside the Peninsula, they encouraged the people of Jaffna to
settle in poonakari as cultivators.
Numerous wells were
repaired in the Peninsula and the dwindling number of cattle was replaced by
importing some from India.
Many industries such
as weaving and rope-making were greatly encouraged.
A colony of Andhra
weavers was brought from India and settled a Jaffna.
A land register
called tombo was started. The system of
land tenure was fixed.
The customary laws
of Jaffna called Tesavalami was codified
and promulgated. Tamil Mudaliyars were
appointed over the four divisions of the Peninsula. The famous Dutch Fort in
Jaffna, which has become newsworthy in the last few years, was built.
They were very harsh
towards Roman Catholics and used all means at their disposal to suppress the
memorial of their rule is the Dutch names for the islands lying off the
Peninsula. Karaitivu became Amnsterdam; Anailaitivu, Rotterdam; Nainativu,
Harlem; Pungudutivu, Middleburgh; Neduntivu, Delft: and Velanai, Leyden. Another
souvenir of their occupation of Jaffna may lie in the name of a cemetery
"studded with the most expensive and extravagant old monuments" called
Jaffna in Delft, Holland. The "best of Aristocrats" are buried in that
It is important to
note that, following the practice of the Portuguese; the Dutch too administered
Jaffna as a separate entity without amalgamating it with their two Sinhalese
The Dutch Fort was
the first to fall to the British in 1796. The Dutch ceded all their possessions
in Sri Lanka to the British in 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens. It is to be
remembered, however, that even earlier contacts between the Kandyan King and the
English in Madras had taken place by way of Jaffna.
maintained the separate identity of the Tamil area until 1833. In that year, the
British unified the Tamil regions with the Sinhalese areas for the purpose of
administration, spelling an end to the "autonomous existence" of the
Tamil regions and forming a "single political authority the government of
It is a valid
assertion that "throughout the British colonial period, the Sinhalese and
the Tamil people remained equal in their subordination to the British raj."
The advent of the
British ushered in an era of modernization for Sri Lanka. Free education was
introduced and those who benefited most from this were the people of Jaffna.
Young men were able to enter the civil, clerical and professional services in
large numbers. In 1948, when the country was granted independence, the Tamils,
mostly from the North, occupied roughly thirty percent of all posts available in
government services. At the University of Ceylon, too, more than one fourth ofI
the places was occupied by the Tamils.
Certain events after
Independence have made such a phenomenal impact on both communities of Sinhalese
and Tamils psychologically that it has become almost impossible for them to live
together as free and equal citizens of a modem nation. In a climate of conflict
and confrontation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, Jaffna has come to
symbolize struggle, liberation and Tamil nationalism. Proclamation of Sinhala as
the Official Language of Sri Lanka, the planned colonization with Sinhalese
settlers of areas considered part of the Tamil "Homeland", the
introduction of a quota system for University admission, riots and pogroms
against the Tamils living in Sinhalese areas, and the militarisation of the East
and the North by successive Sinhalese governments, among others, have
contributed, so the Tamils argue, to the present tragedy. In the words of a
writer, the above-mentioned events have led the "young Tamils in Jaffna,
who, feeling the brunt of discrimination, deprivation of language rights and the
indignity of living as aliens in their own country, have taken up arms in the
struggle for liberation and for a separate Tamil state of Eelam in the North and
East of Sri Lanka".
If the measures
adopted by successive Sri Lankan governments had contributed negatively to the
alienation of the Tamils, there were other factors, which positively kindled the
emergence of a cultural and linguistic consciousness among them.
The Hindu religious
revival, social renewal and regional politics based on language and culture in
India which produced movements such as the Arya Samaj, Swadeshi Movement and
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had their share in the awakening of a distinct Tamil
consciousness in Sri Lanka.
that this awakening started as a religious revival during the time of Arumuga
Navalar (1822-1879), which in course of time began to take the shape more of a
literary renaissance. It is significant that eminent Jaffna Tamils such as C.W.
Tamotarampillai and Visvanrrthapillai not only contributed to the revival of
Tamil awareness in South India, but also dominated the literary scene of the
Indian and Jaffnese, underlined the excellence of Tamil language, its
self-sufficiency and the need to be proud of being heirs to the glorious
heritage of the culture of the Tamils. Tamil Classics were critically edited and
original works such as Manonmaniam by Professor P. Sundarampillai were
published. Journals such as Sindhanta Deepika- The Light of Truth
(1897-1913) and the Tamilian Antiquary (1907-1914) commanded the day in
In Jaffna, a Tamil
Academy was established in 1898 and conferences on Tamil Language and Literature
were held in many places. At one such conference held in 1922, many Tamil
scholars from India were invited to take part. In the same year, the Arya
Dravida Basha Development Society was inaugurated.
In the field of Fine
Arts, Cantatic Music and Bharata Naryam proclaimed divine arts and measures were
taken to foster them.
In this process of
self-assertion, three significant features may be observed:
Firstly, although an
aspect of the Tamil Renaissance was the accep tance of Saivism in the form of
Saiva Siddhanta as the ancient and the indigenous religion of the Tamils, there
were quite a number of Christian scholars who were involved in this movement.
Indeed, one may maintain that the process of Tamil Renaissance was originated
by, among others, De Nobili. Constantine: Beschi and Robert Caldwell - all
foreign Christian missionaries and scholars. In course of time, eminent
Christians took leading roles: Savariroya Pillai, L. D. Swami Kannupillai, T.
Isaac Tambyah, Swami S. Gnana Prakasar and in our days X.S. Taninayagam Adikal.
Hence the "Tamil ethnic identity remains linguistic and cultural", in
sharp contrast to the "all inclusive ethno religious identity of the
The second striking
feature is the fact that those who were involved in this process belonged
initially to the higher echelons of Tamil society. The traditionally oppressed
classes were left out. In course of time, however, the lower castes
"ushered in new experiences and visions into fiction, poetry and drama
using hitherto unheard of dialects, idioms and expressions". s3 The final
feature is the importance the past and present history of the Tamils in Sri
Lanka assumed in the middle of the present century. Works such as Sankili (1956)
a historical play by K. Kanapathipillai, Tamils and Ceylon (l958) by C.
S. Navaratnam, Tamiil Culture in Ceylon (1962) by M.D. Raghavan, The
Tamils in Early Ceylon (1964) by C. Sivaratnam, were pointers to the growing
self- consciousness of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Tamil Culture, a journal edited
by X. S. Thaninayagam Adikal, also played a momentous role in this process.
In conclusion, it
may not be out of place to document the depth of the awareness of Tamil identity
in the North (and East) in the first half of the nineties: the quantity and
quality of output in the fields of literature, performing and fine arts were
experiential, impressive and perhaps superior in certain resects to those that
came from South India during this period.