Distortion of history for political purposes

by Haris de Silva
Retired Director - National Archives

Island Newspaper 2001

Name of usurper/invader                     Number of Years        Period of Reign
1 Sena & Guttika -horse traders-                           22                             177-155BC
2. Elara, a nobleman from the Chola country          44                           145-101 BC
3. 5 Damilas                                                      14.7                           103-89 BC
   Cholas (during Valagamba’s reign)                                               109-112 AD
4. 7 Dravidas                                                       27                           432-452 AD
    Pandyas (during Sena I)                                                               833-853 AD
    Cholas (during Udaya IV)                                                             946-954 AD
5. Cholas                                                            53                           1017-1070 AD
   5a Vikkampandu                                                1                          1042-1043 AD
   5b Jagatipala of Oudh                                       4                           1043-1046 AD
   5c Parakramapandu I                                        2                           1046-1048 AD
   Tamils [Chola] (during Kalyanavati)                                             1202-1208 AD

6. Anikanga                                                         17d                        1209 AD
7. Parakramapandu II                                            3                           1212-1215 AD
8.Magha                                                            21                           1215-1236 AD
Candrabahanu Malay and Pandyas
(during Parakramababu II)                                                             1235-1270 AD

Readers of your esteemed paper, are no doubt, well aware of the view points held by some of those whose contributions are very regularly published in your paper. Of such contributors, R M B Senanayake (RMBS) and E A V Naganathan are on the almost regular category, while the contributions of V L Wirasinha (VLW) are seen occasionally.

This being a democratic country, in the modern sense of the word, every one has the liberty to express their points of view. Today, the concept of democracy is far advanced from the times of that great Athenian statesman, Pericles (490- 429 BC) - quoted by VLW. In Athens only its ‘citizens’ had the right, or rather a requirement, to engage in the activities of its polis, while the greatest aspiration for woman was to remain anonymous.

Having said that, let me also say that when a writer presents a point of view, he/she should not distort Facts and the view points should be presented in their proper perspective.

I draw attention to just one of RMBS’s statements [Island, 27/9/00]: he says, ‘our history is a record of invasions from South India - the Cholas, the Pandyans etc. To those who may have not studied the history of this island that statement would certainly convey a wrong impression.

We have had a number of incursions/invasions from the south of India up to the 13th century AD. That is a period of about 1800 years from the time of  Vijaya [543-505] BC] - the person ( ? enonymous) shredded to pieces by modern political writers - or about 1600 years from Devanampiyatissa (252-212 BC) - fortunately left alone - from whose time commences the recorded history of the island.

During this rather long period of recorded history the number of instances of incursions/invasions which had led to a usurper orrupying the throne are shown below.

It is noted that during such periods, the Sinhala resistance was almost always organized in the south, and when the usurper was defeated, the throne was regained by the rightful Sinhala ruler. Now, when I say Sinhala it is simply a matter of fact, an historical fact.

Additionally, there were also incursions/invasions during that period, resulting in looting and destruction, but not in the displacement of the king. The given Table, is based on the chronicles and the University of Ceylon, History of Ceylon.

In the Table, those given consecutive numbers are for usurpers who occupied the throne: those without numbers are the periods when incursions/invasions had taken place.

The regnal years and the periods of reign are shown, as this is one aspect, which is being constantly misrepresented, either due to a lack of knowledge of the island’s history, or deliberately, to misrepresent facts.

The above Table shows that during a period of almost 1500 years, i.e. from the time of Devanampiyatissa, foreign invasions had led to usurpers occupying the throne on occasions for a total period of c.170 years.

5 a, b, c, above were fortune seekers who had arrived in the south of the island during the period of Chola rule, and had been able to get some support for themselves during their short stay in Rohana.

The Chola incursions of the 2nd century and of the 10th century had resulted in looting and destruction, but not the displacement of the king. The similar Pandya incursion had been in the 9th century, and once again in the 13th century, after the Malay, Chandrabhanu. The history of the 13th century, is indeed very confused.

I have shown here as succinctly as possible the foreign incursions/invasions of the island during a period of around 12 centuries. It would, I presume, be sufficient to show, that the history of this island is not a ’record of invasions’.

When commenting on the island’s history, writers should conform to facts. General statements, not based on facts, but, tailored to suit one’s points of view, apart from distorting facts, reflects badly on the writers themselves.

RMBS has also drawn a distinction between suzerainty and sovereignty, to imply that Sri Lanka was not an unitary state.

The administration of the country, during the ancient and medieval periods should be looked at from an historical perspective. Before the arrival of motorized transport, and rapid communication modes, travel in the island was by foot, horse, and perhaps by bullock drawn cart.

In such circumstances, the degree of independence from the center, enjoyed by distant regions, or the degree of control exercised by the center, would no doubt have been dictated by the military prowess either in the region or in the center, as pointed out by RMBS himself.

Whatever that degree of control may have been, the concept of the king in the capital, as the overlord of the country, had always been accepted. If, as noted above, one was fairly independent, say, in Rohana, it would have been during periods, when the ruler in the center was weak.

Even as late as the 16th c. when Dharmapala donated the whole kingdom to the Portuguese, he donated it as the King of Ceylon, and named all the other ’realms’ in the island as his tributaries. Their successors the Dutch always addressed the king in Kandy as the overlord of the island. The ground situation may have been different, but the concept was that the king in the traditional capital, wherever it was, was the overlord of the island.

During British times, Dyke, was known as the uncrowned king of Jaffna. That did not mean that Jaffna was not under British rule.

The Apas and Uparajas, were the kings nominees in the regions for the administration of the country, and even when rebels held out, it was only an act of defiance against the center.

Thus, the oft repeated statement that the concept of one country, ruled from the center came with the British, finds no support in history. Of course, a greater network of roads, and fast transport and communication, enabled the British to have a tighter control of the entire island, as would not have been possible in the ancient or medieval times. That does not mean that in the past, the country was not an unitary state.

As another writer - D G B de Silva - said in a recent 2 instalment article to this same paper, if you want to argue for federalism’ you may go ahead and do so, but please don’t seek support from nun-existing historical facts.

Since, I’ve mentioned E A V Naganathan, at the beginning of his article, I wish to point out, just one of his false statements in his article published on 17/8/00.

His ’reading’ of the Trilingual Inscription - discovered in a culvert in Galle, in 1911 was a complete fabrication. The inscription has nothing to do with a message sent by the Chinese Emperor to Parakaramabahu VI (1410-1468). It was only a votive and dedicatory writing seeking the protection of Tenavarai-Nayanar (in Devundra). Buddha and [Allah], in its three versions in Tamil, Chinese and Persian.

Allah is given within brackets, as the scholar to whom the Persian version had been sent for decipherment had suggested, that the word at a particular place in the inscription, which had been difficult to read, may have been ’Allah’.

And, lastly, V L Wirasinha has once again ridden his hobby horse [Island 27/9/00]. To him Buddhism is anathema, it is undemocratic. That his hi¤ fundamental right to believe in whatever he wishes to believe and also to publish it loud and clear, and also as often as possible. Others may not agree with him: that is their fundamental right.

What I wish to point out here, is that Buddhism was the acknowledged state religion of this country from Devanampiyatissa (3rd c. BC} to Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798- 1815). During that long period of almost 22 centuries only two kings had abandoned Buddhism: Dharmapala (1551-1597) by force of circumstances became a Christian, and Rajasinha I (1581-1593), embraced Hinduism for a while, with the hope of expiating the sins of his crimes. These are verifiable historical facts.

The United Kingdom has an accepted state religion. The State of Vatican, by the very nature of its founding is a Catholic State. In all Muslim countries, their religion - even going as far as the sect - is the state religion. Further, in some Muslim in countries, one may not even publicly practice one’s own religion, if it is something other than the accepted religion of the state.

Freedom to practice any religion has been a hallmark of this country for the last 2500 odd years. It has never been bigotic.

The 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka, has given Buddhism only the status of primus inter pares. If that decision had been taken on historical grounds and not on political grounds, Buddhism would have been the state religion.

According to a newspaper report of not too long ago, a State Minister is supposed to have said, that the place of history is in the dustbin. Since it had been attributed to a person in the highest echelons of society, and if it is true, it would sum up the position, and show in no uncertain terms, the place accorded to history in this country.

So, history notwithstanding, even the primus inter pares, status, is assailed by the Roman legions, of the present. Here, one’s mind naturally goes back to the ‘Holy Wars’ of later date, when Urban II, sought and received support for his crusade, perhaps in a very ’democratic’ way. Event, so far away, and buried in history, yet, ironically, seems to be still with us.

In conclusion, let me quote RMBS himself ’History teaches lessons, but only to those willing to learn’!