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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2042

Violence, Plunder and Deceit: Sri Lanka’s Experience With Tamils

By Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Propensity to violence and criminal activities is not a recent development among Tamils. The history of Tamil involvement in our country is marked by excessive violence, plunder, deceit and ingratitude. This particularly characterizes the history of Tamil invasions and interactions within our country from very early times. We are well aware of the gruesome terrorist activities unleashed and promoted by Tamils in recent years. This makes one think whether violence and extreme forms of behavior are a part of Tamil culture.

From about the 3rd century BCE, with the arrival and establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the nation’s culture and governance was based on Buddhist norms and principles. Non-violence, tolerance, generosity and compassion towards all living beings have been common traits of this culture. Peaceful cohabitation and respect for the natural environment were promoted by Sinhala Buddhist kings from early times. Buddhism promoted peaceful coexistence, and democratic principles in governance. It promoted the development of individual and community virtues and discipline in accordance with the “pancha seela". The island's civilization achieved an individuality and identity that distinguished it from its neighbors

The unique Sinhala Buddhist identity of our country began to take shape from the 3rd century BCE or during a historic period that exceeds 2200 years. During a greater part of this long historic period, the island was inhabited almost exclusively by the Sinhala Buddhist community. This period saw the rise to power of many outstanding Sinhala Buddhist kings ruling the country from Anuradhapura, the capital city for some 1200 years and subsequently for some 300 years, from the royal capital Polonnaruwa, until about the 13th century. This 1500 year period in the country’s history can be considered, indisputably, as its golden age. This was a period that witnessed the development of a vast civilization based on a hydraulic agrarian system and a system of administration and governance, based on Buddhist norms and principles.

Tamil/ Dravidian Invasions

According to recorded history, during the past 2300 years, Sri Lanka was invaded seventeen times by Tamil-speaking Dravidians from Southern India. These ruthless Tamil armies and mercenaries brutally wiped out entire Sinhala villages along their way to the Sinhala royal capitals. These well-established, highly prosperous capitals were ransacked and plundered by Tamil invaders and the local Sinhala people were subject to severe atrocities. Extreme forms of violence characterized not only these Tamil invasions but also their subsequent occupation of our land for varying periods of time. In these invasions the Tamils killed some of our Sinhala Kings or forced them to abandon their traditional kingdoms and retreat to the south.

Tamil invaders have ruled over our people at different times in the past. Such periods add up to about 170 years. The menace of Tamil invasions and atrocities were common occurrences especially during the fifth and sixth centuries CE. This was the time when Tamil ethnic and religious consciousness was strengthening in Southern India. Three Hindu empires, namely the Pandya, Pallava, and Chola, were becoming increasingly assertive and posed a threat to Sri Lanka. To make matters worse for Sri Lanka, the influence of Buddhism in India was receding at this period of time with Buddhism becoming vulnerable to the pressure exerted by Hinduism. It was during this time that with their repeated invasions and violence, the Chola, Pallava and Pandya Tamils were becoming a great threat to Sri Lanka. Although some of these South Indians were able to dislodge the seat of Sinhala power for limited periods of time, they were eventually ousted and the country was unified under the rule of Sinhala Buddhist monarchy.

Our country experienced terror in its worst form, never known before, firstly during the invasion and capture of the Sinhala Kingdom, by the ruthless Dravidian Kalinga Magha and later in more recent years, under the Tamil terrorist leader Prabakaran. The crime-prone rule of Kalinga Magha prevailed for 21 years from the year 1201. The Tamil Pandyan and Tamil Nayakka intrusion into Sinhala royal families led to our traditional royalty going into disarray after the 13th century, and the eventual decline of the stability and magnanimity of the Sinhala Buddhist nation.

The First Invasion

The first reported account of South Indian Tamil invasion and rule in Sri Lanka was during the period 237-215 BCE by two brothers named Sena and Guttika, who were horse dealers. They were killed the Sinhala king Suratissa and usurped the Sinhala throne and ruled over the Sinhala people at Anuradhapura for twenty two years. In 215 BCE, the Sinhala king Asela, the brother of king Surastisssa and King Devanampiyatissa regained the kingdom from Tamils and ruled from 215 to-205 BCE.

Tamil Elara Killing Sinhala King Ssela

Ten years later, a South Indian Chola Tamil invader named Elara, killed the legitimate Sinhala king Asela, and ruled Rajarata from Anuradhapura for 44 years from 205 to 161 BCE. This Tamil invader and illegitimate ruler, was removed by Prince Dutugemunu and the entire country was unified under the rule of this great Sinhala Buddhist king. About 63 years later, in 103 BCE, Valagambahu became the king of Anuradhapura.

King Valagambahu Ousted By Tamil Invaders

A mere five months after becoming the king, a war was waged by seven Tamil invaders from South India. King Valagambahu was overthrown by this Tamil invasion. These seven Tamil invaders namely Pulahatta (or Pulahatha), Bahiya, Panaya Mara, Pilaya Mara, Dathiya ruled over the Sinhala people for about 15 years. In 88 BCE these Tamils were deposed by king Valagambahu, ending the Tamil rule of Rajarata. King Valagambahu ruled for 12 years, from 89 to 77 BCE and thereby restored the Dutugamunu dynasty. King Valagambahu’s reign was followed by a period exceeding 500 years, until about early 5th century, without foreign invasions and the country was ruled by Sinhala royalty.

Pandyan Invasion Of Early 5th Century CE

Six Pandyan Tamils invaded the country in the year 428 CE. They ousted the Sinhala king and ruled the country for 24 years from 428 to 452 CE - Pandu (428-433), Parinda (433), Khuda Parinda (433-449), Tiritara (449), Dathiya (449-452). These Tamils were ousted by King Dhatusena in 452 CE, who ruled the nation until 470 CE.

Pandyan And Chola Invasions Of Mid 9th Century CE

By the middle of the ninth century, the Pandyans had risen to a position of ascendancy in Southern India. During the period 846 to 866 CE, these violent Pandyan Tamils invaded Sri Lanka, ransacked and plundered Anuradhapura.

Chola Invasion Of Late 10th Century

In the year 993, the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I invaded Sri Lanka, forcing the then Sri Lankan ruler Mahinda V to flee to the southern part of the country. Rajendra I, the son of Rajaraja I, launched a massive invasion and king Mahinda V was captured and taken prisoner to India where he died in 1037. Extensive Tamil violence led to abandonment of Anuradhapura - the royal capital of 1400 years Mahinda V (917-1007), was the last Sinhala king to rule from Anuradhapura. These ruthless Cholas ransacked the city of Anuradhapura and moved the capital to Polonnaruwa and the Sri Lankan rulers who came into power after the period of Chola rule, continued to use Polonnaruwa as their capital, thus ending the significance of Anuradhapura as the traditional royal capital of the Sinhala Buddhist nation since the 3rd century BCE.

Plunder Of Anuradhapura By Tamil Invaders

Rajadhiraja Chola II (1166-1178 C.E.) who was a Chola king in India had serious disputes with the Pandyans and also with the Sinhala rulers on the opposite side, bringing untold misery to both sides. The civil war that resulted between the Cholas and Pandyan Tamils brought power to Pandyans resulting in several invasions and plunder of Anuradhapura.

King Vijayabahu – 1 (1045-1095 CE)

King Vijayabahu ousted the Chola Tamils from Anuradhapura and regained the Rajarata Sinhala kingdom in the mid 11th century. He chose Polonnaruwa as his capital, and Leelavati as his chief queen, but also had a princess from the Kalinga Royal Family as his second wife. From her, he had a son named Vikrama Bahu and a daughter named Ratnavali. His sister, Mitta, was given in marriage to a Pandyan Prince who had three sons, the eldest of whom who was Manabharana who was married to Ratnavali, the king’s daughter. Their son was the famous king Parakrama Bahu. I.

Parakrama Bahu- 1 (1140-1173 CE) – Grandson of Vijaya Bahu I, a Prince of Royal Blood, of Pandyan descent, as the son of Manabharana and Vijaya Bahu’s sister. Parakrama Bahu I, became King in 1140 and reigned for thirty three years leaving behind no heir to the throne. This led to the nomination of Vijayabahu –II, who was the son of king Parakranabahu’s sister, as king. He ruled from 1173 to 1174 CE.

Nissanka Malla or Kirti Sri Nissanka, who ruled from 1174 to 1183 CE, was a Kalinga prince. His reign was followed by a period of utmost political instability resulting in the downfall of the Rajarata kingdom and the glory of the Polonnaruva royal capital.

Tamil Invasions During Polonnaruwa Era During the reign of Queen Lilavati from 1197 to 1198 CE, who was the widow of King Parakrama Bahu, a South Indian Pandyan Tamil invader was responsible in deposing her and becoming the king and ruling for three years.

Brutal Kalinga Magha Invasion (1201-1222 CE)

In the year 1201, Sri Lanka was invaded by Magha, a Dravidian Kalinga prince who took the king captive, tortured him and robbed him of all riches. He ruled for 21 years, from 1201 to 1222 CE. The ferocity, cruelty and barbarism of Tamils were unprecedented in living memory in the country. These savage Tamils ransacked the kingdom, killed man and beast, broke images, destroyed temples, viharas, tortured the rich of their wealth and gave land to Cholas. The Tooth and Bowl relics were hidden. Kalinga Magha tyrannized the inhabitants of Raja Rata and extended his invasion to the south of the country where he was counter-attacked by the Sinhala and this Tamil terrorist escaped death and ran back to India with some of his soldiers. These Tamils ransacked the kingdom, killed man and beast, broke images, destroyed temples, viharas, tortured the rich of their wealth and gave land to Cholas. The Tooth and Bowl relics were hidden. Kalinga Magha tyrannized over the inhabitants of Raja Rata and extended his invasion to the south of the country, but was compelled to retreat by the forces of Vijaya Bahu-III of Maya Rata (1222-1226 CE) and was killed by the Sinhala on his way back to India. Insecurity brought about by Tamil invaders was a main reason for relocation of capitals

Vijaya Bahu- lll (1222-1226 CE) took action to oust Magha when he invaded the Maya Rata. He moved the seat of government to Dambadeniya. He had two sons named Parakramabahu-II and Bhuvaneka Bahu.

Panditha Parakrama Bahu- ll (1226-1257 CE) – the eldest son of Vijaya Bahu III, became the king after his father’s death. The new king was known as Panditha Parakramabahu – II, on account of his great learning and literary accomplishments.In the meantime, Chandra Bhanu a Tamil, who claimed to be a ruler of Jaffna, waged war with king Panditha Parakrama Bahu and was badly defeated. Although Panditha Parakramabahu was crowned at Polonnaruwa he ruled from Dambadeniya. For thirty- five years, he reigned as king over the whole of Lanka. Upon his death, this king was succeeded by his son, Vijaya Bahu who ruled for two years. Subsequently, owing to political instability several kings ruled the country for short periods of time.

Repeated Invasions By Indian Tamil Forces

Buvaneka Bahu- I, ascended the throne in 1259 and ruled for eleven years, until 1270. During the early part of his reign Sri Lanka was repeatedly but unsuccessfully invaded by Indian Tamil forces. He initially ruled from Dambadeniya and later shifted his capital to Yapahuva. The life of Yapahuva as the capital of Lanka lasted only till the death of King Bhuvaneka Bahu I, when it was subjugated and despoiled by another Tamil invasion.

Invasion Of Pandyan Tamil Army

Parakrama Bahu – lll, the nephew of Buvaneka Bahu- I, became king in 1270 and ruled for five years in Polonnaruwa. During his reign the island was invaded by a Pandyan army led by one Chakravarti. The invaders succeeded in capturing the forces of Yapahuva and carrying off the sacred Tooth-Relics to India. The Sinhala king succeeded in bringing it back to Lanka and placed the relics in Polonnaruwa.

Buvaneka Bahu – ll (1275-1277CE) – Son of Buvaneka Bahu I, cousin of Parakrama Bahu III who had a Pandyan connection ruled from Kurunegala.

Parakrama Bahu – lV (1277-1301 CE) – son of Buvanekka Bahu II proclaimed himself king against the Pandyan Emperor Kulasekera. Kulasekera came himself to avenge the killing of his nephew Parakrama Bahu III by Buwanekabahu -II. He invaded Yapa Patuna Kingdom and captured it.

Plunder And Destruction

During their invasions and rule, the country was plundered of its wealth and much destruction was caused to priceless monuments of the country. The 700 year old Sinhala Royal palace in the citadel of Anuradhapura was burnt down. Relic chambers of stupas were broke open and valuables including gold images enshrines in them were taken away. Often after plundering the treasures, they destroyed these historic
structures for good.

Perhaps the saddest of all was the destruction of Thuparamaya, the oldest Buddhist monument in South Asia. This exquisite Buddhist monument housed the Buddha’s right-collar bone and the Alms-bowl. The Relic chamber of Thuparamaya was broke open to pay South Indian Tamil mercenaries. The crowning ornament on Thuparama was stolen and the great canopy over Thuparama, that protected it from bad weather was smashed to get the priceless gems and golden decorations fixed on it. This oldest religious building in Sri Lanka was built by Devanampiyatissa (307-267 BCE), the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka.

In mid 10the century the Chola invaders looted Anuradhapura extensively. The huge domes- roofs decorated in gold and silver, and embedded with gems, built to cover the large Dagaba’s and to protect them from bad weather, were destroyed again. That included the golden umbrellas over Mirisavetiya Dagaba, and Thuparamaya. The main library in the citadel, housing the sacred books, was maliciously burnt. Jethavanaramaya, the gigantic monument recorded in history as the third tallest structure of the world, was destroyed. Temple of the Tooth Relic in the citadel was destroyed. Golden doors were ripped off from buildings. The pride of the nation, skyscraper Lovamahapaya was maliciously destroyed completely. This was the 6th time it was destroyed by these Dravidian plunderers. This was the end of the city
of Anuradhapura.

The Oldest Buddhist Country

Ours is the oldest Buddhist country in the world with Buddhism arriving in the island and establishing itself far and wide since 237 BCE, or about 2247 years ago. Buddhists across the world respect Sri Lanka as the country where pure Buddhism or Buddhist teachings in its original form prevails – the Theravada tradition. In spite of invasions, threats, challenges, Buddhist culture did not disappear from our island, unlike in the case of cultures in several other countries. Today, over 70% of the total population of Sri Lanka is Buddhists. The simple and uncomplicated lifestyle promoted by our culture, is based on the five precepts of Buddhism. Their mind-set, temperament and attitude towards life are clearly reflective of Buddhist norms and values such as compassion, non-violence, tolerance, morality and peaceful coexistence with others and with nature.

The outstanding imaginative and creative powers of the Sinhala people, their talents, skills, and foresight are well evident in what still remains as marvels architecture, sculpture, art, literature and other forms of visual culture, in irrigation technology displayed magnificently across the country as living evidence of an outstanding
cultural heritage. The world recognition of the greatness of this unique Sinhala Buddhist culture is reflected by the UNESCO designating our ancient royal sites as World Heritage Sites - Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mahanuwara (Kandy), Sigiriya and Dambulla, all built upon and strongly reflecting inspiration drawn from Buddhism. It is a fact that, if there is anything unequivocally worthwhile that our country can offer to the world today, it is Buddha Dhamma and its outstanding culture and attitude towards life and its natural habitat.

Ours is the only country in the world that had the privilege of having three visits of the Buddha at three different times in the past. During these times the Buddha set foot on 16 different places within our country which are still venerated as sacred sites. Some of the most venerated relics of the Buddha are found in Sri Lanka, including the Tooth relic, the right collar bone and the Alms Bowl. Sri Lanka and Thailand are the countries with the largest collection of relics of the Buddha. Oldest Institution in the world is Sri Lanka’s Sangha Sasana, which is still active and operational in our country.

The oldest recorded tree in the world - the Sri Maha Bodhi, is found in Sri Lanka. Oldest Buddhist monuments, dagabos, architecture, sculpture, paintings, literature, poetry are found in our country.

There is ample evidence that our ancient builders and planners were quite familiar with the principles of building construction or structural engineering. Some of their structures have lasted for over 1600 years. The Lovamahapaya is the world’s oldest skyscraper which is 145 feet high with 9 stories and 1000 rooms. The largest brick structures of
the world are the ancient Buddhist dagabos of Sri Lanka such as the Jetavanaramaya, Abayagiriya, Ruvanweliseya, and Tissamaharamaya. The Jetavanarama Stupa is about 400 feet high and is the largest brick structure in the world.

Sinhala Buddhist Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage encompasses material culture, in the form of objects, structures, sites, as well as living (or expressive) culture as evidenced in forms such as music, crafts, performing arts, literature, oral tradition and language. Sculpture, architecture,
paintings and other forms of fine arts were used profusely in Sri Lanka from very early times to express Buddhist ideas and sentiment. The exceptionally rich heritage of visual arts of the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka extends to a period that exceeds 2300 years, from the 3rd century BCE to the 21st CE. A spectacular collection of ancient sculpture, architecture and paintings adorns the island’s culture. They are conspicuous elements of the island’s Buddhist culture even today.

Culture is organic and evolving. There is however, cultural continuity from the past, through the present and into the future. Some cultural elements are preserved in an original or earlier state, whereas other cultural materials, elements and forms may have observed dynamic change, adaptation and development with time and with exposure to other cultures, circumstances and environments. The outcome of this dynamic change is often something unique but not necessarily completely new. However, it is peculiar to the particular culture concerned. It is an outcome which reflects a combination of elements of several cultures blended together but in keeping and compatible with the fundamentals of the long preserved cultural and social values of the particular culture. This outcome reflects a unique identity that is special to the particular culture. The evolution of the Buddha statue, the stupas of Sri Lanka, Buddhist paintings and the Sinhala language, are good examples.

The Sinhala Language

All salient aspects of our national culture – tangible and intangible, either grew or evolved within the borders of our country. Sinhala language and literature originated in Sri Lanka. Sinhala language in fact is the most important defining element of our nation’s culture and heritage, from historic times. The Sinhala language grew out of
Indo-Aryan dialects and exists only in Sri Lanka and has its own distinguished literary tradition. Sinhala is one of the world’s oldest living languages. There have been a wide range of languages in the world, particularly in Asia which lived and died without leaving evidence of their existence, because they were never written down. This is not the case with the Sinhala language. All other languages used in Sri Lanka originated in other countries. It is significant to note that the overwhelming majority of people of Sri Lanka are distinguished by their language – Sinhala, which even today has a strong unifying effect in our motherland helping to reinforce the solidarity of our people as a unique cultural entity in the world. Almost all place names of the country from historic times, are in the Sinhala language – in the North, South, East, West and Central regions.

Indigenous national sovereignty of a country is an inalienable right based on profound justice. Sovereign national rights of Sri Lanka rests with the Sinhala people who are indigenous to this country, forming its dominant majority community for over 2500 years. Sri Lanka is the only national sovereign motherland of the Sinhala people. Their culture, way of life and their Sinhala language originated and developed in Sri Lanka.

Tamils, Muslims, and Malays are non-indigenous minority communities of Sri Lanka who settled in the island at different times in the past, coming from their own motherlands. The Tamils came from their motherland, the Tamilnadu where their culture and language originated. The Tamil nation of Tamilnadu is seven times bigger than Sri Lanka, where one has to be a pure Tamil in order to hold any high official position. Wherever they live, the Tamils have their national heritage and aspirations protected within their nation – the Tamilnadu. Any initiative that would dilute or threaten the national sovereignty of the Sinhala people is not only unjust but also illegal, and will not
be acceptable to the Sinhala community.

Within any sovereign national country many non indigenous minorities have settled down but they do merge with the host nation into a single file. It is only by upholding the right of national sovereignty throughout the land that it will function without being violated. The granting of excessive rights to minorities in the form of alien-national rights of language, cultures and religions and exclusive ethnic areas will threaten a country’s sovereignty.

- Asian Tribune -

Violence, Plunder and Deceit:  Sri Lanka’s Experience With Tamils
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