Midweek Review

Vijaya came much later

by Nalin de Silva
After a seminar organised by the Organisation of Professional Associations on Federalism and Peace, some wanted to know more about the histories of Tamils and the Sinhalas in this country. It is widely believed that both the Sinhalas and the Tamils came to Sri Lanka from India and have been living ever since as Sinhalas and Tamils. As such the general impression among most of the people is that the Veddas are the indigenous people of the country and the Sinhalas and the Tamils are migrants. This notion also adds on to the myth that Sinhalas and the Tamils have the same status culturally and historically in Sri Lanka.

This is not only untrue but is based on the concept of aborigines, formulated by the westerners. The aborigines are people who are descendants of those who had been living in the respective countries before the Europeans, especially the English and the others from the British Isles set foot on those countries and almost annihilated the natives. The British, in general, with respect to certain countries such as North America, Australia and New Zealand not only grabbed the land but took steps to massacre the true sons of soil.

In Africa and especially in Asia they failed to do so and the Europeans, and especially the British tried to change the cultures of the people of the countries that they had freshly captured, through other methods. In the countries of the first category the British, built separate nations and ruled those countries with their laws without any regard to indigenous cultures. They grabbed the land that did not belong to them and established states and governments and went on to rule those whom they could not massacre. In most of these countries there were no owners of the land and the concept of individual ownership was not known to many cultures outside Europe at that time, and the people who had been living in those countries could not understand conceptually what was happening. The descendants of people who survived, but without land and other resources have been identified as aborigines.

. What has to be emphasised is that in North America, Australia and New Zealand, the Europeans built "new" nations and that they went to these countries from Europe, especially from Britain. The British did not mix with the indigenous people and neither the American English culture nor the Aussie English culture has absorbed anything significant from the indigenous cultures. The respective English languages do not have many words borrowed from the indigenous languages, except for some place names and names given to rivers and mountains. On the whole it was a case of anihilation of not only the people but also their cultures, political systems and economies. This had not happened previously in the history of the homo sapiens with respect to themselves or with respect to the others. The western theories, on how the homo sapiens annihilated the hominids in various countries after the former were supposed to have migrated to those countries from Africa, have to be taken with a pinch of salt. These theories are based on what the Europeans did after the fifteenth century with Britain being replaced by Africa, British by the homo sapiens and the "aborigines" by the hominids. Those who are outside the western countries are in general "underdeveloped" like the hominids and live in the "underdeveloped third world". It has to be remembered that as far as the westerners were concerned the "aborigines" were not better than the animals whom God has created for the (white) man. In a sense the European theories on the evolution of "man" attempts to justify the "evolution" of the Europeans. Theories, contrary to the popular belief, are not objective and are culture dependent. The western theory on evolution of man is unilinear, with an origin, everything originating from Africa, and is based on the unilinear "theories" of the old testament, that have an origin. So are Darwin’s theory of Evolution and the Big Bang theory. The westerners have retained the concept of the origin found in the Old Testament, though the originator has been removed.

Western theories on evolution, whether of the universe, life or homo sapiens are theories with origins, though without an "originator". In Physics, Biology, Anthropology or any other field, the western theories take the same form in essence. It is very often a case of presenting the "same" theory in different words. Classical Marxism is also unilinear and is not very different from Darwin’s theory of evolution. I have no intention of leaving western Mathematics out of the picture and in fact, it could be called the mother (or father) of all unilinear theories, with its unilinear axiomatic method in establishing results in the form of theorems.

. However, this does not mean that the others were not interested in linear theories. The Brahamin tradition in India also had linear theories though of a recurring nature. I am of the view that our own Vijaya story on the "origin" of the Sinhala nation is influenced by the Brahamin theories and not by Buddhist culture. The importance of this theory, meaning the Vijaya story, lies in a different direction. It reminds us as well as those so-called historians who following western theories on the formation of nations claim that Sinhala nation came into existence after the tenth or the eleventh century, that the Sinhalas even before the advent of Buddhist culture had been aware or conscious of a Sinhala nation. Otherwise, they would not have gone into the business of creating theories of a Sinhala nation. One does not think of theories on the "origin" of non-existent nations. The Vijaya story is very much biased towards north India and it is very likely that the "Purohitha" Brahimins of the kings who spoke Aryan languages were responsible for this particular theory. Even after the Sinhalas became Buddhists the Brahimin tradition had influenced them as could be seen from our literature. There have been few like Veedagama Maithreye Thero, Vettewe Thero who have fought openly against the Brahimin tradition. In the last century Messrs. Martin Wickremesinghe and Cumaratunga Munidasa gave the leadership in the struggle against the Brahimin tradition in Sinhala arts and literature. The latter was very conscious of what he was doing and he alone took the bold step to construct theories not based in the Brahmin tradition. Our present understanding of the history of the Sinhalas is essentially due to Mr. Cumaratunga Munidasa and Mr. Raphael Tennekone of the Hela Havula.

. The Sinhalas unlike the Tamils did not come from India. The Brahmin Vijaya story attempts to ignore the fact there had been Hela people living in this country before the Aryan language speaking people came from North India. The Tamils would like to say that the Hela people were Dravidian but unfortunately for them there are no historical or archaeological evidence to substantiate that claim. The Dravidians who had migrated even to South India only about two thousand five hundred years ago would not have arrived in Sri Lanka before that period. The research of Ven. Baddegama Vimalawansa Thero, Prof. D. E. Hetiarachchi and others confirm that there are Hela words in the present day Sinhala language. The words such as "bella, [neck] kata, [mouth] kakula, [leg] bada [belly/stomach]" are Hela words, though there are equivalents that Sinhala language has borrowed from the Indo Aryan languages.

The Sinhalas do not use words such as "gela, muva, paadaya, udaraya" in their day to day work. They would talk of "bella gahala yana vedak" and not of "gela gahala yana vedak". We have expressions such as "kata vata kara veta bendeema" [futile task on trying to stop spread of rumours] and "bada vada geneema [self advancement]" and not of "muva vata kara veta bendeema" and "udaraya vada geneema". The so-called common man who is very creative has even recently come out with expressions such as "honda kakulak"not to refer to shapely legs but to somebody who is good at his work, though the middle class may not think any good in the works of these "honda kakul".

Though there are Tamils in India, there are no Sinhalas in that country. Neither the Sinhala language is spoken in any part of India. Though the Vijaya story claims that the Sinhalas came from Vanga or Bengal or Bangladesh, no Bangladeshi or a west Bengali in India would recognise the Sinhalas are the cousins of Bengalis.

It is not the case with the present day Tamils in Sri Lanka, the vast majority of whom are descendants of those who were first brought to this country by the Dutch not more than three hundred and fifty years ago. The Sinhalas could not have come from a country where there were no Sinhalas or where the Sinhala language was not spoken. The English speaking people were able to go to North america, Australia, New Zealand and to Rhodesia from England as there were English people living in England at that time.

However, this is not to deny that people from North India, speaking Indo Aryan languages came to Sri Lanka about three thousand years ago. The excavations done by Dr. Shiran Deraniyagala in Anuradhapura reveal that Aryan language speaking people had come to Sri Lanka around ninth century BC. The Vijaya story or the theory (all theories are stories or narrations in the terminology of western post modernists) as recorded in the Mahavansa and Deepavansa mentions a date much later than the date estimated by Dr. Deraniyagala. However, the Vijaya story could be seen as an amalgamation of a number of stories. Mahavansa refers to Vijaya having embarked from an eastern port in Vanga going round India to the west coast before arriving in Sri Lanka. This could be interpreted to say that not only Aryan language speaking from Vanga but even people from areas such as present day Maharashtra and Gujarat had migrated to Sri Lanka from time to time over a period of more than five hundred years.

People migrate over periods extending to centuries and it is possible that from about ninth century BC Indo Aryan speaking people migrated to Sri Lanka and Vijaya could be the name given to the Victor who established some kind of dominance over the Hela people who lived in the country. According to Hela Havula Vijaya refers to Videhi or outsider - Vijathika) that the Indo Aryans were able to dominate the Hela people in the country.

In any event the Indo Aryans, meaning those who spoke Indo Aryan languages, did not massacre the Hela people nor established their own kingdom creating a new nation. That kind of colonialism was not known in the pre European dominated world and it was migration to a particular country and mixing with the people who already lived in that country. The same thing happened when the Aryans first came to India. They fought but mixed with the indigenous people, who were neither Aryans nor Dravidians, and did not form a new nation. The Mahabarath and Ramayana are essentially stories about how this mixing, sometimes through war, took place in Bharath. It should be emphasised that Ramayana refers to people who had already being mixed. The story around Rishi Agasti is a case in point. The Indo Aryans who migrated to Sri Lanka or Heladiva fought and mixed with the Hela people who were neither Aryans nor Dravidians, and in the course of time formed the mixed nation Sinhala.

As Hela Havula has pointed out Pandukabhaya period could be identified as the time during which the Sinhala nation came to be established. What is important here is that the Sinhala nation, the Sinhala language and the Sinhala language were not created by some outsiders or immigrants who came to this country. They came into existence as a result of mixing of Indo Aryans who migrated from North India and the non Aryan non Dravidian Hela people who had lived in the country for thousands of years.
(To be continued)