Many renowned Sinhalese and Tamil Historians Archaeologists
Anthropologists and Linguistic Scholars as well as Indian, American and
British Scholars have engaged in research, on the ancient history of Sri
Lanka for more than 30 years, conducting Archaeological excavations.
These excavations were carried out in various parts of
Sri Lanka and their findings published. However, some excavations have
been suspended while, in other cases, the findings have not been
released. In particular, there are many instances where excavations in
the northern regions of Sri Lanka were suspended and the findings
withheld. However, unbiased and honest historians have openly published
the findings of their studies on this subject.
Many facts related to the ancient history of Sri Lanka
and its ancient people have been brought to light on the basis of
archaeological evidence from excavations. But, various difficulties have
arisen in regard to understanding the early Stone Age people, their
antiquity and their race. Nevertheless, the scholars referred to above
generally accept that the ancient people of Sri Lanka belonged to the
Dravidian Language family and followed the Dravidian (Megalithic)
culture of 'Urn Burials'. The findings of these scholars also show that
there was a strong similarity between the ancient people of Sri Lanka
and those of India, particularly from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Kannada and
the Andhra regions in South India where Dravidian languages are spoken.
Geologists and archaeologists are of the general opinion
that as the result of a natural calamity Sri Lanka broke off from the
Indian landmass and became an island many thousands of years ago.
Therefore the ancient people of South India and Sri Lanka were of the
same ethnic stock. This has been further established by findings
relating to their culture, language and religion that show that the
people of these two regions were closely connected.
In short, it emerges that the ancient people of Sri
Lanka belonged to the Dravidian family and spoke Tamil,
one of the
ancient languages of the Dravidian language family. However, Pali
and Sinhalese historical records and literature claim that the ancient
people of Sri Lanka belonged to the Aryan language family and spoke
Sinhalese, an Aryan language and that they came from North India. To
date no archaeological evidence has been found to support these
Sinhalese historians based their theories that the
ancient people of Sri Lanka were Sinhalese largely on historical records
found in the Deepavamsa and Mahavamsa Buddhist chronicles written in the
fourth and filth centuries A.D. and on ancient stone inscriptions
written in the North Indian languages of Pali and Sanskrit. These
historians are particularly inclined to use the Mahavamsa. written in
the fifth century A.D., as a main source. The Mahavamsa begins with the
historical legend of Vijaya who was deported from North India and
arrived in Sri Lanka in the fifth century BC.
In addition, the Mahavamsa also speaks of the three
visits of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka and the establishment of Buddhism in
Sri Lanka by the Buddhist mission sent to Sri Lanka by the Maurya
Emperor Asoka in the third century BC. This mission was led by his son
and Buddhist priest Mahinda. The records of the Mahavamsa along with
other historical documents and writings also tell of Devanampiya Tissa,
the king of the Anuradapura Kingdom, who embraced Buddhism in the same
These accounts have naturally led historians in general
to consider that the history of Sri Lanka begins with the third century
BC. However, there is no reliable historical evidence of the arrival of
Vijaya and his associates in the fifth century BC or of his rule in Sri
Lanka. It is possible to infer that, Mahanama, the author of the
Mahavamsa, witnessed the decline and disorientation of Buddhism in India
during the fifth century BC. Due to his devotion to Buddhism and desire
to consolidate this religion in Sri Lanka he decided to write the
Mahavamsa. It is also possible that he began his chronicle with the
legend of Vijaya with the sole purpose of linking Buddhism with its
relationship to North Indian languages as a means to achieve his goals.
The important fact that must be considered in this
context is that
was firmly established in Sri Lanka long before the arrival of Buddhism
on the island. The kings of the Anuradapura Kingdom had been Saivaites
before the advent of Buddhism. Besides, the Kingdom of Anuradapura was a
well developed and strong kingdom in the third century BC, a status that
would have required centuries to attain. Would it have been possible for
Vijaya who arrived in Sri Lanka only in the fifth century BC to start
from scratch and build up such a full-fledged kingdom in Anuradapura? It
is apparent that the Kingdom of Anuradapura originated and gradually
developed into a strong kingdom through many centuries and that the
people who established the kingdom were Tamils of the Dravidian family.
Tamil culture and Saiva religion were practiced in ancient Sri Lanka as
Tamils were the ancient people of Sri Lanka, a fact established by the
archaeological evidence that has come to light.
of an ethnic people are the most significant factors determining their
unique identity. Archaeological evidence shows that the ancient
Dravidian people of ancient Sri Lanka, influenced by the arrival of
Buddhism and the North Indian languages associated with it, gradually
embraced Buddhism, its cultural traditions and the languages related to
For instance, archaeological findings prove that
Buddhism enjoyed an influential status as the religion of the people in
the traditional Tamil regions in the north, east and northwest parts of
Sri Lanka, during the first two centuries BC. Would it be right to call
these people Sinhalese on the basis that Buddhism was their religion in
the early historical period? Archaeological studies clearly reveal that
Dravidian people were living in the Puttalam and Negombo areas in the
northwest region of Sri Lanka from ancient times.
However, the majority of these people, due to
socio-economic activities and transitions over the past 150 years, have
become Sinhalese and now speak the Sinhalese language. Besides, the
majority of Saivites in the Jaffna peninsula were converted to
Catholicism during the foreign rule of the Portuguese invaders. Another
interesting instance in this context is the fact that the descendents of
two significant Chetty families who migrated to Sri Lanka from Tamil
Nadu five generations ago became fervent Buddhist Sinhala nationalists,
Prime Ministers and Presidents in Sri Lanka.
It can be surmised from these matters that this same
process of assimilation was a common phenomenon experienced throughout
ancient Sri Lanka. The history of Sri Lanka, from the third century A.D.
to the ninth century A.D., is permeated with the influence of Buddhism
and Buddhist culture. This includes from early historical times, the
intrusion of Pali and Sanskrit languages and their spread among the
ancient Tamils of Sri Lanka and their Dravidian culture, as well as the
origin of the Sinhalese language from Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil
languages. The younger generation is left with the task of engaging with
history and scientific methods to subject this historical period to deep
and unbiased studies and write its history with intellectual integrity.
When taking up this task, they should strive to find a fitting solution
to the ethnic issue that has become an infested sore in Sri Lanka.
Two significant events took place in Sri Lanka following
the tenth century A.D. in the wake of the
domination of Sri Lanka. The first is that the people who identified
themselves as Sinhalese shifted their seats of rule from the ancient
kingdoms of Anuradapura and Polanaruwa towards South Sri Lanka. The
second was the Tamils moved their ruling structures from these same
regions to the north and east of the island.
Consequently, the ancient kingdoms of Anuradapura and
Polanaruwa, abandoned by both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, were
engulfed by the jungle that temporarily separated the two ethnic groups
for the next four or five centuries. As a result, the Sinhalese
developed into a separate ethnic people with their distinct Buddhist
religion and culture and Sinhalese language while the Tamils, in their
traditional regions in the north, east and northwest of Sri Lanka began
to establish their kingdoms under the newly risen Jaffna Kingdom,
maintaining their distinct
This situation did not last long. The Sinhalese and
Tamil kingdoms declined and eventually succumbed to the Portuguese
invaders. The Kingdom of Kandy, however, retained its sovereignty and
resisted capture by the Portuguese. The Tamils lost their kingdom
forever as a result of Portuguese invasion, and the foreign Catholic
religion was forcibly thrust on them. Many were obliged to relinquish
their Saiva religion and follow Catholicism and its culture. Above all,
they were impoverished by wholesale Portuguese exploitation of their
economic resources. This situation allowed the Portuguese to amass great
The Tamils lost their sovereignty, religion, economic
infrastructure and wealth and were reduced to slaves in their own land.
It is a bitter historical truth that it was not only the Portuguese who
were responsible for this state of affairs but also the competitiveness,
jealousy, lack of co-operation and patriotism among the Tamils as well
as the evil dowry system and
that existed among them.
This same situation has continued from the time the
Tamils and Tamil regions became enslaved to the Portuguese in the
sixteenth century. It is unlikely this situation can be changed until
the Tamil politicians and officials truly realise the gravity of the
situation and apply themselves sincerely to solving these urgent
problems. These are the people who have to decide whether or not the
Tamils are to continue living as slaves and refugees.
The Dutch, who succeeded the Portuguese, dominated Sri
Lanka for 150 years and also amassed wealth by unscrupulous means. They
exploited the Tamils and their regions just as the Portuguese did. The
Portuguese could be said to have sucked the blood of the Tamils but the
Dutch did not stop there but consumed their flesh also. This further
reduced the Tamils to utter poverty. The Dutch spread Protestantism,
their new brand of Christianity among the forcibly converted Tamil
Catholics in the Jaffna peninsula. Dutch documents provide sufficient
proof that the Tamils, already afflicted by Portuguese occupation and
atrocities, were further severely affected by intense Dutch exploitation
of their economic resources along with their religious activities to
promote Protestantism among them.
The forced indoctrination of their respective religions
and the introduction of western culture to the Tamils in the Jaffna
peninsula by the foreign invaders from Portugal and the Netherlands were
their sole contributions to the Tamils and their regions, the impact of
which is evident even in the present day. However, the Christian
missionaries, both Portuguese and Dutch, established schools in the
peninsula to impart religious education in addition to a range of basic
subjects. Tamil society, for the first time, was exposed to an organised
system of education along western principles. It cannot be denied that
this experience prepared them for the modern educational methods of the
British colonial rule and enabled them to adapt to the judicial,
administrative and economic infrastructure of the British.
The British colonial rule that began in the 1796 in Sri
Lanka ushered in changes and new enterprises in the island generally and
the Tamils and their regions in particular. The British, like their two
predecessors, showed a keen interest in propagating Protestantism with
the help of their missionaries who used education to spread their
religion. As a result, the Tamils gave English education and Tamil
education a primary place in their lives.
discrimination, socio-economic disparities, lack of land and the
oppressive dowry system in the Tamil regions, particularly in the Jaffna
peninsula, impelled the Tamils to seek education. Parents invested in
their children's education in the hope and expectation that their
success in examinations would open up employment opportunities for them
in the public and private sector in Sri Lanka as well as in foreign
countries such as India and Malaya (Malaysia and Singapore).
True to their expectations, educated Tamils were able to
acquire government and private employment in Sri Lanka, India and Malaya
and earn a permanent income. This advancement in turn brought social
development and progress in various spheres and Tamil society was
gradually transformed into an educated society. However, this
opportunity was not widely available in the undeveloped Tamil regions.
The dedicated interest shown by the British in the field
of education resulted in the establishment of hundreds of primary and
secondary schools in the Jaffna peninsula with various missionaries
functioning as their driving force. The Tamils also, just as the
missionaries established Christian English schools, opened up Saiva
English schools. Saivaism and the Tamil language experienced a
renaissance while Saiva temples and halls were built in great numbers
due to the religious tolerance of the British rulers. This progress in
education contributed immensely to various positive developments in the
fields of religion, arts, culture, language, literature, socio-economics
The establishment of the infrastructure of finance,
justice and administration and the efficient functioning of these
structures in the early British rule helped develop the country
economically as well as consolidate its administration and law and
order. The population began to increase in this peaceful and thriving
atmosphere. Roads and bridges were built and health services improved
remarkably. This progress in turn paved the way for the Tamils in the
north and east to establish contacts and develop mutual understanding
with the Sinhalese in the south.
The Tamils, particularly the English-educated Tamils,
already disturbed by conversion to Christianity by the missionaries and
the spread of western culture among them, rose in protest and reacted
against steps taken by the British government. These protest activities
relating to culture and economics in turn became factors that kindled
the consciousness of the Tamils. The spirit of protest manifested itself
in the spheres of society_ religion, culture and language and resulted
in the politically motivated rise of Tamil nationalism. The British
constitutional reforms and political activities connected to them were
the fundamental reasons for the rise and growth of Tamil nationalism.
The Colebrook constitutional reforms introduced in 1833,
brought the north and east regions of Sri Lanka, hitherto administered
as a separate unit. under a single centralised administrative system
based in Colombo. This disoriented the longstanding territorial
integration of the Tamils and threatened their national identity.
The 1921-24 Manning constitutional reforms among others
that followed were the first to create a permanent divide between the
Tamils and Sinhalese ethnic communities. The Donoughmore constitutional
reforms introduced in 1931 added their share to compound the situation
by implementing universal franchise, abolishing the system of
territorial representation and replacing it with communal
representation. This resulted in more representatives from the Sinhalese
community securing seats in the State Assembly and caused great
antipathy and rage among the Tamils and their political leaders. The
Soulbury constitutional reforms introduced in 1947 were also partial to
the Sinhalese majority representatives. They were drawn up in keeping
with the draft proposals submitted by their Board of Ministers and
passed in the House of Representatives with the majority of Sinhalese
representatives voting in favour. The British ruling powers forcibly
implemented this political constitution modeled on the Westminster
Parliamentary system as practised in Britain on a country consisting of
two Nations, the majority Sinhalese nation and a minority Tamil nation.
In the 1947 general elections held under the
newly introduced constitution. the Sinhalese political parties
secured the majority representation in Parliament and thereby became the
rulers of the country. When the British finally granted independence to
Sri Lanka they handed over the government to the Sinhalese majority
community leaving the Tamils with a refugee status. The fundamental
cause for the loss of thousands of Tamil lives and the destruction of
their property in the 60 years following independence was the British
government's violation of the trust placed in them by the Tamils.
Sinhalese political leaders, by compiling and submitting erroneous
statistics to the British rulers, were able to secure sole sovereignty
over the whole country, their numerical majority being the only claim.
The Tamil political leaders, due to their dearth of
political foresight and propelled by self-promoting motives sought
political refuge with the majority Sinhalese political leaders.
Safeguards in the form of special Acts in the
aiming to protect the political rights of the minorities were blatantly
abandoned by the Sinhalese majority government within a few months of
Sri Lanka gaining independence in 1948.
From 1948 onwards, the
were stripped of their citizenship and their right to vote.
Pre-planned Sinhalese colonisation in the traditional Tamil territories
was vigorously and systematically implemented. These activities of the
government most severely affected Tamil representation in the House of
Representatives and the traditional territories of the Tamils.
The `Sinhala Only' Act implemented in 1956 which made Sinhalese the
official and national language of the State and granted Buddhism the
status of State Religion posed serious threats to the national status
and identity of the Tamils in relation to their language and religion.
Employment opportunities in considerable numbers were denied to Tamils
by the partial activities of the government. Tamil students were denied
opportunities in higher studies by the introduction of
schemes such as 'Standardisation' and the 'Quota System' that were
implemented to select candidates for universities.
All fundamental democratic rights such as the freedom to
congregate and freedom of expression were largely denied to Tamils.
Whenever the Tamil political leaders engaged in passive non-violent
protest demonstrations demanding their political rights,
forces were used to crush them by attacking demonstrators, forced
dispersal of their gatherings and the arrest of Tamil political leaders.
The various pacts the Tamil political leaders entered
into with the Sinhalese political leaders following negotiations were
all eventually abrogated by the Sinhalese signatories. The Sinhalese
regimes, exploiting their majority strength and the power in ruling the
country they thereby achieved, used its three armed forces designed to
protect the government, to effectively crush the Tamils, their political
leaders and their just struggles for their lost rights, in several ways.
Above all, they unleashed continuous pogroms on the Tamils from 1958,
killing thousands of Tamils, subjecting Tamil women to sexual violence,
setting fire to their houses and property, reducing them to the status
of refugees in their own country.
The Tamil political leaders, on realising that the Sri
Lanka Sinhalese majority regime would never recognise the Tamil right of
self-determination, in 1976 united and arrived at a firm decision that
establishing Tamil Eelam was the only way open to the Tamils. This seems
to be a belated decision. They contested in the 1977 general election on
a mandate for Tamil Eelam. The Tamils responded with overwhelming
support of the Tamil political leaders in their demand for Tamil Eelam.
Following the demise in 1977 of S. J. V. Chelvanayagam who fought
tirelessly for more than 30 years, the Tamil political leaders, led by
Amirthalingam, opted to pursue moderate political activities. These
leaders who had been elected to establish Tamil Eelam, following the
1977 election victory, tried to solve the Tamil political issue by
negotiating with the government.
The young Tamil men and women who had already been
pushed to the brink of utter frustration due to the denial of
educational and employment opportunities, rose in protest against the
activities of the Tamil political leaders who believed they could
continue their politics and pacify the Tamil youth. Finally, the Tamils
again whole heartedly mandated the Tamil political leaders to establish
Tamil [clam in the general election that followed. The government which
schemed to crush the demand for Tamil Eelam implemented an Act which
called for the loyalty of the members of the Parliament to the national
integrity of Sri Lanka as a unitary state. The Tamil leaders found
themselves in a precarious situation caught between the intensified
demand of the Tamil young men and women and this Act. Unable to go
against the mandate they were elected to establish Tamil Eelam, the
Tamil political leaders had to forgo their membership in Parliament.
The Tamils, already denied all their democratic rights,
were now deprived of their right to representation in the Parliament.
Meanwhile, the state terrorism unleashed against the Tamils in 1983
killed thousands of Tamils of all ages specially the youth . Tamil women
were sexually assaulted in public. Tamils' property worth millions of
rupees were looted and set ablaze. Tamils in their thousands went to
Tamil Nadu as refugees while thousands sought refuge in America,
Australia and European countries. Those who were not so fortunate were
fled to the north and east. Tamil youth specially were arrested and
These events can only lead to one conclusion. It is that
the Tamils and the Sinhalese are two different and separate nations that
are unable to live together. These events were a message and open
declaration by the Sinhalese nation to the Tamil nation as also the
international community that the Tamils should go to the north and east
and live there.
The Tamil young men and women took up arms when they
realised that this was the language of the Sinhalese majority government
and it was the only language that it could understand. The Nanthi (cow)
symbol of peace was the emblem of the national flag of the Jaffna
Kingdom of the Tamils. The Portuguese as foreign invaders robbed the
Tamils of their kingdom and brought the Nanthi flag down.
The British, who were the last foreign rulers of Sri
Lanka should have handed Tamils the right to rule their territory when
they finally left Sri Lanka. It is tragic that they did not do so. Now,
the national flag of the Tamil Nation, with its Tiger emblem of an
animal that is totally different to the passive Nanthi, flies in the
Tamil nation. It is the Sinhalese government that should bear the
responsibility for this. The Sinhalese majority government and the
Sinhalese political leaders should consider the Tamils' demand for the
right to self-determination with sincerity, humanity and political
foresight and act at the earliest to recognise it. Failure to do so will
inevitably lead both comminutes to face more blood shed and devastation.
John Dowd, the emeritus Australian judge and the former
president of the International Commission of Jurors said the following
on the occasion of the launch of the book, The International Dimension
in Sri Lanka's Ethnic Conflict:
The international community should recognize that
Sri Lanka needs two states and that structures should be created to
facilitate coexistence of the two states.
This quotation is an appropriate conclusion to this