Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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  • * Primary Sources for History of the Sri Lankan Tamils: A World-Wide Search MV Publications, P.O.Box 5317 Chullora, New South Wales, Australia 2190

    * indicates link to Amazon.com bookshop on line, also available at Eelam Store

    [See also by the same author - Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism - A Study of its Origins  and Tamils in Sri Lanka - A Comprehensive History (C.300 B.C. - 2000 A.D.)]

    Murugar GunasingamReview by Ana Pararajasingham at the launch of the book on 24th December 2005 [see also M.Thanapalasingham - இடையறாத முயற்சியே தவமெனப்படுவது ]

    Before I begin my review of this publication, I think it is only appropriate that we reflect on the significance of the study of history. History as we know is something we all posses as individuals, as families and as a people. To a large extent, history defines who we are. It gives us that sense of identity.

    It is claimed that if we do not learn from history we are doomed to relive it- mistakes and all. It was once said of the French Royal Dynasty, the Bourbons: �They learn nothing and forget nothing� implying that history, at least to some, had taught very little. But then I have also heard it said that 'The present is the past rolled up for action and the past is the present unrolled for understanding" suggesting that history is a powerful force in shaping our existence as individuals and as a people. History as we understand is often the version of a past that reflects the bias of the historian. Hence that well-known quote attributed to Winston Churchill that �History is written by the victors�.

    This brings us to Dr Gunasingam�s book and its significance and relevance to us as a people. The fact is that a comprehensive historical account of the Tamil people in the Island of Sri Lanka is yet to be written. True, there are certain specialised areas, which have been studied in detail by scholars of the calibre of Arasaratnam, Pathmanthan and Ragupathy. Then there is the recent publication by Dr Indrapala tracing the evolution of a Tamil identity in the Island of Sri Lanka. Indrapala perhaps comes closest to meeting this need for a comprehensive account. Having said that there is no denying that there is much more to be researched, probed and explored.

    As Dr Gunasingam mentions in this book there are number of reasons for this state of affairs. The major reason is of course the lack of archaeological studies carried out in the Tamil homeland. This is largely due to the restrictions that Tamils faced as a marginalised, persecuted and discriminated group. This hampered original research being undertaken. It was also because many of the primary sources that are invaluable to researchers had been destroyed inadvertently or deliberately. Some of you may recall that a deliberate destruction took place within our living memory in 1981 when the Jaffna Public Library home to many rare manuscripts was burnt down.

    Many of the primary sources relating to our history are held by our past colonial masters in their libraries and national archives in Britain, Holland, Portugal and even the US.

    I think it may be worthwhile pondering why colonial powers tended to capture the history of the people they conquered by taking away their artefacts, recording and reinterpreting their history. According to Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual, this is the very nature of conquests. You conquer a people by conquering their history and their past. In effect you colonise their minds as well as their land. This is very true when it comes to us-the Tamil people of the Island of Sri Lanka. Those who have sought to rule over us or have in fact ruled us have told our history-in their words.

    Dr Gunasingam's book is an attempt to rectify this state of affairs by enabling our history to be researched and recorded from authentic sources.

    In his book Dr Gunasingam presents his findings. It involved locating, identifying and recording the primary sources. It was surly a challenging task. As a historian and a librarian, Dr Gunsingam had the unique skill set that enabled him to carry out this immense and rewarding assignment.

    His quest took him to Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Portugal, Holland, the UK and the US. He admits that he found it �extremely difficult to discover particularly useful primary sources in Tamil Nadu�. In Goa despite difficulties, he had some success. He found evidence that Cankilli�s daughters were taken to Goa by the Portuguese and the eldest daughter became a Catholic and married into the Portuguese Royalty. Dr Gunasingams says �That Cankilikumaran was taken by the Portuguese to Goa would now appear to be a historical fact�

    In Portugal itself the author appears to have had some real measure of success in locating primary sources. These include sources concerning the:

    � Death of Pararasa Sekeran
    � Expulsion of the Jaffna Royal families
    � Religious conversions
    � Exodus of the Jaffna people into the Vanni
    � Portuguese settlements in Jaffna

    And many others.

    In the National Bibiliotheque in Lisbon he found original 17th Century maps of Ceylon.

    In the Netherlands, Dr Gunasingam came across �an enormous quantity of valuable primary sources relating to Sri Lanka and especially to Sri Lankan Tamils�. This included an account depicting the fierce spirit of independence displayed by one of the Vanni chiefs- Kaila Vanni.

    Dr Gunasingam also identified a significant number of primary sources in Britain at the British Library in the section allocated to Indian & oriental collections. At the Bodelian Library in Oxford, he discovered a doctoral thesis by M H Peter de Silva that sheds light on early Tamil settlements in the central province.

    His research in Britain involved several other places including the libraries at the University of Cambridge, Royal Commonwealth Society Library and the National Archives in London

    Dr Gunesingam�s quest had also taken him to Paris Germany and Switzerland where he located primary sources. In Switzerland for instance he discovered complete copies of documents from the International Tamil Archives based in Kandy in Sri Lanka.

    Even though the US did not colonise Ceylon, Americans were in Ceylon to promote the Christian faith among the locals-particularly the Tamils. In the course of their stay which was largely in the Jaffna Peninsula considerable amount of documentation occurred. Many of which, the author discovered in Boston

    Of course, Dr Gunasingam�s book is not a mere catalogue of findings. It is interspaced with history and anecdotes, which make the book an interesting read as well.

    What impressed me most about this book is the dedication and focus of the author who despite almost insurmountable odds undertook a mammoth task and succeeded in it.

    His role has been that of a guide to future historians, who, can now be expected to embark upon the task of recording the authentic history of the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka.

    As we Tamils of Eelam stand at the threshold of establishing a state of our own, Dr Gunasingam has accomplished an enormous feat to consolidate our national identity as a people.

    I salute Dr Gunasingam and his enormous drive to accomplish something of immense national significance. He will and should be remembered as a pioneer who had paved the way for historians of the future.

    Almost a century ago C W Thamotharampiilai had cried out in pain concerned that our heritage was being lost as ancient manuscripts were being destroyed through neglect.

    �Gentlemen are you not concerned that these manuscripts are wasting away? Do you not realise that Tamil is your mother? Do you feel proud about not having a sense of national religious or linguistic pride?

    Gunasingam had answered this call by acting with a single-minded dedication. Let us do our part by buying the book reading it and most importantly encouraging the next generation to continue what Gunasingam had begun.


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