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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Home > Tamilnation Library > Eelam Section > The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, The Tamils in  Sri Lanka: C 300 BCE to 1200 CE - Dr. K. Indrapala


ISBN 0-646-42546-3, Hardcover, 400 pages. Published by The South Asian Studies Centre, Sydney, 2005

Indrapala - The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, The Tamils in  Sri Lanka: C 300 BCE to 1200 CE K. Indrapala took his first degree from the University of Ceylon (now University of Peradeniya) in 1960 and, from that time until 1975, lectured in history in that university. He took his doctorate from the University of London. In 1975, he was appointed Foundation Professor of History in the new Jaffna Campus of the University of Sri Lanka , which later became the University of Jaffna. In 1977/78, he was a Japan Foundation Fellow and Visiting Professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo. In 1984, he was appointed Foundation Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the Tamil University, Thanjavur. He now lives in Australia.

From the Back Cover
From the Epilogue
Book Review by Parasakthy Sundharalingam
Book Review by A. R. Venkatachalapathy

From the Back Cover



This long awaited publication embodies the researches of a lifetime undertaken by Dr. K. Indrapala from the time he started his career as an academic in the University of Ceylon in 1960 and gives shape to his long held, though often controversial, views that the Sinhalese and the Tamils of Sri Lanka are descended from common ancestors who lived in that country in prehistoric and proto historic times and have a shared history going back to over two thousand years. He argues that through a process of language replacement (a theory popularized by the archaeologist Colin Renfrew) the north Indian Prakrit dialects spread among the vast majority of the people paving the way for the evolution of Sinhalese while Tamil became the dominant language in some parts of the island leading to the emergence of Sri Lankan Tamil. In historic times, Buddhism and Saivism played significant roles in shaping the evolution of the two major ethnic groups. Buddhism, though at first common to both groups (and to others in the island), later became a religion associated with the Sinhalese.

The success of the Saiva religious movement in south India in the eighth and ninth centuries led to Tamil Buddhism finding a sanctuary in Sri Lanka for some time. The rule of the powerful Tamil Cola dynasty in the eleventh century, however, paved the way for the rise of Saivism among the Tamils (and even among some Sinhalese) in the twelfth century. In the end, Buddhism ..disappeared completely as a religion of the Sri lankan Tamils and Saivism assumed dominance among them. The result was that addition to of  identity.

The evolution of the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil identities is seen as a process that continued until modern times with various south Indian (Telugu, Kerala, Kannada and Tulu) as well as Southeast Asian (Malay) elements contributing to both groups, apart from elements from each group getting assimilated with the other.

This research covers the period up to 1200 by which time the process of evolution had more or less stabilized and the chance of one absorbing the other eventually had receded, although the assimilation of elements of one group into the other continued.

This research lends support to the views of Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne (Professor of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya) that "we cannot argue in favour of an 'exodus' of either `Dravidian' Megalthic - BRW communities from South India or 'Aryans' of north west/east India, who arrived en masse with a mission to 'civilize' Sri Lanka" (1984: 293), although `community movement from Peninsular India did take place at an early date to Sri Lanka' and this included some who 'belonged to clan groups under the leadership of the Velir chieftains and introduced the Megalithic - BRW techno-cultural complex to Sri Lanka around the 7/6 century B.C(1992:113). (The Megalithic - BRW complex, in the words of Prof. Seneviratne, 'was the earliest techno-cultural matrix formed in Sri Lanka during the Early Iron Age prior to any dominant impact of the northern Indo Aryan culture 1992:105)

Tamil Insciptions in Sri Lanka
One of the many Tamil inscriptions of the Chola times found at Velgam Vehera. Note the place names Velakaama and Raaja Raajap Perum Pa'l'li, underlined in red. [Courtesy: K. Indrapala, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity.]

From the Epilogue

"Historians should not write only for other historians." Eric Hobsbawm, 2002: 282.

Two inspiring lines from Kipling's immortal 'If' urged me on and helped me to complete this task:

(If you can) ... watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools.

I have watched what I gave my life to, being broken, and twenty years later I have tried to build something with worn-out tools. With poetic brevity and imagery, the Nobel laureate's lines describe my work in the last three years that has resulted in this book. I intended to write this many years ago when I was in Sri Lanka. Some of the main ideas presented in this book formed the subject of a series of popular articles in the press in 1969. I have waited long to write this book and now accomplished it in a distant land. Looking back, the distance in time and space has been worthwhile.

Those who have read the whole book may turn round and ask, "Has this writer said anything new?" I do not claim to have said anything new. What I have stated is what was already there, what some respected scholars have said, what many have forgotten, what some have chosen to ignore. If I may borrow the words of that great art critic and leading expositor of the Philosophia Perennis in the last century, Ananda Coomaraswamy, 'what I have sought is to understand what has been said'.`' Unlike that savant who was referring to what has been said in the perennial Tradition, I have sought to understand what the more mundane archaeological and literary materials have to say and the interpretations of reputed scholars.

This book is written for the purpose of drawing attention to some of the important aspects of Sri Lanka's distant past. It is written forthe Sri Lankan audience and for this reason detailed notes and quotations have been included, as articles in international journals as well as foreign publications are not easily accessible to the average reader. It is for the same reason that a Glossary and Apendices have been added.

In this book, the narration of the historical developments leading to the emergence of two separate ethnic identities ends in 1200. 13th the story does not end there. The dialogue between the two major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka continues into the centuries that follow. The dawn of the thirteenth century marks the beginning of the political separation of the two groups. Most of the non-Sinhalese elements in the population of the island came to be concentrated in the north, while most of the Sinhalese were confined to the south. The forces that held power in the north aspired to the over lordship of the entire island and did not consider themselves to be ruling a smaller kingdom in the area under their control. The forces in the south, too, claimed to be ruling the whole island. The King of Lanka (Ten-ilankai-k-kon) was one of the epithets applied to rulers in the north while Lord of Lanka (Lankesvara) continued to be one of the titles used by the rulers in the south.3

While the rulers of the north and the south claimed to rule the whole country, although they were de facto rulers of separate kingdoms, the Tamils of the north and the Sinhalese came to he isolated from each other. A stretch of jungle that covered the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva right across the middle of the island separated the Tamils of the north from the Sinhalese. Migrations from south India, however, continued unabated bringing not only Tamils but also Keralas and other south Indians to the north and the south. There is absolutely no evidence of enmity between the Sinhalese people and the Tamil people in the centuries after the fall of Polonnaruva, although there were occasions when the Tamil and Sinhalese rulers invaded each other's territory.

The close relations between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in the Sinhalese kingdom up to the beginning of European colonial rule are to be seen in many areas of activity. Perhaps the one area in which such relations were never to be seen again is religion. Nevertheless, Theravada Buddhist monks from the Cola kingdom continued to have close connections with the Buddhist establishments in the Sinhalese kingdom.' As already mentioned, 'many respected Cola bhikkhus who had moral discipline and were versed in the three Pitakas' were invited by the Sinhalese ruler Parakramabahu II in the thirteenth century to strengthen the Buddhist Order in his kingdom.' One of his successors in the next century, Parakramabahu IV (13021326), paid a high tribute to the Cola Sangha by appointing to the respected office of Royal Teacher (rajaguru) 'a Grand thera from the Cola country, a self-controlled man, versed in various tongues and intimate with philosophic works.'

Saivism continued to be practised in the Sinhalese kingdom. Saiva temples were venerated in many places predominantly settled by Sinhalese Buddhists. Two of the most venerated temples dedicated to Siva were the Nagarisa-kovil at Devinuvara (the southernmost point in the island) and Munnisvaram at Chilaw (on the western coast). An officer in the service of Vijayabahu VI (15131521) was a patron of the former while Parakramabahu VI (14121467) was a patron of the latter shrine.' There was another Siva temple just outside the capital city of Kotte in the fifteenth century.' In the next century, a Sinhalese king, Rajasinha I, became a convert to Saivism and built a Saiva temple, the Berendi-kovil, at his capital, Sitawaka.9

From the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, the arts of the Tamil country came into intimate contact with those of the Sinhalese kingdom, both at the elite and folk levels, resulting in an interesting cultural dialogue that helped to shape the late medieval arts of the Sinhalese. This dialogue relates especially to dance, music and drama. Ediriweera Sarachchandra has shown how two of the traditional forms of Sinhalese music, Vannam and Viraha, and two of the major genre of Sinhalese folk drama, Nadagama and Kann, arose as a result of contact with Tamil music and folk theatre.'° In a kingdom where Buddhism influenced the life of the people, 'songand dance could not form a part of Buddhist worship in the way in which these arts formed part of, for example, Hindu worship'.'' But non-Buddhist court rituals and village folk rituals allowed room for the arts of song, dance and drama to be fostered. Tamil artistes were able to provide the inspiration for these arts well into the early modern period.

The classical dance form fostered in the royal courts and temples of the Tamil country, better known by its Sanskrit name Bharat(' Natya, had already arrived in Sri Lanka in the eleventh century.' Possibly it was performed in the Sinhalese courts at Polonnaruva in the twelfth century. King Nissanka Malla watched dance performances at Saiva institutions. From the thirteenth century, it was clearly an art appreciated by the elite. 'Evidence from sculpture and painting', as Sarachchandra argues, 'strengthens the view that Bharata Natyam constituted the entertainment of royalty and the lay elite'.

As in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, architecture continued to be an art where influence of Tamil artisans made an impact on secular as well as religious buildings in the new capitals. The archaeological remains in these sites bear witness to this. At Yapahuva, one of the capitals in the thirteenth century, the remains of what is assumed to be the royal palace show features that, in the words of Paranavitana, 'differ from corresponding features in Sinhalese buildings of earlier periods, and are clearly derived from contemporary Dravidian schools in South This structure demonstrates the continuing presence of Tamil architects in the Sinhalese kingdom and the ways in which late medieval Sinhalese architecture received new influences.

In the fourteenth century, artisans versed in the south Indian Vijayanagara style of architecture built two impressive Buddhist structures which still stand at Gadaladeniya and Sinduruvana, in the central highlands. Described by Paranavitana as the 'most outstanding architectural monuments of the period' (thirteenth to the fifteenth century), they were created by south Indian architects whose names are preserved in Sinhala inscriptions at the two sites. The chief architect of the Gadaladeniya temple was Gannesvara Äcarya while the architect of the Lankatilaka temple at Sinduruvana was Sthapati Rayar. The mingling of Tamil and Sinhalese architectural features continued over the ensuing centuries with the Nayakkar style being adopted for various elements of the structures erected under the Kotte and Kandyan rulers. In the eighteenth century, Devendra Mulacarya was one of the architects who introduced some of these elements into a few of the Kandyan structures.

Architecture and sculpture are inseparable in traditional art. If one looks for sculptures in the style cultivated by Tamil artisans in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, one will find them in the architectural monuments. At Yapahuva, for instance, are to be seen some fine examples of relief sculptures of dancers and musicians revealing south Indian influence. In the later Kandyan buildings, too, stone doorways have relief sculptures of dancers and musicians as well as the figure of Gajalaksmi.

The status of the Tamil language in the Sinhalese kingdom in the pre-colonial period would be an eye-opener to many. Where necessary, Sinhalese kings or other authorities used the Tamil language for their epigraphic records. In the fourteenth century, a record inscribed in Sinhala on the walls of the Lankatilaka Temple was provided with a full Tamil translation on the same walls, as if setting an example to future rulers of the country. This Tamil inscription, incidentally, is the longest Tamil epigraph in the island. What is even more interesting is the teaching of the Tamil language in the Buddhist pirivenas (religious schools). Some of the products of these institutions who became leading scholar monks were well-versed in Tamil. Perhaps the most reputed among them was Totagamuve Sri Rahula who quoted from Tamil writings in his commentaries." Another Sinhalese monk, as Leslie Gunawardana points out, 'spoke proudly of his ability to preach in both Sinhala and Tamil'.

One Sinhalese poet, who obviously felt very proud of his knowledge of Tamil (and other languages), even went to the extent of sneering at those who were not fortunate like him to acquire such language skills. In such an atmosphere, it would appear that Sinhalese monarchs extended their patronage to Tamil poets, too, just as they did to Sinhalese poets. Parakramabahu IV (1302-l326) was the patron of the Tamil poet, Pocaracar, who composed his work. Caracotimalai, at the behest of the king and presented it to the king's court' Gunawardana draws attention to a line in the Sinhala poem. Kokila Sandesaya, according to which 'poems composed in Sinhala.

Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit were recited at the court of Parakramabahu VI. As is widely known, Tamil was used in the court of the last kings of Kandy (early in the nineteenth century). When the British finally conquered the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815, the treaty they entered into with the Sinhalese chiefs shows the signatures of sonic of them in Tamil. Even before this, as Gunawardana has stated, 'It is particularly interesting to note that some leading Sinhala officials in the Kandyan kingdom used the Grantha and the Tamil scripts in their signatures'. 223

It was not all one way in the area of language and literature. There were also Tamils who showed their skills in the Sinhala language. The Tamil Buddhist monks who came to reside in the monasteries of the Sinhalese kingdom in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were probably versed in Sinhala as much as they were in Pali, although their literary output was in the latter language. In the fifteenth century, we hear of a Tamil Buddhist poet named Nallurutunu-mini who wrote the Sinhalese work Namavaliya (usually called the Purana-namavaliya He is generally identified as Nallurutunayan, the son-in-law of King Parakramabahu VI.24

It was not only learned monks, skilled artisans and accomplished artistes who were moving into the Sinhalese kingdom from south India. Ordinary people came in notable numbers to provide various services or to fulfil diverse needs or to escape from social and economic pressures in their villages. A study of Sinhalese folk literature, as done by the literary scholar Hevawasam and the anthropologist Obeyesekere, shows the extent to which there was interaction between Sinhalese villagers and south Indian folk ritual specialists. Using 'indirect historical and sociological data'. Obeyesekere has 'made a strong case for Buddhist migrations from South India'. To this renowned anthropologist, the 'cultural data in Sri Lanka leaves no doubt that migrations occurred'. Using the evidence of folk literature and rituals extensively, he has argued that there were notable migrations of mendicants, merchants and folk specialists from south India to the Sinhalese kingdom.

There were also other ordinary people who migrated to perform economic functions. It is well known that the origin of some of the major castes in the Sinhalese society is to be traced to such migrations from south India. In the fourteenth century, when the lucrative trade in cinnamon began to expand, the Sinhalese kings encouraged members of the Tamil CaIiyar (weavers) caste to migrate. In time, this community became the caste of cinnamon-peelers and was absorbed into the Sinhalese population as a service caste with the name of Salagama. As Gunawardana has stated. `there were several waves of immigration which brought not only linguistic groups like Demala, Malala, Kannada and Doluvara (Tulu) from south India but also the Javakas from south-east Asia', and these 'groups of immigrants who originally spoke different languages came to be absorbed into the two main linguistic groups in the island'.

The result of all this interaction was a mingling of peoples that led some to caution those who talked about 'racial' purity or exclusivity or superiority in modern times. Prof. K.W. Goonewardene, while endorsing the view that " `Sinhala' had become an umbrella-like term giving shelter under to persons of diverse linguistic origins", quotes a cautionary statement by W.A. dc Silva, made early in the twentieth century. Analysing the evidence of the class of Sinhala writings called vittipot, de Silva pointed out that one vittipota states that from very early times the island was colonised by people from all parts of India who mixed freely to form one nation. Concluding his analysis, de Silva added: 'Therefore those inhabiting this Sinhala (country) should not say that they belong to some one particular family or race.'

The story of ethnic interaction becomes even more interesting after the fall of Polonnaruva because of the emergence of a third major group, namely the Muslims. Their origins go back to the West Asian as well as Indian Muslim trade settlements at the ports and market-towns of the island. These Muslim traders, it must not he forgotten, married local women and, therefore, their descendants share the ancient ancestry of the Sinhalese and Tamils. Since the Malay soldiers and the Portuguese who came later did not bring their womenfolk with them but married locally, the Malay and Burgher communities, too, share the ancestry of the others.

Anyone turning such a fascinating story of ethnic interaction in a hospitable island with an exceptionally long record of human habitation into a woeful tale of communal conflict and confrontation is surely misinterpreting history for whatever purposes it may be. In this enthralling story, the myth of the monocultural, monolingual people who migrated from some part of north India to settle in the island of Lanka, where only demons lived, confronts the historical reality of prehistoric communities who received new cultural and linguistic influences from the subcontinent that set in motion the evolution of the people of modern Sri Lanka. Out of the complex interplay of cultures, languages and religions, there emerged the modern ethnic groups.

Book Review by Parasakthy Sundharalingam:

"What I have stated is what was already there, what some respected scholars have said, what many have forgotten, what some have chosen to ignore." Dr. K. Indrapala

The latter part of the 20th century saw how modern archeological techniques and methods have changed and are changing the course of History. As more and more archeological evidences are unearthed, the story of man continues to be reconstructed.

After many years of dedicated research, Prof. Indrapala reviews many of his earlier findings in the light of new discoveries in archeology, epigraphy and numismatics in Sri Lanka and South India , in his book – The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, the Tamils in Sri Lanka C 300 BCE to 1200 CE. He says:

In times of human conflict, whether communal, national or international, History together with its sister discipline of Archaeology is always among the first causalities.

The importance of this statement is felt, when he quotes the latest report (February, 2005) of an archeological find, an urn, with writing in a very rudimentary Tamil – Brahmi Script – belonging to 500 BC, unearthed at Adichchanallur in the Thirunelvely District in South India. (A report that reached him after his work had been handed over to the publishers). “As long as excavation work remains undone, much that is relevant to our study, will be wanting”, were his words in his thesis published forty years ago in 1965. He continues to re-iterate this in this book, “The thesis was completed in the early 60s. Needless to say that dissertation is now completely out of date”.

Dr. Indrapala’s dedicated research during these forty odd years throws light on many issues of the country’s past history, some hitherto misconstrued – to quote his words:

This book is concerned with the Tamils who lived in Sri Lanka in the early centuries of its history and with the evolution of an ethnic community speaking the Tamil language in the Northern, North Western and Eastern regions of the island, whose descendents in modern times perceive themselves as an ethnic identity that is different from the Tamils of South India, as well as other groups in Sri Lanka.

He continues,

… Historians have tended to base their writings on the assumption that the people of the Island at the dawn of history were Sinhalese and that at a later time; the Tamils and other communities came to share the country. Sri Lankan historiography of the 19th and the early 20th century is responsible for this over simplification of the ancient history of Sri Lanka .

Further the historian in him says:

My aim here is to explore the past in order to understand how the Tamils of Sri Lanka (as well as the Sinhalese) came to be what they are. Their political claims that led to the current conflict are to be judged in terms of accepted universal Human Rights and not in terms of their past in the Island. The deeper one delves into Sri Lankan history, the more will one find how much the Tamils and Sinhalese have shared history and culture and common descent. .... .... ....

... ... ... This book is written for the purpose of drawing attention to some of the important aspects of Sri Lanka ’s past. It is written for the Sri Lankan audience, and for this reason detailed notes and quotations have been included, as articles in International Journals as well as foreign publications are not easily accessible to the average reader. …

He rejects the colonial historical writings that identified the Sinhalese with the Aryans and the Tamils with the Dravidians, and thereby nullifies the ‘purity’ of races.

It is fascinating how the eight chapters in the book are titled – from ancient times to 1200 AD - showing the birth, growth, and development of the two ethnic groups.

1. The Common Gene Pool
2. Conception and Birth
3. Imaginary Ancestors
4. Two Little Siblings
5. Growing up
6. Emerging Personalities
7. Reaching Adulthood
8. The Joint Achievers

According to the above chapters, the Tamils and Sinhalese have descended from common ancestors and through a process of language replacement (a theory popularized by archeologist Renfrew) the ‘North Indian Prakrit dialects spread among the vast majority of the people paving the way for the evolution of the Sinhala language, while Tamil became the language of the North, North West, and East of the Island leading to the emergence of Sri Lankan Tamil.’ Both could not have happened simultaneously - Tamil is an ancient language with a rich literature by the time the North Indian Prakrit dialects spread in the country. Therefore it is the older of the two – this should have been emphasised.

The last chapter aptly titled ‘Joint Achievers’ clears many a historical misconception. The author proves the harmonious relationship that existed between the Tamils and the Sinhalese during the Polannaruwa Period (11th and 12th century) when they jointly achieved great heights in architecture, sculpture, hydraulic engineering, trade, literature, and the fine arts. According to him, “The reign of Vijayabahu ushered in a period of remarkable partnership between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. And there is no room for interpreting the war against the Colas as a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict."

It is interesting to read about the very close relations that had existed between Tamil Buddhism and Sinhalese Buddhism from very early times and the benevolent religious policy of the Cola Emperors for the Tamil contribution of Buddhism in the Island . There is evidence to show that Tamil was taught at all the Pirivinas and Buddhist monks were very well versed in both Tamil and Sinhala. The author continues to explain how at a much later period when Saivaism became the religion of the Tamils and Buddhism of the Sinhalese, religion, in addition to language, became a marker of ethnic identity.

While tracing the growth of the two ethnic groups he concludes,

A complete bifurcation of the Island into Tamil speaking and Sinhala speaking areas would have taken place only after 1200, especially with the fall of Polannaruwa and the establishment of a new centre of Sinhalese power in the South West. …

In this book, the narration of the historical development leading to the emergence of two separate ethnic identities ends in 1200. But the story does not end there – the dawn of the 13th century marks the beginning of the political separation of the two groups

‘The manner in which history is being “used” in fighting contemporary issues is a matter for concern’, is this historian’s regret.

He quotes historian Hobsbawn,

It is very important for historians to remember their responsibility, which is above all to stand aside from the passions of identity politics even if we feel them also – after all we are human beings too. …

It would be appropriate to quote the author’s words at the concluding passage of the book.

"Anyone turning such a fascinating story of ethnic interaction in a hospitable Island with an exceptionally long record of human habitation into a woeful tale of communal conflict and confrontation is surely misinterpreting history for whatever purposes it be."

Prof. Indrapala’s book has come at a critical period in the history of Sri Lanka , when the two ethnic groups are at the ‘parting of ways’. Is it a harbinger of peace or has it arrived rather late?

Book Review by A. R. Venkatachalapathy in the Hindu, 27 February 2007

A composite vision of history

Reading this important book by the well-known historian and archaeologist K. Indrapala, which charts a history of Sri Lanka beyond the competing call of ethnic nationalism and myth making reminded me of a beautiful poem by the noted Sri Lankan Tamil poet Cheran. Written as `A Letter to a Sinhala Girl Friend' after a few months of working together at the archaeological excavation site at Mantai, the poem makes a poignant, if romantic, plea for understanding between the two warring ethnic communities.

Ernest Renan once remarked that "Forgetting, even getting history wrong, is an essential factor in the formation of a nation." Reading this book one is tempted to believe that it has nowhere been more so than in war-torn Sri Lanka.

Traditional histories have portrayed the two ethnic communities, Tamil and Sinhalese, forever at war. Indrapala locates the origins of such invidious history writing to colonial historiography, which was based mostly on narrow interpretations of Sinhala chronicles that fed the theory of `Aryan' invasion.

He strongly believes that the two communities have `a shared history and culture' and refuses to see the historical evolution of Sri Lanka in ethnic terms. Instead he relates it to wider historical changes and interaction with South India; this historical region he calls the SISL (South India-Sri Lanka region). By demonstrating the absolute lack of evidence of any large-scale migration from the Indian mainland, he argues that both the Tamil and Sinhala communities emerged from indigenous Mesolithic peoples of pre-historic times. He then argues for language replacement, that is language change occurring without any corresponding population change, as the cause for the emergence of Tamil and Prakrit speaking peoples in the proto-historic period. Political change, and religious, economic and technological interaction between south India and Sri Lanka fuelled cultural change leading ultimately to the rise of ethnic identity.

Based on a reading of Sinhala chronicles, which flies in the face of popular conceptions about them underpinning ethnic exclusivity, he shows the interpenetration of politics in south India and Sri Lanka. Both Tamil and Sinhala kings sought help from across the strait. Tamil soldiers fought in the armies of Sinhala kings who also hired Tamil bodyguards. There were even sections of the army organised under Tamil officers. Pallava and Pandya kings sided with one group or the other. Some Tamil kings win the adulation of the chronicles for their just rule while a Sinhala king banishes Sinhala Buddhist monks and replaces them with pious Tamil Buddhist monks in an act of purification.

This `harmonious' situation led to significant achievements, for instance, in architecture. Pallava artisans introduced the Tamil or Dravidian style of architecture to Sri Lanka which is manifest in the Mahayana Buddhist structures. Tamil traders also played a big part in this interaction. Quoting Joesph Needham, the outstanding historian of science and technology, he points out to the spectacular feats of hydraulic engineering where "the fusion of the Egyptian and Babylonian patterns achieved the most complete and subtlest form" were to be found in Sri Lanka and not in the Indian mainland.

Thus, in the early historic and medieval periods, there was a great amount of cultural diversity and the coexistence of the two yet-to-be fully formed ethnic communities. But what played a decisive role in the evolution of a Tamil ethnic community was the rise of Saivism from about the eighth century and the distinctiveness that the Tamil language gave to the people in the north and northwest of the island. The final seal was put by the century of Chola influence ending in 1070 A.D. On the other side, gradually the Tamil-speaking people in the central and southern parts were assimilated into the Sinhalese.

This is the burden of Indrapala's story. He argues his case through a rich summary of existing and new research in the fields of archaeology, epigraphy and historical linguistics. Apart from his own research he draws substantially from the work of R.A.L. H. Gunawardana and Sudarshan Seneviratne. Even though his writing style is loud at times, he succeeds largely in conveying his argument clearly even if at the cost of some nuance.

One can only speculate on the course of Sri Lanka's recent politics if such a non-sectarian and composite vision of history had been accepted by the post-colonial Sri Lankan state and had been incorporated in school textbooks and official history. A little knowledge is dangerous. And a little historical knowledge is even more so. Historians are at best conscience-keepers and alas, can scarcely undo the injustice done "to the innocents who lost their lives as a direct consequence of misinterpretations of history" to whom this book is dedicated.


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