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 > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia >  Tamils and the Meaning of History

International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996

Tamils and The Meaning Of History

Dr Hellmann-Rajanayagam

German-Malaysian Institute in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Doctoral thesis on Cultural Nationalism in Tamil Nadu, India, Sometime Visiting Fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies, Singapore and at St Anthony's College, Oxford, Sometime Associate Professor in Asian History at the University of Kiel, Germany

* Preliminary versions of this article were read in Colombo and Hongkong. I thank all my colleagues who made helpful comments and suggestions, especially Sudipta Kaviraj and Dietmar Rothermund who read drafts of the paper. The research was financed in part by the German Research Council and the Stifterverband f�r die Deutsche Wissenschaft, both of whom I also want to thank in this place.


At the moment, there seems to be a lull in the Sri Lankan crisis with the army apparently in control in Jaffna and the LTTE lying low. Nobody, however, should deceive themselves that the problem is solved or that the army is finally in command and the LTTE beaten. More has to happen to effect a solution in Sri Lanka than just military actions. Still, from the outside, nothing much can be done but wait and see. In the final event, the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka have to find a solution among themselves, not one that is imposed from outside.

What we can do, however, is make suggestions and give advice, maybe in the manner of Bismarck's famous `honest broker'. But what is the place of the historian in this scenario? How can he give advice? Well, maybe not. That is not the task of historians. Their task is to elucidate the origins of events, to say why and how things happened to enable society to take actions on the basis of this. If, however, we try to do that, several questions arise at once, first, what is history, and second, what is the meaning of it for different societies. This is what I want to explore in this paper: what does history mean for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, and how does this perception influence the conflict and the shape it takes? I intend to demonstrate in this article that

1) the Tamil perception of history is different from that of the West even if the definition of history itself is borrowed from there,

2) that the political use of history determines its perception and limits its functions, and

3) that wider functions which we assign to history are, for the Tamils, located elsewhere (we will see where later in the discussion).

Before describing the Tamil perception of history, however, it will be useful to consider, in some preliminary remarks, some fundamental points about history and to state somewhat boldly some assumptions about the `Tamil view of history' which will be substantiated in the latter part of the article.

History: a technical term

History is the relation of the past to the present. The remark made by the historian E.H. Carr[1] in the 60s might seem a truism nowadays, but that does not make it less true or less crucial to the craft. In the meantime, the concept has been polished, extended and modified, but its basic significance has lost nothing of its power: history is the link between past, present and, by extension, future. What we see much more clearly now is the nature of this relationship: from the past that exerts its influence on the present, we have now come to the present that influences and shapes the past as well: historical perception extends the present and its preoccupations into the past and thus sees the past with the eyes of the present.

The problem to address then is not so much what is history, but how is history used, to say it with a word by Habermas,[2] the 'public use of history', to what purposes is it put, by whom, and with which objectives? The use of history is inseparable from historical research and historiography.

To discuss history nearly always also means to compare. This, however, immediately raises questions about these comparisons:[3] If one's own history is comparable to that of others, what does that imply? In the first instance it implies several different histories, that, moreover, belong to different and distinguishable groups. On the other hand it means that they show certain common features as well, so that one is able to evaluate them against a given scale and see how they perform. But what is this given scale against which history can be compared: one of values, of achievement, of civilisation, of antiquity?

The second point then is, in what ways is this (my?) history different from others, in what way does it exclusively belong to me (or to us), in what way can it enhance my perception of identity, of being myself, of having a place in the world. And how does one judge the differences? Are they simply neutral in the sense of 'it takes all kinds to make a world'? Do they show up one's own sordid traits the more starkly? Or do they tend to enhance the sense of one's own worth: how much better are we than others?

This is the all-important question: what is the yardstick for measuring the differences and evaluating them? How and why do we compare? What makes my history so similar to another history that I consider it the same, but sets if off from a third one? Who decides about these differences, who draws the borders? From what common base do we proceed to discover differences, or is it all 'relative'? Is there a 'common base' at all, or are we all 'incomparable'?

And there also lies the crux of this term 'the use of history': use of history for precisely what purpose and what function? And above all: who uses it?

If the basic purpose of the use of history is to give people a place in the world, something to hold on to, we come immediately up against a contradiction, because in some cases, history does not seem to be called upon to do this. Identity - and that means place in the world - are often established by religion and myth. What use and meaning can history have in this context, since it is obviously answering a felt need?

History can only establish something above that, which is difficult to conceptualise, or something more basic: a right to be, a right to exist at all. Seen in this context, i.e. if we assume that in certain cases identity precedes history, and if history establishes the legitimation of existence, then identity, the consciousness of self, looks inward, towards the in-group. Only after this step historical consciousness can emerge to establish boundaries, to perceive differences and to stake claims over disputed terrain. History serves to forge added cohesion. This is a point of view not widely accepted. But remembering one's past need not necessarily mean antagonism towards others. What is, however, true, is that historical consciousness and the conscious use of history are two concepts going beyond mere identity affirmation.

From 'having a place in the world' and comparisons with other(s') histories we come to another vital point: whose history is it anyway: Who decides which history is the definitive one? Why is this acceted or rejected? How can the diverging histories of different social and political groups be the same or be merged into one history, distinguishable from other histories? And which one, in the case of divergence, is the definitive one? Is there a definitive one?

The so-called German Historians' Debate af few years ago is an extreme example of the eternal question: to whom does history belong, who can legitimately claim it and who is entitled to write the definitive history? There seems to be an even more fundamental problem in the Tamil case, namely to prove the right to be there at all. The Tamils are a numerically large people with a distinctive culture, literature, language, philosophy and a consciousness of belonging together, who were, however, seldom or never, unified as one 'nation' in one state or under one government.

The question is: 'what have they made of this'? One striking factor is that historically perceived secondary virtues like industriousness, diligence, economic skill etc. are cited as justifications to claim or retain advantages and privileges: a stand taken by a people on the defensive, and history is used as the last line of defence.[4]

We will come back to these questions when discussing Tamil and Sinhalese history and the perceptions to whom Ceylonese history belong. The possession of this history is fiercely contested by both groups. At the moment we will content ourselves with stating that people claim to have the definitive view of history and thus possess history. All other views are considered wrong or distorted. This is fairly uncomplicated as long as your history is sufficiently different from mine to not cover the same areas. But what if your and my history is acted out on the same terrain? When one and the same history is claimed by several groups with different interpretations?

History: a Problem of Perception

These are the questions thrown into bold relief by Tamil history in Sri Lanka and the Tamils' perception of it. Their emphasis on history, historical precedence, the proof or judgment of history, in short, their perception and use of history, go to prove not who or what or how they are or how they came to be there (they know that), but to prove that they have a right to be there, a right to be. If we start off with this crucial assumption, a lot of things fall into place, and we can begin to study Tamil historiography in Jaffna from quite a new angle: The Tamils are trying to recover their history, thus assuming that somebody has taken it away from them, and this somebody are the Sinhalese who in turn try to protect their history from onslaughts and usurpation by the Tamils. Who possesses the history, possesses the country, possesses the right to rule, the right to exist.

And here we confront the problem mentioned above: whose history is being recovered? To whom does the history of Ceylon belong? Now we see for the first time clearly the differences between the Tamil and the Sinhalese perception of history: Tamil history becomes more and more inclusive, Sinhalese history is exclusive: the Tamils include all Ceylonese history in their history which can assume two ways: either the whole Ceylonese history is legitimate history as that of the two peoples living in the island, or all Ceylonese history is subsumed under the bracket 'Tamil history'.

For the Sinhalese, on the contrary, only Sinhalese history can be Ceylonese history, everything else is an intrusion and an assault. Among the Tamils the inclusion works on the internal as well as on the external level: The external one can be illustrated with Elara (see below), the internal one with the filtering down of the term Tamil from only applicable to Vellalars to all castes. The filtering down of Tamil history creates solidarity among Tamils against an outgroup who has no Tamil history at all, but it is always a precarious unity: Indian Tamils and Tamils in India are excluded, geography and politics play their part. On the other hand, when history filters down, changes occur, history does not trickle down in a pure form, it gets mixed with the history from below, and this creates new, and often violent, contradictory, perceptions.

Having got so far, we can now concentrate on the way history is perceived, written and used among the Tamils. Of course, the Tamils are not unique in using history for political ends, on the contrary, peoples in the 19th century who strove to become nations have had similar problems and used history to prove who and what they were and where they came from and that they therefore had a right to nationhood. But that is exactly the point: other peoples proved who and what they were, but I doubt whether they set out mainly to justify their very existence: they established existence in history, but not through history. The small emerging nations in the 19th century said 'we are a great people, so we have a right to exist as a nation or at least to be recognised as a nationality', whereas the Tamils say: we are a great people, we have a right to exist.

Why History?

This raises three questions, namely,

1) why have the Tamils to justify their very existence,

2) why by the means of history, and why

3) do they not prove who and what they are by means of history, as many other groups do?

The answer to the third question is because it is not necessary, and the answer to the second is because by other means it is not sufficient. Let us try to answer the first question then by illustration. The Tamils do not need history to prove who and what they are and how they came to be what they are, because they confirm their identity by other means, namely, religious, cultural, literary, social. They are secure as Tamils, and Tamil culture and religion do not need a state, they are timeless.

To be sure, history (here in the sense of tales of the past) plays a part in this, but we should not project our theoretical understanding of history or of historical consciousness onto a culture which perceives these things differently, and even if these phenomena are historical, they are not perceived as such by the Tamils. For them to be Tamils, a history of the Tamil state or the Tamil empire or even the Tamil people is incidental, they feel not less Tamils because this empire is spurious or because there never might have been a Tamil state.

This is not vital to their identity as it is to that of the Sinhalese, for whom the existence of a Buddhist state in time is a precondition of their own identity. But to prove that they have a right to exist, to be there at all and then to be there as Tamils, i.e. as Jaffna or Ceylon Tamils, they do indeed need history, in this case history decisively in the form of history of a state, and this is an essentially modern phenomenon (see below).

This approach seems to be contradicted by a recent study by Bruce Kapferer on myths of state, nationhood and violence,[5] where he propounds the very interesting theory that the mythical understanding of their past provides a very unique and very historical theory of history: he claims that the Hindu-Buddhist doctrine of karma is practically the essence of history and historical theory.[6] Persuasive as this sounds, I am not sure that it applies to the Tamils in SL, to say nothing of those in India. For the Sinhalese it might well be true, but for the Tamils the sources show that if the Tamils had a 'sense of history' it was only marginally connected with karma (which is an individual, not a group concept).[7]

On the other hand, Kapferer's linking of karma with history is, in my mind, a stroke of genius which puts paid to many fond theories of the Indians not 'having history': what could be more 'historical' than a theory of constant development and evolution, where the past always exerts a decisive influence on the shaping of the present and the future, where present and future are always predicated on events of the past? But perhaps we approach the problem from the wrong angle: maybe we should broaden our concept of history. In trying to do that, we come up with two observations:

1) history as we know it is obviously not vital for the identity of the Tamils, and

2) the concept of what constitutes the past and what constitutes one's own past is vital.

Yet this concept of what constitutes one's own past differs in the West and among the Tamils. The problem then is how to define the past: not only is it largely constructed by us, but the method of construction is quite different in the East and the West: for the West, it is the (hi)story of relations between man and man, for the Indians it is the (hi)story of the relations between god and man: therefore, for being Tamil, no history of state was needed, but to justify existence, it was. Yet before we rush off to term it all history, we have to consider what the Tamils themselves perceive as history, as establishing and proving their existence, and it looks as if only history in the western sense is seen as being able to do that.[8]

History in the West and in the East: same term, same difference?

Western theories of history and historiography have mainly looked at Europe and either denied that other people had a 'proper' history at all (or at best an inferior one),[9] or completely overlooked them. Seldom has it been acknowledged that history and historiography might have different meanings for other cultures: for some who are we, for some, why are we here, how did we come here and why, but for some also, what right have we to exist? And depending on which of these questions history is expected to answer, where are answers to the remaining questions to be found: in religion, culture, myth!?

Here we come up against a seeming contradiction: for the Tamils in the late 19th century, only the past and the history constructed and furnished by the West were accorded the status of 'history' and 'historical', whereas the past of the East was termed 'religious' and 'mythical': a definition, at the same time containing a statement of value, of history coined by the West, but accepted by the Tamils. Yet the function given to this history was quite different from that of the West.

If we accept this, we can then deduce the intentions with which 'Tamil histories' or 'Histories of Jaffna' have been written and the purposes they were being put to. These purposes, I would argue, are entirely and openly political and I would add, since all history is political, partisan. And if we look at the controversies that have raged in this context, we can see that the facts, let alone their interpretation, are in many case the bone of contention: was there a kingdom of Jaffna, were there groups like the Tamils and the Sinhalese at all, who ruled the island, who were the first settlers, even, was there a Vijaya and if so, who was he, and so on.

This leads on to secondary controversies over the relationship between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, over the events which brought about immigration, whether 'ethnic' antagonism concerned the population or only the rulers, and so on. I am certainly not setting out to decide these controversies one way or the other, but to point out the direction they took and what were the arguments used in the debate.[10] In a recent paper Sudipta Kaviraj mentioned that with the awakening of historical consciousness and 'national consciousness' in India or Bengal came the question not who are we, but what can we wreak on the world with our numbers' because we are Bengalis.[11]

While this certainly applies to the Sinhalese equally, it would apply less to the Tamils, at least in Sri Lanka: not 'what can we wreak on the world', but 'what can we get out of the world' (because we are Tamils).

Histories instead of stories

At this point, I want to mention a difference in the meaning of the term 'history' in European and Asian languages. Etymologically, neither the Sanskrit word itih�sa nor the Tamil word Varal��u or Carittiram convey the same meaning as history, which derives from the Greek to see. Both are nearer to the German term Geschichte[12] in the sense of what has happened: itihasa means 'that which has happened like that', and both Varal��u Carittiram mean 'that which came about, what happened, the course of events, also the origin of events'. So there is a strong connection with the question: where do we come from and how and why are we here, what is our claim to be here? It is a much less 'objective' and detached, one could perhaps say, a more personalised concept than the Greek 'that which has been seen'.

Once the Tamils must or want to prove their right to exist, their right to be there, then the purpose of history is to prove that 'we have always been here, we have more rights to be in this particular place than anybody else, and we can prove and justify this with 'historical facts'. It becomes clear then, that the historical problem and the problem of being there is not at all a general Tamil problem, but that of a particular group of Tamils: namely those in Sri Lanka.

For the Tamils in India, the problem is there, but it is muted, covered by the attempts not to prove their right to be there, but to fend off central attempts to subsume them under a dominant culture and language by claiming the superiority of the one over the other. It is then sufficient to establish the equal excellence of Tamil culture to counter this attack (and to establish the former's antiquity, which in reality means timelessness: Tamil has no beginning in time, it was always there.)

And while the Indian hierarchy subsumes, but does not destroy, for the Sri Lanka Tamils, being subsumed under a dominant culture always means immediately being robbed of their right to be there, of their right to exist, of being extinguished (probably physically) as persons as well as Tamils.[13] Therefore, religion, culture, way of life, are not sufficient to prove that right, and history has to come in. The origin and beginning in time of Tamil existence on the island has to be fixed and proved to be earlier than that of the Sinhalese. So the statement is not like in Tamilnadu: Tamil has always been there, but we Tamils have always been here.

Thus, history in our sense seems not to unite Tamils all over the world, because they are already united by religion, culture, language, and way of life, but to divide them into groups, as the Bengalis have been divided into Bangla Deshis and Bengalis. So are the Tamils divided into Indian Tamils and Jaffna Tamils. History as history of state, needed to justify existence in the Tamil case developed strong linkages with nationalism, but linkages that divide rather than unite: instead of affirming the Tamil identity, nationalism wrenches it apart, splits it up into all sorts of different Tamil nationalisms.

At this juncture, the question of territory, irrelevant for Tamil identity as such, becomes vital: the fatherland and the mothertongue. But this was not always so. It started when the Tamils acquired and accepted the mentioned western-style historical consciousness. This was a very specific 19th century phenomenon. It was a view of history propounded predominantly by German scholars that history was the history of great men and of nations, that civilisations had their birth, zenith and decline, and that there were 'people without history' which bore a stigma of 'primitivism' and 'savagery'. To have legitimacy, a western-style 'great' history was therefore deemed necessary.

Yet while saying this, we must remember that it were western scholars who fell to discovering the 'past' of Ceylon with a vigour enhanced by the fact that Ceylon had a unique collecton of historical sources which were considered 'historical' even in the western sense: the chronicles Mahavamsa and Culavamsa. In contrast to the Indians who were considered to think 'unhistorically', here was a people that did not do so, and the Mahavamsa was taken as literal truth. There were no obvious comparable sources existent on the Tamil side. Only much later was it acknowledged that as far as 'historical' accuracy was concerned, the formerly spurned Indian and Ceylonese inscriptions might provide firmer ground than the chronicles.

There was, to be sure, a chronicle on the Tamil side, a compilation from the beginning of the 18th century, ordered to be collected by a Dutch governor and based on some older chronicles and traditions, partly extant and partly lost. Yet it was never considered 'historical' in the way the Mahavamsa was. With hindsight, this seems rather strange: The Mahavamsa is as full of myth and superstition as the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai is thought to be.

And while the Mahavamsa is certainly datable to the 6th century, the Culavamsa, its successor, had constantly been modified and added on until British and even our times. The truth of the Mahavamsa could only be verified or otherwise when one began to check it against South Indian inscriptions. Yet the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai was not deemed magnificent enough to stand up beside the Sinhalese chronicles and the South Indian inscriptions, though the Tamils who considered it a most reliable source, could and later did prove that not all in it was pure fiction.

However that may be, history of Ceylon in the 19th century was history of all Ceylon as the history of the Sinhalese.[14] Again, this is a departure from the past: the colonial powers had before this always emphasised that Ceylon was inhabited by different 'races' with different traditions and rulers: Burnand, Bertolacci, Cleghorn, to name a few.[15] In the 19th century, however, the 'Aryan' Sinhalese were given pride of place and the Tamils termed 'immigrants' with a negative connotation of the term.[16]

History Recovered

This view of history did not go unopposed by the Tamils and their European sympathizers, mainly missionaries who in the 40s of the 19th century began to challenge the view of the history of Ceylon with the remark that the history of the Jaffna kingdom had been neglected and should be written.[17]

Most interestingly, it was a Christian Tamil paper that voiced this demand for the first time, and for a long time, Christians were in the forefront of Tamil historiography in Jaffna: Casie Chitty, UT, Henry Martin, John and Daniel Samuel, Christopher Brito, C. ��~appirak�car.

These Christians were most eager to discover the historical roots of the Tamils. There was a simple reason for this: they could not rely for their identity on the religious context of the Hindus, on sacred texts like the sthalapuranas, epics and the Saiva Siddhanta literature, therefore they were eager to find a non-religious Tamil tradition to justify themselves, their existence and their identity.

They found it in Tamil, Indian, and Ceylonese history and in the kingdom of Jaffna which had been a Hindu kingdom, but had also created literary and scientific works acceptable to all Tamils and had in its resistance to the Buddhist Sinhala kingdom of the South shown a spirit of autonomy most welcome to the Christians.

Remarkably, the famous Hindu reformer, �Arumuka N�valar, who had the fiercest controversies with the Christians over matters of religion and tried to reform the Saiva religion and ritual and purge the texts from unacceptable parts, never pronounced on Tamil or Jaffna history, nor did he doubt the representation of it by these authors. He left history to the Christians and missionaries, since for his identity it was irrelevant.[18]

In 19th century Jaffna society as a whole history was not needed because Tamils had other means of identification. They felt a common bond with Tamils in South India and religious texts sufficed to tell them who they were and where they came from: their past was their present.

Though in the light of the foregoing discussion we should better say, history in the western sense of the 19th century was not needed, since the functions fulfilled by history in the West were taken over by religious and mythical texts. However, once the Tamils discovered history in the western sense it was not religious texts proper (as among the Sinhalese) which were used as historical evidence, but quite different, secular, epical texts, like the Ku�al, Puran�~��u, Cilappatik�ram. Religious texts, like the Sthalapuranams or the M�nikkav�cakam, if they were thought to contain historical information, were used occasionally, but their primary function was not historical.[19]

Today in popular Tamil attitude the religious texts are often considered 'historically true' and much religious matter still finds its way unquestioned into historical tracts. But still there is a thin, but visible line between what is considered a historical text and a religious text. The difference between the two conceptions of history could simply be that in the West religion has become subsumed in history and in South India, history is subsumed in religion.

While this might well be the case, we are still plagued by the contradiction shown above: if we broaden our concept of history as described earlier, we would have to include in Tamil history a number of texts not hitherto considered as such by the Tamils themselves, as seen in the example of �Arumuka N�valar. Historical texts were not deemed necessary for Tamil identity: history was not necessary, since it served other purposes. To establish identity, stories of the past were sufficient . Distinctions start to get blurred in the case of the talapuranams which relate the (hi)story of certain temples, their gods and founders in time and space, and always in Sri Lanka itself.

These therefore often carry other, historical information. This is especially true for Trincomalee where the available historical information is tied up in the K�~[[perthousand]]car Kalve++u, the story of the K�~[[perthousand]]car temple and the history has to be reconstructed from this.[20] This again proves the point: these talapuranams concern temples located in time and space, with a definite beginning. The god who causes the temple to be founded by his appearance has always been there, but chooses this particular spot to manifest himself.[21]

The fact, however, that the Tamils had secular stories of the past to draw upon made it easier for the Christians and later for all of them to fashion a history not tied to religion and therefore to Tamilnadu, but tied to Jaffna and Ceylon. The contradiction might be solved if we realize that we are caught in a circular argument: by our concept of history, the Tamils did not need it to establish their identity, which they found in texts termed unhistorical by the West:

These unhistorical texts fulfilled historical functions according to western understanding. But before we term these texts 'historical texts' we have to ask what function the Tamils assigned to a 'history' as made known to them by the West itself. And then we can solve the contradiction, since for them, 'history', a concept itself taken from the West, fulfilled a much narrower function than for the West. Therefore, while we still may discover historical information in supposedly 'unhistorical' texts, the Tamils themselves define a historical text much more rigorously because of the different purpose it serves for them.

The Necessity of History

If the necessity of history was first realized by the Christians, it was seen with virulence from the last third of the 19th century by the Hindu Tamils, too. Only a couple of years after �Arumuka N�valar's death and the first translation of the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai by Brito into English in 1879, a 'History of Jaffna' appeared by Ca+acivappi~~ai in 1884. Some years before that, John Samuel had written one in 1879, of which only the 9th edition of 1927 is available.[22] A. Muttutampippi~~ai followed with a History in 1912, reprinted several times, the last time in 1933, and a host of others.[23]

These histories, of Jaffna or of Lanka were written by scholars of different persuasions, but all with one aim in mind: to vindicate the existence of the kingdom of Jaffna. At the same time, some scholars already began to critically examine the available sources. An early example for this is C.Brito, the translater of the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai who in an annexe compared this with the other Tamil chronicles and included a discussion on the origin of the Sinhalese language which he derived from an original dialect Elu, according to him a Dravidian language.[24]

For a later periiod, two names stand out: Fr. S. Gnanaprakasar and C. Rasanayagam (R�can�yakam). Both wrote what we would call scholarly historical works on Jaffna and immediately entered a fierce controversy with each other over the interpretation of the sources and the evidence. Apart from his monumental English work 'Ancient Jaffna', Rasanayagam wrote two volumes in Tamil on the history of Jaffna, from the beginning till the Dutch, and during British times.[25]

But why was it suddenly important for the Tamils to prove their right to be in Ceylon, their right to exist there as Tamils, to prove that the kingdom of Jaffna was not a myth, but a 'historical fact'? Several factors have been made responsible for this, but we would probably come nearest to a solution if we examine these 'histories of Jaffna' as sources in themselves to see what they tell us not about the ancient history of Jaffna but about perceptions of history and historiography of the times.[26]

In this case, I want to limit myself to the historiography of the 50 years between roughly 1880 and 1930, give and take a few years each side, since it seems to me that this was the time Tamil ethnic consciousness was shaped and the need for history was becoming virulent. Several questions can, in the light of the foregoing discussion, be addressed to this material to prove or disprove the points on the perception of history made earlier:

1) what were the conceptions and perceptions of history,

2) how was historical evidence evaluated and used,

3) how does the approach to history and historiography change over time?

History: its content

Immediately we notice a remarkable fact: in all the so-called chronicles, purportedly outlining the history of Jaffna over several centuries, we find hardly any dates at all, be they according to the Hindu or the Christian calender.[27] Only the 'histories' proper that began at the end of the 19th century, attempt to establish a chronology and thereby existence in time, i.e. legitimate existence. [28][29]

I assume the Yaalppaana Vaipava Maalai as roughly known in this gathering and just want to mention that it takes the history of Jaffna until the conquest by the Portuguese. It has remained the basis for practically all further histories of Jaffna and is still a valuable source for studies of the kingdom of Jaffna.[30] Obviously the compiler must have known the Sinhalese chronicles since he mingles features of Sinhalese history with traits of genuine Jaffna or Tamil tradition.

History: a source of information for somebody

Sataciva's `History of Jaffna' is practically a paraphrase of the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai with a few references to additional sources, the Kailaya Malai, Vaiya Padal, and the Pararasekara Ula. His account about the founding dynasty of Jaffna is slightly different in that it was the first king, Singaiyariyan Cola, who called the general Pandimalavan and his clan. He also stresses the policy of forced Sinhalese assimilation under Vijayabahu as well as the flourishing of literature and culture in Jaffna under Pararajasekara, on which the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai puts less emphasis.

He continues the narrative till British times, on the way mentioning the cruelty and mismanagement of the Dutch and the blessings of British rule in the shape of educational and professional possibilities. However, this does not make him blind to the drawbacks as he sees them: a continuous decline of Saivism and Tamil culture since Portuguese times which the perfidy of Christian missionaries in converting low castes with false promises does nothing to stop. He already mentions �A�umuka N�valar as the reviver of Tamil culture and religion.

Sataciva's work sets the tone for a host of other histories of Jaffna until the late 1910s. With few variations, depending on whether the writer takes the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai or other chronicles as his main source, the story remains the same. However, while Cataciva gives at best very shaky dates, now other writers, the first among them Muttutampippillai (see below), begin to discuss and work out a chronology. Till 1912, no history of Jaffna mentions Elara as a Tamil king who has any bearing on the history of Jaffna.. Only histories that purport to tell the history of Ceylon, mention him and other Tamil invaders and usurpers with their dates, like the History of Ceylon by an anonymous Brother of St. Joseph's.[31]

Cataciva does not examine the compatibility of the Tamil chronicles with the story as it emerges from the Mahavamsa nor indeed that of different episodes in the chronicles themselves, which clearly clash with each other temporally and from the point of probability. Nor are the apparent contradiction and animosity between Tamils of Jaffna and the East ever acknowledged and spelt out: it all goes into one amalgamation without any questions asked.[32] It should be stressed at this juncture that the sources from the East itself like the Konecar Kalvettu or the Mattakalappu Manmiyam, tell the story differently, and definitely relate the East to the suzerainity of Kandy, albeit under Tamil viceroys.

The first to try to disentangle these strands in a rudimentary academic manner in Tamil is Muttutampippillai in 1912. In his study as well, we have most remarkable variations and a detailed discussion of the sources.[33] The most interesting fact is that he for the first time mentions Elara as a Tamil and a Jaffna king and the one whom P�~a~ (Kaviviratnam) so charmed with his yal, that he was given Jaffna as fief. But more important is that he dates Elara and Ukkiraci[[integral]]ka~ and so the beginning of the Jaffna dynasty long before Vijaya ever came to Ceylon.[34]

Later authors deduce from this an original rule of Tamils in Jaffna, then a long Sinhalese interregnum until after the Cola invasion, Tamil kings ruled again.[35] Like Sataciva, Muttuttampi stresses the cultural achievements of the Jaffna kings and ends his work with a prayer to Murukan to reestablish the proper temple pucai. Moreover, he takes pains to emphasise the close political and cultural relations between South India and Eelam, mentioning that the latter (i.e. Jaffna and the East) was always in some form under the rule of the Cola, Cera, Pandya and Pallava kings, i.e. under Tamil rule. He lets the Jaffna dynasty proper begin with Kulakkottan in the 9th century.

He works information from the Mahavamsa and the discovery of the inscriptions into his account and mentions a Tamil marine made up of Mukkuvars and Timilar. What he has to say about 'clean' and 'unclean' castes is interesting: because both were separated spatially, there were no contagious diseases in Jaffna before 1816, when castes were allowed to mingle and live together![36] Racanayakam echoes this in the 30s, when he says that it was the 'unclean' plantation Tamils who on their way through Jaffna brought sickness and disease.[37] Tales of the oppression under the Dutch and digs at the Sinhalese neglect of temples are common to all stories, but Muttutampippillai manages to convey a quite vivid picture of social conditions under the different colonial powers: people who were forced to marry in secret because of wedding taxes, to discard their jewelry and fine clothes because of luxury taxes etc., who had to practice their religion in secret due to religious persecution, etc.[38]

Though he repeatedly refers to the treachery of the Vanniyars, the Vanni is nevertheless described as a refuge for Tamils from Jaffna from religious and other persecution and consequently as a region from which primary resistance against this oppression also originated.[39] Colonial rule and soft living contributed to today's decline, decadence and weakness of the Tamils. He calls for a return to the halcyon days of early settlement and living Saivite religion and praises �A�umuka N�valar for attempting this. He ends his work with an exhortation to learn the joys and sorrows of one's history, to be proud of and remember the past and dedicates it to Tami�tt�y, the Tamil mother.

Samuel John's history, written first in 1878, but only available in a reprint from 1929 with an addendum and preface by his son Daniel, is mainly remarkable for the latter. The history itself is rather short and follows the usual pattern with a few variations on the topic of the yal player and the legend of the Vediyarasan brothers, Tamil merchants who ruled Jaffna together at the time when merchants came from South India to buy jewels for Kannaki's anklet,[40] all this before Vijaya ever set foot on the island!

His son takes up the story then and discusses in detail and with frequent references to Racanayagam's Ancient Jaffna the possible origin of the Aryachakkravartis, whom his father had considered Cola but whom newer evidence had shown to be probably Pandyan. He resolves the problem by postulating two Jaffna kingdoms, one Cola, one Pandya Also, the Sinhalese rebellions and riots are given much room, with a reference to the Kandy king who refused to interfere, and the Sinhalese are termed the constant inner enemy until Sankili finally drove them out and "...made Jaffna safe for the Tamils."[41]

Moreover, Daniel tries to relate the history of Jaffna to the wider Ceylonese and South Indian context with a marked emphasis on the original Tamilness of much that passes for Sinhalese history. In contrast to his father, he mentions Elara as a Jaffna king.

History: a means to an end against somebody

Until the early 1920s the character of the 'histories remains the same: they are sources of information - many of them were written as school readers - to provide an audience largely ignorant about their own past with something to go on with and - to speak with Muttutampippillai - to give them pride in their past. It was now Hindu writers who took up the story, in contrast to the early and mid 19th century, when Christians like Simon Casie Chitty[42] or the UT wrote histories of Jaffna with a view to show its secular character.

As especially Muttuttampi shows, this trend was sought to be reversed when he stressed the close linkage between the kingdom of Jaffna, Tamil culture, and religion.[43] This was a topic that would lead to a heated academic controversy between Christian and Saivite historians in the 20s and 30s. That history has become a means to an end is clearest in the reprint of Samuel's history: while his account is still straightforward and factual, his son Daniel in 1929 brings in all sorts of secondary arguments and accusations against the perfidy of the Sinhalese. The frequent reprints of these histories shows their interest for the readership.

But the character of the histories now changes in more fundamental ways. For one thing, the impact of the cataloguing and deciphering of South Indian inscriptions by Hultzsch from the epigraphia India finally filtered through, and Tamil writers had to revise their textbooks in the light of these discoveries. These years constitute a watershed in that now the mythical details of the chronicles are no longer taken at face value as literal truth and historical fact.

An examination of these instances begins. In these volumes finally western historical scholarship has been taken on board. Sinhalese rule in the South was no longer implicitly assumed, but had to be related somehow to the history of Jaffna and begins to be perceived as having been hostile: Sinhalese tried to rob the Tamils of what was due to them: their land, their rule, their culture. In this light, the expulsions of the Sinhalese and Muslims, merely reported in the earlier histories, took on a new quality of betrayal and punishment.

The invasion of the Colas, glossed over in most earlier histories, had to be acknowledged and dealt with accordingly, likewise the invasion of Magha. Finally, from this time onwards, we see a much closer communication and feedback between scholars writing in English (mostly for the RAS and academic magazines and journals) and those writing in Tamil.

There is a mutual acknowledgment of work done in the other language, sometimes one person writes in both languages like Rasanayagam and interpretations are influenced by wider contexts and outlooks. And above all: via the English literature a feedback also came in from the Sinhalese side. However, beneficial as these should have been for academic debate, they served in the end to narrow the outlook: the history of the Sinhalese and the greatness of their civilization had to be granted and it became clear that the history and separation of the Tamil and Sinhalese were much less clear-cut and more complex than hitherto assumed.

On the Sinhalese side, the inherent contradictions in their perception of Tamils and Tamil history in Ceylon emerged with frightening clarity: On the one hand, they were seen as the vanguard of the Dravidian kingdoms of South India who had repeatedly invaded Ceylon, and thus as not belonging to the country and dangerous; on the other hand, when the Ceylon Tamils set out to prove that they were quite independent politically from the South Indian empires and had their own state in the shape of the kingdom of Jaffna, this was swiftly denied and rejected in the most strident terms: it constituted a demand by the Tamils to have the same right of existence in Ceylon as the Sinhalese, and such a claim would never do. The only group with an inherent and 'birthright' to Ceylon were the Sinhalese.

Accordingly, when, in the political climate of the 20s, the Indian connection became ambiguous, the Tamils began increasingly to feel threatened. History became their mainstay of legitimation. This led to adventurous and often quite exaggerated claims to Tamil antiquity and a refabricated and refashioned past: the date of the establishment of the Aryacakravartti dynasty and the beginning of Tamil settlement on the island were pushed progressively further back in time, until one could claim that the Tamils had had empires there centuries before Vijaya. However, the newly available information led to a sustained academic discussion among Tamil scholars about Jaffna history and about the methods of historical research.[44]

Much of the new more stringent methodology for research into Tamil history we owe to Rasanayagam: he widely examines a wealth of very disparate sources and evidence not only in Tamil, but across the board: the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai, inscriptions, the Mahavamsa, sources from the East which had hitherto been comparatively neglected: Konecar Kalvettu, Mattakalappu Manmiyam, Greek and Roman writers, Chinese seafarers.

These, however, are all researched and quoted towards one purpose: to prove the preponderance of Dravidians and Tamils in Ceylon from ancient times. It would be going beyond the scope of this paper to even summarize the voluminous study by Rasanayagam, but I give some of the more important points: while following the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai and dating the Aryacakravarttis somewhere in the 9th century starting with Ukkiraci[[integral]]ka~, he postulates not only Tamil settlements, but also Tamil, or better Dravidian, rule in Jaffna from time immemorial and bases the whole history of Ceylon on the assumed equation of the mythical Nagas with proto-Dravidians who had a splendid kingdom in Nagadipa; flood myths which are as current in Madurai as in South Ceylon are transposed to Jaffna, the Sinhalese are called a mixture of indigenous tribes, Aryans and Dravidians, the word Ilam derives from an ancient Dravidian dialect, Elu, and the word Ilam is far older than Sinhala, thus proving the antiquity of the Tamils,[45] the marital and political relations between the Pandyans of Madurai were in reality those between Sinhalese and Tamil kings in Jaffna, even under the Cola occupation the viceroys of Jaffna enjoyed a high degree of independence, all important cultural and commercial centres mentioned in the ancient literature were situated in the North, thus making this area the centre of the ancient world.[46]

The confusion in the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai over a Kandy that could not yet have existed is solved by postulating that Kandy was confused with the Tamil Cinkainakar and equally the problem of the lutist who sang at the court of the Kandy king: this was another, later lutist, not P�~a~, and he sang for Pararacacekaran, not a Kandy king. The confusion, so Rasanayagam, came about because later Tamil kings were indeed ruling in Kandy (Nayakkars).

This work pursues quite openly the aim to prove that Sinhalese and Tamils are in reality one, viz. Dravidians, and has therefore quite recently drawn a lot of flak from Tamil hard-liners (more than 60 years after its publication and after the author is long since dead and gone!).

The connections between Tamils and Sinhalese are in fact considered much closer than those between South India and Jaffna. Another point that drew the criticism of Tamil hard-liners was his assertion that between the 4th and 9th centuries, there actually was Sinhalese settlement and Sinhalese rule in Jaffna, and that many place names are of Sinhala origin.[47] Nallur, too, is a Sinhalese foundation of the rule of Sapumal in the 15th century.

But however questionable many of Rasanayagam's findings are, to him and to Gnanaprakasar who refuted many of his claims, has to go the credit to have put the history of Jaffna and of the SL Tamils on the map of modern academic research. Scholars like Pathmanathan and Indrapala still have to start with these two authors even if in the end questioning many of their results.

Racanayakam's Tamil version brings the tale up to British times and gives a vivid picture of Jaffna in the 19th century, the social, cultural, political and religious life: strong caste bias and anti-Indian resentment coupled with cautious praise for British rule.[48] It is during this time that the religious freedom that came with the British is lauded, and at the same time we hear of attempts to recover the physical sites of this religion: old temple lands given to Catholics and Muslims, rebuilding of the Nallur temple and Tiruketicuvaram, etc. It is astonishing how many of these efforts were successful.[49]

Nanappirakacar also attributes a very early origin to the Tamils in Ceylon.[50] For him both groups in Ceylon are thoroughly mixed of Aryans and Dravidians, and while in the North, Tamils and Sinhalese got mixed, in the South it was Sinhalese and indigenous tribes. In a work on the early culture and religion of the Tamils, he stresses against Veluppillai's criticism that he does not want to denigrate the Tamils or Saivism with some critical remarks, but to research Tamil history honestly.[51] He postulates a very early Sinhalese settlement in Jaffna, in fact before the Tamils, but he is also firmly convinced of the existence of the kingdom of Jaffna and its greatness.[52]

Veluppillai's history is characterized by harsh attacks on the facticity of the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai, Muttutampi's account and Nanappirakacar's history of Jaffna in the Catholic Guardian.[53] He has a very precise description of the events after Cankili was defeated by the Portuguese. At the same time he takes issue with Nanappirakacar who allegedly sees the Portuguese occupation in much too kindly a light. Though one should not go to the excesses of condemnation of Muttutampippillai, one cannot overlook Portuguese wickedness, he says.

As Nanappirakacar says, one has to see history 'objectively'.[54] He refuses, however, to see the Portuguese destruction of temples as founded on religious hatred: he agrees with Nanappirakacar that this invariably happens in wars as it happened among Buddhist and Hindu rulers, nevertheless, the people lived peacefully together.[55] He also supports Nanappirakacar in his contention that the famous story of a Dutch officer who tried to seduce the wife of a Tamil official, which led to all sorts of treachery, was not a Dutch at all, but a Sinhalese![56]

Veluppillai ends his account with a detailed account of British rule mentioning how much better this is than all that has gone before. In an annexe about place names he tries to trace back all place names in Jaffna to Tamil roots. He admits, however, that there was for sometime Sinhalese settlement there, otherwise the Buddhist remnants were inexplicable, since the Tamils were never Buddhists! Sinhalese was, in fact, a caste name for a Dravidian tribe which they had long before Vijaya came. The legend of the Yal is traced back to Ravana's Vina play.[57]

Veluppillai not only gives very detailed descriptions of the different clans who emigrated to Jaffna and where they settled, but also of the composition of castes at any one time in Jaffna and biographies of great Tamils from Dutch times to the present. On the whole, his account is very balanced, but pointed remarks against the Sinhalese as a people, not as a ruling dynasty, become more frequent.

Before we close the description of the historiographical literature over 50-100 years, it would be as well to stress that often the same people who wrote histories of Jaffna, also wrote general treatises about the 'culture and religion of the Tamils' (Gnanaprakasar) or about great Tamil poets, philosophers and writers not confined to Jaffna: the 'Tamil Plutarch' (Chitty).[58] These treatises deal with a 'Tamilakam' that stretched from the Dekkhan to Ceylon, comprising the lands of the Colas, Ceras, Pandyas.

The History of Jaffna and the Tamil Culture took place in quite different geographical realms! For this Tamilakam was a religious and cultural concept, not tied to an actual geographical area.[59] This again a proof for the theory discussed above, that history had rather more limited geographical and social purposes than religion and culture: the former established a right to be there, the latter confirmed and justified a social structure: a Vellalar-dominated land-based society where Vellalars were the lords of the ritual, who existed in India as well as in Jaffna.[60]

History needed geography, religion did so only under certain conditions. In Nanappirakacar study the 'real' Tamils are basically Vellalars and all other castes are not. The ideological dilemma created in a more liberal age is solved in the end by terming everybody a - sort of - Vellalar and thus a Tamil.[61] This indicates, on the other hand, a certain perception of what a 'Tamil' is or was: namely only a Vellalar, other castes were excluded from being Tamil! This has quite interesting implications for the question: who were the Tamils in the first place and it echos R.A.L.H. Gunewardene's contention in 'The people of the Lion' that in the beginning Sinhalese was not an ethnic category but a name for the ruling group, which only later was extended to whatever crawled beneath this elite.[62]

Conclusions: History - a political argument

What does this description of the development of historiography in Jaffna have to do with the armed struggle? In fact, more than we would assume. We asked what purpose did history and historiography fulfil, and what was their meaning for the people concerned? What was meant to be their meaning?

The studies discussed let us see that the purpose and meaning of history changed visibly in the 50 years under consideration. In 1884 Catacivappillai wrote a straightforward factual narrative of the kingdom of Jaffna, its relations with the Colas and the Sinhalese kings. Rebellions and riots were something that was regrettable but did happen from time to time without affecting the common people too much.

They concerned the king and the loyalty due or not due to him. By 1925-30 the history of Jaffna has become that of the dominance of the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna under a Tamil king over the rest of Ceylon as Rasanayagam would like to have it and the constant bad-tempered attempts by the Sinhalese and the Vanniyars to prevent this.

What brought about this change, and what was the purpose of it? The question is, however, put wrongly, or better, put with reference to the wrong time frame. Once Jaffna has become a topic in historiography, the other developments followed somewhat naturally, what we have to ask is, why did Jaffna become a topic in historiography apart from the rest of Ceylon and apart from South India? As I described above, this happened precisely towards the end of the 19th century.

Developments both on the Sinhalese and English sides had to do with this: the English or the Europeans had first 'discovered' India's and Ceylon's (the Sinhalese') great past in the pursuance of their own historical research.

And both the Sinhalese and the Tamils realised quickly that to possess a great and glorious - secular - past was something to be cherished, was something that enhanced one's prestige in the eyes of the foreign rulers, gained respect and status. But there was more to it.

To have a past, a history, also seemed to confer certain rights, the right to a territory, to a language, even to self-rule, gave one legitimacy because it defined one's place and one's standing in the world. To have a religion, a secure identity, to even have a language and a great literature suddenly was no longer enough. It could contribute to one's legitimacy, but could not confer this legitimacy in itself.

What was demanded was history, existence in time, not myth. This existence in time had to be firmly tied to Ceylon geographically and politically to counter the reproach of a derivative existence or of being an outpost of a powerhungry South Indian empire. But if religion and culture could confer a sense of identity, this necessary history could only justify one's existence.

This is a use and a meaning of history much more basic than that in Europe, the purposes of religion and history seem to have been exchanged: for us religion confers or should confer the right to be, the justification of existence, and history provides our identity. For the Tamils, it is exactly the other way round. History justified existence in time. Unlike Christianity, Saivism in Jaffna could not do that.

That is how theories of European nationalism took hold in Ceylon. The Tamils in general now found themselves in the situation the Christians had found themselves in 50 years ago and they fell to discover their history with a vengeance. But the histories written still were fairly straightforward affairs, little more than a rehash of the chronicles, at best narratives that took most of the information given as literal truth, meant, and this is important, for schools, to instruct the following generation in the country's past.[63]

A Sinhala historical consciousness that equated the mythical Demale enemies with the Tamils in the North seemed to squeeze out and deny the right of the Tamils to the country, therefore this right had to be affirmed the more strongly. However, the straightforward histories, still mixed with myth and religion, were no longer enough after the turn of the century when a more academic and paradoxically also more partisan history was demanded.

The new historiography took basically two forms: either the mythical and irreal content of history was simply dropped, or great efforts were undertaken to prove how real, natural and 'true' these mythical events were.[64] This applied to the strange (almost certainly interpolated) prophesy of the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai, to the exceptionally long life of the first Ca[[integral]]kili (over 100 years), the miraculous escapes of some priests and their temple idols from religious persecution and the subsequent discovery of the latter in wells. In more recent years this has been topped by attempts to separate fact from fiction in the Vijaya myth and other stories by Tamil writers.

The answer why partisan historiography suddenly became so important, has been given: every time one side 'scored', be it in terms of civilisation, language, ancient tradition and religion, durability of rule or, most important, length of stay on the soil of Lanka, the other immediately had to make good this fault.

A competition began for the most glorious history: a competition to emphasise differences which until now had been completely irrelevant. But it was more than a competition for history: it was a competition for political status and privilege, justified with precisely a history which could only prove itself and endure if it put another history in its place.

During this race, one became painfully aware of the more sordid and inimical episodes in the life of the two communities, and the hegemonic understanding of nationalism as an ideology where one nation can only survive if it affirms itself aggressively against others, ate deep into the flesh of both groups, so deep, that it became impossible to envisage another, less limiting kind of nationalism: The English message was found wanting and new concepts and explanations had to be poured into old images in the vernacular.

What emerged were concepts that might in name resemble the English ones, but whose content and message differed in vital aspects. Both Tamil and Sinhala were equipped with a vocabulary that could be drawn upon and used for the 'indigenous' national message. The concept of nationalism 'indigenised', but this meant that old myths of wars and enemies were also clothed in the 'national' dress. For the masses, the old enemies became new ones.

The episode of Elara, resp. Dutthagamani, related only in the Mahavamsa (with high regard for Elara) and not extant in Jaffna Tamil folklore, suddenly found its way into Tamil histories with a twist: to show the perfidy of the Sinhalese. Episodes of Tamil rule in Ceylon which had never been mentioned in the Y��pp�^a Vaipava M�lai or Tamil folklore because the Tamils in Ceylon did not identify with South Indian adventurers, became instances of Tamil glory.

In the 20s and 30s, historical and historiographical methodology had become refined enough to enable scholars to give a fairly coherent picture of the Tamil kingdom and the processes of Tamil and Sinhala settlement. But the refinement of these methods did not serve to view the whole history of Ceylon more dispassionately, but to score off each other more effectively. And so it has remained to this day. Academic controversies became political controversies.

But why was this 'potlatch' necessary in the first place? In a political climate where numbers and a 'sons of the soil' ideology counted to establish legitimacy, history became the only means to fuel and underpin political claims and demands: on the glorious history of the Tamils, demands for balanced representation and special privileges were founded and justified. In a climate where both groups felt insecure and threatened politically, history was used to ward off this threat and restore safety. Only history could protect the Tamils from Sinhalese encroachments.

In the end, History is practiced explicitly to further the greater glory of the Tamils resp. the Sinhalese. Only history as the property of one side could 'create national consciousness, define terms, and fill memory'.[65]

The contradiction: Tamilnadu and Jaffna

But the need for history did more. It disrupted not only the Tamils' Ceylonese identity, whatever that might have been, but it also severed their connections with India in a final way. And here we have another dilemma: till the late 19th century, the Tamils like the Sinhalese had been proud of their supposed Indian origin.

In fact, the myth of Tamil immigration was first propounded by the YVM, not by the Mahavamsa that always accepted that Tamils were somewhere lurking around on the island. Men of religion like �A�umuka N�valar et al. felt as much at home in South India as in Jaffna. But towards the end of the 19th century, a decisive change occurs. The cultural unity of South India and Tamil Ceylon remained, but it was superseded and made irrelevant by political divisions.

The 19th century consciousness that India and Jaffna belonged together as one vanished with the emergence of the kingdom of Jaffna.[66] Rebels against colonial rule, like �A�umuka N�valaars ancestors had shuttled back and forth between India and Jaffna, and when things became too hot in Jaffna under colonial rule, they would depart to India, preferably Chidambaram. But now, ancient Ceylon and ancient India contracted to ancient Jaffna.

How could this strong connection be disrupted so effectively, and at a time, at that, when research and myth brought to the forefront the fact of extensive Tamil immigration into Ceylon over centuries? But that was exactly the point: to justify one's existence in Ceylon, one's right to be there, suddenly it was no longer enough to have immigrated from India long ago, the exact point in time of this immigration was made prominent, and there the Tamils felt to be at a disadvantage to the Sinhalese: Tamil immigration had not only supposedly been later, but was still going on and was now equated with the immigration of low-caste, despised Tamil labour from South India.

With these, no self-respecting Jaffna Tamil wanted to have anything to do. Tamil immigration suddenly became a dirty word. Never mind that the Sinhalese were themselves immigrants, they were earlier, more civilized, and above all, Aryans from the North! Therefore, the connections with India had to be suppressed, to be denied and instead the indigenousness of the Tamils from the beginning, long before any Sinhalese set foot in the island, to be postulated.

The glory of the Cola conquest looked rather embarrassing when they were considered invaders and pirates not only by the Sinhalese, but even by the British. History, therefore, had to look for indigenous history in Jaffna, in the East, and in the Vanni, and it found what it was looking for. The whole extraordinariness of this process becomes clear when we consider, that for the Tamils in India, till today, Tamilakam is the land of the Colas, Ceras, Pandyas, and to a lesser extent, the Pallavas, three or four dynasties who continuously fought against each other for supremacy in South India.

But nobody, not even the most rabid Tamilnadu Tamil nationalist has ever undertaken to claim that one dynasty was more Tamil than the other, or that one had to be extolled at the expense of the others, or that only one really ruled the Tamilland, whereas the others were impostors, though some dynasties ruled at the same time and were often hostile to each other.

On the contrary, all three or all four are considered equally 'Tamil', equally glorious, and are treated with remarkable impartiality in Tamil historiography, the fact notwithstanding, that the Cera king ruled over what today is Kerala. Nor are there, on the other hand, noises of irredentism being heard to get Kerala 'heim ins Reich' because of its one time Tamil king. These noises, if they ever amounted to anything, died with the Nam Tamilar movement, the 'hurray Henrys' of the 50s.

The fact that the famous epic Cilappatikaram takes place in all three Tamil kingdoms, is mentioned with pride till this day. The Tamil cultural 'nation' rarely coincided with any one territorial state.[67] The Tamils did not bother, except for the Ceylon Tamils. For them, history became an extremely limiting exercise in that it circumscribed and constricted what Anderson has called the 'pilgrimage' of the civil servant.[68] For them to be apart from India politically and to claim their own state became a question of their political and social survival.

And that leads us to the final question, whether, if this was the case, the Tamils in Ceylon were not really somewhat unique, different from those in India, the close proximity notwithstanding, whether the undoubted fact of their political autonomy had not generated a degree of cultural, religious and linguistic independence as well, but an independence which has become, in the late 20th century, extremely limiting and downright dangerous.

There have been attempts to reverse this trend: Followers of Arumuka N�valar's religious tradition always saw India and Jaffna as one and unseparated and stressed the unity.[69] The dilemma of being torn between South India and Jaffna is most evident in the writings and ideology of the militants for whom India again became the vanishing point when things in Jaffna got too hot, in the good old tradition, but who now have changed their song again and consider themselves as primarily belonging to Sri Lanka. That is the dilemma of the Jaffna Tamils.

Thus, the close connections to Tamilnadu are more ephemeral than those to 'Tamilakam'.[70] Today we can clearly say that these cultural, religious and linguistic and, even more vital, social, independence and distinction exists and existed also in the early 20th century. The Tamils feel to be a people, not to say a nation, distinct as much from India as from Sinhalese Sri Lanka. And the militants have gone a step further in their use of history: it is now not only an instrument of justification, but a weapon in the militant struggle: ancient means and weapons, ancient violence and ancient ideologies are used to fight a modern enemy who is, however, seen as also ancient.

However, the fact that today the Tamils do feel as a nation shows the dynamism of processes that took place during the 19th century, conscious and unconscious policies and attitudes, that were innocuous in themselves, but ended up as two nations divided. Whether it is good or bad, it is too early to say, but once put in motion, the process could not be reversed. The Angel of History was pushed forward and destruction piled up before him.

And if a group of people do feel unique and entitled to certain privileges on account of belonging to this group, all the talk in the world and least of all 'historical proof' will make them abandon this concept as long as its social, political, cultural and economic advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages. Therefore, the Ilam Tamils are a nation, and history will always be perceived by them as judging in their favour. For them, that is the meaning of history.


Footnotes: Tamils and the Meaning of History

1E.H.Carr, What is History, London 1961, p. 22

2Habermas, J�rgen, Vom �ffentlichen Gebrauch der Historie, in: Die Zeit, 7th Nov. 1986.

3The 'Historikerstreit' in Germany of the years 1986-87 is a good case in point: a recovery of national history was attempted not last by comparing it with the sordid histories of other countries and thus making it relative. For a summary and discussion of the HS in English see Australian Journal of Politics and History, Supplementary Edition 1899, esp. the articles by George G. Iggers, Irmline Veit-Brause, John H. Jensen and Martin Travers.

4There seems to be a similarity here with the Germans who also had to prove their right to exist in decent international society after the war, but the reasons and the point of departure are so vastly different that such comparisons are extremely doubtful. Yet, it might be worthwhile to state here that the Germans, as the Tamils, undertake to justify their demands or assumptions with secondary virtues neglecting more basic primary human virtues and rights.

5Kapferer, Bruce, Legends of People, Myths of State, Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia, Washington and London 1988.

6ibid., p. 50.

7To be sure, karma comes into the YVM, as we will see later, when the decline of the dynasty is attributed to the misdeeds of one of its members and to the disunity among themselves, but this is probably based less on the theory of karma than on that of cause and effect in politics also known in the West.

8For the historical information contained in 'unhistorical' material, Romila Thapar, Epic and History: Tradition, Dissent, and Politics in India. in: Past and Present 125, 1989, pp. 3-26.


10For a thorough discussion of the historicity of the kingdom of Jaffna and the historical sources about it see S. Pathmanathan, The Kingdom of Jaffna, Part I. (circa AD. 1250-1450), Colombo 1978.

11Kaviraj, Sudipta, On the Construction of Colonial Power: Structure, Discourse, Hegemony. Paper presented at the conference on Foundations of Imperial Hegemony: Western Education, Public Health and Police in India and Anglophone Africa, 1859 until Independence. Berlin, 1-3 June 1989, organised by German Historical Institute, London, p. 14.

12In German, 'story' and 'history' are expressed by the same word: Geschichte, the differentiation is in the definite or indefinite article: eine Geschichte = a story, die Geschichte = history

13cf. Kapferer, op. cit., p. 71 and passim.

14One wonders whether that has anything to do with the Colebrooke-Cameron reforms in 1833 that united the country administratively.

15Burnand and Cleghorn

16As I am here concerned with the Tamil view, I leave out a detailed discussion of the influence theories of race and the discovery of the 'Aryan' languages and race may have had in this regard, but they were and are certainly vital to the Sinhalese view.

17Utaya T�rakai (Morning Star), 16.1.1845ff, the quote in 25.9.1845, p. 156.

18ibid., p.

19see p. 14

20A. Cirikantar�ca, Tiruk�^amalai Varal��u M�laika~; Akil[[perthousand]]cappi~~ai (1853-1910), Tirukk�~ac�la Vaipavam, ed. by his son A�akaikk�~, Kokkuvil 1950, with the text of the K�^[[perthousand]]car Kalve++u, p. 89-104.

21For this point and the local and universal existence of the gods cf. Shulman, David Dean, Tamil Temple Myths. Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian �aiva Tradition, PUP 1980, p. 40ff

22V. Ca+acivappi~~ai, Y��pp�~a Vaipavam (Events in Jaffna), Madras 1884.

23Muttutampippi~~ai, Y��pp�~a Carittiram (History of Jaffna), Jaffna 1912, K. Velluppi~~ai, Y��pp�~a Vaipava Kaumuti, Jaffna, Vas�vila~ 1918, S. John, Y��pp�~a Carittiram, Tellipalai 1909 (3rd edn. first publ. in 1879), Ila[[integral]]kaic Carittiram (History of Lanka), by a Brother of St. Josephs's, Colombogam, Jaffna 1907, C. Po~~uc�mippi~~ai, Y��pp�^a Vaipavam (Events in Jaffna), Jaffna 1927 (2nd ed., first ed. 1916), Matiya Para~am, Y��pp�~a P�rv[[yen]]ka Vaipavam (Ancient History of Jaffna), Jaffna 1927.

24Christopher Brito, The Yalppana Vaibhava Malai, or the history of the Kingdom of Jaffna, translated from the Tamil by..., Colombo 1879, Appendix p. XLV-LIII)

25S. Rasanayagam, Ancient Jaffna, Colombo 1926, C. ��~appirak�car, OMI, Tami�i~ P�rvacarittiramum Camayamum (The ancient history and religion of the Tamils), Jaffna 1912, (first published as a series of articles in the Jaffna Catholic Guardian).

26For a general discussion of the problems of historical perception and historiography see Formen der Geschichtsschreibung (eds. R. Koselleck, H. Lutz and J. R�sen, Theorie der Geschichte, Beitr�ge zur Historik, Band 4, M�nchen 1982, esp. J�rn R�sen, Die vier Typen des historischen Erz�hlens, p. 530 and passim, and H.-U. Gumbrecht, "Das in vergangenen Zeiten Gewesene so gut erz�hlen, als ob es in der eigenen Welt w�re". Versuch zur Anthropologie der Geschichtsschreibung, p. 502/03. cf. also George G. Iggers, op. cit., p. 120-122.

27Y��pp�~a Vaipava M�lai (The Garland of Events in Jaffna), by Mayilv�ka~ap Pulavar, with an Appendix by Kula Capan�ta~, Colombo 1953. The YVM itself is declaredly made up of older sources and chronicles, which are partly extant, partly lost: the Kail�ya M�lai, the Vaiy� P�+al, the C[[perthousand]]karacac[[perthousand]]kara Ul�, and the Tak[[Sigma]]i~a Kail�ca M�lai.

28 cf. Satchi Ponnambalam, Sri Lanka. The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle, London 1983, p. 16/17 (not very convincing) and Paul Jayarajan, Historical Truths of the Legend Relating to Prince Vijaya. Colombo n.d. (quoted after Kapferer, op. cit., p. 41.

29This is generally considered a reflection of the Cola invasion and rule in the 10th and 11th centuries.

30Pathmanathan, op.cit.; K. Indrapala, Dravidian settlements in Ceylon and the beginnings of the Kingdom of Jaffna. Thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of London 1965 (unpubl.)

31Brother of St. Josephs's, op.cit. p. 19. He has a special chapter on the kings of Jaffna, (pp. 88-96) but in these, Elara is not included.

32cf. C. Po~~uc�mippi~~ai, op.cit., e.g. p.10-12, p. 20-24, and Matiya Para~am, op.cit., p. 16.

33Muttutampippi~~ai, op.cit., p. 68.

34ibid., p. 8/9

35S. John, op. cit. p. 12, see also the addendum by his son Daniel from 1909, p. XIX.

36Muttutampippi~~ai, op.cit., p. 39

37C. R�can�yakam, Y��pp�^ac Carittiram - �A[[integral]]kil[[perthousand]]yar K�lam (British period of the history of Jaffna), Jaffna 1934, p. 186-88

38Muttutampippi~~ai, op.cit., p. 104/05

39ibid., p. 98, similarly C. R�can�yakam, op. cit., p. 65

40S. John, op.cit., p. 7

41ibid., Addendum by his son Daniel, p. XXVIII

42S.C. Chitty, On the History of Jaffna. From the Earliest Period to the Dutch Conquest. JRAS (CB) II, 1847-48, p. 69

43Muttutampippi~~ai, op.cit., p. 134ff.

44Velluppi~~ai, op. cit., p. 79/80 and passim. C. ��~appirak�car, OMI, Y��pp�~a Vaipava Vimarca~am (A Critical History of Jaffna), Accuv[[perthousand]]li 1928. The latter work has unfortunately been unavailable to me till now.It was written with a view to refute some of Rasanayagam's claims in his Ancient Jaffna, and this generated a rejoinder by V[[perthousand]]luppi~lai. However, from the extensive quotes in V[[perthousand]]luppi~~ai and from some other works by ��~appirak�car on the culture and religion of the Tamils as well as from his articles in the JRAS etc. we can deduce the drift of his argument.

45S. Rasanayagam, Ancient Jaffna, op. cit., p. 177

46ibid., p. 82ff

47ibid., p. 225/26

48C. R�can�yakam, Y��pp�^ac Carittiram - �A[[integral]]kil[[perthousand]]yar K�lam , op. cit., p. 97/98 and 113

49ibid., p. 204

50Cuv�mi ��~appirak�car, OMI, Y��pp�~a Vaipava Vimarca^am. Tami�acar Ukam. (A Critical History of Jaffna: The Tamil Era). Achchuvely 1928.

51C. ��~appirak�car, OMI, Tami�i~ P�rvacarittiramum Camayamum , (new edition) Jaffna 1932, p. 68/69 (in answer to V[[perthousand]]luppi~~ai's and others' criticisms).

52Gnanaprakasar, Sinhala Place Names in the Jaffna Peninsula, in: Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register II, 1916-17, p. 167ff, and idem, The Forgotten Coinage of the Kings of Jaffna, ibid., p. 172

53V[[perthousand]]luppi~~ai, op. cit., p. 20, 41, 50, 57 and passim

54ibid., p. 84-85

55ibid., p. 83

56ibid., p. 104

57ibid., Appendix, p. 15 and 122

58C. ��~appirak�car, OMI, Tami�i~ P�rvacarittiramum Camayamum , op. cit., and Simon Casie Chitty, The Tamil Plutarch, Jaffna 1859.

59We can compare this to the concept of the `�r' for Tamils in Singapore today, for whom this is not a geographical, but an ideal place, and even with the Sinhalese concept of India which is twofold: in political and geographical terms, it is 'India' or 'Bharat', but there is another, religious concept for India as 'Jambudvip' which is remembered with reverence and nostalgia in contrast to the strident tones about 'India'. I thank Mr. Somadasa from the British Library for drawing my attention to this difference.

60For the differences in this concept among Tamils in India and in Jaffna, see Bryan Pfaffenberger, Caste in Tamil Culture. The Foundations of Sudra Domination in Tamil Sri Lanka, (Bombay 1982).

61C. ��~appirak�car, op. cit., p. 19-22

62Gunawardene, R.A.L.H., The People of the Lion: Sinhala Consciousness in History and Historiography. in: Ethnicity and Social Change in Sri Lanka, Social Scientists Association, (Colombo 1985), p. 55-107.

63An example for this is Rasanayagam (1870-1940) who was Gate Mudaliyar and a magistrate in the Jaffna Kaccheri between 1920 and 1929. He wrote his books both before and after retirement. His and other short biographies can be found in M[[perthousand]]~makka~ Carittiram (Mayn Makkal Charittiram: Eminent Men's Lives), n.p., n.d. (probably 1930s) and in Ka~apatip pi~~ai, ��a n�++i~ Tami�c cu+arma^ika~ (Radiant Tamils of ��am), Colombo 1967, p. 38-41.

64e.g. V[[perthousand]]luppi~~ai, op. cit., who tries to demonstrate why this prophesy must be true. p. 33

65St�rmer, Michael, Geschichte in geschichtslosem Land, FAZ 25 April 1986, quoted after: "Historikerstreit", Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der national-sozialistischen Judenvernichtung. M�nchen, Z�rich 1987, p. 36.

66For this, see the biographical parts in Muttutampippillai, op. cit., p. 92/93, 139 and V[[perthousand]]lupi~~ai, op, cit., p. 120-280

67There is a similarity to the German case here, but the fact of being a 'Kulturnation' in several states seems to worry the Tamils far less than the Germans.

68Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York 1983, p. 58/59

69(?) ��an�+um Caivamum, in N�~k�m Tami� Vi�� Malar (Fourth Souvernir of the Tamil Festival), Jaffna 1951, p. 197

70This perception might explain why the Sinhalese consider all South Indians as 'Tamils' and all Tamils as threatening.




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