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Home  Tamils - a Trans State Nation > The Tamil Heritage > Culture of the Tamils >  International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Studies> First International Tamil Conference Seminar  > Tamil Place Names in Ceylon outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces - K. Kularatnam

First International Tamil Conference - Seminar
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
18 - 23 April 1966

Tamil Place Names in Ceylon outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces
K. Kularatnam

Introductory Note by Sachi Sri Kantha, 13November 2003

Kurankupanchan Camp in the Eelam territory has been very much in the news lately. The name Kurankupanchan (literal meaning in Tamil being, Monkey-Jump Point; kuranku = monkey; paanchan = Jumping Point) has amused me for more than one reason. I’m currently affiliated to the Primate Research Institute in Japan, and I chuckle what a beautiful place name in Tamil, which identifies the location where our primate kins would have thrived, once upon a time. This particular name in any permutation and disfiguration cannot be considered as a Sinhalese place moniker.

In the 1990s, there appeared quite a number of articles and commentaries in the parochial press in Colombo on the Sinhala origin of place names in the traditional homeland of Tamils in Ceylon. The correspondents like voluble Susantha Goonatilleke cited with glee, quite a few non-Sinhalese researchers (like Swami Gnanaprakasar and J.P.Lewis) to buttress their claim that the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island were originally settled by Sinhalese.

It would have been educational and informative, if the Sinhalese correspondents had looked at the other side of the coin; i.e., the occurrence of Tamil place names in the provinces where Sinhalese form the majority. For the benefit of posterity, I provide below an informative research paper presented by Prof.K.Kularatnam at the First International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, held in Kuala Lumpur in 1966. In this paper, he has drawn from multiple examples the strong influence of Tamil language in the place names of Sri Lanka, outside the boundaries of the Northern and Eastern provinces. These place names have been conveniently grouped by him, as derivations from the following ten categories.

1. caste and occupational, race, etc.
2. landforms such as hills, rivers, etc.
3. land classifications such as forest, desert, etc.
4. coastal features
5. tanks, irrigation works, fields and farms (agricultural)
6. trees
7. animals and birds
8. names of deities, personal names
9. old, new, big, small, good
10. settlement, village etc.

Prof.Kularatnam (1911- 198?) received his Ph.D. from the University of London in 1951 and was affiliated to the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya as professor of geography and geology. Thus, the place names of the island was within his professional territory. I had met Prof.Kularatnam once in 1977, at James T.Rutnam’s residence in Colombo. He appeared to me as a shy academic, and epitome to the proverb ‘Empty vessel makes much noise’. In his 1966 paper also, Prof.Kularatnam was rather modest enough to acknowledge his limitations with the observation that “Not having had any training in linguistics, the present writer has had to be satisfied with merely listing the toponyms on the basis of apparent similarities, and refraining from definite conclusions.” Nevertheless, his conclusion is striking: “it seems very likely that some time in the past, the North, Central and North-Western Provinces as well as the coastal tracts as far as south as Colombo were inhabited by Tamil-speaking people, as is amply demonstrated by archeology and history.” In the text, the district is abbreviated as ‘dt’.

Kindly note that since this paper was presented in 1966, Prof.Kularatnam had used the 1953 Census figures for the island. Fifty years ago, the total population of Ceylon stood at 8.1 million, of which 2.37 million were considered as Tamil-speaking. In 2003, the total population of Sri Lanka has increased to 20 million, but percentage wise the Tamil-speaking population had decreased markedly. This decrease has to be attributed to (a) large-scale repatriation of Tamils of recent Indian origin to India, since 1964; (b) emigration of Eelam Tamils to other nations and continents, since 1983; (c) covert assimilation of Tamils into ‘Sinhalese’ in the littoral zones of North Western Province; and (d) preferential use of Sinhala language by the traditionally Tamil-speaking Muslims.


The island of Ceylon lies to the south of India, between the latitudes of about 6 and 10 degrees N. and longitudes of 80 and 82 degrees E. covering an area of about 25,000 sq.miles (65,000 sq.km). The estimated population (1963) totals about 11 millions of which 3.3 millions (approx.) are Tamil-speaking.

According to the 1953 Census, the total Tamil-speaking population was 2,370,226, made up as follows (out of a total population of 8.1 millions.): Ceylon Tamils 884,703; Tamils of Indian origin 974,098; Ceylon Moors 463,963; Moors of Indian origin 47,462.

The Ceylon Tamils are found mainly in their traditional homelands of the north and east, and also in the Colombo district. The Moors are found more widespread, particularly as traders in towns; but there are also pockets of Muslim settlements in the rural areas. The Tamils of Indian origin live mainly in the plantation districts of the hill country.

The Ceylon Tamils appear to have constituted a considerable portion of the population in the North, Central and North-western provinces until the recent past. Probably a good many of them have now become Sinhalese by adopting the Sinhalese language. The same can be said also of certain other coastal districts.

From remote antiquity there have been some permanent Tamil settlements in Ceylon. [Prehistoric relations between Ceylon and India are undeniable. vide, University of Ceylon, History of Ceylon, I, pt.I, pp.75-79] This is quite natural because the sea seperating Ceylon from peninsular India is only about 20 miles wide. Owing to this, their concentrations must have been along the coast, particularly in the north and north-west. The existence of flourishing Tamil kingdoms in Ceylon at least from the second Century B.C. (King Elara) is a historical fact, also attested by foreign travellers like Cosmos (6C.), Suleyman (9C.), Abu Said (10C.), Marco Polo (13C.) and Ibn Batuta (14C.). According to the Dipavamsa and Mahawamsa, Sena and Cuttaka, Tamil kings, ruled from Anuradhapura in the 2nd C. BC.

History also refers to the facts that Vijaya Bahu I (AD 1070-1110) after constructing a Saivaite (Hindu) temple at Kantalai caused a Tamil inscription to be erected on the spot. At Polonnaruva (about AD 1109) the Tamil Velaikkara army put up a Tamil lithic record by which they agreed to be the custodians of the tooth relic of the Buddha. King Vikrama Bahu II (1116-1137) left behind a Tamil inscription relating to a donation he made for the lighting of a perpetual lamp in the Saivaite temple at Magala in the Kurunegala district (N.W.Province). A Tamil inscription of Manabharana, the father of King Parakrama Bahu I, found in the Kurungala district records the settlement of a dispute between blacksmiths and washermen. In Siva Devale No.1 at Polonnaruva, King Gaja Bahu I (AD 1137-1153) also left a lithic record in Tamil.

When Gampola in the Central Province was the capital of the Sinhalese, King Buvaneka Bahu IV (AD 1344-1354) caused an inscription to be made both in Sinhalese and in Tamil at Lankatilake Vihare. About AD 1409 a Chinese mission came to Ceylon from the Ming Emperor. This mission left behind an inscription in Galle port in Chinese, Persian and Tamil, but not in Sinhalese. Even during the Portuguese period (16-C) there were Tamils in Galle as indicated by the special tax, ‘Xaro de Seddivari’, which Tamil merchants had to pay.

According to H.W.Codrington, Tamil was the court language of the kings of Kotte (Tamil word for fort), near Colombo in the Western Province. The record of gifts of lands given to Munneswaram temple (Hindu) in Chilaw were in Tamil. Some later gifts to the same temple by Parakrama Bahu IX (1506-1528) and Kirti Siri Rajasinha (1747-1782) were also written in Tamil. According to Queyroz (Book I), Chilaw, Puttalam and Negombo were all Tamil-speaking areas. Buvaneka Bahu VII, King of Kotte (1521-1550) made his attestations in Tamil.

The Tamil correspondence of the Kings of Kandy (Central Province) with foreign governments, numbering sixty six were published in 1937 by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, as Bulletin No.3 (with English translations). One of the documents No.64 is a Treaty written in Tamil between King Kirti Siri Rajasinghe and Louis XVI of France. The famous Kandyan Convention signed in 1815 bears signatures in both Sinhalese and Tamil.

The 1951 Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission reveals that there were Tamils in the Kurunegala district in the 17th C., whose notarial deeds were in Tamil. It is also known that during their rule in Ceylon, the Portuguese (16-C) founded and managed Tamil schools for Tamil children in the Western and North-Western Provinces. In 1750 a mass petition was presented to the Dutch Governor by the people of Negombo protesting against the Dutch educational policy; it was in Tamil.

Besides the above evidences, Tamil lithic records have been unearthed by the Archaeological Department in several parts of the country such as Kalutara (Western province), Matara (Southern province), Sangilikanadarawa, Anuradhapura, Budumattawa, Matale, Kandapola, Kotagama (Central Province) etc.

The above historical references strengthen the geographical inference of Tamil settlements which is supported by the existence of place names of Tamil origin in several parts of Ceylon. In fact, we find Tamil place names in large numbers in such areas today, though there are no more any Tamil-speaking people.

According to G.C.Mendis (Early History of Ceylon), ‘There is sufficient evidence to prove that in the early Centuries of the Christian Era, the Dravidians helped to form the Sinhalese race. This influence became considerable after the invasions and the occupation of Ceylon by the Colas (AD 1017-1076), and it grew stronger with the Pandya invasions (AD 1310 et seq.). It is difficult to gauge the extent of Tamil blood in the Sinhalese, but there is no doubt that it is considerable. Otherwise it is difficult to explain why the Sinhalese language not only in its vocabulary but also in its structure shows the influence of Tamil so strongly and why the Sinhalese caste system is so similar to that of South India.’

On examination of the regional distribution of place names in Ceylon one comes across not only Tamil names in areas which are now Sinhala-speaking (and vice versa), but also sometimes composite or hybrid place names which are part Sinhalese and part Tamil in composition as well as Sinhalese and Tamil place names juxtaposed within small areas.

The old place names of Ceylon are generally speaking, simple and descriptive; they reflect criteria normal to early societies and are related to the concepts and outlooks of people of those times. The majority of the place names can be listed under one or other of the following classes.

(The official spellings of toponyms as found in the survey maps are retained.) Not having had any training in linguistics, the present writer has had to be satisfied with merely listing the toponyms on the basis of apparent similarities, and refraining from definite conclusions.

1. caste and occupational, race, etc.
2. landforms such as hills, rivers, etc.
3. land classifications such as forest, desert, etc.
4. coastal features
5. tanks, irrigation works, fields and farms (agricultural)
6. trees
7. animals and birds
8. names of deities, personal names
9. old, new, big, small, good
10. settlement, village etc.
(The names or at least the principal parts of them, are Tamil.)

1. Caste and Occupational (Race) etc.

Chetty: Chettychena (Puttalam dt.), Vannattivillu (Puttalam dt.)
Kalingar: Kalinga ela (Polonnaruva dt.)
Demala duva (Colombo dt.)
Galapatty [Kalapatty](Mahara dt.)
Rekewa [night-watcher] (Kandy dt.)

2. Landforms etc.

(A) Mulai, mulla (corner): Achamulai, Kanamulai (Puttalam dt.), Panayadimulai, Ammanamulla, Mahaarachimulla (Kurunegala dt.), Kulamulla, Parapamulla (Chilaw dt.), Athiadimulla (Badulla dt.), Karadiyamulla, Kumbal mulla (Ratnapura dt.), Kurunayaka mulla (Matara dt.), Karanayaka mulla, Ohiva mulla, Parakada mulla, Sayakkaramulla, Singaramulla, Welikada mulla, Sarikkamulla, Suvandachi mulla (Colombo and Kalutara dts)

(B) Malai, male: Nedimale (Colombo dt.), Mugunamale (Ratnapura dt.), Munmale (Kandy dt.), Kotmale, Gilimale (Kandy dt.).

(C) Aru: Adampan aru (Anuradhapura dt.)

(D) Kuda (bay, etc.): Alankuda, Kalkuda, Kandakuda, Mandalakuda, Palaikuda, Tannikuda (Puttalam dt.)

(E) Villu: Alam villu, Kali villu, Karadan villu, Nagavillu, Panichavillu, Talaivillu, Vannativillu (Puttalam dt.), Meenvillu (Anuradhapura dt.)

(F) Manal: Allaperumanal talawa, Manal tivu (Puttalam dt.), Manampitiya (Polonnaruva dt.)

(G) Kuli: Anaikuli, Kachimadurankuli, Kandakuli, Madurankuli, Mudalakkuliya, Sembukkuli, Sinna sembukkuliya (Puttalam dt.), Anaikuliya, Kurukkuliya, Kumbukkuliya, Pirappankuliya, Singakkuliya (Chilaw dt.), Kulitota (Galle dt.)

(H) Veli: Ambaveli, Mangala veli, Marukkanveli, Mulakandaveli, Murandaveli, Periyavelliya, Sinna veli, Sittaraveli, Unaveli (Puttalam dt.)

(I) Tivu: Erumativu, Ippantivu, Kakkaitivu, Karadivu, Karaitivu, Karukkativu, Killitivu, Kottantivu, Mannativu, Mandamaritivu, Mantivu, Mudentivu, Oddakarantivu, Pambativu (Puttalam dt.)

(J) Pallam: Pallama (Puttalam dt.), Ottupallama, Pallama (Kurunegala dt.)

(K) Ur: Pudur (Polonnaruwa dt.), Kollure (Kurunegala dt.), Nallore (Colombo dt.)

3. Land Classification

(A) Tottam: Ammatotam, Kunjimatotam, Marikartotam (Puttalam dt.), Kanda kadu tottam, Pudur adu totam (Anuradhapura dt.)

(B) Kudal: Erumbukkudal (Puttalam dt.)

(C) Moddai: Kadayamottai (Puttalam dt.)

(D) Puval: Karadipuval, Karaiadipuval (Puttalam dt.)

(E) Kadu: Kaddaikadu, Periyakaddaikadu, Sinnakaddaikadu, Navatkadu, Periya kadu, Thota kadu (Puttalam dt.), Kachchaikaduva, Kochikaduva (Kurunegala and Kandy dts.), Vilankadu (Anuradhapura dt.), Velankaduvila (Polonnaruwa dt.)

(F) Palai: Mudalipalai (Puttalam dt.)

(G) Kalli: Santia kalli (Puttalam dt.)

(H) Odai: Virudodai (Kurunegala dt.), Suriodai (Puttalam dt. and Anuradhapura dt.)

(I) Parappu: Ponparippu (Puttalam dt.)

4. Coastal Land

(A) see Kuda, under Land forms.

(B) Munai: Andimunai, Kalmunai, Kombimunai (Puttalam dt.), Kurunchi munai (Anuradhapura dt.)

(C) Karai: Oddakkarai, Vellankarai (Puttalam dt.), Nanjundankarai, Puliankarai (Chilaw dt.)

(D) Turai: Pallivasal turai (Puttalam dt.), Kaluturai (Kalutura dt.), Panadura (Panandurai, Colombo dt.)

(E) Avi: Palavi (Puttalam dt.), Neeraviya (Anuradhapuram dt.)

(F) Mundal: Mundel (Chilaw dt.), Pachakadu Mundal (Puttalam dt.)

(G) Padu: Periya padu, Sinna padu (Puttalam dt.)

(H) Kadal: Kadalanai (Colombo dt.)

5. Irrigation and Agriculture

(A) Kulam: Alamkulama, Ankuttan Kulama, Demala surakkulama, Eppadikulama, Puliyankulama, Pettikulama, Pothukkulam, Pukkulam, Ramankulama, Sembukkulam, Sandanankulama, Senkattikulama, Senkatkulama, Surakkulama (Puttalam dt.)

Alankulama, Attikulama, Bambikulama, Ottukulama, Kurundankulama, Kuruvikkulama, Manakkulamagama, Monakkulama, Peyirikkulama, Porasankulama, Punkankulama (Kurunegala dt.)

Irraddaikulama, Naikkulama, Marudankulama, Palakkulama, Panaiadikkulama, Pulichchakulam, Chippikulama, Velantikkulam (Chilaw dt.)

Achirikkulama, Alankulama, Andyankulama, Attikkulama, Bandyankulama, Sirunkuttikulama, Gnanikkulama, Ichankulama, Karambankulama, Nochikkulama, Puliankulama, Sandananankulama, Iladchankulama, Ilandaikkulama, Illuppukkulama, Irambakkulama, Iraniankulama, Kammalakkulama, Kandakkulama, Kanjanankulama, Karadikulama, Karambankulama, Karukkankulama, Kattamankulama, Kattankulama, Kawarakkulama, Kidawarakkulama, Kodarikkulama, Kochikkulama, Kombichankulama, Koppakkkulama, Kottamankulama, Kowankulama, Kulankulama, Kunchikkulama, Kurundankulama, Kurunchakkulama, Kuttikulama, Mankulama, Marakkulama, Navakkulama, Nellikkulama, Nelunkulama, Orukkumankulama, Pambukkulama, Palankulama, Palayakulama, Pallankulama, Pandijjulama, Pandyankulama, Panikkankulama, Parimiyankulama, Peroyakulama, Pettankulama, Ponimankulama, Ponnarankulama, Pudukkulama, Sangilikkulama, Sattambikulama, Seepukkulama, Sembukkalama, Settikulama, Sinnakkulama, Sirukkulama, Solayankulama, Udayankulama, Vadirimunamarikkulama, Vendarankulama, Vannankulama, Vanniarkulama, Verunkulama, Veruppankulama, Vattankulama, Peikkulama (Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva dts.)

Theruvakkulama (Polonnaruva dt.), Watte wewa (Polonnaruva dt.),

Sippikkulama (Hambantota dt.)

Kolokkanavadi (Kulakkaddu-anai-vadi) (Polonnaruva dt.)

(B) Arivi: Arivichenai (Puttalam dt.), Arivi aru (Anuradhapura dt.)

(C) Chena (Hena): Arivichenai, Cettichenai, Chenaikkudiyiruppu, Elluchenai, Kallameduchenai, Karrukkuchenai, Kilawamaduchenai, Kuratihena, Maravanchenai, Nayakkarchenai, Puliyanchenai, Sandichenai (Puttalam dt.), Kuratihena (Kurunegala dt.), Attiadimulachenai (Anuradhapura dt.)

(D) Kinaru: Kollankinaru (Puttalam dt.)

(E) Kani: Andankani (Puttalam dt.)

(F) Cholai: Palaicholai, Vattacholai (Puttalam dt.)

(G) Vayal: Pallikundavayal, Pulidivayal (Puttalam dt.)

(H) Vaikkal: (Chilaw dt.)

(I) Patti: Manikkampattiya, Sinnavilupattiya (Polonnaruwa dt.)

(J) Eri: Minneriya (Pollonaruva dt.)

(K) Pola: Karakkapola (Kurunegala dt.)

(L) Panai: Pittipanai (Negombo dt.)

(M) Veli: Puduveli (Polonnaruva dt.)

6. Trees (vide supra: Tanks also)

Vembu: Maduramadu vembu (Puttalam dt.)

Panai: Ottapanai, Periyapanai, Sinnapanai (Puttalam dt.), Pittipane (Negombo dt.)

Illupa: Illupadeniya (Chilaw dt.)

Practically evey known tree has been honoured by being used to designate tanks, chenas, etc. e:g: Alaikolaweva (Polonnaruva dt.), Kurunjavettai (Polonnauva dt.), Vilankadu, Velankaduvila (Polonnaruva dt.)

7. Animals and Birds

Anai: Anaikutti (Puttalam dt.), Anaulundawa (Polonnaruva dt.), Anaimaduva (Puttalam dt.), Anaikkuliya (Chilaw dt.), Anaulundawa (Chilaw dt.), Anaikattiya (Anuradhapura dt.)

Singapuli, Singapuli kande (Kurunegala dt.)

Kokkavillu (Puttalam dt.)

8. Deities, Persons etc.

Amman: Ammatotam (Puttalam dt.)

Andi: Andimunai (Puttalam dt.), Andigedera, Andigama (Puttalam and Kurunegala dts.), Andigoda (Galle dt.), Andiambalama (Colombo dt.)

Pandiyan: Virapandiana (Chilaw dt.), Pandiyankulama (Anuradhapura dt.), Pandyawatte (Ratnapura dt.)

Maniyar: Maniyarwatte, Maniyargama (Kegalle dt.)

Kaliamma: Kaliammahara (Colombo dt), Kalipola (Kurunegala dt.)

Pullaiyar: Pullaiyaradi (Anuradhapura dt.)

Allaperumantalawa (Puttalam dt.)

9. Old, New, Big, Small, Good, Near

Perum/ Periya: Periyakalanchiya, Periya kadu, Periyakulama (Anuradhapura dt.)

Kutti: Anaikutti (Puttalam dt.)

Adi: Erukkalai adi, Ilandai adi, Kalladi, Manchadi, Sirambiadi, Tillaiadi (Puttalam dt.), Pullaiyar adi (Anuradhapura dt.)

Sinna/ Siru: Sinnakulama, Sirukkulama (Anuradhapura dt.), Sinnakarukku panai (Chilaw dt.) Sinnachariyagama (Kurunegala dt.), Sinnaveli, Sinnakudiyiruppu, Sinnapadu (Puttalam dt.)

Nalla: Nallachiya (Kurunegala dt.), Nallachiya. Nallapampukkulama, Nallamudeva (Anuradhapura dt.)

Palaya: Palayakulama (Anuradhapura dt.)

Pudu: Pudukkudi, Pudukkulama, Puduveli, Pudur (Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva etc.)

10. Settlement, Village etc.

Ambalam: Ambalam, Andiambalama (Puttalam dt.)

Kudiyirrupu: Chenaikudiyiruppu (Puttalam dt.)

Kudi/ Kudil: Kuravankudil (Puttalam dt.)

Kaddi: Marichukaddi (Puttalam dt.)

Pola: Kalipola (Kurunegala dt.), Marapola (Colomb dt.), Negandapola, Pedipola, Warakapola (Colombo dt.), Kotuwalpola, Muttetupolla (Ratnapura dt.), Weedipola (Hambantota dt.), Wannipola (Kandy dt.), Irivendum pola, Rahupola (Badhu dt.)

Kotte: Kotte (Colombo dt.), Kasikotte, Wahalkotte (Kurunegala dt.)

Ur: Kollure, Nallure (Kurunegal dt.), Nalluruva (Colombo dt.), Vallindauru, Tivumunaiur, Pudur, Kollur (Anuradhapura dt.)

Kovil: Kovilangegammaduva (Kandy dt.), Kovilkare (Ratnapura dt.), Kovilkande (Kurunegala dt.), Koilandigama (Puttalam dt),

Madam: Naina madama (Chilaw dt.)

Kade: Kochikade, Mariakkade (Colombo dt.)

From the foregoing it seems very likely that some time in the past, the North, Central and North-Western Provinces as well as the coastal tracts as far as south as Colombo were inhabited by Tamil-speaking people, as is amply demonstrated by archeology and history. In addition there have been also at least small segments elsewhere in the Island, a Tamil-speaking people. The many composite or hybrid place names and the juxtaposition of Sinhala and Tamil place names indicated the peaceful coexistence of people of both language groups.


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