During pre-historic times Ceylon is said to have been occupied
by the Vedas, Nagas and Yakkas. (1) The
Mahavamsa also refers to Lord Buddha’s visit to Nagadipa (the Island of
Nainathivu) in order to settle a dispute regarding a throne between two Naga
Kings. This legend is again supported by the Manimekhalai. It is ‘difficult
to find out what the language of the Nagas was at that time. But it is clear
that during the Sangam period the Nagas of Ceylon were well versed in Tamil.
Nagadipa was the original name of the Islands of the Jaffna
Peninsula. Ptolemy’s map
shows that a number of towns in Ceylon in the pre-Christian era had Tamil
names. Megasthenes called Ceylon Taprobane but Pericles says that Taprobane
was replaced by Palaesimundu, (2)
perhaps a corruption of Palayanakar. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana speak
of the Nagas of Jaffna. The Mahavamsa says that Yakkas and Nagas occupied
Ceylon before the advent of Vijaya.
Some Tamil Sangam poets were Nagas from Jaffna. The original
language of the Nagas was perhaps Elu, a word from which Ceylon got the name
‘Eelam’. But before the Ariyanisation of Ceylon, Tamil was perhaps the
language of the Nagas and was spoken in Ceylon.(3)
Among the Sangam poets mentioned is Illattup Putantevanar, who composed some
verses in Kuruntokai, Akananuru and Narrinai. The Mahavamsa states that in
the 6th century B.C. there existed Naga strongholds at Nagadipa under
Mahodarai, the Naga King. (4)Among the
Sangam works, a few personalities who were referred to as ‘chieftains’
appear to have come from Jaffna. For example Elini (5)
and Pittankorran (6)about whom verses
appear in the Purananuru, appear to have come from Kudiraimalai, now
identified with Kantherodai in Jaffna.
Evidence of early settlements of Tamils
A large number of Sangam words spoken among the illiterate
villagers of Jaffna again support our Sangam connections. Finds at
Ponparippu also show that Tamils had lived not only in Jaffna, but in the
vicinity of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and other interior parts of Ceylon. (The
urn burials found in these parts are identical with the urn burials found in
Adichanallur and other places of South India.) The Mahavamsa also refers to
a clan known as Lumbakarnars who were ruling north of Ceylon in the first
century A.D. Recent excavations at Kantharodai Buddhist stupas in which
Sivaganams were found by Dr. Godakumbara, suggests that Tamils who were
Saivites also had worshipped in this shrine.
Chroniclers state that King Vasabha who succeeded Subbha and
ruled from Anuradhapura in 66 A.D. belonged to this clan. The Culavamsa also
refers to the existence of the Lambakarna clan in the Pandya country. There
is also evidence of a close connection between the Malavas of the Pandya
country and the Lambakarna clan in Ceylon. Isigaraya, mentioned in the Gold
Plate Inscriptions found at Vallipuram (dated 2nd century A.D.),(7)
was perhaps a Malava chieftain with the title of raya, a suffix which many
Tamil chieftains took. (As Mr. Pillai rightly observes, the northern part of
Ceylon was the land of the Nagas in the centuries preceding and succeeding
the Christian era.(8)After a period of
interregnum a Tamil Kingdom started in Jaffna when Ukkure Singham
established a kingdom.(9))
The reference in the Yalpana Vypavamalai to Pandi Malavan who
went to India during the period when Jaffna had no settled kingdom and
invited a Chola prince, again shows the influence of the Vella community,
and that Jaffna, after a period of anarchy was again ruled by the Chola
prince. When the whole of Ceylon came under the sway of Tamil kings, as for
example during the reign of Elara, Sena and Cuttika (75 B.C. to 55 B.C.);
and after the invasion of Pandu and five others (43 A.D. to 62 A.D.) the
rest of Ceylon came under the Tamil sway. But their conquest lasted only a
short period and the Sinhalese kings were able to regain their supremacy. As
Codrington says, from the 5th century A.D. the Sinhalese kings were harassed
by the Pandyans and the Cholas. This made the Sinhalese kings shift their
seat of power from Anuradhapura to other places.The question as to when an
independent Tamil Kingdom was established in Jaffna is a matter of
For a few centuries Jaffna was ruled by Sinhalese kings. The
Tamil armies brought by one of the claimants to the throne of Anuradhapura
in the seventh century, were the only soldiers who fought in wars. In the
medieval period, the Sinhalese, as cultivators, appear never to have been a
warlike people. The Sinhalese militia therefore was of no great military
value.(10) The mercenaries consisting
chiefly of Dravidians, were a deciding factor in wars.(11)
King Manabharna took refuge in the North (Uttaradesa). For some time he was
in Kanchi, the capital of Pallava country. Later he is said to have regained
the throne of Anuradhapura. Towards the end of the 8th century, it is stated
that the Tamil chiefs were able to assert their independence for some time.
The Culavamaa states that they refused to pay tributes to Mahinda till he
subdued them. The Yalpwza Vypavamalai refers to the Pallava influence. It
speaks of some arrangement made by the Pallava kings, referred to as
Thondaman, to get salt exported from the Jaffna kingdom and to deepen the
lagoon for this purpose. The existence of Thondamannaru, a canal in Jaffna
supports this tradition.
In the 9th century, when the Pandya king Sri Maru Sri Vallabha
invaded Ceylon, the Tamils of the North rallied round him and helped him to
defeat the army of Sena I. This led to the seizure of Anuradhapura by the
Pandyan forces. During the 10th century the Cholas invaded the island
frequently and used the northern ports such as Manthotta and Urathurai
(Kayts) as bases for their operations. Place names like Chembianpattu,
Valarvaikoon Pallam, point to the fact that the Cholas had captured these
In one of the inscriptions of Rajadhiraja, it is stated that
four kings of Ceylon lost their crowns at the hands of Rajadhiraja. The
names of the kings are Vikramabahu, Veerasalamegha, Sri Mallabha and
Madavarajah. The last of these kings has been identified as the King of
Jaffna. According to K. K. Pillai, he was an adventurous member of the
Rashtrakuta dynasty who gained control over some part of Ceylon between 1051
A.D. and 1052 A.D. Rasanayaga Mudaliyar, citing Indian inscriptions states
that the Chola kings decapitated three Jaffna kings.(12)
As against this convincing evidence, some students of history
appear to think that the Tamils settled down only in the twelfth century in
Jaffna.(13) A new discovery throws great
light on the kingdom of Jaffna in the eighth century. Masudi, the great
Mohammedan traveller, reached the Port of Jaffna in 912 A.D. and witnessed
the funeral of a Hindu king. (This is described in the
appendix; the writer is indebted to Dr. S. A. Imam for this
in 912 A.D.
Masudi states that the King was placed on a low chariot and
while it was being drawn, a woman swept the ground and threw dust on the
hair of the dead king, exclaiming the futility of life and extolling the
worship of God. Before the body was put on the funeral pyre, it was smeared
with sandalwood and cut into four pieces with a sword. The Purananuru states
that the body of a king who did not die in battle was placed on a tharappu
and cut by a sword before being cremated.(15)
This was a custom among the Tamils during that period.
S. Vaiyapuri Pillai, in his work entitled Tamilar Panapdu
states that it is a Tamil custom to place the body of a king or a warrior
who did not die in battle, on a tharappu and cut into pieces before being
cremated. Masudi had definitely witnessed the funeral of a Tamil king. The
reference by the woman who threw dust at the dead king to the “Eternal who
is alive” was the reference to the Supreme Creator. This period was followed
by the religious revival brought about by the Tamil saints. Therefore the
ceremony referred to is definitely that of a Tamil king, since Buddhists do
not believe in a supreme deity.
The Court of the
The Jaffna Kingdom flourished between the 8th and the 16th
centuries. This period is a memorable one not only for the Tamils of Ceylon
but also to all who are interested in Tamil culture. After the demise of the
Chera, Chola and Pandya Kingdoms, there was no true Tamil Kingdom in South
India excepting in Northern Ceylon.
Although the early kings of Jaffna did not style themselves
Ariya Chakravartis, by the 12th century this name came into use. There have
been many surmises as to how the kings came to style themselves as Ariya
Chakravartis. Some are of the view that they were the Eastern Gangas, others
have taken the view that they had descended from Shatriyas or the
Gan~gavamsa and the Brahmin families in Rameswaram. Still others think that
the first Ariya Chakravarti was a Pandya general who asserted sovereignty in
Ceylon when the Pandyan kingdom was on the verge of collapse.(16)
Be that as it may, this was a glorious period of Tamil culture
during which the Tamil language and the various arts developed. Fortunately
for posterity, the literature written during that period contain glimpses
from which the pattern of the Ariya Chakravartis, court can be reconstructed.
Attempts are made in this article to deal with kingship, the king’s
education, splendour of the Ariya Chakravartis’ court, the coronation
ceremony, the administration of justice and the King’s Council.
The Ariya Chakravartis claimed divine origin from the Sun and
the Moon. They claimed to be the Lords of the Universe and assumed throne
names, such as Pararajasingham, Segarajasingham or ‘lions of the Universe ‘.
In keeping with their theory of divine origin, the king was considered as
comparable to Skanda whose residence was the mountain abode of Skanda.(17)
His feet have been described as lotus feet comparable to the feet of Gods
Although the Ariya Chakravarti was king of only a part of
Ceylon, and on occasions assumed suzerainty over the whole Island, he was
also the ruler of Sethu. This is vouched by a number of references to him as
Sethukavalar.(19) Numerous coins have been found with Sethu as their seal.
During certain periods the Ariya Chakravarti assumed suzerainty over the
whole Island. This was particularly so during the reign of Marthandan. This
fact is supported both by the literature of this period and also from the
accounts of foreign travellers.(20)
The Ariya Chakravarti was given a sound education to befit his
royal status.(21) He is said to be
versed in the three branches of the Tamil language(iyal,
icai, nhaatakam).(22) Thus the
astrological work, Segarajasingham, is compared to the sacred thread which
the Ariya Chakravarti, who is well versed in the three branches of Tamil,
wore. He is referred to as thilakam of the learned people.(23)
He was taught all the princely arts and the military sciences, which it was
customary for royal princes to learn during that period. Thus, the
Vypavamalai states that during the exile of Kanagasooriya Singa Ariyan
A.D.) when Senpakaperumal (referred to in
the Sinhalese Chronicles as Sappumal Kumaraya) conquered Jaffna,
Kanagasooriya’s sons, Pararajasegeram and Segarajasegeram, were
taken care of by the royal family at Thirukovil in India and they were
taught military sciences.
King was Patron of the Tamil Sangam
The king maintained the Tamil Sangam and rewarded poets and
writers. He is referred to as the patron of the Tamil Sangam.(24)
He was not only learned in Tamil but also in many
foreign languages. Ibn Battuta, the famous Muslim traveller, states that he
was able to speak in Persian to the Ariya Chakravarti when he met him.(25)
The Splendour of the Ariya Chakravarti's Court
Portuguese historians state that the throne of the Ariya
Chakravarti was adorned with ivory and gold and embellished with the rarest
and choicest of precious stones.’(26)
The crown was conical in shape and studded with resplendent gems. The king
wore a necklace of gold studded with priceless gems. His armlets were made
of gold and precious stones. To ascend the throne there was a long flight
of steps inlaid with ivory. When the king sat in durbar, he sat with his
queen who did not wear a crown.(27)
The bull flag waved majestically in the air and the royal couple sat under a
The Coronation Ceremony
The coronation ceremony was accompanied with great pomp and
splendour as was characteristic of that period. A graphic description of
this ceremony is given in the Kailasa Malai. At the durbar the king was
stated on his golden throne which was studded with pearls of priceless
value. He was decked in resplendent diamonds and shining jewels. On one arm
he held the ritual sword, the sign of regal authority, and on the other the
mace, which was the symbol of power. He was surrounded by his ministers,
nobility and his people, when he received anointment at the hands of the
purohit who showered blessings on him. Whether the verses of the
Thiruvempaavai was sung, as was customary in some of the eastern countries,
is not clear.
The Administrative System
During the minority of the king a regent was often appointed.
Thus, the Vypavamalai states that when Pararajasegaram died leaving his
infant son who was three years of age, Arasakesari,
a cousin of the king was appointed as regent to take charge of the kingdom
during the King’s minority. There are many references to Ministers in the
literature of this period. But the exact content and scope of the advisory
council is not clear. The Vellalas and the Madaipallis formed the nobility.
Feudal tenure similar to the one prevalent during the Chola period
Governors of Provinces
On the Chola pattern, the king had many chiefs who were in
charge of districts. Thus reference is made to a chief of Omantai, a village
about 60 miles from Jaffna town who received at the hands of the king, not
only gold, but also the right to rule the district.(29)
Pararajasegeram, the brother of the Ariya Chakravarti was given the right to
rule certain villages.’(30)
Lands were given on feudal tenures to chiefs. The word ‘udayar’ with
reference to the chief headman indicates that he had lands given by the
Emblem of the Ariya Chakravartis
The flag of the Ariya Chakravarti bore the emblem of the
recumbent bull with a crescent and the sun. This emblem is found not only on
their flag but also on their coins. The literature of this period makes
several references to the bull flag.(31)
Courts of Justice
The king administered justice in the audience hail. The bull
flag of the Ariya Chakravarti fluttered from the top of the audience hall.(32)
There were other courts as well. In the other courts the Thesawalamai and
the Dharmasastras were administered. It is likely that Brahmins, who were
well versed in the Dharmasastras, presided over such courts. The Panchayats,
consisting of the village elders, also administered justice.
The Laws Administered
The customary laws known as the Thesawalamai, were
administered in the courts. Ceylon preserves the pure form of customary laws
of the Tamils which has become obsolete in South India. The Thesawalamai
consists of a peculiar blend of the customary laws of the Malabar
Tamils who came during an earlier period, and the customary laws of the
Tamils of the eastern part of South India who came during the period of the
Apart from the Thesawalamai, there were other customary laws prevalent among
the Tamils who lived in Ceylon. These customary laws were collected by Sir
Alexander Johnstone, the second Chief Justice of Ceylon at the turn of the
19th century. (34) Works on
Dharmasastras were referred to and applied in the administration of justice.
Thus the Yalpana Vypavamalai refers to a work
on Dharmasastras, known as Brahaspati and Manuneethi as legal texts referred
to during the time of the Ariya Chakravartis.(35)
The Ariya Chakravartis were the patrons of Hinduism and Tamil
culture. Thus the Kailasa Malai refers to the great interest that the Ariya
Chakravartis took in selecting and sending a Brahmin from Kasi learned in
the Vedas and the teacher called Gangatharan, to Jaffna.
1. Geiger, Indian Historical
Quarterly, Vol. XI. p. 515f.
2. K. K. Pillai, History of South India and
Ceylon, p. 4.
3. Ibid., p. 18.
4. Mahavamsa, Chapter 1, vv. 58-60.
5. PuRam, 158, lines 8 and 9.
6. PuRam, 168, line 14.
7. Epigraphia Zeylanica
8. K. K. Pillai, History of South India and
Ceylon. p. 21.
9. Ibid., p. 124.
10. Geiger, Culture of Ceylon in Medieval
Times, (1960), p. 153.
11. Ibid., pp. 152, 153.
12. Rasanayaga Mudaliar, Ancient Jaffna, p.
13. See K. Indrapala, Dravidian Settlements
in Ceylon, (unpublished Thesis available at the University of Ceylon
14. See Appendix II and commentary by Dr.
S. A. Imam in Appendix I.
15. S.Vaiyapuri Pillai, Tamilar Panpatu,
16.See Rasanayaga Mudaliar History of Ancient Jaffna, Chap. VII;
Paranavitharana, article on the Ariya Chakravarti Kingdom in North Ceylon,
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch (New Series), Vol. VII
(1961), p. 119; Natesan, “Early Kingdoms
in Jaffna", Parameswara College
Magazine; Nilakanta Sastri, History of South India, 3rd ed., p. 216.
17.Segarajasingham (Astrological work) Sirappurayam, verse 11.
18. Arasakesary of Nallur, Raguvamsa Padalam (ed.
Ponnambalampiliai), v. 223.
19.Segarajasingham (Astrological work), v. 5; p. 40.
20. Segarajasegaramalai, Satasatram No.8;
Kegalle Inscription No. 6; “lbn Battuta’s
Travels “, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, Extra
No. 39 (1882). See also Dr S. C. Paul, “The
Overlordship of Ceylon during the thirteenth, fourteenth and
fifteenth Centuries “, Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society. Ceylon Branch, Vol. XXVIII, p. 83.
21. Segarajasegara Malai p. 40, v. 5.
22.He honoured Tamil poets and gave
them gold; see Tamizh naavalar carithai, v. 243.
23. Dakshina Sirrappurayam; Kailasa Puranam by Pandita Rajah (ed.
P.P. Vaitilingam Desigar).
24.Dakshina Kailasa Puranam
25. “Ibn Battuta’s Travels “,
J. R. A. S., Ceylon Branch, Extra No. 39 (1882); Travels of Ibn Battuta,
trans. Samuel Lee, pp. 183f.
26. See A. C. Perera, History of Ceylon, p. 135; Rebeiro, History
27. See the description of the Ariya
Chakravartis’ Court by Ibn Battuta in .J. R. A. S., Ceylon Branch,
Extra No. 39.
28. In particular the Madappali Vellalar were
the King’s relations.
29. Segarajasegara Sirappurayam, v. 9.
30. See Kailasa Malai
31. Dakshina Kailayapuranam Sirappurayam; Kailaya Malai, 5.
32. Raguvamsa, Padalam XIII, v. 107.
33. H. W. Tambiah, Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Jaffna. 1951
ed., pp. 19f.
34. Ibid., p.20; H. W. Tambiah, Laws and Customs of the Tamils of
Ceylon, 1954 ed. p4
35. Yalpana Vypavamalai, p. 25.
(Commentary by Dr. S.A. Imam of the University of Ceylon on
the extract from Masudi’s Mural al Dhahab I, 6 1-2, (Paris Edition).
A1-Masudi, the celebrated Arab historian and traveller of
Bagdad had visited South India in the early tenth century A.D. on his way to
Ceylon. In his Mural-alDhahab or “Golden Meadows” which is an abridgment of
his Universal History, he tells us about the manners, customs and religion
of the inhabitants of South India; the pomp and grandeur of the Court of the
Maharajah India; that the people of India (meaning thereby South India)
according to their Code, had strictly forbidden their kings to drink wine.
It is not, says lie, motivated by religious strings but because of the fact
that when a ruler drinks he is not deemed suitable to conduct the affairs of
the State correctly. If it is proved, he goes on, that the King did indulge
in alcoholism, abdication was imperative. These Indians are known for their
appreciable knowledge of politics.
The Arabs during the period, called Java-al Zabij, which to my
mind is an Arabized form of Sri Vija. the well known South Indian ruler
under whose suzerainty the Island was ruled.
The author of the article “ Ceylon “in Encyclopaedia Judica
has quoted al Masudi in connection with the conquest of Sind by the children
of “ Harm” (Hematics) who had settled down there, in remote antiquity.
Al Masudi seems to have visited Ceylon twice on his way to
China. His first visit to Ceylon may perhaps be fixed to 912 A.D. or 913.
Practically every Arab traveller who happened to touch the North Western
Coast of Ceylon made it a point to pay homage to the sacred footprint of
Adam. Time permitting, they penetrated into the interior as well. Al
Idirisi, who has made pointed reference to Ceylon in his monumental
geographical work, has mentioned names of prominent towns including that of
the northern region of the Island. But al Masudi appears to be more
interested in landscape, medicinal herbs and the culture of the people. The
extract taken from his Muraj probably refers to the Northern Province of
Ceylon as pre-medieval Sinhalese. So far as I could ascertain from the
authorities, the Sinhalese never cut the bodies of the dead kings into four
before cremating them. It is just possible that al Masudi who had
participated in the Royal funeral had seen the corpse cutting ceremony in a
nonSinhalese area. I am inclined to think therefore that this peculiar
ritual connected with the dead must have been a Tamil custom which must have
been abandoned in later centuries, since Ibn Battuta, who was in Ceylon in
1342 A.D. and who was a very shrewd observer who was deeply interested in
non-Muslim culture, does not make any reference to this body cutting
ceremony which was prevalent in the days of AlMasudi.
(Translation of an extract from Masudi’s Muruj al Dhahab I,
61-2, Paris edition).
“I saw in the land of Serañdib - this is an Island out of the
Islands of the Ocean - that when their King died he was placed on a low
chariot having many small wheels meant for that purpose so that his hair
trailed on the ground. There was a woman with a broom throwing dust over his
head shouting, ‘Oh people, this was your King yesterday, who ruled you and
whose authority and command were current among you. Now you see what has
happened to him alter abandoning this world. The Angel of Death has seized
his soul. It is He the Alive, the Eternal who is immortal! Therefore do not
yield to the illusion of life after him (the King)’, and such utterances
which mean an invitation to fear of God and asceticism in this World. He is
taken round all the streets of the city; thereafter he is dismembered into
four parts. The sandalwood, camphor and all sorts of perfume have already
been prepared for him. Then he is cremated and his ashes are scattered in
the wind. The majority of the people of India do likewise to their kings and
nobles with a set purpose they speak of and thus they prepare a road for the