Ancient eastern village caught in cycles of violence
K.N.Tharmalingam - Northeastern Herald
“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden, … and the
Lord took the man and put him into the garden…” – The Old Testament“The
Dravidians were one of the earliest civilised races of India … They
constructed buildings and forts. Agriculture flourished in the Dravidian
land and dams were built across the rivers for irrigation purposes…” Sinha
and Banerji, History of IndiaMan, in his existence over the eons had looked
upon rivers, rocks and mountains with awe and veneration and worshipped them
as symbols that represented the all-powerful, merciful Lord, who in his
mercy had descended to earth to benefit all beings and wipe off the sins of
People going on pilgrimages to places of worship, carry home holy water
collected from rivers in such places of sanctity. People also climb holy
rocks and mountains for worship and meditation. We have both a river and a
rock at Kanchikudy Aaru to provide inner peace and refresh the spirit.
Evidence exists to show that thousands of years ago, ascetics bathed in the
river and meditated upon the rock at Kanchikudy Aaru.
The name Kanchikudy Aaru dates to roughly the 13th century, when the
countryside starved due to famine. During these stressful times Kanchikudy
Aaru is remembered as the spot where kanchi (porridge), traditionally the
food of the poor, was cooked with the meagre means available to relieve the
pangs of hunger. What the area was known as before is not known.
As the Old Testament reveals, man was put near the river to benefit from it
and the history of mankind shows it was on the banks of rivers that
civilisations arose. We had civilisations of the Indus valley, the Nile and
by the Euphrates and Tigris. In Sri Lanka too the Kadamba Nathy (Malwattu
Oya), Kelani, Kirindi Oya, and Menik Ganga were central to constructing the
history of the Island. Migrants from India entered and traversed to the
interior of the Island through these rivers. As for Kanchikudy Aaru, it
provided both spiritual and material benefit to those who went there. The
people of Kanchikudy Aaru were however not migrants, but sons of the soil.
The chronicle Mahawansa, authored by Mahanama Thero does not mention any of
the popular rivers in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka. History recorded
in the Mahawansa is confined only those themes and areas advantageous to
Buddhism and does not reflect the actual political history of the whole
country. Thus the history of the Dravidian people, which had occupied the
banks of the rivers and its valleys in the southeast known by the names of
Talipotta Aaru, Pattipola Aaru, Moongiladi Aaru, Naaval Aaru and Kanchikudy
Aaru remained unknown.
Kanchikudy Aaru, home to a civilised people from very early times – 3000
years ago – has revealed its ancient and impressive remains in the form of
potsherds, Brahmi inscriptions and massive earthworks. The remains confirm
that it were the ancient Tamils who occupied the territory. They were
agriculturists possessing knowledge in the use of implements and tools,
irrigation and farming techniques. The remains of breached earthworks – dams
built across rivers – suggest that early settlers at Kanchikudy Aaru
employed two methods of irrigation. One was to dam the river with stone and
earth to divert the course of the water into channels that fed the fields;
the other was to divert the water into tanks and store it for future
cultivation during dry weather. The farmers of Kanchikudy Aaru seem to have
used both types of irrigation indicating that they tended their occupations
throughout the year and harvested plentiful yields.
The chain of tanks around the river confirms that the region was a
prosperous one long before King Vasabha (67-111 A.D.) who is credited with
having built 11 tanks around his capital at Anurdhapura. There is no
evidence to show that great tank-builders – King Vasabha or kings Mahasena
or Moggalana II before him, of having built tanks in the east.
The tragic end to Kanchikudy Aaru, which is supposed to have occurred during
the 11th century, has to be examined. The survivors of at Kanchikudy Aaru
have not left behind any record as to how the settlement suffered
destruction. The famous Muslim scholar Al Biruni laments: “The Hindus do not
pay much attention to the historical order of things. They are very
careless…” It is true Hindus do not write their history and do not make any
attempt to remedy past lapses.
One could however infer the cause of destruction of this settlement from
writings of later historians, who have given the lead, the clue. The late C.
W. Nicholas says, “Vijaya Bahu took a two-pronged attack against the Cholas
(1070 A.D) and the eastern column took Sagamam (west of Tirukovil) and other
places in the Eastern Province (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961 edition,
page 191). It is believed that the prosperous Kanchikudy Aaru was destroyed
when man in his fury unleashed ruthless destruction. An indigenous,
independent and cultured community perished when surging floods wiped out
the region when the marauding army destroyed the bunds of the reservoir
thereby inundating the settlement.
The late H. Neville of the Ceylon Civil Service in his Taprobane published
an interesting article about a rock inscription that he discovered in the
area around Kanchkudy Aaru. The inscription in Tamil declares a land grant
to a temple of a goddess at Kanchikudy Aaru. A detailed report appeared in
The Island newspapers of June 1984.
The contents of the rock inscription about which Neville wrote suggests that
the people who belonged to Kanchikudy Aaru were an organised community whose
chief wealth was cattle. They held the cow sacred, were very religious and
abstained from taking life. They worshipped the Sun, Siva, Shakthy and
Skanda and seem to have held the world is a battlefield where people have to
struggle for power, domination and wealth.
Lord Kataragama is celebrated in song and legend as dwelling on rocks –
kundru thodadal. The rock on the eastern bank of the river was a place of
worship, known as “kat-kukai kovil malai.” The cave temple is now destroyed,
though the seven caves remain, despoiled by the hands of vandals.
Authorities believe that it was here that the ascetics of yore had
The Brahmi inscriptions carved below the drip ledges of the caves have been
vandalised. Scholars interpret the script of the inscriptions at Kanchikudy
Aaru to be akin to inscriptions in ancient Brahmi found in the Tirunelveli
District in South India. The inscriptions refer to Tamil ascetics and have a
special concern with perception, deference and authority of religious faith.
While discussing the other Brahmi inscriptions of the Tamils on the Island,
Nicholas, the co-author of the Concise History of Ceylon observes, “There
exists a number of Tamil inscriptions, which register donations to Buddhist
institutions by Tamils,” (Page 173). Epigraph 386 describes the donation of
a cave by one Tissa (A Tamil) and his wife. It reads, “The cave of the
female devotee Sivindevi – the wife of Tissa (Dravida) given to the Sangha.”
It is interesting to note that these cave inscriptions are dated to the
third and first centuries B.C. after which cave monasteries went out of
vogue. If Tamils (Dravida) had donated caves to the Sangha as early as the
third century B.C. how authentic is the theory that the Tamils came to the
island at a later period of time? A similar donation is recorded in
inscription 355 according to which one Velu and his wife had donated this
cave. According to inscription No. 357, a Tamil called Visaka had donated
flight of steps.Kanchikudy Aaru was brought back to life in 1967 after the
lapse of several centuries when the late G. G. Ponnambalam, leader of the
All Ceylon Tamil Congress led a delegation of farmers from Thambuluvil to
meet C. P. de Silva, the then minister of irrigation and followed it with a
long speech during the budget debate of the same year. The minister visited
Kanchikudy Aaru to ceremonially cut the first sod earth in 1967. It heralded
the River Valley Development Board (RVDB) moving into that area with heavy
machinery to reconstruct the reservoir by building a dam across the river.
Two distinguished engineers Mr. Ladduahetty and Walter Paranatale gave their
very best to the enterprise, while 1000s of workers of various categories
did the same to complete the work within 24 months. The late N. E.
Thamotharampillai, director of Public Works, Eastern Province, was one of
the consultants. A modest reservoir capable of impounding water to irrigate
1400 acres was first mooted but later enlarged.
Thousands of families from the Batticaloa and Amparai districts were settled
in the area following this, only to be driven away in June 1990 when the Sri
Lanka army marched into the area causing immense destruction to life and
property. Women and children who bore no part in any fighting suffered the
worst. Two hundred and thirty five houses were destroyed, countless (well
over 1000) coconut, jak, and mango trees were felled, and schools and
government buildings looted. Around 5000 heads of cattle were also reported
lost. But the most affected were 41 women who were widowed due to the
violence and 260 children who were orphaned and displaced to a long period
of homelessness and denied opportunities for education due the systematic
destruction of schools.
Violence inflicted by the security forces leading to physical and
psychological injury, loss of employment and income, and loss of house and
property in the Kanchykudi Aaru area was tremendous after military
operations there. Though programmes for resettlement and rehabilitation have
begun after the ceasefire, refugees and internally displaced persons have no
facilities and infrastructure to make the resettlement viable. Recently,
wild elephants killed two persons who had resettled. Only time can resolve
the problems of the peasants of Kanchikudy Aaru