Elara, King of Anuradhapura
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Author:  Guest [ Sun Dec 21, 2008 1:45 am ]
Post subject:  Elara, King of Anuradhapura

Elara, King of Anuradhapura

by Professor A. D. T. E. Perera
This article was first published in the Vidyodaya University Journal, ed Prof. V. Suraweera, Vol 3, No. 2. for 1970

A chapter in the history of Ceylon has often been enigmatic to us and has provided avenue for further thinking on account of the availability of certain factors that would help to re-interpret this particular chapter wholly, to bring in a completely different picture. This is the chapter that deals with the saga of king Elara who was ruling at Anuradhapura (Ceylon), from 205 B.C. to 161 B.C.' It is intended in this paper to sift and study this chapter in the light of the material made available to us by recent researches.

The earliest available data on king Elara are the accounts in the two ancient chronicles of the Island, namely, the Dipavamsa (Dpv.) and the Mahavamsa (Mhv.) Having considered factors that are available outside the authority of these two chronicles and other historical treaties written in the past, we hesitate to accept king Elara being identified With a Cola Tamil from south India. On the other hand we have a good case for Elara as a non-Tamil, non- south Indian, but an Aryan north Indian who had come to Ceylon from a place of origin, if not the same, very much closer to a that of his other Aryan predecessors Vijaya, Panduvasudeva and others. King Elara was subsequently branded by the mediaeval writers of Ceylon as an arch enemy of the Sinhala nation, whom king Dutthagamini defeated in single combat that recalls Aryan chivalry.

At a time like this, when political animus manifests itself everywhere and has entered into such abstract fields of study like historical research, it is with restraint and care that we have to make such statements in contradiction of the accepted ideas and beliefs of the country that have come down through the ages.

We propose here a few possible theories, based on historical, topographical and linguistic analysis, both within and without the purview of the Ceylonese chronicles, that may render the identification of King Elara with either the Colas or south Indian Tamils an improbability.

Mahavamsa speaks of him as a Damila of noble descent who came hither from the Cola country. He had overpowered King Asela and ruled for forty four years with even justice toward friend and foe, on occasions of disputes at law.

"Colarattha idhagannna rajjathani ujujatiko-Elaro nalva Dainilo Gahetva Selabhupatim. Vassani cattaliscnca cattari ca akarayi rajjam voharassamye majjhatto mittasattus".

The earlier chronicle, the Dipavamsa is silent as to his descent when it speaks thus: "Elaro nama namena Aselam hantvana khattiyo-Catucattalisa vassani rajjam, dhammena karayi". But it calls him a khattiya (Skt. Ksatriya), one belonging to the noblest of the four castes into which Indo-Aryans were divided. Here too an Indo-aryan rather than a Tamil- Dravidian trace of social division is not absent.

It is only in the Mahavamsa that Elara was identified for the first time with a Cola (or Tamil). This is not strange for at the time when the Mahavamsa was complied in the fifth century A, C., Dravidian influence was much felt in Ceylon especially in the religious field, as a rival factor to the orthodox Mahavihara bhikkhus. Hence, whoever came as a hostile power to Ceylon and especially when that hostility was directed towards Buddhism the Mahavihara bias was not hesitant to brand those concerned as Dravidian Tamils (Cola or Pandya) Cola country or else the Tamil country was more famous for Mahayanists and it was a Cola monk who spelled doom to the Mahavihara, a few centuries before Mahanama wrote the Mahavamsa, he was the famous Sangamitta thera who came to Ceylon from Kaveripattinam in South India in the third century A.C. This area along with other peripheral sites like Uragapura (Uraiyur), Kanyakubja, Nagapatinam on the Kaveri river were famous Mahayana sites, as far as documentation is available in regard to early Buddhist antiquities of the post certificates. centuries.

Evidence is wanting however, to date the Colas as a ruling power in south India in such a distant past as claimed by references in certain so-called Sangam works before the Pallavas set up, for the first time in historical periods, imperial power in the Tamil districts in south India, there was the Pandya ruling house in Madura. Both Pandyas an Pallavas are now considered as belonging to an Aryan stock from north India (more probably from N., W. India), who had established themselves in the Tamil country. Although the Colas and the Kerala (Ceras) were mentioned in Asokan rock-edicts (R. E. II and XIII), there they were not given any significance as rulers or potentiates but ethnic groups. The fact that Asoka did not even consider including these territories of Colas and Keralas as fields befitting- his missionary activities is a good case against the establishment of an argument for the existence of powerful kingdoms In South India during the few centuries prior to the present era. Emperor Asoka who had sent his Buddhist missionaries to such far off places like Alisanda (Alexandria), Kamboja, Kasmira, Himavat, Suvannabhumi (Malaysia) had not thought of sending a party to the regions of Colas and Keralaputas and Satiyaputas, before including Tambapanni (Ceylon) which is further south and cut off from the mainland. Here is an instance for one to hesitate as to why Asoka ignored these regions from his missionary pursuits. Were these south Indian territories devoid of something that would not have allowed Asoka to treat them equally with other kingdoms? It could not have been a linguistic barrier as Asoka's missionaries had reached regions that were totally ignorant of Magadhbhasa. The only possibility is that these regions were still in their megalithic stage of development and were not ready to give a wholesome response to Maurya benefactions.

The doubtful antiquity of the Sangam period literature again makes a case for a non-existent Tamil imperial power in south India before the Christian era.' Even if the antiquity of the Tamil imperial power is beyond doubt, that will be of no importance to prove an early Cola invasion of Ceylon in the pre-Christian centuries.

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