The truth about the ‘Tamil Kingdom’ of Jaffna Peninsula
by D. G. A. Perera
@ The Island / 05Feb2006
Efforts have been made in the recent past to show that there was a separate Tamil Kingdom in Sri Lanka from ancient times. One of the first writers on this subject was Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam who published the book ‘Ancient Jaffna’ in 1926. However he was forced to admit that the population of Jaffna from the earliest times was one of Sinhala speaking people. It became a Tamil one only after the Sinhala people living there had been wiped out in the middle of the l6th century. Therefore he says "That Jaffna was occupied by the Sinhalese earlier than by the Tamils is seen not only in the place names of Jaffna but also in some habits and customs of the people." (p.384) Then, he proceeds to describe those habits and customs. Despite this. Prof. S. Pathmanathan published another book on the same subject in 1978. Such writings have helped to fan the burning issue today. Not only Jaffna Peninsula but also the area covering the Northern and Eastern (N&E) Provinces have been claimed as the "traditional homelands" of the Tamils. All this proceeds from the erroneous belief that there had been a Tamil Kingdom in Jaffna in the past. It is important to come to know the real facts about the Jaffna part of the issue for Prof. K. M. de Silva has already blasted the N&E theory in his book "Myth of the Tamil Homelands".
Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam has shown how according to the local tradition in Jaffna that the first Sinhala Kingdom was established by Prince Vijaya in the Jaffna Peninsula. The Sinhala people who lived there since the first colonization in the 6th century BC had passed on this tradition to the Tamil population who settled there after the 14th century. The Tamraparni Pond (Tambapanni Sara or Tamben Vila) was no other than the peculiar geological feature called the Keeramale Pond today. It is only here that even a large company of bathers can disappear from view and hide in a slow flowing underground river, as Vijaya’s followers are said to have done. It is there that Vijaya is said to have also built the Tambapanni City later. Only 38 years after that, the capital city was shifted further south to Upatissa Nagara near modern Pooneryn and shortly thereafter to Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura continued to be the capital of Sri Lanka over the next 1500 years or more. (i.e. up to the 12th century). During this long period of time a provincial ruler appointed by the King, administered Jaffna Peninsula. According to one of the Pali Commentaries, be bore the title ‘Diparaja’ or ‘Ruler of the Islands.’ A cave inscription discovered at Mihintale (U.C.H.C. Vol I, p.229) has confirmed this. Therefore, the Portuguese historian Fr. F. Queyroz was correct in saying that Jaffna was a part of the Sinhalese Kingdom throughout the Anuradhapura Period. However, on the arrival of the Portuguese he says that Jaffna was one of the fifteen sub-kingdoms under the King of Kotte who was therefore, known as the Emperor of Ceylon (The Conquest. p.32). How did that happen?
In the l3th century, Magha of Kalinga invaded this island. He came with an army of mercenaries from Cola and Kerala. While he occupied Polonnaruwa, Candrabhanu from the Malay Peninsula (which was Buddhist at that time,) occupied Jaffna Peninsula. His capital was at modern Chavakachcheri. Thus before the 13th century there was no separate Jaffna Kingdom and that first separate kingdom was also a Buddhist one. Because the Sinhala King from Dambadeniya could not fight two invaders at the same time he had to get help from the Pandya. Both Candrabhanu and Magha were driven out of the country by about the year, 1262 AC, but the Pandyan help led to the occupation by Arya Cakravartis of Madura in the 14th century.
That happened, when Muslim invaders like Malik Kafur invaded Madura, the capital of Pandya in the 14th century. "Dishonour and loss of prestige and caste to themselves and their women were the only forces which could have made them leave the country of their birth," says Rasanayagam (p.335). These high caste Vellalas were of the same social group as the Govigama Sinhalese people living in Jaffna Peninsula at that time and their influx here did not create any social conflict. If some Tamils who were displaced by the Muslim invasion also followed them, and the latter half of the 14th century would be earliest date for a Tamil settlement in Jaffna Peninsula. Any who had come here before that had adopted Sinhala culture and become naturalized. After some time, the Arya Cakravartis became powerful enough to be a threat to the dwindling power of the Sinhala kings in the south at that time. However, the kingdom of the Arya Cakravartis as their name implies, cannot be considered to be Tamil. After Prince Sapumal evicted the Arya Cakravartis in 1449, he ruled Jaffna Peninsula for a period of 17 years, on behalf of King Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte (1412-1467). When he left Jaffna to become King of Kotte as Bhuvaneka Bahu VI, he left as his proxy one Pararasa Sekaran of the Pandya line to administer Jaffna. The annual tribute he had to pay to Kotte was ten tusker elephants for the Esala Perahera. He also had a Tamil concubine in addition to his high caste wife from Madura.
This illegitimate son from that Tamil concubine was called Sankili. In 1519 Sankili killed his father and assumed power as the sub-king of Jaffna, forcing the legitimate son and successor to flee to the Portuguese in Goa. Therefore, Sankili appears to have been the first Tamil sub-king of Jaffna. He was as much an enemy of the Portuguese as Mayadunne of Sitawaka, or Vidiye Bandara (father of Don Juan Dharmapala) who became the regent of Kotte after the death of Bhuvaneka Bahu in 1551.
When the Portuguese settled some 700 fisher folk who had been converted to Catholicism, in Mannar, Sankili saw it as a threat to his position in Jaffna. He asked them to renounce their new faith and become Hindus again. When they refused to do so, he got all of them massacred in 1544. He also became paranoid when Vidiye Bandara (who had fallen out with Mayadunne, the King of Kandy, as well as the Portuguese who had him imprisoned,) escaped to Jaffna and became his guest. He feared Vidiye Bandara because the latter was known to be a power to be reckoned with Besides that, Vidiye Bandara had carried with him part of the treasure of the King of Kotte and also a replica of the Tooth Relic, both of which would help Sankili to claim kingship of Jaffna Peninsula if he could procure them.
For a man who had murdered his own father, it was not too difficult to devise a way of getting rid of Vidiye Bandara. He got him killed in an attack at a religious ceremony, making it appear to be an accident. This was about the year 1556. This atrocity enraged the Sinhala population of Jaffna which was considerably large at that time. Many Tamils also hated him for his excesses. These two parties got together and drafted a petition, which they sent to the Viceroy in Goa. They asked him to oust Sankili, and replace him with one of the Sinhala Princes who were in Goa at that time. (But the Sinhala princes died of small pox soon after.) The reason they gave was that Sankili had no legitimate right to rule Jaffna as it rightfully belonged to the Kingdom of Kotte. This enraged Sankili, who planned to rid the peninsula of all the Sinhalese people who had lived there from the beginning. He launched the first campaign for Ethnic Cleansing in this country’s history and massacred the Sinhala people in the same way as he had the Christians of Mannar. A short account of this massacre was written down afterwards, in the Yalpana Vaipava Malai. Quoting that document, Rasanayagam says:
"After the massacre of the Christians Sankili’s insane fury longed for more victims and he fell upon the Buddhists of Jaffna who were all Sinhalese." (He continued to slaughter them, and when the Portuguese force led by Braganza invaded Jaffna in 1560 they came across more than fifty mutilated bodies of Sinhalese people in their path.) "He expelled them [who escaped the slaughter] beyond the limits of the country [i.e. Jaffna Peninsula,] and destroyed their numerous places of worship. Most of them took to the Vannis and the Kandyan territories."
That was the work of the man who staked a claim to be the first Tamil King of Jaffna, because he possessed what was thought to be the real Tooth Relic and the treasure of the King of Kotte taken from Vidiye Bandara. That ‘Kingdom’ however lasted only for about four years from 1556-1560. He had to submit to the Viceroy of Goa in 1560, and agreed to become a vassal of the King of Portugal. He also undertook to send to the Portuguese the annual tribute of 10 tuskers, which were earlier paid as tribute to the King of Kotte. He also surrendered most of the treasure that he seized after killing Vidiye Bandara and (that replica of) the Tooth Relic. "These terms written in the Portuguese and Chingala languages were signed and authenticated." (Queyroz p.371) Note: Sinhala, the language of the ruling monarch, was used for this purpose instead of Tamil, because it had to be sanctioned by the King of Kotte who owned Jaffna, to become a legal document. This proved that Sankili’s claim to be the King of Jaffna was baseless.
The Viceroy also took Sankili’s elder son as a hostage to Goa. Shortly afterwards, Sankili was killed by one of his other sons, in 1561. He took over Jaffna as Puviraja Pandaram. The last of the Sub-kings of Jaffna, also called Sankili. He was deposed and sent to Colombo with two of his nephews in 1619, "as Olivera explained: ‘everything that smacks of royalty is best sent away from here" (U.C.H.C Vol. 11 p. 118). This second Sankili was later taken to Goa, tried for treason, and executed, even though he consented to become a Catholic. Jaffna continued to be an integral part of Sri Lanka, whose king was addressed as the de jure "Emperor of Jaffna" by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, right up to the Kandyan Convention of 1815.
Historians who suppressed facts about Genocide and Destruction of Buddhist Shrines in Jaffna: Rasanayagam did not conceal the truth about the massacre of the Sinhala people of Jaffna and the destruction of Buddhist Shrines, by Sankili. Although the Tamil author of the Yalpana Vaipava Malai recorded this, our own historians have suppressed the fact. Fr. S.G. Perera does not mention it, although he admitted that Sinhala people occupied Jaffna Peninsula up to the l6th century. S. Natesan, had excused, himself by saying: "The events connected with the rule of Sangili fall beyond the scope of this chapter" (U.C.H.C. Vol. 1, p. 107). Professors C. R. de Silva and S. Pathmanathan had no excuse whatsoever (see U.C.H.C. Vol. 11, Ch. IV published in 1995). This can only be attributed to absolute irresponsibility and/or bias in reporting the facts of history.