THE JAFFNA PENINSULAR
By H. W. TAMBIAH
During pre-historic times Ceylon is said to have been occupied by the Veddahs, Nagas and Yakkas. 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 Manimekalai. 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, 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." Among the Sangam poets mentioned is Ilattup 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 among the Sangam works, a few personalities who were referred to, as 'chieftains' appear to have come from Jaffna. For example Elini and Pittankorran" 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.), was perhaps a Malava chieftain with the title of raya, a suffix that 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. After a period of interregnum a Tamil Kingdom started in Jaffna when Ukkure Singham established a kingdom.
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 controversy.
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.'" The mercenaries consisting chiefly of Dravidians, were a deciding factor in wars. 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 Culavamsa states that they refused to pay tributes to Mahinda till he subdued them. The Yalpana 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 IOth 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 places.
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,'" As against this convincing evidence, some students of history appear to think that the Tamils settled down only in the twelfth century in Jaffna.l3 A new discovery throws great light on the kingdom of Jaffna in the eighth century. Masudi, the great Mohammedan traveler, 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 information).
MASUDI'S VISIT 1N 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. This was a custom among the Tamils during that period.
S. Vaiyapuri Pillai, in his work entitled Tamilar Panpatu 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.