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Author:  Rohan2 [ Wed Oct 05, 2005 2:30 am ]


Copyright © 2004

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 Kindom, there was no true Tamil Kingdom in South India excepting in Northern Ceylon.

Although the early kings of Jaffna did not style themselves Arya Chakravartis, by 12th century this name came into use. There have been many surmises as to how the kings came to style themselves as Arya 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 Ganga vamsa and the Brahmin families in Rameswaram. Still others think that the first Arya Chakravarti was a Pandyua General who asseted soveriengity in Ceylon when the Pandyan Kingdom was on the verge of collapse.

Be that as it may, this was glorious period of Tamil culture during which the Tamil language and the various arts developed. Fortunately for posterity, the literature written during that period glimpses from which the pattern of the Arya Chakravarti, court can be reconstructed. Attempts are made in this article to deal with kingship, the king’s education, spledour of the Arya Chakravarti’ court, the coronation ceremony, the administration of justice and the King’s Council.

The Arya Chakravarti 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 a comparable to Skanda whose residence was the mountain abode of Skanda. His feet have been described as lotus feet comparable to the feet of Gods and Goddesses.

Irama, in recognition of the independent nature of the Tamils and their kingdom, sovereignty, and the distinct indigenous national trait, invested a Brahmin to rule the Tamil kingdom, that stretched far to the north and east, along the Island’s littoral regions. In sublimate to the Tamils’ antiquity, Irama granted the Tamil king, garland made out of the sweet smelling Tulasi (Holy Basil), the title of the spotless Vedic Aryan – Emporer, the beautiful white parasol, the victorious flag symbolizing a single conch, recumbent bull, crescent and the sun. the kings who reigned the Tamil kingdom up to it’s fall to the first Western colonialists- Portuguese in 1621, claimed that they were the descendants of the Brahman kings of Rameswaram, initially enthroned by Irama – the Arya Chakravartis and later Singai Arya Chakravartis - Arya emperors of the Tamil kingdom and Setu Kavalar (the protectors of Setu- Rameswaram). Bertolacci, a historian of the early nineteenth century, says that, Matota was the capital of a kingdom founded by the Brahmins, who had almost all the northern part of Ceylon including Jaffna Patam. This was the first introduction of the Aryan culture and customs in the midst of the Tamils who inhabited the entire country, during the pre-Vijaya period.


The head of the state was the King. The idea of the sovereign as the parent of his people is the basis of Tamil politics. The sovereign can seek no salvation for himself individually, but can obtain it by the faithful discharge of his duty to the highest power, and to his subjects and to all around him. The three great virtues of Tamil Kings were heroism, justice, and charity. Three Kings of drums were sounded indicative of the three different phases of royal activity; the war drum (Vira-Murasu), the justice-drum (Neethi Murasu), and the gift-drum Kodai Murasu). Such practices were followed by Kumanan of Kudiraimalai, Sri Sanga Bodhi, and illustrious Lanbakanna sovereign, and Elala, the Just.


The flag of the Arya 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 Arya Chakravarti was given a sound education to befit his Royal status. He is said to be versed in three branches of the Tamil languages. Thus the astrological work, Segarajasingham, is compared to the sacred thread which the Arya Chakravarti, who is well versed in three branches of Tamil, wore. He is referred to as thilakam of the learned people. He was taught all the princely arts and the military sciences, which it was customary for royal princes to learn during that period. During the exile of Kanagasooriya Singa Aryan (1440 0 1450 A.D.) when Senpakaperumal (Sapumal Kumaraya) conquered Jaffna, Kanagasooriya’s sons, Pararajasekaran and Segarajasekaran, were taken care of by the Royal family at Thirkovil in India and they were taught military sciences.


The King always lives in his capital except in times of war. His palace always had a large establishment. The relatives of the King were the employees in the palace. Doluvaras were the bodyguards of the King. The apartments of the Queen were accessible only to maidens of noble birth.


For the dispensation of justice the King made his appearance every day in open durbar. The bull flag of the Aryan of the Ganga Vamsa who dispenses justice in his audience hall. He had able ministers to help in administering the country efficiently to the satisfaction of his people. The bard of the court or the poet laureate was always present at court and his counsels in times of crisis had profound effect. The court was not wanting in jesters who entertained the member of the court.


The Jaffna King always had good education in Tamil and in the classics. The Segarajasegaran’s astrological work says in one of its verses: “Like unto the sacred thread worn on the breast of Segarajasekaran learned in the three kinds of Tamil” (classic lyric and dramatic). Princes were sent to South India for their education and there seems to have been a school for Princes near Madura. Pararajasekaran (1578 – 1619) and his brother Segarajasekaran had their early education in South India.

The Princess was also educated and had a retinue of women attendants. These attendants were skilful artists who amused the King and courtiers with music and dancing. The Jaffna Princesses were so lovely and cultured that Senarat; King of Kandy got two of his sons married to two Jaffna Princesses.


The throne of the Arya Chakravarti was adorned with ivory and god and embellished with the rarest and choicest of precious stones. 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 flights of steps inlaid with ivory. When the king sat in durbar, he sat with his queen who did not wear a crown. The bull flag waved majestically in the air and the royal couple sat under a white umbrella.


The coronation ceremony was accompanied with great pomp and splendour as was characteristic of that period. A graphic description of the 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 were sung, as was customary in some of the eastern countries, is not clear.


Foreign travelers have given detailed description of the Arya Chakravartis of Jaffna. The King’s crown was conical in shape and set with valuable stones. He wore necklaces of pearls or precious stones and had on him armlets of gold. The Queen on public occasions took her seat on the Throne along with the King, but wore no crown.


The Throne was made of the best available material and adorned with ivory, gold and precious stones. Rebeiro the Portuguese historian gives a description of one of the imperial Thrones of the Kings of Jaffna. “ Among the other articles in the fortress was the imperial Throne which was used by those Kings at their solemn festivals; this consisted of several steps all beautifully carved and inlaid with ivory a rare and costly work which the Viceroy had intended to present to the King Dom Sebastiao on the occasion of his assuming the sceptre. Every effort was made to remove this but the task was found difficult owing to its great size that finally orders were given that the top alone which was the most precious part of all should be broken of and entrusted to some reliable persons to be carried away, as proof of its magnificence.


The ‘ur’ was both town and village. It formed a unit for administrative purposes. The Thalamaikaran or headman was in charge of the administration of the village. The Adigar was superior to the headman and had to supervise the work of several headmen. These Adidgars were appointed by the King. They were not paid by the crown, but were paid from the contributions of the well to do castes - the Vellalas, the Thanakaras, and the merchant class. Then there was another collective contribution to the King by each caste. Among the Careas the Pattankatti collected a tax on every ‘dhoney’ on its arrival at port. The ‘Marala’ on the dead was levied for the King by the issue of a cremation license. All land was supposed to belong to the King. He granted lands for services rendered either for a stated period or at most for life. In the latter case on the death of the grantee, his heir would as a rule obtain a re-grant on application to the King and on payment of fee. Uliyam services were due from the lower castes that had to work gratis for twelve days in the year on public utility works. If they failed, hey were fined. ‘Pandarapillai’, the tax-collector, went round collecting all dues and contributions. The aged had to supply Palmyra shells for use as fuel at the forges. All wrecked ships on the coasts were the property of the King and Sangily Segarajasekaran seized many a Portuguese ship that were stranded off his coasts. Further the Jaffna Kings had a separate carriage of their own.

Justice was administered free of charge impartially by the village ‘panchayat’ which consisted of the chief elders of the village. This council acted as a sort of arbitration court. It followed the land custom, the trade custom, and the social custom. The King’s court was the final court of appeal. Punishment in those days were severe even for trivial offences. ‘Thesawalamai was the authority in case of land suits.


In war. The Jaffna Kings often sent their generals to the field, but sometimes the King took the field in person. We are told of Puviraja Pandaram II that he took a large force to attack the fort at Mannar. The Portuguese historian Reberio informs us that this King was slain, while defending his capital Nallur.

The Arya Kings for the purpose of defending their country against all enemies had forts erected at Nallur and Kopay. Kanlinga Magha, who was the first Arya Chakravarti of Jaffna and the ruler of Polonnaruwa fro more than twenty years, had several forts all over Ceylon and the one Kayts was held by a very strong garrison. There seems to have been also a fort at Chavakachcheri. Besides, the Arya Kings built a special refuge ‘Pilathuvaram’ (an underground building) with halls and apartments at Thondaiminaru to take shelter in times of emergency.

In ancient times King Elala had many strong forts to defend his territories against Sinhalese attacks, and the one at Vijitanagara had gates and moats all around. The recent archaeological excavations of Matota reveal a moat round that celebrated city.

The fighting men of the King belonged to a military caste among the Tamils- Maravars. The males of this tribe had to undergo military training between the ages of sixteen and twenty four, and thereafter they usually took to the cultivation of the lands allotted to them by the state. Whenever their services were required they left their farms and served in the army. These forces were loyal to the King. The Kondaikaras were a class of efficient troops in the armed forces. In later times the Vadagars were also employed in the King’s services. All these soldiers were not wanting in valour or heroism. Their gallantry were well demonstrated in the bloody battle at Nallur in 1591, when all the valiant guards of the King died fighting to the last man.

The offensive weapons used by Tamil soldiers were swords, spears javelins, and bows and arrows. The Jaffna troops, who fought for the taking of Jayawardena Kotte, were protecting themselves with wicker screens against poisoned darts. In the fourteenth century the armour of the Jaffna troops were coloured and each regiment seems to have had a colour of its own. In 1560 when Sangily’s forces launched repeated onslaughts against the fort at Kopay, they used ladders made of areca nut trees to scale the walls of citadel. In 1618 the Tamil soldiers who fought the Portuguese had sandal protection for their feet. Thus it is clear that this country had a fairly continuous military tradition which served its immediate purpose, but it failed against the superior weapons of European nations.

The Arya Kings had good merchant fleets which helped them even in their military campaigns. When the Jaffna King made preparations to attack Jayawardena Kotte, the King’s ships transported the men and the materials to Colombo.


The Tamils lived in close touch with nature. As in the mainland astronomy and astrology very much influenced their lives. The natural phenomena of New Moon, the entering of the sun into each sign of the Zodiac, the eclipses, the equinoxes, the solstices were all considered ‘Punnyakalams’ (Holy days). The national festivals were so fixed as to coincide with the natural phenomena.

The ‘Uttarayanam’ (the first six months after the Winter Solstice) was considered health giving bright period for men and animals, because during this period the days became longer and longer. The beginning of the ‘ Uttarayanam’ was celebrated by the ‘Thaipongal’ (13th or 14th January) and the ‘Paddipongal’ (cattle festival) on the following day. The ‘haipongal’ was also the time for the housewife to cast away her old pots and pans and to get new ones.

The ‘Dadshanayam’ (the second six months after the summer solstice) was considered not a very bright period for men and animals, because the days became shorter and shorter. The beginning of the Dadshanayam was celebrated by the Adipirapoo (13th or 14th July)

The sun entering into Aries after the Vernal Equinox was the celebration of the New Year 13th or 14th April). As the ancient Tamils like the Romans of old were a nation of yeomen they had their temple festivals, their marriages, and other celebrations in the bright summer months after their harvest in February and March.

The Saraswathy Puja or Ayudha Puja was celebrated by the ancients in September – October during which period the children were first initiated into the mysteries of letters. It was also a festival of the artisans.

Another celebration on a national scale was the ‘Deepavali’. At a time when the cold winter season sets in with the North-east monsoon in October-November the Tamils celebrated this festival with the wearing of new clothes.

These festivals apart from their social significance had also a religious significance. These religious days (Punnyakalams) from time immemorial were reminders of the moral and spiritual laws that were embodied in the Vedas.

To a Tamil, religion was not departmental it permeated all his activities. Now work was started without invoking the guidance of the Almighty. When all external forms of worship were abolished by the Portuguese and the Dutch yet this ancient religion of the Tamils survived because religion had become a part of the lives of the people. In the long history of the Tamils they never allowed religious faith to decay. In fact it was kept alive by the supermen who from age to age enlivened and inspired the masses by their lofty lives and teachings. Thus the creative life giving instincts of the Tamils were kept alive through millenniums.


The Tamil medical system that was practised in Jaffna is known as the Siddha system. It was best suited to the climate and economic conditions of the country. The physicians lived in a society where learning was handed from generation to generation. He knew the art of preparing drugs especially those with iron and mercury. The physician was an expert in the purification, calcinations, and oxidation of minerals. He knew the use of alkalies and had an intimate knowledge of plants and their properties. He was a master in treating poisoned conditions as snake-bite which baffles us to-day. The physician was able to dispense medicine free of charge. His methods were cheap, natural, and simple. With the herbs he collected in the district, and with simple drugs he gave rural population good medical aid. The Jaffna physician was a very efficient man for we learn that Paranirupasingam once went to Kandy and successfully treated a long standing ailment of the queen.

The Kings of Jaffna encouraged the practice of medicine by getting new books on the subject written by able physicians, and caused them to be revised from time to time by a body of physicians. ‘Pararajasekaran’ and ‘Segarajasekaran’ are books of this category. There was a herbarium at Kalliyankadu where some rare herbs were preserved.


1. Cambridge University Library, London.
2. Oxford University Library, London
3. School of Oriental and African Studies University of London.
4. The National Archives Kew.
5. The British Museum, London.
6. The Netherlands Archives.

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