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The Sinhalese of Ceylon and The Aryan Theory

Letters of a Tamil father to his son

by Samuel Livingstone

In this treatise, Samuel Livingstone (1) provocatively challenged the Mahavamsa version of Ceylon Buddhist history, (2) strongly critiqued the views of his contemporary non-Tamil historians such as S.A. Pakeman, Senerath Paranavitane and Garrett Champness (G.C.) Mendis, and (3) supported his thesis by citing other non-native scholars such as Zenaide Ragozin, Jawaharlal Nehru, Col. L.A. Waddell...

In the next four letters, Nos. 9 to 12, he adduces proof, from the Mahavansa itself, that the Yakkas and the Nagas were not demons but human beings, in that the former (the Yakkas) were experts in the construction of irrigation tanks and were also petty chieftains in several parts of the island and embraced the Buddhist faith even so late as during the reign of Dutugemunu, nearly 400 years after the supposed arrival of Vijaya, and that the latter (the Nagas) appear to have been the ruling classes, as the names of several Sinhalese kings, from the time of Devanampiya Tissa to about 560 AD, ended with the suffix Naga.

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Around 1971, an interesting, slim book on the origin of Sinhalese in Ceylon was published. I did mention ‘around 1971’ for a reason. In the 130 pages, its publication date was not stated. But, eminent bibliographer H.A.I.Goonetileke had derived it, probably based on some clues, such as the record of arrival of a complimentary copy from the author or printer to the University of Peradeniya library. The publisher was identified as M.S.Seevaratnam of Kondavil. The printer was identified in the backcover as Mortlake Press, 148 Vauxhall Street, Colombo 2. The author of the book was a Tamil, hidden behind the pseudonym Samuel Livingstone. I bought this book on December 29, 1979 at the Greenlands Hotel, Bambalapitiya for 5 rupees and 25 cents.

The premise of the author about the origin of Sinhalese in Ceylon was presented in 30 letters, and was fascinating to read. Remember that the name ‘Ceylon’ was changed to ‘Sri Lanka’ only in 1972. That this was not a book by a crank was attested by its inclusion in the Bibliography of Ceylon, vol.3, (1976) by bibliographer H.A.I. Goonetileke, as entry no. 1442. Goonetileke had annotated the contents of this book as follows:

“30 letters debunking the Aryan origin of the Sinhala race, and suggesting that they were the descendants of the original Dravidian inhabitants of Ceylon, their civilization being essentially Dravidian.”

In 1977, when the 1960s print journalism trend-setter in Colombo, Reggie Michael edited the short-lived Independent (Colombo) weekly, he thought of serializing these letters, and published only one installment. Later, for various reasons (one of which was lack of space), it was abandoned. I’m aware of this, as I met Reggie Michael once in his office, via an introduction by James T. Rutnam. In introducing the Letter 1, Michael provided a brief introduction about the author in a box, as follows: “The author chose the pseudonym of Samuel Livingstone though he is reputed to be a legal luminary with a scholastic background. The letters are controversial, but make stimulating reading.” Now, in the electronic medium, space is not a problem. So, I pick up what Reggie Michael had abandoned in 1977.

The Sinhalese of Ceylon and the Aryan Theory Samuel Livingstone book coverI have been trying in vain to know the identity of the author. Based on the hint provided by Michael, a ‘legal luminary with a scholastic background’, I made up a short list of Tamils who could fit this criterion; Prof. C.Suntheralingam (1895-1985), Senator S. Nadesan (1904-1986), Dr. H.W.Tambiah (1906-199?), V. Navaratnam (1910-2006), and Prof. T.Nadarajah (1917- 2004) who lived in early 1970s. I did make discrete inquiries about this ‘Samuel Livingstone’ from a few Tamils who might have known or heard about him through grapevine. But, I have failed in this pursuit, and I couldn’t confirm whether anyone from my short list could be this ‘Samuel Livingstone’. I’m not sure whether Samuel Livingstone is still living or had died.

As 40 years have passed now, may be one has to assume that Samuel Livingstone is not amongst us. I’ll be more than happy if any of the readers can provide vital clues to the identity of ‘Samuel Livingstone’. When one reads the complete text, we also learn that the author is also well versed in other areas such as irrigation engineering, classics, linguistics and Tamil etymology. Though the presented view may be unpalatable to many Sinhalese, the text does provides plausible answers to the question, ‘Who are the Sinhalese?’

In this treatise, Samuel Livingstone had (1) provocatively challenged the Mahavamsa version of Ceylon Buddhist history, (2) strongly critiqued the views of his contemporary non-Tamil historians such as S.A. Pakeman, Senerath Paranavitane and Garrett Champness (G.C.) Mendis, and (3) supported his thesis by citing other non-native scholars such as Zenaide Ragozin, Jawaharlal Nehru, Col. L.A. Waddell. What is revealing is that, though Samuel Livingstone raised serious doubts in 1971 about the Prince Vijaya’s landing in Ceylon which resulted in the origin of Sinhalese race, a later study published in 1988 on blood genetic markers in Sri Lankan populations by N. Saha concluded that “genetic evidence linking the legendary origin of the Sinhalese population to East India (Prince Vijaya) is lacking.” [source: American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 1988; 76: 217-225].

Onomastics (the discipline of studies in names of people and places) have been a much neglected area in Sri Lanka. Though a few like (Benjamin Horsburgh, Swami Gnanaprakasar and Mudaliyar Rasanayakam) had contributed to this field in the pre-independent period, due to political sensitivity of the issue, many who held positions at the universities have not bothered to touch this discipline in the post-independent period. In late 1970s, low caste Sinhalese politicians, like Cyril Mathew, plunged into onomastics for their nefarious schemes. Samuel Livingstone (an independent scholar of a sort) seems to be an exception among academics, but he had to use a pseudonym to present his views. His derivation of the word ‘Serendib’ is of etymological interest. He says: “no wonder the so-called Arabs who came to Ceylon passing Malabar, called the island Serendib (Seran thivu), the island of the Cheras, which is not an Arabic word, but a word of the Tamil language which they themselves spoke”.[vide, Letter 3]

Unfortunately, the book suffers from lack of visual material; photographs, figures, tables or even sketches are absent. One can only guess, why the author chose a pseudonym. In the politically charged atmosphere of post-JVP insurgency, the author might have chosen this route, to avoid professional and personal losses to his career.

For convenience and stylistic reasons, I have revised the settings of footnotes (wherever they appear), at the end of each letter, with a numbered sequence. The original material had each footnote, with asterisk at the bottom of the page. Though I seriously considered revising the sequence of letters, to maintain the integrity and logic of author’s argument, I have not altered the sequence of letters. They appear below, as presented by the author.

For convenience, I present Letters 1 to 8 in this section 1. It amounts to nearly 12,000 words. In these letters, Samuel Livingstone offers his insights on the place names and terms used in irrigation, and their Tamil origin. In subsequent sections 2, 3 and 4, I plan to provide Letters 9-16, 17-24 and 25-30 sequentially.


Letter 1: Introduction

Letter 2: Names of Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from Tamil words (I)

Letter 3: Names of Places contd. (II)

Letter 4: Names of Places contd. (III)

Letter 5: Names of Places contd. (IV)

Letter 6: Names of Places contd. (V)

Letter 7: Names of Places contd. (VI)

Letter 8: Terms used in Irrigation

Letter 9: The Yakkas (I)

Letter 10: The Yakkas contd. (II)

Letter 11: The Yakkas contd. (III)

Letter 12: The Nagas

Letter 13: The Aryans and the Dravidians in Ceylon

Letter 14: The Aryan Nomads

Letter 15: The Pre-Aryans and their Civilisations

Letter 16: The Origin and Character of pre-Aryan Civilisations

Letter 17: The Origin and Character of the Indus Valley Civilisation

Letter 18: Was there an Aryan conquest of India?

Letter 19: The Aryanisation of the Dravidians and the Dravidisation of the Aryans

Letter 20: The Process of Aryanisation and the Brahmin Priesthood

Letter 21: The Greek and the Roman Civilisations (I)

Letter 22: The Greek and the Roman Civilisations contd. (II)

Letter 23: Buddhism, a reaction to Brahminism

Letter 24: The Intrinsic Merits of Dravidian Civilisation

Letter 25: The Legend of Vijaya

Letter 26: The Language spoken by Vijaya and his Successors

Letter 27: Vijaya’s successors were Nagas

Letter 28: The Aryan Myth

Letter 29: The Evolution of the Sinhalese Language

Letter 30: A Good Hypothesis for the Origin of the Sinhalese Race

Foreword by the Publisher

In these Letters of a Tamil father to his son, the author disputes the theory, currently prevalent among the Sinhalese, that they belong to the Aryan race and that they migrated to Ceylon in the past from North India ahead of the Dravidians and that the original inhabitants of Ceylon at the time of their coming, the Yakka and the Nagas, were not human beings but only demons, who had no language of their own and who were annihilated or banished to the Great and Little bases by them on their arrival.

To disprove this theory, the author examines, first of all, the names of places in the island to see if they were derived from the Sinhalese language, assuming that these names would have been Sinhalese derivatives, had the Sinhalese come to Ceylon earlier than other human beings. As a result of such an examination, he finds that these place names, a very high percentage of them, are of Tamil origin.

In addition to place names, he also shows that almost all the terms used in the science of irrigation practiced in Ceylon in the past are derived from the Tamil language, thereby indicating that the science of irrigation was not introduced into the island by the Sinhalese for the first time as claimed by them. The first eight letters of his deal with the above two matters.

In the next four letters, Nos. 9 to 12, he adduces proof, from the Mahavansa itself, that the Yakkas and the Nagas were not demons but human beings, in that the former (the Yakkas) were experts in the construction of irrigation tanks and were also petty chieftains in several parts of the island and embraced the Buddhist faith even so late as during the reign of Dutugemunu, nearly 400 years after the supposed arrival of Vijaya, and that the latter (the Nagas) appear to have been the ruling classes, as the names of several Sinhalese kings, from the time of Devanampiya Tissa to about 560 AD, ended with the suffix Naga.

Although the author’s main purpose is to prove that the Sinhalese did not come to Ceylon ahead of the Dravidians, yet, in view of the statements made by two Ceylon historians of some standing, viz, Dr. Mendis, who in his Early History of Ceylon states that ‘civilization was brought to Ceylon for the first time by the Aryans’, and Prof. Pakeman, who in his Ceylon and World History maintains that ‘the Aryans were a powerful race, for wherever they went they conquered and taught the conquered people to speak the Aryan language’, the author delves deep into the subject and writes the next twelve letters, nos. 13 to 24, in rebuttal of these two viewpoints.

In these Letters, the author doubts whether there was such a thing as an Aryan civilization at all any time, and maintains that all civilizations were pre-Aryan and were originated by the Dravidians, long before the name of Aryans and was heard of in history. He further states that, when the Aryans appeared for the first time, both in India and the Mediterranean regions, the only change that took place was a change in language, the original language of the pre-Aryan people becoming mixed with the new language of the incoming Aryans, resulting in the evolution of another language, a change which makes people normally to assume that the resultant language was an Aryan language and that in the same manner the civilization in these regions too was an Aryan civilization. The author explains very clearly how this change in language took place, while the old pre-Aryan civilization remained intact without any change. In this matter he also makes much use of the material furnished by the discovery, by Sir John Marshal, during the first quarter of the present century, of the Mohenjadaro and Indus civilization.

It is only in the final stages, in letters no. 25 to no. 30, that he reverts to the original theme with which he started the letters, viz., whether the Sinhalese were an Aryan race that came from North India and, if so, whether they came ahead of the Dravidians. His final conclusions are that the Sinhalese are a Dravidian race, who never came from outside, but have been occupying this island from time immemorial, and that their language too has been Dravidian from the very beginning. Further he seems to think that the story of the coming of Vijaya cannot be depended upon, for, according to him, it appears to be a fabrication invented for the sole purpose of safeguarding Buddhism from the onslaughts of Hinduism in the past. Even in regard to the Sinhalese kings of old, his view is that they were not Aryans, but descendants of the Naga kings who were ruling in the island even before the advent of Buddism.

On the whole, the author brings out sufficient material and puts forward sound arguments for all his conclusions. The Letters are well worth reading, not only by Tamil students, for whom they are intended, but all by all others interested in true history.

Letter 1


My dear Son,

Now that you have left the University of Peradeniya, you are about to enter the university of life. It is time therefore that I gave you some advice as a father to prepare you for the difficult journey ahead. Your education is not over. You must go on learning. In this task if you are wise, it is far better that you learn as much as possible from the experience of others and not merely from your own. One thing you should always have uppermost in your mind and that is a love for truth for its own sake. Of course, it is not an easy task; its path is narrow and straight, not broad and wide; but it is the only path that leads you to your Creator, in whom you live and move and have your being and without whom your life in this world loses its motive force and has no purpose to serve. So in all your activities while you sojourn in this world do not swerve from the path of truth and righteousness, or in other words, serve God with all your might and with all your strength, fearless of those puny creatures, called human beings, for that is the end and aim of life.

With these prefatory remarks, let me take you to the topic. I have been longing to tell you all these years. Ever since I watched you in your younger days cramming your text books in history, particularly those dealing with the early period of Ceylon history, I have been troubled in my mind as to whether, as a father, it was proper for me to go on keeping silent, without bringing to your notice that, before accepting everything stated in those books as facts, you should be critical and try to find out whether these so called facts are in consonance with other known facts and also satisfy yourself that those facts, at least some of them, are not wishes which are farther to the thoughts of selfish people with axes to grind.

I still remember some of those books, which you were using for your School Certificate Examination at a time when you were barely 15 years old and were not competent to bring a critical mind to bear on the contents of those books. Let me mention the names of some of them, and they are L.E.Blaze’s History of Ceylon, Donal Obeysekera’s Outlines of Ceylon History, Dr.C.E. Mendis’s Early History of Ceylon and Prof. S.A.Pakeman’s Ceylon and World History. In all these works, particularly the last two, we are informed that the Sinhalese of Ceylon belong to the so-called Aryan race and brought civilization to the island for the first time, that the Aryans, to whatever regions they went, even outside Ceylon, spread their civilization in those regions and that there civilization was superior to all other civilizations, including by implication even the Dravidian.

As a Tamil and knowing my own heritage, I could not stomach these preposterous claims. It was impossible for me to reconcile myself to the thought that the Dravidians, with such an ancient literature and moral code, with their achievements in music, art and architecture, and with their knowledge of the science of engineering, particularly hydraulic engineering, and also the science and art of navigation, and in addition possessing such a sublime and grand religion as Saivaism, which is their own handiwork and not a borrowed affair, could a posteriori have ever been inferior to any other race, and particularly to the Aryans, who, as everybody knows, were at one time a barbarian tribe of nomads without any culture or civilization of their own.

So I had to do a good deal of research into ancient history for your sake, for it is my wish that you should see the other side of the picture, which had so far been kept away from you. The names of a few well known books dealing with ancient history, as well as the names of several scholars, who had made contributions to this subject from time to time, are given below, just for your information.

Some Books

Short History of Ceylon by Codrington

Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon by R.L.Brohier

Our Place in the Civilization of the Ancient World, by the late Hon. K. Balasingam

The Dravidian Origin and Philosophy of Human Speech by the late Fr. T.C.Closset, S.J.

Ancient Jaffna by the late Mudaliyar S. Rasanayakam

Studies in Etymology and Etymological and Comparative Lexicon of the Tamil Language by the late Fr. S. Gnanaprakasar O.M.I.

Dravida by E.L. Tambimuttu

Madura Manual edited by J.H. Nelson

Madras District Gazetter, vol.1 (Government of Madras)

Dravidian and Aryan by Chidamparampillai, editor Tamilian, Nagercoil, India.

Dravidian Element in Indian Culture, by Dr. Gilbert Slater

Budhist India by Dr. Rhys Davids

History and Culture of the Indian People, by Professor S.K.Chatterjee

Hindu View of Life, by Professr Sir. S. Radhakrishnan, ex-President of India

Indian Thought and its Developments by Dr. Albert Schweitzer (Nobel prize winner)

Mohonjadaro and the Indus Civilisation by Sir. John Marshall.

The Origin of Sumerian Writing, by the late Fr. Heras S.J. (Journal of the University of Bombay, July 1938).

The Sumerians by Dr. Leonard Woolley (The excavator of Ur.)

Glimpses of World History by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

The Phoenician Origin of Britons, the Scots and the Anglosaxons’ and The Sumer-Aryan Dictionary by Col. A.L. Waddell (William & Norgate, London).

Armalurish by Clemens Schooner

Lands and Peoples of the Bible, by James Baikie

Diffusion of Culture, by George Eliot Smith

The Story of the Nations Series, (i) Chaldea, (ii) Assyria, (iii) Ancient Egypt, (iv) Phoenicia, (v) the Jews, and (vi) Vedic India.

Some Scholars

Dr. Mcleane, Dr. H.R. Hall, Sir George Grierson, H.N.Brailsford, Prof. Haeckel, Rev. W.F. Goudie, Dr. G.U. Pope, Dr. Winslow, Dr. W. Taylor, Bishop Caldwell, Professor Max Muller and others.

I wish to tell you at the outset that my scrutiny so far does not reveal that the so-called Aryans contributed anything to the civilization of the world. It is indeed a daring statement to make. I propose therefore to write to you a series of letters, placing before you my discoveries of who the Aryans were and who the Dravidians and between them who the Sinhalese could have been. I sincerely believe that you will have the patience to read all my letters carefully, for I want you to unlearn so many things which you learnt while at school.


Letter 2

Names and Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from

Tamil Words (I)

My dear Son,

You have heard the Sinhala chronicle called the Mahavansa written exclusively by the Buddhist clergy. This chronicle attaches much importance to Vijaya and his landing in Ceylon with his 700 followers in about 483 BC and dismisses the inhabitants of Ceylon at the time, the Yakkas and the Nagas, as demons and therefore as unworthy of consideration. From your own knowledge of Tamil literature, do you seriously believe that the Yakkas and the Nagas could have been demons and were not to be classed as human beings? Accepting for the moment that they were not human beings, and therefore without any speech or language of their own, and that the first civilized inhabitants to settle in this island, with a language of their own, were Vijaya and his 700 followers, and also assuming that no other civilized inhabitants preceded Vijaya and his followers, it necessarily follows that Vijaya and his followers would have, after their occupation, named the various places in the island with words taken from the Sinhalese language, which they spoke, and which the Mahavansa claims they brought from India.

This is one of the ways by which we can prove that the Sinhalese came first to the island before everybody else. So, with the expectation that the names of places would have been Sinhalese words, I examined the existing names, but to my utter surprise I found that almost every name I examined revealed traces of Tamil origin. Among the names examined, in some cases it was not possible for me to give a satisfactory explanation to the origin of the names by means of Sinhalese words, and in the case of others, even if some meaning could be found by means of Sinhalese words, it was not satisfactory at all. On the contrary, the meanings of all the place names examined could be explained more satisfactorily with the aid of Tamil words. This applies to quite a large number of place names, even in the South and the Centre of the island inhabited by the Sinhalese, who, according to the Mahavansa, were the first human beings to come to this island.

In the ancient past, when man began to speak, he named every object by some word, which had a distinct meaning to signify that object. It was not a case of any name for any object indiscriminately. Hence my expectation that these names must bear some good meaning which I was trying to discover. It is in my attempt to do so that I find it difficult to reconcile their claim that they came first. If the Sinhalese had come and occupied this island for the first time before everybody else, they would have used their Sinhalese language to name every place, and the present names of places would therefore be of Sinhalese origin. But in the majority of place names, as I have told you, I cannot make any sense, except with the help of the Tamil language. The fact that the Tamil language offers a satisfactory explanation would indicate that there were human beings in the island before the arrival of the Sinhalese, and that these human beings were speaking a language akin to Tamil, or, if the Sinhalese came first, it would mean that quite a large number of Tamil-speaking people also came simultaneously along with the Sinhalese. Or it might mean quite a different thing, viz, that the Sinhalese never came from outside at all, but have been in the island for all time, as we of the North, and that their present Sinhalese language was evolved by gradual degrees from the original Elu or Ilam, a form of Dravidian spoken by the people of Ceylon for several millennia before the advent of Buddhism, and that, with the adoption of Buddhism as the state religion and the establishment of the priesthood who took over the education of the people, Pali language began to play a prominent part and practically changed the old language out of recognition by the introduction of several new words and idioms into it. But while Pali changed the vocabulary of the spoken and the written language in every sphere of human thought, it could not change the names of places and of geographical objects, which, however, remained intact as they were in use previously. If any change took place, it was only in respect of alterations in the ending of words or in the way they were spelt. From the meaning of the place names, I have every reason to believe that the occupants of Ceylon, before the advent of Buddhism, must have used a dialect akin to Tamil as their language.

I think I should give you examples in support of my theory that the names of places in the areas inhabited by the Sinhalese are of Tamil origin, and I shall give you a fairly good number. I want to confine myself to the names of places in the South, the West and the Centre of the island or rather to the Raja Rata, the Ruhunu Rata, the Malaya Rata of ancient Ceylon. It will be seen that a majority of the names of places end in the following.


  • gala
  • gama
  • goda or gode
  • kulama
  • mulla
  • pitiya
  • pola
  • wela or wila

I shall explain the meaning of these suffixes one by one by means of Tamil words.

  • There are several place names ending in gala. Now gala is the Tamil word kal or colloquially kallu, a stone or rocky place. Galle is one such name being a rocky promontory in the southern province. Kurunegala is another. At Kurunegala you can always find the presence of a huge black granite rock fringing the town or over a mile. Whatever interpretation the Sinhalese people may give to the origin of this name, the fact remains that this rock was there for centuries. It has been such a remarkable geographical phenomenon that the name of that place must have owed its origin to its presence. A granite stone or rock of this nature is called in Tamil, karungal or in spoken language karungallu. The resemblance or close identity between karungallu and Kurunegala is such that it requires no need to labour a far-fetched explanation to trace the derivation or origin of this word from other sources.

Take the word Paiyagala in the Western province. Paiyagala stands for the Tamil word periyakallu, with the elision of the consonant r. Periyakallu means a big stone and you will see even today a huge boulder of stone in the sea near the Paiyagala railway station only a few yards away from the beach. From its presence it is clear that it must have been there from ancient times and those who came by sea in the past named that place Periyakallu owing to the presence of this boulder so prominently before them.

Names ending with this suffix are found all over the island. This suffix also appears to be sometimes written as kelle or kele, as in Bambarakelle or Talawakele. I hope no one will say that –gala belongs to the Aryan group of languages.

  • The suffix gama corresponds to the Tamil word kamam, meaning a plantation or cultivated land, the Tamil word for agriculture being kamaththolil. Some think that this is a variation or a shortened form of the Tamil word gramam, a village with the elision of the consonant r. The number of places ending in –gama is most numerous. Let me give you only three examples from the Southern province viz, Ahangama, Weligama and Magama. Ahangama and Weligama are two peculiar names. In Tamil the prefixes in those two names have definite meanings. Aham in Tamil means inside and Veli means outside. So Ahangama is a village in the interior and Weligama a village outside. As regards Magama, which is a shortened form of Maharagama (called by Ptolemy as Magramon), I shall deal with it in one of my future letters.

There may be those who say that gramam is an Aryan word merely because it is also found in Sanskrit. This is to ignore the fact that Sanskrit has borrowed extensively from Tamil. In this connection the fact that the word gramam is found used in Malabar of all places in India is significant.

  • The suffix –goda or –gode is also a common one. So far as the Sinhalese are concerned, probably they use the word gode for a hill or a mountain. This corresponds to the Tamil kodu, the peak of a mountain. I don’t know if this gives a satisfactory explanation when applied to names of villages and towns. Even the meaning ‘fortification’ which the Tamil form koddai signifies cannot, I think, be regarded as a satisfactory explanation. On the other hand, the Tamil word kudi means an inhabited village or a hamlet, and you will see how appropriate a word it is for a village. It is found as a suffix in several names of places in the Tamil districts in Ceylon, e.g. Kaththankudi, Puthukkudi and even in South India, e.g. Thoothukudi. As such I am inclined to think that the Sinhalese goda is very likely our kudi. I shall take a few examples.

Veyangoda seems to be Vayalkudi, a village situated in the midst of paddy fields. How appropriate this Tamil word is for Veyangoda, considering that it is rich with paddy fields, although now studded with coconut groves, owned by some of the most influential families whose names I need not mention.

Wattegoda is very probably Vaddakkudi, a round circular village. Similar to this is Vaddukkodai in Jaffna which was perhaps originally known as Vaddakudi.

Ambalangoda is the Tamil Ambalamkudi, a village where there is an ambalam, which is a hall or a temple.

On the other hand the Tamil word koddai meaning a fort is used in the Sinhalese word kottuwa; Pita Kottuwa, and Kotte (the old Jayawardhanapura).

  • Kulama is the Tamil word kulam, a tank. It is a pure old Dravidian word. You will find this word used for hundreds of tanks in the North-Central province, and also in the Southern province. I shall elaborate on this subject in one of my future letters. But for the presence I would refer you to the word Bulankulama which is the name of a past Minister of Agriculture and Lands. This word is no other than the Tamil word Vilankulam, that is the tank where you find the wood apple tree in abundance.

  • Mulla is the Tamil word moolai, meaning a nook or corner. You find this suffix in several names of places. Examples, Walasmulla, Ganemulla, Haldumulla, Wanathamulla, Moratumulla, Harakaramulla etc.

  • Pitiya is the Sinhalese way of spelling the Tamil word piddy. A paddy is a mound or an elevated piece of land. Kalpitiya, Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya, Narahenpitiya, Wellampitiya are some of the many such names. This suffix is also written as –bode in some places as Rambode, Wellabode etc. You will also find the suffix paddy in the Tamil district in several place names, as Erukkalampiddy, Allaipiddy etc.

The word Wellampitiya which is the Tamil Vellampiddy, means an elevated piece of land surrounded by water, and the present Wellampitiya near Dematagoda is really such a place. This word is found in other areas to denote similar tracts of land surrounded by water, as in Wellabode in the Southern province. The prefix wellam, Tamil vellam meaning flood is also in such words Wellawatte and Wellawaya, places subject to floods.

  • Pola corresponds to the Tamil word pallai or palli, meaning a fair or market place or a meeting place, as Ambanpola, Pattipola, Warakapola, Gampola. You find this name in the Tamil districts, e.g. Vattapallai and in India e.g Trichinapoly (Thiruchinapallai).

  • The suffix –wela or –wila in Tamil appears to stand for several things, viz.
  • vayal, a field; 2. veli, an open space; 3. vali, a way; 4. valai, a bend. Regarding (1) vayal is colloquially vayalu. Those who do not know Tamil word ordinarily write it as wela. For example, Mutturajawela is Mutturaja Vayalu, the paddy field of Mutturaja. Regarding (2), Bandarawela is Bandara Veli, an open treeless plain belonging to Bandara. In this sense the word veli is found in Welimada, which is the Tamil Veli Medu, a stretch of open mounds and hillocks which Welimada is geographically. Pallewala may mean either Pallaveli, an open low land or pallavayal, a low lying field. The prefix –Palla corresponds to the Tamil pallam, meaning a low ground.

Regarding (3), with apologies to one of our late prime ministers, the word Kotalawela, behind Kotte or Jayawardanapura, is the Tamil koththalavali. Koththalam in Tamil, is a rampart behind a fort and vali is a way, and Kotthalavali is the path leading to the rampart. Regarding (4), Beruwela is the Tamil Peru Valai, a big bend, which it is geographically.

In addition to the above suffixes, there are several suffixes of minor importance such as,

Deniya, Tamil thinai, land or soil as in Teldeniya or Dambadeniya.

Pokuna, Tamil pokkanai, a hollow formed by the subsidence of the surface soil, as in Kadurupokuna.

Hena, Tamil chenai, a plantation, as in Nildandahena in the Central province similar to Valaichenai in the Eastern province.

Kada, Tamil kadu, a jungle or forest, as in Maradankada, Tammankada, Talagasmankada.

Kuliya, Tamil kuli, a pit, as in Mattakuliya.

Watta, Tamil vaddam, an enclosure or garden.

As regards rivers, oya is from Tamil odai, a stream, and ganga is from Tamil kanku, a river.

Besides suffixes, there are several prefixes whose meaning can be ascertained only through Tamil, but I propose not to tire your patience with examples.

In my next letter I shall deal with the same subject but in a different way.




Letter 3

Names and Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from

Tamil Words (II)

My dear Son,

I want you now to look at the subject entirely from a different angle and examine some more names of places. I might tell you that in the dim past, before the Sinhalese ever came to Ceylon, (for in my opinion they never came at all), the important places occupied by the people were the river basins where water was available for cultivation. In these places the people colonized, cultivated the lands and practiced irrigation. This was the case in almost all the river basins (not only in Ceylon but all over the world).

Furthermore, when immigrants came from outside in sailing vessels, they landed mostly at the mouths of rivers, for in those days, when there were no roads, rivers were the only means of communication inland. They also searched for bays or bends in the sea for their vessels to take shelter from the winds and waves of the open ocean. So, if you wish to know whether those early colonists and immigrants were Sinhalese-speaking or Tamil-speaking, you must examine the names of the various harbours or ports and the names of the several bays used by them to find out if these words are of Sinhalese or Tamil origin.

First of all, I want you to examine the word Kalappu or Kalappuwa as it is called in Sinhalese. Kalappu in Tamil is the name used for all bay-like bends of the sea (foot note 1). You will find this used for all such bends or gulfs everywhere round the island, even in the south. Negombo is Neer Kalappu, Colombo is simply Kalappu, Batticaloa is Madakalappu. There are a number of such bays in the South coast also, all known by the name Kalappuwa; e.g. Kalamitiya Kalappuwa, Kekawa Kalappuwa, Lunama Kalappuwa etc.

You will note that, as I have told you, a Kalappuwa is usually a safe place of anchorage for sailing vessels, and so evn the Portuguese, when they came to Ceylon, selected the nearest Kalappu for their stay, and geographically you can see from the map that Colombo harbor is a natural bend in the sea and fairly safe for anchorage in the West coast, south of Negombo. I am therefore led to think that the word Colombo is a corrupt form of Kalappu, as written by the Portuguese, who, as we know, were notorious in caricaturing several names of places in Ceylon.

Take again the Tamil word Thurai, a harbor port. This is found in such names as Panadura (Pannaithurai), Gintota (Sinnathurai), Bentota (Pannaithurai), Matara (Mathurai), Ambalantota (Ambalanthurai), Hambantota (Sambanthurai). (foot note 2).

You will note that all these names are found at or near the mouth of rivers, or at the end of lagoons, as in the case of Panadura, showing that they were places of exit and entrance for people in ancient times. The prefix Pannai is a Tamil word meaning a landing place inside a lagoon. You will find a Pannaithurai in Jaffna too by the side of the Dutch Fort. The geography of Panadura of the western province and that of Pannaithurai of the northern province near the Jaffna Fort, are exactly similar. They are both separated from the open ocean by a lagoon.

In regard to the river basins where people colonized, the Kelani Ganga, the Nilwala Ganga, and, more than all, the Mahaweli Ganga are good examples of such early colonisation. If these early immigrants or colonists were Tamilians, as I claim they were, there must be traces of Tamil words in the names of these places. With this as the hypothesis, let us examine some of these names.

The Tamil word Kalani is the name for an agricultural district or cornfield or a place inhabited by farmers (foot note 3). The present Kelaniya was Kalani in the ancient past, a territory occupied by agriculturists, and the river Kelani Ganga took its name accordingly. Somebody said that it was the Sanskrit word Kaliyani. Don’t you think it is too far-fetched to derive that word in that way? It is like counting the guests without the host. The Tamil-speaking people were here, and the people from the country of the Cheras speaking a dialect of Tamil were also close by. They were not idling nor were they leaving the island severely alone, so that Vijaya and his followers might occupy it for the first time, and give their own appellations to these places for the first time. The Dravidian races had settled down earlier as agriculturists and made use of the land. They called this fertile place, near the river, Kalani, in their own way, and the mouth of the river they named muhaththuwaram, now known as Modera and Mutwal. A muhaththuwaram in Tamil means an opening at the mouth to give access to the interior. Muham means a face and Thuwaram, a hole or an opening. (foot note 4) The name Muhaththuwaram has been used for the mouth of the Kelani Ganga for centuries and continues to this day.

From Kelani Ganga let me take you further down south. I have already explained to you the meaning of Panadura. Behind Panadura, is the village Nalluruwa. This village corresponds to Nallur of Jaffna, which was the capital of the Tamil kings. Nallur in Tamil means a good village. A little further down south you find Kalutara, which is very likely Kalithurai, the port of embarkation for passengers proceeding to Galle by boat. This corresponds to Colombothurai of Jaffna, which too is the port from which people proceeding to Colombo commence their voyage by sea.

As I told you the Dravidians were all over the island. They must have settled in Matara too, which was for geographical and climatic reasons a suitable place for colonization. It was in the border of the wet and dry zones and was an ideal place for agricultural pursuits and from the point of view of health an equally ideal place. They therefore occupied Mathurai, at the mouth of a river and called it a great port which is its meaning in Tamil. The river, at whose mouth Matara was situated and which watered the hinterland, they called the Nilwala Ganga. Now Nilwala Ganga is a beautiful Tamil word. The Sinhalese language will not be able to attribute a suitable meaning to it. We must go to the Tamil language for this purpose. Nilwala Ganga is the Tamil Nila vala Ganga; nilam is land and vaLam is wealth; nilavalam means wealth of the land. So the Nilavala Ganga was the river that gave wealth and prosperity to the land through which it flowed. Close by is Dondra, which appears to be Thenthurai, meaning Southern port. It is clear that all these place names had a meaning at one time, given to them by the early Tamil colonists.

The word vaLam persists in Walawe Ganga too, which is the next river of importance that waters the Southern province east of Matara. I shall deal with the basis of this river in a subsequent letter when we go to Ruhuna Rata and examine the names of places there in detail.

From the little I have said so far, you will realise that there must have been intercourse between Dravidian India and Dravidian Ceylon in ancient times and it must have been so intimate that people from Ceylon settled down in Malabar and are called even today by the name Thiyars (Thivars), islanders, in some places and by the name Izhavars, people of Ilam in other places. People who came to Ceylon from Malabar or via Malabar, as the Moorish traders, would have naturally called Ceylon Serendib, Tamil Serendivu, the island of the Cheras. The Chera kingdom, comprising at that time the present Travancore, Cochin, the land bordering the Western Ghats in the north and even the area up to Cape Comorin in the south, was at the zenith of its power for a very long time, even after the arrival of the so-called Arab merchants, who, by the way, were not Arab-speaking people, but Tamil-speaking people converted to Islam during their sojourns in Arabia and the Persia Gulf for purposes of trade. The Cheras were a sea-faring nation and commanded the Arabian and the Red Seas. Even the Romans felt their power during the time of Augustus Caesar, and this fact is referred to by the Roman poet Horace, in the following lines in Ode Book 1, no. XII, which you would have read while at college:

Ille seu Parthos Latio imminentis

egerit justo domitos triumph

sive subjectos Orientis orae

Seras et Indos te minor latum reget aequus orbem (foot note 5)

No wonder that at least the western and southern coasts of Ceylon must have been under their suzerainty, and no wonder the so-called Arabs who came to Ceylon passing Malabar, called the island Serendib (Seran thivu), the island of the Cheras, which is not an Arabic word, but a word of the Tamil language which they themselves spoke, for they were clearly the direct descendants of the Dravidian sailors of old, to whom Pundit Nehru has paid high tributes in his Glimpses of World History, while commenting on the advanced position South India occupied in the ancient world in regard to trade with and colonization of other lands. The real Arabs were never a sea-faring race. The term ‘Arab’, was used for the first time by the Portuguese, when they came to Ceylon in the middle of the 16th century. They naturally mistook these Dravidian sailors for Arabs, in view of the religion they professed, but without any consideration for the language they spoke. As I have already told you, these Dravidian sailors embraced Islam during their sojourns in Arabia, where they went for purposes of trade. That they were Dravidians is indicated not only by their language, but also by their social customs, such as, for example, marriages in which they followed the Dravidian practice of tying the thali and giving dowry to the bride etc.

In my next letter I shall deal with the basin of the Mahaveli Ganga.



Foot note 1: The resemblance of the English word ‘Gulf’ to the Tamil word ‘Kalappu’ is noticeable.

Foot note 2: The Sinhalese suffix – tota appears to be a bad spelling for the Tamil word thurai. Hambantota is Sambanthurai, s becoming h, the port to which the Malays came in their sambans or boats, this name is similar to the Sambanthurai in the Eastern province. But Sambanthurai of the Northern province has a different meaning in that sambu means naval (Sinh. Jambu).

Foot note 3: It appears to be the same as the Latin word, colonia, and the English word, colony.

Foot note 4: By the way the word thuwaram, at the mouth of the Kelani Ganga, reminds one of the Dover at the mouth of the Thames.

Foot note 5: Orients = the East, the Seras = the Cheras; Indus = India. English annotators called the Seras a Chinese tribe, as though India, which was closer to the Roman empire than China, did not exist as a powerful nation. The Parthos referred to in the above Ode are themselves an Indian race, the Barathas, India being called Baratha in the ancient past.


Letter 4

Names and Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from

Tamil Words (III)

My dear Son,

Let me now take you to the most important of all the river basins, that of the Mahaveli Ganga. The basin of this river too had been colonized by Tamil speaking people. It contained a large area of fertile agricultural land. Polonnaruwa was the centre of this rich agricultural district for a considerable time and Saivaism was the religion of the people. When Buddhism was brought to Ceylon, Mihintale was the first headquarters of the new religion. The headquarters was later transferred to Anuradhapura, which was subsequently improved and enlarged by those kings who had embraced Buddhism. Polonnaruwa however, must have remained a Hindu city, for at this period the spread of Buddhism was only in its early stages. The Tamil word, Anurasapuram indicates its meaning. Anurasar in Tamil means allied kings and Anurasapuram is the city of the allied kings referring to those who, though Buddhists, were conjoint chieftains with the rest of the similar chieftains in other parts of the island. This implies that the other kings or kingdoms must have remained Hindu, at least for some time, and it is very likely that, when the new city of Anuradhapura was made the capital of the whole of Ceylon in later times, the old capital was re-named Polonnaruwa, meaning Palaya Nagaram, the old city. This city co-existed with Anuradhapura from the very beginning up to the middle of the 14th century. It was the place where even the royalty of Anuradhapura used to repair for rest or retirement and to spend the evening of their lives. During the 10th and the 11th centuries it was the capital of the Chola kings who ruled Ceylon, thereby showing that this city was all along, from the very inception, representative of Hinduism, as Anuradhapura was representative of Buddhism from a later date. You will note that even Ptolemy, the Greek traveler, speaks of Anourogrammon, referring to Anuradhapura, only as the royal city, but of another city Magrammon as the metropolis; and Codrington in his Short History of Ceylon throws out the suggestion that Maagrammon must have been in the neighborhood of Polonnaruwa. The importance of Polonnaruwa can thus be understood.

To test my theory that the Tamils had colonized here in ancient times, let me examine the names of places of the district around Polonnaruwa. Minneriya is the Tamil Minneri, the shining lake. The name is clearly Tamil. If the claim that Mahesan built it for the first time is true, he must have improved or enlarged an old existing lake by that name, or the Tamil name Minneri was due to the fact that the people of the district, where Minneriya tank was constructed by Mahesan, were still speaking the Dravidian dialect as in the past. In this connection, I would refer you to the footnote appearing on page 20, part I of the Ancient Irrigation Works by Brohier, in which the author quotes an extract from a report of 1898 by a Survey Department official, Mr. Blair. The extract reads thus:

‘There is a strange legend current among the Veddahs living in Bintenne North, that Minneriya was first built centuries before the time of King Maha Sen, that it was breached totally, and that, in his reign and before, the bed of the tank was a famous hunting ground of the Veddahs who had spread themselves over a great part of the island. According to these Veddahs Maha Sen only restored the tank and compensated their ancestors for having submerged their hunting ground.’

The extract speaks for itself and no comments are necessary.

Tammankadawa is Tamil Thampan Kadavai. Kadavai in Tamil is a place where you cross over from one place to another. Here the name indicates the district where the people in ancient times crossed over from one bank of the Mahaveli to the other. (foot note 6) You will find a place called Magantota, just below the confluence of the Amban Ganga with the Mahaveli Ganga. It is where the crossing was easy. Any other place above that point would result in your having to cross at two places, that is the Amban Ganga first or the Mahaveli Ganga afterwards or vice versa. So Magantota below the point at which both the rivers meet was selected for fording the Mahaveli.

Speaking of Magantota, the suffix tota, as I have already told you, is a bad spelling for the Tamil word thurai. Thurai in Tamil is used not only for a port or harbor situated at or near the mouths of rivers, but also for a place where you land after crossing a river. As examples of the former category, I have already pointed out to you in a previous letter several names of ports, all at the mouths of rivers such as Bentota, Gintota, Ambalantota, at the mouths of the Bentota river, the Gin Ganga and the Walawe Ganga respectively. As examples of the latter category, you will find Katugastota, Weragamtota and Dastota which are also crossing places in the Mahaveli. Katugastota is the ‘port’ or ford for Kandy, as Weeragamtota for Alutnuwara, which was also a very important town as Kandy at one time, as its name indicates. You will find crossing places ending in tota everywhere in the island, even in the Ruhuna district; e.g. Gallelitota, and Liyangahatota on the Walawe, Nakaliyagastota and Rugamtota on the Menika Ganga, Migahatota and Ambagastota on the Kumbukkan Aru and so on.

I think I am digressing, but I only want to show you that the word tota is a Tamil and not a Sinhalese word, so that you may know that the Tamil speaking people were all over the island, probably both before and after Vijaya came, if he ever came at all.

If I don’t bore you, I wish to examine some more names of places in the Polonnaruwa district at random. Manampitiya corresponds to the Tamil Manalpiddy, a sandy hill or mound. You have heard the word Maradankadawela. It sounds a jaw-breaking European name although it is the simple Tamil word, Marutham Kaddu Vali, that is the road that goes to or along the forest of Marutha trees. It may also mean Marutham Kaddu Veli, an open park dotted with Marutha trees. Take another word, Galenbinduna Wewa, just north-east of Polonnaruwa. It is a very queer name, is it not? Is it a Portuguese, Dutch or Hindustani word? Could there be any meaning to it in the Sinhalese language? No. It however appears to be a Tamil word. The Tamils must have been living here, cultivated the soil and made use of tanks for irrigation purposes. They must have called this tank Kalam Pinthina Vavi; i.e. the tank that accumulated its water after the season, the season for the sowing of paddy. Does this not explain the meaning satisfactorily? Can any other equally satisfactory explanation be found by any other means or with the help of any other language? One more example and I have done. Take Galwachchakuliya. Can you guess the meaning? Well it is nothing but the simple Tamil word ‘Kal Vaichcha Kuli’, meaning a pit in which a stone was erected.

The above words alone should give you the clue that, if you wish to unravel the meaning of practically every word of the names of places in this and the other districts of the island, you must go to the Tamil language and no to any other. By implication I mean that people who spoke a Tamil dialect were here from very ancient times. Whether they came after Vijaya or before Vijaya is immaterial.



Foot note 6: (By the way, the Hon. Mr. Balasingham surmises – vide his pamphlet Our Place in the Civilization of the Ancient World, that Tamman Kadavai in the Mahaveli district where Polonnaruwa was situated was the Tammana Nuwara where Vijaya first settled down. There is much in what he says, considering that Polonnaruwa must have been the chief city of the Mahaveli basin from very ancient times.)


Letter 5

Names and Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from

Tamil Words (IV)

My dear Son,

Now that we have traversed the river basins, let me take you to Ruhunu Rata, that is, that part of the island which was never overrun by the Tamils. I would leave out the Northern part of the island. I go on the assumption that the Sinhalese came earlier and named the places after their own heart and that the change of names in the northern parts was due to subsequent Tamil incursions. The point has always been made that Ruhuna Rata was the land of pure Sinhalese and that it was here that all movements to throw out the foreign yoke originated; e.g. Dutugemunu’s campaign against Elala. The Sinhalese today make every endeavour to convince all outsiders (of course not the Tamils) that they came from North India, speaking an Aryan language, drove out or exterminated all the indigenous tribes, introduced for the first time a system of irrigation unknown before and made Ceylon civilized which it was not before. So Ruhunu Rata should have been their stronghold and monopoly to which the late coming Tamils could have had no access.

Ruhunu Rata is a name to conjure with. Away from the marauding tribes of South India and Malabar, it was a place of refuge and safety from sudden invasions. If the story of Ramayana is true, it was where Ravana had his strongholds and fastnesses in the mountain regions bordering the Uva province. It was there he had his fortress, now known as Namunakula, and kept Sita in captivity at Sita Eliya further behind. Whether the story of Ramayana is historically true or not, tradition has handed down to us several names associated with this episode. Could Ruhunu Rata be a modified form in colloquial language of Ravana Rata? Could Namunakula be a corrupt rendering of Ravanan Kotte and could Hakgalla be Sakkallu? The consonants t becoming l in Kotte, or r becoming n and v becoming m in Ravana, and s becoming h in Hakgalla, are changes in common speech. Long before language was reduced to writing, people went on repeating words from sounds which they heard from the mouths of others, and, according to the peculiar ways people spoke in different countries, consonants got interchanged in different ways. You have heard ordinary rickshaw coolies speaking of a ‘Mormon’ school, to which they take children, referring to your Alma Mater, the Royal College, which was at one time known as the Normal School. See how sound deceive, ‘Normal’ becoming ‘Mormon’. Then again ordinary Sinhalese people refer to the money-lending Chetty as Hetty. Not knowing the written language, people in the past had no means of correcting themselves, as we are able to do now. When words passed from mouth to mouth, from generation to generation, without a written language side by side to check their incorrect usage, the consonants naturally underwent various changes. I only want you to bear this in mind when you want to decipher the meaning of words.

If the story of Ravana is true, let us try to guess what language he and his descendants would have spoken, before they began to speak Sinhalese, and what religion they would have professed before they embraced Buddhism.

In religion, they must have been undoubtedly Hindu and in Hinduism of the Saivite sect, worshippers of the god Skanda or Subramania, younger son of Siva. Kataragama has been his abode for ages long before the disciplies of Buddha set foot on Ceylon soil. The story of how Skanda married Valli, the Veddah princess is a story that every Saivaite boy knows. It is very probably a story to illustrate how the Veddahs, who were worshipping other gods, were converted to Saivaism at a certain stage of their history and how very probably the Veddahs, from being hunters and cultivators of the chenas, became full-fledged agriculturists settling down in villages.

Whatever the derivation you may give to the word, Kataragama, the Tamil form of the word Kathirgamam, is not without its meaning; Kathir, a pure Tamil word, stands for two things, one is the sun and the other an ear of corn. Kathirgamam is the town of the burning sun or one smiling with rich paddy fields. Ruhuna Rata, of which Kathirgamam on the Menika Ganga was only a small spot, was indeed a land of eternal sunshine, with rain for only two months of the year during the North-east monsoon. The climate is so dry that, given an abundant supply of water for irrigation purposes, you can raise all manner of crops. It is a land flowing not only with milk and honey, but also with curd and ghee and all sorts of luscious fruits and vegetables, that are unknown in other areas, where the climate is less sunny and more wet. You have seen how in your house in Colombo you tried to raise a few vegetables like pumpkins and snake gourds and fruits like pomegranates, and how you miserably failed, owing to all sorts of diseases and the attacks of insects and of Kalutara snails.

Do you remember, when we last went to Kataragama, we visited an agricultural farm on the way and noticed how large the pumpkins (wattakais) were? You were unable to raise some of them, as they were as heavy as a man’s weight? Do you remember too how the curd and the treacle, that were served to us, you mistook for some pudding, so fresh and nice it was? So this was the land of Ruhuna, the land of Subramania and his consort Valli; this was the land her ancestors and descendants lived in as Saivaites, long before they embraced Buddhism and became Sinhalese gradually.

Undoubtedly, all Saivaites spoke Tamil and sang their praises to their god in Tamil. Ruhuna Rata was a land therefore of Tamil-speaking people, very pious and devoted to religion. When Buddhism came for the first time, a religion that uplifted the pariah, brought down the Brahmin, abolished caste and breathed a new life to the oppressed, the personality of Lord Buddha swept everything before it. The priests, who carried the message of the Lord, were celibates who had renounced the world, paupers carrying a mendicant’s bowl in their hands. The people, who were already religious-minded, to whom religion was the be-all and end-all of life, flocked in their thousands to hear the new message and in their enthusiasm built vihares for the priests, donated tanks and lands for their sustenance and did everything in their power to establish the new religion on a firm footing.

A number of old inscriptions discovered by the Archeological Department prove that people in the past donated lands and tanks to the priests – vide, the Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon, by R.L. Brohier.

Not only the veddahs, but even the Nagas and the Yakkas who were also there took to the new religion with fervor and avidity. I shall tell you later on who the Nagas and the Yakkas were, whether they were demons, as they were supposed to be, or a civilized people, as they indeed were. But suffice it to say for the present, the brother of Devanampiya Tissa, who first embraced Buddhism, was Maha Naga, the ruler of Ruhuna, and the surname Naga clearly indicates that he was not a Sinhalese from Bengal, but a pure Dravidian born and bred in Ceylon. It was he who endowed the Buddhist priests with lands and tanks and vihares in Ruhuna. The discovery of the image of the cobra carved in stone slabs in several places in the island indicates that his ancestors were worshippers of the cobra and had lived in this region previously. In this connection, I would refer you to page 24 of volume III of the Ancient Irrigation Work of Ceylon.




Letter 6

Names and Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from

Tamil Words (V)

My dear Son,

If, as I surmise, the Veddahs of Ruhuna Rata, after they were converted to Saivaism, gave up the cultivation of the chenas, and became along with the Yakkas and the Nagas, who were also there, full fledged agriculturists and tillers of the soil, they should have constructed tanks and large irrigation works. If you happen to see the suffix – wewa, after the names of tanks, you are apt to conclude that these tanks were constructed by Sinhalese kings at a later date. Let us then, for the sake of argument, leave out all tanks with this suffix and find out if there are any tanks in Ruhuna Rata ending with the suffix – kulam or kulama, and rivers ending with the suffix – aru. These are both Tamil words. (footnote 7)

I have previously told you that the name Nilwala Ganga is a Tamil word, and so also the name –walawe. For your purposes I think you want more proof. So let us examine the basin of the Walawe Ganga in detail. In this connection, it would help you a great deal if you could again refer to the Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon. The maps there would be very helpful. Facing page 18 of part III you will find a map of the ancient irrigation scheme on the upper left bank of the Walawe Ganga. You will notice from this map that the names of practically every tributary end in –aru. On the left bank of the river is an abandoned tank called Pandikulam supposed to have been a very large lake, so large that some commentators have mistaken it to have been the Sea of Parakrama. Is not the name Pandikulam (Pandaikulam), meaning an ancient tank, a simple Tamil word used by the ancient Tamil-speaking people of Ruhuna in their own way?

After all, this is not the only Tamil word. Here and there you will find Tamil words used for other objects or places also in the Walawe basin. For example, Sinnugala Anicut is one such. Sinnugala is Sinnakallu in Tamil, a small stone. Thenketiya to the south of Sinnugala means Thenkaddu, the southern bank or dam. Malala Oya between the Walawe and Menika Gangas, to which the Sinhalese give the meaning Dead River, could have a meaning in Tamil. It could mean Malai Illa (Mazhai Illa) Oya, the river without rain to supply water to it. (foot note 8)

I am giving these examples only to show you that very ancient irrigation works of the magnitude of Pandikulam, bearing Tamil names, had been in existence even in Ruhuna, the southern most corner of the island, supposed to be out of reach of the South Indian Tamils. Like the Giants Tank in the north, it is not known when Pandikulam was first contructed. Nevertheless it is clear that it was constructed by Tamil-speaking people. My point is that the requisite engineering knowledge for the construction of such large irrigation works had been in the possession of the Tamil-speaking people living in Ceylon before the Sinhalese language came into existence.

Let us examine some more names of places. What about Magama, the capital of Ruhuna to which I have already made reference in one of my previous letters? It is an abbreviation of Maha Gramam, a large village. (foot note 9) Gama, as I have already told you, is another word for Gramam, with the elision of the consonant R. Even Ptolemy, the Green traveler in his map of Ceylon, which you might have seen published in Codrington’s History of Ceylon (page 4), correctly spells a similar name near Anuradhapura as Maagrammon. Even Anuradhapura he names as Anourogrammon. How correctly he uses the word ‘grammon’ for a town or a village. So the word ‘Grammam’ is the original of ‘gama’, which is the suffix of numerous names of places in Ceylon. As I have already told you, the mere fact that Gramam is found in Sanskrit does not mean that it is an Aryan word, for the Aryans have enriched their vocabulary after their contact with the Dravidians. I think this is one of the many words they have borrowed from the language of the Dravidians.

You may remember that once we went up country by car during one of your school holidays, via Nuwara Eliya to Badulla, made a detour round Passara, Namunakula, Ella and back to Colombo, via Haputale and Haldumulla. You may recollect that I was able to trace the Tamil meanings of almost all the places we passed through. Hakgalla near Sita Eliya, I said could be Sakkallu (Saak Kallu), s becoming h, that is the rock from which criminals were hurled down to death, probably during the time of Ravana. Palugama, I said was Pallagamam, the low-lying village down the hills of Hakgalla which it really is. Welimada, a place of open tree-less mounds, I said, was the Tamil word Veli Medu; how appropriate is the Tamil word considering the actual geographical conditions of the place. Then while going to Badulla through Ettampitiya, we had to climb a hill for several miles, and when we reached Ettampitiya, the descent began. It is clearly the Tamil word Ettampiddy (Erram Piddy) (foot note 10), the hill to which you should climb. Badulla is situated in a round hollow basin surrounded by ranges of hills all round, and so I surmised that the word could be the Tamil Vaddil or Vaddulai, a round hollow object. Namunakula, to which I have referred earlier, where tradition says that Ravana had his fortress hidden away from the armies of Rama, I was able to decipher with some difficulty as Ravanan Kotte, making allowance for the change of consonants in spoken language. Ella, where we stayed for the night at the resthouse, and in the morning had a panoramic view of the whole of the Southern province up to the Indian Ocean under our feet, you adjudged as the finest scenery in the world. It was the natural boundary between the plains below and the hills behind and I called it in Tamil Ellai, boundary, which it was so really. Passing through Haputale, which I said was the Tamil Kapputhalam, a place where guards were stationed, we reached Haldumulla and I called it Kaladdu Moolai, a rocky nook or corner. I even said that Pedrotalagalla, was Buddar Thalai Kallu, the chief rock of Lord Buddha. Whether some of these names are of recent origin or have been used from times immemorial, the fact remains that their meanings can be ascertained only through the Tamil language.

I have confined my attention only to a few places in the Ruhunu Rata. Not that there are no other places of Tamil derivation, like Moneragala (Minnara Kallu), a place of mineral stones; Muppane (Mur Panai), a place of three palms; Minipe (Mani Poomi), a land of gems; Buttala (Puttalam), a new place; Wellawaya (Vella Vayal), a paddy field subject to floods; Palatupana (Palaaru Pannai), a harbor at the mouth of the milky river; Kanulweli (Kaanal VeLi), an open sunny place; Demodara (Then Madurai), the southern Madura; and a host of other names, but I do not wish to tire your patience by going into further details nor by going to other districts for further words. I shall leave out Malaya Rata altogether. Malaya Rata came into prominence only during recent times. In any case the word Malaya (Malai), is a Tamil word and that is sufficient for our philological and historical purposes.




Letter 7

Names and Places and Geographical Objects in Ceylon derivable from

Tamil Words (VI)

My dear Son,

Up to now, in my previous letters, I have examined the place names of practically the whole island. I think I have omitted one district in particular, and that is the Jaffna peninsula.

Under the caption ‘Place Names in Jaffna’, Mr. Paranavitane, ex-Archeological Commissioner, published an article in the Daily News of 28.6.1963. In this article he quotes Mr. Horsburgh, ex-Ceylon Civil Servant, as saying that long before the Tamils occupied Jaffna it was populated by the Sinhalese and that most of the place names in Jaffna were of Sinhalese origin.

Although Mr. Horsburgh states that these place names were of Sinhalese origin, other eminent scholars like the late Mudaliyar Rasanayagam assert that they were of Elu origin and that Elu was a corrupt form of Tamil spoken at one time by the people of Ilam (Ceylon) from Point Pedro to Dondra Head. If this claim is correct, then we should be able to trace the Elu place names to the original Tamil names from which they were derived. While in the case of the Jaffna peninsula the Elu place names were subsequently Tamilized by Tamil settlers who came later, in the rest of the island the original Elu names remained intact without any change. In this connection let us not forget the fact that the Sinhalese language of today grew out of the original Elu. This being so, to say that the place names in Jaffna were of Sinhalese origin is a misnomer. They were of Elu origin and Elu, as I have said already, was a dialect of Tamil spoken in Elam, e.g. similar to Malayalam in Malabar which was also derived from Tamil.

On this basis, let us examine once again the examples given by Mr. Horsburgh.

The first one is gama, which he says is a Sinhalese word, but it is the Elu corruption of the Tamil word gramam. Later this elu word had been Tamilised to kamam as in Kodikamam or kam, as in Chunnakam or Mallakam.

The second word is watta. This is another Elu corruption of the Tamil word vaddam, an enclosed piece of land.

Mr. Horsburgh also refers to ‘Sinhalese’ -vila. This is yet another corruption of the Tamil word, villu (marsh). This Elu form had been later Tamilised to vil, as in Uduvil, Inuvil, Kondavil, Nanthavil, Kokuvil, Madduvil etc. The Tamil vil may also have some connection with the Tamil verb vilu (fall). So, vilu, as a noun, may indicate a fall, or a depression. You will notice that the rain water, that falls into the sea, starts from Uduvil (which is of a slightly higher elevation than the other places), then goes down gradually to Inuvil, Kondavil, Nanthavil, Kokuvil and thereafter reaches the Jaffna lagoon. In this connection, I may tell you that this very suffix is also found in several place names in Malabar, thereby indicating that it is a pre-Sinhalese word. So, Mr. Horsburgh’s claim that the place names in Jaffna are of ‘Sinhala’ origin cannot therefore be maintained.

Mr. Horsburgh has also made reference to the word kalappuwa. I have already told you in one of my previous Letters (No.3) that the Tamil word kalappu indicates a bay-like bend or a miniature gulf in the sea coast. In such places the water is neither pure salt water nor pure fresh water but a mixture of both. In Tamil, a mixture is called kalappu, and very probably kalappu became kaLappu in Elu. In any case this seems to be not a Sinhalese but a pre-Sinhalese word.

Then again in regard to such a simple place name as Kalmunai on the sea coast, which means in Tamil, a rocky promontory, Mr. Paranavitane gives a fancied explanation by deriving it from Gal and Amuna and thereby gently suggesting that the ‘marvelous’ irrigation system of the island was the outcome of the genius of the Sinhalese race. But I shall prove to you in one of my future letters that almost all the terms used in the island’s irrigation system are words derived from the Tamil language. You know what this implies.

With regard to Yalpanam, Mr. Horsburgh is right in rejecting its legendary derivation from a minstrel who played his lute before King Elala and being rewarded by the king with this sandy Jaffna peninsula as a gift. But his reference to the suffix panam which he says is in keeping with such words as Kirillapone, Walapane, Mupane may be right, provided pana in these names means pannai, to which I have already made reference in one of my previous Letters (No. 3). I have said there that pannai is a landing place in a lagoon or a lake. It is used not only as a prefix as in Panadurai, but also as a suffix as in Vannarponnai. And so Kirillapone (which place you know since your childhood) is very likely a pannai, a landing place across a lagoon or a place subject to floods. Considering that Kirillapone is situated in an elevated land, a sort of hillock, surrounded by low land adjoining Wellawatta, which is subject to floods, and considering also that the name Wellawatta, which in Tamil means a place subject to floods, the suffix pone in Kirillapone is very likely pannai as in Vannarponnai. If we examine the geographical condition of Walapane and Tumpane they are also very likely places subject to floods.

Coming back to Yalpanam or Yappana, now that the suffix has been explained, let us see what the prefix stands for. Mr. Horsburgh is unable to give any satisfactory explanation. So Mr. Paranavitane comes to his rescue and says that Ya in Sinhalese means ‘to connect, to join’ and so, according to him, Yalpanam is a piece of land connected with the mainland of the island. If ‘ya’ is a Sinhalese word, it is also a Tamil word meaning the same thing. Yappu or Yaththal in Tamil means joining or binding etc. If ‘ya’ is a Tamil word, it can never be a pure Sinhalese word. Evidently the Sinhalese ‘ya’ must have been derived from the original Elu, which in turn was derived from the Tamil language.

This apart, there is yet another theory which gives the prefix ‘ya’ an entirely different interpretation. According to this theory the Jaffna peninsula was in the ancient past known as Jambudivu, Jambu meaning Naval, vide Manimekalai (the famous Tamil Buddhist classical work) where the Jaffna peninsula is given the appellation Jambudivu. And so according to this theory, Pannai, which was the most important landing place in the past for immigrants coming from India (and which even today is situated next to the Dutch Fort, Jaffna), would have been called Jambupannai, by the immigrants and others. The importance of pannai could be judged by the fact that it is situated at the southern end of the Jaffna lagoon away from the open ocean in the North, the West and the South. Even the Dutch for security reasons constructed their Fort at Pannai. So according to this theory, the metamorphosis from the Jambupannai of the past to the Yalpanam of the present appears to be quite a natural one. It is even suggested that Jambupannai is the Tambapani of the Sinhalese chronicles, where Vijaya is said to have landed when he came to the island with his 700 followers. I give you this latest interpretation for what it is worth.

I need not go further into this subject. I think you might be tired by now. If, however, you are interested in the subject, try to decipher more names of places yourself whether in the Jaffna peninsula or in the rest of the island. I wish you will have a large map (or 16-chain sheet preferably) by your side and test for yourself whether the names have any real meaning and whether they explain the geography of the places in which they are situated. These names had definitely some meaning in the past. But, owing to wrong ways of spelling the words at a later period of our history, or wrong pronunciation by people who had lost touch with the original language from which these words were derived, the present form of several of these words cannot easily be deciphered, except with the help of the Tamil language.

As I had told you already earlier, the word Wellampitiya, meaning an elevated piece of land surrounded by flood water, explains the actual geographical reason for the name. A Sinhalese friend of mine who was asked to give a meaning to this word could but gave only a fancied explanation of a fight between two stags at this spot. Even the word Narahenpitiya, which was the dumping place of all the refuse and night soil of the Colombo city at one time, and called for that reason by the Indian scavenging labourers as Narahal piddy, was explained by another Sinhalese friend as the grove of Orange trees, because of the similarity of the word narang (an orange), although as everybody knows there were no such groves in that locality, either now or at any time in the past. That is why I say that, for ascertaining the meanings of place names in the island, the Sinhalese language cannot be of much help, thereby showing that it came into existence subsequently displacing the original language, viz., Tamil or a dialect of Tamil, and that the people who used these names as of old, after the emergence of the new language, could not, in the absence of a knowledge of Tamil, trace in their new language the syllables or roots, from which these names (mostly compound names), were originally coined to indicate some meaning or other, connected with their history or geography or other factors.

I do not pretend to be a very sound philologist competent to pass a decided verdict on this subject. But still I think I have established a good prima facie case, which requires further investigation at the hands of competent scholars. On a matter like this, those who know only Sinhalese cannot do justice to the subject; it is those who are well-versed in both the languages, Sinhalese and Tamil, who could with authority decide what is the correct derivation of most of the place names.

In any case, so far as I am concerned, looking at the question from all angles, I begin to get confirmed in my suspicion that, long before the Sinhalese language came into existence in the island, the people thereof were using as their language a Dravidian dialect akin to Tamil. And I shall try to prove to you later that the Sinhalese language as such came into existence in Ceylon, only after the arrival of Buddhism, and that, not only its etymology, but also in its syntax, it shows clear signs of belonging to the Dravidian group of languages. Further, I begin to feel that the Sinhalese as a people never came from outside, except perhaps for some immigrants now and again, but that they were right through here, as much as we, the people of the North and the East, and that they had been using a Dravidian dialect before they embraced Buddhism and made their language a hybrid of Pali. But, if the Sinhalese still persist in saying that they all came from outside, say, from Bengal or Gujerat, and had been speaking an altogether foreign tongue when they came, then the only logical conclusion is that they came after the Dravidians had settled down here and had named all the places in the island in their own way.




Letter 8

Terms Used in Irrigation

My dear Son,

From place names let me proceed to examine other matters, more particularly the terms used in irrigation. An attempt has been made in some quarters to bolster up the theory that the science of irrigation was unknown to the inhabitants of Ceylon in pre-Vijayan times and that the science itself was an ‘Aryan’ product and brought to Ceylon by the Aryans. But if you examine the meaning and derivations of most of the terms associated with the irrigation works of the island, I doubt whether this theory could be maintained.

First of all look at the following list of words: Anai, Kaddu, Anaikaddu, Marichukaddu,

Kadavai, Karai, Munai, Thekkam, Kulama. These are all clearly Tamil words.

  • Anai, is support.
  • Kaddu, is a construction.
  • Anaikaddu, is a supporting embankment (The English word ‘anicut’ is this simple Tamil word.)
  • Marichukaddu, is a dam thrown across a river and is slightly different from anaikaddu, which is presumably on a side of a river or constructed to strengthen an existing dam. The Tamil verb ‘mari’ means to prevent or hinder, its past participle is ‘mariththu’, colloquially ‘marichu’. Anai is also found as a suffix at the end of several words. E.g: Habarana.
  • Kadavai, is a word or a place where you cross over from one side to the other, as in Thammankadavai or Iluppaikkadavai. This word is derived from the Tamil verb ‘kada’ – to cross.
  • Karai, is the edge of a tank or river or canal and is found in Elahera (Eelakarai) or Kaddukara (Kaddukarai).
  • Munai or Mune, as the Sinhalese call it is a point, the end or beginning of anything as in Hattamune.
  • Thekkam, is a place where a large quantity of water is allowed to accumulate, something in the nature of a reservoir; literally it means being full or rising to the brim.
  • Kulam, or Kulama as the Sinhalese call it, means a tank or pond or lake.

Now look at a further list of words that may superficially appear to be non-Tamil words;

Ela, yodiela, kalingula, potawa, potawana, wakkada, bema, amuna, biskotuwa, sorowa.

  • Ela is the Tamil, Ali, which means a ridge or mound of earth dividing fields, or an aritificial embankment for confining water. The word Ela also means a ridge along which water flows.
  • Yodi-Ela, is a canal of higher elevation which serves as a feeder to a reservoir. It corresponds to the Tamil ‘Uyantha Ali’ (high).
  • Kalingula, is a contrivance built into the spill for raising the spill level of a tank. In Tamil, Kalingul, is the name for a sluice.
  • Potawa, is collection of water from a bank of an ela, retained by a bund for use after it has passed over the upper fields. The Tamil paravai, refers to a flat expanse of water.
  • Pitawana, is a channel by which surplus water is discharged from a tank. The meaning can be rendered by the Tamil words ‘piravali’, i becoming n, pira meaning outside and vali (verb), meaning overflow and vazhi (noun), a way.
  • Wakkada, is gap or cut made in the bund for letting water into the fields. This closely resembles the Tamil word vaikkal, a water-course.
  • Bemma, is a bund or earthen dam closing the outlet of the valley in which the water of a tank is retained. This is similar to the Tamil word, varambu, with the elision of the consonant r.
  • Amuna, is a temporary dam for stopping or diverting the water streams for purposes of irrigation. This may mean simply man, or colloquially mannu, earth heaped across a stream.
  • Biskotuwa, is a square shaft or well sunk through the bund of a tank to reach the bottom of a sluice. Though the sluice could be reached from the outside the construction of a Biskotuwa is intended to admit light to the sluice and also as an aid to put a supplementary gate to the sluice whenever the sluice gate needs repair. A Biskotuwa in Tamil would mean Pulai Kudaivu. Pulai, means a hollow tube or a sally port or a secret way and Kudaivu, is scooping out, as a well. (The consonant l, in Tamil sounds zh.
  • Sorowa, or Horowwa as it is sometimes spelt, is the sluice of a tank under an embankment to conduct the water to the channels. This is the Tamil ‘Sorivai’, an opening through which water is made to flow out; sorithal, is pouring forth or streaming forth or flowing out, and vay, is a mouth or an opening.

Mind you, I have culled out all the above words, together with their definitions, from the Ancient Irrigation Works, by R.L.Brohier. At least they reveal one fact, viz, that they are ultimately Tamil derivatives. My presumption, therefore, is that those, who built tanks and constructed large irrigation works in the past, possessed all the knowledge necessary for the purpose and were Tamil-speaking people and not the so-called Aryans from North India.

In my ensuing letters I shall tell you something more about these people.



Section 2




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