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The Sinhalese of Ceylon and The Aryan Theory

Letters of a Tamil father to his son, Section 2

by Samuel Livingstone

You will also find the term Yakkabendi Ela, the ela built by the Yakkas, in several places. So it is clear that the Yakkas had something to do with irrigation matters either as skilled or unskilled labourers. I am inclined to think that the Yakkas must have been a very clever people in irrigation matters; so clever that this was the reason why the North Indian Buddhist priests, unacquainted with the Dravidian civilization and language, considered them as superhuman and therefore called them demons. In fact, whoever were responsible for all the surveying, leveling and the measuring of heights necessary for the construction of tanks and elas with such precision, which even modern engineers marvel at, must have been a very clever people.

Section 1

The Sinhalese of Ceylon and the Aryan Theory by Samuel LivingstoneFront Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Epistolary history is a special genre of recording history in the form of letters. As typical to all letters, there are two participants; the author and the addressee (a real or an imagined) one. The letters become lively, if the addressee is a real one, who has personal ties to the author.

I provide two examples for this genre of history recording. The ancient one was by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (~ 4BC – AD 65), one of the proponents of Stoic school of philosophy. During the last three years of his life, he wrote 124 letters to Lucilius [Lucilius Junior], a friend who was a native of Pompeii and a higher civil servant. He was forced to commit suicide by emperor Nero. His work was collected as Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Letters from a Stoic). The commonly available Penguin classics series, selected and translated by Robin Campbell [Penguin Books, London, 1969, 254 pages] offers only 42 letters in English translation. The translator notes that the “choice has been a personal one” and he had chosen those which have been interesting and to avoid undue repetition of particular themes.

The recent one was by Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), the first prime minister of independent India. He wrote 196 letters to his then teenage daughter Indira, which was compiled as Glimpses of World History. It was first published in two volumes in 1934 & 1935, by Kitabistan, Allahabad (992 pages). Later, writing a foreword to a reprint of her father’s book in 1980, Indira Gandhi wrote,

“My father’s three books – Glimpses of World History, An Autobiography and The Discovery of India – have been my companions through life. It is difficult to be detached about them. Indeed Glimpses was written for me. It remains the best introduction to the story of man for young and growing people in India and all over the world.” The sub-title of Nehru’s book was a mouthful: ‘Being further letters to his daughter, written in prison, and containing a rambling account of history for young people’. When Nehru ended his letters to ‘Indu’ (his dimunitive name for Indira), he was 43 years old. The last letter was dated August 9, 1933. His first letter ‘A Birthday Letter’ from Central Prison, Naini, was dated October 26, 1930, on the occasion of Indira’s 13th birthday.

One can note that both Seneca and Nehru were in a state of duress and stress, when they wrote these letters. Nehru was in prison, and worried about the health of his wife Kamala. Seneca, according to Robin Campbell, nearing his end, “was spending his time moving around southern Italy with Paulina, his second wife”, rarely visiting Rome, having offered his entire fortune to the emperor Nero, to disarm suspicion that he was plotting against the emperor. However, Nero condemned Seneca to commit suicide in AD 65, accusing Seneca as a member of the plot to dispose him. Seneca’s ideas should have had strong following during his time, as he was also sentenced to death by two previous emperors, Caligula (in AD 37) and Caludius (in AD 41). Akin to Seneca, Nehru’s ideas on freedom and independence also had a strong following during his time. That’s why, he was held in prison by the British imperialists for nearly 3 years from 1930 to 1933.

Unfortunately, we are not sure, what sort of duress and stress Samuel Livingstone, the author of this book, underwent when writing these 30 letters. In this section, I provide Letters 9 to 16 below, as they had appeared. Some of the author’s inferences are as follows:

  • “the Yakkas were a Tamil-speaking race and, along with the Nagas, possessed all the secrets of the science of irrigation, which they did not reveal to others.”

  • “the word Yakka is derived from the Tamil verb ‘Iyakku’, which is to make things move or go, or another sense, to construct or create. Yakkas were those who made things move, engineers who made engines, constructed tanks, buildings and temples…”

  • “Once they [Sinhalese] compare the Tamil vocabulary with the Sinhalese vocabulary, all their attempts will come to naught. Indeed where is the Sinhalese etymological dictionary, and why has it not been published so far, after so much of expenditure?”

  • “The Elala-Dutugemunu fight was not a Tamil-Sinhalese encounter, but a trial of strength between the Hindus and the Buddhists.”

  • “[After Dutugemunu’s victory over Elala] The Yakkas, who had spoken Tamil or a dialect of Tamil and who had been Hindus worshipping innumerable deities (the Aiyanar, the Kaddu Vairavar, the Kali and others), and who were Dravidians in origin, embraced Buddhism in large numbers. That is the central fact we should not lose sight of. Thereafter, they merged themselves in the Sinhalese population or rather gradually became Sinhalese.”

  • “Not only in Tamil and Sanskrit classical works, but also in the Mahavansa, that the Nagas were the ruling classes at the time, possibly of a higher status than the Yakkas, and that, in view of the fact that several Sinhalese kings, who ruled Ceylon subsequent to the arrival of Buddhism, bore Naga names, they were the progenitors of the Sinhalese kings.”

  • “While these kingdoms, the Chera, the Chola and the Pandyan kingdoms, had established themselves on both sides of the Indian peninsula, including even distant Java and Timor and the Philippines, it was only (according to Dr. Mendis) where Ceylon was concerned, which they called Ilam, that they failed to occupy it, presumably because, I suppose, they wanted it reserved for Vijaya and his 700 followers from ‘beyond the Ganges’. Who would believe this very unlikely cock and bull story?”

As I have indicated previously, for convenience and stylistic reasons, I have revised the settings of footnotes (wherever they appear), at the end of each letter, in a numbered sequence. Footnotes 11 to 18 appear between Letters 9 and 16. In footnote 15, the author brings to light that treachery by one general (known as Neelan, from Tamil king Elalan side) was probably one of the reasons why king Elala was defeated by king Dutugemunu in 161 BC in a single combat at Anuradhapura.

The Sinhalese of Ceylon and the Aryan Theory by Samuel Livingstone table of contents

Letter 9

The Yakkas (I)

My dear Son,

Now I must say something about the Yakkas, for they seem to loom large in the history of early Ceylon. You will note, from what is related in the Mahavansa, that the Yakkas were requisitioned to build several elas and tanks which the Sinhalese were unable to build. Several elas and tanks of considerable size were built by them. In his Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon, Mr. Brohier says:

“Sinhalese histories say that Minneriya Tank was built by the conjoint labour of ‘men and demons’, the demons or Yakkas being the aboriginal tribes who peopled the district. They were, so tradition tells, summoned from far and near by the beat of drums.”

You will also find the term Yakkabendi Ela, the ela built by the Yakkas, in several places. So it is clear that the Yakkas had something to do with irrigation matters either as skilled or unskilled labourers. I am inclined to think that the Yakkas must have been a very clever people in irrigation matters; so clever that this was the reason why the North Indian Buddhist priests, unacquainted with the Dravidian civilization and language, considered them as superhuman and therefore called them demons. In fact, whoever were responsible for all the surveying, leveling and the measuring of heights necessary for the construction of tanks and elas with such precision, which even modern engineers marvel at, must have been a very clever people.

I begin to think that the Yakkas were a Tamil-speaking race and, along with the Nagas, possessed all the secrets of the science of irrigation, which they did not reveal to others. I might tell you that the Dravidian society in the ancient times was divided into castes, according to trade or occupation, each caste preserving the technical knowledge of its trade hidden from the other castes, the children learning the secrets from the parents and handing them down from generation to generation. No wonder therefore that, when large irrigation projects had to be undertaken, their services were requisitioned by kings and chieftains. The conception that they were demons was due to ignorance. Ignorance always leads to fear, and so the Buddhists, who had just come to the island and who were new to the marvels of the science of irrigation, regarded the Yakkas and the Nagas, not as human beings, to which they themselves belonged, but as belonging to a different category, and the only word they could think of was the word ‘demon’, for the popular conception of demons was that they could do things which ordinary humans could not.

If my theory is not correct, and if the Yakkas were only an undeveloped race who supplied only the labou and not the technical and scientific knowledge, then such knowledge must have been in the possession of the Nagas or brought to Ceylon by the Tamil-speaking artisans of South India, who were said to have come in the company of Vijaya’s Pandyan wife, and not by the Aryans. But there is a snag in regard to this alternative. It is due to the fact that, according to the Ramayana, Ravana and his Rakshasas were a very highly civilized people. Had this civilization of theirs perished by the time Buddhism came? On the contrary, was it not probable that the Yakkas, who were the inhabitants of the island at the time of the arrival of Buddhism, had inherited this civilization from their predecessors, the Rakshasas of the Ramayana?

Again, can the word ‘Yakka’ have any meaning? It must very probably have had a meaning, but the pity of it is that it cannot be ascertained through the Sinhalese language. In any case, a friend of mine put forward an explanation: the word Yakka according to him is derived from the Tamil verb ‘Iyakku’, which is to make things move or go, or another sense, to construct or create. Yakkas were those who made things move, engineers who made engines, constructed tanks, buildings and temples and those therefore who had specialized technical knowledge which the ordinary laymen were ignorant of such was the rigidity of the caste system that technical knowledge was not, as at the present time, the common property of all the people but was confined only to the respective castes and, as I have told you, was kept as a secret, being handed down from father to son, the son learning his trade as an apprentice under the father (for in those days there were no technical schools where anyone could learn any trade as now.) This may appear a far-fetched explanation but it is worth consideration. (footnote 11)

In any case, the absurd claim that the scientific system of irrigation practiced in ancient Ceylon was introduced by the Aryans could be disproved by one single fact alone, viz. the number of tanks ending in the suffix – kulama, quite a large number of which exists in the Anuradhapura district alone. A list of as many names as could be obtained from any large map is given below for the edification of all those who put forward this absurd claim. Let it be understood that these names occur not only in the Anuradhapura district, but in all other districts, and, as I have told you, even in far off Ruhunu, vide Pandikulam.

That even larger irrigation reservoirs than Pandikulam had been constructed by the people of Ceylon in ancient times, long before the arrival of Vijaya, could be gauged from what Mr. Brohier writes about the Giant’s Tank in his Ancient Irrigation Works. He says:

“Tradition had handed down a belief that Giant’s Tank is the most ancient irrigation reservoir extent in Ceylon, so ancient, that it is not mentioned in any of the chronicles as having been built by any of the kings who reigned in Ceylon after Vijaya.”

As regards the Anuradhapura district, the following is the list of a few names I have picked out from an ordinary map. Attikulama, Chinnachippikulama, Illukulama, Irambakkulama, Kaddupuliyankulam, Kanagarayankulama, Kandakulama, Karadikkulama, Karukkankulama, Karambankulama, Kopakulama, Kodivukkulama, Kuchchikkulama, Kunchikkulama, Kurunjankulama, Kuttikulama, Mankulama, Maradankulama, Monuankulama, Nalavarvepankulama, Nochchikkulama, Nawalkulama, Nehedukulama, Olukkulama, Orumankulama, Periyanochchikulama, Periyakulama, Puvarasankulama, Pallankulama, Pandyankulama, Puliyankulama, Pudukkulama, Parayankulama, Payidikulama, Panikkankulama, Pawalkulama, Surukkulama, Sippukulama, Siwalakulama, Sanatanakulama, Temmenikulama, Ukkulankulama, Uddiyankulama, Wellankulama, Wannankulama, Wettankulama.

This is a fairly formidable list. What does it indicate? It indicates that these are all Tamil names, and that those who constructed these tanks and those who cultivated lands with the help of these tanks were evidently people speaking a Tamil dialect. My submission, therefore, is that it was not necessary for any outsiders, nay, not even from the Gangetic valley, who spoke a different language from Tamil, to acquaint these people of Ceylon and South India with a knowledge of the rudiments of hydraulics and surveying, which they seem to have possessed in abundance.

As a further illustration of the fact that the language of these people was Tamil or a dialect of Tamil, look at the names of the guardian deities of most of the tanks in the Anuradhapura district. The guardian deities of the famous Kalawewa tank were Kadavara Deviyo and Ilandari Deviyo. What are these words but Tamil words? Kalawewa itself is the Tamil Kalavavi, the tank that gets its water during a season, the rainy season. Kadavara is the Tamil deity Kaddu Vairavar, whom you do find even today all over the Northern and Eastern provinces. Can anyone say that Illandari Deviyo is not a Tamil word? Other similar guardian deities are Aiyanar, Kali etc. names which are found even today everywhere in the Tamil districts. It is thus clear that it was the Tamil-speaking people, misnamed the Yakkas, who were living here when Buddhism came and with it the North Indian Buddhist priests who were strangers to the Dravidian land.

Further, examining their habits, customs and other usages which they have handed down to us and which we ourselves have retained to this day, it could be inferred that they were not demons but an intelligent human race cultivating their lands and otherwise living orderly lives with their chiefs and chieftains. As we, they too must have eaten elolu (vegetables, hal (rice), malu (fish), made curries and hothies and anams, baked appa and idiappa. They must have worn a tuft of hair on their heads and called it, kondai. They must have called their relatives, Thatha, Amma, Mama, Masina, Iyah, Akka and Nangi. Their headmen must have been Arachchis, and their irrigation officers Vel Vidanes and Kama Vidanes. Their judges must have been Nadukarayas, and their courthouses were called Usavis. Their priests must have been Poosaris, and their temples, Kovils. They must have supplied for the service of the king an amount of unpaid labour called the Uliyam. They must have cultivated paddy fields called Kumbura and paid tax on these paddy fields called Aya.

What are all these words but words derived from the Tamil language. In regard to all the words referred to above, let me give the corresponding Tamil words below for your information.

Elolu is Ilai Kulai

Hal is Sali (s becoming h)

Malu is Meen or Meenu (n becoming l)

Curry is Curry

Hothi is Sothi (s becoming h)

Anam is Anam

Appa is Appam

Idiappa is Idiappam

Kondai is Kondai

Thatha is Thanthai, corresponding to English Daddy

Amma is Amma

Mama is Maman

Masina is Machchan

Iyah means also a brother in Tamil

Akka is Akka

Nangi is Thangai (tha, becoming na)

Arachi is Arachchiar (from the Tamil verb ‘araithal’ to investigate)

Vel Vidane is Vayal Vidane (Vayal is field)

Nadukkarayas (mediators), from ‘nadu’ (=middle)

Usavy from ‘usavuthal’ (to investigate)

Poosari is Poosari

Kovil is Kovil

Uliyam is Uliyam (service)

Kumbura is Kurumporai (=jungle field)

Aya is Ayam (duty or tax)

Like this there are hundreds of similar words derivable from Tamil, which the Sinhalese use at present in the Sinhalese language, words expressive of ordinary habits and customs of an agricultural peasantry. In fact, it could be easily demonstrated that the elementary vocabulary of the Sinhalese language is essentially a Tamil derivative. I am asking how these words have come to be used by the Sinhalese, if they had not been handed down to them by these early people.

Surely creatures, who used these terms and expressions like these, must have been human beings, though speaking a Dravidian dialect. My fear is that they, the Yakkas, were very probably our ancestors, of both the Sinhalese and the Tamils.



Footnote 11: Very probably the word ‘Rakshasas’ used for the people of Ceylon in the Ramayana is the inverted form of Achari, with the consonant r in front. Acharis, Racharis, Rakshasa Yakkas is a probable order of change. The Archaris among the Dravidians even today, both in Ceylon and in south India, is a common name for all sorts of artisans and mechanics, weavers, potters, carpenters, sculptors, metal-workers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths etc. They wear the sacred thread as the Brahmins do, a relic of pre-Aryan times, thereby showing that the Brahmins themselves were Dravidian in origin although Aryan in speech now. But that is a different story which I shall explain in a future letter.


Letter 10

The Yakkas (II)

My dear Son,

If the Yakkas were demons, could they have had queens, chieftains and kingdoms? Assuming the story of Vijaya is true, the first person he meets is the Yakka princess Kuweni (footnote 12) who was ruling area somewhere in the Northwestern part of the island. The Northwestern portion of the island from the Kelani Ganga to Jaffna facing South India on one side was fully populated by people who were engaging themselves in trade and fisheries, particularly pearl fisheries, and also cultivated the river basins such as the Pali Aru (pali= milky), Per Aru (per=big), Aruvi Aru (aruvi=fast), Uppu Aru (uppu=salt), Kala Oya (kala=seasonal), Deduru Oya (theeduru= bringing destruction), Mi Oya or Valuki Aru (valakku = err or deviate), Nanneri Oya (nanneri= good way).

The remains of ruined tanks and cities all over this area is proof that it was a prosperous place in very early times. When I say very early times, it must have been even before 483 BC when Vijaya is supposed to have come and landed somewhere near Puttalam. The famous Panda wewa (Pandai vavi= old tank) was here, Pomparappu (Pon parappu = golden plains) with its stretch of paddy fields and the Kandukali Malaikadu (kanru kaali = cattle, malai kadu = hilly forest), the forest where cattle roam about (footnote 12) and several other places all with Tamil names indicative of the language spoken by the people living here, including Kuweni. I am unable to resist the temptation to cite some more names of places in the same area such as Udappu (udaippu= a breach), Wennappuwa (Vanappu= a beautiful landscape), Chilaw (silapam= a pearl fishery harbor), Nathandiya (nar santhi= a junction of four roads, which it really is) etc. etc.

That the then reigning monarch was a female and not a male betrays the matriarchal character of the society of which Kuweni was the ruler. Matriarchy and polyandry were two distinct customs that prevailed in the early society of Ceylon and South India. In fact traces of polyandry prevail even now to a certain extent in Malabar and also in the Kandyan districts of Ceylon. In this connection you might have heard of another queen by the name of Alli Arasani, who ruled somewhere in the same region where Kuweni subsequently ruled and who was supposed to have married Arjuna (footnote 14).

That the Yakkas, as they were called in the Buddhist chronicles and the Rakshasas, as they were called in the Ramayana, were in Ceylon long before the Sinhalese appeared on the scene and that they had their own kingdoms and their own culture could be inferred from the writings of the Aryans themselves. The Ramayana clearly reveals that the Rakshasas were a highly civilized people. You might have read or heard how Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, describes Lankapuri, the beautiful metropolis of Ravana, and how he extols the beauty and grandeur of Lanka, its architectural splendor and the efficiency of its administration. This was long before Vijaya came and long before Mahavansa was written.

And what do we find in the Mahavansa itself? We find that the Yakkas were ruling the island in the west coast, where Vijaya meets a Yakkini princess and marries her, although he discards her later for a queen of nobler birth. We also find that Yakka chieftains were rulers in other parts of the island. There is nothing to show that the Yakkas were demons or uncivilized barbarians.

Let us now pause for a while and pursue the story of Vijaya. The story goes that Vijaya came from North India and spoke an Aryan language and did not know a word of Tamil. Then how he was able to court Kuweni and in what language he was able to speak to her are indeed interesting questions. You have read in Shakespeare’s Henry V how King Henry, after the battle of Agincourt, courts Princess Katherine and speaks to her in broken French. Something like that must have happened. Queen Kuweni speaks in Tamil and King Vijaya in broken Tamil. During the 38 years he lived in Ceylon, for he died in 445 BC, he must have acquired a good knowledge of Tamil, for his second wife the Pandyan princess came from Madura, the land of pure Tamil. Do you think that she and all the 700 girls who accompanied her learnt Sinhalese in order to please their husbands? Or was it the other way about? The probability is that as the people of Ceylon, the Yakkas, millions of them, all spoke Tamil, Vijaya and his small band of followers must have perforce learnt Tamil to be able to talk to the people. Moreover as Vijaya was in Ceylon for a considerable period before he discarded Kuweni, he must have picked up sufficient Tamil to be able to converse with his new Pandyan wife.

It must be remembered that, compared with the great Pandyan kingdom, the chieftains of Ceylon, Kuveni and the rest of them, who were ruling small principalities all over the island, were no doubt not so important a people, whose worth would be recognized by the outside world. To marry a princess from the famous Pandyan dynasty, therefore, would earn for Vijaya the recognition of not only the neighbouring powerful Pandyan kingdom, but also the equally powerful Chola and the Chera kingdoms, which were also adjacent to him. The Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyans too, like the Yakkas, were Tamil-speaking people, and there is no doubt therefore that Vijaya must have learnt to speak and use the Tamil language as a matter of necessity, for otherwise he could not have managed his affairs either with his wife (the Pandyan princess) or with his subjects (the Yakkas), or with his neighbours (the South Indians), all of whom did not know a word of Sinhalese, a language that is claimed to be akin to the language of the early Vedas and was far removed from Tamil and had no connection whatsoever with it. This is what some Sinhalese attempt to maintain, but once they compare the Tamil vocabulary with the Sinhalese vocabulary, all their attempts will come to naught. Indeed where is the Sinhalese etymological dictionary, and why has it not been published so far, after so much of expenditure?



Footnote 12: Kuweni, Tamil Koni is the feminine of the Tamil word Kone, a king, as in Illankanone, and is more or less the same word as the English ‘queen’.

Footnote 13: In his Ancient Irrigation Works, the author (Mr. Brohier) admits he is unable to trace the derivations of these names.

Footnote 14: Megasthenes (Seleucus Necator’s ambassador to the court of Sandra Gupta) mentions that the southern peoples were ruled by queens and names among them the Pandae and Charmae, who are usually presumed to be the Pandyas and the Cheras. It is noteworthy that even now all Malayali chieftain’s houses are in theory subject to the eldest female member (Gazetteer of Malabar, Govt. of India Press). This will remind you when the Romans invaded Britain, the reigning monarch was a queen by the name Boadicea (Padaiyachchi, the leader of the Army).


Letter 11

The Yakkas (III)

My dear Son,

It is sometimes stated now and again that the Yakkas and other aboriginal tribes were annihilated or driven out of the island by Vijaya and his followers to the Great and Little Basses in the South. Let us see therefore whether there were any Yakkas left in the island after Vijaya came and, if so, what they were doing. Let us examine the chronicles of the Sinhalese themselves for this purpose. According to their chronicles Vijaya dies in about 445 BC. What happens thereafter?

Let me quote for convenience sake the relevant facts from the Outlines of Ceylon History by Donald Obeysekera. Buddhism had not come at that time, for it was introduced into the island only during the time of Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 BC). So far about two and a half centuries what was the language spoken by the people, the Yakkas, and what was the religion professed by them? I say, the people, deliberately, for it was not the king, who was an individual, but the bulk of the common people, millions of them, who cultivated the lands, who plied various trades, who brought in revenue to the kings and nobles, it is the people who counted. What was their language and their religion? Where were the Yakkas, the people of whom Kuweni was only one of the rulers? For there were several such Yakka rulers and chieftains in other parts of the island, and this is what I could gather from the Mahavansa itself, all of whom were undoubtedly people speaking of a Dravidian dialect. Had they been annihilated by the Sinhalese immigrants or had they adopted the language of these immigrants by that time, or was it the other way about? We are concerned only with the period 483 BC to 207 BC, nearly three centuries.

According to Obesekera’s Outlines of the History of Ceylon, Vijaya (483-445 BC) was succeeded a year after his death by Panduwasa (444-414 BC); Panduwasa was succeeded by his eldest son Abhaya (414-394 BC) and by Tissa (394-377 BC). We are not concerned with Pandukabhaya’s fights with his uncles for supremacy. We are concerned only with the people, millions of them, viz: the Yakkas. Where were they and what were they doing, what language were they speaking, what religion were they professing, in one word, what had happened to the Yakkas? We find mention made of them in Tissa’s reign. That means they were in existence all of this time, continuing their normal avocation as of old. In Tissa’s reign we find Pandukabhaya:

“contracting an alliance with a Yakkini by the name of Cetiya, widow of a Yakka warrior, who was a great strategist herself, possessing great influence in the Dhammaraka mountains” (page 11 of D. Obeysekera’s Outlines of the History of Ceylon), and defeating his ten uncles in battle. Again in Pandukabhaya’s reign we find the Yakkas were very much alive and kicking. Let me quote what Mr. Obeysekera writes in his book in regard to the manner with which Pandukabhaya treated the Yakkas:

“The Yakkas or aborigines of Lanka were at this period so important and powerful an element in the country that he thought it impolitic to ignore them. Accordingly, he established the yakka Kalavela in the eastern quarter of the city, and other chief of the Yakkas, Citta, he established on the lower side of the Abhaya tank. A slave born of a yakkini whose tribe had formerly rendered him great service, he established at the southern gate of the city. He established within the garden of the palace the Yakkini, with whom he entered upon his offensive alliance as against his uncles, and provided these, as well as other Yakkas in the city, annually with demon offerings. On the days of public festivity, seated on a throne of equal eminence with the Yakka chief Citta – so great was the respect of the king for the Yakkas – Pandukabhaya caused joyous spectacles, representing the actions of the devas as well as of mortals, to be exhibited.” (page 13)

Let me quote one more sentence from the same author to show that the Yakkas wielded great influence during this period. In page 14 he writes, “Pandukabhaya reigned over the kingdom very wisely with the cooperation of the two Yakkas, Kalawela and Citta, befriending the interests of the Yakkas and enjoying his prosperity conjointly with them, and died in the year 307 BC, having reigned seventy years.”

So in 307 BC, the Yakkas were in Ceylon helping the kings to rule the island with beneficience. So again, I ask the question, what language did they speak and what religion did they profess? Is it possible for them to have learnt Sinhalese, the pure Aryan language it is claimed to be, and to have discarded Tamil or a dialect of Tamil which was their national language? Mind you, in religion they were still Saivites.

Buddhism comes to Ceylon only during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 BC), the second son of Mutasiva and grandson of Pandukabhaya, and along with it the Buddhist priests, who knew only Pali and had no knowledge of the language of the common people, which was Tamil or a dialect of Tamil. Let me not go further into the matter and let me reserve the consideration of what happened or could have happened to the language of the people for another occasion. But the Yakkas were there, along with the kings, to receive the message of the Buddha. In fact, it would appear that the Yakkas, at least some of them, had embraced Buddhism, long before Devanampiya Tissa (Deva-nampiya = faith in the Gods) embraced it officially. It is said that during the first visit of Lord Buddha to the island he alighted at Mahiyangana in the Mahanaga garden, the assembling place of the Yakkas. The city of Mahiyangana itself was built long before the landing of Vijaya and the building of it is attributed to Davamudu Yakka (Devamudu = nectar of the Gods).

For another century up to the reign of Dutugamunu (101-77 BC), much water had flowed under the bridges of the Mahaveli Ganga and the Malwatu Oya. Elala, the Tamil-speaking Hindu king, had come to Ceylon. Brahminism had begun to rear its head and to oust Buddhism out of India. The Elala-Dutugemunu fight was not a Tamil-Sinhalese encounter, but a trial of strength between the Hindus and the Buddhists. Dutugemunu, the loyal son of the great Vihara Mahadevi, a loyal and devoted Buddhist herself, who had been nurtured in Buddhism which had become the national religion of the Ceylonese by that time, would defend his religion against all external foes, however powerful they might have been. It was a case of Sultan or Fakir, death or victory. He risked his everything for his religion, and he won. He won to the great delight of every citizen of Ceylon, or the Yakkas and the Nagas, for it was a case of Buddhism versus Hinduism and nothing else. (footnote 15) Dutugemunu’s activities, subsequent to the defeat of Elala, clearly indicate that it was the religious cause he espoused. For soon after his victory, he built the great Brazen Palace and erected the equally great Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba, and it is said that during the progress of building the dagoba ‘vast numbers of Yakkas became converts to Buddhism’ (page 36 of D. Obeysekera’s History of Ceylon). Mind you, this was in 77 BC.

The Yakkas, who had spoken Tamil or a dialect of Tamil and who had been Hindus worshipping innumerable deities (the Aiyanar, the Kaddu Vairavar, the Kali and others), and who were Dravidians in origin, embraced Buddhism in large numbers. That is the central fact we should not lose sight of. Thereafter, they merged themselves in the Sinhalese population or rather gradually became Sinhalese. During the period of their conversion, they would have felt that it was a borrowed religion, and not their own, but their children and their children’s children would have felt differently. This reminds me of a Christian missionary who, though he doubted the faith or sincerity of certain converts, who embraced Christianity for the first time for the sake of securing a few jobs under him, was sure that their children would be more faithful and staunch supporters of th Church. So it was that the descendants of these Tamil-speaking and Hindu Yakkas, who were born into the new Buddhism, became staunch supporters of it. Being such staunch supporters, they began to revere, not Tamil, which was the language of their forefathers, but Pali, the language spoken by their priests and the languae of their master Lord Buddha, and therefore paid more attention to it. To them Tamil was no more important or necessary, but they were satisfied if they could grasp the meaning of the Pali words and use those words in some form or other in their ordinary speech. That was the beginning of the Sinhalese language. But that takes us to quite a different topic with which we are not at present concerned. We are concerned only with the fact that the Tamil-speaking Yakkas had not been annihilated or banished to the Great and Little Basses, as is supposed or sometimes stated by those who claim a pure Aryan origin for the Sinhalese, but were merged in the general population and became in course of time Sinhalese to the very core.

It was the Yakkas again, now no more Tamils, who along with the South Indian settlers, constructed the large irrigation works, the tanks and the elas, sponsored by such great kings as Mahasen and Parakrama Bahu the great. This engineering knowledge had not been lost and was available whenever required. My point is that, if not for the Yakkas and the Tamils of South India, such great engineering works, attributed to the successive Sinhalese kings could never have been constructed at all, for it is clear from the facts already stated that Vijaya and his 700 followers did not possess this knowledge, nor did they import this knowledge for the first time from beyond the Gangetic valley in 483 BC! I might add here that the construction of an abnormally larger number of irrigation tanks, during the first five or six centuries of the present era (which fact is generally considered as the reason for attributing the science of irrigation to the Aryans), was due to the necessity to feed vast numbers of the Buddhist clergy, to whom, as I have told you, most of these tanks were donated by the Sinhalese kings and chieftains. It was clearly not due to the arrival of Vijaya, nor to any special new scientific knowledge brought by him and his retinue unknown to the Tamils, for, as I have already told you, the terminology used in irrigation alone betrays who the authors were.

I have to tell you all this, and at such great length, for you ought to know that the civilizations of Ceylon, and in fact of India itself, is Dravidian in origin, although the language spoken by the people in North India and Ceylon at the moment appears to be Aryan in origin, in view of the large number of Sanskritic and Pali words used therein. I would merely refer to you to Dr. Gilbert Slater, who in his book Dravidian Element in Indian Culture, states that the modern Hindu civilization is only ‘Aryan in language but Dravidian in culture’.

We shall discuss this matter on a future occasion, but for the present let us confine ourselves to Ceylon or Sri Lanka or Sri Ilam, the last of which became Sihalam and later Sinhalam and still later Ceylon, Ilam being the original word used for Ceylon by the Dravidians. (footnote 16)



Footnote 15: The circumstances as to how Dutugamunu could have defeated such a powerful king as Elala is shrouded in mystery. It is said that his General in Charge of Polonnaruwa, Neelan by name, was won over by promise of marriage to the queen mother Vihara Maha Devi who was a widow at that time – a promise that was never fulfilled. I understand that a footnote to this effect appears in Rajavaliya. If not for this defection of a trusted General, the chances of Dutugemunu ever defeating Elala was very remote. Old Elala, finding that his own Generals were untrustworthy, did not wish his civilian subjects massacred unnecessarily and so he risked his own life, as a true hero, by offering a single combat knowing full well that he was no match for young Dutugemunu.

Footnote 16: Of course, there are those who try to make the tail wag the dog by attempting to derive the Ilam or Helu, as it is called, backwards from the word Sinhalam itself, quite unconcerned with the fact that Ilam was the word used for Ceylon by the Dravidians, long before the Aryans appeared on the scene, and that this word is found in Elam, one of those kingdoms founded by the Dravidians in the Persian Gulf, on their way to Mesopotamia about 7,000 years ago and also the fact that the people of Ceylon living in Malabar are called the Ezhavar – the people of Elam, from time immemorial.


Letter 12

The Nagas

My dear Son,

Upto now I have said all I had to say about the Yakkas. It is now time I said something about the Nagas. We have seen that in the dim past, before the Sinhalese people ever came, the island was occupied not only by the Yakkas but also by the Nagas, both of whom were given the appellation of demons by the writers of the Mahavansa, an easy way of dismissing our opponents and rivals. Who were these Nagas?

The Nagas were one of the many tribes of people in ancient times who took their clan names from totems or emblems of beasts or birds which they worshipped. The cobra, sometimes with five heads, was their emblem and which they made their tutelary god. They curved the image of the cobra on every object. For example, when they constructed a tank the cobra was made to guard it. You will see a number of such carved images in some of the oldest tanks constructed in ancient times, vide a photo of a cobra stone facing p. 24 of the Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon by R.L. Brohier. The serpent or naga was the Dravidian emblem of Earth. By the way, the word ‘naga’ ordinarily is the name given to the snake. The English word ‘snake’ is itself a form of writing the Tamil word ‘naga’ but with the sibilant s in front. Would you believe me if I say that there are several such words in the English language written with a sibilant s in front that can be traced to Tamil; e.g:

Scan – kani

Scar – keeru

Scathe – kuththu

School – kalai

Scorch – kachchu

Scythe – kaththi

Shore – karai

Skein – kali (n for l)

Skull – kuwalai

Smash – machi

Smell – manam (l for n)

Smoke – pukai (m for p)

Smooth – methu

Smother – amaththu

Snail – naththai (l for th)

Sparrow – paravai

Spartan – Parathan

Spear – parai

Speech – pechchu

Sponge – panchu

Spot – poddu

Stock – tokai

How these words came to be used in the English tongue (and there are thousands of other words in the English language traceable to Tamil), will take us into topics which are not our immediate concern. But if you are interested in the subject, however, I shall write to you all about this in detail on a later occasion. Meanwhile, you may read the book entitled, ‘The Phoenician Origin of Britons, the Scots and the Anglo-Saxons’ by Col. L.A.Waddell (William & Norgate, London) to which I have made reference in my first letter.

Coming back to the Nagas, it may be interesting to note that, according to the legendary history of Ceylon, Buddha’s second visit was to Nagadipa (Jaffna peninsula) where he settled a dispute between the Naga princes, Mahodara and Culodara, concerning a gemset throne. This clearly shows that they were rulers at least of the Northern part of the island before Vijaya came.

That they were also a very civilized people and probably were the leading upper classes in the society of pre-historic Ceylon could be judged from numerous references to them in Tamil literature, to which I need not make any reference for the present. But there is ample evidence not only in Tamil classical works, but also in Sanskrit literature to show that the Nagas were a very highly civilized people, who were to be seen not only in Ceylon but all over India, even in the Indus Valley civilization recently unearthed by Sir John Marshall. If I am not laboring the point, there is enough evidence even in the Rig Veda, supposed to be a great literary monument of the early Aryan settlers, to show that the Aryans had to fight against two very powerful indigenous races, the Panis and the Nagas, who were despically called the Dasa or the Dasyus. The word ‘Pani’, derived from the Tamil word ‘panam’ meaning price or wealth, indicates that the Panis were the representatives of a commercial civilization which was pre-Aryan. (The vedic Aryans had no place in their social system for trade or traders.) The Nagas, or Sarpas, appear on the other hand to have been a war like people among the Dasas and were the leading community. The feeling of hostility between the Aryans and the aborigines was due to differences of religion and religious rites. In course of time it would appear that the Nagas became less hostile and the Aryans often took Naga wives.

The fact that the Nagas were in possession of a very advanced civilization could be inferred from the Tamil word for civilization, which is nagarikam; the word for a town or city is nagaram, which probably is the shortened form of nagaraka, the abode of the Nagas. Being town dwellers like the Sumerians, who as you might know were akin to the Dravidians, they must have devoted their leisure to the cultivations of the fine arts. Music they encouraged undoubtedly, for the word for the flute, which only the South Indian Tamils use and with which they render the Tamil ragas so exquisitely, is called nagasinnam, which the Tamil use even today and which instrument, mark you is unknown to the Aryans. It was again they who invented the alphabet and gave it to the Aryans who called it the Devanagari. Some of the place names even today betoken the existence of powerful Naga kingdoms in the past all over India; e.g: Nagpur, the capital of the central province of India.

The word nagar appears as nayar in Malabar. Even the Sinhalese word for naga (snake) is naya. In Malabar the nayar community still maintain their pre-eminent position as members of the ruling classes. The Nayars even today worship the naga or cobra in their homes and their officiating priests are nambudhiri Brahmins. It is now generally held that the Nayars are a Dravidian race, with, no doubt, a considerable admixture of Aryan blood. There is a great deal of identity between the customs of the Nayars of Malabar and the people of Jaffna; and this is not surprising, considering that a Naga kingdom was in existence in north Ceylon from pre-historic times.

For further particulars on this subject, I would refer you to the Madras District Gazetter vol.1. The following brief notes culled from the Gazetter in regard to the customs of the Nayars and the terms used by them may be interesting, as they are exactly the same as those of the people of Jaffna.


Kadukkan;  small oval ear-rings worn by men.

Thodu: a box shaped hollow cylinder of gold from an inch or an inch and a half in diameter which is the characteristic ornament of Nayar women. It is the custom to dilate the lobe of the ear in childhood to enable it to be fitted on.

Mukkuthi: nose pendents.


Palkudi: milk drinking

Chorunnu: rice feeding

Kathukhuttu: ear boring

Vayasakira : puberty

Mattu: change of clothes by the Vannan and the Vannathi, after childbirth and also after puberty.

Talikattu kaliyanam: marrying y tying the thali.

Puthir: the formal cooking and eating of rice after harvest – an agricultural ceremony.


are called manai, illam, veedu, idam. The house of a well-to-do Nair is known as Nalupuram Illam, corresponding to the Nalu Sar Veedu, of the well-to-do people in Jaffna.

Similarly, all the customs are identical and the terms used (such as those relating to births, deaths, marriages, funerals etc.) are exactly the same.

I am citing these facts merely to prove that the Nagas must have been, by virtue of their refinement and culture, a ruling caste with whom the Aryans had from early times associated by marriage. So far as Ceylon was concerned, there is the tradition that Arjuna married a Naga princess of Jaffna, Chittrangadhu by name. It is therefore highly probable that the Nagas were the progenitors of the Sinhalese kings mentioned in the Mahavansa. It will be seen that they were the rulers of Jaffna, Kelaniya and Ruhuna and that they had embraced Buddhism before everybody else, as could be inferred from Buddha’s three visits to the island, prior to the conversion of Devanampiya Tissa, and even prior to the advent of Vijaya to Lanka Dipa.

Even after they became Buddhists, they appear to have retained the surname Naga for a considerable period, although most of them had adopted Pali names with the change of religion. Devanampiya Tissa’s brother was Maha Nga, the ruler of Ruhuna 207 BC. Look at the following series of names of the kings of Ceylon ending with the suffix Naga, even subsequently.

Thullatha Naga - 59 BC

Kallata Naga - 50 BC

Chora Naga - 12 BC

Mahadithaka Maha Naga - AD 66

Illa Naga - AD 78

Mahallaka Naga - AD 135

Chula Naga - AD 181

Kuda Naga - AD 205

Siri Naga - AD 206

Abhaya Naga - AD 237

Sri Naga II - AD 245

Thereafter, the name disappears slowly until it re-appears again in AD 560 in Maha Naga. I am asking you to think over the matter as to how the decendants of Vijaya ‘from beyond the Ganges’ could have used these names, unless Vijaya himself was a Naga prince.

The reason for the change of name from Naga to Tissa and Abhaya etc. in course of time is obvious. Buddhism had taken a firm hold and people had begun to use a new vocabulary of Pali words. The worship of the cobra, their tutelary god, had receded into the background. The Nagas had been coaxed to believe that they were Aryans, who came from North India, and not from South India, where the enemies of the Buddhists were. For were there not Tamil invaders on several occasions from South India to destroy their religion, for example, Elala in about 145 BC, the seven Indian chiefs during Walagambahu I’s reign 44-28 BC, a Tamil force from Tanjore during Wankaanasika’s reign AD 170-183, Pandu and his successors AD 468-512. And the last one was just before Mahavansa came to be written. It was quite natural, therefore, that the Buddhist chroniclers tried their best to dissociate the kings of Ceylon from all connections with the Dravidians and to attempt to trace their descent from the Aryans and from North India, from where Buddhism came or originated. Not satisfied with that, the chroniclers even wanted to prove that the Sinhalese kings were, not only Aryans, but also descendants of the Sakya clan of Kshatriyas, to which Buddha belonged. For by the time Mahavansa came to be written (in the first quarter of the 6th century AD), a period of nearly 750 years had passed since the introduction of Buddhism in about 240 BC, and the period prior to the arrival of Buddhism, though unknown to the Bhikkus who wrote the Mahavansa, was made to start with the arrival of Vijaya from North India in 483 BC, the year of Buddha’s death.

Before concerned with the history of Ceylon only prior to the advent of Buddhism, I can safely infer from what is said of them, not only in Tamil and Sanskrit classical works, but also in the Mahavansa, that the Nagas were the ruling classes at the time, possibly of a higher status than the Yakkas, and that, in view of the fact that several Sinhalese kings, who ruled Ceylon subsequent to the arrival of Buddhism, bore Naga names, they were the progenitors of the Sinhalese kings.

In any case, I want only to show you that the Nagas, along with the Yakkas, were not the so-called demons, some super-human or sub-human species, as depicted by the writers of the Mahavansa, an opinion which our historians (including Dr. Mendis), even today are inclined to believe as true.




Letter 13

The Aryans and the Dravidians in Ceylon

My dear Son,

In spite of the overwhelming evidence both in India and Ceylon in support of the fact that the Yakkas and the Nagas were ordinary human beings, one of those who still think that they were demons is Dr. Mendis. You have read his ‘Early History of Ceylon’, that famous book which you used to cram for your H.S.C. [i.e., high school certificate] examination. I wish you will glance through the book and refresh your memory once again. He has a very high notion of the Aryans and seems to think that the civilization of Ceylon, in fact of the world, began only with them.

Speaking of the Aryans in Chapter 1, section 4, Dr. Mendis says that, “the next people to come to this island (after the Veddhas) were the Aryans.” He further says that,

“the coming of the Aryans to Ceylon is represented by the landing of Vijaya and his followers, but this legend is a story of later growth and offers no certain basis for making any inferences.”

He goes on to say that,

“there is no definite information which sheds any light on the character of the Aryans who settled in Ceylon, apart from the fact that they spoke an Aryan dialect. Hence it is not possible to state whether they were Aryans by blood or whether they were a non-Aryan people who had adopted an Aryan dialect as their language.”

Not satisfied with the above statements, he still goes on:

“The Aryans who settled in Ceylon came no doubt from the Northern part of India, but it is not certain from what part of that region the original settlers came. One way to fix their Indian habitat is to find out to which ancient Indian language old Sinhalese is most closely allied, but so far the study of ancient Indian dialects and of Sinhalese has not advanced sufficiently for us to draw any definite conclusion.”

See the number of ‘buts’. In spite of these doubts and difficulties and undependable data, the author is yet able to aver that the Sinhalese were Aryans, that they came to Ceylon, and that they came no doubt from the Northern part of India (and not of course from the Southern part where, I suppose, the less-civilized Dravidians lived.) You will notice in this chapter he arranges the section in the following chronological order: (a) the Veddhas, (b) the people of the New Stone age, (c) the Aryans, (d) the Dravidians.

The Aryans are made to come immediately after the Veddha and the people of the new Stone Age, and the Dravidians are made to come only after the arrival of the Aryans. Of course, he advances a plausible reason for this chronological order, for he says in one of his footnotes thus:

“There is no record which gives any account of the struggle of the Aryans with the earlier inhabitants. The Yakkas and the Nagas mentioned in Buddhist works of this time do not refer to human beings. Hence the only people the Aryans could have met were the Veddhas. There is no evidence to show that the Veddhas passed through a copper or bronze age. Therefore they with their weapons of stone could not have raised any serious opposition to the Aryans who had already entered the Iron age.”

The learned doctor knows in his heart of hearts that unless he dismisses the Yakkas and the Nagas, there is no possibility of his maintaining his theory of the arrival of the Aryans to Ceylon ahead of the Dravidians. The footnote quoted above anyhow implies that the only people who could have offered any resistance were the Yakkas and the Nagas, who were undoubtedly Dravidians as everybody knows. But the Buddhist works call them demons, and so we are asked to accept that statement and leave them out of account, in order to help Dr. Mendis make the Aryans to come to Ceylon before the Dravidians.

If we accept this statement, see the consequences of our action. First of all we must throw overboard the story of the marriage of Vijaya with the Yakka queen Kuweni, his treacherous murder, with Kuweni’s help, of all the Yakka nobility assembled at a marriage feast of one of the Yakka kings, as related in the Mahavansa. We must also ignore what the Mahavansa says about,

“King Pandukabhaya’s diplomacy in establishing in the city of Anuradhapura two Yakka chiefs, one of whom sat on days of public festivity on a throne of equal eminence with the King”, and also about the conversion of “vast numbers of Yakkas to Buddhism during Dutugamunu’s reign.”

For our part, we must accept either what the Mahavansa says as correct or what the Buddhist works (referred to by Dr. Mendis) as correct. We cannot accept both. We would rather give credence to what the Mahavansa says and, if we do, it follows that Yakkas and the Nagas were occupying the island before the Aryans came, and even if, for arguments sake, we admit that they were not Dravidians, they were certainly not Veddhas, nor were they demons.

If we reject what the Mahavansa says about the Vijaya-Kuweni episode and about the establishment of the Yakka chieftains by King Pandukabhaya, on the ground that these events were anterior to the arrival of the Buddhist clergy, who were the authors of the Mahavansa, to whom these events were only hearsay and therefore undependable for historical purposes, then the whole theory of the coming of the Aryans too falls to the ground, as that was hearsay too. But none of the less the fact that the Yakkas were in Ceylon can be proved by one single event in Dutugemunu’s reign, when ‘vast numbers of Yakkas were converted to Buddhism’, an event which took place nearly 4 centuries after the arrival of Vijaya, to which the Buddhist clergy, who were the authors of the Mahavansa, were eye witnesses. I suppose Dr. Mendis would say that these demons had become human beings by the time of Dutugemunu’s reign!

Now let us see what the learned Doctor says about the Dravidians in chapter 1, section 5, of his book. Let me quote two relevant extracts there from, and also offer my comments there on. The first extract is as follows:

“Another stock of people who helped to form the Sinhalese race was the Dravidians. There is no evidence to show when they first came to this island, but they undoubtedly came from the earliest times onwards, either as invaders or peaceful immigrants. Most of them gradually adopted the Sinhalese language as some of them still do in some of the coastal districts and were merged in the Sinhalese population.”

The last sentence is not without its purpose, for it means that, although the Dravidians ‘undoubtedly came from the earliest times onwards’, they came only after the Aryan Sinhalese, for they ‘gradually adopted the Sinhalese language, as some of them still do in some of the coastal districts.’

The next extract is as follows:

“At the time the Aryans entered India the Dravidians occupied not only South India but also the greater part of Northern India, but there is no definite evidence to show from where they came to these regions.”

Let us not worry from where they came, if they came at all; but we are satisfied that they come to India, North and South, before the Aryans came. That is, they had occupied North India and South India and had settled down there for several centuries and the Aryans came only after them. According to Dr. Mendis, it is only where Ceylon was concerned that the Dravidians came after the Aryans, Ceylon which is only thirty miles across the Palk Strait separating South India, which, on the admission of the doctor, had already been occupied before the Aryans. The Chera, the Chola and the Pandyan kingdoms had come into existence in South India, kingdoms which were so highly civilized and powerful that they had commercial intercourse with the outside world, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea on one side and the Malayan peninsula and the East Indian archipelago on the other. They even sent colonizing expeditions to several places in the East Indies, such as Java, Sumatra and Timor. Even in regard to Europe, see what Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru says in his ‘Glimpses of World History’. He says:

“A considerable trade flourished between South India and Europe. Pearls, ivory, gold, rice, pepper, peacocks and even monkeys were sent to Babylon and Egypt and Greece and later to Rome. Teakwood from the Malabar coast went even earlier to Chaldea and Babylonia. And all this trade, or most of it, was carried in Indian ships, manned by Dravidians. This will enable one to realise what an advanced position South India occupied in the ancient world.”

While these kingdoms, the Chera, the Chola and the Pandyan kingdoms, had established themselves on both sides of the Indian peninsula, including even distant Java and Timor and the Philippines, it was only (according to Dr. Mendis) where Ceylon was concerned, which they called Ilam, that they failed to occupy it, presumably because, I suppose, they wanted it reserved for Vijaya and his 700 followers from ‘beyond the Ganges’. Who would believe this very unlikely cock and bull story?

I am afraid Dr. Mendis is interested not so much in true history as in politics, and that too politics of the Ceylon variety. I wish that every Tamil student should read this book, at least in order to discover for himself the many instances of Suppressions Veri and Suggestions Falsi, contained therein.




Letter 14

The Aryan Nomads

My dear Son,

There is another writer whom we should not pass unnoticed. He is Prof. Pakeman, the author of ‘Ceylon and World History’, which book too you have read. I trust you will excuse me if I furnish you with more extracts and quotations from his book also. Let us see what he has to say about the Aryans, to which group of people he, as well as Dr. Mendis, claims to belong. The following are some of his statements.

  • “Practically nothing is known about the earliest history of the Aryan. They were probably nomads, that is to say they wandered about, taking with them herds of cattle and horses whose milk, flesh and skin provided all they needed, both for food and dress.”
  • “We do not know definitely where their original home was, but it is believed to have been either the Steppes of South Russia or else near and about the region now called Czechoslovakia. Where ever their home was, they soon grew numerous to live in it, and they spread outwards all over Europe and South Eastern area.”
  • “They seem to have been an extremely powerful race, for wherever they went they conquered and taught the conqured people to speak the Aryan language.”
  • The progress of the Aryans can be traced by their language, Sanscrit, Pali, Persian, English, French, German, Latin, Greek and many other languages can all be traced back to the one original Aryan language, and so, wheresoever those languages are spoken the Aryans must have been.”

Speaking of the Aryans who went eastwards across the Khyber Pass into the plains of North India, he says:

  • “They soon drove the Dravidians down into the South of the peninsula (the Madras Presidency etc.) and established themselves all over the plains of the Indus and the Ganges in the North.”
  • “When the Aryans had conquered Northern India, they split it up into many small kingdoms each governed by its own Rajah or King.”
  • “These kingdoms had a common language (Sanscrit) had a common religion (Hinduisim) and a common social system. One of the chief features of this social system was the division into castes. At first there were only three castes, the Brahmins or priests, the Kshatriyas or rulers or fighters, and Sudras or farmers or merchants. This third caste was later sub-divided into hundreds of different trades and professions.”
  • “It has been suggested that these castes consisted of the Aryan invaders, while the people of the lowest castes and the outcastes were the conquered Dravidians and tribesmen.”
  • “However it may have started, this caste system has been one of the most marked and most lasting features of Indian civilization.”
  • “For two thousand years this Aryan civilization, with its many small kingdoms, constantly at war with each other, grew and flourished, completely cut off from the rest of the world.”

You will notice from the last two extracts how what is called ‘Indian’ civilization in one extract has suddenly become ‘Aryan’ civilization in the other. But let us leave it alone for the present. Let us investigate, however, how these Aryan nomads, who wandered about taking with them their herds of cattle and horses and who had no settled homes (as stated by Mr. Pakeman himself), could have achieved a high degree of civilization as the Indian civilization within the compass of a few hundred of years since their arrival through the Khyber Pass. All are agreed that they brought no civilization of any kind whatsoever when they came to India or when they went to the Mediterranean regions, viz. Greece and Italy. If they had any civilization of their own before they started on their excursions to other lands from the Steppes of South Russia or Czechoslovakia, they would certainly have left behind them some remnants or relics of their civilization in the form of buildings or cities in those regions. But the Steppes of South Russia or the mountains of Czechoslovakia are up to date barren of any indications of their having been occupied by any civilized peoples at any time, say in the sense of the Sumerians or the Egyptians or the Cretans, who have left in their respective regions ample proofs of their once having reached a high degree of civilization unknown to other races.

But it will be seen that whatever civilization is now attributed to the Aryans is found only in India on the one hand and the Mediteranean regions on the other. On putting it in another form, all the known ancient civilizations in the past were confined to that belt of land commencing from India and passing through the Persian Gulf, the basin of the Euphrates and the Tigris, Palestine, Egypt, the island of Crete and finally ending in the peninsula of Greece and Italy. Barring China and the Mayan civilization in America, of which we know very little, we have not heard or known of any other regions outside this belt where there had been any signs of any early civilization. That is to say, so far as Europe, Asia and Africa are concerned, all civilizations are centered in this belt. The Aryans originated outside this belt and long before they made incursions into this belt, the people of these regions, who were not Aryans, had attained a very high degree of civilization.

This being the case, the Aryans were not the originators of these civilizations. The only thing they appear to have done, as stated by Pakeman, was that ‘wherever they went they conquered and taught the conquered people to speak the Aryan language.’ Whether even this claim is true will be examined by me later. But, even if it were true, it is clear that what is now called the Aryan civilization in these regions was not introduced by the Aryans. In other words, the Aryans, who were uncivilized when they came to these regions, became civilized after their arrival and after coming into contact with these pre-Aryan people.




Letter 15

The Pre-Aryans and their Civilizations

My dear Son,

Let us now see who these civilized pre-Aryans were one by one, and let us allow Professor Pakeman himself to supply all the facts. He says:

“Civilization began, not when men were wandering in the forest hunting wild animals or roaming in grasslands tending their cattle and their horses, but when they settled down to grow crops. This happened in the river-basins of the world, viz., Mesopotamia (the Euphrates and the Tigris), and Egypt (the Nile).

Let us leave out for the present the latest discoveries of Mohenjodaro and Harappa in the Indus basin in India, about which Mr. Pakeman himself is silent or of which he was probably ignorant at the time he wrote the book. Let us deal with the tract of land called Mesopotamia or Iraq watered by the two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. (I am culling out all the facts from Mr. Pakeman’s book itself.)

“This tract of land and still has a plentiful supply of water so necessary for growing crops and it is believed to have been the first part of the world occupied by settled communities although it is impossible to say exactly when the first villages and small towns were founded here, it is believed that there were towns as early as 1,200 BC. And it is certain that there were great cities by 6,000 or 5,000 BC, and the ruins of these can still be seen today.”

“The inhabitants of these ancient cities were called the Sumerians. They were clever, inventive and industrious, they discovered the uses of wheels, pulleys and many other devices: they advanced a great way in the arts of irrigation and cultivation; they began to study mathematics and astrology, and, most important of all, they discovered the art of writing. The Sumerians were akin in every respect to the Dravidian people and it is believed by some that they were the ancestors of the modern Tamils.”

The next civilization known to us is that of the Nile valley of Egypt, for I have told you that all the civilizations of the world in the ancient past began at or were confined to river basins, whether small or large. The Egyptian civilization reached its zenith during the period 4,500 to 2,500 BC.

Let us now go to the Mediterranean region, in particular to the peninsula of Greece and the adjacent island of Crete. You have read the Tutorial History of Greece by Woodhouse. From a perusal of the early chapters of this book you will note that the Greeks were not the earliest inhabitants of the peninsula. The peninsula of Greece and the island around, as well as the whole of the Mediterranean basin were occupied by several people whom, for convenience sake, we may call the Mediterranean race and who, judging from the numerous archeological discoveries, had reached very high degree of civilization. Remains belonging to this prehistoric civilization in various stages of development have been found in all parts of the Mediterranean region, of which the most important was the Cretan civilization. From about 2,500 BC, the island of Crete was the chief seat of a bronze culture. It was the centre of a great naval and commercial power having regular traffic with Egypt and Palestine and exporting goods to Sicily, Spain and even distant Britain.

The civilization of Crete was not one that flourished in a river basin as in all other cases but one that was due to trade and commerce owing to its situation between the more advanced countries of Asia and Africa and the less advanced countries of Europe. The civilizing influence exercised by this old maritime empire which had its centre in Crete was continued by the Phoenicians. If you wish to know more about who the Phoenicians were, you may read Phoenicia by G. Rawlinson (Fisher and Unwin).

When the Greeks, speaking an Aryan language came into Greece from the Northwestern regions of the Balkan peninsula, they were not a civilized race, like all other Aryan nomadic tribes and the civilization they adopted later was introduced by the Cretans. This civilization is sometimes called the Mycenaeian civilization, so called from the city of Mycenae in Agolis where numerous remains indicative of a high degree of culture are found. You will also note from the Tutorial History referred to above that the coming of the Greeks has to be regarded not as a sudden irruption of invaders who swept the pre-Greek people into destruction, but as a slow infiltration extending over thousands of years. The process was rather one of assimilation than one of destruction. Herodotus, the historian, tells us that the inhabitants of Attica and some other districts were not originally Hellenese but had become so by the adoption of Hellenic language and manners.

So we can see that the civilization of Greece, at least in its early stages, was not the handiwork of the Aryan immigrants, who came from the Northwest region of the Balkan peninsula, but the heritage bequeathed to them by the Cretans.

Though we have already seen that the river basins of the world were centres of civilization, where settled communities lived and had the necessary leisure for the pursuit of higher things which make men civilized, we have not said a word so far about India, where too we find large river basins such as, for example the Indus, and the Ganges. The European historians, who have much to say about Mesopotamia and Egypt, never for a moment conjectured that similar pre-Aryan civilizations could have existed in these river basins too. If our theory that the river basins of the world were the breeding grounds of civilized people is true, then the basins of the Indus and the Ganges too should have had their own civilization on the same lines as those of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The European scholars, however, were hitherto obsessed with the unfounded notion that, so far as India was concerned, the civilization there was entirely Aryan in origin and that the pre-Aryan people of India had no civilization worth the name and that at any rate no civilization of any sort, contemporaneous with or similar to the Mesopotamian valley, existed in India.

Let us assume for the moment that there was no Pre-Aryan civilization in India and that the Sumerian civilization was the oldest civilization, in which case it is rather strange how when the Sumerian civilization spread westwards to the island of Crete and Greece and even further beyond, through the agency of the sea-fearing Phoenicians (for all scholars admit this fact), it did not spread eastward through the Persian Gulf, at least to the Indus basin in the Northwestern sea-board of India, which was much closer to Sumer than the Mediterranean regions. The whole trouble was that, in their anxiety to attribute all civilizations to the Aryans, the European historians probably felt that, so far as India was concerned the problem had been solved, in that it was wholly Aryan, and that, therefore, there was no need to make any investigations into the possibility of their having been any pre-Aryan civilization at all in India, similar to the Sumerian and the Egyptian. Even the author of ‘Ceylon and World History’ appears to be ignorant of the recent discoveries, by Sir John Marshall, at Harappa and Mohenjodaro in the Indus valley, of a civilization that was in several respects superior to the Sumerian and the Egyptian civilization. I do not wish to go into details, for I am sure you will make it a point to read Sir John Marshall’s monumental work ‘Mohenjodaro and the Indus Civilization, vol.1’ when you find the time. You can borrow it from the Public Library or the University library. But to make things easier for you, however, I shall quote from his book occasionally to illustrate some of my points as I proceed.




Letter 16

The Origin and Character of Pre-Aryan Civilizations

My dear Son,

Now we are satisfied that there had been a pre-Aryan civilization even in India, and that confirms our original hypothesis that almost all the river basins from India to Europe, viz. the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea were the homes of the earliest known civilization to which the Aryans made no contributions whatsoever.

Now let us see where these pre-Aryan civilizations, viz. the Sumerian, the Egyptian, the Cretan, the Phoenician, and now the Indian originated. Did they originate simultaneously at different places influencing each other as they developed? Or did they develop in one place and spread to other places? Who are the people who originated this civilization? Were they of one stock or of different stocks? Finally what was the language or languages they spoke? Were these languages completely foreign to each other or were they the same language or different dialects of an earlier language? These are some of the questions we must try to answer, even though we may not be successful in finding out satisfactory answers to all of them with the limited knowledge at our disposal. This is no doubt the most important and the most interesting part of our subject.

To begin with, you will remember the book on Chaldea (the story of the Nations series) by Ragozin, to which I made reference in my introductory letter. Let me read through this book and summarise below all the important facts mentioned therein for your information. The following is the summary:

“The land, where Sumerians lived, was also called Chaldea [footnote 17]. According to tradition and according to Berosus, a learned priest of Babylon, who lived immediately after Alexander the Great had conquered the country (somewhat after 300 BC), and who wrote a history of Babylon from the most ancient times, in which he gave an account of the oldest traditions concerning its beginnings ‘there were originally at Babylon a multitude of people of foreign race who had settled in Chaldea’. Who were these people of foreign race who came from somewhere else and settled down in Chaldea in immemorial times? The author supplies the answer by saying that they were Turanians, meaning a people who came from a distant land [footnote 18].

The Turanians, according to this author, at one time covered the whole of western Asia, dwelt there for ages before any other race occupied it and were called the ‘oldest of men’ and were everywhere at the very roots of history. Their language was composed either of monosyllables or of monosyllables glued together, wherefore their language has been called agglutinative. Chinese belongs to the former class (monosyllables) and Turkish and Tamil to the latter (the agglutinative). The Turanians were probably the first to invent writing and also the first to build cities. That the Turanian settlers came to Mesopotamia from somewhere else is plain from several circumstances, which need not be recapitulated here. It was they who brought into Mesopotamia the very first and the most essential rudiments of civilization, the art of writing and that of working metals. It was also they who began to dig those canals without which the land, notwithstanding its fabulous fertility, must always be a marshy waste and who began to make bricks and construct buildings out of them.

After them came another race from the East, more civilized than the earlier Turanians. The bringers of this advanced civilization,whom Ragozin calls the Cushites, and whom we now call the Sumerians, are represented by the leged of the coming of Ea the Fish (Oannes as it called in Greek), out of the Persian Gulf. According to Berosus, ‘the whole body of the animal was that of a fish, but under the fish’s head he had another head, and also feet below growing out of his fish’s tail, similar to those of a man, also human speech, and his image is preserved to this day. This being used to spend the whole day amidst men, without taking any food, and he gave them an insight into letters and science, and every kind of art, he taught them how to find cities, to construct temples, to introduce laws, and to measure land, he showed them how to sow seeds and gather in crops, in short he instructed them in everything that softens manners and makes up civilization, so that from that time no one has invented anything new. Then, when the sun went down, this monstrous Oannes used to plunge back into the sea and spend the night in the midst of the boundless waves, for he was amphibious.’ ”

However picturesque the above description about Ea the fish may be, it is clear that the new race came from the East. We must now investigate from what part of the East they came or could have come. In the book ‘Lands and Peoples of the Bible’ (to which I have made reference in my earlier letter), James Baikie says:

“Recent discoveries at Mohenjodaro, in the Indus Valley, have revealed there is a civilization remarkably akin to that of the Sumerians, and in the meantime we are at liberty to suppose that the immigrants who brought their more advanced culture to the delta of the two rivers (i.e., the Euphrates and the Tigris) may have had their ancient home in the upper Indus Valley. The ancient legend stated that all knowledge was brought to the inhabitants of the Delta by the strange being, fish-man and God, who came out of the Persian Gulf, and this perhaps may be another way of saying that culture came by way of sea and that the Sumerian immigrants reached their new home, by voyaging from the mouth of the Indus up to the Gulf.”

In this connection, what does Sir John Marshall say in his work, ‘Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilization’? He observes, “It may be recalled that before anything whatever had been discovered of the Indus civilization, Dr. H.R. Hall proposed to locate the homeland of the Sumerians somewhere to the east of Mesopotamia and suggested that they might belong to the same ethnic type as the Dravidians of India, who, though now restricted to the south of India, are believed on linguistic and ethnological grounds to have once populated virtually the whole of the peninsula, including the Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan, where, as is well known, the Dravidian speech is still preserved in the language of the Brahuis. Following on the discoveries at Mohenjodaro and Harappa, which revealed various points of resemblance between the material cultures of these places and Sumer, it was natural that a fresh impetus should be given to this theory and the resemblances referred to should be interpreted as additional proof of its correctness.”

What Dr. Hall, referred to above passage by Sir John Marshall, said was: “The ethnic type of the Sumerians, so strongly marked in their status and beliefs, was so different from those of the races which surrounded them, as was their language from those of the Semites, Aryans or others; they were decidedly Indian in type. The face type of the average Indian of today is no doubt much the same as that of his Dravidian race ancestors, thousands of years ago. Among the modern Indians, as amongst the modern Greeks or Italians, the ancient pre-Aryan type of the land (as the primitive of the land always does) has survived, while that of the Aryan conqueror died out long ago, and it is to this Dravidian ethnic type of India that the Sumerians bear most resemblance, so far as we can judge from his monuments. He was very like a southern Hindu of the Dekkan (who still speaks Dravidian languages). And it is by no means improbable that the Sumerians were an Indian race which passed certainly by land, perhaps also by sea, through Persia to the valley of the two rivers. It was in the Indian home (perhaps in the Indus Valley) that their writing may have been invented and progressed from a purely pictorial to a simplified and abbreviated form, which afterwords in Babylonia took on its cuneiform appearance, owing to its being written with a square ended stilus on soft clay. On the way they left the seeds of culture in Elam….[Note by Sachi: dots as in the original.] There is little doubt that India must have been one of the earliest centres of civilization, and it seems natural to suppose that the strange un-Semitic, un-Aryan people, who came from the East to civilize the West, were of Indian origin, especially when we see with our eyes how very Indian, the Sumerians were in type.”

We could now see how correct has been Dr. Hall’s earlier anticipation. It was the southern Dravidian Hindus of the Deccan who took the torch of civilization westwards. At this stage it is worth investigating in what respects the new comers to Mesopotamia from the East (i.e., the Dravidians, later called the Sumerians) were more advanced than their predecessors, the Turanians, who we knew (according to Ragozin) were themselves a fairly civilized race. We have seen that the Turanians were a people who had invented writing, who knew how to build, to make canals, to work metals and who had passed out the first and grossest stage of religious conception. According to Ragozin, what the newcomers, whom she calls the Cushites or the Sumerians, did teach the Turanians was a more orderly way of organizing society and ruling it by means of laws and an established government, and, above all, astronomy and mathematics and a higher conception of religious philosophy. And, considering the similarity of language and other factors between the Turanians and the Sumerians, it is reasonable to assume that the Turanians themselves were followed by another wave of the same people from India after a long interval.

In my next letter, I shall say something about the character of the Indus Valley civilization.



Footnote 17: Chaldea sounds similar to the Tamil word Chola desam, the land of the Cholas.

Footnote 18: The word Turanian appears to be derived from the Tamil word Thuram = distance.

Section 3