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A. Theva Rajan

Thanks to the media for highlighting the 57th Conference of the Historical
Society of India, held recently in Chennai after 52 years, a new discovery has
been brought to our notice.

It is interesting to note that the northern historians who had a fallacious notion
that Tamil Nadu of the Cankam Age did not have a proper state-craft or
coinage, were stunned when told of the recent discovery of various coins of the
Cankam period.  The contributions of R. Krishnamoorthy, R. Nagaswamy, R.
Vanaja and Iravatham Mahadevan in this field are path-breaking milestones.
Iravatham Mahadevan has shown how during Cankam period Tamil was the
language of the courts of kings, communications, administration and literacy in
the Pandyan kingdom, the peninsular core of Tamil Nadu, even when a form of
Prakrit was used during the same period in adjoining Andhra and Karnataka
states although Prakrit was not their mother tongue.  The contributions of
Iravatham Mahadevan, R. Nagaswamy, K.G. Krishnan, K.V. Ramesh, Natana
Kasinathan, K.V. Raman and Y. Subbarayalu in the field of earliest epigraphy
and archaeology are again mile-stones.  Together, they have re-examined the
history of Tamil Nadu and the history of India.

To this, I would like to add some of the recent discoveries in Sri Lanka.  At the
annual conference of the Numismatics Society of Tamil Nadu held at Madurai in
1992, a paper presented by K.N.V. Seyone, President of the Numismatics
Society of Sri Lanka, created a stir because it was on the globules (early coins)
of the Cankam period, found at Kantarodai and Mantai which were flourishing
port cities of Northern Sri Lanka from the pre-Christian era.  These have not yet
been found in Tamil Nadu.  The veteran research scholar P.L. Samy (retd.
I.A.S.), in response, wrote an article in the Centamil Celvi (Jan. 1993) giving
details of the globules as found in the Cankam literature in the shape of seeds of
margosa (neem), bitter-gourd, Snake-gourd, etc.

A new generation of scholars in Sri Lanka have stumbled on fascinating new
discoveries.  Siran Deraniyagala, Sudharsan Seneviratne, Susantha Gunatilake
and Senaka Bandaranayake have highlighted new discoveries of far-reaching

A new generation of scholars from the Jaffna University, S.K. Sitrampalam, P.
Ragupathy, P. Pushparatnam and S. Krishnarajah have stumbled on evidence
which establishes a close link which Sri Lanka had with Tamil Nadu.
Pushparatnam has come across Cera, Cola, Pantiya, Pallava, and Roman coins
– some of them belong to the Cankam period.  Krishnarajah has come across
punch-marked silver coins and Pantiyan coins of the Cankam period at
Kantarodai (North Sri Lanka).  K.N.V. Seyone came across a coin on which the
elephant has been super-imposed (stuck) on a Tiger coin.  It is interpreted as a
coin of the Cola King Elara.  Dutugemunu stuck the elephant over it after
defeating Elara.  He also came across a coin where you find only two legs below
the knee of the deity with a cow and a Yogi by the side.  The deity is Lord
Shiva and is proof of feet-worship of the Hindus.

Recent discoveries in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka have revolutionised notions
about the historical past of India and Sri Lanka and brought them closer.  It is
time the historians in both the countries took cognisance of this new evidence
and revised the chapters on the ancient history of both these countries.
Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies, Vol. XV No. 1, March 1998, 106.


Subject: Re: Circle Digest – Issues 1471 29 June 1998
Sutha Balasubramaniam, 1478 of 8 July 1998  A. Veluppillai,
1479 of 10 July 1998 – M. Niranjan and 1481 of
12 July 1998 – A. Veluppillai

My attention was drawn to the above communications centering on the origin and/or derivation of the Tamil word Eezham.  I do not have issue no. 1344.  It does not matter as the issue is Eezham.

Professors S. Krishnasamy Aiyangar and Karthigesu Indrapala, and Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam are all scholars in their own way.  Krishnasamy Aiyangar and Rasanayagam Mudaliyar expressed their views seventy two years ago.  Seventy two years in research and study is a long period – a very long period and much water has flown underneath.  Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of the history of Tamil Nadu and the history of Eezham/Ilankai, mainly archaeological, epigraphical and numismatical, have compelled a revision of the respective histories.  Consequently, some of their views have naturally got dismissed.

This applies to Indrapala too.  His thesis on the history of the Jaffna Kingdom has met with the same fate and is no more a valid study.  His own history of Jaffna in the Handbook on Jaffna (1983?) dismantles his arguments in his Ph.D thesis.  His paper on "Early Tamil settlements in Ceylon" in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) New Series No: XIII of 1968 is an insult to scholarship with hasty imbalanced conclusions.  New evidences have toppled his conclusion that Tamils are strangers to Sri Lanka.  I agree with Veluppillai that Indrapala started his sustained study of Tamil history only after going to Jaffna.  He founded the Archaeological Society of Jaffna.  He organised and delivered, along with Veluppillai what may be called pre-induction lectures on Archaeology and epigraphy.  I attended the lectures and I became an Executive Committee member of the Jaffna Archaeological Society.  It was at my request that he, along with a team of about ten of us, did a survey of the Vallipuram area in 1972 and stumbled on the Vallipuram burial urn.  He and Kailasapathy revamped the Ramanatham Academy and organised the Fine Arts Department of the University of Jaffna.  Kailasapathy and Indrapala, apart from their astute scholarship, cannot be forgotten in the context of the University of Jaffna.  They spoke to be understood and wrote to be understood.  Theirs was a convincing lucid style though mutually different.  They always ended with their conclusions.  Theirs was never a load of incomprehensible words and sentences alone straying into something not discernible.

Let us accept one fundamental truth that any pronouncement by any scholar is dependent upon the access to and availability of facts, source materials and new evidences.  Of course, interpretations may and are bound, to differ.  Based on this, the views of Aiyangar, Rasanayagam, and Indrapala are long outdated and hold no grounds today.  The Tamil Lexicon meets the same fate.

Regarding the use of the Tamil word Eezham in the ancient records, I shall add four more to the seven already mentioned by Veluppillai.  P. Pushparatnam, Senior Asst. Lecturer, Dept. of History, University of Jaffna, in his surface collections from Poonagari stumbled on two pot-sherds with the inscriptions Eezha and Eela respectively on them.  These are dated to 2nd century BC.  Eela is the potter’s error.  A new interpretation has been given to the "Tamil Householder’s inscription at Anuradhapura".  Iravatham Mahadevan the well known Indian epigraphist who visited Sri Lanka in 1994 saw this epigraph personally at Anuradhapura.  He says Paranavitane has erred in reading a word in the epigraph as "Ilu Bharatha".  Mahadevan maintains that the correct reading would be Eezha Vrta (Varta) which corresponds to AriyaVrta and BrahmaVrta in Sanskrit usage.  In Tamil, Eezha Vrta would mean Eezha Tiru Nadu.  The language of the inscription is Prakrit.  In Prakrit, there is no alphabet for the V sound.  Hence B is used.  And consequently Paranavitane’s error.  This inscription is dated to the 3rd century BC.  The fourth is the commentary by U.V. Swaminatha Aiyer to his edition of Nannool.  Commenting on the Sutra referring to the countries in which Tamil was in use, he has quoted from ancient sources including Tholkappiyam and Akaththiyam and earlier commentaries thereto, and mentions Eezham and Ilankai as two separate countries where Tamil was in use.  In spite of the controversy as to whether Akaththiyam preceded Tholkappiyam or Tholkappiyam preceded Akaththiyam, the fact remains that both are ancient works.  So much so, that Eezham is part and parcel of ancient history and not a newly coined word for an imaginary territory.

Veluppillai’s view is shared by former Director of Epigraphy, Archaeological Survey of India, Dr K.V. Ramesh.  He says the word svarNa bhumi occurring in Sanskrit words corresponds to the Tamil word Eezham and refers to Sri Lanka as "the land of gold".  Incidentally, Sri Lanka is called Ilankai in Tamil which means "that which glitters".  The gems of Ratnapuri and the pearls of Mantai and perhaps some gold deposits found in yonder years must have given this name.  It is no wonder the westerners gave the epithet "pearl of the East".  The Tamil word Ilankai has got corrupted to Lanka in Prakrit and Sanskrit.

The three alphabets in Tamil transcribed as I in English needs mention.  They are phonetically denoted as I, L and Zha.  I is common to practically all the languages of the world.  L is common to all the Dravidian languages.  Buehler identified its early inscriptional usage in the Bhattiprolu (Andhra) inscription.  Zha has been used in ancient Brahmi/Tamil inscriptions and ancient Tamil literature.  In Sinhala we have only two alphabets for I and both (          ) have the same sound I.  Currently in Sinhala         is being given up.  In the earliest Brahmi inscriptions in Sri Lanka, also referred to as pre-Asokan, (Asokan Brahmi comes into full use from 1st  century A.D.) all the three alphabets I, L and Zha are used.  Along with these letters other Dravidian letters R (   )  N (    ) n (    ) etc. are also used.  They disappear in the 1st century A.D. and re-appear in the 7th century A.D. along with Pallava influence.  The current Sinhala script bears the imprint of Pallava Grantha.  These facts are attested to by Professor P E E Fernando (retd. Prof. of Sinhala, University of Peradeniya) and Dr Saddhamangala Karunaratne (retd. Commissioner of Archaeology).  Karunaratne ventures further to call the pre-Asokan Sri Lankan Brahmi as Dravidi based on Buehler’s findings. Both modern Sinhala and Tamil scripts developed over the period of time from Brahmi.

It may interest scholars to learn that the development of   so particular to Tamil and Malayalam is attested to by Brahmi inscriptions on rocks, drip-ledges of caves and potsherds found in Sri Lanka.

In the four ancient Brahmi inscriptions in Sri Lanka which refer to Tamils the word is wrongly read as DA-ME-DA (last syllable to be pronounced as Dha although some Tamil scholars have taken it as ).  The alphabet used is.  By comparison with other readings of Paranavitane I have shown in an article in the Virakesari that Paranavitane has erred in not reading it as (Tamil) although the pulli is absent in .  It is not Dha, as ready by Paranavitane.  So much so, that the use of Zha, the name of Eezham and the history of the Tamils (in Sri Lanka) are very ancient.  Eezham is referred to as Eelan-doe in Chinese records where "doe" means Island in Chinese.  Two Portuguese historians, de Baros and de Couto have also referred to Eezham as Ilhao.

Natana Kasinathan, the present Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu has rendered a re-interpretation of the TirupparaNkunRam inscription.  He says that the word Kudumpikan refers to a citizen of the Kudumpu called Eezham.  Kudumpu means an administrative unit – a territorial area – within a political authority.  This authority was always a kingdom.  Kudumpu can mean a unit within the kingdom or even a kinglet or dependency.  So Eezham must have been a kinglet or dependency of the Chera kingdom first and the Pandyan kingdom later.  When the Pandyan kingdom was disturbed by the Muslim invasion, Eezham must have become independent, until it was captured by the Portuguese.  The inference drawn from the TirupparaNkunRam inscription (of Madurai the capital of the Pandyan kingdom) is that Eezham was outside Tamil Nadu.  The inference from Pattinappalai reference is also the same.  The inference from the Anuradhapura Tamil householder’s inscription in Lanka (Ilankai) is also that Eezham was outside Lanka (i.e. the political authority of Lanka).  These references lend support to the evidence sifted by Swaminatha Aiyer from ancient sources that Eezham and Ilankai are two separate countries where Tamil was in use.

Pushparatnam collected Sangam period coins of various dynasties from Poonagari.  Selliah Krishnarajah, a senior Assistant Lecturer, Department of History, University of Jaffna, collected Sangam period Pandyan coins from Kanterodai.  K.N. Velautha Seyone, a former President of the Numismatics Society of Sri Lanka collected the most ancient coins of the Sangam period – the globules – from Kanterodai and Mantai.  They are described as resembling the seeds of bitter-gourd, snake-gourd, pumpkin, etc. in the sangam classics.  The interesting point is that these globules have still not been discovered in Tamil Nadu.  All these evidences put together make it evident that Eezham has had very intimate dealings with Tamil Nadu (but it is feared that all these collections are lost due to the Army operations in Jaffna).

The story of the evolution of Eezham from Sinhala evolved in conjunction with the theory of Wilhelm Geiger and Sinhala scholars that CEYLON was derived from Sinhala. Geiger was no doubt a good scholar.  The beginning of this century witnessed the efflorescence of the theory of the purity and superiority of the Aryan race.  It bloomed into Nazi Germany resulting in the greatest horrors humanity ever witnessed.  Not only Geiger, himself a German, even the young British administrators of the Colonies during that period were subject to this influence.  Their lack of knowledge of Dravidian languages naturally resulted in their tilt towards Aryan.

Ilankai (Lanka) was also called Serandivu in ancient times.  It got corrupted into different forms as time went on.  Briefly, it can be summarised thus:  Geiger and Sinhala scholars had it thus –

Portuguese Dutch British
Sinhala > Sihala > Sila > Ceilao > Ceilan > Ceylon  and Sila > Ila

Tamil scholars had it thus

Ilam > Ila > Sila > Ceilao > Ceylan > Ceylon

Both derivations are wrong and incorrect according to the historical evolution of the name Ceylon.  The correct evolution is:

Tamil - Cherantivu
V  V
Arab - Serendip
V  V
Greeks}Romans}  Serendivi
V  V
Chinese(from Arabs) - Si – lan (corruption of Cheran)
V  V
Portuguese - Ceilao
V  V
Dutch - Ceilan
V  V
British  Ceylon

The Chinese borrowed the name Serendip from the Arabs for Ilankai (Lanka) and corrupted it further making it Si-lan from Seren, and dropping "dip".  Lanka was paying tributes to China at the time the Portuguese arrived.  The Portuguese picked up the name Si-lan from the Chinese and made it Ceilao.  Since there is no symbol in the Chinese language for R they had used l.  Recently I have collected evidence from authoritative Chinese records on which I have based this new derivation.  So, CEYLON was derived from Cherantivu and Lanka from Ilankai.

The myth of the purity and superiority of the Aryan race is trying to get a new lease of life.  Some five or six young girls from Germany had heard that men of pure Aryan blood are still living in the areas around the Himalayas in India.  They went to the Himalayas area in 1997, met the men they wanted to meet, got themselves impregnated by them and went back happily hoping to have their pure Aryan babies.  This was reported in the Indian Press but the identity of persons was suppressed.

There are two other issues concerning Brahmi.  One school of thought among Indian epigraphists holds that Pandyan Brahmi or Tamil Brahmi is older than Asokan Brahmi and that it was borrowed and adapted by Asoka.  The debate is so hot that it became a feature in the Presidential Address of the Annual Sessions of the Epigraphical Society of India in 1997.  K.G. Krishnan, K.V. Ramesh, M.D. Sampath, Y. Subbarayalu, S. Rasu and Natana Kasinathan hold that view.  Only Iravatham Mahadevan dissents.  The name Brahmi was ascribed to the Asokan Brahmi after Princep deciphered it.  If so, is it befitting to call the Pandyan script Tamil Brahmi?  Buehler called it Dravidi.  Dravidi is mentioned as one of the ancient Indian scripts in the Lalitavistara, an ancient work.  Bharata in his work Natya Sastra mentions Dravidi as one of the ancient Indian languages.  Natya Sastra is also an ancient work.  R. Nagaswami in his paper presented at the Second International Conference – Seminar of Tamil Studies held at Chennai in 1968 said that Damili is one of the ancient Indian scripts mentioned in the Lalitavistara and that it was only appropriate if the Pandyan script is called Damili.  If Asokan script is Brahmi, then Pandyan script has to be assigned another name – not Tamil Brahmi.

Most datings of the Pandyan script in India have not gone earlier than 2nd century B.C. and as a general rule dating has been mostly co-related dating than C-14 or Thermoluminescent dating.  There are facilities to do Thermoluminescent dating today at the Anna University, Chennai.  The potsherds with Brahmi writing discovered at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka in the on-going inner-city excavations have by both C-14 and Thermoluminescent methods of dating given 500 BC on an average.  Dating in India should be done more carefully.

Writing is considered as part of megalithic culture with tank, irrigation, temple and settled life as other main features.  In the eighties, knowledge of iron and its uses were reflected by archaeological sites dated 1500 BC in both North and South India.  In 1997 a site reflecting knowledge of iron and iron technology has been found near the Venkata hill region (which was once part of Tamil Nadu) and dated 3000 BC.  This makes one assume that it is possible to find much earlier dates for Pandyan script.  Here too Iravatham Mahadevan does not think it possible to give a date earlier than 3rd century BC.

I wanted to confine to supplementing the references to Eezham.  But the earnest discussion between Sutha Balasubramamiam, Mahesan Niranjan representing a new generation and committed to other vocations in personal life showing interest in the study of our history, culture and civilization on the one side and Veluppillai, a very senior scholar neck-deep immersed in the very field of study on the other side, made me decide otherwise.  This sheds light on the shameful situation in which our community is.  We do not have standard published works, for the new generation to turn to.  For that matter, it applies to older generation too – worst of all, the outsiders who desire to study about us.  Veluppillai himself finds it difficult to update his knowledge due to the communication gap ushered in at the academic level following the on-going senseless war in Sri Lanka.  However, it is encouraging and enthusing to note that there are at least some in the new generation among the expatriate Sri Lankans who are interested in the study of our history, culture and civilization, although they are engaged in other vocations.

Kamalika Pieris in one of her series of articles in the Lanka Guardian in 1996 lamented the almost total lack of published material on the Sri Lankan Tamil identity and identified "Sri Lankan Tamils: Ethnicity and Identity", Ed. C. Manogaran and Bryan Pfaffenberger and my book "Tamil as official language – Retrospect and Prospect" as two books worthy of mention.  Another Sinhalese writer even questioned if the Sri Lankan Tamils have a cultural identity and also posed the question if they displayed patriotism in the struggle for Sri Lanka’s independence.   We will be in for more ridicule if we fail to act positively.

As for our history, I can recommend three books based on new evidences basically archaeological.

"Early settlements in Jaffna – an archaeological perspective".  Dr P. Ragupathy (English) SLRs 1000/=)

"Poonagari – an archaeological survey". (Tamil).  P. Pushparatnam SLRs 450/=

"Ancient history of Jaffna". (Tamil)  Prof. S.K. Sitrampalam (SLRs 800/=)

Ragupathy’s book is out of print and needs a reprint early.  He can be persuaded to do so if expatriate funding is assured without political strings.

As for the historiography of the history of Sri Lanka, Professors Leslie Gunawardena, Chandra Richard de Silva and Kingsley de Silva drifted from the traditional Mahawamsa mentality and treated history as an interdisciplinary science, as the mother of all studies on humanities.
Nevertheless, the credit of stressing the need to re-orient the study and historiography of Sri Lankan history goes to Dr Suranjith P.F. Senaratne who was in the sixties Deputy Director of National Museums.  In a series of lectures, quoting mainly from archaeological evidence both Indian and Sri Lankan, he chalked out the course for a re-oriented historiography of Sri Lankan history.

S.K. Sitrampalam (presently Professor of History, University of Jaffna) deviated from the beaten track of sifting written literature to do his PhD.  Instead, taking the signal from Senaratne, he tread on the new path of field study, mainly archaeology, and brought out the pioneer work on megalithic archaeology in the seventies.  Hot on the heels of Sitrampalam, Ragupathy (then Senior Asst. Lecturer, Dept. of History, University of Jaffna) followed suit and produced the pioneer work on settlement archaeology in the eighties.  Ten years later at the Centenary Celebrations of the Dept. of Archaeology of Sri Lanka, held in Colombo in July 1990, a Professor of Archaeology acknowledged and complimented the works of Sitrampalam and Ragupathy as pioneer works in megalithic archaeology and settlement archaeology respectively.  It was almost during this period that S. Gunasingam (then Asst. Lecturer in History, University of Peradeniya), brought out his work "Koneswaram" based on field study - archaeology and epigraphy.  It is a monumental work.  Today, P. Pushparatnam and S. Krishnarajah, Senior Asst. Lecturers, Dept. of History, University of Jaffna, are also engaged in field study (archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics) for their PhD.  K. Thangeswary, Cultural Officer (The Kachoheri, Batticaloa) who did archaeology as a subject for her degree, is throwing new light (archaeological/epigraphical) on some dark periods of Tamil history and rewriting them.  Her works on Kulakkoddan and Magan are in the context monumental works.  So much so that we have a new generation of path-breaking young Tamil historians.  It must be said in fairness that Professor S.K. Sitrampalam is the path-finder of this new generation of path-breakers.

It is a tragedy that the vast volumes of archaeological, epigraphical and numismatical evidences which have surfaced during the last two decades in Sri Lanka, have still not been incorporated in the writing of history of Sri Lanka so far.  Any such attempt would result in the reversal of the Mahawamsa mentality.

An in-depth, detailed study of the Sri Lankan Brahmi inscriptions from all angles is high on the agenda.  These inscriptions throw light on the fact that the social groups of Tamil Nadu mentioned in the Sangam classics have enjoyed the same prestigious positions in the Sri Lankan polity during the same period.  I was able to persuade the organisers of the 17th Annual Conference of the Epigraphical Society of India to allocate one evening session of the three day Conference for a symposium on Sri Lankan Brahmi.  Accordingly, one evening was granted.  At this symposium, about ten papers were presented by scholars from Sri Lanka and India.  The Conference took place in February 1991 at the Thanjavur University.  An enormous interest was displayed by Indian scholars and they advised me to organise a separate Conference for Sri Lankan Brahmi.  High on the agenda is also the Megalithic culture.  Separate seminars in conjunction with selected Universities and/or Institutes in India on the relationship of Chera, Chola, Pandyan, Pallava, Kalinga, Nayakka dynasties of India with Sri Lanka, and Indian and Sri Lankan folk culture and arts have also to be organised.  Indian and Sri Lankan scholars are willing to participate, if it is purely academical, free of political strings.  Politics has no place in academic exercises.  All these means millions of rupees.  No research is possible on empty stomachs.  That apart, in affluent societies, seminar participants are getting paid at least a token sum for their papers.

Since I am in personal touch with most of these scholars on either side, I can do the organising part.  But what about the funds?  If the expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil community will give a positive response, then I can organise a group to be in charge of the funds in a country outside Sri Lanka and India.  There must be at least a skeletal staff with a versatile young academician as the working Director. I have had a sickening experience during the past ten years with no response from the affluent in Sri Lanka.

The Jews brought back to life their language, Hebrew which was acknowledged as dead.  Today Hebrew is not only a living language, but also a vibrant modern language.  They have retrieved their culture, arts and crafts, etc. and even their land.  They were successful only because they were financially supported by the expatriate Jews who were affluent and who were spread over the whole world.  Today, Sri Lankan Tamils are enjoying their own helicopters, swimming pools and mansions in America alone.  The professionals are swimming in money even in the U.K.  If only those working hard 18 hours a day in three shifts, can donate a bare US$100.00 a year for this cause, and the professionals a bare US$1000.00 a year for at least five years, the entire backlog can be cleared in five years.  All Conference/Seminar papers will be published.  A Journal also will be published.  When the major work is over, a selected team of historians will be assigned the job of re-writing the history with senior historians as Editors.  Fund raising can commence immediately through Friendly or Academic groups/Societies and Tamil newspapers in the West and elsewhere.

If anybody is seriously interested in making this a reality, then they can contact me on Fax: 00 64 9 528 9396 before the end of this month.  Please print your name and address and give your phone and fax numbers.

Compiled by A. Theva Rajan