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Nagadipa

- Nagadipa or Naka-Diva Was The Ancient Name of The Jaffna Peninsula -

Nagadipa or Naka-diva was the ancient name of the Jaffna peninsula. It is first mentioned in the Pali chronicles of Ceylon in connection with the story of the Buddha's second visit to Sri Lanka in the 6th century B.C. According to the Mahavamsa (ch.1.vv 44-70) the Buddha during this visit pacified two Naga kings of Nagadipa who were arrayed in battle over a gem-set throne. Today the Jaffna peninsula is inhabited mainly by the Tamils. It is therefore assumed by some Tamil scholars that this was so from earliest time and the Naga kings of Nagadipa mentioned in the Mahavamsa too have been Tamils. They have also taken this as evidence for the existence of an independent Tamil kingdom in the Jaffna peninsula from pre-Christian era.


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In the Mahavamsa, or in the ancient Pali, Sanskrit or Tamil literature for that matter, the Nagas are never represented as human beings, but as a class of super natural beings or non-human beings who inhabited a subterranean world, whose normal form was that of serpents, but who would assume any form at will. Referring to the third visit of the Buddha to Kelaniya the Mahavamsa makes the following statement: ' When besought by the Naga Maniakkhika in Kalyani, he returned ( to Sri Lanka) the third time. He took his meal there with the brotherhood,... and when he had gone to this side of the place where the former Buddha had stood, the great sage, the light of the world, since there were then no Human beings in Lankadipa, uttered exhortations to the host of devatas, dwelling in the Island, and to the Nagas. (MV. 15, 162-165). This statement proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the Nagas mentioned in the Mahavamsa were not human beings. As has been pointed out by Dr S. Paranavithana, ' Even if the Nagas be taken as human beings there is no particular reason to treat them as identical with Tamils. If the Nagas be taken as Tamils for the reason that the ancient Nagadipa is now inhabited by Tamils, Nagas may also be taken as Aryans because the people living in and around Nagapura of North India today are Aryan in speech. (JRASCENS. Vol.VII, pp.181-182). Therefore this legend in the Mahavamsa cannot be taken as evidence for the existence of a Tamil kingdom, not even the existence of a settled Tamil population in the Jaffna peninsula from very early times. In fact, except for this legend in the Mahavamsa and that in the Tamil poem Manimekhalai claiming Tamil settlements in ancient Nagadipa or the Jaffna peninsula, so far we have not found any reliable evidence even to prove the existence of any Tamil settlements there before the Polonnaruwa period. According to Dr S. Paranavithana, 'the Ceylon Tamils developed as a separate community with an identity of their own' only after the period of Cola rule at Polonnaruwa in the 11th century A.D. (The Kingdom of Jaffna, p.3).

Although there is no evidence for the existence of a distinctive Tamil community or a Tamil kingdom in the Jaffna peninsula before the 13th century ample evidence is readily available in our chronicles, in the records of foreign visitors to Sri Lanka and in our contemporary inscriptions indicating that there were large and extensive Sinhala settlements there from very early times and that the Sinhala kings, from the beginning of the historical period up to the middle of the 18th century and thereafter the Nayakkar kings of the Kandyan kingdom up to its fall in 1815 were the lawful rulers of and the legal heirs to the Jaffna region.

It was at the ancient port of Jambukola, the present Sambiliturai, in the Jaffna peninsula that the envoys of king Devanampiya Tissa (250-210) embarked when leaving Ceylon on their mission to the court of Asoka (273-236). (MV. Ch.XI,20-24). It was also at this port that the Theri Sanghamitta and her retinue had disembarked when they came from India with a branch of the Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa. The Theri and her retinue were received by Devanampiya Tissa, who had come to Jambukola from Anuradhapura (MV. XVIII> 1-8, XIX, 23-32). Further the chronicle states that king Devanampiya Tissa built three Buddhist shrines, namely the Jambukola Vihara, the Tissamaha Vihara and the Pacina Vihara and planted a Bo sapling in the Jaffna peninsula (MV.XX.25-27). A gold plate inscription discovered at Vallipuram near point Pedro reveals that during the reign of Vasabha (67-111) the Jaffna peninsula was governed by a minister of that king and that a Buddhist Vihara named Piyaguka Tissa had been built there by that Minister. (EX.IV. 229-237). According to the Mahavamsa (XXXVI.9,36) Kanittha Tissa(167-186) during his reign at Anuradhapura repaired the cetiyaghara of the Tissamaha Vihara in the Jaffna peninsula and king Voharaka Tissa (209-231) during his reign effected improvements to that Vihara. The Culavamase records that king Aggabodhi II(571-604) built a Relic House and a dwelling place named Unhaloma for the monks of the Rajayatana Vihara in Nagadipa and granted a village there for the provision of rice gruel to the monks living there (CV.42.62). These facts clearly prove that no independent Tamil kingdom was in existence in the Jaffna peninsula during the Anuradhapura period.

If there had been an independent Tamil kingdom in and around the Jaffna peninsula in ancient times, at least a few Tamil inscriptions of those kings who ruled in that kingdom should have come to light from some sites in and around the Jaffna peninsula, but so far not a single Tamil inscription, or any other inscription for that matter , has been discovered in that area. It is interesting to note that the earliest Tamil inscription discovered in the Jaffna District is by a Sinhala king, namely Parakramabahu I(1153-1186) who ruled at Polonnaruwa. This inscription was found at the entrance to the famous February 18, 2007u or Nagadipa; and it contains certain trade regulations concerning wreckages off the port of Uratturai i.e. present day Kayts (UCR. Vol.XXI, pp.63-70). In the words of Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala, the editor of this inscription and the Professor of History of the University of Jaffna, 'the fact that this edict was issued not by any subordinate official, but by the king himself shows that the monarch was in supreme control of the northern most region of the island (UCR.Vo.XXI,p.66). A few Tamil inscriptions inscribed during the period between the 11th and the 13th century have been discovered at places such as Polonnaruwa, Kantalai and Trincomalee; they do not belong to any Tamil ruler of Jaffna but, some to the South Indian Cola rulers who forcibly occupied Polonnaruwa during the 11th century and the rest to the Sinhala kings, such as Vijayabahu I(1055-1110) and Jayabahu I (1110-1111) who ruled at Polonnaruwa (EZ.II, pp.242-255;IV, pp.193-195; VI, pp.28-30; 62-83, 88-94;VII. IV, Nos. 1338, 1392,1408, 1412,1415; ASCAR 1891, p.12 Nos.78-80). Although we have not found even a single Tamil inscription belonging to any of those so-called Tamil rulers of Jaffna in and around the Jaffna District, a few Sinhala, Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions belonging to some Sinhala kings of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa have been discovered from some sites in and around the Jaffna District indicating that the region was under their control and it was part of their kingdom as late as the 13th century. We have already referred to the gold plate inscription of Vasabha discovered at Vallipuram and to the Nainativu inscription of Parakramabahu I. In addition to these two inscriptions found in the Jaffna District, two other Sinhala inscriptions of Dappula IV who ruled at Anuradhapura during the 10th century A.D. have come to light from that District; of these two, one was discovered at Kandarodai, the ancient Kadurugoda Vihars, a Buddhist Temple in Uduvil and the other at Tunukai in the D.R.O.s, division of Punakari (Silumina, Literary supplement - 25.3.79, p.'1 20.05.79, p.11). A few more inscriptions belonging to some Sinhala kings have also been found at various places around the District of Jaffna; we may mention among them, the Tiriyaya Sanskrit inscription of Aggabodhi VI(733-772), the Tiruketisvaram Pillar inscription of Sena II(853-887), the Mannar Kacceri pillar inscription of Kassapa IV (898-914), a tenth century slab inscription at Kurundanmalai near Mulaitivu dated in the reign of a Sinhala king named Abhasalamevan, the Palmottai slab inscription of Vijayabahu (1055-1110) and the Kantalai stone seat inscription of Nissankamalla (1187-1196) (EZ. III. Pp. 103-113; V.pp.174-176; ASI, Nos. 351,2057).

It is recorded in the Culavamsa that Vijayabahu I after the unification of the island having expelled the Colas from Polonnaruwa, effected repairs to two Buddhist shrines in the North, namely the Jambukola Vihara at Sambiliturai in the Jaffna peninsula and the Kurundi Vihara near Mullaitivu. (CV.60,v.60). It is clear from the above mentioned Nainativu Tamil inscription which contains certain trade and custom regulations that even in small islands, such as Uratota (Kayts) around the Jaffna peninsula, were under the control of Parakramabahu I. As has been pointed out by Dr. Karthigesu Indrapala, Parakramabahu I was in supreme control of the Northernmost region of Ceylon and there is contemporary and reliable evidence to prove that Uratota (Uratturai) was an important naval and commercial centre in Parakramabahu's time. The Tiruvalangadu inscription, a Cola record dated in the twelfth year of Rajadhiraja II (1178) informs us that Parakramabahu I was building ships and assembling troops at Uratturai, Pulaicceri, Matottam (Mantai), Vallikaman, Mattival (Mattuvil) and other places in order to make a fresh invasion of South India (UCR.XXI,pp. 63-70; El.XXII, pp.86-92). It is evident from this inscription that not only Uratturai (Kayts) and other islets mentioned there were under the control of Parakramabahu I, but also all the other islets around the Jaffna peninsula were under his rule. Commenting on the name Uratturai occurring in the Nainativu inscription Dr. Indrapala states that 'the geographical name Uratturai occurring in the record is one of the few earliest recorded place - names of the Jaffna peninsula, after they became Tamilised. Hence its importance of the study of local nomenclature. The place - names of the Jaffna peninsula have a very strong Sinhalese element in them, thereby preserving memories of an earlier Sinhalese occupation of that area'. He further states in a foot note that 'The Tamil element in this Sinhalese place - name and the language of the record show that extent of Tamilisation in the north during the twelfth century. The retention of the Sinhalese element in the place-nomenclature helps to establish the extent to which a Sinhalese population after the Tamil conquests and settlements. A considerable percentage of Sinhalese names and the occurrence of Sinhalese-Tamil compound names are circumstances that print to a long survival of a Sinhalese population and an intimate intercourse between the Sinhalese and the Tamils'. (UCR, Vol.XXI,pp.67,68 fn.19) It is mentioned in the Culavamsa and in the Pujavaliya that king Maha of the Kalinga race, the last ruler of the Polonnaruwa kingdom, had set up fortifications at Uratota, Mipatota, Mahatittha (Mantai), Mannar, Valukagam (Valikamam), Pulacceri, Kurundi and at a few other places in the North (PUJ.K. Gnanawimala ed. P.790;CV.83. 15-19). All these facts clearly indicate that no independent Tamil kingdom was in existence in and around the Jaffna peninsula even during the Polonnaruwa period.

It appears that, taking the advantage of the political disturbances caused by the invasion of Magha of Kalinga, some of the local leaders, both Sinhala and Tamil, who were living in the Jaffna peninsula and in its outskirts, and some South Indian political adventurers who came fishing in troubled waters forcibly began to rule in their respective areas and refused to acknowledge the authority of the kings of the Dambadeniya and the Gampola kingdoms. In the same way the Aryacakravartis of Jaffna also seem to have refused to acknowledge the authority of the Sinhala kings and began to rule that region as rebel kings. These self appointed local rulers are referred to as Vannin (Vanniyars) in the Culavamsa and in the Pujavaliya.

The fact that contemporary Sinhala kings who had their seats of government in Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Gampola and in other places in the south had used the title of 'Trisimhaladhisvara' (the supreme overlord of the three Sinhala i.e., Rohana, Maya, and Pihiti) indicates that they have claimed the overlordship of the whole island, including the Jaffna peninsula as a part of their kingdom (EZ. III. Pp. 64,66 244-247; V.pp.451-452; ASCM.VI. pp.63- 70). An inscription dated in the 3rd regnal year of Vikramabahu III (1357-1374), found at the Medavala Rajamaha Vihara in the Kandy district records a treaty between hat king and an Aryacakravarti named Martanda (Sin ai Ariyan) of Jaffna. A noteworthy point in this inscription is hat while Vikramabahu III is referred to there as "Cakravarti Swaminvahanse' (the Universal Lord), the Ariyacakravarti is referred to as Perumalun vahanse'only. This fact and the fact that it is dated not in the regnal year of Ariyacakravarti but in that of Vikramabahu III indicate that the dejure right of that king to the sovereignty over the whole island is recognised by Martanda Singai Ariyan by this treaty. (EZ. Vol.V, pp. 463-466). According to Dr. S. Paranavitana 'the Arya Cakravartis (of Jaffna) would accordingly have been considered as rebels who did not obey their lawful overlords). The Gira-Sandesa of the Kotte period, while referring to the conquest of Jaffna during the reign of Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467), says that king having sent a large army against Ariyacakravarti who did not obey former kings of Sri Lanka recaptured that region which will remain so for the next five thousand years. This reference shows that the Sinhalese kings had regarded the Ariyacakravartis as rebels, and it confirms the above quoted opinion of Dr. Paranavitana. This position seems to have been admitted internationally, for Ibn Batuta (1344) while referring to the Aryacakravarti as Sultan of Ceylon, calls the potentate as Konakar the emperor (Sultan-ul-Kabir) (UHC.I,p.726).

Although the Aryachakravartis had forcibly ruled the region of Jaffna for about 150 years, that region was once again annexed to the kingdom of Kotte during the reign of Parakramabahu VI(1412-1467) and Prince Sapumal, the Commander in Chief of other army who was sent to conquer Jaffna was appointed as the ruler there; but the deposed Tamil leaders once again began to rule the region of Jaffna following the return of Prince Sapumal to Kotte where, after the death of Parakramabahu VI, a series of wars of succession and revolts took place. The following references in 'The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon' by Father Fernao de Queryroz indicates that these local Tamil leaders had ruled that region not as independent rulers but as vassals of Sinhala kings. The relevant passage reads thus; 'As long as Rajapura (Anuradhapura) was the capital of Ceylon the whole island was subject to one king; but after the inundation of the lowlands and after the city of Cota (Kotte) became the metropolis, there were in the island 15 kinglets, subject to the king of Cota,who therefore was considered to be Emperor, and the same title is in these days claimed by the king of Candea(Kandy). The kinglets were, he of Dinavaca, Uva, Valave, Putelao (Puttalam), Mantota, Tanagama, Muliavali, Triquilimale (Trincomalee), cutiar (Kottiar), Batecalou (Batticaloa). Paneva (Panama), Vintena (Bintenna), Orupala, Mature (Matara), Candae(Kandy) and of the point of the North Jafanapatoa (Jaffna peninsula) which together with the kingdom of Cota makes 16. (De Queryoz I,p.101) again Fr. De Queyroz states that 'when we first came to that island (i.e.,Ceylon) it was divided into five kingdoms, that of Cota, Emperor, to which all the others were tributory acknowledging that king as that of Raygam and of Seytavaca (Sitavaka) states which he of Cota divided with his brothers; that of Candea and that of Jafanapatao (de Queyroz bk. I,p.32). The following account given in the 'A true and exact description of the great island of Ceylon' by Phillipus Baldaeus, a Dutch predikant who lived in Jaffna for about 9 years, also confirms the statement of de Queyroz. "The fort of Jaffnapatan is square surrounded with strong high walls as the print exhibits, it is larger than the fort of Batavia and is the capital of the entire kingdom. It remained under the Portugezen sway for upwards of 40 years, wrested from the Emperor by Philippo d'Olivero when he defeated the Cingalezen forces near Achiavelli (Achuvely) by the great pagode, where there are still to be seen the ruins and a wonderfully large wide well, deep and round and its centre 24 fathoms deep, truly a wonderful work hewn out of a large rock'. This account reveals that even after the time of Prince Sapumal the Jaffna region was under the rulers of the Kandyan kingdom. It also shows that the Jaffna peninsula was populated even at that time by a large community of Sinhalese who were Buddhists.

That those vassal states mentioned by Fr.de Queyroz were under the king of Kandy during the 17th century is proved by a statement in Robert Knox's 'An Historical Relation of Ceylon' where he says that he and his companions were taken into custody at Kottiar by a Disawa or General of the king of Kandy and were later taken up into the interior and quartered in different villages in the Kandyan kingdom. (CHJ.VI., pp.189-192). I is quite clear from the above quoted references that not only during the Kotte period, but also during the Kandyan period the Jaffna peninsula and the other places such as Trincomalee and Kottiar in the North and the East were not considered as independent kingdom but as vassal states under the kings of Kotte or Kandy. The statement of Fr.de Queyroz, to wit, that the king of Kandy was regarded as the Emperor of Ceylon, is confirmed by a reference in the book by Phillipus Baldaeus. Referring to the political condition of the island at that time he says that it'is divided into several kingdoms and principalities, as is to be seen by the titles which the Emperor bears, styling himself Rajasinga Emperor of Ceylon, king of Candea, Cota Ceytavaca, Dambadan (Dambadeniya) Amorapora (Anuradhapura), Jaffnapatam.... Count of Cottiar (Kottiyar), Trinquemale (Trincomalee), Batecalo, etc., (CHJ.VIII,p.2). It is also recorded in Baldaeus' book on Ceylon that king Senarat of Kandy towards the end of his reign summoned all his subordinate rulers in the island for a council meeting for the purpose of selecting a successor to the throne of Kandy after him. Baldaeus has given the names of all those rulers who attended this council meeting and a faithful account of its proceedings. He has also given a translation of the proclamation that was issued by the king after the meeting. According to Baldaeus a representativeof the contemporary ruler of Jaffna also attended this council meeting. King Senarat is referred to as the Emperor of Sri Lanka, The king of Kandy, Sitavaka, Trincomalee, and Jaffna etc., in the preamble of this proclamation. This account of Baldaeus clearly proves that the king of Kandy was the de jure ruler of the Jaffna region even during the 18th century.

It is clear from the facts so far presented that at no time was an independent Tamil kingdom in existence in the Jaffna peninsula during the long period of history of Ceylon beginning from the Anuradhapura period up to the end of the Kandyan period. Just as the South Indian Tamil invaders who conquered the northern part of the island and ruled at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa at times were never regarded as lawful kings of Ceylon by those Sinhala kings who ruled in the other parts of the island during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods, the Vanniyars and other local rulers who occupied the District of Jaffna and other places in the north were never regarded as lawful kings, but as foreign invaders by those Sinhala kings who ruled at Dambadeniya, Gampola, Kotte, Kandy and other places; such local rulers are referred to as usurpers in the Culavamsa and in the Pujavaliya (CV.82, 17-28, PUJ. 768, 790). Even as late as 1805 A.D. the Tamils and the other minority communities who had settled in the Jaffna peninsula have been referred to as 'foreigners' by Captain Robert Percival in his book entitled an 'An Account of the Island of Ceylon' (1805). While giving an account of the population of Jaffna he states that The inhabitants of Jaffna consist of a collection of various races. The greatest number of Malabars of Moorish extraction, and are divided into several tribes known by the names of Lubbahs, Belalas, Mopleys, Chittys, Choliars and a few Brahamins; they are distinguished by wearing a little round cap on their close shaven heads. There is also a race of Malabars found here somewhat differing in their appearance from those of the continent. These different tribes of foreign settlers greatly exceed in number the native Ceylonese in the District of Jaffna (pp. 71, 72). Even during the time when the Jaffna peninsula was under the Portugese and the Dutch, the Sinhala kings of Kotte and Kandy continued to make their claim to the overlordship of that region, when the British occupied the maritime provinces including the Jaffna peninsula.

One of the reasons given for the claim to a separate Tamil kingdom in the North by some Tamils is that there was a separate independent Tamil kingdom in the North from very early times. The facts so far presented in this paper clearly indicates that there never existed an independent Tamil kingdom in the North; therefore the claim to a separate Tamil kingdom in the North on that ground is baseless.

From the foregoing study it is also proved beyond any reasonably doubt that although some Sinhala and Tamil Vanni chieftains of the northern region had attempted to rule some parts of that region disregarding the authority of the Sinhala kings of the South, when there were internal troubles in the South after the 13th century, the Sinhala kings there never recognised those petty rulers as independent kings. A condition similar to this prevailed during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods when the chieftains of the region known as Rohana on many occasions tried to disregard the authority of the king and to become independent. Rohana, infact, was a separate principality for aobut 15 centuries fro the time of Devanampiyatissa or even before it was under the Uyvaraja or heir-apparent from the beginning and later under an Adipada or heir-presumptive appointed by the king. At times some of these princes of Rohana not only had attempted to disregard the authority of the king but had also declared war against the king and had invaded the capital. According to the Culavamsa a prince named Mahanaga was appointed governer of Rohana by Silakala (518-531) and that prince sometime later rebelled against the king and attempted to become independent. During the 70 years that followed the death of Aggabodhi II (604-614), a period which was characterised by an unceasing conflict brought about by the rivalry of two factions for the throne at Anuradhapura, the local rulers of Rohana attempted to disregard the authority of the Anuradhapura king and to become independent. Again shortly after the accession of Udaya II a prince named Kittaggabodhi of Rohana made an attempt to become independent having rebelled against the king. When Udaya II (887-898) heard of this affair, he appointed a young prince named Mahinda to the governorship of Rohana and sent him there with an army to seize and bring the rebel to Anuradhapura. Kittaggabodhi was taken captive and was sent to Anuradhapura and Prince Mahinda took control of the government of Rohana. Udaya's immediate successor Kassapa IV (898-914) had to face trouble from that ruler of Rohana; we are told that shortly after Kassapa's accession prince Mahinda rebelled against the king and invaded Rajarattha. At the preliminary stage of the invasion Mahinda was successful. As Kassapa heard of this defeat of the Royal troops, he send Mahinda's father Uyvaraja Kassapa to meet the son and to persuade him to give up the campaign. Yuvaraja Kassapa was successful in persuading his son to give up.

A few years after the accession of Parakramabahi I (1153-1186) at Polonnaruwa the chieftains of Rohana rebelled against his authority but the king after heavy fighting brought them under control.

If some Tamils claim a separate kingdom in the North on the ground that there was a separate kingdom in Jaffna for about 150 years after the 13th century , the people of Rohana in the South have a separate principality for more than 15 centuries. There was also a separate kingdom after the 15th century up to 1815 A.D.; on similar grounds the people of upcountry also could claim a separate kingdom for them. If we are to create separate independent states in different parts of this small island on the ground that there were petty principalities, such as Vanni kingdoms or forest kingdoms in Panama, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Denagama etc., ruled by opportunist chieftains, it is left to the readers to visualize as to how many parts we have to divide Sri Lanka.

By Prof. S.Ranwella
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Updated February 13, 2007
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