Friday, October 07, 2005

'Eelam' - whatever is it for? And who wants 'Eelam' anyway? by E.A.V. Naganathan

Are the Tamil people of this country a people with a history? That was the question Dr. Naganathan addressed himself to when composing his presidential address on the occasion of the Federal Party's annual convention at Trincomalee in 1951.

He answered with a decided affirmative, as expressed in the Four Points of his Trincomalee Declaration, which are the progenitors of the Vaddukoddai Resolutions of 1978 and the Thimpu Principles of 1985. It was a tour de force for a man who was educated in the Bio sciences and took his degree in Medicine, who was born in Madras and extensively educated in England, to have put his finger on the crux of the problem facing the Tamils in this country.

The problem: Tamils were yet a submerged nation, in an era which may well be termed the Age of the Liberation of Nationalities, and which has seen so many new nations emerging from obscurity in the Balkans, Africa, the Pacific etc. But, as one of the best G.P.s of his time, he has diagnosed the patient's condition correctly.

His Four Points serve today as the Credo of the Tamil people of this country, where-so-ever in the world they may be. They constitute the bottom line of the Tamil people's perception of their rights of nationality and self-determination, as a people with a history in this country.At this point I must lock horns with a generation-long fictionalisation of the history of this country, which has had as its sole objective- the authentication and justification of the present Unitarianism and centralist structure of government and politics as a legitimate, historically-determined phenomenon.

But this interpretation, as I propose to expatiate on more fully, is fraught with deliberate distortions of fact and faulty non-sequiturs! Why we cannot be a nation state is, simply, because we are not one, but a cluster of nations. The Tamils today do not recognise the term "Sri Lankan" or its predecessor "Ceylonese" as having a significant political connotation. To us it is simply a geographical expression. There is an implicit ethnic, linguistic and religious hegemonies in the term "Sri Lankan." We, Tamils, have been facing its cutting edge too long to be any long deceived by the semantic ambiguity and duplicity of its surreptitious, dichotomous usage as the synonym of "Sinhala."

Lakshman Kadiragamar sometime back commented that the question of who came first or last, or who was in a majority or a minority and so on was not germane, but what mattered was that all were "Sri Lankan." The first thought that struck me was, "But which 'Sri Lankan' - Tamil or Sinhala? For isn't that where the rub is?
Historically, however, it has not been necessarily so.

Therein lies "the pity of it", as Othello said. The aborigines or indigenous of the country, previously known as Nagas, Yakkhas etc., did not simply depart the scene when the Dravidian-speaking immigrations from Dravida took place from ancient times, or the Prakrit-speaking immigrations from Lata (Bengal) and Lada (Gujerat) occurred, as we are told, to coincide with the passing away of Gautama the Buddha in or around 504 BC. Constant interaction of all forms, friendly and hostile, beneficent and maleficent, cooperative and disputative between successive waves of such immigrants and the Nagas, Yakkhas and other, "Gothric" clans were the norm.

This places, incidentally, in correct perspective, the Elara-Gemunu episode for it is hardly credible that a horse-trader could have seized and exercised power, for the not inconsiderable period of 40 years, over the whole country. Before Elara, there were a Sena and a Guttika and the interesting feature is that it all took place, not improbably, in the lifetime of Mahinda Thero, himself, who, we are told lived to the ripe old age of 80 years. Having arrived in his 38th year - with no let or hindrance to his evangelical ministry.

All this goes to substantiate the thesis that the "epic" was simply a "feudal power game" where the ruler of the Tissamaharama "region" toppled the ruler of the Anuradhapura "region" in a setting where there were several other such regional powers co-existing e.g. Kelaniya. They identified themselves by reference to their respective clans by such regional powers co-existing e.g. Kelaniya, and identifying themselves by reference to their respective clans by such names as Lambakarna, Moriya etc. - and no other. If there were "Sinhala-Buddhists" at this or any other point of time, as some aver, then literally and logically, there should have been "Non-Sinhala Buddhists." "Non-Buddhist Sinahalas" and "Non-Sinhala Non-Buddhists." The said Elara, Sena, Guttika etc. could have belonged to any of these categories without being "invaders".

It may be well to note at this point that much-vaunted hydraulic system of the Dry Zone is not unique to the island. It is quite in common with the older, bigger and more intricate systems everywhere in the South Indian Deccan of which the island forms a mere extension, with a topography offering identical conditions for such development, in theft of a context of a similar climatology.

Likewise, are the hunchbacked, mis-shapen, top-heavy women of Sigiriya, about which so many misplaced raves have been written, but copies unworthy of the prototypes of the Ajanta, Ellora, Sittannavasal and Pappadakkal cave-paintings in South India from which they were drawn. Here is a common shared experience traceable in both cases, which has been sadly overlooked by our scholars, whose paranoia in these instances is not second to our politicians'.

By the time the Mahavamsa came to be written around 460 AD, about 900 years after the above episodes, the "streaming" of the population into a Prakrit (Sinhala)-speaking South and West, and a Dravidian (Tamil)-speaking North and East, seems to have been slowly proceeding apace. Meanwhile, the latter were more or less inhabiting their present areas, as a numerical majority, as now.

There is independent corroboration of this position from "Cosmo-Indicopleustes," an Egyptian, who relying on the reports of Sopater, a Greek trader, in 550AD says of the country. "There are two kings ruling the opposite sides of the Island..." The fact that Dravidian S. India, and hence, the Dravidian (Tamil)-speaking North and East were largely Jain and Buddhist i.e. 'Non-Sinhala Buddhists," in terms of the aforesaid categories, till the Saivite revival, centering round the "Bhakthi" cult of the 7th-12th century AD, accounts for the ruins of Buddhist temples dotting the entire area.

Everyone knows that the two Tamil Classics, the "Silambu Adikaram" and the "Manimekhala" of the 2nd Century AD are Jainist and Buddhist in philosophy, and their authors, Hanko Adigal and Sithalai Sattanar, Jain and Buddhist, respectively.
There was historically no conflict in the relations between the now "Sinhalas" and "Tamils." This explains how the last great immigrations from S. India of the Durawe, Karawe and Salagama and all the Achchari castes along the island's south-west coast-line, in the medieval period, were integrated into the 'Sinhalese' socio-poitico-economic fabric, through the mechanism of the caste system.

Sinhala 'Nationalism' has not yet closed the doors and put the shutters down on a process which could have otherwise ensured in the assimilation and acculturation of the "imported" S. Indian Tamils of the Centre in our own times. Such process has previously successfully indigenized into Radalas or "Rajakulayas," the hundreds of Nayakkars, e.g. Pilimitalawa, Keppitipola etc. who, due to the prevailing disturbances in S. India, settled in the Centre over the seven generations spanning the marriage of Rajasinghe II (1628 AD) and the last days of Sri Wickrama I (1815 AD) - a period of 187 years. There was no clash of nationalism in the modern sense.

The significant point, however, I wish to make is that on or around 1275 AD a distinctive Northern state was founded. It was not a "Tamil" state in the contemporary sense of the term, nor for that matter were the other contemporaneous states in the island, "Sinhala" in that same sense. Neither the people nor the rulers affixed these labels on themselves.

The founding ruler of the state was, as, indeed, were the rulers of the other co-existent states of "Kalinga" origin. Between themselves they formed a ruling, dynastic, family hierarchy, linked and cemented by repeated inter-marriages which lasted right down to the close of the Western states of Sitawake (1593 AD), Kotte (1598 AD) and the Central state of Kandy, via the Nayakkar succession, in 1815 AD.

An aspect of the present "majoritarianism" that prevails in the country, itself a pretty commonplace feature of parliamentary democracy in all pluralist societies, is the patronizing attitude of all Sinhala historians towards the Northern state. It is a parallel of the similarly snobbish attitude adopted by all English historians towards Ireland, English historians tend to regard the Irish as an aberration that had preferably not have happened. But, to quote Seamus Heancy, the Irish poet, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, "History is not a simple documentation of salient facts in a nations development, but a potent force that moves both a nation's view of itself and an individual's self-image."

Today's Tamils in this country would endorse Seamus Heaney's view and associate themselves heartily with its sentiments.Nissanka Wijewardena sums up the standard (official) Sinhala stance with regard to the Northern State when he referred to it recently as a "zamindari." One could equally pejoratively, and with greater veracity, refer to the Diyawadana Nilame as the "Kings bath-keeper," which in most oriental courts was a position held by eunuchs and the like. But, as I have demonstrated, vide my letter 'The Galle Trilingual Inscription' in "The Island" of 04th November, 2000, by reference to the Report submitted to King Philip IV of Spain, as King of Portugal, by his Vedor da Fazenda or Treasurer for the "Isle of Ceylon" in 1634, the revenues from the land taxes from the "Jaffna" Commandant exceeded those of the "Colombo" and "Galle"

Commandants. In fact, after 1619 AD when the Portuguese took over "Jaffna," returns from village revenues came greatly to exceed custom duties for the first time. Separately, there is Ibn Batuta's testimony, when visiting, the island in 1325 AD that "(he) saw in the possession of Arya Chakravartin, the Tamil overlord of Puttalam, a ruby dish as large as the palm of (his) hand, containing oil of aloes."

All objective historical evidence substantiates the existence of a strong Northern State stretching, on occasions, as far south as Wattala, party accounting for the Tamil-sounding and Tamil-derived names of many villages and administrative units (pattus) throughout the Puttalam and parts of the Kurunegala Districts, and the bilingualism of a fair proportion of the population down to Wattala. It was independent and sovereign and was recognised by neighboring as well as distant states, such as China and Persia, with the usual forms of diplomatic representation and exchange of courtesies.

Ibn Batuta attests to the fact that "the Arya Chakravartin was a cultured man, who conversed with him in Persian." The capture of the Northern state by Sapumal Kumaraya in no way derogates from its territorial integrity (Lakshman Kadi's pet phrase) as he settled down and governed there independently, till the death of Parakrama Bahu VI brought him back to Kotte in 1467 to take over its government as Bhuveneka Bahu VI (1470 - 78 AD).

In any case, he was of the, Alakeswara family of Kerala, and with his death the legitimate 'Kalinga' line re-asserted itself with the accession of Parakrama Bahu VI's grandson via Ulahakudaya Devi and Nannur Thunayan, Pandita Parakrama Bahu VII (Kaipura Pandaram) (1478-1484) followed by Parakrama Bahu VI's youngest son, Vira Parakrama Bahu VIII (Kadikumara Pandram) (1484-1504 AD). In the Northern state Kanagasuriam (Pararajasekaran 1) returned form exile and the status quo was restored.
A daughter, Padmasana Devi, was given in marriage polyandrously to Vira Prakrama Bahu VIII's sons, Dharma Parakrama Bahu IX (1505-19 AD) and Vijaya Bahu VII (1519-21 AD), becoming the mother of Bhuveneka Bahu VII, Mayadunne I and Parajasekaran I (named after the maternal grandfather).

A son Kaivaliya pandaram married Parakrama Bahu VIII's daughter, Chandravathi, and settled down in Madampe, where their sons Taniya Valla and Sakalakala Valla are gratefully remembered to this day for their construction of the Madampe and Mahawewa tanks. Vidiye Bandara, better known in his day by his Tamil title, 'Theruvile Pandaram' - hence the Portuguese reference to "Tribile Pandar", was a grandson.
(To be continued )


No comments: