08 February 2014

Raja Raja Chola 1 and the quicksand of Tamil chauvinism*

The history of this island can be read as an account of invasion, resistance, conquering and routing the enemy.  It is also a history of migratory waves and, in recent times, emigration as well. There are of course all kinds of histories.  There are those written by the winners which some claim make their authenticity questionable. There are histories embedded in folk traditions.  Histories can be read through careful perusal of archaeological record.  There are claims of place in history, some substantiated and others not.

Some say history is version, but no one will dispute that this assertion makes the version that the Ruwanweliseya is a Catholic Church anything but ridiculous. There are people who are scared of the word history
and they tend to be those who make grand claims without substantiation or have little or no history to talk about. 

These are the ones who murmur the ‘multi-ethnic, multi-religious mantra not so much as a desired or desirable resolution as a manifest aversion to acknowledgment that certain peoples and certain religious traditions have contributed overwhelmingly to the admittedly problematic composites called Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.
We remain products of who we were, who our ancestors were and what they did, whether we like it or not. In other words, history sits at the head table of the present and in ways that are disconcerting to some.
One easy escape from historical discomfiture is the construction of more comforting narratives of event, personality and associated metaphors. It takes much effort, a lot of money, a lot of purchasing, myth-models and propaganda. In my view that
s an option that Tamil nationalism was forced to embrace.

The success of that particular effort is indicated in the fact that Eelamists have managed to convince some that
north is Tamil and south Sinhala, that devolution (which includes federalist and secessionist options) makes sense because the North and East (they dont say Northern and Eastern Provinces, because the demarcation-less articulation makes for further inflation of territorial claim) are the traditional homelands of the Tamils.

They do not unpack these terms because doing so would force them to swallow the hard facts of demographic reality (over half the Tamils live outside these two provinces) and geographical factors (most of the Eastern Province is made of Grama Niladhari Divisions with majority Sinhala populations).
Then there is also history
They dare not talk of archaeological evidence. They will say the Mahawamsa was written by racist Buddhist monks but do not have anything close to a shred of evidence to counter what
s on the ground in these areas (even if one were to discount the Mahawamsa).  They cannot talk about a permanent Tamil presence in demographically significant terms. At best it is about Tamils who chose to stay behind after the occasional South India invasion was turned back.

There is one exception: the golden age of Chola aggression. The 10th Century AD.

This was the time the Cholas invaded not just this island but vast swathes of the subcontinent as well as territories in what is now known as South-East Asia. The LTTE adopted the Tiger emblem from the flag of the glory days of Chola domination.
Tamil nationalism, desperately seeking a historical prop, picked a derivative of the name that the Cholas used for the island,
Ila-Mandalam. They were careless. Raja Raja 1, during whose time the Chola empire reached its zenith of glory, not only invaded but plundered and bragged about the plundering.
The Archaeological Survey of India, for example, includes reference to inscriptions at various Hindu temples built with the wealth looted from lands conquered by Raja Raja 1.  These inscriptions list the names of lands he conquered and refers to the island we today call Sri Lanka as Ila-Mandalam’. Ila is a corruption of Hela or its four-part elaboration Sihala (from ‘Siv-Hela’, made up of Yaksha, Naga, Deva and Raksha, each associated with a vocational sphere) and it is indeed the ultimate irony that the LTTE and its Tamil nationalist precursors used this to coin Eelam.

If this too is version, then Tamil nationalists could have all doubts erased by reading the elaboration that Raja Raja 1, no less, offers:
the land of the warlike Singalas.
Whether the Singalas are/were warlike is not relevant to the issue of historical claim.
What matters is that Raja Raja 1 had no doubt whatsoever that this land belonged to the Singalas.
If it was the case that Singalas shared ownership with some other community, this fact would have been articulated especially if military intervention sought to buttress claim of or defend a kindred community.

In other words. it was a clear statement that ownership of territory had been wrested from the Singalas.

Now the inscriptions at the temples in Tanjavur and Ukkal were not authored by someone who had any interest in cooking history in favour of the Singalas.
These were not the observations of some interfering, arrogant and ignorant white man.
They are not taken from the Mahawamsa. Nor are they the 21st Century scribblings of a chauvinistic Sinhalese intent on deny property rights to Tamil Sri Lankans.

They are straight forward and matter-of-fact articulations of a particular political reality, authored in passing by someone who had absolutely no stake in conceding anything to those he conquered.

The claims about history put forward by Eelamists are eminently debunkable by a lot of archaeological and other evidence, but what shoots these to pieces is ironically the very source that they draw inspiration from: Raja Raja Chola I.

Does this mean that Tamils are not part of this polity or that they are or need to reconcile themselves to being second class citizens? No! It merely means that they do not have any privileged claim on historical grounds to any part of the territory that is called Sri Lanka. As citizens they have every right to expect the same privileges that citizenships bestow on all other communities and all anomalies relating to these needs to be corrected.

Such correction as is necessary cannot be territory based as history, geography and demography do not support such arrangements. Devolution is out, therefore.

As for those Eelam-fixated sections of Tamil nationalists, they can relax now: Raja Raja Chola I has taken a huge load off their shoulders. Had they realised this several decades ago, this country would have been spared a lot of death, destruction and dispossession. Time to move on, though. Raja Raja Chola I demands this.

*First published in 'The Nation' in January 2011.

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

was this published in CT? would like to read the comments. Between where did you find information on Raja Raja's inscriptions in temples?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Archaeological Survey of India

Ananda Ariyarathne said...

History is full of achievements and failures. The moment one says that rights of certain communities should be upheld, there itself it accepts that there are some such. That becomes the beginning of the differences which will have no end and lot of supporters as well as those do not support. So, the split continues.
In Sri Lanka we have one kind of people because we are all blended biologically as well as culturally. Very recently, something very interesting happened. A young mother who lost the opportunity of have her own children became hopeless as she lost the wins she got. She decided to adopt a child and she got a new born, registered as her own baby and she returned home with that baby. The irony is that the mother is a Singhala person and the baby was born to a Tamil mother. Now that innocent baby grows as a Singhala child. Now where is this ethnicity ? The Tamil people of the North and East are descendants of original Singhala people who lived in those regions. When the invading Tamils came, they did not come with women and it was natural that they liked it here and lived her starting generations. Like we read, write and speak English because it became the dominant language we are influenced by English ways. When Tamil invaders ruled from time to time, they left behind their cultural imprint. Our Tamil people are different from Tamil people in India when it comes to the language. They says, the Lankan Tamils use 'Book language'. And the Lankan Tamils were proud that they were a special community.
Anyway, why do we run behind this difference.
We are all human beings and as long as all have freedom, is not that all wish to have ? How will they become better off if they have their land demarcated ? Will not that pave the way for an endless confusion.

Sri Lanka has people coming from earlier ages and they were not necessarily those who came from South India. At Fahiangala they found skeletal remains of a human being who had lived over 37,000 years ago, long before Tamil or Aryan kingdoms had emerged.
But , we must be prepared to live on this land in harmony. There should be strong laws to protect all people. If we have a guaranteed freedom like that what do we need. What are the freedoms Tamil people want what they do not have now ? It is only the understanding each other linguistically.

Sivakumar said...

More like the quicksand of Sinhala chauvinism and outdated colonial mytho history. There is no archaeological evidence whatsoever that suggests that the majority of Eelam Tamils are descended from foreign invaders as the author would like to portray. But then again this is the same author who denies the most recent and obvious history of Sri Lankan army massacres in the Vanni. There has been a biological continuum since the mesolithic period. Was the North-East predominantly Buddhist prior to the Chola period? Yes. Were the inhabitants mainly proto-Sinhala or Prakrit speakers? Most likely. Were they exterminated by invading Tamil armies? No! The Tamils who live in the North-East today are descended predominantly from that ancient Buddhist population. With the advent of archaeogenetics soon we will have definite evidence that will expose Malinda's Sinhala chauvinist lies.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Sivakumar....as of now there's no evidence to support any of your claims. You're clutching at the 'some day archaeology' straw. Check your comment again....it's full of conjecture. And you've not refuted the main thrust of the argument. Just consider this too: Buddhism is preeminently a doctrine that lent itself to scholarship. Where are the Tamil texts? :)

Sivakumar said...

All genetic studies thus far have indicated that the Eelam Tamils are as indigenous to the island as the Sinhalese.


There is no archaelogical evidence of a mass displacement of people from the North-East following the Chola period. Language replacement can happen in an area over centuries without the need for population change.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

is there archaeological evidence of permanent exclusively 'tamil' presence in the north and east? you are still dodging the main issues raised. why?

Snoweater said...

We are going to be ok Malinda. Don't fret. There is another diaspora that doesn't deal drugs, sell flesh and hate our own.