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Tamils - 237 BC - AD 954

The term "Malabar" was the common but improper name applied by Europeans prior to the 20th Century to the Tamils of Ceylon, whether they come from Malabar proper, in the southwest of the Dekkan, from Tanjore, or from parts as far north as Cuttack and Orissa. The word never occurs in Sinhalese writings.

Because the Mahavamsa is essentially a chronicle of the early Sinhalese-Buddhist royalty on the island, it does not provide information on the island's early ethnic distributions. There is, for instance, only scant evidence as to when the first Tamil settlements were established. Tamil literary sources, however, speak of active trading centers in southern India as early as the third century BC and it is probable that these centers had at least some contact with settlements in northern Sri Lanka. There is some debate among historians as to whether settlement by Indo-Aryan speakers preceded settlement by Dravidian-speaking Tamils, but there is no dispute over the fact that Sri Lanka, from its earliest recorded history, was a multiethnic society. Evidence suggests that during the early centuries of Sri Lankan history there was considerable harmony between the Sinhalese and Tamils.

Traditions of a remote age assert that a colony of Malabars founded the city of Trincomalee 1589 years BC, and the earliest authentic notices of the place record the existence there of a very ancient and sacred Sivaite temple. Other traditions traceable to a period long anterior to historic times, make mention of a Tamil kingdom in the North-west of the island, ruled over by an Amazon princess named Alliarasamy, whose capital was Kudremale, where granite ruins and rock inscriptions bear evidence to the truth of the tradition; while a Tamil drama, founded on the story of the queen, declares the people to have been Sivaites in their religious faith. It is not known when Tamils became the dominant community in the Dry Zone but an ancient kingdom florished in the region prior to the establishment of the northern Tamil kingdom. The peace and stability of the island were first significantly affected around 237 BC when two adventurers from southern India, Sena and Guttika, usurped the Sinhalese throne at Anuradhapura. Their combined twenty-two-year rule marked the first time Sri Lanka was ruled by Tamils. The two were subsequently murdered, and the Sinhalese royal dynasty was restored. In 145 BC, a Tamil general named Elara, of the Chola dynasty (which ruled much of India from the ninth to twelfth centuries AD), took over the throne at Anuradhapura and ruled for forty-four years. A Sinhalese king, Dutthagamani (or Duttugemunu), waged a fifteen-year campaign against the Tamil monarch and finally deposed him.

Dutthagamani is the outstanding hero of the Mahavamsa, and his war against Elara is sometimes depicted in contemporary accounts as a major racial confrontation between Tamils and Sinhalese. A less biased and more factual interpretation, according to Sri Lankan historian K.M. de Silva, must take into consideration the large reserve of support Elara had among the Sinhalese. Furthermore, another Sri Lankan historian, Sinnappah Arasaratnam, argues that the war was a dynastic struggle that was purely political in nature. As a result of Dutthagamani's victory, Anuradhapura became the locus of power on the island. Arasaratnam suggests the conflict recorded in the Mahavamsa marked the beginning of Sinhalese nationalism and that Dutthagamani's victory is commonly interpreted as a confirmation that the island was a preserve for the Sinhalese and Buddhism. The historian maintains that the story is still capable of stirring the religio-communal passions of the Sinhalese.

The Tamil threat to the Sinhalese Buddhist kingdoms had become very real in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. Three Hindu empires in southern India -- the Pandya, Pallava, and Chola -- were becoming more assertive. The Sinhalese perception of this threat intensified because in India, Buddhism -- vulnerable to pressure and absorption by Hinduism -- had already receded. Tamil ethnic and religious consciousness also matured during this period. In terms of culture, language, and religion, the Tamils had identified themselves as Dravidian, Tamil, and Hindu, respectively.

Another Sinhalese king praised in the Mahavamsa is Dhatusena (459-77), who, in the fifth century AD, liberated Anuradhapura from a quarter- century of Pandyan rule. The king was also honored as a generous patron of Buddhism and as a builder of water storage tanks. Dhatusena was killed by his son, Kasyapa (477-95), who is regarded as a great villain in Sri Lankan history. In fear of retribution from his exiled brother, the parricide moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, a fortress and palace perched on a monolithic rock 180 meters high. Although the capital was returned to Anuradhapura after Kasyapa was dethroned, Sigiriya is an architectural and engineering feat displayed in an inaccessible redoubt. The rock fortress eventually fell to Kasyapa's brother, who received help from an army of Indian mercenaries.

Another Malabar invasion took place AD 433, and the invaders again beld possession of the land for six-and-twenty years. Anarchy and internal discord more or less prevailed from this time to the seventh century, in which the Malabars every now and again took part. In the seventh century AD, Tamil influence became firmly embedded in the island's culture when Sinhalese Prince Manavamma [Mahavamma] seized the throne with Pallava assistance. The dynasty that Manavamma established was heavily indebted to Pallava patronage and continued for almost three centuries. During this time, Pallava influence extended to architecture and sculpture, both of which bear noticeable Hindu motifs.

In AD 838 these inveterate invaders once more overran the country. By the middle of the ninth century, the Pandyans had risen to a position of ascendancy in southern India, invaded northern Sri Lanka, and sacked Anuradhapura. The Pandyans demanded an indemnity as a price for their withdrawal. Shortly after the Pandyan departure, however, the Sinhalese invaded Pandya in support of a rival prince, and the Indian city of Madurai was sacked in the process.

Driven back after awhile, they remained quiet until AD 954, when war broke out afresh. A short peace ensued, and again the Solians ravaged the country; and the number of Malabars increased.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:29 ZULU