Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Why integration with India is the only long-term way out for Lanka

Lanka: Where to cut the Gordian knot

Sometimes the obvious is the most difficult to see; and then when discerned in a flash of blinding light it does indeed seem so obvious. Lanka will never, never ever, settle its national question, or its ethnic conflict if you prefer this terminology, within its own parameters. That is the inescapable lesson of 60 years of post-independence history. Superficially one can point to the SLFP, the UNP, the LTTE, Bandaranaike, Jayawardena, Prabaharan and so on, but these are merely phenomenological manifestations of things more fundamental. If after the six decades from the disenfranchisement of plantation Tamils, through Sinhala Only legislation, communal riots and carnage, a bloody 25 year long civil war and heinous terrorism, anybody still thinks Lanka can solve this problem within itself, well though loath to quote the Bible, I have no option but to say “None are so blind as those who have eyes but cannot see”.

Some background

Sinhala-Buddhists are 70% of the population and for reasons reaching rather further back in history than I can recount here except in a sentence or two, the popular belief system of this community has evolved a certain ideology, a short name for which is Mahavamsa consciousness. It is about Lanka being the pristine land of the Sinhalese race, and the repository in which Buddhism was nurtured and salvaged when it was in recess in India and this country ravaged by South Indian invaders followed by four and a half centuries of colonial oppression. Modernists can think what they like of this deep-seated system of beliefs, they can call it the makings of a modern mythology founded on historical truths; no matter, it is the stuff of popular consciousness in this the land of Sinhala-Buddhism. It is learnt in school and temple, it is the substance of common lore and flavoured into mother’s milk. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”.

What has any of this to do with today’s national question? Simple, this ideology of the Sinhala people is a near insurmountable obstacle to any constitutional dispensation such as a federal system, autonomy for Tamil areas, or substantial devolution and the sharing of power. It is hard for anyone sincerely steeped in Mahavamsa consciousness to reconcile with a Lanka that is not a unitary Sinhala-Buddhist land. Governments, regimes or leaders who toyed with far less dangerous precedents than federalism or autonomy (the B-C Pact of 1957, the Dudley-Chelva Agreement of 1965, the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Constitutional Amendment, Chandrika’s Draft Constitution in year 2000, the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement and the PTOMS proposals) have all been shown the door. We must learn from this history.

In modern times the evocation of this ideology was the vehicle for the execution of new tasks. The signal phenomenon of the last epoch in Lanka is the emergence of the petty-bourgeoisie to a place of prominence in the post-colonial political constellation. “Thus the awakening of the dead serves the purpose of glorifying new struggles, not of parodying the old but of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality but finding once more the spirit for new struggles, not making a ghost walk again”. The purpose of celebrating the Mahavamsa ideology for modern class actors, to whatever degree they deluded themselves in their own imagination, was to execute the historic tasks of the moment. Let me explain.

In the decade after independence thanks to a progressive education system and welfare policies, good prices for one of the countries main exports, rubber, and a moderately efficient and relatively uncorrupted public service, prosperity seeped down into the rural areas. A large petty-bourgeois class of small businessmen, schoolteachers, traders and small landowners became more influential and began to play a powerful role in both rural and semi-urban politics. The privileges of the English educated Colombo elite and the entrenched position of the Tamils in government employment and the professions was an obstacle to the social mobility and economic advancement of the rising Sinhala petty-bourgeoisie. A strong Sinhala nationalist movement grew and is identified with the 1956 SLFP election victory, Sinhala Only legislation and Buddhism. The Sinhala Only Act declared the Sinhala language be the only official language of the country – the other option, both Sinhala and Tamil, was championed by the left parties but roundly defeated as a mood of race based antagonism poisoned the country.

What has this to do with today’s national question? The rise of the Sinhala petty-bourgeoisie to a place in the sun, because of the specific historical conjunctures and ethnic modalities that mediated what was in essence a class process, nevertheless evolved, in the political landscape, into a manifestly ethnic confrontation.

Indian readers need to appreciate that though similar processes of petty-bourgeoisie ascent hand in hand with a cultural renaissance did occur in many parts of India, nowhere did it inflate to become the spectacular hegemonic process that it did in Lanka.

The aforesaid ideological roots and ethno-class processes, magnified by pogroms, riots and military brutality, aggravated by the armed militant Tamil youth groups emerging in reaction, complicated by Indian intervention in different phases (arming and training Tamil militants in the 1970s and 1980s, providing military intelligence and arms to the Lankan state at present), and convoluted by constitutional impasses and economic shifts (especially the post-1977 neo-liberal policies), have mediated a certain process and outcome. To borrow an Althusserian term, society and politics in Lanka, that is the social whole, is now overdetermined by the ethnic instance.


Thamil Eelam

The responses of Tamil politics have reinforced this overdetermination. The annulment of the citizenship of Tamil plantation workers and the Sinhala Only Act constitute the root of the ethnic imbroglio. From about 1972 passive Tamil resistance, protest marches and sit-ins were broken up by brutal police countermeasures and Tamil youth were horrified to see respectable and staid old gentlemen, their uncles and elders, beaten and degraded on the streets. These experiences were the first events that hardened attitudes and laid the foundations of militant youth politics; but it was the 1983 race riots (Black July) which is the watershed transforming a half-hearted Thamil Eelam cry into a slogan with substantial support.

In the absence of free and fair elections in the Tamil areas for many years, and without a democratic referendum explicitly asking the question, it is impossible to say with any certainty, whether at that time, or any other time, or at the present time, a majority of Tamils desire secession and the establishing of a separate Tamil state. But this is beside the point; does Thamil Eelam have any chance in pluperfect heaven of ever coming to pass? My answer is a resounding “no” and not for indigenous but for international reasons. Kosovo is irrelevant, America and Europe wanted it, and wanted to tear Yugoslavia to shreds; India does not and likely will never want a separate Tamil state in northern Lanka, so QED. When the LTTE sent Rajiv Gandhi to his funeral pyre it placed another corpse beside him; Thamil Eelam forever died in the blast that dispatched Rajiv. 

There are reasons other than the absence of international support why Thamil Eelam is a non-starter (and it is amazing that an outfit of the LTTE’s ability and sophistication does not have one other country as an ally because of its own international diplomatic incompetence). The ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the Northern Province in 1991 is a galling act of Tamil chauvinism. Just as Israel, after its creation, is embroiled in the appalling fate of Palestinian refugees, so Thamil Eelam, even prior to its birth, faces the conundrum of the Muslims that the LTTE drove out of their homes, businesses and lands; a challenge the LTTE has proved incapable of redressing for 17 years.

The reader may be wondering what the purpose of this rather lengthy introduction in two sections is. It was unavoidable because the point I am attempting to drive home is not a familiar one; the travellers on the road to Damascus are still few and far between. There is no way out for Lanka within its own borders and parameters, that’s what I am trying to establish. The Sinhala-Buddhist unitary state of Sri Lanka is at a dead end, Thamil Eelam is a hopeless dream. If you are with me up to here, then we are making progress. When I say Lanka cannot solve its national question within its own parameters, I do, of course, factor-in the familiar types of international involvement, interaction, pressure and mediation as ordinary parameters.


Abolishing mental barriers

If Lanka’s economy is to go anywhere, it must abolish its fences; we have missed the homemade bus, so we need to catch another bus; but more on this anon. It is not only our physical barriers but also our mental limitations that we need to overcome. We will make no progress if we continue to play ball in our own backyard; we need to go out and play ball in a much bigger playing field were we will forget the parochial pettiness of our ethnic teacup. Moving into a larger common market, interacting within a much larger and more diverse culture and the gestalt shift that becoming, albeit gradually, a part of a subcontinent will engender, this is the cathartic experience that will purge the Lankan psyche of its blinkers. There is no other sword with which to cut the Gordian knot. Lanka does not have an influential intellectual class, or a left political leadership, or progressive mass movements, proportionately comparable with India.

The most promising precedent is the successful integration of South India into the Indian national economy and hence the national psyche. The Thamilnadu of Periyaar and Annathurai, communist Kerala, Karnataka the home of IT famed Bangalore, and Andhra Pradesh, have all overcome an obsession with Dravidian schism to become front runners in the Indian market and beneficiaries of Indian intervention in the world market. Maharashtra, Gujerat and West Bengal too are players in the Indian market and its international extensions. The material basis for the physical unity of the Indian Republic, whatever the eventual fate of Kashmir, has been firmly laid and Marx would chuckle with some satisfaction at this validation of his thesis of historical materialism, albeit on a capitalist basis.

Our epiphany won’t happen overnight, the backward-looking nationalists who hegemonise Lanka’s ideology and sway its social classes – especially significant sections of the petty bourgeois and plebeian mass – is profoundly antithetical to this thinking. Therefore a start will have to be made in the economic domain, without narrow nationalism comprehending what is really afoot in the ethnic domain.


Abolishing physical barriers

The eventual objective will have to be integration into a sub-continental market and economy and a start has to be made by developing a closer alliance with the Indian capitalist market. I have not shrunk from saying integration instead of pussyfooting with euphemisms like ‘participation’ and ‘, and I frankly concede, that for the time being, involvement will have to accept the reality of capitalist domination. I have no particular model of long-term alignment to canvass; economic treaties, common market, confederation or eventual union, history will look after that. There will be investment, but this should mean neither a wholesale takeover by Indian investment, nor the predatory extraction of natural resources because a more mutually beneficial transition is possible. The early attractions should include employment in the IT sector for our youth, better education, good universities and modern technology. For a start we can relearn English, which thanks to our ultras we have all but forgotten; forgive the exaggeration but the havoc wrecked by the ultra nationalists makes for some irritation. And of course Lanka needs infrastructure development (railways, airlines, electricity, telecommunications and roads) and Indian capital has a role to play. Lanka’s motto should be “If Tamil Nadu could do it and reap such gains, heck we can do it better”. Sure there is room for other international players; international players are deeply engaged within India already, aren’t they? But Lanka needs to make India a special policy focus, a focus on growing an alignment with Indian markets, investment and technology within a reasonable period of time.

There is a fundamental difference between the stage of capitalist development at which India and Lanka are at this time. Indian capitalism has achieved what Walt Rostow called ‘the take of stage’, that is structural change that can support sustained development (obviously on a capitalist basis). The definition he proposed was: “The old blocks and resistances to steady growth are overcome; the forces making for economic progress expand and come to dominate society; self-sustained growth becomes its normal condition”. A report prepared by four economists from an American investment bank (India: Everything to Play for: John Lewellyn, Robert Subbaraman, Alastair Newton and Sonal Varma; Lehman Brothers, October 2007) summarise these structural changes as; high levels of saving and investment, the maturity of the manufacturing sector, substantial productivity gains, strong and healthy international trade, enhanced education and English language skills, deepening of capital markets and internationalisation of the financial sector.

The point is not merely that Lankan capitalism has failed to achieve these structural advances; no what is fundamental is that we have missed the boat altogether. Global developments have passed us by and it is too late to make a revolutionary leap now. If we want to climb out of the failed state syndrome that we have sunk into, Lanka has no choice but to hitch its wagon to another star.


From the frying pan into the fire?

One does read the newspapers and the Internet and watch TV. The following from the BBC of 26th June comes as no surprise. “Nearly 7,500 people have died in official custody in India over the past five years, according to a report by a human rights group. The report by Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights says many of these people were tortured in custody. It says the Indian government is in a state of denial about torture. Even when action is taken against officials who are accused of wrongdoing the system tries to cover up any crimes. Nearly all the deaths were the result of torture. But the government routinely attributes deaths in custody to illness, attempted escape, suicide and accidents”. The repression of tribal groups is no secret; the number of districts in India that are under emergency rule is cause for dismay; the shootings in West Bengal and the massacre in Gujerat are revolting. I am well aware of the rising crescendo of threats to secularism. It is only too well known that neo-liberalism is widening income gaps and engendering increasing inequity in India and elsewhere.

However, I could not by any stretch arrived at my conclusions without factoring in these concerns. This background, this reality, does not vitiate the conclusion. Someone commented: “Be careful what you wish for; mother India is still in the embrace of Kali”, but so is mother Lanka and so are many other places, Asian democracies and one party states alike. My argument for integration is not predicated on some imagined Indian utopia.

Having aid this, nevertheless one must add that there is indeed substantial formal democracy in India; the courts are more independent than Lanka, public opinion a great deal more sophisticated and influential, and the press hugely more free. On balance, neither the curbs on democracy and human rights in India, nor the increasing inequity between the social classes, are to my mind, sufficient disincentive to defeat the case for integration. From frying pan into fire is a false idiom in this instance. Most important for Lanka is that the ethos of pluralism is much stronger in India, and it is spreading beyond the kaleidoscope of languages, religions and cultures, to caste liberation and reordering of caste-based political power in many cow-belt states, notwithstanding the grand larceny of the Mayawathi and Yadev types.

Some curious criticisms of the thesis in this paper come from an unexpected quarter, the politically correct soft left. Some ask, would not the case advanced here be grist to the mill of Indian corporate capitalism. Others fear it could be misunderstood in the context of the onward march of diehard Hindutva politics. These are false objections; my case has been systematically built from Lankan perspectives and imperatives, the aspirations of Indian corporate capitalism and Hindutva politics are marginal to the argument. Concerns voiced for reasons of Indian political correctness are beside the point; one must have the intellectual stamina to follow through the line of thought relating to Lanka’s way out of this conundrum to its inexorable logical conclusion.


The time domain as a concept

The fate and foibles of the Congress Party, or the BJP, the Rajapakse Brotherhood, and other transient entities called national governments, are ephemeral elements in the framework of the temporal conceptualisation that motivates this paper. They come and they go, the characterisation of any particular one does not much change the argument, because time in the conceptualisation of the future of nation states that permeates this thesis is another kind of dimension. Sure, governments are the immediate vehicles that transport the more enduring and bulky entity called society and the nation state from terminus to terminus, but they can only slow down, accelerate or distort the motion from time to time. True the mode of transport at any time also colours that enduring hulk that it bears, but there is also something that goes on, if not forever, at least for the longer duration than a nation state and its ethos survives. In this dimension of historical temporality the integration of Lanka into a greater subcontinental entity will be in fealty to a dynamic so powerful it will be akin to the drive of an elemental force, fortified by materialist advantage and political logic.


Kumar David, an electrical engineering professor has worked in Sri Lanka, USA, Sweden and Zimbabwe and was Dean of Engineering in Hong Kong. He has been with the Samasamaja tradition for over 50 years and is currently an ExCo member of the Democratic Left Front. He has published extensively, profesionally, and on the national question and socio-economics.

  • Sen

    Really a good article.

    Srilanka a nd Tamil Eelam can be state in India .

    I am sure the growth of Sinhala Srilanka and Tamil eelam will be fine as we see south Indian States have been developed by their state governments funded by Central Government of India.

    I would like to quote Dr MGR’s words ” Self Rule in State and joint rule in Centre ”

    means State local parties rule the state and in Central Government they can join as Ministers

    We will Welcome both Sinhala and Tamil Eelam states to join INDIAn Union ( of 25 states )


  • Wasantha Ranagala

    Hi Drr.Kumar David

    A brilliant piece of wrting. Nonetheless, the so called Mahavansa bashing the popular jounilistic acumen in a free for all show piece we have seen time and again would not answer the question let alone people would not bother to read.

    Dont you have any other way to deal with the situation and for a change just look at the following.

    Sinhalese came here two and a half millenia ago and built a beautiful civilisation.
    Dravidian vandals time to time invaded this land and later managed to have a hold on to a piece of the country and established their identity as Tamil who were later joined by indented labour yet discriminated not by Sinhalese but their own kind who came ealier.

    We can go on saying this till the cows come home and you can reproduce the jargon for the white sahibs’ consumption but not to the Turbaned Sahib in Delhi who wants you Tamil where you are except a few adjustment to your staus quo for the consumption of K’Nidhis and R’ Doss across Palk Straight.

    Sinhalese will say not by the hair of my Chin Chiinny Chin. By any chance you get a foot hold that will be the enternal war in reminicent of Dutugemunu Elara era. You can be happy thinking a Kosovo style partition or any other parameter but final outcome is the full scale war with India annihilating Tamil Nadu.

    So if you need peace ask what you are historically entitled to and not to rule the Sinhala nation. Never forget Sinhala nation has never forgotten the past. A past of 2500 years since they left Indian shores.

    Good on you Mate

  • Sen

    This is reply for “Wasantha Ranagala “.

    We Tamils in South India /Tamilnadu were also ruled by Tamil Kings ( Chola,Pandiya,Chera and Pallavas ) for long period.

    When British came , they annexed us to Indian sub continent and the same system followed. Till 1965, Tamil Leaders wanted to be free from India and after getting the rights as a STATE, the then Tamil Leaders dropped the Idea of Separate state.

    Where as in Ceylon, there were 3 kingdoms before Dutch came and all were united for ADMINISTRATION purpose. and now Tamils there asking for their Rights which current Sinhala leaders are denying.


    a) Either end the war by a Good Political Solution to TAMILS
    b) Get Defeated by LTTE and give Eelam to them
    ( check old history of Elephant Pass and Jaffna seize by LTTE )

    c) last but least…Join INDIA as a State ( along with Tamil eelam as another state ) and Enjoy PEACE and Economy

    Let the Triple Gem Bless Indian and Eelam Tamils !

  • dayan jayatilleka

    man this is fun. the writer sneers that his paper operates in a time dimension beyond the current and contemporary– forgetting the tiny detail that over “la longue duree” — long historical time as calculated in 5,ooo year chunks by the late Andre Gunder Frank, Wallerstein et al, the island of Ceylon, propelled by its majority, has resisted precisely such incorporation with and demarcated itself as against precisely the adjacent landmass. That has been the dominant logic of a long existence. That ain’t gonna change.

    what this “profound” essay is, is nothing but a revival of colvin’s old BLPI dream: the bolshevik party of India, Ceylon and wherever else.

    it is true that sri lanka has to hitch its wagon to another star, with an amendment: other stars. plural. meaning , primarily china and India.

  • The Under Dog

    Just a note that there is a shift in the perception of Sri Lankan history amongst archaeologists, away from the Mahavamsian version (though it doesn’t get a lot of press). According to Professor Deraniyagala and Professor K. Indrapala, there was no massive influx of Sinhala 2500 years ago (there simply is no archaeological evidence of it). Instead, the evidence points to a gradual increase in the endemic population that spread throughout the island, starting 38,000 years ago (our oldest human fossil). As the northerners traded and engaged in cultural exchange mostly with what is now Tamil Nadu, they started speaking their language–Tamil (a Lankan dialect of it to be precise). The southerners traded more with Andhra Pradesh, and adopted a prakrit based language–Sinhala. The separation in language gave rise to a separation in culture. There were of course invasions from India throughout our history, but the base population we have here is of the same original stock. I believe prof. Deraniyagala suggested that a DNA sampling of Sri Lanka across the various ethnicities would yield some interesting answers!

  • Sarath

    UnderDog..interesting perspective there. But does simple trade really have the ability to replace entire languages? I find that rather hard to believe. For example, if China became our biggest trading partner, does that mean we would all become Chinese speakers? More believable is that the ruling parties spoke a particular language and this was then adopted by the populace, but even that is not indicative of what language a people speak because there have been several Tamil kings ruling over the Sinhalese but they (the Sinhalese) did not give up their language in favour of Tamil. If Prakrit was so established in Andhra Pradesh why is it that it has been completely “replaced” by Telugu which is a Dravidian language apparently over 2000 years old? Also, the Sinhalese never “came from India” as a people… the idea of a Sinhalese people developed completely in Sri Lanka. There is no evidence of Sinhalese kingdoms in India or Sinhalese speakers in India. The Sinhalese language developed completely in Sri Lanka starting with the Brahmi inscriptions.

  • Dear Prof. K. David

    It is quite clear from this article you have deep dislike and hatred for Sri Lanka. Only a mad man would write it. You have clearly identified yourself as one.

    I do sincerely pray for Sri Lanka, my country, that you live elsewhere. People like you don’t deserve, ever to live in my beautiful, sovereign country.

    And may the gods be my witness, if you do live in Sri Lanka, I pray that the powers be see your blog post.

    Dhammika Dharmawardhane

  • Pragmatist

    I would like to second the comment by The Under Dog. The separation of sinhala and tamil races and cultures seem to have occurred in relatively recent historical times. A peek into the immediate past through the examination of historical sites in Polonnaruwa, A’pura and others show the close intermingling of the two cultures at the very highest levels of the island’s governance. In my view, the colonial periods might have magnified whatever differences that existed for their own Machiavelian purposes. The stresses due to rapid increases in the island’s population and diminishing resources provide the perfect backdrop for anyone who wishes to exploit the “Mahavamsa Consciousness” to further their aspirations. Politicians, buddhist clergy, JHU and many others have all jumped on this band wagon.
    Dr. David’s article is an excellent interpretation of recent times/events that has led to the current dilemma in the island. I am no supporter of Sri Lanka being an Indian state but it is very clear to me that Sri Lanka is on the path to becoming a defacto Indian state, in economic terms (not as a political subdivision), within the next 50 years. If that leads to the people of Sri Lanka living in peace and prosperity and the ability to practice their own religions and cultural practices with freedom – What is WRONG with that?

  • Let us not forget it is not the Tamils or the Sinhalese who came to this island first. The Veddahs( the Aadivasis of Sri Lanka) were here already. This is the same arguement of Terra Nulli which the Brits in Australia and America used to colonise. Since then both parties have used the Veddahs to make them their own in a game of numbers.

    I find it difficult to believe that the people who have become the Sinhala race came lock stock and barrell 2500 years ago and that is the end of the story. But it is possible some of the early people who came 2500 became present day Sinhala. But they didnt make up the whole of the Sinhala poulation of today.there has been a gradual and steady flow of immigration of both the people( who now call themselves Tamil and Sinhala). The Javanese became Sinhala and tamil depending on where they settled. Sinhala people in the North became tamil and vice vers. Eg- Karavars and Koviyar


    I appreciate your comments about the flow of language. But it is possible through commercial activity over a period of time for a community to take on a language. EG – Sri Lankan Moors took on Tamil as their mother tongue in favour of Arabic due tol Tamil
    ( Malabar)trade routes. Now they are changing it over again in favour of Sinhala due to the prestige of Sinhala in Sri Lanka. During the British colonial times sections of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim populations took on English as their primary tongue.

  • Well written article. Seems to have enraged the Sinhala supremacists. I do think that this should be an option for an UN administered referendum in the North East of Lanka. Obviously, we don’t want to thrust any solution down the people’s throats.

    1. Stay with Sri Lanka
    2. Tamil Eelam as a separate country
    3. Tamil Eelam as a state in India


  • The Under Dog

    Sarath: I failed to mention the language of the ruling elites (which deraniyagala and indrapala emphasized in addition to trade). Apologies for the lapse. Wikipedia says telugu became predominant in andhra pradesh in the 5th century, replacing prakrit and sanskrit (relatively recent in terms of our 38,000 year old populace). It has been a while since I read K. Indrapala’s book so I could also be remembering the region wrong (apologies again if that is the case). Still, would love to see a broadbased DNA survey of Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim communities here (it might well show us to be the same ethnicity). Interestingly, the Moors didn’t bring women from their mother country, and instead married Sinhala women. So the Moors of Sri Lanka are basically Sinhala! Anyway, the overall point is that this obsession with mythological origin stories (that are taught in school as historical fact) is just plain silly.

  • wijayapala

    Dear The Under Dog,

    The above article is not worth commenting on, but your post is.

    “Just a note that there is a shift in the perception of Sri Lankan history amongst archaeologists, away from the Mahavamsian version (though it doesn’t get a lot of press).”

    As far as I can tell, neither Deraniyagala nor Indrapala have offered an alternative to what you call the “Mahavamsian” version of Sri Lankan history. The events in the Mahavamsa from King Devanampiya-Tissa onward have more or less been confirmed by archeological evidence- both in Sri Lanka and India. Furthermore, the Mahavamsa confirms that the Tamils have a history in Sri Lanka equally as the Sinhalese. I wrote an article on this in response to a “Mahavamsa-basher” on the internet:

    “As the northerners traded and engaged in cultural exchange mostly with what is now Tamil Nadu, they started speaking their language–Tamil (a Lankan dialect of it to be precise). The southerners traded more with Andhra Pradesh, and adopted a prakrit based language–Sinhala. The separation in language gave rise to a separation in culture.”

    Sarath’s concerns are valid- it is not entirely credible that Sri Lankan language patterns changed merely or mainly through trade (although the argument that Sinhalese and Tamils share a common gene pool has been confirmed through DNA analysis). A simple argument of proximity would suggest that Tamil, not Sinhala would’ve become the dominant language of the island. The truth is probably a bit more complicated than Indrapala’s interesting, but flawed SISL hypothesis.

    The archeological evidence we have suggests that Sinhala and Tamil speakers did not live separately but coexisted– Indrapala states as much in his own book. However, the Tamils made inscriptions in Rajarata not in their own language, but in the prakrit that was probably the dominant language of the land. In this narrow sense, the earliest known civilization in Sri Lanka was a “Sinhala” civilization which assimilated people emigrating from India. The fact that Sinhala genes are closest to S. Indians would appear to confirm this, demonstrating that the ancestors of the Sinhalese largely came from S. India and “Sinhalized” over time.

    “Tamil civilization” in Sri Lanka as it continued to the present date began with Kalinga Magha’s invasion of Sri Lanka, which is somewhat ironic given that Magha came from the same region in India as legendary Vijaya and himself was not a Tamil. Medieval Tamil literature of both Jaffna and Batticaloa confirm this (although it must be stated that the earliest Tamil inscription in Sri Lanka dates to the Chola invasion of Lanka). Sri Lankan Tamil largely resembles the dialect of Tamil spoken in the old Tamil Chera kingdom (present-day Kerala), and Batticaloa has similar cultural resemblances with that region. From Magha’s time onward, people who emigrated to N-E Sri Lanka did not assimilate to become Sinhalese but rather became Tamils.

  • Wijayapala
    Thanks very much for your responses and your article in Asia tribune. You make a lot of sense!!

    I think a gene study of all the races will make many people uneasy. And will definetely support to do so. Can we launch a campaign with credible instiuitions in SL, India and the rest of the world to do so. I will like to personally contribute some money towards it!!

  • Sarath

    Pragmatist, you round off your post by saying “If that leads to the people of Sri Lanka living in peace and prosperity and the ability to practice their own religions and cultural practices with freedom – What is WRONG with that?” I understand the bit about the lack of peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka but are you saying that the people of Sri Lanka do not have the right to practice their own religions and cultures with freedom? If so, I would have to strongly disagree with you there.

    Jiva parthipan, I agree with you 🙂 The Sinhalese as a people did not “arrive” in Sri Lanka. That identity came into being over time in the island itself. However I believe the story of Vijaya has some truth to it – as an eponym representing the early immigration of North Indians to the island who brought their Prakrit language along with them. Without a doubt, there certainly was immigration from South India but the North Indian lineage was given emphasis when the ‘Sinhalese conciousness’ came into being. It is certainly very interesting to view a language map of South Asia – from top to bottom you will see a huge belt of Indo-Aryan languages in North India, followed by a huge belt of Dravidian languages in South India (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayali) and then comes Sri Lanka and the Maldives where again Indo-Aryan languages are spoken (Sinhalese and Dhivehi).

    As to Sri Lanka’s Moors, I would say many of them are also Tamils who converted to Islam (ie, they really are Tamils who speak Tamil and follow Islam, but due to political reasons over the last century or so reject a Tamil identity). But I do see your point about how trade can affect the use of language.

    Underdog, thank you for the info. I think there was some genetic study carried out in the island a while back which showed that Sri Lankan Tamils were genetically closer to Sinhalese than they were to Upcountry (Indian) Tamils and vice versa.

    Wijayapala, thank you for that link. I find this hatred of the Mahavamsa quite disturbing (and amusing!) at times, and the attempt to blame everything wrong in Sri Lanka on it as puerile reductionism; it’s like blaming the Bible for all the ills of the Middle East. It’s none other than Ananda Coomaraswamy who (if I’m not mistaken) said something along the lines of “Every Sri Lankan should have a copy of this book in their homes.” I bought mine through and I have to agree with Mr. Coomaraswamy’s assertion 🙂 I also agree with you about the assimilation of people into the Sinhalese identity. This process is still happening to this very day – Tamil Catholics of the western coast becoming Sinhalese, Malays intermarrying with the Sinhalese, Tamil Buddhists (yes they exist in Sri Lanka!) going to Sinhalese medium schools and so on and so forth.

  • The Under Dog

    Wijayapala: enjoyed your article in the tribune.

    Didn’t G G Ponnambalam make a speech in the 1930s stating that Vijaya was a Tamil, which subsequently led to an anti-tamil riot? (I think I read this somewhere–maybe it was in Indrapala’s book). It’s interesting how the Mahavamsa has become more important for what it represents than what it actually contains (and what it represents changes depending on who you are and what your politics is). Seems the Mahavamsa gets wielded more than it gets read!

    If you have any other articles on the web, please post the links.

  • Sarath

    “Seems the Mahavamsa gets wielded more than it gets read!”

    Totally agree. It’s a great read, if you have the time. The following might also interest you Underdog…

    Kamboja colonists of Sri Lanka

    Be warned, it is a long article, but makes for riveting reading (at least for me lol)

  • Sen

    If one sees the Sinhala script, it resembles Malayalam Script.

    All Tamil,Malayalam and Sinhala came from BRAHMI script.

    So not go into the theory of Northern Traders and Southern Traders traded ………….

    Sinhala is grouped with the other Dravidian Languages Tamil,Malayalam,Telugu and Kannada(m)… and Sinhala script does not have resemble or not seen similiar with Devanagiri scripts ( Hindi )

    Any comments


  • Sen


    Buddism was followed in Tamilnadu.

    Check the ancient literature in Tamil – Chillapathikaram , Manimekalai…Which is in Tamil and it says abt Lord Buddha.

    Once this period, again Tamil Kings converted back as Hindus…so ppl followed the Kings…

  • Sen

    Check this website

    Sinhala is similar to Malayalam……see each Font…

    So I conclude Sinhala is nothing Aryan but same as other Dravidian Language.

  • A very good article by Kumar David.

    A recent DNA study revealed that the blood of Sinhalese is more related to the blood of people of South India than the blood of Tamils in the North East confirming that Tamils came earlier to the country than the Sinhalese. But does it matter as to who came first. We all are here now.

    Sinhala language has many borrowed words from Dutch, portuguese and English languages than Indian languages. The Portuguese words in Sinhala are still used for shoes, office, receipt, glass, toilet etc. Dutch words are still used for Potatoes, Sugar, Beans, Mister, name of months etc. Many English words are used daily by the Sinhalese. Tamil words in Sinhalese are plentiful. So, Sinhalese is not a pure language. It is a mixture of languages. So is their culture and traditions.

    The story of Vijaya is a myth. I often ask the following questions whenever someone tells me the story of Vijaya;

    1. Vijaya and his 800 men did not arrive in a motorised boat but in a sailing craft. It would have taken at least 90 days to come to the island from West Bengal. How did they drink water ? Surely, they could not have consumed salt water and survived.

    2. The food requirement for 801 persons would have been enormous. Did they bring the food for the journey? If so the craft would have sunk!!

    3. How come all of them arrived safely without dying of exposure to the open sun and sea?

    These and other scientific questions confirm that there was never a journey like that.

    The only logical and scientific conclusion is that the first man would have come to the island through the land connection when South India was still connected to the island of Ceylon. All the animals such as Elephants too would have come through that connection.

    The story of Vijaya was a myth. Especially, the lion mating with human to produce a child !!!!!

    Yes Kumar, you are right. we must again connect up with the land from where the ancestors of our island came from.

  • Smarter than Dav

    I like every country in this world to be a state of India. It’s the long way out for all countries I guess.
    am I stupid?

  • wijayapala


    “However I believe the story of Vijaya has some truth to it – as an eponym representing the early immigration of North Indians to the island who brought their Prakrit language along with them.”

    The evidence we have points to our (Sinhala) culture largely deriving from that of old Kalinga, which included modern-day Andhra Pradesh and fell under the Mauryan Empire of Asoka. Vijaya’s homeland Lata was supposedly in this region.

  • wijayapala


    “Sinhala is grouped with the other Dravidian Languages Tamil,Malayalam,Telugu and Kannada(m)… and Sinhala script does not have resemble or not seen similiar with Devanagiri scripts ( Hindi )”

    Script is not very relevant here because they have changed vastly over time. Devanagiri is a relatively new script and the Hindi language (Hindustani) is also not very old. Whatever the similarities in script, the Sinhala language is very different from the Dravidian languages- Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada- and cannot be classified as such.

  • wijayapala

    Logical thinker,

    “The story of Vijaya is a myth. I often ask the following questions whenever someone tells me the story of Vijaya;”

    I also believe it was a myth. However, as my above article indicates, the medieval SL Tamils took it quite seriously (just as the author of Mahavamsa took Tamil literature seriously) and even incorporated it into their own versions of history. Therefore it is impossible to argue that the Vijaya myth is anti-Tamil.

  • Looking for the root of any culture doesnt reveal anything meaningful about it. Looking at it in its present incarnation reveals more.

    So lets look at that

    Food –
    All are eaten by both communities in SL and parts of south India ( Kerala and tamil nadu and the foods are mentioned by Tamil Saivaite saints and Sangam poetry)and not in North India.

    Language – both share Sanskrit words. Also Sinahala has many Tamil words( see sinhala tamil Wiki for examples).
    Both have rounded letterings unlike North Indian Languages ( which hangs off a line)- this may be a later development but nonetheless makes present day Sinahala ,Tamil, Kannnada, Malayalam,
    Synatax of Tamil and Sinhala are the same

    Hinduism of Tamils and Budhism of Sinhala are both from the same root – Dharmic religions( Hinduism, Budhism, Sikhsm, Jainism). Many HIndus also worship Buddha and Buddhists worship at Hindu shrines and even in Viharaas. The puritanism introduced by the Olcott etc have tried to create a artficial difference.

    New year – Sihala and tamil share the same day. Much of India including Hindi speakers have diffrent New Year.

    DNA – both share similar traits

    PS – on a diffrent note I have included the following anecdote on how we fail to see what is obviously in front of of due to indoctrination
    It is hailarious how a black skinned Sinahala person once told me while I was having dinner with my German friend how he was Aryan , hence light skin and I was Dravidian – dark skin.
    My friend looked in bemusement since his own ancesters thought they were Aryan and started the Nazi party.
    I have met very light skinned Tamils( and vice versa) and dark skinned Sinhala ( vice versa).
    It is strange how obvious facts in front of us are skewed by some orientalist theory

  • Pragmatist

    Dear Sarath:
    My reference to “ability practice their own religions and cultures with freedom” is based on the very real and current threat to this freedom on the island, posed by some fanatical buddhist clergy and their gangs of thugs. I need not elaborate this fact, you can just Google for reports of recent gang violence against places of worship and christian clergy. All this hypocrisy at home while an eminent buddhist clergy (from SL) at Berkeley preaches the fact that buddhism is NOT a religion but a philosophy that can easily be practised by anyone from another religion.

  • Sarath

    Hi Sen,

    Thank you for the links you provided. However, the script a particular language uses is not indicative of the language group it belongs to. For example, Indonesian and Malay use the Roman script but they certainly are not Romance/Germanic languages. Vietnamese uses a modified Roman script but again it is not a European language. The Khmer (Cambodian) script also “looks like Malayalam” but it is an Austroasiatic language. Closer to Europe there is Turkish, which also uses a modified Roman script but is a Turkic language. Konkani, which as Indo Aryan language, uses the Kannada script, Malayalam script and Devanagari script 🙂 Farsi is an Indo-Iranian language but uses a modified Arabic script (Arabic is a Semitic language). If you look at the Thai, Khmer, Burmese scripts you will also see the similarities with the Sinhalese script but the former and the latter belong to different language groups.

    Sinhalese is an Indo Aryan language and in the same family as Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Nepali, Oriya, Assamese. It is the southernmost Indo-Aryan language alongside Dhivehi which is its closest cousin. It has naturally been influenced by Tamil over thousands of years but Tamil and Sinhalese belong to two different language groups.

    Wijayapala, thanks for the info. If you read the Kamboja Colonists of Sri Lanka article it would seem however that the East – West India debate is still not dead. If you look at the Wikipedia article on the Sinhalese language it supports the Idea that there were two types of Prakrit that gave rise to the Sinhalese language – Eastern and Western prakrit, suggesting immigration/influences from both eastern and western India. If I am not mistaken Lata/Lada refers to the area that is West Bengal/Bangladesh today (Vanga).

  • Sarath

    Hi pragmatist, thank you for your clarification. But I hope you are aware that the same situation exists in India? You can google these reports too. It would not be an exaggeration to say that not a week goes by without religious violence – if all the persecution websites are to be believed. I suggest you also google “Graham Staines” and examine what happened with him. Further, are you aware that several Indian states have enacted anti-conversion legislation without any opposition from the Central Government? This includes the Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. That list also included Tamil Nadu which only recently repealed the piece of legislation. Are you also aware of what happened very recently in Kandhamal? Violence against places of worship and “Christian clergy” (to use your words) is happening in India – just like it is happening in Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Burma and other countries in Asia. They are certainly not endemic to Sri Lanka. I think that India trumps Sri Lanka when it comes to ethnic harmony, but when it comes to religious harmony, Sri Lanka has, in my opinion, a far better record than India.

    Lastly, I do not think only one group is to be blamed for these incidents of religious violence – whether they occur in Sri Lanka or India or elsewhere. One side has to cease the attacks, but the other side has to also consider how it and its ideology has contributed to the violence by its own activities. For example, why does the violence seem to be aimed at the evangelical groups and not the established churches?

  • Absolutely. a script doesnt say the origin of a language but it certainly is one of its influences.

    furthermore the origin of a language doesnt reveal anything about the origin of the people. The English speaking Jamaicans are not of European origin but of African origin.


    ‘One side has to cease the attacks, but the other side has to also consider how it and its ideology has contributed to the violence by its own activities.’

    I agree with you on this. Especially the confrontation between Abrahamic( Christianity, Islam etc)and Dharmic faiths ( Hinduism, Budhism). Religious nationalism does exist in Dharmic faiths along with Abrahamic faiths and need to be condoned and resisted. But they need to be seen through the politics of Colonisation and theological finalities of truths propunded by modern day Christians and Muslims.

  • wijayapala

    Dear Pragmatist,

    “My reference to “ability practice their own religions and cultures with freedom” is based on the very real and current threat to this freedom on the island, posed by some fanatical buddhist clergy and their gangs of thugs. ”

    I don’t think we would be having this problem if we didn’t have equally if not more fanatical evangelical born-agains who believe that the entire world should convert to their idiotic faith. Take a look at 19th century history and you will see that the Buddhist monks at first were very open and accommodating to the Christian missionaries. It is only a few decades later after the Christians made their intentions clear to wipe out Buddhism that this “Buddhist fanaticism” arose.

    The evangelicals pose a greater threat to the Tamil Hindus who are in a vulnerable state due to displacement and other suffering caused by the war.

    You won’t be able to google the more numerous accounts of Christian misdeeds around the world because their non-Xian victims don’t have the same kind of clout and money to launch these kinds of campaigns.

  • wijayapala


    “If you read the Kamboja Colonists of Sri Lanka article it would seem however that the East – West India debate is still not dead. If you look at the Wikipedia article on the Sinhalese language it supports the Idea that there were two types of Prakrit that gave rise to the Sinhalese language – Eastern and Western prakrit, suggesting immigration/influences from both eastern and western India. If I am not mistaken Lata/Lada refers to the area that is West Bengal/Bangladesh today (Vanga).”

    Beware what you read on Wikipedia. It is of course conceivable that there were emigrants from NW India who assimilated and became Sinhala, but the overwhelming linguistic and cultural evidence points to Kalinga region adjacent to Vanga (mythical Sinhabahu’s human mother supposedly came from Vanga region).

    For the linguistic evidence, take a look at W.S. Karunatillake’s “Historical Phonology of Sinhala.” The Asokan edicts can generally be divided into two categories of prakrit- the “majority” prakrit found in most of India including Kalinga, and the “minority” few inscriptions in NW/Gandhara area which had a different prakrit. The oldest Sinhala inscriptions resemble the “majority” more than the NW variety.

    I read a book about sarees that states that the Sinhala method of pleating is not found anywhere in India EXCEPT for among the Gond people of northern Andhra Pradesh and Orissa areas. The fact that even the medieval Tamils believed that Vijaya came from Kalinga shows that this must have been the consensus of the ancients.

  • At the time of Vijaya people were not wearing sarees as we know it today.
    And what is this Sinhala way of tying saree?There is no unifying way Sinhala people wear saree. The Kandyan saree(osariya) is not common to Sinhala poeple though in recent times low country Sinhala people have also started wearing Kadyan saree as a way of differentiating themselves from the Tamils. Furthermore the wearing of the blouse and petticoat (which is very much part of the saree repertoire today) owes to Victorian Christian prudery introduced to South Asia by the Eurpoeans. Untill then nobody wore a blouse or petticoat like under garment. (The sinfull / shamefull body/sexuality arguement doesnt exist in Budhism and Hinduism.) As I mentioned in the postings before, going back to the supposed origins does not reveal the entire truth of a people. The culture as seen/ experienced presently reveals much more. So I will say the saree wearing Sri Lankans legacy owes to Victorian social values and nationalism.

    Furthermore it is the upperclasses and the Govigama caste wore sarees in the past. The lower classes wore a top with the cloth to cover the bottom half similar to the reddha. Furthermore is is not conclusive evidence prior to the European invasions that people of Sri Lanka wore sarees at all.

    It was agreed by various commentators in previuos posts that genetically the Sinhalas have both dravidian and aryan blood in them. So why are we still looking for the pure Aryan origin of the Sinhalas. If the blood is mixed how can there be one single origin?

    Finally there is a significant influence of Indian Aryan in the Sinhala people. But the undue and unbalanced facination of this Aryan past without any reflection of its Drviadian past as well is alarming. It could be even summarised that the majority of the Sinhala peoples inability to come to terms with their Dravidan heritage as well( along with their Aryan heritage undeniably) has lead to the paranoid suspicion of the Tamil other. The Tamils represents this other which is infact is half of their own, blood, culture, art,architecture( Keralan architectures similaritey with Kandyan architecture), language, food, music.
    To finish off let me give you an example. On a trip to India a while back a Sinhala friend of mine gave asked him to bring back some Hindi tapes to him. he specially requested for the Bombay( the film ) film music. I mentioned that Bombay film music can be bought in any Tamil music shop in Colombo and elsewhere in SL. But he wanted the Hindi one only. Bombay is a Tamil film which was then also dubbed and remade in HIndi. As with many of AR Rahmans songs( who first started off in the Tamil film industry and continues to work in it along with being a hit in the Hindi film industry) are first made in Tamil and then on other Indian languges aswell to include Hindi. My Sinhala friends inability or to be presise ‘not’ wanting to sing along to the Bombmay song in its original Tamil which is freely available in Sri Lanka( more than the Hindi counterpart) reveals a lot to be desired for. Singing in Tamil reminds too much of who he is

    May be Sam Tahmbipillai is right after all. The problem is so deep rooted and endemic that a ‘divorce’ is possibly the best answer for the sake of peace!!!!!

  • Pragmatist

    Dear Wijayapala:
    I agree with what you have stated about the 19th century Buddhist monks being nice to Christian missionaries. It cannot be verified now whether that was due to the power the masters wielded over their colonial subjects. However, the current situation in the island cannot be waved off as caused by evangelists on a crusade to wipe off buddhism. If the buddhist monks and their rich mudalali dayakas truly take care of the poor villagers, then the Xian evangelists will not have much to do there.
    Can you or any eminent buddhist reading this explain to me why the buddhist philosophy preached by Sri Lankan monks to Americans at Berkeley, California, and in other places in the US can easily co-exist with christanity while in Sri Lanka it is seen as threatening the very existence of buddhism.

  • Sarath

    “Absolutely. a script doesnt say the origin of a language but it certainly is one of its influences.”

    Agree. For example, if someone looked at the Sinhala script and then the scripts of Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he thought that Sinhala belonged to the same family. Interesting fact – if you write the word “ganga” in Malayalam and Sinhala, both Malayali and Sinhala speakers would be able to read the word in either script – it’s almost identical! I think the relationship between Kerala (and its people) and Sri Lanka could fill a few books 🙂 I have been trying to learn the Tamil script, Devanagari (Hindi) script and Urdu script. For someone familiar with the Sinhala script the easiest one of the three to pick up is without a doubt the Tamil script (I can read Tamil pretty fluently now, but dont understand the words unfortunately – hopefully one day 🙂 )

    “I agree with you on this. Especially the confrontation between Abrahamic( Christianity, Islam etc)and Dharmic faiths ( Hinduism, Budhism). Religious nationalism does exist in Dharmic faiths along with Abrahamic faiths and need to be condoned and resisted. But they need to be seen through the politics of Colonisation and theological finalities of truths propunded by modern day Christians and Muslims.”

    I agree with you about the confrontation between the Abrahamic faiths and the Dharmic faiths (but also not that the Abrahamic faiths are also confronting each other eg Islam vs Christianity). Unfortunately however, I think this confrontation will become more acute in the future if nothing is done to further religious dialogue. The subcontinent is the place of origin of 4 beautiful Dharmic faiths – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism and personally, I think it would be a shame to see them disappear from their homeland. From my understanding, religious nationalism in these traditions has arisen only when they have been actively persecuted for decades/centuries (generally speaking, In India this happened at the hands of Islam and in Sri Lanka it happened at the hands of Christianity). I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say that Dharmic extremism/violence “need to be seen through the politics of colonisation and theological finalities of truths propunded by modern day Christians and Muslims.”

  • Sarath

    Hi Wijayapala, thank you for that information! Interesting.

    Jiva, regarding saris I read somewhere that the Malayali people also have their own version of the redde hatte. I also read another (controversial) article that argued that going by paintings/icononography available in the subcontinent, ancient South Asia was a far more liberal society that it is today, with women often going about barebreasted or wearing such fine upper garments that almost everything that is covered today was visible. It argued that when the Muslims arrived, they brought along with them their idea of what was appropriate. I’m not sure how much truth there is to those claims but it is an interesting idea that echos what you have written. Another thing – in pre-colonial South Asia homosexuals were not discriminated against and homosexuality was not prohibited by the rulers (from a religious point of view, Hinduism and Buddhism do not condemn homosexuality unlike Islam and Christianity). This was only criminalised when the colonials brought their sense of morality and enforced it through the law.

  • Sarath

    “If the buddhist monks and their rich mudalali dayakas truly take care of the poor villagers, then the Xian evangelists will not have much to do there”

    Hi pragmatist, I totally agree with you that both the Buddhist clergy and Buddhist lay people have to be more pro-active when it comes to helping the less fortunate. And I would also agree with you if you said that the Hindu community in India has to work towards reforming the caste system and ending the oppression of dalits. These arguments are valid and I accept them; there are indeed problems in both Dharmic communities which need to addressed by their members. But if these Christian evangelists are so concerned about the poor, why do they not first help the millions upon millions of poor Christians in countries such as the Philippines, numerous countries in Africa and almost all countries in South America? Is it possibly because they are not really interested in poverty alleviation but only in claming more converts to Christ? In other words, poor Christians can be ignored because they are already Christian, whereas it’s the souls of the pagans/idol worshippers/heathens that need to be “saved”?

    If you have the time I would urge you to read the article “The Missionary Position” by Peter Frawley. It really is a good read. If you google it, you will be able to find it. I think the following excerpt from the article is pertinent here:

    “A similar argument is that the conversion effort is part of service to humanity, that the missionary is motivated by love of humanity. This is also questionable. If you are motivated by love of humanity you will help people regardless of their religious background. You will try to help people in a practical way rather than aim at getting them to embrace your religious belief. You will also love their religion, even if it is an aborigine worshipping a stone. You will give unconditional love to people, which is not the love of Jesus or the Church but universal love. You will not condemn any person to hell for not following your particular belief. You will not interfere with that person’s religious motivation and seek to convert him to your belief. You will honour the Divine in that person and in his belief. Such social work born of love is hardly to be found in missionary Christianity, though it likes to pretend that this is the motivation. If one were truly motivated by love of humanity and the need to serve humanity, one would not promote massive conversion agendas. In fact one would regard such practices as inhumane, which they are. ”

    As to your last question… perhaps the following may answer it..

    “Organized conversion efforts are quite another matter than the common dialogue and interchange between members of different religious communities in daily life, or even than organized discussions in forums or academic settings. Organized conversion activity is like a trained army invading a country from the outside. This missionary army often goes into communities where there is little organized resistance to it, or which may not even be aware of its power or its motives. It will even take advantage of communities that are tolerant and open minded about religion and use that to promote a missionary agenda that destroys this tolerance.”

    Don’t you think that last sentence in the above paragraph hits the nail on the head when it comes to Sri Lanka (and India and no doubt many other countries in Asia)? I do. It is easy to blame the “Buddhist fanatics” and the “Hindu fanatics” and the “Muslim fanatics” like all the persecution websites do, but the question needs to be asked – what has led to their existence?

  • Sarath Wjayapala

    Looks like we are digressing( including myself) from out original topic of conversation. But I do find this interesting. So a few more posts!!!

    Firstly we should all join hands to condem and resist religious fanaticism in Sri Lanka because that is not helpful for anybody.But that should not stop us from critiquing both sides of the argument.
    The problem is the JHU lot are on one side with some genuine concerns but also a lot of supremacist ideologies concealed in it aswell. Then there is the certain strand of liberals whose arguments are always seen through the majority against the minority, so they take the case of the minority at all costs.

    I think the truth lies probably some where in between. So I do not support both their biased arguments when it comes to the religious question in Sri Lanka.

    On a different note

    In a religious sense, but not on a ethnic sense, the Buddhists( despite many protestant Buddhist elements in the last century and fascist Buddhism of JHU) are very tolerant towards Hinduism, Islam etc in Sri Lanka.

    But special status for the Buddha Sasana within the constituition does create ethnic dishamorny and will like it to be abolished since it does harbour ethnic based ultra nationalism within it. The state should be separate from religion. Look at the Islamic republic of Iran, Islamic republic of Pakistan etc

    As for David Frawley ( aka Vama Deva Shastri) – I shall be a bit carefull of him. Though he is a brilliant mind and has genuine scholarship in Sanskrit etc he is not too much to my liking. He is of that camp who believes everything comes from Sanskrit and the greatness of the Aryan civilisation. Also some of his scholarship has been seriously questioned ( pan Aryan ideology etc). Sanskrit too has got Munda and Dravidian influences of syntax, words etc.

    Keralan redhha like cloth stuff……..

    True. Kerlan redhha like cloth is worn along with a small shawl on the shoulder( to wipe the sweat) by both communities in Sri Lanka until recent times. My patrilineal Tamil grand mother in Sandilippay, Jaffna wore that at most times. I know the Sinhala women also had and have similar kind of dress which was more common than the saree.

    On The body, sexuality stuff………

    Yes this European Christian influence on the body/ sexuality in the whole of the sub continent and Sri Lanka is negative. North India also had added pressure
    from Islamic ideas on it. Eg – North Indian Hindus cover their head when going to temples and in the South India and Sri Lanka it will be sacreligious to do so. This is a Islamic influence to cover the head.

    Though on a theological sense Hinduism and Budhism doesn’t have such pronounced ideas of sinfull sexuality/ sensuality/ body etc, it has now certainly entered it in the present day – especially in the social context. So ultimately whether we are Buddhist, Hindus, Christians or Muslims – we all suffer from this now. We are all in this shit together. So we need to work tighter to deal with it.

    But there are three areas of resistsances for it in SL.

    The obvious westernised peoples influence. The west has done much to get rid of its Victorian legacy in its post Christian phase and once again exporting it lock stock and barrel. Though in recent times, I do wonder whether the sexual liberation of the west is actually liberation or just rebelling aginst its ‘sinfull’ past. A diarroeah of sex to make up for it. Either way we are all buying into it.

    Secondly – the lower classes are still relatively unaffected. Shirtless, loin cloith garment wearing farmer etc
    But the male nationalist politician covers his top half in a relatively new addition – the ‘national’ on top of the veshti( white sarong like cloth worn by both Tamil and Sinhala political elites). Victorian prudery working miracles to create ‘tradition’!!!! in order to make him feel superior than the loin cloth wearing farmer!!!
    Some older fisher women of all communities are topless in Sri Lanka.
    My middle class Appa( dad) used to say that even as recent as the the sixties the ravakkai( female blouse in Tamil) sandhai( market) in Manipay, Jaffna – the female vendors hardly wore blouses. Hence the name ravakkai sandhai.

    Sigiriya topless fescoes in the are matter of fact about it aswell

    Thirdly- Within a religious realm the Buddhists and Hindus still occupy the old system. The ‘traditional’ Nallur Murugan temple in Jaffna and other ‘orthodox’ temples expects the men to take their shirts off to enter it. The shirtless musicians at the Dalada Maligawa etc

    The body is not to be ashamed of.

    I suppose the three systems are co existing ,inter mingling and competing together as viable alternatives to the impositions of the past.

    For detailed and illuminating readings of Indian/Hindu/Budhistetc ideas of Homosexuality or any sexuality in the past in South Asia read AmAra Das Willhelm article bellow

    Either way , despite homophobia existing in SL in the present day Buddhism and Hinduism, it can never become such a big issue to cause a possible split in the religions over such a matter. I cant see the Shangha dividing to become two separate instuitions over the matter.This is unlike what the Anglicans who are possibly heading for( the Euro American /Anglican supporting and the Asian/ African Anglicans denouncing homosexuality) for a split. That says a lot in itself.

    Even the orthodox Saiva Siddhanta church’s Sivaya Subramanya swami

    ( Saiva Sidhhanta is the predominant hindu philosophical and religious system of Sri Lanka and the Saiva Siddhanta church is from the lineage of one of Sri Lankas most important spiritual teachers for both Sinhala and tamil communities in the last centuriy – Yogar Swami. The Saiva Siddhanta church though now based in the USA has still a special remit to minister Sri Lankas Saiva community and its diaspora around the world)


    Hinduism neither condones nor condemns birth control, sterilization, masturbation, homosexuality, petting, polygamy or pornography. It does not exclude or draw harsh conclusions against any part of human nature…

    thats enuff. got to go……….

  • Sarath

    Hi Jiva, yes we are getting sidetracked, but I think it has been interesting reading 🙂

    I agree with you about the JHU. I do not agree with all their policies (or monks being involved in politics) but I totally respect the fact that they are working in the democratic mainstream. As citizens of Sri Lanka they have every right to voice their opinions. They formed a political party, stood for elections and were voted by the people into parliament. Whether one agrees with their stand on various issues or not, you have to hand it to them for doing it democratically and not taking to arms (if only the JVP had done the same thing when they wanted to represent the voice of the marginalised). Again, I think the formation of the JHU had a lot to do with the angst large sections of Buddhists have felt about the missionary activities of Christian groups in the island (hence one of the major original policies of the JHU was to push through the so-called “anti-conversion bill”). In other words, I think they they are a reaction rather than a phenomenon in of themselves; the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian groups in Sri Lanka played a major role in their appearance. But despite their stand the JHU is a very small party in parliament. In contrast, the JHU equivalent in India – the BJP – is the main opposition party in that country and has even formed government. The driving force behind their ideology is Hindutva which also, in my opinion, carries a spectrum of thought from genuine grievances/concerns over Hindu rights to elements of facism. They too seem to be a reactive force. In my opinion Sri Lanka and India are not very different at all 🙂

    Having been oppressed (pretty brutally) for close to 500 years by the colonials and the events of the last few decades or so have left Buddhism a political hot potato in Sri Lanka. It may seem like I am blaming the colonials for everything in the country but they too played a role in creating ‘reactive Buddhism’ or what has been termed “Protestant Buddhism” through their active persecution of Buddhism and Buddhists. The ‘Buddhist psyche’ (if I can call it that) in Sri Lanka is still not healed. In my honest opinion any moves at the present time to remove Buddhism from the constitution will only lead to further polarisation and what you term ultra nationalism. Any major political party who advocates that will be committing political suicide. At the present juncture, Christian missionaries and their aggressive agenda of conversion are certainly not helping. But give it time. I don’t think it will happen in our generation but there will come a time (yes I am an optimist! 🙂 ) when there is peace, where ethnic politics does not hold sway and the Buddhist majority does not feel at siege.

    It is interesting to note that in our former colonial power Britain, Anglican Christianity is given a special position and the head of state has to be an Anglican Christian (so a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Catholic can never be the head of state). In Norway the Evangelical Lutheran religion is the official religion. It is the same in Denmark and Finland. I forget which one, but in one of the Scandinavian countries it is required that the majority of parliament be held by Christians belonging to the state church. Liechstenstein and Monaco has Catholicism as its official religion. Greece officially recognizes only the Church of Greece. But these are all Wuestern countries that are held up as examples of democracies to be followed by others, with Greece itself the original home of democracy. I believe that there are no real secular states. The religion of the majority usually always, some way or another, gains precedence over the minority ones. And being avowedly “secular” has no bearing on the existence of religious nationalism or extremism – just look at the USA and how Christianity is so closely entwined with the state, its political parties and policies in the Middle East and issues such as abortion/stem cell research/gay rights. All currency carries the slogan “In God We Trust.” The Pledge of Allegiance includes “One nation under God,” in government courts the Bible is the book used to swear truth upon. Parliament proceedings start with a Christian prayer.Only Christian holy days are provided with public holidays…and so on and so forth. The current election campaign also highlights the importance of the majority religion in that country.

    (Infact, it was only last year or so for the first time in history of the USA that a Hindu prayer was offered in legislature, but the Hindu priest was heckled and abused by certain Christians inside the legislature because it was apparently “anti Christian” – you can watch the video on youtube and google the news articles).

    Meanwhile in Sri Lanka we have Lakshmi poojas in parliament organised by Buddhists, along with ‘breaking fasts’ and Christmas programmes, the minister for Buddhist affairs holding Saraswathi poojas at his house, the Buddhist president and his Catholic wife and the Buddhist opposition leader jetting off on pilgrimage to Hindu temples in South India, the government providing free cloth to Muslim girls so that they can wear the hijab (while it is banned in ‘enlightened’ and ‘secular’ France and even in some Muslim countries like Turkey and Tunisia), ban on the import of pork based medical products because it is offensive to Muslims, ban on pork and beef and non halal products at parliament as they are offensive to Muslim and Hindu sentiments, government funding for the establishment of Madrassahs and Arabic language schools, mediation during sunni – sufi clashes, banning of particular Hollywood films because they offend Christian sentiments, Muslim, Christian and Hindu committees on State TV and Radio so that they can create and air their own programmes, government funding for Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian schools. Public holidays for Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu holy days. And before the current government came into being successive governments promoted and funded the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Ministry for Christian Affairs, Ministry for Hindu Affairs and Ministry for Muslim Affairs. I must mention that these are not grievances I am airing, infact I very much support the above moves. But in my opinion, there is more offical and social recognition of religious diversity and more steps taken to see that all religious groups are included in Sri Lanka than there is in many so-called “secular” western countries where only Christianity and the Judeo-Christian worldview is given precedence.

    You make good points about the three social views. I hope the ‘cultural purists’ are able to see just how many aspects of “morality” and “culture” are social constructs that change over time.

    And it is interesting that you mention homosexuality. If you have time head on over to or and read today’s article by Ven. Shravasti Dhammika entitled “Buddhism and Homosexuality”. Thank you for your link, it was interesting reading! We certainly do need to eradicate homophobia in Sri Lanka and the Buddhist-Hindu majority in the island need to be taught that their respective religious traditions do not condemn homosexuality. That said, one ‘alternative group’, the Napunsakayas, are quite accepted in Sri Lanka. They certainly aren’t bashed/attacked or subjected to hate crimes like in the west.

    (Before I come across as someone who really seems to hate the west, I do not! 🙂 I love many aspects of it and wish Sri Lanka could imbibe a lot of the good stuff.)

  • Sarath

    Jiva, I think you will find the following two articles interesting. The first one as the title suggests deals with the issue of homosexuality from a Buddhist perspective. The second article I thought would be of much interest to you as a follower of the Hindu tradition. It details the Hindu swamis of India.


    Ven Shravasti Dhammika

    Homosexuality is the tendency to be sexually attracted to persons of the same rather than the opposite gender. According to the ancient Indian understanding, homosexuals were thought of simply as being ‘the third nature’ (tritiya prakti), rather than as perverted, deviant or sick.


    The Swami Army

    Ven. Shravasti Dhammika