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Had the Tamil North a Buddhist Background?

by Paulinus Tambimuttu (This article appeared in the Ceylon Observer Friday evening on 14 October 1949.)

Dagobas at Kantherodai

The view held by some archaeologists, that for some centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era the majority of the Tamils in India and Ceylon were Buddhists, has been strengthened by the discovery of the ruins of two dagobas at Kantherodai and antique coins and beads which point to ancient Buddhistic influence in the North.

Mr. D. T. Devendra, during a visit to Delft, discovered a mound which on closer examination turned out to be a Dagoba, proving that Buddhist influence extended even to the farthest islands.

The Administration Report of the Director of National Museums, for 1948 states that collecting trips made by the museum staff to the Chavakachcheri sand dunes resulted in the finding of other evidence near Chunnakam in the peninsula.

It is however, to the efforts of the late Mr. J. P. Lewis, CCS, that we owe the discovery of the first image of the Buddha in Jaffna. It was unearthed close to the Vishnu temple at Vallipuram and had lain in the lumber room of the temple for years until, in 1902, Mr. Lewis requested the manager of the temple to part with it.

It was set up in the Old Park at Jaffna, under one of the bo-trees. Another image of the Buddha was later dug up at Chunnakam by Mr. Lewis, and placed under another of these bo-trees.

In 1906, the Vallipuram Buddha was presented by the then Governor, Sir Henry Blake, to the King of Siam who was particularly anxious to have it, owing to its antiquity.

Discoveries

The first dagoba in Jaffna was discovered by Dr. Paul E. Pieris to whom, moreover, we are indebted for many of the discoveries of Buddhist remains in the North. At Makayappiddi, in the courtyard of the Meenachchi Amman Temple, Dr. Pieris discovered a remarkably fine image of the Buddha. At Kantherodai, Dr. Pieris came across a large fragment of the torso of what must have been at one time a gigantic stone statue, being used at a well for washing clothes.

At Mallakam, he discovered a Sinhalese pond cut in the rock in a fair state of preservation. At Kantherodai again, which appeared to Dr. Peiris to be ‘a miniature Anuradhapura in the Tamil country,” a large number of coins were found. The Acting Superintendent of the Madras Museum was of opinion that these were Buddhist coins of the 2nd and 3rd Century B.C. He added that similar coins had been found on both sides of the rivers Vaigai and Tambraparni in South India.

Many valuable Sinhalese coins have been discovered in the Jaffna District. During a visit to Vallipuram Mr. J. P. Lewis learnt that the Police Vidane there was in possession of a gold coin which had been discovered in 1890. He obtained the ‘find’ and sent it to the Archaeological Commissioner, Mr. H. C. P. Bell, for identification. It turned out to the Iraka or Daraka Sinhalese coin of very debased gold.

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Lewis received from the Very Rev. Father E. Vorlander, OMI, copper coins dug up at Pandateruppu. They proved to be the coins of Queen Lilavati (12th-13th Century A.D.). Dutch coins and the coins of Parakrama Bahu, Bhuvaneka Bahu, etc., have also been found.

Stone Images

Several images of the Buddha have also been found in the Mannar District. There is ample evidence carved in stone all over the Mannar and Mullaitivu districts that the Sinhalese had occupied these districts. Inside the Fort gateway at Mannar, for instance, was disinterred a stone which had for modern Mannar, where there are no Buddhists, a strange device, viz, two hansa with interlocked necks-a Buddhist emblem. Mr. Lewis found Buddhist ruins at Vavuniya as well.

Some authorities believe that the discovery of Buddhist images and coins in Jaffna does not prove that Jaffna was occupied by the Sinhalese. They argue the majority of Tamils were Buddhists. The Tamil classics of the era were Buddhists. e.g. “Manimekhalai”, a Tamil poem written in the 2nd Century A.D. by Chittalaich-Chattanar, a poet of the third Tamil Sangam and a Buddhist, is about the life of Manimekhalai, a daughter of the famous dancer for whom Kovalan, husband of Kannaki (known as Pattini Dewiyo among the Sinhalese) abandoned his faithful wife, and of her renunciation of the world and entry into a Buddhist nunnery.

Place Names

The poet gives a learned exposition of Buddhist philosophy. The authorities are of opinion that the Buddhist remains found at Jaffna belong to the period when the Tamils were Buddhists. Any remaining doubts can be dispelled by the evidence furnished by the place names in Jaffna. The Sinhalese origin of the place-names in Jaffna was first pointed out by Messrs. B. Horsburg and J. P. Lewis, both of the CCS. They stated that place-names which ended in ‘pay’ like Manipay, Kopay, Sandilipay, etc., and in ‘kamam’ like Kodikamam, Valigamam, etc., were of Sinhalese origin. This late S. Gnana Prakasar, the philologist of international fame, agreed with them and furnished his own list of place-names.

He mentioned village ending in ‘vil’ like Kandavil, Kokkuvil, Inuvil, etc.; those ending in ‘vattei’, like Polvattei, Sittavattei, etc.; villages from the word ‘kumbura’ like Markkamburei, etc., from ‘yaya’ like Moolay etc., from ‘deniya’ like Narandanei, etc., from ‘eliya’ like Puloly.

The Northern Province will, no doubt, prove a fertile field for the archaeologist. Dr. Paul E. Pieris wrote as follows in 1919: “When again a trained man is placed in charge of the work in Ceylon. I hope he will not ignore the Tamil districts. I venture to express the conviction that the archaeology of Ceylon cannot be understood, and should not be studied, apart from the Archaeology of India and that it is a pity that the great knowledge, and experience which is available in India should not be taken advantage of in the work here.”

source: http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2006/10/01/fea05.asp

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