The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Prelude

Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj


Sri Lanka has had a continuous record of human settlement for more than two millennia, and its civilization has been shaped largely by that of the Indian subcontinent. The island’s two major ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and its two dominant religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, made their way to the island from India, and Indian influence pervaded such diverse fields as art, architecture, literature, music, medicine, and astronomy. – Encyclopaedia Britannica (Sri Lanka)


Sri Lanka, also known as India's Teardrop and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an extension of peninsular India that got separated from the mainland.
Sri Lanka, also known as India’s Teardrop and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an extension of peninsular India that got separated from the mainland.


Geologically, Sri Lanka, also known as India’s Teardrop and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an extension of peninsular India that got separated from the mainland. In consequence, the ancestors of almost all the communities now living in Sri Lanka migrated to the island at some time in the past from India. Scholars agree that the two major communities who now call themselves Sinhalese and Tamils migrated to Sri Lanka from India.

According to history, the Sri Lankan population of the past was not divided into two major races as Sinhalese and Tamils. In the past, in the two native languages Sinhala and Tamil, the word ‘Jathi‘ did not mean race but caste.

It was only in the 19th century, during the British period, consolidation of the population into two major races as Sinhalese and Tamils came into existence. As such, the various caste groups that now make up the Sinhala ‘race’ have their own stories of origin.


The Sun and Moon Flag (Ira Handa Kodiya)
The Sun and Moon Flag (Ira Handa Kodiya)


None of the Kings and Queens of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa has ever claimed that they were Sinhalese. But they have consistently claimed in their inscriptions to have descended from the Kshatriya race and the Indian Sun Dynasty and Lunar Dynasty. The Sun and Moon Flag (Sinhala: Ira Handa Kodiya) symbolises the Solar and Lunar Dynasty origins of the Sinhalese community.

The ancient Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka is a historical poem, written in the Pāli language around 4th century AD, about the rulers of Sri Lanka. The first few chapters the Pāli cover the period from the coming of Prince Vijaya of the Rarh region of ancient Bengal in 543 BC to the reign of King Mahasena (334-361). The Mahavamsa too refers to the ancient kings and queens of Sri Lanka, not as Sinhalese, but as Kshatriyas from the Solar and Lunar dynasties.

Though not considered a canonical religious scripture, the Mahavamsa is an important text in Theravada Buddhism. It covers the early history of the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka, beginning with the time of Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Every chapter of the Mahavamsa ends by stating that it is written for the “serene joy of the pious“.

It is said Lord Buddha visited ancient Lanka three times, but there were no following nor disciples in Lanka as a result of his visits. It was only after Arahath Mahendra, and his fraternal twin of Theri Sanghamitra, the children of Samrat Asoka born to his supreme consort and first wife Vidisha Mahadevi, brought Buddhism here, and the Lankans followed it.

From the emphasis of its point-of-view, one can deduce that Buddhist monks compiled Mahavamsa to record the benevolent deeds of the kings who were patrons of the Mahavihara (Pali: “Great Monastery”) in Anuradhapura. The Theravada Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara chronicled the history of Sri Lankan beginning from the 3rd century BC. In the 5th century AD, the Buddhist monk Mahathera Mahanama combined and compiled these annals into a single document.

The official story of the origin of the Sinhalese from a lion in India is not from the original traditions of any Sinhalese caste. Even in the Mahavamsa, the ‘Lion’ myth encompasses only Vijaya’s family and does not include the service castes that came along with him. The Lion story does not even relate to his ministers. The fact that most Sinhalese castes have their own origin stories proves this.

  • The Salagamas caste traces its origin in Sri Lanka to Nambudiri and other Saligrama Brahmins who came over from Malabar in Kerala invited by king Vathhimi Buvenekabahu of Sri Lanka.
  • The muni clan names of the Salagamas bear testimony to their Brahmin origins.
  • The Durava caste traces its origins from the Nagas and retinues of Pandyan consorts.
  • The Navandanna caste traces its origin to Vishwakarma.
  • The Deva Kula (also known as Wahumpura, Hakuru, etc.) descended from a deified ruler of Sabaragamuwa named Sumana.
  • The Sunnakkara Kula (Also known as Hunu) descended from the traditional architects and engineers of Sri Lanka.
  • The Kumbal Kula (also known as Badal, Badahela, etc.) descended from the first humans to graduate from wild men to humans who cooked their food in clay pots. From this initial quantum leap, developed cultivation and other occupations.
  • The Bathgama caste is descended from the original pre-Vijayan, Yakka (also called Yaksha) inhabitants of Sri Lanka.
  • The Govi Caste, according to the Janawamsayaa and other sources, sprung from the feet of Brahma. The modern Govigama caste is an identity created during the British period by the De Saram Mudaliar family of mixed origins. Many successful people of unknown provenance joined the Govigama group during the British period.
  • Several other castes trace their origin to the guilds that arrived with the sacred Bodhi tree.

So, not a single Sinhalese caste has an origin story connecting it to Vijaya or a beastly lion ancestor. According to the Mahavamsa, the term Sinhala could be applied only to the first royal family of Vijaya and not to the population at large. Also, according to the chronicles, Vijaya did not sire a successor.

Whatever it be, the lore of Vijaya as told in the Mahavamsa brings to light the fact that the Sinhalese ‘race’ is not indigenous to the island but descended from many ethnic groups inherent to India.

→ Next: Part 1 – Sinhabahu




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