Tag Archives: Sinhabahu

The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Postlude


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The Veddhas or Wanniya-laeto (‘forest-dwellers’) of the wanni (dry monsoon forest) are Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants. According to scholars, the Veddhas of today perpetuate a direct line of descent from the island’s original Neolithic community that dates back to at least 16,000 BC.

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Wanniya-laeto ('Vedda') elders of Dambana. (Source: Vedda.org)
Wanniya-laeto (‘Vedda’) elders of Dambana. (Source: Vedda.org)

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For the past eighteen centuries or more the indigenous Veddha communities have been forced to retreat deeper into the ever-shrinking forests pummeled by successive waves of immigration and colonization that began with the arrival of the north Indians in the 5th century BC.

According to their culture the Veddhas revere and venerate their ancestors. At present, the surviving dwindling Veddha communities still live in the dry monsoon forests with their uncanny knowledge of their jungle habitat. They still retain the memory of their prehistoric culture and preserve their cultural identity and traditional lifestyle, despite facing the many challenges and relentless pressure from the surrounding dominant Sinhala and Tamil communities.

In the North Central and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka, a few Veddhas have been absorbed into the mainstream Sinhala communities and on the East Coast into the Tamil communities.

The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.
The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.

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Ancient chronicles such as the Mahavamsa, relate the origin of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from an area either in the northeast or northwest India, and his later affiliation with people from south India. Students of Indian history argue that the lore of Vijaya should be interpreted to favour either one or the other of the northern origins, or a mixture of people from both areas.

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W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.
W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

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W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, a Sinhala linguist, supported the hypothesis that the Sinhalese people originated in Eastern India because over 50% Sinhala words resemble words in the Bengali language. Even so, the question: “Did Vijaya and his companions migrate to Sri Lanka from Singhpur, Kalinga in northeast India, or from Sihor, Gujarat in northwest India?” still remains unresolved.

Some scholars identify the Lála country, where Sinhabahu founded Sinhapur, with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India that is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lata-desa. Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh in the extreme hilly west of Bengal where the Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. However, some scholars identify the region as modern Gujarat.

References weigh more in favor of Vijaya’s origin to lower Indus, and Sihor, which was officially known as Sinhapur in Kathiawar peninsula in ancient times. Also, the only home to Asiatic lions (locally referred as ‘Sinh‘ or ‘Sinha‘) is Gir Forest in Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat and the approach to core Gir territory is just a few miles away from Sihor. In fact, to date, lions are sighted in rural areas adjoining Sihor.

According to the history chronicled in the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya and his wayward followers before landing at Tambapanni, first disembarked at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sapporo, in the Thana district north of Mumbai. If Lála country was in northeast India, how could Vijaya and his companions dispatched from there, land at the port of Suppäraka in northwest India?

If we presume that the story of Vijaya narrated in the Mahavasa is historically correct, then, Prince Vijaya and his followers would have set sail from northwest India from a coastal harbour in Gujarat. Their contribution to the modern Sinhalese must have been erased by the long-standing interrelationship with people from Tamil Nadu for over 2,000 years.

According to the Mahavamsa, the population of Sri Lanka is heterogeneous – composed of diverse ethnic groups from India.

So far, most studies on the genetic affinities of the Sinhalese have been contradictory. Some investigators suggest a predominantly Bengali contribution and a minor Tamil and North Western Indian contribution, while others point towards a predominantly Tamil origin followed by a significant Bengali contribution with no North Western Indian contribution.

However, it is emphatically proved that the ancient ancestors of the current Sinhalese people came originally from northeast or northwest India as shown by genetic, linguistic and religious connections. After their arrival in Sri Lanka, the ancients intermarried to a minor extent with the indigenous Veddhas. Population genetic studies on the Sinhalese undertaken by various investigators show that they certainly intermarried extensively with Tamils of Southern India than with the Veddhas.

For the most part, according to the Mahavamsa, the modern Sinhalese are related to the Tamils as far back as 543 BC, with some elements of ancestry connected later with Bengalis, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Indian Moors. This is also supported by a genetic distance study, which showed low differences in genetic distance between the Sinhalese and the Tamil, Keralite and Bengali volunteers.

Because Sri Lanka lies on important sea trade routes, it has from ancient times received a constant influx of people from India and from various parts of the world, especially from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe, and the far-east. However, the genetic studies on the Sinhalese do not seem to show any ancestry from China or Southeast Asia.

In the 1995 study, “Genetic affinities of Sri Lankan populations” by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya (Source: National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Munirka, New Delhi, India) published in Hum Biol. 1995 Dec;67(6):843-66, the author says:

Mythological and historical sketches of the Sri Lankan population indicate that it is heterogeneous and composed of diverse ethnic groups. Ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka relate the origin of the Sinhalese to the legend of Prince Vijaya, who arrived on the northwest coast of the island in 543 B.C. from northeast or northwest India. … Taking into consideration mythological, historical, and linguistic records of Sri Lanka, I attempt to study the degree of gene diversity and genetic admixture among the population groups of Sri Lanka along with the populations of southern, northeastern, and northwestern India, the Middle East, and Europe.

The genetic distance analysis was conducted using 43 alleles controlled by 15 codominant loci in 8 populations and 40 alleles controlled by 13 codominant loci in 11 populations. Both analyses give a similar picture, indicating that present-day Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to Indian Tamils and South Indian Muslims. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India and Bengalis of northeast India. Veddhas, are distinct because they are confined to inhospitable dry zones and are hardly influenced by their neighbors.

The study of genetic admixture revealed that the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka have a higher contribution from the Tamils of southern India (69.86% +/- 0.61) compared with the Bengalis of northeast India (25.41% +/- 0.51), whereas the Tamils of Sri Lanka have received a higher contribution from the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (55.20% +/- 9.47) compared with the Tamils of India (16.63% +/- 8.73).

Genetic Admixture of Sinhalese by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya

In the 2009 study, “Prevalence of genetic thrombophilic polymorphisms in the Sri Lankan population–implications for association study design and clinical genetic testing services” by V.H. Dissanayake, L.Y. Weerasekera, G.G. Gammulla, and R.W. Jayasekara (Source: Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka.) first published electronically on July 8, 2009, is consistent with the notion that Sinhalese are closely related to other Sri Lankans. The frequencies of the alleles observed were very similar between Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Moors and they were also similar to those in some ethnic groups from southern India. Excerpts from the Abstract:

“We investigated the prevalence of genotypes/alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) and haplotypes defined by them in three genes in which variations are associated with venous thromboembolism in 80 Sinhalese, 80 Sri Lankan Tamils and 80 Moors in the Sri Lankan population and compared the SNP data with that of other populations in Southern India and haplotype data with that of HapMap populations. … The frequencies observed were similar to data from other South Indian populations; […]”

Both the above studies present almost a similar picture. Genetic distance analysis, despite the limitations imposed by the data, shows that modern Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Tamils and Keralites of south India and the upper caste groups of Bengal. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India.

Similarly, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Sinhalese because they were always and are near to each other historically, linguistically, and culturally.

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← Previous:  Part 6 – Abhaya and His Sister Ummada Citta

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 3 – Kuveni


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Yakka or yaksha is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots, but there is also a darker version of the yakkas, which is a kind of ghost (bhutha) that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakshasas. The yakkas appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature. The feminine form of the word is yakshi or yakshini.

After Vijaya and his men landed at Tambapanni, there appeared a dog. Though Prince Vijaya had advised his men not to venture alone into the forest, one of them surmising that ‘dogs are found only in villages,’ followed the creature.

‘Kuveni’ portrayed by Dulani Anuruddha

‘Kuveni’ portrayed by Dulani Anuruddha (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

On entering the thick forest, he saw the mistress of the dog, a yakshini named Kuveni also known as Sesapathi or Kuvanna (in Mahavamsa), seated at the foot of a tree spinning as a woman-hermit might.

When the man saw the pond and the woman-hermit sitting there, he dived into the pond. When he came out of the pond, after his bath, Kuveni approached him and commanded, “Stay! You are my prey!”.

The man stood there, traumatized. Kuveni tried to devour him, but could not because of the power of the magic thread. Though she entreated him, the man would not yield up the thread. The yakshini then seized him, and hurled him into a chasm. Similarly, she hurled all seven hundred, one by one, after him.

When none of his men returned, fear came upon Vijaya. Armed with five weapons he set out to find them. When he came up to the beautiful pond, he saw no trace of any man having come there. Then, he saw the woman-hermit and thought: ‘Surely  this woman has seized by men.’

He asked her, “O woman, have you seen my men?”

“Why do you want your men, prince?” she replied. “First quench your thirst and bathe in the pond.”

Vijaya thought: ‘This surely is a yakshini! How else could she know my rank?’

Vijaya and Kuveni
Wijaya and Kuveni (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

Drawing his bow, he swiftly caught her in the noose about the neck, and seizing her hair with his left hand he lifted his sword in the right and shouted: “Slave! Give me back my men, or I will kill you!”

Fearing for her life Kuveni cried out, “Spare my life, sir. I will give you a kingdom and do a woman’s service and other services as you wish.”

He then asked her to swear an oath, and ordered her to bring his men immediately.

When she brought all his men to that place, he said, “These men are hungry.”

Kuveni showed them rice and other foods and goods of every kind that had been in the ships of those traders whom she had devoured. Vijaya’s men prepared food with the rice and the condiments provided by her.

Kuveni was well pleased when Vijaya handed her the first portions of the meal. She assumed the lovely form of a 16-year-old maiden and approached the prince adorned with all her ornaments.

She made an alluring bed at the foot of a tree and covered it with a tent adorned with a canopy. Vijaya’s men encamped around the tent.

Vijaya united with Kuveni and they blissfully spent the night on that bed.

In due course of time, Vijaya’s men spread throughout the region and established settlements.

One night, Vijaya heard music and singing, and asked the Kuveni, lying near him about the noise.

Kuveni said, “Here there is a yakka city called Sirisavatthu. A great multitude of yakkas has gathered here for the marriage of the daughter of the chief of the yakkas. The wedding festivities will last for seven days; hence this noise.”

Then she continued: ‘I will bestow kingship on you my lord if you would slay all the yakkas else they will kill me because it is through me that your men have taken up their dwelling here in this land which belongs to the yakkas. Today, you must kill all the yakkas participating in the festivities, else it will not be possible to destroy them later.”

Vijaya asked, “How can I slay the invisible yakkas?”

The yakkas because of their stealthy movement would have been invisible to Vijaya and his men who were newcomers to the island, and unused to its thick jungles. Even today, the veddas move about in the thick jungles almost invisibly.

Kuveni replied, “Wherever they might be, I will utter cries. When you hear my voice, strike! By my magic power I will direct your weapons to pierce their bodies.”

Vijaya listened to his consort. Directed by her, Vijaya fought fiercely and slew all the yakkas. He donned the garments of the chief of the yakkas and gave the other raiments to his followers.

Kuveni with Vijaya and his followers
Kuveni with the victorious Wijaya and his followers. (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

After spending some days in Sirisavatthu, Vijaya returned to the place where he and his men landed. There he founded the city of Tambapanni and dwelt there with Kuveni.

Kuveni bore Vijaya two children, a son named Jivahata and a daughter named Disala.

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← Previous: Part 2 – Vijaya                        → Next: Part 4 – Tamil Brides from Madurai

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 2 – Vijaya


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Prince-regent Vijaya, the eldest son born to Sinhabahu and his twin-sister Sinhasivali, was cruel and callous – an embodiment of evil – and likewise were his friends. Angered by the many intolerable deeds of violence executed by the prince-regent and his followers, the subjects of Sinhapura brought the matter before the king. However, the king took no action against the prince-regent. The angry subjects finally asked the king to kill his evil son Vijaya.

The exasperated king arrested his eldest son Vijaya, the prince-regent, and seven hundred men who were his followers. After disgracing them by shaving off half the head of each person, he banished them from Lála country by loading the men, their wives, and their children on separate vessels and set them afloat on the sea.

The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.
The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.

The children landed on an island called Naggadipa or the ‘island of the naked’ (Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka).

The women landed on an island called Mahiladipaka or ‘islet of women’ in the Maldivian Islands.

Prince Vijaya and his unruly followers landed first at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sopara, in Thana district north of Mumbai. However, the hostile reception by the natives, and also dissidence and violence among his men, forced Vijaya to embark again. The second time, their vessel driven by the violence of the wind, they landed on the island of Sri Lanka.

Vijaya and his companions landing at Tambapanni

Vijaya and his men after disembarking from the ship sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So,  they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

Map of Taprobana- 1588

The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) identified the Island as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from Tambapanni, when he drafted his map of Sri Lanka. It carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering tip.

At the place of their landing they saw a wandering ascetic seated at the foot of a tree. They approached him and asked him: “What land is this, sir?”

“The island of Lanka,” the ascetic answered.”There are no men (humans) here, and here no dangers will arise.”

The ascetic blessed them by sprinkling on them water from his kamandalu (Tamil: kamandalam). After winding a thread about their hands he disappeared.

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← Previous: Part 1 – Sinhabahu                                             → Next: Part 3 – Kuveni

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 1 – Sinhabahu


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The consort of the king of the Vanga (a seafaring nation, in the eastern part of the Indian Subcontinent, comprising today’s politically divided Bengal region comprising West Bengal and Bangladesh), was Queen Mayavati, a princess from Kalinga. The royal couple had a daughter named Suppadevi, of whom at birth the court astrologers and soothsayers foretold evil falling upon her. They prophesied that the princess would be wilful and would have union with the king of beasts and lead a wild and unbecoming life.

So, princess Suppadevi was jealously guarded. She was very fair and grew up as the loveliest maiden in the Vanga kingdom. However, she was amorous and exuded uncontrollable sexuality. The king and the queen were not able to tolerate her defiance of parental authority and social norms.

One fine day, desiring the joy of an independent life, Princess Suppadevi eluding the vigilant royal attendants left her royal abode. She joined a caravan travelling to the Magadha country.

While camping in the forest of the Lála country the caravan met with disaster.

Scholars identify Lála country with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India which is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lata-desa. Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh at the extreme hilly west of Bengal where Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. Some scholars identify it as modern Gujarat.

Lion - 02

 

According to the Mahavamsa, a lion attacked the caravan. However, the truth seems to be that it was a robber chief named Sinha, who with his men plundered the caravan).

While the other folk fled this way and that, Suppadevi ran along the path by which the lion had come.

After having assuaged its hunger, the lion beheld the libidinous princess from afar. It immediately desired her carnally. Waving its tail and ears laid-back, it approached Suppadevi. Seeing the lion, the princess remembered the prophecy of the astrologers and soothsayers. Without fear, she caressed the lion lustily rousing it to a fiery passion by her sensuous touch.

Suppadevi climbed on to the beast’s back. The lion immediately sped to its cave carrying the princess, and there it united with her. From this union, the princess in time bore twins – a son and a daughter. The son’s limbs were formed like a lion’s and Suppadevi named him Sinhabahu or lion-armed and named the daughter Sinhasivali or lion-maiden.

The lion kept them in a cave and covered the entrance with a huge rock.

Sinhabahu, Suppadevi, Sinhavalli and the Lion
Sinhabahu, Suppadevi, Sinhasivali and the Lion

When Sinhabahu was about sixteen years old, Suppadevi told him about her ancestry. The youth, longing to know more about the civilized world, wanted to leave the lion’s den.

One day, when the lion left the cave in search of prey, Sinhabahu after rolled off the rocky barrier. He carried his mother and sister on his shoulders and left the cave in haste. They clothed themselves with branches of trees and reached a border-village. There they met a son of Suppadevi’s uncle,  a commander in the army of the Vanga king who ruled the border-country.

The commander gave them clothing which transformed into splendid garments. He served them food on leaves and by reason of their merit, the leaves turned into dishes of gold. The amazed commander asked Suppadevi who she was. The princess told him about her family and clan. The commander then took his uncle’s daughter with him and went to the capital of the Vangas and married her.

When the lion, returning to its cave missed those three people it loved most. It grieved after its offsprings. It neither ate nor drank. Seeking its children it went to the villages in the border-country and found them deserted.

The border-folk came to the king and told that a ferocious lion ravaged their land and appealed to him to ward off this danger.

The king offered a thousand gold coins for the person who would kill the lion.

When Sinhabahu expressed his intention to kill the lion, twice did his mother restrain him.

Since no one dared to kill the lion, the king raised the bounty to two thousand and then to three thousand gold coins along with his kingdom for whoever killed the ravaging lion.

Without informing his mother, Sinhabahu presented himself before the aged king and volunteered to kill the lion.

The youth went to his former home, the lion’s den. When the beast saw Sinhabahu from afar it came forward, to greet its lost son. Sinhabahu without any remorse shot an arrow to slay his father, the lion. Due to the paternal love of the beast, the arrow struck its forehead, rebounded, and fell at the son’s feet without causing any harm. Sinhabahu shot another arrow and then a third, but neither harmed the lion. The lion became wrathful and growled. The fourth arrow pierced the lion’s body and killed it.

Sinhabahu cut off the head of the lion along with its majestic mane. When he reached the capital he learned that seven days had passed since the death of the king of the Vangas.

The ministers rejoiced over the youth’s valiant deed. When the ministers saw Suppadevi, they were all happy to learn that Sinhabahu was the grandson of the late king. The ministers in unison requested the valiant young man him to be their king. Sinhabahu accepted the kingship. Later when his mother got married he handed the kingdom to his mother’s husband.

Sinhabahu with his twin-sister Sinhasivali left the capital of the Vangas and went back to Lála country, the land of their birth. There he made his twin-sister Sinhasivali his consort. He built a city, and they called it Sinhapura.

Sinhasivali gave birth to twin sons sixteen times. Altogether there were thirty-two sons. King Sinhabahu named his eldest son Vijaya, and the younger twin-brother Sumitta. Sinhabahu consecrated Vijaya as prince-regent.

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← Previous: Prelude                                                                → Next: Part 2 – Vijaya

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