Tag Archives: Sinhalese people

The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Postlude


By T. V. Antony Raj


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



CEYLON 3 cents Postage Stamp


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

A week ago, my nephew Reny Vincent, shared a post that he had come across in Facebook. This post written in Tamil is about a CEYLON stamp with a face value of 3 cents issued on the occasion of the Sambuddha Jayanthi 2500 Era 2nd Issue. After sharing this post, Reny wrote on my timeline on Facebook,  “Periappa, any comment? :-)”

I read the article. The author of this post has written very accurately the story about prince Vijaya, who hailed from the north-east part of India, arriving in Sri Lanka. What irked me, (and might have irked Reny as well, otherwise he would not have asked for my comment) was that the author after writing so beautifully has slandered the government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese people using vituperative language.

This is the post that Reny shared:

I have pointed out in red the stamp in question and the legend in Tamil that’s written underneath it.

Under the postage stamp, the author has described it as follows in Tamil:

The postage stamp that was released and retracted by the Lankan government

To see this post yourself click on this line. 

As I told your earlier this post is in Tamil and a lengthy one. If you can read Tamil, please click on the above link and try to find out the fallacy in the author’s statement about the postage stamp.

I feel that the the author, ignorant on the subject of postage stamps, had used this 3 cents postage stamp unscrupulously to rouse the rabble. And I would say that he had succeeded in his mission. Mind you, this post has been shared 97 times. And has been commented by 122 persons, and all of them, using abusive language against the government of Sri Lanka, its politicians, and the Sinhalese people

Here are 2 sample comments:

Comments #1: V nice to here the history of sri lanka how ever i also have this stamp with me but i don’t know the history i am v. grateful for your information. (sic)

Comments #2: இது சில‌ த‌மிழ் துரோகிகள் ப‌டிக்க‌ வேண்டிய‌து ஏன் என்றால் இவ‌ர்க‌ள் தான் கேக்கின்றார்க‌ள் பிழைக்க‌ போன‌ இட‌த்தில் ஏன் நாடு கேட்டு ச‌ண்டை போடுகின்றார்க‌ள் என்று அந்த‌ அயோக்கிய‌ர்க‌ள் ப‌டிக்க‌ வேண்டிய‌ முக்கிய‌ ப‌திவு இது. (sic)

I just don’t understand why some of these guys from Tamilnadu are so gullible. Is it the hate towards the Sinhalese stymieing their mind and obstructing their eyes from seeing what is apparently placed before them?

Okay. Here is my reply to my nephew:

Dear Reny,

The story of Vijaya and Kuveni is correctly told by this person as per what I learned. Also, Vijaya and his companions marrying Tamil women brought from South India is correct.  In fact, even the Sinhalese accept this.

I remember seeing a Sinhalese TV short film (a short story and not a documentary) on Rupavahini during 1983-84 or so at the height of ethnic troubles in which a Buddhist monk admonishes the irate crowd of Sinhales saying something like this: “Aren’t you ashamed to attack these (Tamil) women. Don’t you remember we originated from their wombs and drank the milk from their breasts?

Please note that this postage stamp was issued on May 23, 1956 and was invalidated on October 1, 1966 after a period of 10 years and 4 months. It has value of 3 cents and the name of the country is CEYLON and not Sri Lanka.

The name Sri Lanka for Ceylon came into existence only in 1971 when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under the leadership of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike came to power. See my article “Remembering Sirimavo – The Modern World’s First Female Head of Government ”

So, the writer saying :

தபால் தலையை பார்த்த சிங்கள தலைவர்கள், அதற்கு எதிர்ப்பு தெரிவித்தனர். “விஜயன் இந்தியாவில் இருந்து இலங்கைக்கு வந்தவன் என்ற கருத்து ஏற்கத் தக்கது அல்ல. தவிரவும், விஜயன் வந்தபோதே இங்கு குவேனி என்ற தமிழ்ப்பெண் இருந்திருக்கிறாள் என்று கூறினால், இலங்கையின் பூர்வகுடிகள் தமிழர்கள் என்பதை நாமே ஒப்புக்கொண்டது போலாகிவிடும். எனவே, இந்த தபால் தலையை வாபஸ் பெறவேண்டும்” என்று கூறினார்கள்.

can not be accepted since during 1956 to 1966, there was no ethnic war in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and peace prevailed throughout the Island.

Also whether Kuveni was a Tamil woman and spoke Tamil is not authenticated. Since Tamil is an ancient language she might have spoken Tamil.

To accept the statement of mine about the 3 cents postage stamp, please click on this link Sambuddha Jayanthi 2500 Era 2nd Issue.

Also to know a little more about prince Vijaya and Kuveni click on these links :

So, please remember this axiom of mine:

Don’t immediately conclude that whatever that appears in Facebook is 100% true, and don’t come to the conclusion that all Sinhalese are bad because someone said so in Facebook.”