Historians have tended to base their writings on the assumption that the people of the Island at the dawn of history were Sinhalese and that at a later time the Tamils and other communities came to share the country. Sri Lanka
n historiography of the 19th and the early 20th century is responsible for this OVER SIMPLIFICATION of the ancient history of Sri Lanka .
The deeper one delves into Sri Lankan history, the more will one find how much the Tamils and Sinhalese have shared history and culture and common descent.
Through a process of language replacement (a theory popularized by the archaeologist Colin Renfrew) the north India
n Prakrit dialects spread among the vast majority of the people paving the way for the evolution of Sinhalese while Tamil became the dominant language in some parts of the island leading to the emergence of Sri Lankan Tamil. In historic times, Buddhism and Saivism played significant roles in shaping the evolution of the two major ethnic groups. Buddhism, though at first common to both groups (and to others in the island), later became a religion associated with the Sinhalese.
The success of the Saiva religious movement in south India in the eighth and ninth centuries led to Tamil Buddhism finding a sanctuary in Sri Lanka for some time. The rule of the powerful Tamil Cola dynasty in the eleventh century, however, paved the way for the rise of Saivism among the Tamils (and even among some Sinhalese) in the twelfth century. In the end, BUDDHISM DISAPPEARED COMPLETELY AS THE RELIGION OF SRI LANKAN TAMILS and SAIVIS,ASSUMED DOMINANCE AMONG THEM. The result was that addition to of identity.
The evolution of the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil identities is seen as a process that continued until modern times with various south Indian (Telugu, Kerala, Kannada and Tulu) as well as Southeast Asian (Malay) elements contributing to both groups, apart from elements from each group getting assimilated with the other.
This research covers the period up to 1200 by which time the process of evolution had more or less stabilized and the chance of one absorbing the other eventually had receded, although the assimilation of elements of one group into the other continued.
This research lends support to the views of Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne (Professor of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya) that `we cannot argue in favour of an `exodus` of either `Dravidian` Megalthic - BRW communities from South India or `Aryans` of north west/east India, who arrived en masse with a mission to `civilize` Sri Lanka` (1984: 293), although `community movement from Peninsular India did take place at an early date to Sri Lanka` and this included some who `belonged to clan groups under the leadership of the Velir chieftains and introduced the Megalithic - BRW techno-cultural complex to Sri Lanka around the 7/6 century B.C(1992:113). (The Megalithic - BRW complex, in the words of Prof. Seneviratne, `was the earliest techno-cultural matrix formed in Sri Lanka during the Early Iron Age prior to any dominant impact of the northern Indo Aryan culture 1992:105)
Further the historian in him says:
My aim here is to explore the past in order to understand how the Tamils of Sri Lanka (as well as the Sinhalese) came to be what they are. Their political claims that led to the current conflict are to be judged in terms of accepted universal Human Rights and not in terms of their past in the Island.
... ... ... This book is written for the purpose of drawing attention to some of the important aspects of Sri Lanka `s past. It is written for the Sri Lankan audience, and for this reason detailed notes and quotations have been included, as articles in International Journals as well as foreign publications are not easily accessible to the average reader.
He REJECTS the colonial historical writings that identified the Sinhalese with the Aryans and the Tamils with the Dravidians, and thereby nullifies the `purity` of races.
It is fascinating how the eight chapters in the book are titled from ancient times to 1200 AD - showing the birth, growth, and development of the two ethnic groups.
1. The Common Gene Pool
2. Conception and Birth
3. Imaginary Ancestors
4. Two Little Siblings
5. Growing up
6. Emerging Personalities
7. Reaching Adulthood
8. The Joint Achievers
According to the above chapters, the Tamils and Sinhalese have descended from common ancestors and through a process of language replacement (a theory popularized by archeologist Renfrew) the `North Indian Prakrit dialects spread among the vast majority of the people paving the way for the evolution of the Sinhala language, while Tamil became the language of the North, North West, and East of the Island leading to the emergence of Sri Lankan Tamil.` Both could not have happened simultaneously - Tamil is an ancient language with a rich literature by the time the North Indian Prakrit dialects spread in the country. Therefore it is the older of the two this should have been emphasized.
The last chapter aptly titled `Joint Achievers` clears many a historical misconception. The author proves the harmonious relationship that existed between the Tamils and the Sinhalese during the Polannaruwa Period (11th and 12th century) when they jointly achieved great heights in architecture, sculpture, hydraulic engineering, trade, literature, and the fine arts. According to him, The reign of Vijayabahu ushered in a period of remarkable partnership between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. And there is no room for interpreting the war against the Colas as a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict.`
It is interesting to read about the very close relations that had existed between Tamil Buddhism and Sinhalese Buddhism from very early times and the benevolent religious policy of the Cola Emperors for the Tamil contribution of Buddhism in the Island . There is evidence to show that Tamil was taught at all the Pirivinas and Buddhist monks were very well versed in both Tamil and Sinhala. The author continues to explain how at a much later period when Saivaism became the religion of the Tamils and Buddhism of the Sinhalese, religion, in addition to language, became a marker of ethnic identity.
While tracing the growth of the two ethnic groups he concludes,
A complete bifurcation of the Island into Tamil speaking and Sinhala speaking areas would have taken place only after 1200, especially with the fall of Polannaruwa and the establishment of a new centre of Sinhalese power in the South West.
In this book, the narration of the historical development leading to the emergence of two separate ethnic identities ends in 1200. But the story does not end there the dawn of the 13th century marks the beginning of the political separation of the two groups
`The manner in which history is being used in fighting contemporary issues is a matter for concern`, is this historian`s regret.