The language of the lion: Tracing the historical past of Sinhala, its sophisticated relationship with Tamil in Sri Lanka

The language of the lion: Tracing the historical past of Sinhala, its sophisticated relationship with Tamil in Sri Lanka

There are as many factors of convergence between Sinhala and Tamil, as there are of variance. In admitting the reality of this important truth and appearing on it maybe lies the way forward for Sri Lanka.

The formation of the trendy nation state has outlined world politics for the final couple of centuries. The origins of this concept in 18th-Nineteenth century Europe noticed the coming-together of litterateurs, royalty, navy generals, cultural theorists, and lastly, the general public who made the discourse that these high-minded people floated, their very own and gave of themselves to delivery the nation.

The South Asian historical past of nation state formation, which has been a Twentieth-century affair intricately linked with colonialism, has been an arduous one, given the area’s diversities and the shortage of a typical floor for folks to converge on and agree on a shared view of nationhood. The histories of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all replicate these struggles.

Sri Lanka, which celebrates its 73rd Independence Day at present, has had a rougher journey than most. Crucial to the formation of the Sri Lankan id has been Sinhala, the language that near 75 % of its inhabitants (1.6 crores of a inhabitants of two.1 crore) speaks. Greater than another South Asian language, maybe, Sinhala is intently tied to a faith — on this case, Buddhism. Equally, ‘racial’ concepts too are important on this context, and all of those facets replicate in its historical past, its mythology and the occasions that outline its modern-day journey.

Historical beginnings

Historians say that the time period ‘Sihala’ (lion in Pali) is first encountered within the Dipavamsa (fourth-fifth century CE). On this epic, the time period happens solely as soon as, on this verse:

Lanka dipo ayam ahu sihena sihalaiti

(The island of Lanka was generally known as ‘Sihala’ on account of the lion.)

The Dipavamsa describes the Buddhists resident within the island as Sinhalas, arguably, for the primary time. This, it seems, is to tell apart them from the opposite group of individuals additionally resident on the island at the moment — the Tamil-speaking Hindus. A binary had thus been created — Sinhala-Buddhist and Tamil-Hindu.

This narrative is additional bolstered within the Mahavamsa, the foundational epic of Sri Lanka, which occupies a spot within the island roughly just like the Mahabharata and Ramayana in common Indian discourse, composed by Mahanama Thero, a sixth century CE Buddhist monk. The Mahavamsa is written in Pali, the traditional Prakrit tongue which was the Buddha’s chosen tongue of discourse.

Among the many many tales germane to the Mahavamsa’s narrative is the considered one of Dutugemunu (generally Dutugamunu or Dutthagamani), the second century BCE Lankan king who fights a battle towards Elara (generally, Ellalan) the Hindu Tamil Chola king who had conquered Anuradhapura. Dutugemunu overpowers Elara and thus, within the telling of the epic, claims the island for the Sinhalas and Buddhism.

The language of the lion Tracing the history of Sinhala its complicated relationship with Tamil in Sri Lanka

(Left) Dutugemunu and (Proper) Elara. Photos through Wikimedia Commons

Undoubtedly, Dutugemunu is a historic determine, however one about whom it’s troublesome to separate fable from actuality. For example, was Dutugemunu completely Sinhalese as is claimed? Some students dispute this citing a few of his Tamil antecedents. Was his battle with Elara a conflict of religions? The proof seems to be contradictory. There seem to have been Tamils and Sinhalese Buddhists combating on each side, even from the identical household in some recorded situations. However the Mahavamsa narrative has given this story a sure slant and that informs the view of individuals as much as the current day.

The Mahavamsa goes even additional again in time to unearth the supposed origin of the Sinhalese folks. It traces their origin to the legendary Prince Vijaya who in 483 BCE, actually on the very day that the Buddha handed on, washed up on the shores of the island. Vijaya was a prince from Vanga (present-day Bengal) who had been exiled on account of his evil nature. Accompanying Vijaya had been 700 of his errant followers. In Sri Lanka, Vijaya reworked into an in a position king and dominated over the native Yakkhas who already lived all through the island.

Vijaya’s origins, which went again to the Bengal space, meant that his linguistic origins had been possible Indo-Aryan and it is a important level of be aware.

Vijaya was the eldest son of a brother and sister, who had been in flip the kids of a human princess and a lion, which is why the lion has come to be the image of the Sinhalese and figures prominently on the Sri Lankan flag. Given the significance of Buddhism to all the narrative, it’s important to notice that the tales of the Mahavamsa however, historic sources hint the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka to Prince Mahinda, the son of Asoka, round 260-250 BCE. Mahinda was accompanied by his sister, Sanghamitra, who additionally introduced together with her a sapling of the Bodhi tree underneath which the Buddha attained salvation.

The Buddhist Unduvapa Poya competition is noticed in Sri Lanka on the total moon of December to commemorate Sanghamitra’s arrival. Mahinda met and satisfied Devanampiya Tissa, the Sinhalese king, a direct descendant of Vijaya’s brother, to undertake Buddhism.

Sinhalese id rests on the language’s Indo-Aryan origins (descended as it’s from Pali) and the truth that the island of Sri Lanka is perceived as the one remaining house of Buddhism on the sub-continent, the place the religion was born. The Sinhalese type themselves ‘Aryans’ (a time period they use in a racial context, although it’s actually a linguistic time period) versus the Tamils who’re Dravidians. This informs their sensibilities, that are additionally deeply affected by the historical past of the island previously 500 years.

Whereas most Sinhalese are Buddhists (there’s a small however outstanding Christian Sinhalese minority), writers on Sri Lanka have noticed that the Sinhalese do worship deities just like Kannagi and Murugan, each of whom are common among the many Tamils. Therefore, their Buddhism is clearly influenced by components from the adjoining tradition.

The event of the trendy Sinhalese id

The island of Sri Lanka has a colonial historical past relationship again to the early sixteenth century when the Portuguese first captured sections of the island. The Portuguese had been displaced by the Dutch within the mid-Seventeenth century. In 1815, the British captured all the island and from 1833, they started administering the island from Colombo. The Tamils, who had been largely predominant within the northern a part of the island had remained a definite neighborhood from historical occasions. In the course of the interval of British rule, they started migrating to the Sinhalese-dominated areas of the south, however retained their culturally distinct traits. Owing to their higher training, they had been quickly higher represented in authorities providers, a indisputable fact that the Sinhalese resented.

Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) led a Buddhist revival motion that sought to provide the Sinhalese neighborhood confidence and satisfaction of their historical historical past and origins. A Sinhalese nationalism thus took delivery that claimed all the island for the Sinhalese and sought to oust the Tamils. Dharmapala, not like a few of his extra Catholic counterparts in different British South Asian colonies like India or Burma, was not a unifier and sometimes referred to the Tamils as ‘hadi Demalu’ (the soiled Tamils). This pressure of Sinhalese nationalism ensured that the anti-colonial battle in Sri Lanka was a fractured one with each communities jostling for concessions from the British and sometimes backstabbing one another.

The language of the lion Tracing the history of Sinhala its complicated relationship with Tamil in Sri Lanka

Anagarika Dharmapala. Wikimedia Commons

Put up World Struggle II, the British started to surrender their colonial possessions in Asia, and Sri Lanka grew to become impartial on 4 February 1948. The early governments noticed each Sinhala and Tamil participation, and within the first flush of freedom, it was anticipated that larger unity lay forward.

In 1956, the SWRD Bandaranaike authorities, that was overtly pro-Sinhalese, in success of considered one of its key electoral guarantees oversaw the passage of the Sinhala Solely Act. This act changed English because the official language of Ceylon (the title Sri Lanka adopted in 1972) with Sinhala. The act failed to provide official recognition to Tamil, the opposite main language of the island.

The language of the lion Tracing the history of Sinhala its complicated relationship with Tamil in Sri Lanka

SWRD Bandaranaike. Wikimedia Commons

Relying on which facet of the linguistic divide one stood, it was both the final act or the primary act in a saga that went again near 2500 years.

This set into movement the sequence of occasions that led to the widening of the rift between the Sinhalese and the Tamils and culminated within the Sri Lankan Civil Struggle that raged from 1983 to 2009 and claimed the lives of hundreds of individuals on each side, together with many political leaders.

That Sinhala and Tamil are posited as polar opposites (Aryan and Dravidian, Buddhist and Hindu) is unlucky. Co-existing as they’ve been on the island for a lot of recorded historical past, the languages have undoubtedly influenced one another. The Sinhalese script is derived from Brahmi, the meta-script of the sub-continent and is said to the Grantha and Kadamba script, which even have deep connections with Tamil.

There are as many factors of convergence between the tongues, as there are of variance. In admitting the reality of this important truth and appearing on it maybe lies the way forward for Sri Lanka.

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