Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Tamil Social Formation in Sri Lanka: A Historical Outline - Dr. P.Raghupathy (3)

First Settlements in Jaffna - the Megalithic Culture
C. 500-100 B.C.

Archaeological evidences reveal that the first people of Jaffna belonged to the megalithic culture, which is undoubtedly a South Indian phenomenon of Iron Age. Emerging in around 500 B.c., the first settlers had a multifaceted subsistence of incipient farming, lagoon exploitation and cattle herding. They communicated in a language that can be termed protodravidian, were non-Buddhists practising a folk religion similar to that of the Cankam Tamil country and on the whole, were of a common stock of the protohistoric South India. Tamil and Pali literatures of the early centuries of the Christian era mention them as Nakas and their land as Naka natu or Nagadipa.

Trans-oceanic Trade, Urbanization and the Resultant Emergence of a Principality in Jaffna
C. 100 B.c.-c. 500 A.D.

The trans-oceanic trade that developed around the beginning of the Christian era had an important impact on Jaffna. Kantarotai in Jaffna was urbanized from the megalithic basis,parallel to Anuradhapura and Mah6gama in the Southern Sri Lanka; and parallel to Korkai, Kaverippattinam, Arikamedu and other Carikam cities in the ancient Tamil country. Jaffna emerged as a principality with Kantarotai as its central place. This phenomenon survived to C. 5th century AD. till the decline of the Roman trade.

An aspect of this phase was the overlapping of Buddhism with the megalithic beliefs. Further discussion on the Buddhist monuments in Jaffna is necessary, as they are often misinterpreted and misused by the Buddhist chauvinists in Sri Lanka and much dreaded by and antagonistic to the common man in Jaffna. During the early centuries of the Christian era, Buddhism was fairly a popular ideology in Tamil South India too. Manimekalai, a post-Cankam Tamil Buddhist work mentions Jaffna as a Buddhist sacred place - Mani-naka-tivu or Mani-pallavam - testifying the popularity of Buddhism in Jaffna.

These Buddhist remains of Jaffna are unique in their concept and execution. They are highly localised and constructed entirely with the locally available coral and limestone. At Kantarotai they appear in clusters at a particular spot. They seem to be burial monuments of monks, a Buddhicised version of megalithism. Such a concept in architecture and its execution in coral and limestone, significantly differentiates the Jaffna monuments from those in the rest of the Island. Hence, we prefer to call this architectural expression as Jaffna Buddhism. The monuments explain how at that time the socio-economic and cultural conditions in Jaffna were able to adapt the Buddhist faith and were able fo articulate it in their own way. Buddhism was an integral part of the cultural heritage of Jaffna.

The Sinhala -Buddhist Identity in the perspectives of South Indian Regional Developments
6th -10th Century A.D.

The latter half of the first millennium AD. witnessed the emergence of regional dynasties and regional cultural variations attaining definable forms in South India and Sri Lanka. Concurrent to the development of Kannada, Telugu and Tamil dynasties and cultures, the Sinhala - Buddhist and Tamil patterns developed in Sri Lanka. This was the time when Sinhala became an identifiable language; Buddhism was intertwined with statecraft; and the tank-irrigated agriculture attained its full development. In contrast, the Tamil country in India was facing a Brahmanic revival, Bhakthi movement and the extinction of Jainism and Buddhism. Also, the growing powers like the Pallavas and the Pandiyas often intervened in the Sri Lankan politics. Such a background was the underlying current to the formation of Sinhala -Buddhist identity and to its antagonism and resistance to the Tamil culture, The Pali chronicles, Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa were an outcome of such tendenCIes.

Ironically, in this age of regional developments and identities, Jaffna played a very insignificant role. This was due to the fact that the Roman trade which elevated Jaffna to a principality declined around 6th century AD., and that, hydraulic developments in the more hospitable regions in the dry zone Sri Lanka and in South India made Jaffna a poor competitor. The Tamil-Saivite evidences of this period mainly come from Mantai (Mannar District) and from Trincomalee. Jaffna was alternately absorbed into the centripetal forces that were working in the dry zone Sri Lanka and in South India.

Comments on "Tamil Social Formation in Sri Lanka: A Historical Outline - Dr. P.Raghupathy (3)"


Blogger Shujune said ... (11:44 AM) : 

I have been trying to locate my college history master, and I strongly believe that he is the author of your musings column. His name is Dr. Ragupathy, and he is from Jaffna. He was teaching history in the Maldives for a while, which is where I met him. If you happen to have his sontact details, please forward him my emailn address; or my postal address; M.Kokaahan'dhuvaruGe, 4th floor, Miriyaas Magu, Male', Maldives. Thanks


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