Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Tamil Social Formation in Sri Lanka: A Historical Outline - Dr. P.Raghupathy (2)

Historiography: a Re-appraisal

Writing the history of the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka as a separate entity has a tradition of at least 500 years, beginning with the historiographical works like Vaiyapatal and Kailayamalai. Prior to that period, the conventional sources - the Buddhist chronicles on which the authoritative history of the Island is still based - are not much helpful to understand the Tamil history. History is basically the capacity of a society in remembering its past. The mode of exerting this capacity differs from society to society. Hence, one must devise appro­priate tools to reconstruct the history of a particular society. Saying that a particular society has no history, without going for an appropriate tool, as in the context of the Tamils, is a crime committed on that society, which is what that is being done by the Sri Lankan historians. Therefore, now we have to mainly turn towards the tools like archaeology, cultural anthropology, folk studies, historical linguistics etc., to understand the history of the Tamil society.

South Asia and Sri Lanka

Geologically, geographically and environmentally, the Island of Sri Lanka is a part and parcel of the South Asian subcontinent. . The cultures - both Sinhala and Tamil - that emerged in Sri Lanka fa'll within the South Asian frame and particularly within the South Indian frame because of proximity.

The development of Sinhala - Buddhist culture and the Tamil culture in Sri Lanka are parallel.i_nd identical with the development of Tamil, Telugu, Kcmnada and Malayalam cultures in South India. One can even cite a common stratum for these developments. Unfortunately, due to various reasons, a comparative study of these South Indian and Sri Lankan phenomena has not been even attempted.

Pre and Protohistoric Antecedents

The human habitation in Sri Lanka began with the prehistoric microlithic people who possibly migrated through a land bridge then existed from the South eastern coast of the present Tamilnadu. The earliest evidence of this culture in the Sri Lankan context has been now dated back to 28,000 B.c. The next wave of migration and cultural impact were marked by the megalithic phase in protohistoric times, which was also essentially of a South Indian cultural stratum. These pre and protohistoric antecedents were an extension of the sequence that took place in the extreme peninsular India. By the dawn of history, during the time of Asoka, Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka as a cultural inspiration. This was the period when for the first time South Asia came under an imperial unity and Sri Lanka acknowledged it.

Ethnic Structure in Sri Lanka - Myth and Realities

There are no racial differences among Sinhalese, Tamils and the people of South India. But, around 6th Century AD., the Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka "imagined a mass Aryan migration during protohistoric times, which they thought was the basis for the formation of the Sinhala -Buddhist society. This myth created- in 'response to the then prevailing situation is unfortunately still the foundation for the authoritative history of the Island, conditioning the minds of the people. In reality, there were no objective evidences for an Aryan migration. The ethnic structure in Sri Lanka is quite South Indian with close affinities to Tamilnadu and Kerala. Sinhala and Tamil cultures derived from a common stem. Hence, the definition of ethnic differences seriously needs a fresh interpretation in the Sri Lankan context.

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