Tamils of Sri Lanka: historical roots of Tamil identity

By: Professor S. K. Sitrampalam

The Ariyaccakkaravarthis were powerful both in the sea and on land. For, Iban Batuta who visited the Island in 1344 A.D says that he had seen hundreds of ships of the Ariyaccakkaravarthis in the Coromondal coast.109 They controlled the pearl fisheries, and had a sort of monopoly over the foreign trade of their kingdom. As regards the political conditions in the mid-14th century, Sinhalese historical writings assert that in terms of wealth and military power the ruler of Jaffna was the foremost among the rulers of Sri Lanka.

The expansion of power of Jaffna kingdom in the 14th century towards the south is also confirmed by the Kottagama Tamil inscription.110 K. M. de Silva111 has the following comment on this state of affairs. “By the middle of the fourteenth century the Jaffna Kingdom had effective control over the north west coast up to Puttalam. After the invasion in 1353 part of the four Korales came under Tamil rule and thereafter, over the next two decades, they probed into Matale district and naval forces were dispatched to the west coast as far South of Panadura. They seemed poised for the establishment of Tamil supremacy over Sri Lanka and were foiled in this, primarily because they were soon embroiled with the powerful Vijayanagara Empire in a grim struggle for survival against the latter’s expansionist ambitions across the Palks Straits.

Indeed the impact of South India on the Tamil Kingdom of North was not restricted to culture and religion but deeply affected its political evolution as well, for it was drawn irresistibly into the orbit of the dominant South Indian state of the day.”

However, Alakakonara, a great dignitary of Dravidian extraction in the service of the Sinhalese king put an end to this domination. However, this kingdom was subjugated by Parakramabahu VI, in the middle of the 15th century and it came under the sovereignty of Kotte kingdom for a brief period of 17 years (1450 - 1467 A.D.) In the 16th century Cankili (1519-1561) allied himself with Sinhalese rulers in their attempts to resist Portuguese expansion in Sri Lanka. Under his successors the kingdom declined steadily and it became a Portuguese possession in 1619 A.D.

The administration of the kingdom of Jaffna was modelled on the lines of a similar system, which was in vogue in south India. The peninsula was divided into four provinces namelyValikamam, Vatamarâcci,

Tenmarâcci,and Pachilappalli. While the division of Pûnakary, PallavarâyanKattu, Iluppaikkadavai, Mâtoþam and the Island of Mannar came under its direct rule, the Vanniyar chiefs of Panankaman, Mçlpattu, Mulliyavalai, Karunâvalpattu, Karrikkattumûlai and Tennamaravâdi acknowledged the sovereignty of the kings of Jaffna. According to the Vaiyapâdal, the kings of Jaffna had their strongholds at Vâlveþi and Mullia Valai, the core of the Vanni chieftaincies in the mainland. 112 It is very likely that in case of difficulties in the Peninsula these would have been used as a safety valve.

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