Northern perspectives of the Tamil homeland

By: Professor S. K. Sittramplam - Opinion

    This is the second part of an article, “Northern perspectives on the Tamil homeland,” where the author traces the historical roots of the Tamil homeland concept, which was formulated in the 1950s by the Federal Party as a core demand, and now taken over by the LTTE and the TNA.

Personality of Nagadipa - N*kan*ta
However, both literary and archaeological sources vouchsafe the distinct personality of the north, even before the emergence of the Kingdom of Jaffna in the 13th century encompassing the present Northern Province. The persistence of the term Nagadipa and its Tamil form N*kan*tu in both literary and archaeological evidence is quite apparent from the analysis of these sources. Ptolemy in the first century A.D. mentions this region as “N*gatipoi.” A coin discovered at Uduththurai in the Jaffna Peninsula has a legend “N*kabh*mi.” Nagadipa is mentioned in the Vallipuram gold plate inscription. “Nagan*tu” and “Manipallavam” are names mentioned in the Tamil literary works ‘Manimekalai’ and ‘Cilappatikaram.’ Nagadipa even figures in the ‘Culavamsa.’ It mentions that during the 10th century, a South Indian king invaded Nagadipa. Nagan*tu is also mentioned in the inscriptions of Parantaka datable to 9th century. Pandyan inscriptions datable to 13th century mention “N*kan*tu.”

The study of the pre-Christian Brahmi inscriptions shows the existence of chieftaincies throughout the Island numbering 269. In the absence of literary evidences for the nature of the state formation in northern Sri Lanka, archaeological excavations and explorations conducted in the Jaffna Peninsula and the mainland confirm that Kantarodai (Katiramalai) in the Peninsula, as well as Mantai, Poonakary, Periyapuliyankulam and Mullaitivu in the mainland, were likely to be the seats of important chieftaincies. The legends of Mikaman and Vediarasan speak of the chieftaincies of the Mukkuva caste. These chieftaincies later merged into regional kingdoms, which are mentioned as divisions of the country in the chronicles. They are Rajarata, Mayaratta, Malayaratta and Ruhuna. Pali chronicles too mention Nagadipa as a regional kingdom extending its sway up to the north of Anuradhapura.

There is evidence for the Naga rule in the ‘Mahavamsa,’ dating back to 6th century. The Brahmi inscriptions at Periyapuliyankulam in the Vavuniya District speak of a Naga rule in this region around 3rd century B.C. Even the seal discovered at Anaikkoddai datable to 3/2 century B.C. bearing the legend Kovetan / Koventan / Kovetam along with the burial may be also of these chieftaincies.

In the absence of the tradition of recording events pertaining to Hindu religion or politics in the north, unlike in the case of the Pali chronicles of the south, evidence is too meagre to construct a political / social history of this region in a continuous sequence. But although not much archaeological work has been done, the recent finds confirm the existence of a Tamil-speaking people in this region of Nagadipa / N*kan*tu from ancient times. The earliest epigraphic evidence for their presence is from Periyapuliyankulam, which is in the Vavuniya District and a seat of Naga chieftaincy. There are two inscriptions. The first reads as follows “Demeda Vanijha ga(pa) ti Visakaha line.” Paranavitana has translated this as the “cave of the householder Visakha the Tamil merchant.” The second mentions “Gahapati Visakha” as having made the flight of steps to the cave. The actual wording of the inscription is “Dameda Vanijha gapati-Visakaha Seni Kam,” and this has been rendered into English by Paranavitana as the work of the flight of steps of the householder Visakha, the Tamil merchant.

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