Heritage in peril


The modern-day Northern Province consists of five districts; Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, and Vavuniya. Almost all of the modern-day Northern Province has been the ancient Uttara Passa or the ancient Northern area in historic times, while most of the modern-day Eastern province belonged to the ancient Ruhunu Rata.

Prehistory of Jaffna

A team of archaeologists discovered stone tools in the Maayakkai area in Jaffna which was used by Homo erectus, some 600,000 years ago. Further research revealed more evidence of early iron-age settlements in the area. The burial sites discovered in the Jaffna area display similar characteristics to other megalithic burial sites in Sri Lanka.

The history of the oldest known human settlement in Sri Lanka dates back to 125,000 years before the present.

The Balangoda culture, which is the Microlithic Period of Sri Lanka was spread in the Horton plains, Punarin (The northern part of the island), and Mankulam, Miniha Gal Kanda. There are remains of the Microlithic Period found in these sites, which are dated from 28,000 BC to 9500 BC.

A Megalithic culture (800 BC- 100BC) was spread almost all over the island. Some of the sites are Pomparippuwa, Gurugalhinna, Kathiraweli, Padiyagampola, and the banks of river Walawe.

During historic times

Jaffna comes to light during the time of King Devanampiyatissa. Arhat Sanghamitta and the sacred Bo sapling arrived at the ancient port which was then called Jambukolapattana or Dambakola Patuna. According to inscriptions and chronicles, the northern part of the country was called the Uttara Passa or Uttara Desa.

This Uttara Passa or almost all the Jaffna peninsula was referred to as Nagadeepa in historic times. The remarkable discovery of the Vallipuram Ran Sannasa in 1936, revealed the ancient name of the peninsula and the northern administrative area to be Nakadiva.

This was written during the time of King Vasabha (65 – 109 CE). The term Yapa Patuna has another interesting story. It is believed that because Javaka Chandrabanu ruled in Jaffna, the place got its name Javakapattanam which later became Yavakapattanam. In sandesha kavya of the 15th century, this area is referred to as Yapa Patuna. Portuguese and Dutch documents use the term Jaffnapattana.

After the 13th century

Until the 13th century, Jaffna was under the rule of the Sinhala king of Anuradhapura and then Polonnaruwa. After Kalinga Maga (13th century), the Sinhala kingdom moved towards the Southwest of the country. With the rising powers of the Dravidian kingdoms in South India and Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and stability were threatened.

It was during the 13th century that the father-son duo of Javaka known as Chandrabanu invaded and ruled Jaffna. After that, till the 17th century, there were kings who were known as the Aryachakravartins. During the time of Parakramabahu VI of Kotte (1412 – 1467), Jaffna was surrendered to the Kotte Kingdom and Sri Lanka was once again under one rule.

The time between the 13th century and the 17th century is known to be the rule of the Aryachakravartin kings of Jaffna.

Who lived in Sri Lanka before the Indo-Aryans?

Those who look at history from a racist perspective attempt to twist the prehistoric period or the period prior to the Indo-Aryan migrations. One distortion is to say that the Yakka and Naga tribes were of Tamil ethnicity. Another distortion is that Tamil people inhabited the island during prehistoric times and the Sinhalese arrived after that. Some racist politicians such as Vignaswaran even has gone to the extent to claim that King Devanampiyathissa (247 – 207 BCE) was a Tamil king named Thevanampiyatheesan. The many responses the writer gets, claim that even kings such as Kasyapa (473 to 495 CE) were a Tamil king named Kaasiyappan and that Mullaitivu was originally a kovil, later invaded by Buddhist monks.

These are absurd claims. Sometimes, the writer even wonders if it is a waste of time to reply to these claims. But as these claims are distorting the country’s history and also linking to the Eelam myth that demands a separate Tamil state in the North East, and also burns the bridges between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, these twisted stories should be addressed in an academic manner. Also, as these fables and myths are mostly published in English, a distorted picture of Sri Lanka’s history is being painted in the International.

To claim that the tribes such as Yakka and Naga belong to an ethnic group or a race is baseless. One reason to say so is that, during this time, prior to the 6th century BCE in Sri Lanka, it is difficult to say that the people of the island were organised under ethnicities. As per historical records, they were tribes. When Buddha visited Sri Lanka, there had been living tribes such as Yakkas and Nagas; not people who were organised as a race. There are differences between tribes, clans, and ethnic groups.

It is only during the 6th/5th century BCE the development of a Sinhala race is mentioned in chronicles.

These tribes and those who lived prior to them, the Balangoda man and his descendants, are surely ancestors of the Sinhala people and the Vedda people. The Tamils arrived in Sri Lanka from India much later. To claim that the prehistoric man in Sri Lanka was of Tamil origin is once again baseless. During prehistoric times, humans were not organised under races or nationalities. Their needs and objectives in life were different. If one says the prehistoric man or the Balangoda man were Sinhalese, that too sounds unlearned. This is because, concepts such as race, nationality, clans, and so on develop gradually as man’s culture evolved.

Also, to claim King Devanampiyatissa was a Tamil king and to distort his name into Thevanampiyatheesan is ridiculous. It is clearly ignoring historical sources. Devanampiya (the beloved of gods) is an honorary name used by the Mauryan emperor Asoka and followed by the Sinhalese king Thissa. They were good friends and had strong political and religious bonds. This name was used by many Sinhalese kings of Anuradhapura. Indian and Sri Lankan stone inscriptions and chronicles clearly say the name Devanampiya. There is no evidence to say his name was Thevanampiyatheesan. Moreover, the 3rd century BCE did not see the rise of a Tamil king in Anuradhapura. Mauryan Emperor Asoka’s edicts are one of the strongest pieces of evidence to break Vigneswaran’s claim.

The arrival of the Indo-Aryans, and the rise of the first ‘race’ in Sri Lanka

The Indo – Aryans arrived in Sri Lanka’s ports situated in the North and East such as Mathota (in Mannar), Dambakola patuna (in Jaffna) and Gokanna (Trincomalee) are these ancient ports mentioned in the chronicles. These Indo-Aryans settled in the Northern plain and then also moved to the modern Eastern province which was then known as Ruhuna. These early settlements flourished and laid the foundations of an admired civilisation that still lasts on this island. The earliest of these settlements were Anuradha-grama at the banks of the Malwathu Oya which later developed into Anuradhapura.

While many ancient civilisations, older and greater than ours, rose to great heights of power and collapsed with time – some totally forgotten now – the civilisation of Sri Lanka which was founded in the Northern and Eastern provinces withstood the test of time for more than 25 centuries and still continues to breathe. In the face of rising foreign powers and invasions, our civilisation gradually shrank and moved towards the western and southern parts of the island, starting from the 13th century CE. The 16 century CE witnessed the rise of the European power-hungry nations’ invasions and economic exploitations.

Time traveling in Jaffna

To start with, we shall first visit the places in the Jaffna district, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavunia, and Mannar. Then let us move on to Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Ampara districts.

Our first visit is to the place where Arhat Sanghamitta arrived with the sacred Bo sapling.

Dambakola Patuna temple

The Jambukola Vihara was the temple built by King Devanampiyathissa to commemorate the arrival of the sacred Bo sapling. Today, this temple is nowhere to be seen.

According to historical sources such as the Mahavamsa, Deepavamsa and the Vansattappakasini, and many others, she arrived at the Dambakolapatuna or Jambukola Pattana port at Jaffna. We would like to ask a logical question from our readers. If by this time, this area was under the rule of a king who was not under the king of Anuradhapura, would this have happened? She was the daughter of the Mauryan emperor. If one carefully studies the Asoka edicts, it is clear that he did not send any Dhamma dhutha groups to a Tamil country in South India nor does he mention a Tamil king in Sri Lanka. If the Tamil country in South India was a powerful kingdom, wouldn’t the Mauryan emperor pay attention to them?

If the Jaffna peninsula was a separate kingdom by this time, would King Devanampiyathissa freely visit this port, and make all arrangements to welcome the arrival of Arahat Sanghamitta all the way across Anuradhapura to Jaffna?

Archaeological evidence also suggests that she had visited the beautiful Delft Island and the remains of the ancient Buddhist stupa there are said to be built to mark her arrival. There still remains the base of two stupas.

Purawidya Chakravarthi Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera writes in his book Nagenahira Palatha Ha Uthuru Palathe Sinhala Bauddha Urumaya that the main harbour at Jaffna during the Anuradhapura kingdom was Dambakola Patuna and today it has a Tamil name as Sambilithurei. He further writes that King Devanampiyatissa had done many constructions here. A bo tree (one of the eight bo saplings) was also planted at Dambakola Patuna but later it was destroyed.

He also says that the Jambukola Vihara was reconstructed by king Vijayabahu the great (1055–1110) and that according to Samanthapasadika, Greek pilgrims (Yonaka people) had visited the Jambukola Vihara.

Would King Devanampiyathissa, king of Anuradhapura choose to plant a bo sapling in Dambakola Patuna harbour if it was under the rule of another kingdom, without giving rise to any conflict?

Historical sources do not report any such conflict.

It is also recorded in chronicles that prince Aritta and his team boarded a ship from Dambakola Patuna to go to India to meet the Mauryan emperor. After he met the emperor, he arrived at the same harbour. This all proves that Dambakola Patuna was clearly under the rule of the king of Anuradhapura.

Mahavamsa says that the king prepared the harbour and the road between Anuradhapura to Jaffna to welcome the sacred bo sapling. And the king and a large group visited the harbour, waiting for the arrival of the ship.

Former assistant director of the Department of Archaeology archaeologist Sirisaman Wijethunga writes in Wallipuram Ransannasa saha Hela Urumaya that a Siripathul Gal or a Buddha’s Footprint stone has been found in this place. (The Buddha’s footprints were worshiped as a symbol of Buddha, centuries before the Buddha statue was created).

As time passed, the vihara fell to ruins as the Sinhalese power gradually shifted towards the south-west, and the port gradually faded in significance.

During the LTTE war, the temple was further neglected.

During post-war times, the Sri Lanka Navy conducted reconstruction work at the temple premises. The small white stupa was constructed within 65 days. The bo tree is not the ancient one, but one planted by  

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy