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History of ancient Jaffna

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History of ancient Jaffna

Ancient Jaffna (being a Research into the History of Jaffna from very early times to the Portugese Period)
From the Introduction by the author:
“To the Jaffna Tamil the study of the ancient history of his mother-country ought to be of paramount interest. His attachment to his birthplace is indeed proverbial. Go where he may in search of wealth and live where he may for the time being, even in the fairest and the most favoured of lands he feels himself but a sojourner; and sooner or later he follows his heart back to home, to spend his last days in those well-remembered spots and among the friends of his earliest love. Jaffna in distress has never appealed to him in vain; his response has always been ready and whole-hearted. The history of a country reflects, and bears witness to, the national character. What feelings of just pride and patriotism would swell in the heart of every true son of Jaffna, if he could but have a peep into the glories of her past !

At times like the present (1926) when many are endeavouring to lift the thick veil of obscurity that envelopes the ancient history of Ceylon, it may seem presumptions on our part to undertake such a colossal task. Some of the statements made in the book may appear incorrect or capable of different interpretation. But this attempt at research has been performed with the sole object of arriving at the truth, and in the fervent hope that more competent students will soon be able to present a more satisfactory treatment of a subject which is very necessary for the education and the enlightenment of the youth of Jaffna.
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In the year 1736 A.D, at the request of Jan Maccara, the then Dutch Governor of Jaffna. one Mailvagana Pulavar of Madagal compiled in Tamil prose the Yalpana Vaipava Malai, the earliest history of Jaffna. His authorities were certain earlier writings such as the Kailaya Malai, Vaiya Padal,. Pararajasekaran Ula and Raja Murai (Royal Chronicles), the oldest of which was certainly not earlier than the 14thor the 15th century A D. Whatever might have been the source of the earlier writers whether they drew their material from authentic records or from mere tradition, it cannot be denied that the Vaipava Malai was a faithful account of all that was available at the time. Today, except the Kailaya Malai which has been printed, and a few manuscript copies of Vaiya Padal, the other works are very rare and hardly procurable.
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It is lucky that the Vaipava Malai was printed several years ago and translated into English by the late Mr.C. Brito, for at the present day it is impossible to procure any of the older manuscripts for the purpose of testing the correctness of the printed version. The fact that all the statements made in the Kailaya Malai including those that will be proved hereafter to be misconceptions, were bodily taken and introduced into the Vaipava Malai, stamps it with the impress of an honest attempt at history on the part of that ‘well meaning villager”, Mailvagana Pulavar.
Some of the historians of Jaffna that have from time to time appeared within the last 35 years, [ Tamil Histories of Jaffna have been written and published by Messrs S. John of Uduvil, A. Mootootamby Pillai of Vannarpanne and K. Velupillai of Vasavilan] have so well sueceeded in mutilating altering and amending the Vaipava Malai according to their whims and fancies, that there are now but few who acknowledge its historical value. On the contrary the belief seems to be gaining ground that it, is only a compendium of ancient folklore, old women’s tales and mythical anecdotes.
It would certain not be reasonable to dismiss this work as altogether untrustworthy, merely because some of the events recorded there have been declared to be inaccurate in the matter of chronology. Research in this branch ought to follow the far safer method of modern European scholars; and ancient inscriptions, coins, carved stones and contemporaneous literature, should be carefully studied to see if they refute or confirm the traditional history of the land.   

Indeed in those far-off ages history was written under very different circumstances. There is no doubt that our earliest works were based on mere tradition. Tradition, as we all know, was handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, and, moulded and shaped into different forms in the process, it grows in the course of a few centuries into something not quite the same as the original. However, by careful sifting and analysis the truth can be ascertained. The Mahavamsa for instance, although composed in the 5th century A.D., speaksof events of a thousand years earlier known to the compiler only by tradition and hearsay. But with care, it can be, and has been used as material for the early history of Ceylon. We have only to follow the methods used by the critics and historians who made use of the Mahavamsa

In order to reconstruct the history of Jaffna from its earliest times, it becomes necessary to examine critically our ancient traditions in the light of contemporary documents, and, in the absence of any local literature and inscription, to search for further information in the literature and chronicles of other countries. In this respect the Mahavamsa is most useful. It is a Court chronicle containing the annals of the Ceylon kings, and its writers who most probarly regarded the Tamils as a horde of cruel marauders pass over both them and their efforts in silence, except when they made themselves too unpleasant to go unnoticed
Had the monastic annalists of the Sinhalese chronicle with the instinct of true historians depicted impartially the events that took place in the North from time to time, the task of the Jaffna historian of today would have been rendered much lighter.
Considering how little we know of the political history of the country, and even of the dynasty of kings who ruled over Jaffna from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries, it is not surprising that we should know still less about the allied branches of archaeology and epigraphy.
But how long are we to remain in this listless if not disgraceful state of ignorance ? To a true son of Jaffaa, is it not galling to have to wait till some foreign scholar finds time and leisure to make investigations and enlighten him on the history of his motherland.

And although he may be willing to wait, the sources of information appear not to be endowed with eternal patience. The literature of the land unfortunately committed to such a fragile material as the palm leaf is fast disappearing.
The archaeological remains have been almost fully depleted of their carved and inscribed stones which bave, in the march of civi]ization, either been turned to metal for the roads or hidden safely away in tbe foundations of new houses. The rapidity vith which the devastating tide of progress is washing away old landmarks is clearly apparent in every direction.
Traditional beliefs, old legends, local folklore and manners and customs peculiar to the people of the country are fast vanishing. Every caste is giving up its own for the sake of the dress and ornaments, the speech and conventions of some other which is considered superior.
National games and amusements are giving place to Western innovations, and in another generation their very names will be forgotten. There is little left of our ancient literature and even less of ruins and archaeological remains.
These scanty sources of information should be made use of as early as possible; else our only links with the past will be gone for ever. If we therefore venture to interpret some of the dark problems of historical antiquity with the help of evidence now hidden away in obscure nooks and corners, and try to awaken a general interest in the history of our country, the certainty that in a few more years, these matters will cease to be heard of altogether, is our sole and sufficient excuse.”

Thanks to   Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam,
 published by Asia Educational Services, 
New Delhi

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