Tamil politics sinking in a history of Tamil lies – Part I
— Reply to C. V. Wigneswaran
By H.L. D. Mahindapala
Faced with the monumental achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation the Tamils have been struggling constantly to pose as if they were the Gullivers who were the founding architects of the nation, from “the dawn of history”, and the rest were all second-class Lilliputians. However, in the twentieth century, as decolonisation unleashed the suppressed grass root forces, the Tamils of Sri Lanka were in for a rude shock. They were unnerved and shaken by the consciousness of their scanty history. Their arrogant response was to make a mountain out of their mole hill in the north, partly to claim that they are superior to the other Tamil-speaking people and partly to downgrade the classical heritage of the Sinhala-Buddhists. The inadequacies of their patchy history – unlike the unbroken line of Sinhala-Buddhist history from the pre-Christian era – have forced them to revise and rewrite their history to make them look good in their own eyes and that of the world.
Overwhelmed by the dynamic and the dominant forces of history rising to regain its lost heritage in the post-colonial age the Tamils have reacted aggressively to claim huge chunks of history and territory – a reactionary move that has retarded the growth of all communities. Besides, the intransigent and self-destructive politics of the Tamils have boomeranged on them. Their arrogant political ideology led them to the most humiliating defeat in the battlefield. Their only consolation has been to blame everything on the Sinhala-Buddhists, even their catastrophic end in Nandikadal.
Unable to face the challenges of the new post-colonial world they took to fear-mongering as the last resort. It is their fears that have driven them to demonise the majority as their perennial enemy. The Tamil leadership has survived in the competitive democratic electorates by creating the Sinhala-Buddhist bogey. The mytho-maniacs of the north cannot survive in the political arena without this bogeyman. Not having a greatness of their own the Tamil ideologues have been on the defensive quite aggressively, often claiming to be as great as the Sinhala-Buddhists, or even superior. Not having a grand history equivalent to that of the epic Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation, they fill it with arrogant and ignorant claims that have exacerbated inter-ethnic harmony and peaceful co-existence in the post-independent age.
Consequently, one of the main industries of the Tamil ideologues has been to manufacture a history that has (a) not happened in recorded time, or (b) substantiated by the available evidence of the known past. They are desperately in search of a history that could justify, incontrovertibly, their modern political agenda for a separate state. Without a history comparable to that of the Sinhala-Buddhists their claim for a separate state would be watery. Just nothing more than pachcha thanni!
They are also aware that history plays a decisive role in shaping the politics that bedevils our lives. Prof. K. Indrapala, the controversial Tamil historian, highlights this aspect when he wrote: “History has been enlisted and mobilised to fight the issues of our day. Some academic historians have become willing recruits for this battle”. (p. ix – The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, The Tamils in Sri Lanka, C.300 BCE to C. 1200 CE.)
So history has become an indispensible factor for the Tamils to pursue their separatist political goal. History has become an incurable obsession with the Tamils. Absence of a glorious history makes their heart yearn for a history that would validate their delusional past. The best they have produced so far to justify their elusive political demands is the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976. It contains the essence of the politicised history of the Jaffna Tamils.
Part of the crisis faced by Jaffna intellectuals has been the absence of an authoritative history to guide their thinking rationally and objectively. They have bits and pieces picked from here and there but never a comprehensive history measuring up to objective academic standards until the late 20th century. It was “a serious gap in the known history”, wrote the most controversial Tamil historian, Karthigesu Indrapala. In fact, he was sent to the London University in 1962 to fill this gap. (Ibid.)
His doctoral thesis confirmed that the Tamil settlements began in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Tamils who believed that they had a kingdom from “the dawn of history” (Vadukoddai Resolution) were floored by this scholarly research written by a Tamil historian. To this day the Tamil prefer to believe in the politicised history of the Vadukoddai Resolution which has become the Bible of the Tamil activists. They refuse to accept that it is the best fiction ever written by the Tamils of Jaffna to glorify a past filled with the first recorded ethnic cleansing, first mass massacre of the Tamils by the Tamils, Tamil casteist fascism, subhuman oppression of the Tamils by the Tamils, persecution and denial of the basic human rights of Tamils to even walk in God-given sunlight, or drink a sip of water from the Vellalar wells.
Tamil obsession with their concocted history is expressed clearly in the opening line of the Vadukoddai Resolution. It says: “Whereas, throughout the centuries, from the dawn of history, the Sinhalese and Tamil nations have divided between themselves the possession of Ceylon……..” This gambit sums up the Tamil version of history written to justify their current political agenda of demanding a separate state. Their argument is that they had a separate state from “the dawn of history” and, therefore, they are entitled to another one now. It is this narrative that is used to justify the divisive politics propagated by Tamil ideologues. Their cries for “fifty-fifty”, federalism, and Eelam are derived from this assumption which is based on a narrow, self-serving history that dismisses the larger dimensions of an overarching history.
They have been digging every nook and corner to discover evidence of their antiquity to prove that there was a separate “Tamil nation” from the “dawn of history”. First, this lie can be exposed with a simple statistic. History records that there were 181 kings from the Anuradhapura period (BC) to the Kandyan kingdom. This included Tamil kings who were the rulers of the Sinhala kingdoms and not that of Tamils for they had none. But if the “Tamil nation” existed from the “dawn of history” shouldn’t’ they too have had over 150 kings, at least? The best of available history of the Tamils, Yalpana Vaipava Malai, records only 20 odd kings. So in what earthly kingdom were the Tamil kings ruling from “the dawn of history”?
Second, the irony is that though the Tamils boast of an ancient history comparable to that of the Sinhalese they did not even have a valid history book written in their name, says historian Dr. Murugar Gunasingham, in his doctoral theses presented to the Sydney University. He claims that his book, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, A Study of its Origins,(1999), is the first of its kind to document authoritatively the history of Jaffna. In contrast, the voluminous tomes of Sri Lankan history explain with its physical depth alone the length of the Sinhala-Buddhist kingdoms, civilisation and culture. Compare this to the size of Yalpana Vaipava Malai. Without the notes of the C. Brito, who translated and edited it in 1879, it runs into only 59 quarto pages. Can the Tamil kingdoms that were there from “the dawn of time” be reduced to 59 pages? And that too was written not out of a deep sense of history like Mahanama who wrote the Mahavamsa or Dhammakitti who wrote the Chulavamsa. It was written because the Dutch Governor, Jan Maccara, commissioned Mayilvakanam to do the job for his official guidance and use. The authors of Mahavamsa and Chulavamsa wrote their epic poems because they were moved instinctively by a deep sense of history driving them to fulfil their social and spiritual mission. They did not write their texts to please foreign masters, or because foreign masters gave them orders to do so. But Tamil historians from Mayilvakanam to Mudliyar Rasanayagam wrote their histories to please the colonial governors.
Tamils, by and large, depend on scraps of archaeology to prove their antiquity. No one can deny their presence in Sri Lanka soil from the dim distant past. In fact, the Mahavamsa mentions the Tamils as bit players more than the Sinhalese. It even mentions the role of Tamils gigolos in Queen Anula’s court. Like them there were many migrants who visited the shores of Sri Lanka. The core issue, however, is whether they had a history comparable to that of the Sinhalese. A potsherd here and a skeleton elsewhere do not add up to a glorious history. Lacking in a history comparable to that of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation, they have been frustrated by their failure to fill the gaping empty spaces in their past. Unable to find a history that can match that of the Sinhala-Buddhists they have resorted to (1) either denigrate and downgrade the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation that dominate Sri Lankan history , or (2) fill the blank spaces with distortions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations or brazen lies. C. V. Wigneswaran’s interview (Ceylon Telegraph — 27/12/2019) is a typical example of both tactics. He is a committed Tamil ideologue struggling, with mental gymnastics, to fill the empty spaces of Tamil history with distortions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations and sometimes with even blatant lies.
Since the charge of lying in public is a serious one let me begin with it. Here is a verbatim quote from his interview: “Professor Indrapala wrote his thesis for his Doctorate in the 1960s. They would not give him his Doctorate at the Ceylon University if he told the truth of the existence of Tamils prior to Chola occupation. So he said real cogent evidence of permanent settlements of Tamils was found only during the Chola occupation.”
In this statement CVW avers that Indrapala would not have got his doctorate from the Ceylon University “if he told the truth of the existence of Tamils prior to Chola occupation”. (Parenthetically, it must be stated that Indrapala in his doctoral thesis states that Tamil settlements began around the 12th and 13th centuries, blasting the Tamil beliefs that their history began from the dawn of time). CVW is quite emphatic in saying that Indrapala couldn’t have written the truth about the Tamil origins dating back to “the dawn of history” because telling the truth would not have enabled him to get his doctorate from the Ceylon University.
In other words, CVW is accusing Indrapala of sacrificing the truth to get his doctorate from the Ceylon University. CVW is, perhaps unwittingly, branding Indrapala as a liar with no integrity. In the process he is also questioning the capacity of Indrapala to tell the truth. If Indrapala could lie, according to CVW, what trust can one place in Tamil historians to tell the truth? If his doctoral thesis was a lie how can one trust his subsequent thesis, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, The Tamils in Sri Lanka, C.300 BCE to C. 1200 CE.) written to recant his doctoral thesis? Isn’t CVW also saying that in 1962 there was an anti-Tamil professoriat at the Ceylon University that would accept only lies? Is this true?
It is quite obvious that the Tamils are utterly confused about their undiscoverable history that exists only in their imagination. In the absence of hard evidence they fill their imagined history with lies like CVW. He lies about the Mahavamasa. He lies about the Yalpana Vaipava Malai. Even on the verifiable issue of Indrapala he lies through his teeth. Indrapala should know best of how he came to write his thesis that shattered the myths of the Tamils. He tells an entirely different story of how, when and where he got his doctorate based on the historical evidence available to him at the time.
He says: “……..(I)n 1962, when as junior as a junior member of teaching staff of the university at Peradeniya (then known as the University of Ceylon), I was planning my post-graduate research, the late Prof. W. J. F. LaBrooy, my revered teacher and, that time, Head of the Department of History at the university, advised me to research into the early history of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for my doctoral dissertation…….In October 1963, I enrolled as a postgraduate student at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London and commenced my research on the ancient settlements of the Dravidian-speakers (please note, not Tamil-speakers) in Sri Lanka. I was fortunate to engage in this research in a department headed by Prof. Bernard Lewis (still a leading specialist in Middle Eastern history), under the overall supervision of the late Prof. A. L. Basham (then the foremost British historian of ancient India) and the guidance of Dr. Johannes de Casparis (then Reader in History at SOAS and later Professor at the University of Leiden), whose profound knowledge of South and Southeast Asian history as well as expertise in Indian and Indonesian epigraphy became invaluable for my training, My thesis was completed in October 1965.” (p.vii – Ibid).
Indrapala who should know better than anyone else about the origin of his thesis says that he wrote and presented it to the London University. CVW says that Indrapala presented it to the racist Ceylon University and that’s why the Tamil researcher could not tell the truth. Indrapala contradicts even the racist attack on the Ceylon University because he speaks fondly and reverentially of his fellow-academics at the Ceylon University. So which of the two stories would the reader believe: the facts as narrated by Indrapala or lies concocted by CVW? More than the lie of CVW it is his incorrigible anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hatred that comes out in distorting simple basic facts of the known history and that of historians that is unpardonable. It reveals the calibre of Tamil intellectuals whose penchant for believing in their own lies far exceeds their capacity to believe in basic facts. It is disgraceful that a Tamil judge should resort to this kind of venomous hatred to prove the fictitious fantasies of their corrosive and divisive politics.