No more kingdoms for Jaffna


The pro-separatist intellectuals of the twentieth and twenty first century bent over backwards, manufacturing theories, re-writing history, concocting geographies, to justify the violence that came out of the womb of Jaffna.

The 18th century chronicle of Mylvaganam Pulavar, Yalpana Vaipava Malai (Garland of Significant Events of Jaffna), however, is exceptional in that it has no qualms in condemning Tamil violence without any reservations. Mylvaganam, the chronicler of the pre-Dutch era, has outlined the crimes committed by what he called “the tyrants” of Jaffna sufficiently enough to define the essence of the peninsular political culture — i.e., “the insane fury (which) longed for more victims”. Mylvaganam was, of course, expressing his rage against the injustices done to the Tamil people trapped in the political culture of Jaffna rooted in violence. He revealed the underlying factor that determined peninsular politics before his time and, as it so happened, after his time too, right up to Velupillai Prabhakaran. For instance, his phrase “the insane fury (which) longed for more victims…” describes prophetically the last segment of Prabhakaran’s ethno-centric regime.

Though Mylvaganam’s narrative is flawed, his comments and judgments on the known (pre-Dutch) past reveal the foundations of the political culture of violence which plagued the Jaffna polity throughout the four phases of its history. As mentioned earlier they are: 1) the pre-colonial period from the early settlements in 12th and 13th centuries to 1619; 2) the colonial period beginning with the Portuguese conquest of Jaffna in 1619 to 1948, during which time the Vellahla overlords ruled Jaffna with an iron fist; 3) the rise of G. G. Ponnambalam, a die-hard Vellahla casteist and communalist, who steered Jaffna into an anti-Sinhala enclave in the thirties resulting in escalating mono-ethnic extremism and 4) the post-Vadukoddai Resolution (1976) phase which legitimized Tamil violence unleashing the atavistic tendencies of Tamils killing Tamils (and also non-Tamils) on a mass scale.

V. Anandasangaree, President of TULF and S. C. Chandrahasan, son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam have declared that more Tamils were killed by Prabhakaran than all the others put together. In its entire history the post-Vadukoddai period which ended in May 2009 was the most disastrous period for the Tamils where the y were forced to sacrifice their children and lives in a futile war. While the Tamil leaders were falling over each other to claim victory from the top of Tamil corpses piling up like skyscrapers the English-educated Tamils slipped out of war-torn Jaffna into the quiet and prosperous suburbs where they were wont to pose as heroes by financing the war that killed (1) their own people and (2) their dreams.

Of course,  the Vadukoddai violence that destroyed its Tamil victims could not have shocked those who knew the history of Jaffna. Mylvaganam records the deeds of the first tyrannical mass murderer of Sri Lanka, Sangkilli, who slaughtered 600 of his own people not because they fought against him but because they believed in a different religion.  He also records the massacres of dissident Tamils, Buddhists, Moors and Malays.  The first few instances of ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka which were committed in Jaffna are also recorded.  The persecution, torture, enslavement, and denial of basic human rights for the Jaffna Tamils to walk the earth with a sense of dignity are not missed. And when Sangkili turns on the Buddhist after massacring 600 Catholics  Mylvaganam condemns Sangkilli’s “insane fury (which) longed for more victims…” (p.33). He has no hesitation in calling him a “murderer”. (p. 31) and to expose Sankili’s “unscrupulous behaviour by which he was afterwards distinguished.” (p.26). To suggest that killing was in his genes Mylvaganam states that Sangkili’s tyrannical traits were predicted by a  Muni (sage) (p.27). His final judgment is telling: “The cruelty of Sangkili increased with his power. His subjects were not able to endure it any longer….(p.37).

restrained power to create or sustain an ethno-centric state. He recoils from the horrors of Tamil “tyrants”,and “murderers” committing crimes against humanity. He has empathy towards the victims of Tamil violence. He targets the Jaffna Tamil leadership as the prime violators of human rights, decimating Tamils, persecuting Buddhists, Catholics, Moors,and Malays. Yalpana Vaipava Malai chronicles the political culture of Tamil violence that began with the Tamil kings. Mass murders, ethnic cleansing, tyrannical oppression of Tamils, mono-ethnic extremism, the penchant for the persecution and liquidation of Tamils, Buddhists, Catholics, Malays, Moors etc., were a part of the Tamil political culture, according to his chronicle. His book is remarkable for tracing the origins of Tamil violence which leads to the conclusion that the Tamil  elite in command of their polity never gave their people the basic right to walk this earth with human dignity. If  Mylvaganam was born in this age he would have seen how the Jaffna-centric culture of violence repeated itself cyclically and ended (hopefully?) with Prabhakaran.

However, this recurring pattern of Tamil violence raises a serious question: if this violent political culture was known in the 18th century to Mylvaganam why did the Tamil intellectuals, who focused exclusively on the Sinhala-Buddhist culture in the twentieth century, white-wash, deny, ignore and turn a blind eye to what was happening in their own backyard? How come S. J. (“diacritical”) Tambiah at Harvard and Radhika Cooomaraswamy and Neelan Tiruchelvam, flushed with vast American resources from the Ford Foundation etc., failed to at least peep over the cadjan curtain once and acknowledge the embedded culture of violence identified by Mylvaganam in the 18th century? If Mylvaganam saw it with his naked eye in the 18th century why did the Ph D-holders from Harvard etc., wearing state-of-the-art spectacles in the twentieth century, fail to grasp the internal imperatives of mono-ethnic extremism driving the Jaffna political culture into a self-destructive force? Was it too painful and horrifying for them to look at how their own people were terrorised, persecuted and decimated by their own Tamil leaders? Or was it politically advantageous to go into a state of denial as if nothing of the sort happened because any raking of the inhuman past and present of Jaffna would diminish, if not undermine, their claim to be victims of the Sinhalese?

Persecution, oppression and mass liquidation of the Tamils by the Tamils have been recurring features of the Jaffna political culture that never pursued liberal, humane, tolerant, and pluralistic politics. No community in Sri Lanka was denied the right to walk in day light as the Tamils of Jaffna. The low-caste turumbas, for instance, were treated as subhumans who were forbidden to cross the path of the upper-caste Vellahlas in day time just in case their sight would pollute the purity of the Vellahla overlords. They were permitted to walk only in the night announcing their presence as they pass the houses of the Vellahla overlords and wiping the footprints they leave behind with a palm frond to keep the path clean for the upper-caste purists.

The contempt of the Tamil elite for their own Tamils was ingrained deeply in the caste system that even a knighted “liberal” like Sir. Ponnambalam Arunachalam went on a special mission to London to argue the advantages of retaining the caste system in Jaffna. The undisguised contempt of the Vellahla elite for the “other” Tamils didn’t stop at the borders of Jaffna. They poured scorn on the Batticoloa Tamils and, most of all, on what they called the “Indian coolies.” Socializing or marrying into their families was tabooed. Ironically, it is these arrogant, cynical Tamil elite that is pointing the finger at the Sinhalese accusing them of denying dignity to the Tamils.

The “insane fury” of northern politics was an autochthonous, self-perpetuating force which has its roots in the peninsular political culture. It needed no provocation or prodding from any external source to turn against its own people or the other ethnic entities. As pointed out earlier, in all four phases of its history its mono-ethnic extremism was structured to resist pluralism, liberalism, humanism, multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence with the “other”. The “other”, categorized either in casteist, religious or ethnic terms, was to be eliminated or marginalized to maintain casteist purity, on the one hand, and ethnic purity on the other. The Vellahla power elite directed all the forces of socio-political control at their command in Jaffna first to manipulate the casteist ideology sanctioned by Hinduism and when that was fading under the Donoughmore Constitution in the thirties to manipulate communalism, the ideological successor to casteism, to retain their grip on peninsular politics. The casteist purity and the ethnic purity were two ideological constructs aimed at consolidating the power and supremacy of the Vellahlas over the others.

Jaffna eventually became the heartland of ethno-religious (also categorized as “Saivite-Jaffna-Vellahla”) casteists morphing into a class. (Prof. Karthigesu . Sivatamby). Their sole “aspiration” was to preserve the north as the exclusive domain to retain their feudal and colonial privileges. They brooked no internal or external intrusions or opposition. Any threat to the Vellahla supremacists, or to the power elite before and after them, was met with “the insane fury (which) longed for more lives.” Prabhakaran was the last of the insane furies that devoured more Tamil lives than the others put together.

In short , the violent Sangkili political culture, increasing or decreasing in intensity in various phases, dominated Jaffna political culture from the beginning of the 12th-13th centuries to the end in Nandikadal in 2009. The trial and death of Sangkili Kumaran illustrates some of the main features of the political culture that ruled Jaffna. Mylvaganam narrates the proceedings of this trial succinctly: “The Paranghis (Portuguese) next brought Sangkili to trial. Sangkili was placed before the seat of justice and charged first with having exercised regal powers without having been duly crowned; secondly, with having usurped the throne form his father; thirdly, with having murdered the princes of the realm; and fourthly, with having oppressed the people and massacred many of them. He was convicted of all the charges and sentenced to be decapitated. The sentence was immediately carried into effect at the threshold of the nearest temple. On hearing this, Sangkili’s wife committed suicide, and his children the Paranghis sent away to Tharangkam-padi…(p. 45 — Yalpana Vaipava Malai) .

Eerie echoes of Sangkili’s violent culture resonated down the passage of time in Jaffna unrelentingly. History of Jaffna has repeated itself in cycles of unceasing oppression, persecution and decimation of the Tamil people by the Tamil leaders. At each stage it is not the Tamil people who are to be blamed for their suffering. The blame should be put fairly and squarely on their self-seeking, “stupid leaders” (Prof. Kumar David), pursuing mono-ethnic extremism marketed latterly as “sub-nationalism”, “nationalism”, “self-determination”, “Eelam” etc.

The chain of raw events in the history of Jaffna (without, of course, theoretical fantasies) confirm that the Jaffna Tamil leaders never needed the help of the Sinhalese to go on the rampage against their own people and the other ethnic entities. The “insane fury” that propelled their violence was embedded in the genes of their political culture. Judging by the trends that began with Sangkili , the mass murderer, it seems that they were born with it. The cult of beautifying graveyards of Tamils killed by Tamils was more sacred to them than protecting and preserving the lives of children who were plucked from the bosom of parents and sent to premature deaths in the name of saving the 20th century avatar of Sangkili, Prabhakaran.  Sangkili, of course, set the tone, the pattern, the colour and the thrust of Jaffna politics long before S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike even started his journey in the cycle of samsara.

Prabhakaran came from this traditional political culture of Jaffna-centric violence. He was the natural heir to Sangkili with or without Bandaranaike and “1956″. The fundamental questions that Tamil ideologues defending the violence of Prabhakaran should answer in blaming Bandaranaike are: 1. If the Sinhalese, as they say, were responsible for the creation of Prabhakaran why did he kill the Tamils, Muslims? 2. What had the Tamils and Muslims done for Prabhakaran to kill them? 3. Or is indiscriminate political killings a part of the Jaffna political culture going back to “the insane fury” of Sangkili? 4. Isn’t the brief history of Jaffna littered with the corpses of innocent Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, Moors, Catholics and Buddhists who were victims of the “insane fury” of the Sangkili-Prabhakaran cult?

The temptation to compare Sangkili (the beginning) with Velupillai Prabhakaran (the end) is irresistible. Sangkili appears first in Tamil history as an unwanted tragedy. When tragedy repeats itself, bypassing the lessons of history, it invariably manifests as an unnecessary evil. Prabhakaran is the reincarnation of Sangkili not as a benign force but as an unnecessary evil.  He had scant regard for the Tamil victims of his “insane fury”. There is no difference in their politics except in the scale of the war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed by Prabhakaran. Both put together affirm that history will never cease to repeat itself even in the remote corners of Nallur or Killinochci.

Jaffna-based leaders pinned all their hopes on the violence of mono-ethnic extremism without recognizing its limitations. In the last analysis the Vadukoddai Resolution was an endorsement of a military solution. As events proved it the Vadukoddians were doomed to fail. If they had read their history written in the Yalpana Vaipava Malai they would have known that there was no future in pursuing the illusions of Eelam. Their future was written in ”the garland of significant events”. The prophecy was made in the reign of Pararajasekaram, (1478) . The arrival of the respected Supathidda-muni is the occasion for the King to explore what lies ahead for the troubled Jaffna kingdom which he knew must necessarily pass into the hands of one of his sons, including Sangkili, his “illegitimate offspring.” (p.32).

Without being judgmental , it is appropriate to outline the prophecy of muni Supathidda which Mylvaganam thought was worth recording. Here is an abbreviated account of the prophecy: “The king received him (muni) with all the marks of reverence due to his exalted sanctity and when he was seated, the king ventured to speak, saying: “Lord and Master! thou foretoldest future events to this thy slave’s father. Thy slave has not been able to learn them properly. Deign to enlighten him with a knowledge of what shall happen to this kingdom”

“The muni replies: “King! your kingdom will flourish but a short time more…….” And then the muni goes into a lengthy explanation of the coming events which predicts, among other things, the capture of the Jaffna kingdom by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, the French. The prophecy ends with this line: “The sovereignty will never again come back to your descendants.” (pp. 27 – 29).

The  Muni departs and Mylvaganam takes up the story from there and states that the  Muni’s “words did not make any strong impression on the king, for he was disposed partly to believe and partly to disbelieve what he had heard”. (Ibid). But he proceeds to add the part that came right with regard to the loss of the kingdom giving credence to the prophecy.

Mudliyar C. Rasanayagam in his book Ancient Jaffna (1926) adds his comments to this prophecy. He refers to the arrival of “Subhaditta Muni and his prophecy regarding the future rulers of Jaffna. The prophecy was to the effect that his (Pararajasekaran ‘s ) royal descendants would not inherit his crown and that kingdom would pass into the hands of strangers.” According to Rasanayagam the Muni foretold that the Parangis (Portuguese), Ulanthes (Dutch) and the Inthiresu (English) would seize the kingdom. And as if to stress the predictive powers of the Muni he raises a valid query: “How could Mylvaganam Pulavar who wrote during the Dutch times have predicted the rule of the English? There must have been a genuine Prophecy in his time or the passage in question must be an interpolation of later times.” (pp.374 – 377). There is no known record of anyone re-writing Mylvaganam’s chronicle.

Perhaps, a better way to judge the prophecy is to test it against the subsequent events that destroyed all prospects of regaining the Jaffna kingdom, or what was left of it, even when it was offered to the Tamils on a platter. Read the next article to find out the sequence of events that would tend to confirm the prophecy of the Muni Subhaditta who said that Jaffna will never regain its kingdom.

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