Posted by: lrrp | February 20, 2006

Where were the Sinhalas? by Tissa Devendra

Denis Fernando’s articles on “Portuguese Encounter…” [Island 11 & 12 Feb] are intriguing and raise quite a few questions of demographic and linguistic relevance.

[1] “Parakramabahu VI recruited mercenary forces comprising the Kaurava Suriyawansa clan of warriors with nine generals, 7,740 soldiers, supporting staff of native physicians, surgeons, barbers, washers, carpenters, smiths, tom-tom beaters and kapuralas who arrived in ships and boats”.

The questions that concern me are: (i) From which area of South India did this IPKF of yore come? (ii) In which army did these generals and warriors gain their martial skills? (iii) By what name was this clan called in its birthplace? (iv) What was their mother-tongue? (v) Is there any written record in their ‘traditional homeland’ of the departure of this large army and camp-followers?

[2] “[these] troops were settled in Yapapatuna and Mannar while others were settled along the Western seaboard South of Puttalam along the Aluthkurukorale which was named after them (Kuru… referring to the Kaurava warriors). These new settlers also functioned as warriors, coastguards and chiefs southwards of Kotte up to Dondra”.

My questions are: (i) Were the areas settled by these doughty warriors so devoid of Sinhala people that they had plenty of ‘lebensraum’ to settle there without problems? (ii) Were the indigenous Sinhala so devoid of warriors, coastguards and chiefs that these newcomers had, perforce, to fill such positions? (iii) Were these newcomers such linguistic geniuses that in the short reign of one king (Parakramabahu VI who hired them from India) these ‘warriors’, barbers, carpenters, etc. unlearnt their native language (leaving no linguistic footprints among their descendants) and re-invented themselves as Sinhala?

If one accepts the historical accuracy of Denis Fernando’s thesis it does seem that Western Sri Lanka had been a depopulated region devoid of indigenous Sinhalas leaving it free to these doughty mercenaries to colonise. Were there no Sinhalas here? I look forward to this scholar’s responses to the problems raised above.

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