Skip to content

Transcript- J. Handawela

5 October 2010

 Dr. J. Handawela

 C.R. de Silva: I must thank you on behalf of the Commission for having come over here to assist us in our deliberations. Before you proceed any further I wish to at the outset outline the procedures that we adopt before this Commission. You are entitled to make your presentation either in public or in camera and at the end of your presentation the Commissioners are entitled to ask you questions which arise in the course of your presentation or any matter that is relevant to the Warrant and you could respond either in public or in camera, the choice is yours. So that is the procedure that we adopt before this Commission.

 Handawela: Ladies and gentleman of the panel and those in the audience, thank you so much and again thank you for the opportunity that I have been given to present these ideas that have been bothering me for so long. My presentation is made as a concerned citizen of this country not in any other capacity. Why concerned is that this country is so rich in physical resources,  although a visitor to Sri Lanka, a Portuguese said country we have every prospect except that the men are vile. With that background let me start.

Getting down to business straight off, I must say that this country is poor despite its resource richness largely because of three reasons, one reason is this Sinhala Tamil conflict ,misunderstanding or unpleasant relationship. Why this relationship has come in to being, lot of people blame the post independence political development in this country with which I do not agree. I go back to the arrival of the British in Sri Lanka. When the British resorted to their tactic of divide and rule, set one party against the other and then created a source of dichotomy and let these people manage and they set and watched.  Before the Britisher’s came I should say that Sinhala and Tamil people have been living in some kind of harmony with a certain balance which I think was the Sinhalese was governing and farming and of course I don’t know the numbers, the Tamils may have been there and the Tamils were neither farming or governing, they were more professional like, the situation like we have been having in Malaysia until the recent past or even now be.  The Bumiputhra are governing and farming, the Chinese are doing business and other careers.  Under the British the Sinhalese felt that they were being sidelined and they were being governed by the Tamils. I am now 68 years year and when we were small most of the public servants were Tamils and the Sinhalese may have felt that in our country we are being ruled by our brethren who are in small numbers, so naturally this led to what we now call Sinhala revival with which names like Angarika Dharmapala come into our memory. Unfortunately this Sinhala revival which should have been targeted  against the Britishers but it unfortunately did not make the Tamils very happy because you will recall the Mohenjo-Daro situation in India  when the Arians invaded, now they said it is a myth, when the Iranians invaded Mohenjo-Daro, Mohenjo-Daro civilization is said to be somewhat Tamil like so they were pushed down to South India and the Arians became dominant  and these Arians supremacy and Dravidian inferiority whatever relationship came into being in India and the same situation and that situation was utilized as a policy of the Sinhala revival. 

The other thing is that the Sinhala revival people always highlighted the Tamil Scholay Pandi invasions from South India to Sri Lanka but they never mentioned about the good things that they got from South India such as who wrote the Buddhist script in India, Rev. Buddhagosa a Tamil and not many of our Sinhalese know that he was a Tamil monk. I think it is deliberately hidden, they do go beyond that and say that he was a Tamil monk, so this kind of Arian supremacy policy and that the Tamils were only invaders and not helpers. Prince Mugalan when he had to fight Kasyappa he went to South India and brought forces and it is written in history but that is not emphasized adequately in Sri Lankan. What I say may be wrong because I am not a historian, so please don’t ask me questions about history. The Sinhala revival had short sighted policies and that led to many problems. Now what are those problems. Not only the Sinhala revival but the British divide and rule policy also created problem and this simultaneously created animosity and mistrust amongst these two communities.   Until the Britishers all the “ Ratavasiyas”, the way I have learned in history, the Sinhalese would not have thought that they were Sinhalese and the Tamils would not have thought that they were Tamils, they were citizens and they were loyal to the King or the ruler whoever was there in there ear.  They would not have had ethnic loyalties, so the cultural polarization that took place with the divide and rule policy of the Britishers and the Sinhala revival created by the Sinhalese was the main cause of the current problem we are trying to solve. Now what are these positive Dravidian contributions to Sinhala culture that has been overlooked and I think I must emphasis  to the extent I understand. I told you that the Dravidian invasions have been emphasized but not the positive ones. Let me emphasize the positive contributions. 

Up to the beginning of the Hindu revival in South India which began in 6th century. I have been to South India twice and North India as well so I have learnt something about South India as an individual. 5th century AD Hindu Revival was completed by the 12th century, so up to the 6th century Sri Lanka and South India were all Buddhist to a great extent and the South Indians considered Anuradhapura as the Buddhist Centre even for them so they had high regard for Sri Lanka at that time and I have to Nagar Temple, the temple has been replaced when Nagar Saga was constructed, so there is a temple which says, this temple has been devoted to monks from Sinhala Desh to come and mediate so there has been very good relationships. At that time the Pal Strait had not been a frontier as now.  In those when we went to places like Hyderabad we were scared to go to Madras, he went to Bombay and came to Hyderabad so this was a frontier we were avoiding in the recent past but then it was very likely that the Palk Strait was a bridge that connected to land masses. The Buddhist monk, Buddhagosa as I told you were South Indians. During the Polonnaruwa invasion of the 12th century, Buddhist monks who fled the country were offered refugee in India. Kind Parakrama Bahu from Polonnaruwa got down monks from South India to restore Buddhism  after its eradication. There is indication that Sri Lankan kings brought down scholars from South India to teach them.  I must tell you that I would not be able to speak in English and enter the University if not for the Tamil teachers. I come from a  central school in Pelmadulla, at that time Sinhala science masters who were posted there from Colombo, Gampaha, Galle went and took appointment with a transfer application in their pocket so a month of two later we were left without teachers. Fortunately when Tamil teachers come from Jaffna they stay all three months till the vacation and then go home during the vacation time and come back and stay. So I owe my education to the Tamil teachers.  

As I told you Mugalana brought in forces from South India and helped eradicated Kasyappa the fratricidal king. We praise him for Sigiriya but we do not talk about what he did to his father buried him alive neck deep.  The sculpture in Anuradhapura. We always talk about the “Sinhala Gal Waduwa” but we do not see a single Sinhala Gal Waduwa now whether they were there I doubt. There is a Buddha Statute being constructed in a place called Moneragala in the Kurunegala District, the craftsman who have come there are from South India. We don’t divulge that clearly, they say that South Indian assistance is brought to sculpture this statute. Even when the Buddhist monk of that temple was interviewed he did not want to give credit to that South Indian Hindu craftsman who is crafting the Buddhist statute  but he says this man must have been a Buddhist in previous birth and that is why he is indulging in sculpture of Buddhist statutes. So he does not want to give credit, he wants to rob part of that credit to Buddhism which is not correct.  Why not say he is a Tamil, he is Hindu and he is sculpturing it as we cannot find a single craftsman in Sri Lanka he can done it. I have been to South India, lot of people say Isurumuniya, Samdhi Statute was done by Sinhala craftsman which I doubt. Even now when you go to Mahabalapuram you see for miles people sculpturing all the time. You see Buddha Statues, Christ States all this being done, they were perfectly well and there craftsmen ship is very similar to what we see in Isuruminiya. Gadaladeniya Temple was done by Hindu craftsman and the Sinhalese now acknowledge though may be half heartedly.  

Now about Mahaweli, Mahawansa called Maha Waluka Nadi. I think  this Mahaveli term came from Tamil Veli means in Tamil “out”, so Mahaveli means vast open lands, but Mahawansa called it Maha Waluka Nedi. Which self respecting author would call a river a sandy river. I have grey hair and if a poet comes and wants to describe my hair he might called it some other colour although it is grey. That is how poets write things. So Mahawansa author, Mahanama Thero I sure he wants to hide the fact that it was a Tamil name and wants to give it a Sinhala meaning and called it Maha Waluka Nedi. Then Vavuniya a lot of Sinhalese call it Vavunmawa with which I do not agree. Vavuniya may have come from Wanni.  Cheenagama has become Seenigama down South. Vishnu Devale in Devindura, Pattini Devale in Nawagamuwa, these are Hindu temples but we called it Buddhist Sinhala temples, Kataragama we now have a Sinhala Basnayaka Nilame in Kataragama but then it may have been a Hindu Temple. There is proof to this in a Temple in Cambodia. Up to recent times we thought it was a great Buddhist Temple but now we know it was constructed by a Hindu Monarch called Jayawarman and when Buddhist from Thailand invaded and occupied that Temple and after that it became a Buddhist temple, but now it is known as a Hindu Temple. Then Pathirupu. Lot of people might not like to hear that Pathirupu is Pathirupu where the King stands. So the way I think Pathirupu is a Tamil term because there were Tamil kings ruling Kandy. Then Sinhala authors say Tamil names for the dry zones were called by Tamil Surveyors, so when we were touring Anurudhapura there was tour guide in Anuradhapura with whom I was touring along with some Norwegian scholars and when he explained that the Tamil surveyors gave the name Kulam to these places, these were all Sinhalese, then I asked him who gave Bulankulama their name. Bulankulama is a Sinhalese, then  who gave these names, were they Tamil Registrars. King Devanampiyatissa, there are two names, Devanampiytissa and Devanapaiyatissa which of the two is correct or are both wrong. I have some Tamil friend who call him Devanampiyatissa. At least we can ask this question. Emperor Ashok we called it Asoka, we add a vowel and make him Sinhala again. We don’t call him Asoka we call him Dharmasoka, we want to make him 100% Buddhist because he got converted to Buddhism much later. At least in India they know that he was a Hindu and later he became a Buddhist but we don’t talk what was the religion of Devanmpiyatissa before he was converted to Buddhism. Why don’t we ask that question. I am a researcher by profession so I ask questions before finding answers.  

So no body is bothered in Sri Lanka to say what was his religion either they are not bothered or they do not want to say what his religion was, He was a respectable king and there was a good social system in this country so I am sure he had a good respectable religion. During the Kotte period, a lot of scholars had been conversant in Tamil, Shatwasparameswaran, Tamil was one language and Tamil was being utilized by the Sinhala elite at least. Then these Sinhalese names like, Amma, Akka, Mama, Thathta, Aiya, Achi, they are all Tamil terms. On agricultural missions I have been to Karnataka and they used to call Katuwa and these are our agricultural terms as well. Europeans term for rice came from the Tamil terms Arisi. In fact our Sinhala names I am sorry if some of you have these names, please don’t get offended, Sinhala names ending in Dasa, Nayaka, Pala, Ratna, Singhe, Sundara, Tunge. There are very similar to Tamil terms. In  fact there is a Tamil king called Chola Tunge, so doesn’t it sound like our Kulatunga. Then Tissanayagam, when our media man Tissanayagam was arrested his name came into prominence often, Tissanayagam and Dissanayake somewhat look similar to me.  Velupullai is quite similar to Vallapulli, Sinhala Velapulli. There are some Sinhalese with Tamil names Thambuthaaracthcige Muthuswamy . We don’t acknowledge, although we are very proud to say I am Silva, I am Perera, I am Fernando all these that we got these from the Dutch, British and the Portuguese but why can’t we proudly say we have got these names from Tamils if it so, I don’t know if it so, please consult historians. At least I have data from my own area. There was a Tamil road overseer called Chandrasekeran, his children were studying with me and they are Chandrasekera so they go about as Buddhist Chandrasekera The father was Hindu Chandrasekeran. In our area there is Chandradasa, his name has been Chandradasan before. Kumaraswamy has changed name to become Kumarasinghe. In Kotte period when they wanted to develop fishing in Kotte they brought South Indians and planted them from Puttalam to down South, I don’t want to go into details. A gentlemen who was a historian and is now in Australia says they were Tamils and he became 100% Sinhala Buddhist as they went down but towards Negombo area they became partial, Mervyn Fernandopulle’e father has been speaking fully Tamil but they are now somewhat Sinhalese. Then again Senkadagala. We acknowledge the terms Senkadagala comes from a Brahmin who was in that area who names was Senkada. That is acknowledged. Now we talk about this term “Kaduwa”. (Various Kaduwas). If you ask 100% of the Sinhalese they would say it is sword. But Kesal is not a plant from which you can make a Kaduwa. I see this comes from the word Tamil word “Kaduwa” which is called forest. These names may have come into being from the Tamil language. We must therefore ask questions and find answers to these. Then this is highly controversial and quite dangerous to talk yet I say even Galle, if you ask a person from Galle there was a cattle heard in Galle saw it became Galla.  So I said cattle heard in Sri Lanka towns is a common thing then all the towns in Sri Lanka must be called Galla, so I think this Galle may have come from Kallu. Then Tangalle. If you ask people in Tangalle they call it Rangalle, Golden Rock. 

The best Wattalapam I ate was from South India and all these names of food items may have come from Tamil. Then this famous musical drama Maname, we were hailing it as a highly indigenous Sri Lankan drama later to see it has Tamil rhymes. Sinhala Film Industry, it is Tamil Nadu and not North India that helped us. A point that I failed to state upto now, I wish to state now is that, our Sinhalese affiliation with North India had been with South India and not with North India because North Indian events have only been 2 that of Wijaya and Mahinda Thero coming here. Just two isolated events nothing more where as South India has been so close to us and is of swimming distance and very likely there has been a lot of connection between the two.  If you ask Sinhalese how this Wewa came into being they would say it is a highly indigenous Sinhala terms but if you ask them to explain it they fail to explain. Even the best Sinhala scholars don’t say what it is. So I fortunately had the opportunity to go to Karnataka and there they call a well and in Tamil they call it Wawi and Wawi may have become Wewa. There is a tank called Ureniya in Sri Lanka in South India there is a tank called Ureni, Ureni means a rural tanks which is meant exclusively for drinking, so we have Ureni plains in Yala, Bundala, Ureniya itself in Padiyatalawa so this Ureni term may have given rise to the Tamil term Ureniya.  Down South they call Kulu Wewa, small tanks called Kulawewa. Kulla is a triangular appliance used by farmers to wean out paddy. It may have come from the Tamil term Kulli. Kulli is a Tamil term for Wewa. Many of you, the Commission too has passed  Erayaperiyakulam, South of Vavuniya. In Sinhalese it is called Irataiperiyakulama.  

Then I must tell about the Tamil racial sentiments as upto now I told about the Sinhalese. Tamils also have had their share of ethnic building at the expense of the Sinhalese. When I was in  Wellai on the place to Point Pedro. If I ask you what is Wellai you would not know. In fact the University professor there states it is Wellai and so why worry. When you look round it is more like a beach, so it may have come from Sinhala. The Professor of history at the Jaffna, I am sure he is not here. He says why worry about these as they are administrative names. I said no I am a researcher and I want to find out. Wadamaractchi and Thenamaratchi. Wada means North, Thaan means South, Maratcchi, I think has come from Sinhala Mereega, means fresh water.  Wadamaratchchi and Thenamaratchchi is highly known for fresh water because in Jaffna fresh drinking water is scare but in these two cities is in abundance. So these two cities have derived their names from Sinhala. There was a Tamil guy who took us around Valipuram temple, there I just mentioned to him what do you mean b y Valipuram Gold Plate. Where was it found. He said yes there is something like that but did not say anything further because it is Buddhist Gold Plate. Even the Norwegians who had spend so much to come to Sri Lanka and gone to Valipuram was denied hearing anything about the Valipuram Gold Plate. Then Thoppigala, there was an engineer friend of mine in Batticaloa, during the battle days he is to call it Thoppikelle, so I asked him what is this Thopikelle. He was talking about a forest. I said no it is Thopigala, hat like rock.  He did not know that even though he was from Batticaloa and Thoppigala is such an excellent land mark.  

So what I want to say now is there is no need to do anything knew the way I see it, restore normalcy and go back to pre British days, put into reverse gear and go back centuries, we can have a Tamil king and then have a good country. There was no problem and I must say that what I said may have antagonized  both Tamils and Sinhalese but as a soothing g remark I must say when the Kandyan Kingdom was handed over to the British by the Sinhala chieftains many chieftains in Kandy signed that document in Tamil . Why did they sign in Tamil if Tamil was a inferior language that had to be set aside. They proudly signed in Tamil because Tamil was being used and it was honourable to use that language that is how I interpret. So likewise go back to pre British days this country will be OK. Undo the damage done by the British.

 Q & A

 Paranagama: Dr. you mentioned lot of things drawing our attention to the connection between the Tamil and Sinhala communities. You said that all these problems arose because of the British divide and rule.

 Handawela: think that there had been no problem. In fact there were Tamil kings in Kandy. 

Paranagama: Then all community leaders worked hard to get independence so that there would not have been such a difference. Therefore you cannot say that the British divided and ruled, then how did all communities fight for independence. 

Handawela: Now I say there was no fight for independence in Sri Lanka, Gandhi, Nehru got independence for India and this tear drop Island of South India was also got rid of by the British because they lost that massive land mass in South India and who said a single drop of blood was dropped in Sri Lanka in gaining independence, is there any record.  

Paranagama: Do you say that those leaders did not work hard for independence; we just got it on a platter? 

Handawela: Hard is a relative term, in fact they may have wanted to become leaders as Ehelepola and others wanted to become leaders when Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was handed over to the British. So similarly people in Sri Lanka would have wanted to become leaders. People like N.M. Perera they fought but they were fighting with the Indians, he was imprisoned in India, Philip Gunawardene and these people were fighting hard, not these Senanayake’s, they were just sitting pretty and trying to put the crown on their head.   

Paranagama: So the saying that Hon. D.S. Senanayake is the father of the nation is wrong? 

Handawela: I don’t say wrong or right. I mean he was the first Prime Minister after the British gave power to a black sahib and he became the Prime Minister, yes you might call him the father of the Nation.  

Paranagama: The relationship continued for a long period, Sinhalese Buddhists were going to Hindu temples, Hindus were coming to Buddhist Temples and that relationship continued. How can you say that the British divide and rule caused all these problems?  

Handawela: Then why did Bandaranaike try to restore this situation where there is enough documentary evidence to say that 75% of the public service was manned by Tamils. In fact when I was in the University and when I had to go to Batticaloa to get a railway ticket, the Station Master was a gentleman from Jaffna, he asked me  something which I could not understand and he stopped asking me and gave me the ticket. You said the Sinhalese were going to Kovils, that is because there is what is called Buddhism and Buddha Dharma , those who follow Buddhagama are 50% to 75% Hindus. People who follow Buddha Dharma don’t go to Kovils. I follow Buddha Dharma but I don’t even go to the temple.  

Paranagama: So do you said that Bandaranaike brought this Sinhala-Only Act because of the British divide and rule? 

Handawela: Yes he wanted to.  

Rohan Perera: Or was it for political expediency?   

Handawela: Naturally he was a politician, but then the people were also clamoring for it. You go to the Railway Station he is a Tamil, you got to the Police Station he is a Tamil, you bring down a surveyor to survey your land he is a Tamil, the sanitary inspector who comes to your house, he is a Tamil, postmaster is a Tamil. So naturally the Sinhalese may have, as a young man then I too felt it, what is this in our country.  When I entered the University more than 50% of our batch were Tamils. Not that it was deliberately done, they had good opportunity to learn. Now in fact for the Sinhala or Tamil elite in Colombo we speak of the Royal College, then it was Colombo English School. That was established much after schools like St. John’s or St. Patrick’s in Jaffna. When the American Missionaries came to promote education in Sri Lanka, what did the British do, go to Jaffna and do it. They did not ask them to do anything in Colombo 

C.R. de Silva: The Colombo Academy was established in 1835.  

Handawela: Before that. There is evidence. I have read some documents which says that St. Patrick’s and St. John’s Jaffna is older than the Colombo Academy. The British had favoritism towards Jaffna.  

Rohan Perera: We have listened with interest your presentation. Of course as you yourself admitted on many of these matters there may be disagreement amongst historians, scholars but nevertheless it was an interesting presentation, but from the point of view of the Mandate of this Commission, Reconciliation, if we are to draw lessons from the points you make, one is the positive contribution of the Dravidian contribution to Sinhala culture has been overlooked.  What do you do from the point of view of the future? You made the point on archeology, sculpture and so on whether it was the work of Sinhala craftsman or whether it was craftsman from India, that debate we do not need to get into but the essential point is that there are cross cultural influences, cross cultural fertilization, that is a point that should be highlighted from a point of view of reconciliation. Would you agree that greater exposure to this cross cultural influences, cross cultural fertilization from the school level to the universities so that children from that age are made sensitive to these aspects would be a contribution towards reconciliation in healing wounds of the past, would you agree with that proposition? 

Handawela: I don’t know whether I understood your question properly, the way I understood it.  What you say is whether these things must go to the current school curriculum. I should say yes in the sense they must also be made to understand a lot of our history has been biased. Our historians have been trying to re-state what has been stated in Mahayana and such places but then that is not enough, you must read Mahawansa and other historical books in the present day context and try to understand whether some of these things that are written in Mahawansa are correct, if so what was the correct thing. The Children must not be made to understand that there are two sets of people. I don’t think we have to tell them that there are two sets of people, like in botany we call it bio diversity. Similarly there is what we call cultural diversity. Why not appreciate this cultural diversity? 

Rohan Perera: Rather than getting into controversial issues like history being biased, that itself is a very controversial issue, I think, would you agree, the approach should be of focusing on areas that have been overlooked and bringing about a sense of balance in presentation of historical events and cross-cultural, cross-religious influences, rather than trying to say this is wrong or biased, but bring about a greater sense of balance? 

Handawela: This word ‘cross-cultural’ appears sort of confrontational, the way I understand when you say cross-cultural, I should say cultural diversity, so we much appreciate that. Why call it even inter cultural, maybe I am not a politician or a sociologist whatever, so this inter, cross those terms always drag a wedge. When we speak of bio diversity, we can say this is coconut, this rubber, this is tea and look  at all these as plants, plant diversity with different characters and different flowers and smells.  

Chanmugam: You referred to the historical relations Ceylon has had with India particularly with South India. How would you promote the cultural exchanges between Sri Lanka and South India in order to get a better appreciation of our historical background? 

Handawela: We must consider Palk Strait as a bridge not as a frontier. Right now we consider it as a frontier beyond which our enemies live. South India also, people like Vaiko consider the Palk Strait as a frontier. Again go back to pre-British days when the Palk Strait was a bridge, people came across, Rev. Mahinda I am sure came across the Palk Strait, Vijaya came via the Palk Strait without any problem, so there may have been a lot of people who have been coming and going that way so this animosity that has been created between the two must be validated. In fact I spent about 2 to 3 weeks in Karnataka, Hyderabad and all these areas, I felt very much at home in South India particularly in the Karnataka area, very much at home, homes visits, students exchanges, in fact our film industry has been interacting with South India. There had been connections in the film industry so similarly in others also there must be that kind of relationship and the Sinhalese must stop thinking that we are more with Delhi, Lucknow and North India and less with South India, so that must be sort put a stop. 

C.R. de Silva: Dr. Handawela I must take this opportunity to thank you for that very interesting presentation. Some of the ideas which were expressed by you would certainly be taken into consideration in formulating our proposals to His Excellency the President.

Posted in Transcripts. - Shop for over 300,000 Premium Domains
Captcha Security Check * is for sale.
Enter the characters below to continue:
Type the characters you see in the picture above.
▶ View Price
*What's this?
Web bots cannot type captchas. This form helps us determine that you are human.