The Collective Consciousness of the Sinhalese During the Kandyan Era: Manichean Images, Associational Logic

Michael Roberts, being a reprint of an article with the same title in Asian Ethnicity, Volume 3, Number 1, March 2002

ABSTRACT:  An analysis of the form of the dynastic state known today as the Kingdom of Kandy provides a backdrop for an exploration of the sentiments that directed its resistance to the imperial expansion of the Portuguese, Dutch and British in the period from the 1590s to 1818. Known in its day as Sinhalē, a concept that could embrace the whole island of Lanka, the state and its cakravārti king served as the focus for a Sinhala collective consciousness that was embodied in epic tales, war poems and onomastic folklore, while also being promoted by the sacred topography associated with pilgrimages. These sentiments embraced both the ruling elements and the ordinary people. Within this body of thought, two threads stand out: first, the demonisation of Threatening Others; and, secondly, an associational logic that merges present with past, old enemies with new. This logic is akin to the atidēsa function identified by Ranajit Guha. In its ethnographic specifics among the Sinhalese, it merged the ‘vile-cum-fierce Tamils’ with the disordering Portuguese, English, et al. All were para rupu, ‘alien enemies’. The imagery is Manichean.

Sri Lanka was ushered into the modern era of capitalism and nation states by the British imperial order.[1]  The British took control of the coastal territories held by the Dutch in 1795-96. This brought them into confrontation with the single surviving indigenous state, the Kingdom of Tunsinhalaya or Sinhalē,[2] which had emerged as a bastion of resistance to the Portuguese in the 1590s and kept the Portuguese and Dutch at bay for over two centuries. Taking advantage of internal dissension, the British were able to take control of this dynastic state through a combination of diplomacy and force of arms in 1815. However, a substantial rebellion developed in 1817-18 and one could say that the British pacification and unification of the island was not finalised until 1818.

Sinhalé has become known in the Western literature as the Kingdom of Kandy and the resistance that emerged in 1817-18 is referred to as the ‘Kandyan Rebellion’ or ‘Great Rebellion’. The latter awaits a path-breaking study informed by the best of late-twentieth-century disciplinary knowledges.[3] But this act of resistance nevertheless suggests that a significant segment of the populace were directed by a measure of collective consciousness and an affiliation to the old dynastic order.[4] Rather than attempting to unpack the reasoning and sentiments that inspired this liberation struggle, I focus in this essay on the ideology inspiring resistance to the colonial powers in the previous centuries. I highlight specific strands in this body of thought. To the degree that this ideology presented itself as an expression of the Sinhala state and garnered support among some elements of the population residing in the coastal littoral administered by the imperial powers, the adjective ‘Kandyan’ appears to be something of a misnomer for these inspirations. That is, they were Sinhala or Sinhalese acts. The most striking aspects of this ideology, nevertheless, are the Manichean structure of differentiation that demonises the enemies of the state of Sinhalē as disordering forces and the associationai logic that enables its spokesmen to merge present and past in ways that assimilate old enemies with the new. In this style of simplified interpretation, the Portuguese (or English) and the Tamils, those para and outside, become one.

This article is directed towards clarifying the ethnographic situation through rich detail or thick description. A major theoretical excursus is not attempted. Its theoretical tools are fashioned from the pragmatic requirements of this task so that the approach can be described as ‘ethnography plus’. I commence with a brief outline of the political structure of the Kingdom of Kandy before indicating that there were many facets of thought shared by the ruling aristocracy and the väda karana minissu or working people. Within this setting, the intermittently continuous warfare with the Portuguese and Dutch forces from the 1590s to the 1670s helped in the consolidation of a demonic view of Threatening Outsiders. This Manichean imagery seems to have preceded the Kandyan period and been transmitted by the state chronicles embodied in such Sinhala texts as the Pujāvaliya and the various recensions of the Rājāvaliya, but the historical lineament is not a subject addressed within the limits of this article.[5]

The Political Structure of Sinhalē

Clearly the form and character of the dynastic state known as the Kingdom of Kandy must serve as an essential backdrop to any survey of its ideology. The political economy was agrarian and pre-capitalist. Surplus appropriation was through labour services as well as taxes in produce or money. These appropriations were regulated through the social ordering of caste divisions and tenurial practices supervised by state officials dominated by the aristocratic members (called radala) of the numerically preponderant and ritually predominant Govigama caste who made up perhaps 50—60 per cent of the population.

Contrary to the conventional view in the historiography, by the late eighteenth century, if not earlier, ‘a variegated criss-cross of commercial relations through monetary exchange  was a feature of Kandyan society.[6] Though conveyancing of land was feasible, these transfers were subject to reversals and constraints, so that the factors of production were not fully on the market as commodities. Nor did one find the plethora of para-legal functionaries associated with the feudal order of Western Europe.

The ruling dynasty, literati, aristocracy and people of this kingdom were also heirs to the heritage of Sinhala civilisation and its preceding kingdoms. There was an awareness of past dynasts and outstanding historical moments sustained through visual representations, onomastic discourse, folktales and chronicles,[7] including the state chronicle known as the Mahāvamsa. This historical consciousness was bolstered by an explicit emphasis on customary forms: so that, for instance, the diplomatic correspondence from the court of Sinhalē to the British in the period 1796-1815 was regularly punctuated by an insistence that the British should act ‘in accordance with ancient custom’.[8]

One of the bastions of this process of conservative re-working of the past was the institution of the Sangha, the corpus of bhikkhus (Buddhist ‘monks’) in their mold—stranded organisational form of lines of pupillary succession. The Sangha and the kings of Sinhalē, as in times past, existed in a symbiotic relationship as pillars of state. The historical traditions and the king’s connections with the Buddhist religion served as fonts of legitimation for the existing structures of domination. The linkage was inscribed in the architectural form of the Daladā Maligāva, the Temple of the Tooth, where the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha was preserved as a palladium of kingship and a source of merit. Thus, ‘the household retinue of the king in essence duplicated that of the Temple of the Tooth and the shrines of the major gods’.[9]

The King of Sinhalē was constructed as cakravarti-figure with all the attributes associated with such a persona in the history of the Indian subcontinent. But, as foreshadowed in the previous paragraph, the cakravarti in Sri Lanka was provided with the Buddhist hues of a bodhisattva and its associated notions of righteousness.[10] The result was a political theory, postulated from the thirteenth century at the very least, which held that ‘this island can never be governed by a king who is not of the Buddha’s religion’.[11] This idea was reiterated in the Sri Saddharmāvavāda Sañgrāhaya written by the prelate Tibbotuvāvē in the mid-eighteenth century.[12]

  Rajasinghe II as depicted in Knox

In practice, this meant that the King of Kandy was vested with sacral power. A ‘cosmic model’[13] informed the practices embellishing his persona. He was surrounded by taboos and prescriptions, exaltations and entourages. Extreme forms of obeisance and hierarchy around the king were replicated down the line of the administrative hierarchy, that is, in the relationships between chiefs and their subordinates in the pattern of authority identified way back by Hocart and since clarified in their differing ways by Obeyesekere and Inden.[14]

In Lanka, this relational principle of domination—subordination was embodied in the annual rite of däkum (or däkuma in singular form) when subordinates paid obeisance with a sheaf of betel leaves (and perhaps other gifts) to their immediate superior, when tenants visited their landlord, and so forth.[15] Däkum also marked the moment of first appointment in the state of Sinhalē.[16] Here, then, in this simple ritual were indigenous concepts of rule and allegiance. Rule was directed towards control of people as much as resources or surplus. Authority flowed downwards. Obeisance and the gift associated with the däkuma or penuma (also called pañduru pakkudam, kappan, bulat hurulla) indicated one’s allegiance and, where pertinent, one’s subjecthood.

 General Hulft’s däkuma 1656

 A Dutch embassy däkuma circa 1785

Such lines of authority were not confined to the administrative echelons or landlord—tenant relations. Homologous patterns organised relationships between worshippers and deities.[17] Likewise, the principle of däkum was a means by which lordship was extended outwards towards the spatial margins of state authority. I call this idea of rule ‘tributary overlordsliip’.[18] It enabled the Sinhala kings to encompass the petty chiefs and notables known as vannirajavaru and vädirajavaru in the vast and amorphous area of forested, malaria-ridden jungle known as the Vanni.

This form of encompassment was extended to the Dutch after an alliance was struck with them by the King of Kandy in the mid-seventeenth century in order to push out the Portuguese. During the period of triangular conflict (1638-58), the King of Kandy addressed the Dutch commanders with such phrases as ‘the Captain-Major of the nation of my Hollanders’ and consistently referred to ‘my lowland territories’ and ‘this my island of Ceilao’.[19] Indeed, in one letter he stated unequivocally that ‘the black people of this my island of Ceilao, wheresoever they might be, were my vassals by right’.[20]

In consequence, the Kandyan court in subsequent decades adhered to the constitutional theory that in administering power in the Maritime Provinces the Dutch were ‘their guardians of the coast’. While this might seem a ‘fiction’ to twentieth century eyes informed by rational bureaucratic notions of rule or authority,[21] the practices of the Dutch sustained the perceptions of the Kandyan court (and presumably all Sinhalese). One governor, Pijl, referred to himself as the ‘king’s most faithful governor and humble servant’, called the king ‘His Majesty’ and spoke of ‘the King’s castle at Colombo’.[22] The Dutch letters to the kings of Kandy were liberally sprinkled with high-sounding epithets that catered to the imperial claims of its rulers: e.g. groot magtisten en onverwinnelijk keijser or ‘invincible emperor of supreme power’.[23] These letters, whether by messenger or borne by ambassado­rial parties, were placed on a silver tray and held above the bared head of an appuhāmy, a respectable native. During the long journey to Senkadagala (the city of Kandy), they were lodged at night in a separate shed with white linen and its own sentries.[24] Likewise gifts ‘were [generally] wrapped in white linen, a traditional mark of respect reserved for the king’.[25] In effect, the indigenous theory of overlordship had received confirmation from the Dutch.[26] It was possible for Kīrti Srī Rājasiñha (1747-82) to be praised conventionally, and thus in a profoundly evocative manner, as ‘the divine lord King Kīrti Srī, the chief of the whole of Lanka’.[27]

In effect, then, respectful address, high-sounding titles, obeisance and gift giving created and re-produced a specific form of political encompassment. The general outlines of this type of state have been clarified by S.J. Tambiah in his model of kingship in South and Southeast Asia. In this argument, these forms of encompassment were a working out of the mandala concept, translated by Tambiah as a ‘galactic polity’ with its centre and satellites. The critical point in this conceptualisation, expressly extended in a subsequent work to the Kingdom of Kandy by Tambiah, is the fact that such states are not boundary oriented. The emphasis is on the potency of the centre, with the result that the boundaries can be left ambiguous and subject to pulsating shifts over time.[28]

In keeping with the concentration of creative potency, cosmological power and state authority at the centre, the administrative structure in the spatial core around the centre, the Kanda Uda Pas Rata or nine districts on top of the hill, was more intricate and cross-hatched than the immediate outlying districts. Indeed, as Lorna Dewaraja’s researches have shown, the administrative formation was characterised by a measure of complexity and included specialised departments known as badda. State authority was also parcellised through land grants to chiefs and monastic establishments. The constraints on kingly power embodied in this form of agrarian and manpower organisation must be weighed against the authority vested in the king to appoint and dismiss chiefs, to mobilise adult males for corvee labour and war, and to regulate caste by degrading specific caste lineages for heinous acts. There was, in fact, no separation of powers. The monarch was lawmaker, appellate judge, administrator, military commander and cosmological font rolled into one. As a letter written by a Kandyan chief in 1811 indicates, ‘His Majesty’s pleasure was a law which no one could dispute’.[29] The chiefs and other headmen could be dismissed by the king, and it would seem that even ‘marriages among members of the great families had to be approved by [him]’.[30] In their turn, the principal chiefs also fulfilled judicial, executive and military roles as one official person (but, unlike the king, do not seem to have been invested with cosmological powers).[31]

Within this context one must not assume that the thinking of the ruling elites and the mass of the Sinhala-speaking people was characterised by pronounced difference. Directed by twentieth-century conditions of differentiation based on literacy, several scholars have tended to read the present into the past.[32] The jury is still out on this issue, but in a personal communication P.B. Meegaskumbura observed that the ordinary folk were far more knowledgeable than twentieth-century scholars are ready to acknowledge. Thus emboldened, I assert that, despite the pronounced forms of hierarchical distinction that prevailed, the values, beliefs and historical understandings of the väda karana minissu (working people) of all castes did not differ substantially from those of the non-producing elites.

To render this speculation plausible, I raise the following sets of questions regarding the capacities of the two broad classes of people, the ruling elements and the väda karana minissu. Did both classes of people have concerns about the dangers of the evil eye and the intrusion of yakku and perētayās?[33] Did both have faith in the Buddha and the darshanic force of the Tooth Relic? Did both believe that the righteousness of a cakravarti ruler would ensure fertility and good order? Did both believe in karmic retribution, rebirth and the ability to improve one’s lot through the accumulation of merit? Did both believe that Siri Laka was destined to be a Dhammadīpa?[34] Were both aware of the story that rendered Vijaya into their eponymous founding father? Did both consider Dutugämunu and Parākrama Bāhu I to be among the great kings of the past? Did both believe that the meat-eating Europeans were despicable people?[35] Did both believe that the parafigi rogaya (yaws, a form of syphilis) had been introduced by the Portuguese?[36]

To this set of questions I add another critical one: would members of the Govigama ruling class, the radala as they were known, be any better than people in the subordinate classes in storytelling and the composition of poems? My argument is that knowledge did not rest solely on literacy, but on mnemonic capacities that organised oral communi­cation and skills in poetic composition. Once one emphasises oral learning and aural skills, the assumption that there was a significant gap between the elites and the masses appears questionable. In presenting this argument I do not deny the power accruing to the bhikkhus and other men of learning from their ability to inscribe and read palm-leaf texts. Bhikkhus had the opportunity to influence people through their sermons and inter­personal advice, while any literate man reading from a palm-leaf text to a circle of listeners would have been a figure accorded respect. But where many stories and poetic tales were memorised versions, or were conceived through impromptu virtuosity, it was not only literacy that organised such capacities. The particular case of the Sinhala ­speakers in pre-capitalist Lanka, therefore, calls into question Benedict Anderson’s global thesis that such societies were characterised by ‘tiny literate reefs on top of vast illiterate oceans’ and its concomitant emphasis on the wide gulf between ruling class and masses.[37]

A measure of support for my contentions is provided in Robert Knox’s experiences in the Kingdom of Kandy in the seventeenth century.[38] ‘Their ordinary Plow-men and Husbandmen’, he said, ‘do speak elegantly, and are full of complement. And there is no difference between the ability and speech of a Country-man and a Courtier’.[39] The courteousness and flattery in their approaches to men of higher rank, moreover, sat alongside a manner of speaking that was ‘bold without sheepish shame facedness’.[40] Knox also had this to sayAt their leisure when their affairs permit, they commonly meet at places built for strangers and way-faring men to lodge in, in their language called Amblomb [ambalama], where they sit chewing Betel … , discoursing concerning the Affairs at Court, between the King and great Men; and what Employment the People of the City are busied about. For as it is the chief of their business to serve the King, so the chief of their discourse is concerning such matters. Also they talk of their own affairs, about Catel and Husbandry, Laws and Government of their Countrey,…[41]

This sort of evidence suggests that the ambalama (wayside resting shed) was second only to the temple as a site of cultural production and transmission till the late nineteenth century.

It is likely that a wide range of narrative and poetic compositions was taken up at such sites: (i) religious fare such as jātaka tales and the Butsarana;[42] (ii) astrological information, protective incantations and stories of gods and goddesses relating to various forms of power, both harmful and curative;[43] (iii) stories of the achievements of famous kings, notably Dutugämunu, Rājasiñha I and Rājasiñha II;[44]and (iv) the genre known as hatan kavi (literally ‘war poems’, but best understood as poems about potency or shakyabhāvaya). It is also likely that the virtuosi among these local cultivators displayed their capacities in word play by reiterating the best of the tēravili (riddle poems, usually as quatrains known as sivpada) composed during their overnight stints as crop protectors in the distant hēna (swidden) fields. These texts would also have been supplemented by individual tales of specific vandanā gaman (pilgrimages).

Pilgrimages were a valued endeavour on the part of these (mostly) Buddhist Sinhalese people and worked as a critical force in the building of a wider communitarian understand­ing.[45] The absence of roads and the mountainous terrain did not prevent journeys along footpaths girded by ambalamas along the common routes. These pathways and their travellers therefore provided circuits of cultural transmission. The travellers would have included officials, menials and others called out on rājakāriya (king’s service or corvee duty) at temple, dēvāla or state procession, militia being mobilised for war, people visiting sorcery shrines for the alleviation of familial suffering, and those gathering for a poetic performance at a kavikāra maduva or such performative ceremonies as the gammaduva, sokari and kohomba kankāriya or such religious rituals as the katīna pinkama and sati pirit.[46]

War and Political Ideology

The dynastic state of Sinhalē centred upon Senkadagala (Kandy) emerged in the 1590s from a situation of war against the imperial forces of the Portuguese.[47] Continuing a trend that had begun a half century previously, during a period when the Kingdom of Sītāvaka had been the principal centre of indigenous resistance, the next eighty to ninety years were marked by continuously intermittent warfare with the Portuguese and then with the Dutch. On several occasions the king and people of Sinhalē had to abandon Senkadagala and the Kandy Plateau to Portuguese occupation before choosing a moment to defeat them and threaten the territories of the Portuguese with the aid of insurgent fractions among the Sinhalese in the southwestern lowlands.[48]

The political representations of the rulers and people of Sinhalē cannot be grasped without attending to the experience and background of war arising from resistance to a foreign invader. Nor can one gain an appreciation of the context without taking note of the severe impact of Portuguese imperial expansion on all the island peoples. The Portuguese occupation of segments of the island involved the destruction of temples and shrines, the forcible seizure of land, killings and other ravages. That is, Portuguese domination was secured by terror on the one hand and, on the other, through the seduction of local support with the aid of religious conversions and the usual repertoire of political manipulation.[49] The character of the Sinhalese people’s response was, in part, a dialectical outcome of the violent nature of the Portuguese and subsequent imperial intrusions.

The selective study in this article of the body of thought embodying this response is based upon the following sources: (a) a selection of seventeenth-century war poems supplemented by one composed in the 1580s and one presented around 1804-5; (b) fragmentary attention to a few folk tales; (c) Rājasiñha II’s correspondence with the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century;[50] (d) the correspondence between the British authorities and the rulers of Sinhalē in the period 1796-1815;[51] (e) a collection of ‘religious’ stories assembled in a palm-leaf scroll in 1762 and recently edited by Richard Young and G.S.B. Senanayake;[52] and (f) secondary sources.

Of these the war poems are of critical import because they express viewpoints that could not have been confined to the elites and because they have not been mined extensively by historians thus far.[53] In summary, I stress here that the hatan kavi, or war poems, were praise poems eulogising the potency of particular kings, princes or chiefs. They were in the kāvya tradition and, as Ron Inden has argued, must be interpreted as constitutive acts. In the understanding of speakers, recipients and listeners their glorification carried illocutionary force.[54] The words were believed to render the monarch as glorious as potent.

As one might anticipate, the greatest emphasis in the war poems is on the military prowess of specific kings and their (named) commanders. The hierarchical structure of Sinhla society is quite explicit in these stories. The Sīhala senaga (Sinhala troops) fighting the ‘cruel Portuguese forces’ are united under superior figures. The chieftains and the people are therefore presented as worshipping the feet of the kingly figure who is the principal hero of each tale: adha pā himikula vara Rājasīha naranīñdu asamānē, ‘having venerated the incomparable feet of Rājasīha’.[55]

Thus, in detailing how the kings put the enemies to the sword, the war poems present a picture of a devotional body of militia (lak sen or sīhala sen) who served ‘apē mahā niriñdu’, ‘our great king’.[56] This is a recurring phrase in the war poems. It embodies a conventional expression of respect in Sinhala speech, one that continues today in such phrases as apē hammuduravo (‘our priest’), apē gurutumā (‘our teacher’) and apē ammā (‘our mother’) where the singular spokesperson becomes a voice of the wider audience.

Though there may be a touch the formulaic such expressions, the context of war and the partisanship of the speakers make this practice meaningful. ‘Apē mahā niriñdu’ is more than a statement of respect towards a powerful figure. In a maximalist reading based on consultations with literary specialists,[57] I contend that this expression embraces the audience in a sentimental We-feeling around the hero-king. It is yet more. In revealing this style of devotion, the spokesperson was taking possession of the king on behalf of dependant populace/audience. ‘Apē mahā niriñdu’ reminded the king of the expectation that he would fulfil the protective obligations of kingship as spelt out in the coronation and such texts as the Budugunālañkāraya.

In keeping with the political paradigm of a king who was a cakravarti and a bodhisattva, the war poems invest the hero-kings with images drawn from the Buddhist traditions. The kings are also said to have a wide range of language skills and much knowledge. Their illuminative power is depicted as incandescent as a sun that could render all adversaries into minute fireflies: ‘the gallant Atapattu host was posted near to oppose them; and like a cloud of fireflies before the rising sun, the might of the Parangis [Portuguese] was dimmed and their only thought was flight’.[58]

This striking metaphoric contrast goes back to the Buddhist literary traditions of the first millennium CE and is associated with the context of religious conflict in the Indian subcontinent, where Buddhist advocates depicted Siva as a firefly in comparison with the Buddha and the light of his Dhamma.[59] In one version of this metaphoric representation from southern Lanka, it is said that the Asūra-like Danavas, having been expelled from Heaven, are destined to defeat the eternal war as long as the god of Dondra (at the southern tip of Sri Lanka) is pitted against them: ‘for as the waves of the sea must end at the beach, so the on-rush of the Danavas end at the feet of this god, by their prostration there, as the vanquished’.[60]

On occasions, moreover, the war poems add another Buddhist cosmological touch: the figure of Māra is associated with the threatening Other, be it Portuguese, Dutch or English.[61] For the benefit of the uninitiated let me note that Māra, or Vasavārti Mārayā, is the Manichean other in stories surrounding the life of the Buddha. He is the Tempter who attempted to prevent the Buddha from achieving nirvāna. He is also the figure of Disorder, ‘the Evil One himself, the personalised embodiment of all that is antithetical and inimical to the soteriology of Theravada Buddhism’.”[62]

The trope of a ‘White Canopy’ is also deployed at one point in the Rājasīha Hatana, in effect associating the hero-king with purity while linking him to a symbol, the parasol that is an icon for Buddhism as well as a symbol of political paramountcy. The same symbol symbol also enables the poets to convey the encompassing spatial reach of the victorious king, Rājasiñha II: ‘me lak puraya eka sēsat sewanak karamin‘ (made Lanka a shelter united under a single umbrella).[63]

The proclamation of the king’s overlordship over the whole island was not an isolated expression. It features in several war poems. Thus, the Rājasiñha Hatana emphasises the king’s overlordship over Tun Sinhalaya or Tun Laka, that is, the ‘three kingdoms or states of Sinhala/Lanka’ in the translation favoured by Wakkumbura or ‘the whole of Lanka’ in some of Paul E Pieris’s renderings.[64] Indeed, one verse (v. 227) cleverly refers to ‘me tun, rāja Sinhalayata’, that is, ‘these three kingdoms of Rājasiñha’.[65]

In the Mahā Hatana (v. 109) it is affirmed that Rājasiñha ‘protected the Low Country (and) unified blessed Lanka’ (pāta rata rägat sirilaka ekkara nā). Likewise in the Rājasīha Hatana, it is observed that after a battlefield triumph ‘our victorious king … devot[ed] himself to the well being of the two Ratas, for he made no difference between them’.[66] In other words, the pāta rata, or the Low Country (supposedly Portuguese territory), and its people were treated as part of the king’s domain.

In summary, then, we are presented with a picture of cakravarti figures vested with superhuman character, devotional followers and fighters, Sīhala sen, all oriented towards defending a valued territory that was variously referred to as Lakdiva, Tun Sinhalaya, Siri Laka or uda pāta rata. These add up to a powerful sense of collective self-perception linked to territory. What we see here is Sinhala consciousness with a significant measure of patriotism. Underpinning this was an explicit notion of sovereignty. But one cannot refer to this form of thinking as a ‘nationalism’ of the sort found in Europe and elsewhere from the nineteenth century. There was no theory of self-determination supported by the principles of jurisprudence that had developed in Europe. Nor was there an egalitarian ideal and democratic thrust associated with the idea of popular sovereignty. But the resistances mounted by the people of Sinhalē in support of a hierarchically constituted dynastic state did amount to practices of liberation.

The collective identity, the We-ness, of these Sinhalese functioning under the religio­political aura of their king was sharpened by the manner in which their enemies were depicted in the war poems. The vilification of the Portuguese is unrestrained. Though the Sītāvaka Hatana and the Mahā Hatana refer to the Portuguese consistently as pratikāl, in the other poems they are generally termed parañgi (Parañgi). This is a Sinhala word deriving from the Farsi word for foreigner, “firinghee’, “firangi or faranghi’, a term that was used initially by the peoples of India to denote any European, but was thereafter used specifically for the Portuguese and/or the native Christian converts.[67] In the Sri Lankan context, however, it received a sharper edge by the seventeenth century, if not earlier, because it became the word used in Sinhala to designate the disease of yaws, the parañgi rogaya. Yaws is an ‘unsightly and disfiguring skin disease’, that is a form of syphilis.

This label was not enough. The war poems stack vituperation upon vilification. The Portuguese are depicted as geri sivulan (carrion-eating jackals), as rudu parañgi (cruel), as yakās and rakusās (‘demons’) and so forth.[68] Scathing disparagement of the enemy Other enters virtually every war poem that I have seen and is extended to the Dutch as well as the English. Thus, after the war of 1803, the latter are depicted in the Iñgrīsi Hatana as jada (filthy and ferocious), nivata (weaklings) and cruel, and even described as enemies that are like elephants-in-must (rupu madädutun).[69]

Neither are the various auxiliary troops from Indian Ocean countries who made up the Portuguese military force spared from disparagement. The Kannadi, Kāberi and the Tuppahi (or Tuppāsi) are among those that receive the sharpest denigration in the Rājasīha Hatana.[70]

(a) Thereon the worthless crowds (sen) of Kaberis, Kannadis, and Javas, steeped in Kansa and opium and witless with drink, the shameless Sinhalas (Sinhala sen) who accompanied them, with the graceless Bengalis and Parawara sailors.”

(b) The worthless Kaffirs, like mountain-cats fattened on beef and steeped in drink, are cast upon the ground on every side and beaten.

(c) Country born Tuppahis who joined [the Portuguese] to feed on beef and Senhors with retinues around them were cut down. And all around Kaffirs, Kannadis and Parangis from various lands are cut down into small logs of flesh.

Verse 386 presented in translation as (b) above involves a neat rhyming alliteration by juxtaposing kā geri (beefeaters) with Kāberi, that is, the Blacks or `Kaffirs’ from the African continent, as part of its disparagement. The antipathy to the Blacks was accentuated by dread. A subsequent war poem known as the Kāberi Hatana or Kappiri Hatana focused entirely on these folk and depicted them as having ‘hair like a burned hite-ants hill, eyes like inflamed boils, mouths like the sore left by a boil that has burst, breath of horrible stench, and slobbering tongues’.[71]

To the Sinhalese of that day such descriptions as ‘jackals who eat carrion’[72] or ‘moving like a swarm of cattle that had drunk liquor from fermented pots’[73] would have been searing indictments that rendered the foreigners into beastly creatures. Relishing beef and liquor signals the idea of lust, craving and surfeit, namely, practices that are anathema to the good Buddhist. The widespread influence of such values during the late middle period is not only revealed in Robert Knox’s account (1911) of his experiences,[74] but also demonstrated in most of the stories discovered recently in a palm-leaf collection copied down in 1762.[75]

All the stories except one … revolve in part around two sets of oppositions, carnivores vs vegetarians and tipplers vs teetotalers. These oppositions set the world-affirming demons apart from the world-renouncing buddhas, monks and rishis …[76]

Such metaphoric weaponry of denigration also reveals the influence of caste notions of pollution—as indexed by the use of geriya (bullock, carrion, thus very low) as one of the disparaging epithets. It is about the worst term of abuse one could use in Sinhala speech today, being matched only by vēsige putā (son of a prostitute) and tuppahiyā in the verbal weaponry available to Sinhala-speakers.[77]

The term tuppahi itself is a foreign loan word, developing from the syncretic exchanges and liaisons associated with the by-lanes and sea lanes of the Portuguese empire, that seems to have been quickly incorporated into the Sinhala language. Specifically, it seems to have been derived from the word Tupass or Topaz that was so widely used in the Indian Ocean world affected by the Portuguese. Thus, in Hobson Jobson, it is noted that the word was employed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ‘for dark-skinned or half-caste claimants of Portuguese descent, and Christian profession’.[78] Clearly, the twentieth-century Sinhala epithet, tuppahiyā or tuppahi, develops out of the type of ethnic labelling that one finds in the war poems. In the verses from the Rājasīha Hatana reproduced above, `Tuppahi’ or `Tuppāsi’ refers to those taking to Western ways and those of mixed blood, the sañkara or samkara. In fact, there is a reference in the sixteenth century Sītāvaka Hatana (v. 1107-8) to `mē ratē tuppahin’ (this country’s Tuppahi) that links them, in conventional style, with geri mas or beef-cum-carrion.

Responding to the severity of the Portuguese (and subsequent) imperial operations, then, the Sinhala-speakers of the Kandyan era built up a profound antipathy to the Westerners and their supporters. The foreigners were constructed as the equivalents of yakku, that is, `demons’ in crude translation. They stood for disorder, craving, that is, for the Buddhist versions of evil. The aliens, or parayo, were like Māra. The picture was a form of Manichean demonisation which set the opposition ‘Us Sinhala versus Them’ within the cosmological fold of the Sūra confronting the awful, anarchic Asūras, cosmological scenes-cum-tropes of opposition that also enter the war poems.[79]

Such practices of demonisation can safely be deemed a commonplace in the global history of war and expansion. There is little that is surprising here. It is the further twist in this particular body of Sinhalese imagery that is the more stunning. In linking the alien threats of their day with the cosmological dichotomies of the Indic world, the Sinhalese of the Kandyan era also embraced the Tamil enemies of the distant past in their scheme of oppositional denigration. That is, the Tamils are linked to the Portuguese (or English) and thus fused with them. This connection is referred to even though the Tamils, the Demala, did not figure as a danger to the Sinhalese state in the seventeenth and eighteenth century situation because the Kingdom of Yālpanam in the north of the island had been conquered by the Portuguese around 1619.

These conditions notwithstanding, two of the letters sent to the English in the early nineteenth century and at least one of the war poems embrace the Tamils in delineating their ‘field of struggle’. It would appear that the contemporary conflict could not be pictured without attention to a longer history. The past was brought into the scene and merged with the present. The fusion across time is reminiscent of the idea of ‘messianic time’, a concept that Benedict Anderson derives from Auerbach and Walter Benjamin. Messianic time.refers  to ‘a simultaneity of past and future in an instantaneous present’ and contrasts with the forms of time that we are familiar with today, namely, ‘homogeneous empty time’ measured by clock and calendar.[80] That the struggle between the Sūras and Asūras on the one hand, and the Sinhala state and the Demala or Chola of yesteryear on the other, should be part of the imagery in the war poems is wholly in keeping with cosmological framework of understanding which organised the representations of the Sinhala spokes­persons of the Kandyan era. This frame of interpretation, the milieu of messianic time, was further compounded by what can be called ‘associational logic’ or ‘analogic thinking’. 

Associational Logic, Conflation via Analogy

I marshal the evidence first before proceeding with my analytical exegesis. It is best to begin with a remarkable letter from the Kandyan court, signed by a leading chief on behalf of the King and dated 27 November 1811.[81] The letter commences, as usual, with ‘King Wijaya’ and the manner in which he brought human culture to Lanka. Vijaya’s sovereignty, it is said, passed on to Devanampiyatissa in whose reign the light of Buddhism took root. It then proceeds thus:

“Whilst the Gods and Lords Supreme, the Chiefs of Men in the terrestrial World who at several periods attained to the Sovereignty, continue increasing the Prosperity of the World and Religion, the host of Seyde Malabars landing at Jaffna, having offered presents to the Gods and Lords, who at that time enjoyed the Sovereignty, and obtained Permission merely to remain trading on the Sea Coast, and (thus) residing, when a considerable time had elapsed, as the [sic: `they’?) displaying omens of their destruction, commenced War in hostility to the great Command, and capturing also a few Countries whilst they are residing. Dutugeymanu God and Lord Supreme, like the great Prince of Lions cleaving the crowns of Elephants, as foreign Enemies attaining to the Sovereignty, having destroyed and expelled the Host of Seyde Malabars, like a gross mass before a gigantic Wind (?), increasing the Prosperity of the World and Religion in the happy Isle of Lanka. After he departed to Heaven, when a long time had elapsed, again a Malabar Host from Solilau(?) several times landing in Lakdiva made War. At those several periods the Gods and Lords … annihilating the Hosts of these Foes, the Prosperity of the World and Religion was increased, but no Prosperity attended the Host of their Enemies … . Afterwards also at the time of Dharmasiri Parakrama Bahu, … who dwelt in the same City Kotta, was exercising the Sovereignty, the Portuguese Host landing in Lanka, having brought and offered many Presents, obtaining leave to remain keeping Peace at Kolon tota, and … dwelling in the same Kolon tota trading. Again, having raised the … imaginations suited to the Extinction of their Life, becoming hostile to Kandy, inimical to the great Command, prepared for War … whilst they are continuing, the happy Rajasinha, God and Lord Supreme, … making War with the Portuguese Force, … Because it was required for keeping Peace and Watch at Kolon Totamuna, and other places on the Margin of the Sea Coast, … having caused the Dutch multitude to be brought, made them reside in those Places.

The letter then goes on to note that the Dutch became hostile because of ‘unbecoming Counsels’ and that the English came initially as friends. It also refers to the French being ‘brought to station Guards in the fixed Places’ and to specific English entanglements in southern India.

This document is significant in numerous ways. It is a distilled history that covers some twenty-three centuries and in effect reiterates the main theme of the vamsa chronicles by presenting—in effect though not in so many words—the island as a Dhammadīpa associ­ated with the Sinhalese and their kings. However, the most significant aspect of this letter is the manner in which it collapses time to associate the Tamil invaders with the Europeans. The document is not wholly atemporal, however. It proceeds chronologically and has elements of periodicity. Its temporal conflation is a structural one. In effect, the several foreign forces at different points of time are depicted as people who ingratiated themselves and secured a place in the island of Lanka or were aides summoned as adjunct vassals. But every one of these outsiders is then said to have been perfidious, arrogant and threatening to the ‘Great Command’, that is, the King of Kandy or Sinhalē.

Significantly, the Tamils who are said to threaten the proper order in this manner are described with the conventional trope sädi demalu, for that is what the phrase `Seyde Malabars’ means. From way back, the European powers in the Indian subcontinent identified the southern Indian peoples who spoke one of the Dravidian tongues as `Malabars’. The Kandyan court appears to have adopted the latter phrase. In any event, one is left in no doubt about this point. Another letter sent by the Kandyan court on 8 February 1812 uses the phrase `Seyde Demala’ while reiterating some of the arguments in their previous letter.[82] The telling word here is sädi (also rendered as hädi). It is a powerful invective. Scholars have translated the epithet as ‘filthy’, ‘cruel’, ‘wicked’, ‘fierce’ and `umuly’.[83] This is an indication of the multiple thrusts attached to the word. Sinhala dictionaries attribute both fierceness and filthiness to this word within a longer list.[84] Thus, metaphorically speaking it is a double-headed hammer. In so far as ‘savagery’ and `filthiness’ (kunu kasala sahita) are both vile, I would translate it as ‘vile-cum-fierce’. Whatever one’s choice, there can be no doubt about the disparaging implications in the use of this trope by the Kandyan leadership.

The simile is a conventional one. It is an image of the Tamils in the story of the Sinhala king Dutugamunu in the fifth/sixth century Mahāvamsa.[85] In this tale, the young prince tells his mother the queen that he could not sleep stretched out because the rump Sinhala kingdom was compressed between ‘the fierce Tamils to the north and the turbulent sea to the south’ (uturen sädi demalui, dakunen golu muhudai). It is in association with the figure of Dutugämunu that the phrase `sädi demala’ is utilised in the Rāijasīha Hatana.[86]

Sebalun saha lata                                     ra

sädi demala sen puvata                            ra

goda bäsa vit nohä                                  ra

näsu vilasin pera Anurupu                      ra

As when long ago the cruel Demalās did land and sack our city Anurapura.


Sädi demala rupu kä                                la

paha karana men nopäki                         la

Mahagama pura puva                             la

Gämunu raja rivi pahaminev du            la

As when King Gemunu was born at Mahagampura to drive away the fierce Demalas.

The striking juxtaposition of the Tamil invaders of the distant past with contemporary threats in these representations of the Kandyan period is a conflation that can be conceptualised as ‘associational logic’. This idea is borrowed from Young and Senanayaka,[87] who deploy it in the course of researches that fall squarely within our period and region of interest. Their focus is a body of Sinhala texts assembled in a palm-leaf manuscript in 1762. There is no reference to the Tamils in these writings. Though disparate, these texts share a concern with issues of salvation from a Buddhist viewpoint and take an adversarial stance in relation to rival religions. A striking feature of this collection is the manner in which textual characters that are represented in one context under one name pop up in ‘another [context] under a different name without losing their identity in the roll-over from story to story’. One such character is the figure of Isvara, that is, Siva, who is presented in these texts as ‘the fount of all evil’. But Isvara is also called Ispittu’, that is, spiritus or ‘lord god’ in the Indian world subject to Christian proselytisation. It is the `mechanics of associational logic’ that explains how the Christian god and the Saivite god were (are) merged ‘within an environment of intersecting and interacting elements of religion … and language’. Among those Sinhala Buddhists caught up in the adversarial rivalries of religious debate in the late middle period, the Christian heresies of their day `would not have seemed dissimilar to the heresies of antiquity’, that is, to the Saivite challenges of the early middle period and before.[88]

Another way to comprehend the linkages in the texts referred to above is to say that their reasoning is analogic. It is analogic because it involves ‘extended applications, application by analogy, transference of one attribute to another, attraction of one case or rule to another’.[89] This is a definition of the atidesa function in a Sanskrit dictionary and I am indebted to Ranajit Guha for a vivid illustration of its operation. Guha utilises the concept to clarify the ’embryonic theoretical consciousness’ of those nineteenth-century Indian peasants, who rose in revolt in some localities.[90] He shows how ‘rebel violence tended to spread analogically developing its initial attack on any particular element among the peasants’ enemies into a general attack on all or most of them, a process by which insurgency came to permeate an entire domain constituted by such authorities’.[91] Thus, in certain regions the ‘peasantry’ (Guha’s simplified abstraction) revealed an awareness of the structured links between the landlords, moneylenders and state officials.

Guha’s case studies are synchronic in the sense that the analogic reasoning of his rebel activists is directed at opponents who live at the same moment in contiguous space. In contrast, I am using the atidēsa idea, re-worked as `associational logic’, to comprehend a diachronic extension backwards across several centuries. And I emphasise the fact that this reasoning is a cross-class body of thought linking significant proportions of the working people within the Sinhala speech community with the ruling elites and their dynasts in opposition to other bodies of people deemed as threats.

I go further. These Others were also framed as ‘outsiders’ in the sense para (alien and low). I contend here that the ‘transference’ that is so central to the associational extensions is rendered feasible in this instance by the inside:outside metaphor that is a semi-subter­ranean paradigm in Sinhala thought-forms. This pattern is embedded in the language through the day-to-day applications of the term pita, as in pita minissu (outside people, those outside our clique, faction, village as the case may be). These situational applications have the capacity to engender a segmentary structure of affiliations in the manner of a series of Chinese boxes. Thus, pita can map unto para and become synonymous.

As we have seen, that is what occurs in the war poems. The demonisation that is such a pronounced feature of these compositions embody an inside:outside dichotomy, with the Sinhalese as insiders and the Others as outsiders. Each one of these Others, therefore, was constituted as a para rupu, foreign enemy. This characterisation was sometimes even extended to those indigenous people who were becoming Westernised by marriage or life style, that is, those depicted as tuppahi or senor.[92]

This meant that, standing in, say, the year 1803, a Sinhala chieftain or an ordinary villager versed in poetic compositions in the Kingdom of Sinhalē would be encouraged by the English threat of the day to conflate the English (Iñgrīsi) with previous foreign threats from the Dutch and the Portuguese. This is no surprise. But it is remarkable to discover the analogic extensions being pushed a long way back in time to encompass the historical tales about the Cola invasion in the tenth and eleventh centuries and the Dutugämunu epic of the second century BCE. Thus, ancient memories as understood by powerful forces of the day drew on the distant past to equate the sädi demala with the Parañgi, Landēsi, Iñgrīsi and so on. There is a temporal superimposition as well as a clear-cut Othering here.

In this conflationary process of Othering, the ‘and so on’, which is my insertion, cannot be glossed over. In the war poems, as we have just seen, several named bodies of people are linked with the imperial threat because they were among the troops whom the Western powers deployed against the state of Sinhalē. Thus, the Tuppāsi, Kannadi and Kāberi appear among the dangerous Others. Here, the letter sent by the Kandyan court on 27 November 1811 carries particular importance. It also brings the French into the frame of the Threatening Other – as one among several ‘foreign Hosts’ (the word translated as ‘hosts’ was probably sen or senaga) lurking on the horizon.

From our position of retrospective advantage, we know that, by the early nineteenth century, French power was on the decline in the regions of the Indian Ocean. They were in the process of being excluded from any prospect of a prominent imperial role by the growing power of the British Empire. But this was not known to the Sinhala leadership of the day. From their experiences and their knowledge of southern Indian politics, they were aware of the possibility that the French, who had temporally seized the fort of Trincomalee in 1782 and with whom they had initiated diplomatic correspondence in 1778,[93] could displace the British (English) in the maritime regions, just as the latter had displaced the Dutch and the Dutch had dislodged the Portuguese.

In brief, in their viewpoint the enemies actual and potential were different. They were also one. From the latter position, a Manichean dichotomy was encouraged. Within its own framework the logic remains impeccable. But this may not have been everyone’s logic and does not exhaust the field of reasoning.


This article was carved out of Mss in process which eventually became Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590s t0 1815 , Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2004. 



[1]    The following are abbreviations used in this paper: IH = Iñgrīsi Hatana (War with the English), originally composed c. 1804 by Väligala Mudali, ed. by K. R. Jayatunga (Matugama, 1951).

MH = Mahā Hatana (The Great War), seventeenth century poem said to be composed by Kirimätiyāwē Mätidun, published by Vidyasagara Printers, 1896, edited by Albert de Silva.

PH = Parañgi Hatana (Portuguese War), edited by T.S. Hemakumar (publisher unknown, Colombo, 1964).

RH = Rājasīha Hatana (Rājasīnha’s War), edited by H.M. Somaratna (Kandy, 1968).

SH = Sītāvaka Hatana (The Sītāvaka War), edited by Rohini Paranavitana (Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1999).

[2]     These are only two of the many synonyms used to refer to the island and its principal state in the Sinhala sources during the period 1232-1815, the variations being in part due to the possibilities afforded by Palicised-Sinhala, Sanskritic-Sinhala or the simpler Elu form of Sinhala. Likewise the foreshortened versions, such as Laka and Sinhala, implicitly had the prefix Sri or Siri or Tri or Tun.

ISSN 1463-1369 print; 1469-2953 online/02/010029-18 © 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd

DOI: 10.1080/14631360120095856

[3] The best work to date remains the early book by the nationalist historian Paul E. Pieris, Sinhale and the Patriots, 1815—1818 (Navrang, Delhi, 1995). This version is a reprint of the one originally published in 1939. Information can also be found in Geoffrey Powell, Kandyan Wars: The British Army in Ceylon, 1803-1818 (Leo Cooper, London, 1973); Tennakoon Vimalananda. The Great Rebellion of 1818 (M. D. Gunasena, Colombo, 1970) and Colvin R. de Silva, Ceylon under the British Occupation, 1795-1833, vol. 1, second ed. (Colombo Apothecaries Co., Colombo, 1953).

[4] This has been partially addressed by my early work: Michael Roberts, ‘Variations on the Theme of Resistance Movements: The Kandyan Rebellion of 1817-18 and Latter-Day Nationalism of Ceylon’, Ceylon Studies Seminar 1970—72 Series, no. 10 (1972), where I suggested that the revolt was motivated by a ‘traditional patriotism with a built-in national consciousness; or what one can call a “traditional patriotism-cum-nationalism”’ (p. 21). Note, however, that within a few years of this publication I reversed my suggestion and jettisoned the nationalism label: Michael Roberts, ‘Meanderings in the Pathways of Collective Identity and Nationalism, in M. Roberts (ed), Collective Identities, Nationalism and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka (Marga Publications. Colombo. 1979). Pp. 29-30.

[5]    The Pujāvaliya was written by a monk in 1266 and is in simple Sinhala prose. The Rājāvaliyas and Bandāravaliyas straddle the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries. See D. G. B. de Silva, ‘New Light on Vanni Chiefs, Based on Historical Tradition, Palm-Leaf Manuscripts and Official Records’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Sri Lanka, n.s. being the Sesquicentennial Special Number. vol. 61 (1998), pp. 153—204; H. A. P. Abeyawardana, Boundary Divisions of Medieval Sri Lanka (Academy of Sri Lankan Culture, Pulgasovita. l999); Ananda S. Kulasuriya, “The Minor Chronicles and Other Traditional Writings in Sinhalese and Their Practical Value‘, Ceylon Historical Journal, no. 25 (1978), pp. 1—33; Ananda S. Kulasuriya, ‘Sinhala Writing and the Transmission of Texts in ,Pre-Modern Times’. Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities, no. 16 (1990), pp. 174—89; and Pujāvaliya (Buddhist Cultural Centre, Colombo, 1997).

[6]     S. B. D. de Silva, The Political Economy of Underdevelopment (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. 1982), p. 211.

[7]     See W. A. de Silva, ‘The Popular Poetry of the Sinhalese’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, no. 68 (1915/16), pp. 27-66; D. G. B. de Silva, ‘New Light on Vanni Chiefs’.

[8]     Tennakoon Vimalananda, Sri Wickrema, Brownrigg and Ehelepola (Gunasena, Colombo, 1984), pp. 69, 73, 75, 78 and Paul E. Pieris, Tri Sinhala: The Last Phase, 1796—l815 (Navrang, Delhi, 1995 reprint, original publication, 1939), pp. 95, 97.

[9]     Seneviratne, Rituals of the Kandyan State, pp. 89-98, 2-4.

[10]   See Lorna S. Dewaraja, The Kandyan Kingdom of Ceylon, 1707-1760 (Lake House Investments, Colombo, 1972), pp. 210-11; John C. Holt, Buddha in the Crown (Oxford University Press, New York, 1991), p. 61; and H. L. Seneviratne, Rituals of the Kandyan State (Cambridge University Press., Cambridge, 1978), pp. 2-4, 95-101.

[11]   Quotation from the sixteenth century Rājaratnācaraya in Ralph Pieris, Sinhalese Social Organization (Ceylon University Press Board, Colombo, 1956). P. 11n. Also see the Pūjāvaliyā (personal communication from H. A. P. Abeywardena).

[12]   K.N.O. Dharmadasa, ‘ “The People of the Lion”: Ethnic Identity, Ideology and Historical Revisionism in Contemporary Sri Lanka’, Ethnic Studies Report, no. 10 (1992), p. 52.

[13]   Gananath Obeyesekere, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1987), p. 54.

[14]   Gananath Obeyesekere, Land Tenure in Village Ceylon (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1967), chap. 9; and Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1990), pp. 198-262. Hocart’s views can be gleaned from his Kings and Councillors (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1936 reprint).

[15]   Obeyesekere, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini, p. 55; C.R. de Silva, ‘Beyond the Cape: The Portuguese Encounter with the Peoples of South Asia’, in S.B. Schwartz (ed.), Implicit Understandings (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994), pp. 314 and PH v. 24, 27, 35.

[16]   Pieris, Sinhalese Social Organization, pp. 23, 61. Also see Dewaraja’s articles in K.M. de Silva (ed.), History of Sri Lanka, vol. 2 (Sridevi, Colombo, 1995 for the University of Peradeniya), pp. 396-7, 464.

[17] Obeyesekere, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini, p. 86; Seneviratne, Rituals of the Kandyan State, p. 87 and Holt, Buddha in the Crown, pp. 127-30.

[18]   Roberts, The Sinhala and the Other, Mss book, chap. 4 and 5. This concept can be treated as more or less synonymous with C.R. de Silva’s passing reference to ‘ritual sovereignty’, see C.R. de Silva, ‘Sri Lanka in the Early 16th Century: Political Conditions’, in K.M de Silva (ed.), University of Peradeniya History of Sri Lanka, vol. 2 (Sridevi, Colombo, 1995), p. 11. It also has similarities to what Dirks calls ‘ritual kingship’, see Nicholas Dirks, The Hollow Crown: An Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1987).

[19]   [Rājasinha] to the Captain Major … in Caliture (sic)’, 15 Jan. 1653 in Donald Ferguson, ‘Raja Sinha II and the Dutch’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, vol. 18 (1904), p. 214. Also see pp. 195, 227. Note that these letters were in Portuguese and that the Western word for Lanka, namely, `Ceilao’, was used throughout.

[20]   [Rājasinha] to Commandeur of Negombo, 1 June 1646, in Ferguson, ‘Raja Sinha II and the Dutch’, p. 194. Also see Pieris, Sinhale and the Patriots, p. 5.

[21]   S. Arasaratnam, ‘Dutch Sovereignty in Ceylon: A Historical Survey of its Problems’, Ceylon Journal of Historical & Social Studies, no. 1 (1958), pp. 117,112 and T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, ‘Princes and Merchants: Relations between the Kings of Kandy and the Dutch East India Company in Sri Lanka, 1688-1740’, Journal of the Sri Lanka National Archives, no. 2 (1984), pp. 40,57.

[22]   Abeyasinghe, ‘Princes and Merchants’, p. 40 and Paul E. Pieris, Ceylon and the Hollanders, 1658-1796 (Navrang, New Delhi, 1995 reprint, original ed. 1918), p. 23.

[23]   Abeyasinghe, ‘Princes and Merchants’, pp. 40,39.

[24]   T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, ‘Embassies as Instruments of Diplomacy from Sri Lanka in the First Half of the 18th Century’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka Branch, no. 30 (1985/6), p. 13; Abeyasinghe, ‘Princes and Merchants’, p. 49.

[25]   Abeyasinghe, Princes and Merchants’, p. 49.

[26]   Whether the Dutch comprehended this theory in full is uncertain, but it is the interpretation of the ruling classes in the Kingdom of Kandy and the headmen of the Low Country that counts. This thesis is more fully elaborated in Roberts, The Sinhala and the Other, chap. 4-6. Critical material for this argument can be found in Abeyasinghe, ‘Princes and Merchants’; Abeyasinghe, ‘Embassies as Instruments of Diplomacy from Sri Lanka’, pp. 1-40; and James S. Duncan, The City as Text: The Politics of Landscape Interpretation in the Kandyan Kingdom (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990).

[27]   See the Mädapitiya Sannasa: John C. Holt, The Religious Works of Kīrti Srī (Oxford University Press, New York, 1996), p. 35.

[28]   S.J. Tambiah, Culture, Thought and Social Action: An Anthropological Perspective (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1985), chap. 7 and S.J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992), 173-6. Also see Inden, Imagining India, pp. 213-62, especially 228ff.

[29]   Pieris, Sinhale and the Patriots, p. 26.

[30]   Pieris, Sinhale and the Patriots, p. 431 n 21 and Pieris, Sinhalese Social Organization, pp. 18, 23.

[31]   This paragraph is based largely on Lorna S. Dewaraja, The Kandyan Kingdom of Ceylon, 1707-1782, second revised ed. (Lake House Investments, Colombo, 1988); L.S. Dewaraja, S. Arasaratnam and D.A. Kotelawele, `Administrative Systems: Kandyan and Dutch’, in K.M. de Silva (ed.), University of Peradeniya History of Sri Lanka, vol. 2 (Sridevi, Colombo, 1995), pp. 321-74; and Pieris, Sinhalese Social Organization.

[32] Notably Dharmadasa, “The People of the Lion”, p. 55 and K.N.O. Dharmadasa, ‘The Sinhala-Buddhist Identity and the Nayakkar Dynasty in the Politics of the Kandyan Kingdom, 1739-1815’, in M. Roberts (ed.), Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka (Marge, Colombo, 1979), p. 120, but also R.A.L.H. Gunawardana, ‘The People of the Lion: Sinhala Identity and Ideology in History and Historiography’, in J. Spencer (ed.) Sri Lanka. History and the Roots of Conflict (Routledge, London, 1990), pp. 65-9.


[33]   On this question, see Robert Knox, An Historical Relation of Ceylon, edited by J. Ryan (James Maclehose, Glasgow, 1911), pp. 103, 114-35. In rough translation yakku can be rendered as ‘demons’, and perētayo as ‘ancestor spirits’.

[34]   Siri Laka refers to ‘blessed Lanka’ and implicitly to ‘Lanka blessed by the Buddha’ (information from Yodhagama DharmaPala, but also see MH v. 74 where the phrase Exam siri laka, or ‘Lanka blessed by the Buddha’, occurs). Dhammadīpa refers to ‘island of the Dharnma’, the concept in the vamsa chronicles that makes the Sinhalese a chosen people.

[35]   Knox, An Historical Relation of Ceylon, pp. 138,170-1.

[36]   Joao Ribeiro, History of Ceylon Presented by Captain Joao Ribeiro to the King of Portugal in 1685, trans. by the Abbé le Grand and re trans. by George Lee, Government Press, Colombo, 1847, p. 69 and Michael Roberts, Ismeth Raheem & Percy Colin-Thomé, People Inbetween. Vol. 1. The Burghers and the Middle Class in the Transformations within Sri Lanka, 1790s-1960s (Sarvodaya Book Publishing, Ratmalana, 1989), PP- 5-6.

[37]   Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (Verso, London, 1983), p. 22.

[38]  Knox was held as a prisoner, confined to specific villages, for nineteen years in the mid-seventeenth century.

[39]   Knox, An Historical Relation of Ceylon, p. 168. Note, too that Knox quotes a local saying regarding the people of ‘Conde Uda’ that ran thus: ‘take a Ploughman from the Plough, and wash off his dirt, and he is fit to rule a Kingdom’ (Knox, An Historical Relation of Ceylon, p. 171).

[40]   Elsewhere Knox (An Historical Relation of Ceylon, p. 175) says: ‘Their learning [being] but small. All they ordinarily learn is to read and write. But it is no shame to a man if he can do neither. Nor have they schools’. Here Knox reveals his bias towards literacy. Despite his working knowledge of Sinhala, moreover, it is evident that Knox had not developed skills in poetic story telling.

[41]   Knox. An Historical Relation of Ceylon, p. 159.

[42]   Jātaka stories are tales of Buddha’s previous lives as a bodhisattva that convey Buddhist ethics in a simple style. The Butsarana is a thirteenth-century prose ‘recital in praise and adoration of the Buddha’, relating his virtues and superhuman qualities in a form that ‘is within the scope of the ordinary Sinhalese reader’. See C.E. Godakumbura, Sinhalese Literature (Colombo Apothecaries Co., Colombo, 1955), pp. 71, 75.

[43]   Examples would be such stories as the Dehi Upata (The Birth of the Limes), the Yakun Elavīma (The Exorcism of Demons) and the Pattini Hälla (The Story of Pattini—a lyric concerning the curative powers of the goddess Pattini). See Hugh Nevill, Sinhala Verse (Kavi), vols. 1, 2 and 3, (Govt. Press, Colombo, 1954-5).

[44]   A large repertoire of stories regarding the latter two kings have been circulated in both oral and written forms into the twentieth century (information from Sandadas Coperahewa and Ananda Wakkumbura).

[45]   G. Obeyesekere, ‘The Vicissitudes of the Sinhala-Buddhist Identity through Time and Change’, in M. Roberts (ed.), Sri Lanka. Collective identities Revisited, Vol. I, Marga Institute, Colombo, 1997, pp. 364-5.

[46]   Dēvāla refer to shrines to the deities; kavikāra maduva refers to the king’s minstrels or sites at which poetry performances occurred; gammaduva has multiple meanings of a connected sort, but refers here to an all-purpose village ritual of propitiation that involves dances and spectacles calling forth an assembly of deities; kohomba kañkāriya is also a ritual of propitiation or thanksgiving that uses folk art forms to propitiate a collectivity of deities; a katina pinkama describes a merit-making ceremony involving donations of robes to bhikkhus after the rainy season of retreat; sati pirit to a week-long chanting of Buddhist texts as a protective rite.

[47]   The ‘state’ of Kandy emerged as a sub-kingdom of the Kingdom of Kōttē in the late fifteenth century, one that acknowledged the overlordship of the latter through the tribute and audience ceremony known as däkum.  This sub-kingdom was an important player in the labyrinthine politics of the mid-sixteenth century, but ceased to exist between 1581 and 1591 because it was taken over by the Kingdom of Sītāvaka. See Dewaraja, The Kandyan Kingdom of Ceylon, 1707-1760, pp. 18-21; C.R. de Silva, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Sitavaka’, in K.M. de Silva (ed.), University of Perademya History of Sri Lanka, vol. 2 (Sridevi, Colombo, 1995) pp. 61, 66.

[48]   See relevant chapters in T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, Portuguese Rule in Ceylon, 1594-1612 (Lake House Investments, Colombo, 1966); C.R. de Silva, The Portuguese in Ceylon, 1617-1638 (H.W. Cave, Colombo, 1972) and K. M. de Silva (ed.), History of Sri Lanka Vol. 11 (Sridevi, Colombo, 1995).

[49]   C.R. Boxer, ‘Christians and Spices: Portuguese Missionary Methods in Ceylon, 1518-1658’, History Today, no. 8 (1958), pp. 346-54; H.C.P. Bell, ‘Mahā Saman Dēvāle and its Sannasa’, Ceylon Antiquary & literary Register, vol. 2 (July 1916), pp. 36-46; Abeyasinghe, Portuguese Rule in Ceylon, pp. 66-68,110-12, 204-10 and de Silva, ‘Beyond the Cape’, pp. 302, 304, 318-19.

[50]   Ferguson, ‘Raja Sinha H and the Dutch’, and Donald Ferguson, ‘Letters from Raja Sinha II to the Dutch’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, vol. 21 (1909), pp. 259-67.

[51]   Tennakoon Vimalananda, The British Intrigue in the Kingdom of Ceylon (M.D. Gunasena, Colombo, 1973) and Vimalananda, Sri Wickrema, Brownrigg and Ehelepola; Historical Manuscripts Commission, ‘Letters of John D’Oyly’, edited and translated by Rambukwellē Siddhārtha Thero, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Bulletin No. 2, 1937 and my archival work on some of the correspondence at the Public Record Office.

[52]   R.F. Young and G.S.B. Senanayaka, The Carpenter-Heretic. A Collection of Buddhist Stories about Christianiry. from 18th Century Sri Lanka (Karunaratne, Colombo, 1998).

[53]   C.R. de Silva, ‘The Historiography of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka: A Survey of the Sinhala Writings’, Samskrti, no. 17 (1983), pp. 13-22 and de Silva, ‘Beyond the Cape’ are exceptions.

[54]   Inden, Imagining India, p. 232.

[55]   PH v. 50 (translated for the author by Sandadas Coperahewa. Also see RH v. 119 and SH v. 101. One also finds references to such acts of veneration in the prose work Rājāvaliya, e.g. B. Gunasekara (ed.), Rājāvaliya or a Historical Narrative of Sinhalese Kings (Govt. Printer, Colombo, 1954), p. 71

[56]   Or a number of synonyms: ‘apē samiñdu‘, ‘apē mahā nirapāla‘. See RH v. 109-10, 113, 125 208-09; PH v. 92; MH v. 98, 106, 140, 154; IH v. 26, 94, 116, 119, 174, 213, 236.

[57]   Tissa Kumara, P B Meegaskumbura, Rohini Paranavitana, D S Mayadunne, D P M Weerakkody, Ananda Wakkumbura and Srinath Ganewatte.

[58]   Paul E. Pieris, ‘Parangi Hatanē’, in his Ribeiro’s History of Ceilao (Colombo Apothecaries Co., Colombo, 1909), v. 136 (that is, RH v. 128). The poem translated by Pieris (pp. 244-70) is the same as the Rājasīha Hatana edited by Somaratna, though the verses are adjacent in their numbering rather than precisely matching. Also see RH v. 118-9; PH v. 12, 22, 28; SH v. 742.

[59]   Personal communication from P B Meegaskumbura.

[60]   W.F. Gunawardhana, “The Kokila Sandēsa’, Ceylon Antiquary & Literary Register, vol. 3 (Jan. 1919), p. 158 n 28.

[61]   PH v. 135; SH v. 103; RH v. 177

[62]   Young and Senanayaka, The Carpenter-Heretic, p. 8.

[63]   RH v. 225.

[64]   RH v. 43, 125, 226.

[65]   This is Ananda Wakkumbura’s rendering.

[66]   Pieris, ‘Parangi Hatanē’, v. 223, being RH v. 214. Verse 223 is verse 214 of RH. Also see RH v. 31, 220, 404, 416.

[67]   Henry Yule and A.C.Burnell (eds), Hobson-Jobson, A Glosssary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive (original ed. 1886; Rupa, Delhi, 1994), 1886 ed., p. 269 and G.C. Whitworth, An Anglo-Indian Dictionary (Kegan Paul, Trench, London, 1885), pp. 97 and 95. The same Persian word took root in the Malay language as `peringgi’, meaning ‘A Frank, an European, a Portuguese’, see R.I. Wilkinson, A Malay—English Dictionary (?, Singapore, 1903), p. 457. Also see de Silva, ‘Beyond the Cape’, p. 296.

[68]   MH v 25, 53, 60, 140, 144; RH v. 25, 30, 80, 86, 386.

[69]    IH v. 81, 61, 38, 29.

[70]   The verses that follow are from the RH v. 231, 386 and 395 in the Somaratna edition. The translations of (a) and (b) are the free paraphrase provided by P.E. Pieris and D.J.K. Goonetilleke in Pieris, ‘Parangi Hatanē’, v. 239 and 396 respectively. The translation (c) has been provided by Ananda Wakkumbura.

[71] Nevill, Sinhala Verse, vol. 2, p. 206. Also see Nevill, Sinhala Verse, vol. 1, p. 115. S. Gunawardena notes that the Kāberi are said to have ‘huge heads, red eyes, white teeth and mouths which dripped with saliva’. See Siranee Gunawardana, Palm Leaf Manuscripts of Sri Lanka(Sarvodaya, Ratmalana, 1997), p. 181.

[72]   Geri sivulan in MH v. 26.

[73]   Kādi surā bī giya geri goñ räla, MH v. 53.

[74]   Knox, An Historical Relation of Ceylon.

[75]   The dates when each story was coined are not known. These stories are transliterated and translated in Young and Senanayaka, The Carpenter-Heretic. There are seven. The titles provided by the editors are as follows: (a) The Re-Formation of the Cosmos; (b) Star Wars; (c) The Tyranny of Time; (d) The Assault of the Sadhus; (e) The Assembly of Baga; (1) The Heretics of the Blue Lotus Church; and (g) The Carpenter-Heretic.

[76]   Young and Senanayaka, The Carpenter-Heretic, p. 11.

[77]   My authority for this is Sergeant Villegoda (personal communication, 28 Sept. 1986) whose service in the police extended to both Kandyan and Low Country areas.

[78]   Yule and Burnell (eds), Hobson-Jobson, 1994 ed., pp. 933-4.

[79]   PH v. 38-9; RH v. 10, 103, 240, 404, 416; IH v. 32; and SH v. 277, 513.

[80]   Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (revised ed. Verso, London, 1991), pp. 22-36, especially p. 24. In this argument the development of empirical and rational forms of history writing is one facet of the displacement of the cosmological world view associated with messianic time. And both processes are linked to the decline of the sacral, cross-regional religions and the sacred languages. In effect, Anderson’s thesis is a sophisticated expansion of the old secularisation thesis. See Christopher Pinney, ‘The Nation (Un)pictured? Chromolithography and “Popular” Politics in India, 1878-1995’, Critical Inquiry, 23 (1997), pp. 849ff for a perceptive review which reveals where this argument falls down in modem India.

[81]   Ahälēpola to D’Oyly, 27 Nov. 1811, enclosed in Wilson to Liverpool, 26 Feb. 1812 in CO 54/42, pp. 47-51. This letter is not reprinted in the books by Vimalananda where there is a gap in the documents between c. 1806 and 1812.

[82]   Ahälēpola to D’Oyly, 8 Feb. 1812, enclosed in Wilson to Liverpool, 26 Feb. 1812 in CO 54/42, pp. 53-4.

[83]   Gananath Obeyesekere, `Dutthagāmini and the Buddhist Conscience’, in D. Allen (ed.), Religion and Political Conflict in South Asia (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1993), p. 152; Pieris, ‘Parangi Hatanē’, verses 31, 38 and Dharmadasa, “The People of the Lion”, pp. 46-7.

[84]   Thus its Sinhala synonyms are (a) kunu kasala sahita and (b) chanda according to Prāyogika Sinhala Shabdhakōshaya (Practical Sinhala Dictionary), vol. 2 (Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1984), pp. 1767 and 1880; T.F. Dharmabandu, Sinhala Mahā Akarādiya (The Great Sinhala Dictionary) (Gunasena, Colombo, 1962), p. 1207; and Thero Sorata, Sri Sumangala Sabdakosaya [Sri Sumangala Dictionary] (Anula Press, Colombo, 1926), p. 1035. Also see Rev. Charles Carter, A Sinhalese—English Dictionary (Asian Educational Services, Madras, 1996), p. 675. This 1996 edition is a facsimile reproduction of the 1924 edition.

[85]   To what extent the categories `Sinhala’ and ‘Tamil’ were opposed to each other in the centuries BCE is a moot point. The conventional acceptance of this division as an integral part of the political scene can be called into question. The fifth-century Dīpavamsa does not mark the antinomy sharply and does not indicate that Elāra, the king whom Dutugämunu defeated, is Tamil, though some previous invaders are described as Tamil. It is the Mahāvamsa composed in the fifth/sixth century CE that the enmity is emphasised. While this may well be a reading of sixth century conditions into the second century BCE, one should note that these Pali texts were based on Sinhala texts known as the Sīhalatthakatāmāhavamsa (now lost) that were repositories of oral tradition.

[86]   RH v. 26 and 33 with the free paraphrase coined by Pieris and Goonetilleke in Pieris, `Parangi Hatanē’, v. 31 and 38.

[87]   Young and Senanayaka, The Carpenter-Heretic, pp. 21-2.

[88]   Young and Senanayaka, The Carpenter-Heretic, pp. 21-2. Anti-Saivite expressions entered a range of Sinhala texts intermittently from the tenth century onwards: see Sahassavattuppakarana, Saddharmākāraya and Rasavāhini (personal communication from Tissa Kumara, 3 Feb. 2000). Also see W. Geiger, trans., The Cūlavamsa (Ceylon Government Information Dept., Colombo, 1953), vol. 2, pp. 226-7; C.H.B. Reynolds (ed.), An Anthology of Sinhalese Literature up to 1815 (Allen & Unwin, London, 1970), pp. 272,269, and Godakumbura, Sinhalese Literature, p. 245.

[89]   Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1983), p. 23n.

[90]   Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, p. 11.

[91]   Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in  Colonial India, p. 25.

[92]   See Michael Roberts, `Sinhala-ness and Sinhala Nationalism’, in Marga Pamphlet Series, Towards Ethnic
Reconciliation in Sri Lanka
(Marga, Colombo, 2001) Pamphlet No. 4 and Roberts et al., People Inbetween. Vol.1, chap. 1 for other elaborations. Also see Bruce Kapferer, Legends of People, Myths of State (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1988), chap. 2 & 3.

[93]   The Kandyans initiated diplomatic exchanges with the French at Pondicherry in 1778. The French forces under Admiral de Suffren captured Trincomalee from the British in 1782 after the British had occupied the fort during the repercussions of the War of American Independence in the Atlantic arena. But the European settlement saw this citadel returned to the Dutch. For details, see Lorna S. Dewaraja, Sri Lanka through French Eyes (Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, 1989).


1 Comment

Filed under art & allure bewitching, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, ethnicity, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, life stories, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, sri lankan society, violence of language, war reportage, world events & processes, zealotry

One response to “The Collective Consciousness of the Sinhalese During the Kandyan Era: Manichean Images, Associational Logic

  1. Pingback: Last of Sri Lanka’s Burgher Ladies | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s