The Sinhalese


ye-ancient_srilanka_mapMany a times I have always tried finding out on how the Sinhalese people came to be? There are so many texts on various inhabitants of Lanka. Yes, Lanka – in short for Lankapura, the oldest name known for the then modern days Ceylon which was recorded during the times in the Ramayana.

Many know about the great King Ravana who is regarded as a demon king and how he along with his people was destroyed by Rama, the son of the king of Ayodhya, in his capital of Lankapura which was burnt down to the ground.

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In historic times, however, the aboriginal inhabitants of Lanka were known as Nagas (literally meaning snake/serpant) and Yakkhas (literally meaning demons). These aborigines were as a matter of fact, neither serpents or demons but possibly snake-worshippers and demon-worshippers respectively. Hence were called by these two names which are most popularly known in the early history.

The Nagas appeared to have been confined to the western and especially northern part of Ceylon which is why this part of the country was known as Nagadipa (Nagadiba) for many centuries. Most people in this area have been converted to Buddhism as a result of several visits made by Gautama Buddha to Lanka while others remained in their aborigine beliefs and customs.

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A painting of Buddha resolving a dispute between two Naga kings

The Yakkhas were apparently more in numbers and powerful than the Nagas and they inhabited in the portion of Lanka which was not included in Nagadipa.  There is very little mentioning of Yakhhas in the pre-vijayan times and hence information is very limited. However, it is clear that both these aborigines were civilized in their times to have their own customs and rituals. They, unlike the Nagas were not converted to Buddhism despite the several visits made by Buddha to Lanka instead they dispersed and retreated into the highlands in the interiors. Such behavior clearly explains possibly why they did not wholly adopt to the customs and manners brought in by the Aryan settlers in the later years and continued to be termed as Yakkhas.

As time passed by the Yakkhas were not confined only to the highlands and were occupied in parts of the western and northern areas of the country. During the time Vijaya and his followers arrived to Lanka, the King of Yakkhas was Maha Kalasena and his Queen-consort named Gonda. They inhabited in the Yakkha capital named Lankapura along with their only child – Princess Polamitta.

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Aborigines of Lanka

During the time of the Aryan rule in the later years, the Yakkhas made loyal and faithful subjects. The Yakkhas remained powerful and in numerous numbers and had their own chieftains. The new rulers however regarded them as equal and would even invite one of the Yakhha chiefs to join in ceremonies inorder to demonstrate their friendship and good-will. As time went by, the Yakkhas ceased to form separate groups and they were no longer considered a distinct community. Many of their community people were then marrying from and giving in marriage with the Aryan settlers. This led to a time where they were no longer able to keep their individuality and they were merged into one people with the Aryan settlers professing the same religion and speaking the same language. These people were thenceforth to be known in history as Sinhalese.

As such, there were still some of the Yakhhas who kept themselves aloof from the settlers in the land who refused to make common cause with them and thus gradually found themselves make new homes in the wilderness away into the dense forests. They returned back into their barbarism and they lived through the centuries. Today a few hundreds of them still exist known as Veddas – the descendants of the unruly Yakkhas who forsook the cities and the civilization for the freedom of the forest life.

Now in the country of Ceylon (Taprobane) inhabited the Veddas and the Sinhalese

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Credits: The Story of the Sinhalese by John Senaveratne

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