Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The curious permeability of Sri Lankan History to little green men stories

It’s time to approach the whole thing from another angle because the road crew is getting stuck in a very small side alley paying attention to a small crack while there is grave structural damage to the highway. Let’s return to the highway for now. We will return to the crack in the side alley once the highway is done. By then most likely the crack shall have been sealed automatically.

I think the truth can be known. It may be impossible to find objective histories. History may be relative to the writer and to the reader but still the truth can be known. Not the whole truth maybe but close enough for government work. That was an idiom by the way. Let’s look for the ‘truth’ or the most consistent story with the highest incidence of collateral consistency across multiple disciplines, settings, sources and knowledge systems etc. It will be like a quest, a journey, a hunt, an investigation. Let’s play detectives among Sri Lanka’s historical record and in the process let’s try to keep an open mind and not be receptive only to theories and evidence that make us feel good .

I think as histories go Sri Lanka’s history is unique and I don’t say that for the usual reasons. I say that because despite having a written record going back 2000 years, extensive archeological evidence and so much research done on it still there are so many UFO theories and ‘I was impregnated by little green men’ stories flying around regarding it. For example I saw around one month ago, a commenter on one of the websites claiming that Portuguese archives contain records that clearly say that when they first landed in this country around 1505 they found a Tamil king in Kotte. This sort of thing would have been funny and charming if it were not tragic. But why does it happen? 1505 is not that long ago and in this enlightened age when knowledge is so broad based and accessible why does this still happen? I mean what is the probability of finding even among the rural dwelling, 100 year old persons in Sri Lanka someone who would still believe that the earth was flat? Still among the web commenting population all educated, progressive and opinion leaders according to statisticians we have this! Why is the history in Sri Lanka in the UFO realm?

Do you think there is controversy about who was king of England in 1505?(Henri VII or about his racial mix (1/2 English+ ¼ Welsh + ¼ French). Do you think there are arguments about who was King of England by 1067? (William the Conqueror) or his parentage (illegitimate) or where he is buried (France, Normandy) or who was his queen (Matilda of Flanders) or where she is buried (France, Normandy but a different church) or what her height was (apparently there used to be a bit of dispute about this. In 1819 when the bones of her incomplete skeleton was measured it was estimated as under five feet but when they were measured in 1959 the estimate was five feet) or who this William’s and Matilda’s still reigning descendent is (Elizabeth II)

But why is it that when it comes to our kings even as recent as the 16th century there is still room for UFO stories? Forget about his height or his queen or anything else why isn’t it general knowledge at least the simple fact that Dharma Parakramabahu IX reigned in Kotte between 1489- 1513?

Well I am sure there are various reasons for this and now is not the time to analyze them. (One reason could be the lack of continuity of the blood royal. If there had been genetic continuity between Pandukabaya and the last king The Family would have maintained their own records quite easily from one generation to the next and things would have been clearer from every possible perspective )

I just made this comparison to make the point that most of this uncertainty is really unnecessary. Even our history with all its uncertain, disputed aspects is still pretty much documented and supported and known and doesn’t deserve to pass into the UFO realm. It’s sad that even Prof Nalin De Silva (not purposely I am sure) is contributing quite significantly (not as much as Mudaliyar Rasanayagam, S. Gnanapragasar, Sachi Ponnambalam and Co but uncomfortably close for comfort) to giving our history a no return ticket to UFO territory. From which place we will try to rescue it.

He does this

1) By selectively citing as his authority only portions of Prof K. Indrapala’s unpublished doctoral dissertation ‘Dravidian Settlement in Ceylon and the Beginning of the Kingdom of Jaffna’ and his other related work ‘Early Tamil Settlements in Ceylon’ that deal with the period before the 13th Century and leaving out all parts of the same articles that deal with the period after the 13th century. Prof Nalin De Silva it seems treats Prof Indrapala as an uncontested authority when it comes to the period before the 13th century but when it comes to the parts after the 13th century which is the result of the same Prof Indrapala following the same process of deduction and reasoning, Prof Nalin de Silva chooses to disregard his authoritative and honored source without even giving reasons for doing that.

2) By insisting that the Arya Chakravarthi Kingdom was a Vassal State of the Kotte Kingdom disregarding the events around 1380 which even Rajawaliya and Mahavansaya mention

3) By failing to mention anywhere at all the human beings called the Vanniyars

4) By engaging in historical revisionism (which is creative and beneficial done in the right way) without due regard to established sources and evidence and without citing his own new sources and research methods and processes (Which is not considered sound in certain circles. That is the lack of due regard and failure to cite aren’t considered sound )

Ok first things first.

Let me now quote extensively from Prof Indrapala without dropping him abruptly and without reason when he starts dealing with the 13th century.

“Until about the thirteenth century A.D., the history of (Sri Lanka) was the history of the Sinhalese people. From about the middle of the thirteenth century, it has been the history of the Sinhalese and Tamil people in the island. From that time for over three centuries the majority of Tamils were concentrated in a kingdom of their own in the northern part of the island. In 1620, the last of the Tamil rulers was executed by the Portuguese conquerors who brought the Tamil areas under their rule.”

- Dravidian Settlement in Ceylon and the beginning of the Kingdom of Jaffna-

This extract, which according to the 2005 Edition of ‘A History of Sri Lanka’ by K.M. de Silva, ‘conveys very effectively some of the essential features of the history of the island’ is just the beginning. It’s really fascinating to follow Prof Indrapala’s deductive process for coming to this conclusion. Next we will follow it along the quotes set out in ‘A History … by K.M. de Silva’ as well as through quotes given in Prof Nalin De Silva’s articles.