Trilingual inscription from Sri Lanka

L.S.Cousins L.S.Cousins at NESSIE.MCC.AC.UK
Wed Apr 28 05:11:49 UTC 1999

 Venkatraman Iyer <venkatraman_iyer at HOTMAIL.COM> writes:

>Where did Paranavitana go to college for an undergraduate degree?
>Usually any PhD thesis will have it at the last page.
>Who were his PhD committee?

This is a bit anachronistic !

>Coming to know of the problems, 'illnessses', etc.,
>did he present the data about Tamils in early brahmi
>inscriptions of Ceylon truthfully and adequately?

Quite possibly not, but he would not have been alone or unusual in this.
But I doubt that this would have been due to dishonesty. With the benefit
of hindsight we might feel it to have been inadequate.

Like most educated Sinhalese (and Indians too) of the time, Paranavitana
was something of a nationalist. It is also the case that Sinhalese had
legitimate grievances as regards the Tamils in the late colonial period,
such as the import of large numbers of foreign workers and the privileging
of the more highly educated Tamils in government service. As so often
happens, this led to excesses in the opposite direction after independence.

>Pali authors were working in Kaveri delta. After
>the success of bhakti movements by Srivaishnava Alvars
>and Saivaite Nayanmars, Tamil Buddhists would have
>left for Ceylon from 6-7 the cent. and later, became Sinhalese
>over time. Have the complex interactions between Ceylon
>and South India looked into in Indological scholarship?
>Religious rivalries and accommodations.

The Chinese pilgrim records 10,000 'orthodox' Theravaadin monks in the
Tamil country in the early seventh century A.D. So this dates the decline
of Buddhism, etc. there too early. In fact this was a long and very slow
process. I would see the period around the seventh century as in many ways
a high point for Tamil Buddhism. Many, if not most, of the leading Pali
writers (after the sixth century and before the twelfth) appear to have
been South Indians. Arguably, it was there rather than in Ceylon that the
'orthodox' i.e. non-Mahaayaana tradition was especially preserved at this

There were still major centres of Theravaada Buddhism in the area of
present-day Tamilnad in the thirteenth century A.D. This is more
controversial, but I suspect that there was some presence continuing for
many centuries after that. Probably there was eventually a situation there
like that in Nepal with Buddhists hardly distinguishable from the general
population (if indeed they ever were).

Lance Cousins


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