Trilingual inscriptions from Lanka

L.S.Cousins L.S.Cousins at NESSIE.MCC.AC.UK
Wed May 5 06:12:10 UTC 1999

nanda chandran <vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM>

>I was born and raised in Madras and am familiar with the Tamil world view.
>They would respect the Buddhists for what they are, but any attempt to
>belittle their faith would make them go ballistic. And those SinhAlese I've
>met and quite a few of them were Buddhist bhikshus, don't think much of the
>religion of the Tamils. So I definitely don't subscribe to the "all was well
>until Ö", theory.

There is a difference between that and a willingness to go out and kill one
another. After all in 1950 there had been very little, if any, killing on
communal lines for at least 150 years and probably much longer.

But I agree that there were underlying problems of attitude (on both sides).

>Nobody is ignoring the difficulties. Ofcourse, the SinhAlese wanted their
>language as the main language of the land. Legitimate objective? There is no
>way that the Tamils would give up their language. In the first place they
>have great pride in their language and literature. Secondly its religious
>implications are too acute, for them to just let go of it.

I do not hink that the status of the Tamil language was the primary problem
_at that time_. Rather it was the fact that the removal of English as the
language of administration also removed the built-in advantage of the

>One thing to be understood is that though they would coexist together
>comfortably in most circumstances, both peoples pride themselves on their
>own culture and looked down on the other.

Yes, I agree.

>To offer worship to the Gods means nothing. Buddhism wasn't born in the land
>and didn't even come during the life of the Compassionate One. It came
>through Ashoka and was assimilated with the local culture of the land. How
>much effect it had on the local practices, needs deeper analysis - for eg :
>it doesn't seem to have affected the culinary habits of the Sinhalese - even
>the bhikshus are meat eaters.

Quite true. But it is equally true to say that 'Hinduism' wasn't born in
the land and may well have arrived after Buddhism and Jainism. Certainly
much of it did. (I don't of course doubt for a moment that much Tamil and
Sinhala religious practice is indigenous and long antedates the arrival of
both Hinduism and Buddhism.)

>And contrary to all the beliefs that Buddhism and Jainism held great sway in
>Tamil Nadu in the past (again the reason as mentioned above - and animals
>are sacrificed to the Gods even today in Tamil Nadu), theistic worship seems
>to have always been in vogue with the Tamils.

It is difficult to know whether or not one or more of Buddhism, Jainism,
Ajiivikas and others was ever dominent. My guess is that it probably varied
greatly at different times and places within the Tamil country. I don't
doubt that the ordinary religious practice always continued. The kind of
theism we see later is surely an introduction from north India.

>And can one ignore the
>>intensity of dislike in the works of the bhakti saints against the nAstikas?

No, one can't. But I wonder how influential it was in general ?  More to
the point, it is strong evidence that there was something there to attack.
Had it been an insignificant minority why would they have bothered ?

>That there would not have been a friction due to this divergence in world
>view, is not plausible.

Of course, there was friction and sometimes conflict. Whenever extemists of
any stripe get political influence, there will be problems. But that doen't
mean there are problems all the time.

>And also observe the political influence of the Buddhist priesthood in
>Lanka. 'Julius' Jayawardhane converted to Buddhism to take on the top job in

These two statements do not appear to be connected.

>>Anyone who has spent time on the ground in the island will know that there
>>are all sorts of religious activities in which both Sinhalese and Tamils
>>participate together.
>Spent time when? Fifteen years back?

Yes, I was referrring to that sort of time.

>Currently, Tamil population in Sinhalese areas is miniscule.

I do not know the current situation, but offhand this seems surprising. As
I recall it, the majority of the Tamil population was in the so-called
Sinhalese areas. Are you sure that this is not an exaggeration ?

>Religious activities where both the Tamils and the Sinhalese participle
>together - in Lanka?

The obvious examples are Adam's Peak and Kataragama.


Email: L.S.Cousins at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list