Sri Lanka is a Republic, not a Sinhala country
by Dushy Ranetunge
Ven. Ellawala Medhananda thero’s comments about Sri Lanka being referred to as a Sinhala country are interesting.
But the interpretation of what was meant by the term "Sinhala" then and now should be made clear.
Today the word "Sinhala" has an ethno-linguistic meaning, similar to the word "Tamil".
But in the past, and for most of our history, the word "Sinhala" had a completely different meaning, similar to Chola, Pandya, Kerala, Kalinga, Sinhala etc. referring more in terms of a Royal house/kingdom.
Under this Royal umbrella, the people would have identified themselves under various tribes, clans and castes. For example the people who built Buddhist structures in Tissamaharama would not have identified themselves as "Sinhalese", but as "Nagas" or some other tribe, as Magama and Kelaniya were known ancient "Naga" settlements. Tissa we are told is more a "Naga" name than a "Sinhala" one.
The Mahavamsa refers to the Naga’s defending the Western gateway into Anuradhapura and sitting on a throne, equal in size to the Sinhala king.
Dutugemunu carried the Royal standard of a Lion, but this Lion flag did not signify an ethno-linguistic race, but the Royal house, under which various tribes would have united. This perhaps enabled a Tamil Buddhist Velu, also known as Velu-Sumana to fight under the Lion flag, together with many other tribes such as the Nagas.
This concept also enabled "Sinhalese" generals to fight in Elara’s army and for "Sinhalese" people in Anuradhapura to love and respect Elara as a just ruler. Of course they were not "Sinhalese" people in today’s sense, but various tribal inhabitants of Lanka, identifying themselves under the royal patronage of Elara and Dutu Gemunu.
This concept also enabled "foreigners" from South India and "Catholics" to sit on our throne as the "Sinhala" king enabling present day tribalists to misinterpret the meaning of "Sinhala" and to celebrate these "foreigners" and "Catholics" as champions of the "Sinhalese" ethno-linguistic identity.
So we have a "Tamil" Perumal who become a "Sinhalese" Sapumal, a "Sinhala" champion who invaded Jaffna and built the magnificent Nallur Kandasamy Kovil in Jaffna. A Buddhist monk even wrote Sandeshayas to his glory. Even to this day the Kattiam at the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil mentions his name as "Sri Sangabo, Buvanekabahu".
Don Juan of Austria, a baptized Catholic is also celebrated as the "Sinhala" champion, Vimaladharmasuriya I of Kandy. He was married to the Catholic, Donna Catherina, the Empress of Kandy and the mother of Rajasimha II, another champion of the "Sinhalese" who besieged Portuguese Colombo. His brother Prince Kumarasimha was also known as Xavier Kumara Banda, a baptized Catholic.
Significantly, the Mahavamsa refers to "Lanka" rather than "Sinhale". "Hela" or "Sinhaladvipa", terms which are given disproportionate publicity for mischievous reasons, by present day tribalists, who are trying to give a particular tribe in Sri Lanka some kind of pre-eminence.
This same evolution of the word "Sinhala" from a Royal/kingdom identity to a narrow ethno-linguistic identity has taken place with our flag.
The Lion flag is the royal standard of the Sinhala royal identity and not of any ethno-linguistic Sinhala tribe. The Kings of Sri Lanka carried this Lion standard and they, and the Lion flag, commanded the loyalty of all the many races and inhabitants of Lanka.
But since the demise of the Kandyan Kingdom and the rise of tribal nationalism in Sri Lanka, the relatively new concept of the Sinhala ethno-linguistic identity has taken sole possession of the Lion flag as their own flag, excluding all the other peoples the Lion flag represented previously as the flag of the Royal house.
So today we have to accommodate the other inhabitants of Sri Lanka, outside the Lion flag in terms of a green and an orange strip.
From the time of Dutu Gemunu to Sri Vickrema Rajasinha, the Lion flag also represented those who are represented today by a green and an orange strip.
The evolution of the identity of the Lion flag is the tragedy of Sri Lanka, of alienating some inhabitants of Lanka based on the new European concept of ethno-linguistic nationalism. Europe has defeated its demons and moved on, while we are still stuck in old outdated nationalist concepts of a colonial era.
The concept that from the moment that Vijaya landed, we were one cohesive group of inhabitants identifying ourselves as of the Sinhalese tribe, living in Sinhale or Sinhaladvipa is a mirage, far away from reality.
Being an island, Sri Lanka had a constant stream of settlers, from various nationalities and tribes, enriching our culture and nation. DNA testing may prove that most of us, including our present political and military leadership are of South East Asian, South Indian and European descent.
The passport that Rev. Ellawala carries identifies him of not as being of Sinhale, Hela or any other classification based on a particular tribe, but as a citizen of Sri Lanka, a republic, which functions on the foundations of equality and citizenship and not of any particular tribe.
The constitution of Sri Lanka and parliament functions on this basis.
The concepts of Hela, Sinhale, etc as narrowly interpreted by present day ethno-linguistic tribalists never existed in our 2500 year old history. Those who advance such misguided theories share the limelight with the likes of the KKK, the British National Party, the National Front and even Adolf Hitler.
Germany for Germans and the Jews for the gas chamber? No … no … we are more respectable, so we will let the Jews live among us, as equals, but remember, Germany for Germans.
It is incredible that at a time that we are fighting to defeat Tamil Eelam, some others are advancing perceptions of a Sinhala Eelam, "Sinhale Ueber Alles".
For those who are confused let me gently remind them that we are not living in Hela or Sinhale, but in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, constituted under law under the concept of equality and citizenship.