Lanka, Sinhala and Iilam

I propose in the following notes to examine three names, Sinhala, Lanka and Iilam from among many terms attibuted to our island. The Sinhalavatthuppakarana supposed to be the earliest extant Pali book in our country does not use the term Lanka to introduce the island. It only uses two alternative terms, Sihaladvipa and Tambapannidipa. This work contains stories from the time of king Saddhatissa (137-119 B.C.). It is therefore admissible that the term Lanka is a later introduction. The Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa however use Lanka for the first time. It is followed by the Buddhagaya Sanskrit inscription by a monk called Mahanaman. This monk is supposed to be the author of the Mahavamsa in 5th century AD. In no early inscription of our country the term Lanka appears. In Indian literary works the term Lanka does not exclusively refer to this island. The Brhat-samhita identifies Lanka as Sinhala, as two different political divisions. The Bhagavat-purana agrees with the Sanhita in stating, pancajanahsinhalo lanketi. In dealing with the location of Jambudvipa reference is made to eight islands. Sylvan Levy points out that alluvial islands lying within the banks of the Godhavari river as Lankas. A deed of gifts which comes from the district of Sonpur mentioms a local chief under the title of Pashcima Lankadhipati-Lord of west Lanka. There had been a territory called Mavi-langai in north India lying to the north of Nellur. Thus it becomes clear that there existed two distinct political entities known as Lanka and Sinhala in the past.

As stated earlier, Pali writers have repeated the term Lanka more than Sinhala counterparts in their works. The Mahavamsa itself uses the term Lanka more than forty times, the Dipavamsa thirty times. In the Pali commentaries this term predominates. The commentators such as Buddhaghosa and Buddhadatta were foreigners who would have been more familiar with the ‘Indian’ term Lanka than the local term, Sinhala. The Pattuppatti, a Tamil poetical work mentions Sinhaldavipa as Iilam in the following line, Ilatkulavum u- rice from Iilam. Iilam also occurs in an inscription of Rajaraja Chola discovered at point Comarin in India, The relevant line runs thus, Murattolil Singalar Iilamandalum. The earliest reference to Sinhala in the garb of Iila is found in two cave inscriptions in South India. They are written in Brahmi script and their language shows affinities with archaic Tamil. The Tirappanguram cave inscription also in this locality has the wording , Ilakutumpikanam... husband from Sinhala. It is followed by the Kalugamalai inscription which mentions, Ilan kanikan to mean Kanikan from Iila (Sinhala). Puttamittarar, (Buddhamitra) in his Grammar, Virasoliam states, Singalavan pesavadu Singalan- language of the Sinhalas is Sinhala. These instances clearly show the stand taken by the Tamil authors ,when they make reference to our island. K. B. Subramanyar Ayyiyar, eminent epigraphist in India says,’ It (Ilan with long i)is the Tamil adaptation of the word Sinhala passing through the intermediate forms, Sinhala and Ilan (with short i)’.

Foreighners other than the Tamil and Sanskrit writers have used a number of other names to denote Sri Lanka. In Ptolemy’s time this island was known as Salike and her inhabitants Salai. The Chinese called it Sen-kia-la. Ibn Batuta who visited the island in the 14th century used the term Silavan. Various terms used by the Arabs are Serendib, Singalbid and Sisla, It appears that the Arab term, Sislan gave birth to the English term, Ceylon.

Thus etimologically it could be proved that almost all alternative forms applied to our island except perhaps. Tambapanni and Ratnadvipa have their birth in the original form Sinhaladvipa. The future Constitution makers should take note of this fact and rename this island of ours as Sinhaladvipa. Even the present Constitution could be amended accordingly as Sinhala M.Ps. are in a majority.

By Late Professor Abaya Aryasinghe

The Island

Friday 6th December, 2002