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The Tamil Heritage of Sri Lanka series

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The Vāṇavaṇmādevīśvaramudaiyar (வானவன்மாதேவீஸ்வரமுடையார்) at Jananātamaṅkalam (Polonnaruwa) is the only structurally intact and unmodified monument from the period of Cōḻa rule over Lanka (993 - 1070 CE). This Śaivite temple of the late 10th or early 11th century is named after Vāṇavaṇmādevī, a queen of the emperor Rājarāja (985 - 1014) and mother of the crown prince Rājendra. There are Tamil inscriptions of the Cōḻa period detailing grants to the temple on the south and east walls.

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The Polonnaruwa Vēḷaikkārar inscription (பொலநறுவை வேளைக்காரர் கல்வெட்டு) dated c. 1137 - 1153 provides an exceptional insight into the fate of Cōḻa regiments in Lanka following the imperial withdrawal of 1070 CE. The Vēḷaikkārar (spelt வேளைக்காரர் and not வேலைக்காரர் 'labourer') were soldiers from an elite regiment in Tamil armies who pledged their lives to their patrons, whether kings or public institutions and even committed suicide to protect their patrons if necessary.

 

Vijayabāhu (1070 - 1110), the new king of Polonnaruwa, took into his employ the remnants of the Vēḷaikkārar regiments in Lanka which also included soldiers from Kerala and Andhra. The Vēḷaikkārars were not, however, always loyal to the new regime. The volatility of this relationship is exemplified by the revolt of the Vēḷaikkārar regiments when Vijayabāhu proposed an expedition against the Cōḻas. The Vēḷaikkārars refusing to fight their own Tamil brethren, rebelled against the king, killed two generals, burnt the royal palace and took the king's sister Mittā, who incidentally was married to a Tamil Pāṇṭiyaṉ prince, and her three sons captive (Culavamsa 60: 25-44).

 

This Tamil inscription, commissioned some 20 to 30 years after Vijayabāhu's reign, narrates how the monk Mahāthera Mugalan, the royal preceptor, and ministers of state entrusted the protection and maintenance of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Daḷadāypperumpaḷḷi) in Polonnaruwa to the Vēḷaikkārar soldiers who remained a key component of the Polonnaruwa kingdom’s armed forces even after their revolt.

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The Ambatthala Cetiya was built by Mahādāthika Mahānāga (67 - 79 CE) to mark the spot where Mahinda, the monk-envoy and son of the emperor Asoka, first met king Tissa (247-207 BCE) prior to the latter's acceptance of Buddhism. Apart from adopting Buddhism, Tissa also styled himself after the Mauryan emperor by assuming the title Devānampiya "beloved of the gods".

The king Mahādāṭhika Mahānāga, who built this stūpa, had a beautiful Tamil queen, named Damiḷadevī. One day, when she was worshipping at the Ambatthala Cetiya, a monk by name of Citta, who had joined the Order in his old age, fell in love with her and behaved as one mad, constantly repeating to himself “beautiful as Damiḷadevī.” Even when told of her death, which took place prematurely, he refused to believe the news and continued as before; he became, therefore, known as Ummattaka ("the deranged") Citta. 

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The ruins of Subhagiri, Sundarapabbata or Yāpahuva, the fortress-capital of the Dambadeniya king Bhuvanekabāhu I (1272 - 1284 CE) and the one-time residence of the Buddha's tooth relic. The fortress-city was harassed (and possibly captured) in 1283/4 by Cāvakamaintaṉ, the recalcitrant Malay-speaking feudatory of the Pāṇṭiyaṉ kings who ruled Jaffna and northern Sri Lanka. The Pāṇṭiyaṉ king Māravarman Kulaśekhara (1268 - 1308) despatched Ārya Cakravarti, a Brahmin general from Rāmēśvaram, to regulate the chaotic state of affairs on the island. This, quite significantly, led to Ārya Cakravarti's instalment as the ruler of the north on behalf of the Pāṇṭiyas. Following the collapse of the Pāṇṭiyan Empire in the 1310s, the descendants of Ārya Cakravarti became the independent rulers of the kingdom of Jaffna. The Buddha's tooth-relic was also briefly whisked away to Maturai, the Pāṇṭiyaṉ capital, before it was retrieved in the reign of the Dambadeniya king Parakramabahu III (1287-1293), who also ruled as feudatory of the Pāṇṭiyas from Polonnaruwa.

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The Kantacuvāmī temple of Nallūr was built by Srī Sanghabōdhi Bhuvanēkabāhu IV, the adoptive son of Parākramabāhu VI of Kotte, who ruled Yāḻppāṇam between 1450 - 1467 after dislodging the Tamil king of the Ārya Cakravarti lineage. The first temple was completely destroyed by the Portuguese in 1620 and replaced with a church (the present-day St. James on Chemmani Road). The 18th century Yāḻppāṇa Vaipavamālai chronicle notes that the only object which was spared the demolition was a set of copper-plate inscriptions recording the temple's endowments which were whisked out by a temple employee named Caṅkili who had fled to Maṭṭakkaḷappu (Batticaloa).

 

The current temple was reconstructed as a small shrine by Irakunāta Māppāṇar Mutaliyār in 1734 under Dutch auspices. The temple’s rebirth under Dutch rule and its private ownership spelt a number of peculiarities in design and worship. The main sanctum houses a silver vel weapon rather than the customary image of the deity and more unorthodox perhaps is the deification of Irakunāta Māppāṇar Mutaliyār and his wife who have a shrine at the eastern wall of the temple’s mahāmaṇṭapam. The famed 19th century Jaffna Śaivite revivalist Āṟumuka Nāvalar in one of his tracts criticising the temple’s non-agamic scheme remarks: “This temple does not fulfil even the minimum requirements of the principles of temple architecture.” (Pathmanathan 2006: 358). But the quirkiness of design certainly makes it all the more uniquely Jaffnaite.

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Coral and limestone stūpas from the 2nd – 1st centuries BCE at Kantarōṭai. Kantarōṭai, whose urban history extends to the early 1st millennium BCE, is the largest known early archaeological site on the Jaffna Peninsula. This inland site was connected to the wider world through the ancient port of Jambukolapaṭṭana (modern Kāṅkēcaṉtuṟai). The ancient settlement mound, which has only been partially excavated, is 2 metres high and spread over 25 ha. It is likely that Kantarōṭai, or Katiramalai as it was known in later periods, was the capital of the early historic Jaffnaite polity known as Nākanāṭu/ Nāgadīpa or the “country of the Nāga/serpent peoples”. Kantarōṭai survived as a political centre in some form up till the Cōḻa conquest in the early 11th century CE. The sthalapurāṇa of the Māviṭṭapuram Kantacuvāmi temple hazily recalls, for instance, the marriage of a Cōḻa princess named Marutappiravīkavalli to Ukkiraciṅkaṉ, a king of Kantarotai-Katiramalai.

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A piece of Yāḻppāṇam in Bangkok: The Vallipuram Buddha, dating to the 3rd century CE, was discovered at the end of the 19th century on the grounds of the Vaiṣṇavite Vallipuram Āḻvār temple in Vaṭamarāṭci, Jaffna. The site probably marked an ancient Buddhist monastic settlement. Sir Henry Blake, the governor of Ceylon, gifted the image to Chulalongkorn, the king of Siam, in 1906 who installed it in the newly-built Pañcamapavitra Vihāra (Wat Benchamabophit).