The Tamil Buddhists of the Past and the Future
  • Source:

    by J.L. Devananda
    (October 05, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In his keynote address at the
    2554th Vesak (Vaishakha Purnim) celebrations at the Mahabodhi Society
    in Chennai, Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne, University of Sri Jayawardenapura
    said, "As we are nearing 2600 Buddha Jayanthi, as a Sinhala
    Buddhist, this is my humble dream for the future: Tamil Buddhist
    temples should come up in Sri Lanka; Tamil children should embrace
    Buddhist monkhood; Buddhism must be taught in Tamil; preaching and
    worshipping Buddhism in Tamil; Tamil Bikkus should have Sinhala
    followers and Tamil Bhikkus must visit Sinhala homes. That togetherness
    should be there."

    This sounds somewhat similar to the famous speech "I have a
    Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr in 1963 from the steps of the
    Lincoln Memorial during the march for freedom at Washington. The only
    difference is Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne's dream of Tamil Buddhism in
    Sri Lanka in the future had already existed in the past.

    Ancient Buddhist links between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

    Today, the Palk Strait which lies between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan land
    masses, is seen as a divider, separating two different distinct
    ethnicities, religions, cultures and political entities but there was a
    phase in history when Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka enjoyed very close ties,
    thanks to a shared interest in Buddhism. During the early period, the
    Palk Strait was not seen as a divider but it was a unifier. At that time
    Buddhism was a bridge between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The fascinating
    story of the historical links - Golden threads between Buddhism in
    Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was narrated by Dr. Shu Hikosake, Director and
    Professor of Buddhism, Institute of Asian Studies in Madras in his book
    1989 Buddhism in Tamil Nadu: a New Perspective. Dr. Hikosaka's study is
    based on his doctoral dissertation.

    The earliest inscriptions in Tamil Nadu written in the Brahmi character
    of the time, on the walls of the natural caves in the Tamil districts of
    Madura, Ramnad and Tirnnelveli belongs to the third century BC. They
    are of considerable interest to students of South Indian Buddhism. It is
    learnt from these Brahmi inscriptions, that Buddhism had come into
    Tamil Nadu even then. However, the epigraphical evidence seems to
    confirm that, it was to King Asoka and the missionary monk Mahinda
    (believed to be his son) that the introduction of Buddhism into Tamil
    Nadu may be attributed. In his Rock-Edict No. III, King Asoka says that
    his Dharma Vijaya prevailed in the kingdoms of the Colas, Pandyans and
    at Tambapanni (Sri Lanka). Particularly the edict number XIII found near
    Peshawar, there is reference to the Buddhist missions of Asoka. Among
    the countries referred to are Cola, Pandya, and Tambapanni. This
    inscription was written in 258 B.C. and is direct evidence of the
    Buddhist missions of Asoka to the Tamil country and Sri Lanka even
    though it does not mention about his son Mahinda. As Buddhist missions
    to Sri Lanka had to come by way of South India, the spread of Buddhism
    in Sri Lanka and South India in the 2nd century AD should be considered
    contemporary events, but it was King Asoka's son Mahinda who was
    responsible for the introduction of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and Sri
    Lanka. Mahinda is said to have erected seven viharas at Kaveripattinum,
    the capital of Cola while he was on his way to Sri Lanka. According to
    Dr. Hikosaka, contrary to the general impression, Buddhism might have
    gone to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu by sea-route, a route by which one can
    reach Sri Lanka easily. Since there existed very close cultural
    affinities between Sri Lanka and the Tamil country from time immemorial,
    the Buddhist activities in India could have easily influenced in some
    way or other the Buddhism of Sri Lanka, says Dr. Hikosaka.

    Even though it is believed that Buddha had visited this region, South
    India (Andhra) and Sri Lanka, according to historians, Buddhism began to
    make a strong impact on Tamil Nadu only in the 3rd century AD. During
    that period Buddhism had spread widely in Tamil Nadu and won the
    patronage of the rulers. The remains of a Buddhist monastery excavated
    at Kaveripattinum which could be assigned to the fourth century are
    believed to be the earliest archaeological relics of Buddhism in Tamil
    Nadu. The major urban centers of Kanchipuram, Kaveripattinam, Uragapura
    (Uraiyur), and Madurai were not only centers of Buddhism, but these were
    also important centers of Pali learning. The other minor towns of
    Tamil country where Buddhism was active were Buddhamangalam,
    Sanghamangalam, Kumbakonam, Mayurapattanam, Alamkudipatti, Kuvam,
    Sanghamangai, Tiruppadirippuliyur, and so on.

    Tamil Buddhists contribute to Buddhist scriptures

    It was at this time that Tamil Nadu gave some of its greatest scholars
    (both Theravada and Mahayana) to the Buddhist world. Tamil Nadu boasted
    of outstanding Buddhist monks, who had made remarkable contributions to
    Buddhist thought and learning. Three of the greatest Pali scholars of
    this period were Buddhaghosa, Buddhadatta, and Dhammapala and all three
    of them were associated with Buddhist establishments in the Tamil

    Buddhadatta or Thera Buddhaatta as he is called lived during the time of
    Accyutarikkanta, the Kalabra ruler of the Cola-Nadu; was a senior
    contemporary of Buddhaghosa. He was born in the Cola kingdom and lived
    in the 5th Century AD. Under the patronage of this ruler, Buddhadatta
    wrote many books. Among his best known Pali writings are the
    Vinaya-Vinicchaya, the Uttara-Vinicchaya and the Jinalankara-Kavya.
    Among the commentaries written by him are the Madhurattha-Vilasini and
    the Abhidhammavatara. In the Abhidhammaratara he gives a glowing account
    at Kaveripattinum, Uragapuram, Bhutamangalam and Kanchipuram and the
    Mahavihara at Anuradapura, (Sri Lanka). While he was at Sri Lanka, he
    composed many Buddhist works such as Uttara-viniccaya Ruparupa Vibhaga
    Jinalankara etc. Buddhaghosha, contemporary of Buddhadatta also composed
    many Buddhist commentaries.

    Buddhaghosha is a Tamil monk, who made a remarkable contribution to
    Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He stayed and studied Buddhist precepts at
    Mahavihara in Anuradhapura. The Visuddhimagga was the first work of
    Buddhaghosha which was written while he was in Sri Lanka.

    After Buddhaghosha, the important Theravada monk from the Tamil country
    was Dhammapala. Dhammapala lived in the Mahavihara at Anuradhapura. He
    composed paramathadipani which was a commentary on Buddhaghosha's
    work on Khuddaka Nikaya and Paramathamanjusa, which was a commentary on
    Buddhaghosha's Visuddhimagga. A close study of the three Buddhist monks
    viz Buddhadatta, Buddhaghosha and Dhammapala shows that Tamil Buddhists
    were closely associated with the Sri Lankan Buddhists around the 5th
    century AD.

    The author of Nettipakarana is another Dhammapala who was a resident of
    a monastery in Nagapattinam, another important Buddhist centre from
    ancient times. One more example is the Cola monk Kassapa, in his Pali
    work, Vimatti-Vinodani, this Tamil monk provides interesting information
    about the rise of heretical views in the Cola Sangha and the consequent
    purification that took place. There are so many other Tamil monks who
    are attributed to the Pali works some of them were resident at
    Mayura-rupa-pattana (Mylapore, Madras) along with Buddhagosha.

    The Tamil Buddhist monks used Pali languages in preference to Tamil in
    their writings. This is because the Buddha spoke in Magadi Prakrit
    (Pali). Sanskrit is the sacred language of the Hindus, and similarly
    Pali is considered as the sacred language of the Buddhists. The well
    known Tamil Buddhist epics found were Manimekalai, Silappadhikaram,
    Valaiyapathi, Kundalakesi, and Jivaka Cintamani. Manimekalai, a purely
    Buddhist work of the 3rd Sangam period in Tamil literature is the most
    supreme and famous among the Buddhist work done in Tamil Nadu. It is a
    work expounding the doctrines and propagating the values of Buddhism.
    The interaction between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan monks finds mention in
    Manimekalai, which is set in the Tamil towns of Kaveipumpattinam,
    Kanchi, and Vanchi. There is mention about the presence of wondering
    monks of Sri Lanka in Vanchi, which was the capital of the Chera Kings
    of Tamil Nadu. The Chinese traveller, Tsuan Tsang, wrote that there were
    around 300 Sri Lankan monks in the monastery at the Southern sector of
    Kanchipuram. Ancient Kanchipuram, the capital of Tondaimandalam, ruled
    by the Tamil Pallava dynasty, an offshoot of Chola rulers was the major
    seat of Tamil learning and is also known as the city of thousand
    temples. Even Thirukkural, the ancient Tamil couplets/aphorisms
    celebrated by Tamils is based on Buddhist principals. Although Buddhism
    has become almost extinct from Tamil Nadu, it has contributed a great
    deal to the enrichment of Tamil culture and has exerted a significant
    influence, both directly and indirectly, on the Tamil religious and
    spiritual consciousness, present as well as past.

    Tamil Buddhism in Sri Lanka

    As Buddhism was one of the dominant religions in both Tamil Nadu and Sri
    Lanka, naturally there were very close relations between the two
    regions. The monks from Sri Lanka, too, went across to the Tamil kingdom
    and stayed in the monasteries. As Dr. Leslie Gunawardana says, `The
    co-operation between the Buddhist Sangha of South India and Sri Lanka
    produced important results which are evident in the Pali works of this
    period`. He also says that the Tamil Buddhist monks were more orthodox
    than their counterparts in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the relations between the
    Tamil and Sinhala Buddhist monks were so close that the latter sought
    the assistance of the former in political turmoil.

    In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Buddhists who followed Theravada Buddhism shared
    the common places of worship with the Sinhalese, but there were also
    Tamil Buddhists who were following the Mahayana Buddhism and they had
    their own Mahayana temples. There are still some Tamil Mahayana Buddhist
    establishments (Palli) in the east and possibly in the Jaffna
    peninsula. The best known was Velgam Vehera (see details below), which
    was renamed Rajaraja-perumpalli after the Cola emperor. Another was the

    Some ten miles northwest of Trincomalee off the Trincomalee -
    Horowupothana road is an ancient Buddhist shrine with origins dating
    back to the years before the second century. It is a historical fact
    that among the many ancient Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka Velgam Vehera
    which was renamed Rajaraja-perumpalli, also called Natanar Kovil by the
    present day Tamils stands out as the only known example of a `Tamil
    Vihare or Buddhist Palli` or as the late Dr. Senerath Paranavithana
    described it in his book `Glimpses of Ceylon`s Past` as an `Ancient
    Buddhist shrine of the Tamil people`. Some of the Tamil inscriptions
    found at the site record donations to this shrine and are dated in the
    reigns of the Chola Kings, Rajaraja and Rajendradeva. It was his view
    that the date of the original foundation of the vihare was no doubt
    considerably earlier than the reign of King Bhatika Tissa II.

    The situation in Tamil Nadu, however, began to change towards the
    beginning of the 7th Century AD when the rise of Vaishnavism and Saivism
    posed a serious challenge to Buddhism and Jainism. There was a
    significant increase in Hindu/Brahmanical influence and soon the worship
    of Siva and Visnu began to gain prominence. The Buddhist and Jaina
    institutions in Tamil Nadu came under attack when they began to lose
    popular support and the patronage from the rulers. One result of this
    was the migration of Buddhist and Jaina monks and devoted lay members to
    kingdoms where they could find refuge. While the Jainas and Buddhists
    (mostly Mahayana) were able to go to Kannada and Andhra/Telugu regions,
    a large part of the Buddhists (Theravada) turned to Sri Lanka and
    assimilated with the local Buddhist population.

    Mahavihara monks of Anuradapura and the Pali chronicles

    Although Buddhism flourished in South India in ancient times, the 5th
    century AD Pali chronicles such as the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa written
    by the Mahavihara monks of Anuradapura (Sri Lanka) remained silent about
    the introduction of Buddhism to South India. This is because, when
    Hindu/Brahmanism started reappearing in India and posed a threat to
    Buddhism, the Mahavihara monks of Anuradapura (Sri Lanka) due to their
    strong devotion to Buddhism and desire to consolidate and protect this
    religion in Sri Lanka wrote the Pali chronicles Deepavamsa/Mahavamsa
    just to glorify Buddhism and the Buddhist kings of Sri Lanka and not to
    record objectively what happened. The `Lion Ancestry` and the myths
    about the origin of the Sinhala race as pre-destined, true custodians of
    the island of Sri Lanka and guardians of Buddhism is a myth of the
    creative authors to protect Buddhism and is not the common true history.
    The ancient Sri Lankan Kingdom (Anuradapura) was ruled by both Buddhist
    and Hindu kings. There is no evidence what so ever to prove that they
    were Sinhala. An analysis of the Pali chronicles (Deepavamsa/Mahavamsa)
    makes it very clear that the Mahavihara monks who authored them in the
    5th century AD have created the ethnic identity Sinhala, yoked it with
    Buddhism and created a new ethno-religious identity in Sri Lanka known
    as Sinhala-Buddhist to sustain the religion in the country for 5000

    The ancient Brahmi inscriptions (before 7th century AD) in Tamil Nadu
    are in old Tamil where the Tamil names did not end with an `N'
    or an `M', but were very similar to those Sanskrit/Pali names.
    It was only after the 7th century AD, that the Tamil language adopted
    some changes to its Grammar, script, etc. and evolved into the present
    form. This might have happened after the Tamils developing what is
    commonly called as the pulli (dot) system which is peculiar to Tamils
    in particular among the Indian languages and due to this dot system the
    words/names ending with `A' ends up with `N' and
    `M'. This is the reason why, in the Pali chronicles and in the
    Brahmi stone inscriptions the names of the Tamil Kings of Anuradhapura
    were referred to as Sena, Guttika, Elara, Pulahatha, Bahiya,
    Panayamara, Parinda, Dathiya, etc and not as Senan, Guttikan, Ellalan,
    etc. Similarly in Tamil Nadu, the names of the ancient kings were
    referred to as Kulothunga Chola, Vikrma Chola, Aditya Chola, Kulasekara
    Pandya, Vira Wickrama Pandya, Parakrama Pandya, Sundara Pandya, etc.

    It is believed that most of the Tamil Buddhist literary work has been
    destroyed during religious controversies. The loss of Tamil Buddhist
    literature was a death blow to Tamil Buddhism. Apart from the Brahmi
    inscriptions and other archeological evidence found in Tamil Nadu and
    the available Tamil literary works, the Rock-Edicts of King Asoka also
    sheds much light on this subject. Even though the Pali chronicles did
    not mention the ethnic background of the ancient Sri Lankan Buddhists
    and the Buddhist kings right from Devanampiya Tissa, the Mahavamsa
    referred to the Non-Buddhist kings as Tamils (invaders). The above facts
    and the non-existence of Tamil Buddhists during the colonial period
    (due to the 10th century Chola invasion) led the 19th century European
    Pali scholars who translated the Pali chronicles to assume and
    subsequently the present day Sri Lankans to believe that the ancient
    Buddhists and the Buddhists Kings of Sri Lanka were Sinhalese.

    Unfortunately, today there are no Tamil Buddhists in Sri Lanka but the
    majority of the early Tamils of Sri Lanka (before the 10th century Chola
    invasion) were Buddhists. The ancient Buddhist remains in the North and
    East of Sri Lanka are the remnants left by the Tamil Buddhists and not
    anybody else. They are part of the heritage of Sri Lankan Tamils. Only
    the Buddhist temples, statues and structures build in the recent past
    and present in the North and East remain as Sinhala-Buddhist.

    Important Questions

    The questions still remain, why are the Sri Lankans ignorant of their
    past or rather, why is the Sri Lanka's past hidden from its own
    people? Why does the Sri Lankans believe that the Buddhist sites in Sri
    Lanka belong only to the Sinhalese (Sinhala heritage) and not to the
    Tamils? Why are the Sri Lankans ignorant about the early Tamil
    Buddhists of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu? Why do the Sri Lankans think, in
    Sri Lanka a Buddhist should be a Sinhalese and a Hindu should be a
    Tamil while the Sinhalese worship most of the Hindu/Brahmanical Gods?

    Not only the Indians but even the Sri Lankan Tamils gave up Buddhism and
    accepted Hinduism. For them to go back to Buddhism, has 2500 years of
    Buddhism in Sri Lanka (the so called Dhammadveepa) influenced any major
    changes in the Sinhala society (the so called guardians of Buddhism
    chosen by none other than the Buddha) in terms of attitude, character,
    behavior, morality and so on or has it failed miserably? Are the
    Buddhist monks practicing Ahimsa (non-violence), Karuna (compassion),
    Metta (affection), and Maithriya (loving-kindness) towards fellow humans
    (irrespective of race/religion) or are they in the name of Buddhism
    promoting ethno-religious chauvinism and hatred?

    Buddhism in Sri Lanka is monopolized by the Sinhalese and they call it
    Sinhala-Buddhism which is Theravada Buddhism (Tripitaka) mixed up with
    the Mahavamsa. Will the Sinhala-Buddhist Maha Sangha accept any Tamil
    Buddhist monks? Will the Tamils accept Mahavamsa as a part of Buddhism
    or Buddhist history knowing very well that it is a Sinhala-Buddhist

    Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne's dream of future Tamil Buddhists is very
    genuine and apt during this period. As he says, it may recreate the
    togetherness, the common bond that once existed between the Sinhalese
    and Tamils. It will not be a surprise if Nanda Malini sings about the
    Damila Buddhayo of the past and the future but can his dream
    materialize? Of course, miracles do happen; Martin Luther King
    Junior's dream came true so let us have some hope.
  • "" Mahinda is said to have erected seven viharas at Kaveripattinum, the capital of Cola while he was on his way to Sri Lanka.

    According to Dr. Hikosaka, contrary to the general impression, Buddhism might have gone to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu by sea-route, a route by which one can reach Sri Lanka easily .. "

    This is an interesting detail.

    Thanks for sharing dear Sri. GRS.

    Also remember to have read that

    Lankan scripts resemble Orissa (orion) language scripts..
    and there was enmass migration from Orissa ( Kalinga )

    We have also been reading of SEVEN PAGODAs in MALLAI .. which discussion gained momentum during post-Tsunami period. (2005 Jan and later).

    Now re Seven Pagodas in Kaveripoompattinam .. another detail.

    This should be looked into from the details furnished by ancient travellers to the Eastern coast.

    And Pagodas were structural temples - conical structures - and Stones were not used ...

    thanks and rgds/ sps
  • Sinhalapet was a transit camp for Buddhists to go to Sri Lanka by sea..
    and it became Chingleput!!

    R. Narasimhan
  • Any details on the excavations of

    1. Nagapatnam Vihara

    2. Kaveripattinam Vihara

    Any articles available on this?

    With so much ancient Jain temples still surviving - any particular eason for decline of these tempels?

    Was Bhudhism mereged into vaishnavism? The dasavatara epigrah of Mahabalipuram?

    I have no idea - request members to share.
  • What we read so far is "Chengaluneer pattu became Chengalpattu"
  • Senkazhuneer.

    Once there was a hotel next to Mylapore Senkazhuneer Vinayagar temple. Once we had cofee there. My father told the manager - I was wondering why this ganesa is referred as " senkazhuneer Vinayagar". Now my doubt is clarified after having cofee in ur jotel.
  • Irrespective of faith, religion and age this can be accepted
  • Sankar,

    you are in full form today....even before I can stop laughing for the
    previous mail, I happened to read this one.
  • Ha Ha Good One.
  • lost on me, prob. only non-Tamil member.
  • Irudhip porattam - the last struggle. Our Politiciansannounce regularly a last struggle. For the same issue therewill be n number of last struggles.

    kazhuneer - the water after washing rice and vegetables - is fed to cows.

    sen kazhuneer is red kazhuneer. The cofeewas like that.

    but actually senkazhuneer is a flower like lilly.
  • Dear Katherine,

    Kazhuneer - Waste-water
    Sen Kazhuneer - Reddish Waste Water !!

    Near mylapore temple - there was a restarunt which served Coffee - and the content of the Coffee is compared !! (to the reddish waste water - the temple next which it is located !!)


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