Pre Buddhist Hinduism in Sri Lanka Archaeological Perspective

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They represent 1.7% and one even records royal connection (814). In addition, there were five donations by individuals with names that belong to a Brahmin Gotra (family). The majority of the titled donors 372 are recorded from individuals bearing the title Parumaka (Tamil Parumakan, Perumakan, Sitrampalam S.K. 1986/ 87 ) representing 30.2 percent of the inscriptions. Donations by the Gamikas, rural administrators account for 103 inscriptions, representing 8.3 per cent. Another significant group is that of the Gahapatis/Gapitas, the wealthy land owning mercantile class, with a total of 66 inscriptions, representing 5.3 per cent. There are only 13 donations from craftsmen, representing 1.1 percent The rest of the inscriptions numbering 580 form 47 percent (Coningham, Robin, A.E. 1995: 230 231)

Some groups such as Nagas, Velu, (Tamil Vels, Sitrampalam, S.K. 1990), Aya, (Tamil Aya, Sitrampalam, S.K. 1988), Bata / Barata (Tamil Baratavar, Sitrampalam S.K, 1980, Seneviratne, S. 1985) could be classified under this category (Fig 1.) As the cave donations to the Buddhist clergy could be made only by the persons who could afford it, it is very likely that these donations reflect the affluent class of both the sexes.

The perusal of the inscriptions shows that the majority of patrons had names suggesting their non Buddhist religious affinities possessed by the first patrons of Buddhism. Unfortunately no further details of the religious practice are evident because the very nature and scope of these sources have been very much restricted and confined to Buddhism only. Referring to the Brahmi inscriptions, Paranavitana (1929 320) who himself was a pioneer in the study of the pre Buddhist religious beliefs of Sri Lanka observed that as it takes some times after the introduction of a new religion for the people to adopt personal names suggestive of the changed atmosphere, those found in the earliest Brahmi inscriptions may be taken as evidence for the pre— Buddhist religious conditions. Perhaps these names. when correlated with other evidences from both literary and archaeological sources especially coins throw welcome light on pre Buddhist Hinduism in Sri Lanka. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the donors is the use of the Hindu names of the gods by monks (theras) and lay worshippers of Buddhism both male and female sexes referred to as upasakas and upasikas respectively. Nevertheless it should be stated that the coming of Buddhism did not mean the end of Hindu beliefs. Instead of eradicating them, it had accommodated them and to a certain degree assimilated them too. Hindu gods became part and parcel of Buddhist establishments. In short, the folk religion of the Buddhists bespeak their old Hindu heritage, though in a different garb (Bcchert, H. 1973).

Hinduism as it is understood today embodies various cults and practices which found their way through centuries of development. Of these the primitive animistic cults like Yaksa and Naga, the cults of the Indus valley civilization and the Vedic cults of the Aryans are most important. The authors of these cults are Veddoids or Austric language speakers, Dravidians and the Sanskrit speaking Aryans.

The Vedic cults metamorphosed into puranic Hinduism with the assimilation of the cults of Indus valley and other cults in Southern India. This amalgamation led to Pan Indian development of Hinduism in the form of Puranic Hinduism, as evident from the earliest literature of Tamilakam known as Carikam literature. The rise of puranic Hinduism witnessed the emergence of Trimurtis, namely Siva, Visnu, and Brahma and other cults associated with them as supreme beings, thereby the Vedic deities faded into the background. Thereafter worship around a temple, in place of a sacrificial altar assumed significance.

This post Vedic phenomena of the emergence of the puranic gods and the syncretism and assimilation of the cults mentioned above into their domain was accelerated in about the first four centuries before Christ and continued for about the same period even after Christ as well in India. The above cults and practices have also found their way into Sri Lanka during the pre Buddhist times as well. This “is quite evident from the study of the Brahmi inscriptions which are the main source for our study.

The Yaksa cult which is often described as the cult of nature or animism, in fact depicts the early form of worship, where the Yaksas were deified as devas (gods). Every Hindu deity, even Buddha, is spoken of upon occasion as Yaksa (Coomaraswamy, 1971: 36 37). Because of this very nature one could even see a confusion in the Pali chronicles of Sri Lanka regarding the exact nature and relationship between the Yaksa cult and the Hindu cults.

The word ‘Yaksa’ does not appear in the epigraphs but Kubira (Kubera), the King of Yaksas, figures

in two epigraphs (94, 489) and Vaisravana another epithet of Kubera appears in a solitary instancc(9). This god Vaisravana is referred to as Vessanvanna, as having his abode under the banyan tree as far back as during the reign of Pandukabhaya in the 4 th century B.C. (M. VX 89). Moreover, the references in the Pali chronicles to the Yaksas such as Kalasodara and Dhanesvara have been taken as a synonyms of Kubera (Paranavitana, S. 1929:315). The Naga cult, however revolved around the divinity of Cobra.

The word Naga occurs in nearly eighty inscriptions (Paranavitana, S. 1970). Naga, Nagadata and Nagamita are the forms mentioned in these epigraphs. Devanampiya Tissa (250 210 B.C.) in whose reign Buddhism was introduced in Sri Lanka had a brother, named Mahanaga. He was also the heir apparent to the throne. Thulatha Naga (119 B.C.), Khallatha Naga (109 103 B.C.) Cora Naga (62 50 B.C.) and Mahadathika Naga (7 19 B.C.) are some other names of the Kings of the pre—Christian period whose names included the ‘Naga’ suffix. It is also pertinent to note that punched marked coins with snake or Naga motifs have been reported from Kantarodai (Krishnarajah, S. 1998: 65 72).

The important feature found in these inscriptions is also the use of suffixes such as ‘deva’ ‘pala’ ‘Gutta’ ‘rakhita’ ‘data’ ‘dina’ ‘dasa’ ‘mita’ and ‘buti’ after the name of a particular deity. The word ‘deva’ while occurring after the name of a particular deity occurs alone in about 23 epigraphs with its feminine form ‘devi’ in another four epigraphs. Bancrjca (1966: 70) quoting from the early Buddhist literature opines that this is a reference to ‘Siva’. However Paranavitana (1970) took this as a reference to gods in general.

Suffixes ‘-guta’ ‘-rakhita’ and ‘-pala’ seem to have been used to denote ‘protection by a particular god’. Data and dina were used to give the meaning of ‘given by the god’. Both dasa and mita indicated ‘servant’ and ‘friend’ respectively. Bhuti again referred to a person who owed his existence to a particular god and Anubhuti indicated a person who experienced the grace of a god. These inscriptions also show that in a few cases at least the two generations continued to profess the same cult (111, 494, 5 82). Instances are also not wanting of the father and the son professing different cults (914). There are also evidences for the presence of the names of the Naga and the Vedic and the puranic cults in one and the same inscriptions (166, 328, 972, 984). The harmonious nature of these cults is also confirmed by the numismatic evidences as well. A coin from Kantarodai has three symbols, namely swastika on a pedestal, Srivatsa and bull, thus embodying the cults of Sun, Visnu, (Srivatsa symbolises Sri Devi who resides on the chest of Visnu) and Siva (as Bull is the vehicle of Siva, Pushparatnam, P: 2002)

Surya (Sun god) appears as Suri, having the following forms, Suri (454, 812) and Suriguta (701, 751). Swastika appearing in the ancient coins is a symbol of the Sun. Soma (188) Somadata (975) Somadeva (24, 523, 1003) and Somaliya (140) are the forms in which Soma (Moon god) appears here. However, the most popular of the Vedic gods seems to have been Mita (Mitra) whose name occurs in nearly half the epigraphs mentioning the Vedic gods with the following forms, ‘Mita’, ‘Mita deva’ and ‘Mita pala’. The performances of sacrifices is also indicated by the following phrases such as ‘Bata-Yaga dataha’ (92) and ‘Parumaka Yaka dataha’ (1171). The performance of sacrifices is also alluded to during the time of Pandukabhaya (M.V.X: 90).

There are about 33 inscriptions which suggest that the donors were of the Brahmin caste. However, according to Coningham, there are only 21 inscriptions referring to Brahmins (Coningham, Robin, A.E. 1995). While 22 specially refer to ‘Bamanas’ (Brahmins), the names of 11 other epigraphs indicate their Brahmanical origin. For instance Kacila (33) is the son of Brhaspati, Gadiya (727) is the father of sage Visvamitra, Ataka (99) is a composer of Vedic hymns and Kapila (803) is a common name among the Brahmins. Since teaching and education were in the hands of Brahmins, Paranavitana would even consider the terms such as Acarya and Aciriya (604, 803) as a reference to Brahmins.

Brahmanical teachers and pandits arc mentioned in the literary sources as well (M.V. X: 70 ; SMP: 418). Purohita was an important office in ancient Sri Lanka as it was in India. References to this institution have been found from the time of Vijaya (Hettiarachchy, T. 1972:109 110, 130, 174). However, no references of this nature occur in these inscriptions. Nevertheless various other professions of the Brahmins arc also mentioned in them.

The important gotras of the Brahmanical caste too figure in these records. They are Kausika (48, 205, 632), Varsagana (1003), Potimasa (24), Parasara (604) Gautama (486, 656), Vatsa (691) and Atreya (545). Even some of the theras were of Brahmanical origin (228, 1194). Brahmanical village is also indicated by the term ‘Brahmanaya gama’ (Paranavitana, S. 1970: 12). Interestingly enough Mahavamsa too refers to the existence of a dwelling for the Brahmins (Brahmana Vatthum) and a hall (Sotthisala) where the Brahmins recited mantras (Sotthivacana) dating back to the time of King Pandukabhaya (M.V. x: 102). The village of a Brahmin Tivakka / Tavakka (M.V. XIX: 37) and a shrine belonging to another Brahmin Diyavasa (MBV: 137) are even alluded to during the reign of Devanampiyatissa. Thus, inscriptional evidences are confirmed by the references in the literary sources as well. Nevertheless these inscriptions do not suggest any evidence for the prevalence of the four fold Brahmanical caste system as an institution in ancient Sri Lanka (Karunatillaka, P. V. B. 1986).

Of the puranic cults, the most important is the evidence for the worship of Siva. The name of Lord Siva occurs in 69 inscriptions. This name has been used here singly, with prefixes such as ‘maha’ ‘cuda’ ‘kala’ and with suffixes such as ‘bhutiya’ and ‘guta’. Besides the royal personages Parumakas, Gamikas, Gahapatis, Batas, theras and lay worshippers of Buddhism having the name Siva figure as the donors of these caves. There is also a solitary reference to ‘Sivanagara’ (which means the town of Siva) in these epigraphs (796a); The literary sources also mention the use of name Siva by royalty as well. For, one of the sons of Panduvasudeva who succeeded Vijaya bore the name Girikanda Siva (M.V. X: 29). Even Devanampiya Tissa’s father was Muta Siva (M.V. XI: 1). Dhatuvarhsa says that the ruling princes of Kalyani and Seru (Seruvilla) dating back to the time of Kakavanna Tissa (in the 2nd century BC) had the name Siva (Paranavitana, S. 1959: 148 149). A coin with a legend Siva has been discovered at Kantarodai (Krishnarajah 1998:5152). A few coins with the name of Siva have also been reported from Southern Sri Lanka (Bopearachchi, Osmandand Wickremesinghe, Rajah, 1999: A 13,14).

At this juncture, it is relevant to take note of the reference to the shrines of ‘Maheja’ ‘Puradeva’ ‘Vyadhadeva’ and ‘Kammara deva’ found in the literary sources. The shrine of ‘Maheja’ although it is referred to for the first time during the time of Pandukabhaya as Mahejjaghara (M.V. X: 90), seems to have continued its existence up to the time of Devanampiya Tissa, (M.V. XVII: 30) till it got lost in the Buddhist monastery buildings established around the Thuparama (Paranavitana, S. 1929: 307).

It is probable that the Pali Chroniclers confused the epithet ‘Mahesa’ of Siva which means the ‘great god’ with Yaksa Maheja, as linguistically sa, ja are interchangeable. ‘Puradeva’ occurs for the first time during the reign of Dutthagamani (161 137 B.C.) (M.V. XXV: 87) as the guardian deity of Anuradhapura. Most likely this is a reference to a Siva temple. For, in the later period, the temple of Siva as ‘Nagarisa’ which again is synonymous with ‘Puradeva’ has been located within the capital.

The medieval text named Sadharmalamkara mentions a temple of the guardian deity of the city of Anuradhapura as ‘Puradeviyokoil’ (Ariyapala M.B. 1968: 192). Salalihini Sandesa too refers to a ‘Isvara’ (Siva) temple in the city of Kotte during the reign of Parakramabahu 1 (1412 1467 B.C.) (Reynolds, C.H.B. 1970: 286). That the god Siva was worshipped as ‘Nagarisa’ is also confirmed by the epigraph found at Devundra (Paranavitana. S. 1953: 76).

At this juncture it is important to take note of the depiction of a temple on the obverse of the coin from Pallikuda in Poonakary region of Northern Sri Lanka (Pushparatnam, 2002: 73 74). Here a hut shaped temple with a roof in an inverted crescent form supported by five pillars is depicted. The reverse of this coin has a fish emblem. It is very likely that this would have been a temple of Siva. Even trees depicted in these coins may be treated as the forerunners of the later sthalavrksas. The form ‘visa deva’ occurs in three epigraphs. Paranavitana has translated this as a reference to a person who honours all the gods. However, Ellawala (1969: 158) had taken this to mean Siva, the highest god.

Pandukabhaya is said to have settled ‘Vyadhadeva’ in a palmyrah tree in the western gate of the city (M.V. X: 89). However, Malalasekara (1928) would treat this form as ‘Vyadhideva’. Referring to Vyadhadeva, Parker (1909: 177) opined that this is a reference to the hill god of the aborigines of South India and the knowledge of him was brought to Sri Lanka by the first comers in very early times. Nevertheless, it is probable that god Siva is here meant by the term ‘Vyadhadeva’, for he is referred to in Mahabharata as having assumed the form of a kiratha (hunter) before Arjuna who performed a severe penance to obtain his grace (Keith, K.B 1920: 109). It is also very likely that the Pali writers, who had little or no knowledge about the nature of these cults have confused palmyrah tree, the abode of Vyadhadeva, for the Banyan tree which again is the abode of Vyis’ravana (Vessanvanna). Incidentally, it is also of interest to take note of the reference to palmyrah tree in Mahavamsa immediately following the reference to a Banyan tree. Moreover, Patahjali refers to Siva in a compound sense along with the Vaisravana as Siva Vaisravana (Banerjea,J. N. 1966: 74).

The abode of Siva like that of Vaisravana is also a banyan tree. Siva in fact is referred to as Al Kelu Katavul meaning the god having the banyan tree as his abode (Vidyananthan, S. 1954:126). The city of Kubera which is Alaka is believed to be situated in Mount Kailasa the abode of Siva. If one takes the reading of this form as Vyadhideva mentioned above, which means the ‘lord of diseases’ it again could be a reference to the ‘Vaidyanatha’ form of Siva which means ‘the lord who cures the diseases’.

At present we are in the dark about the nature of the god Kammara deva who has been identified as the god of blacksmiths or industries (Rahula, W. 1956: 40). He appears for the first time during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (MBV :84). The suffix ‘-deva’ appended with Kammara although it would class him with the puranic gods mentioned above, however nothing more could be said beyond this at present.

There are also references to the vahana (vehicle) of Siva as indicated by the forms such as Nadika and Vasaba / Vahaba both mean a bull. It may be recounted here that both Nandi and Nandipada are found in the earliest coins of Sri Lanka, namely the punch marked coins (Codrington, H.W. 1924: 16 20). Nandipada also occurs as a symbol in the same inscription where a person who bore the name Nadika (498) is referred to. It may be recounted here that there was also a king by the name of Vasabha, who reigned during the 2nd century AD.

Coins with bull symbols have been reported from Kantarodai,_ Matottam. (Seyone KXV. 1998: 26 30), Vallipuram and Anuradhapura (Codrington, H.W. 1924 :24), Poonakary (Pushparatnam, P. 1998: 114 19) and Akurugoda (Bopearachchi, Osmand and Wickremesinghe Rajah, 1999: 90 91). A copper coin from Virapandyan Munai in the Punakari region depicts a bull on its obverse and the reverse has some other symbols. Here right facing bull with a purnakumbha below its head and two square lines is depicted (Pushparatnam, 2002: 77). In the specimen from Akurugoda also the bull is depicted in the obverse of a lead coin in a similar manner as in Virapandyan Munai.


The other noteworthy feature of these coins from Akurugoda is the discovery of clay moulds for making these coins and the clay tablets depicting the bulls (Bopearachchi, Osmand and Wickremesinghe, Rajah 1999 90 91, p 1. 22 24). These evidences along with the epigraphical sources confirm that ‘bull’ as an emblem of Siva was a sacred symbol during pre Buddhist times.

The abode of Siva namely ‘Kailasa’ is referred to as ‘Kelasa’ (1025). Although it is mentioned here as a name of a cave, it is very likely that this indicates the prevalence of the tradition of Siva’s mountain abode as Kailasa. However, the evidence from Mahavamsa shows the prevalence of the cult of the mountain during the pre Buddhist times (Rahula, 1956:41). This is referred to in connection with one of the earliest visits of Lord Buddha to the island (M.V 1).

Referring to this mountain deity at Sumanakuta, Sarachandra (1966: 4 5) opines that “we probably have an instance of an original mountain deity being converted to Buddhism and made the guardian (Sumano Deviyo) of the sacred foot print.” Perhaps this original mountain deity could be identified with Siva although Paranavitana had lately equated him with Kala (Yama) (Paranavitana, S. 1957). It is also of interest to note that Siva is also referred to as Kala / Mahakala in the literature (Williams, 1963, 277).

Although no names suggestive of the prevalence of the lifiga cult have been found in the Brahmi inscriptions, there are however both literary, sculptural and numismatic evidences to this effect. The occurrence of the name ‘Sivikasala’ dating back to the time of Pandukhabaya (M.V.X: 102) had been taken as a reference to this cult (Paranavitana, 1929). However, there are terra cotta objects along with the female figurines discovered in many parts of the island which testify to the prevalence of this cult also (Deraniyagala, P. E. P. 1960: 61; Deraniyagala, S. 1972b). Perhaps, it should be added here that the so called phallic symbols are the survivals of the early phase of this cult. For during this phase these represented only the symbol of the formless almighty in the form of a lump of wood, clay and stone. It is believed that only later with the addition of argha or base to these, was this form rendered as representing the male and the female organs of the human body (Subramaniampillai, G. 1948). It is interesting to note that Siva lihga is also depicted on the reverse of the Laksmi coins of Sri Lanka (Pushparatnam, P. 2002: 81 89).

The worship of the mother goddess is also evident from the use of forms such as Macaka (Minaksi) Mahambika (Ambika) Duga (Durga) Guraya (Gauri) and Kadj (Kali). These may be taken as references to Siva’s consort Parvati. Paranavitana would derive the form macaka from Sanskrit ‘Matsyaksi’ which again is synonymous with Minaksi, consort of Siva, which means ‘she whose eyes resemble fish’. Finally it may also be remembered that Parvati, is also associated with Mount Kailasa.

Now it is also relevant to note the important Yaksis mentioned in the Mahavamsa such as Vadavamukhi (M. VX 86) who was installed in the Royal precincts and Pacchimarajini (M.V. x: 89) who had the shrine at the western gate of the city as that of Vyadhadeva. This shows the importance attached to these female deities. Since the shrine of Pacchimarajini is mentioned along with that of Vyahadeva (Siva) it is very likely that it is Parvati consort of Siva who is alluded to in this form. In the context of the worship of elephant headed Ganesa in ancient Sri Lanka one could reasonably assume that the mare headed goddess (Valavamukhi) was also worshipped at this time. For Skanda Purana mentions these goddesses as bestowers of prosperity, givers of male issues to issueless women, etc. Understandably enough the month of Magha too figures as an important month for the worship of Ganesa and the mare-faced goddesses (Dange, SA: 1983).

The references in these inscriptions to the names of god Skanda such as Kadali (Skanda), Kumara (Kumara), Guda (Guha), Kita/Kati/Krttika (Karttikeya) after the six mothers who nurtured him), Visaka (Visakha) Mahasena (Mahasena) Samidata (Svamidatta) and Vela (Vela) could be taken as an evidence for the existence of the cult of Skanda-Murukan. Vela the shortened form of Velan could either mean Murukan himself for he is also a holder of Vel (lance) or the priests of the Murukan cult. In fact what is described as an iron blade from the Pomparippu excavations (Beglcy, V. 1981 Fig. 16a: 77) and a spear blade from Pinwewa (Godakumbura, C.E. 1968: 104) may be taken to represent a Vel. A spear was also reported from Kantarodai excavations (pers. comm. Selvaratnam, T.P.).

Incidentally Adiccanallur, an extensive urn burial site in Tamil Nadu with which Pomparippu urn burial site shares many common traits, also has shown evidence for the prevalence of the the Murukan cult. Similarly Vel also occurs as a graffiti symbol in the earliest Megalithic pottery of Anuradhapura (Deraniyagala, 1972a:123, No.23). Equally important is the depiction of rooster, javelin and peacock associated with the cult of Murukan in the coins reported from Kantarodai and Mullaitivu (Pushparatnam, P. 2002: 86     87 )

In this context it is pertinent to say something about the Yaksa Kala Vela and Cittaraja who were visible in bodily form. Pandukabhaya is said to have settled the Yaksa Kala Vela on the east side of the city and the Yaksa Cittaraja at the lower end of the Abhaya tank (M.V. x: 84 88). This shows that the statues of these yaksas were housed in the two temples at two different places in the city of Anuradhapura.

With regard to Kalavela who, is not known from other sources (Paranavitana, 1929:306) it may be said that it is a component of two words kala and vela. Vela as we have noted earlier is a shortened form of Velan. The form kala which again means black seems to have been used in a derogatory sense to qualify this Yaksa Vela. Not surprisingly Vattagamani (89 77 B.C.) of Sri Lanka was also nicknamed as ‘Mahakala Sihala’ by the Jains (M.V. XXXIII: 44). It is very likely that Kala, could then be an allusion to the god Vela by the chronicler who had no sympathy for this worship. If this is so it is also a sheer coincidence that the king Mahasena who bore the name of the god Skanda, had the reputation as the destroyer of the shrines of devas (M.V XXXVII: 40) and destroyed this shrine of Vela at Anuradhapura in the fourth century AD. Paranavitana (1929:303 304) however, quoting from Kurudhamma Jataka would prefer an identification of Cittaraja with Kama, Hindu god of Love who is also as one of his name suggests ‘Manobhava’ which means ‘mind born’ like Cittaraja. The other important element of this cult is the association of Karttika festival with this god. In fact this festival of lights which occurs in the month of Karttika is one of the pre Buddhist festivals of Sri Lanka (Hettiarachchy, T. 1972:120). However, it may be stated that the Yaksa Cittaraja shares many common traits with the god Murukan / Karttikeya. Like the word Cittaraja, Murukan also means young, handsome and pleasing to the mind / heart. Moreover the Karttika festival had been associated with Murukan from ancient times (Clothey, 1982:157 188).

It is also now relevant to say something about the Ksatriyas of Kajaragama and Candanagama who hailed from Rohana (M.V. XIX: 54 55). However, both the places are not referred to in the Brahmi records. Both along with the Brahmin Tivakka figure in the lime light in connection with the planting of the Bo tree at Anuradhapura and later the planting of the Bo saplings in their respective villages (M.V. XIX: 54 55). This in fact reflects the recognition given to these people whose religion is pre Buddhist in origin and the entry of Buddhism into their respective areas.

The persistence of the old tradition of the Murukan-Valli cult and the archaic form of worship followed at Kataragama are reminiscent of a similar type of worship mentioned in the Sangam literature. These, however, tend to associate this site with the Murukan cult. Sangam literature also associates Murukan with a mountain region known as Kurunci (Vidyananthan, S. 1954: 115 125). This inference is further confirmed by the three inscriptions referring to Kumara which is a synonym of Tamil Murukan worshipped in and around Kataragama. The inscription at Avatigama (688) a hillock which is close to Kataragama mentions a thera named Kumara. Kumara also figures in the inscriptions at Kottamuhela (572) and Mangala (582) about twelve miles southeast and northeast of Yala respectively. In fact the epigraph at Mandagala even mentions two generations of the worshippers of Kumara.

With regard to the origin of the word Kajaragama / Kataragama it has been postulated that it could either be a derivation from Karttikeya-grama or Katira-gama which means the village of Karttikeya and the village of divine glory respectively (Arunachalam, 1924). At this juncture, it is pertinent to take note of the two Brahmi inscriptions of the first century AD. left by Uparaja Naga referring to his conversion to Buddhism after having given up his false belief (Paranavitana, S. 1945). These have been found at Kirindi which is about twelve miles from Kataragama’and at Magama (Tissamaharama) his royal seat which is also about ten miles from Kataragama. The inscription at Magama seems to be a confession on his part that he became a convert to Buddhism with the purpose of destroying the false beliefs in his village. However, it should also be noted that the word ‘false belief is the term which is often used in the Pali chronicles while referring to Hinduism (M.V. XXI: 34).

There is a solitary reference to gana (Ganesa) in these epigraphs. Paranavitana who deciphered this inscription as ‘Ganesa lene Sagasa’ has rendered this as the cave of the corporation given to the Sangha. However, it is more plausible to take this form gana as reference to Gana / Ganesa. The friezes of Ganas. especially a Gana with one tusk attended by other Ganas holding different objects at Kantaka Cetiya at Mihintale also, shows that the worship of Ganesa was prevalent in ancient Sri Lanka (Ellawala, 1969: 159). However, the figure of Ganesa datable to the middle of the 1st century BC occurring in the coins of the Indo Greeks even takes back its origin to pre Christian times in India (Narain, A K. 1988).

The prevalence of the cult of Brahma, who is referred to as Bama in these epigraphs is also evident from the occurrence of this form in eight epigraphs. Interestingly enough even Bamanagama is referred to in one of these epigraphs (1037). However, numerically speaking next to Siva it was the cult of Visnu which was popular in ancient Sri Lanka.

The name Visnu, however occurs as Vinu in two epigraphs. Nevertheless, the reference to this cult could be found even in the time of Vijaya (M.V.V11: 5). For, Mahavamsa says that Saka (Indra) at the time of the arrival of Vijaya handed down the guardianship of Lanka to the god whose colour is that of a blue lotus (Uppalavannasa). Geiger who translated Mahavamsa had identified him with Visnu. However, the form Utpala occurs as Upala in these epigraphs. Kana, another form of Visnu is referred to in eighteen epigraphs. Though Paranavitana (1970) derived this form from Sanskrit Krsna it could even be a derivation of Tamil Kannan who was later identified with Visnu (Vidyananthan, S. 1954: 128). The influence of the stories of Krsna in the make up of the Pandukabhaya legends (Mendis, G.C. 1956) is again an evidence for the knowledge of this cult in ancient Sri Lanka as well.

The other forms of Krsna such as Gopala and Narayana occur in a single inscription respectively. There is no reference to the cult of Vasudeva, another form of Visnu in these epigraphs published by Paranavitana. However, Ellawala (1969: 159-160) quoting from an inscription found at Valakunuvava cave from north central province published by Paranavitana earlier and which has been deciphered by him as ’Bata Vasudeva lene’convincingly argues for the presence of this cult also in ancient Sri Lanka, although Paranavitana has failed to include this inscription in this volume. Finally, Ellawala says that in the later period this cult was known to the people of Sri Lanka too. For in the Dhammasangani Atthakatha reference is made to Vasudevayatana.

Tantalisingly enough, one of the earlier kings, the grand father of Pandukabhaya, bore the name ‘Panduvasudeva’where ‘Vasudeva’occurs along with the clan name Pandu. While Baladeva orBalarama, brother of Visnu found a place only in one epigraph the form ‘Naguli’ which also meant the same occurs in six epigraphs. In India he was associated with the palmyrah palm. Banerjea (1966) even includes taladhvaja (palmyrah shaped capital of Baladeva) as denoting the worship of Visnu in North India. In the Sangam literature too Baladeva is referred to as a bearer of a plough who had the palmyrah palm as his flag (Vidyananthan, S. 1954:133 134). Rama and Kurma (tortoise incarnation of Visnu) also figure in these epigraphs. It is also important to note the presence of tortoise, cakra and Srivatsa associated with the cult of Visnu in the coins reported from Akurugoda (Pushparatnam, P. 2002: 39, 50-52).

Visnu’s consort Sri also had her followers as is evident from the occurrence of this name in these epigraphs. In one inscription goddess ‘Laksmi’ another name of Sri is referred to as Laci (179). The form Sri however occurs as ’Sri’ ‘Sripaliya’ and ’Sriguta’ in these epigraphs (316,529,535,643). Paranavitana even equates Sanskrit Sri with Tamil Tim which he has read as Tin (819,868). Paduma (Skt. Padma) another name of Laksmi occurs in two places in these records (494,1013). It is also pertinent to remember that the goddess Laksmi has been depicted as standing on a lotus in the ancient coins usually designated as Laksmi plaques (Codrington. H.W 1924: 26 3 1) dating back to pre-Christian times. Coins depicting the goddess Laksmi have been reported from Nallur, Matottam, Vallipuram, Anaikkottai, Punakari, Udutturai, Anuradhapura, Tissamaharama, Chilaw, Puttalam, Nintavur and Akurugoda (Sitrampalam, S.K. 1991: 151 158, Pushparatnam, P. 2002: 81 89). They are of various shapes and material. On the obverse of these coins while the goddess is depicted in a standing posture, the reverse has a svastika mounted on a pedestal.

The goddess is also depicted differently in different types. However, in most of the coins she is standing on a lotus holding the stalk of a lotus in two hands separately. In a few coins she holds trident or lamp. In most cases she is nude and in a few cases appears with garments. In some coins she is decorated with ornaments. In many copper coins the goddess stands on a lotus while the stalk held in her hands are fitted with blossoming flowers on the top. Two elephants are seen above her and they shower water on the goddess with their trunk. This depicts the Gaja Laksmi aspect of this goddess.

In some of the coins she is seated in a lalitasana posture. In the coins reported by Parker (1981: 463 82), she is seated with dishevelled hair and Trisula which reminds us of Durga aspect of the Mother goddess (Figs 2). The Yaksi figures having lotuses in hand found at Abhayagiri and Jetavanarama (Paranavitana, S. 1971: pi. 5) may be taken as the earliest representations of the goddess Laksmi. The word SrI/Siri was also added to the names of the kings such as Siri Naga, Sri Sangabodhi (Hettiarachchy, T.1972:63).

The fact that the people of pre Buddhist Sri Lanka were accustomed to the Hindu way of life is perhaps evident from the references to astral names used as proper names. The following naksatras are found in these inscriptions. They are Bharani, Krttika, Rohini, Punarvasu, Pusya, Aslesa, Magha, Uttara, Hasta, Citra, Svati, Vis’akha, Anuradha, Mula, Asadha, Uttarasadha, Abhijit, Sravana, Sravistha and Rcvati. Of these Pusya and its synonym Tissa occurring in about 75 and 50 inscriptions respectively taken together far outnumber in their occurrence all the other naksatra names put together (Paranavitana, S.1970: CXXIV).

We are still not quite certain as to what the author of the Mahavarhsa meant by his reference to five hundred families of heretical belief (Michaditthikula) living in Anuradhapura (M.V.X: 100). Pandukabhaya seems to have constructed buildings for the sramanas (ascetics (M.V. X: 96) and monastery for the Paribhajakas (Parivrajakas) and the house for the Ajivakas (M.V, X: 101 102). It is also of interest to, note that these occur along with the dwellings for the Brahmins, Sotthisala and Sivikasala.

Could these ascetics be equated with the rsis? The rsis are referred to in these inscriptions as Isiguta (174) and Isi rakita (614). With regard to the Paribhajakas and Ajivakas, Banerjea (1966: 91 92) sees their link with the Pasupatas (a sect of the Siva cult). However, Paribhajakas are even referred to in the Vijaya and Panduvasudeva stories (M.V. VII: 6 ;VIII: 24). Saddharmalahkara refers to Saivitc Paribhajakas (ascetics) living in Rohana even during the medieval times (Ariyapala, M.D. 1966: 183 185). Baruna (1986) however, opines that Siva was the highest deity to the Paribhajakas and the wandering ascetics.

Although to day the Tamils and the Sinhalese are mostly the followers of Hinduism and Buddhism respectively, the sources delineated above confirm that the forefathers of these two linguistic groups were followers of Hinduism only, before a large section of the population embraced Buddhism. The Hindu base of the Sri Lankan society is largely because both the Hindu and the Buddhist cultures stemmed from a common cultural base during the proto historic phase as in Tamijakam, India.

It was this cultural base which paved the way for the emergence of civilization in Sri Lanka(fig. 1). This civilization was initially exposed to the pan Indian Hindu cultural influences emanating from the subcontinent of India. This was followed by a Buddhist cultural wave, which gradually led to sinhalisation. Consequently Buddhism became identified with the Sinhalese throne, helping later monarchs to keep their polity ideologically and physically separate from the Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka as well as the powerful Hindu states across the Palk Straits.

Our Editor S. Muthukrishnan took part in this world Hindu Conference on 2-6 May 2003. Here he got the chance to meet the Late tamil scholar Dr. Kanthaiah from Australia, Our Editor has written many articles relating to this conference in many Tamil Magazines in Tamil Nadu.

Courtesy: World Hindu Conference Sri Lanka 2-6 May 2003 By Prof S.K. Sitrampalam, Professor of History. Dean of Graduate Studies, University of Jaffna, Tirunelvely.

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