Sinhalese history from the earliest period Essay

THE notices respecting Ceylon which have been preserved in the Greek and Roman writers are very vague and uncertain, and at the best furnish but little information. If the account which the Singalese themselves give of the early state and primary inhabitants of their island be sometimes fabulous and often inaccurate, it at least contains more varied details and more amusing combinations. The Singalese possess some written and some traditionary narratives of their primitive history, which have been preserved for many ages, and which are not undeserving the attention of the curious. Even in those instances in which these accounts appear to be only a tissue of fables, such fables will often be found to be only a veil thrown over real facts; and, at any rate, they will serve to throw some light on the genius and opinions of the people. In the three subsequent chapters I shall exclusively follow the authority of Valentyn in his famous work • on the East Indies, which is but very little known either in this country, or on the Continent, but which probably contains a mass of more valuable matter on the subjects of which it treats, than any other publication which has hitherto appeared.

The earliest traditionary accounts of the Singalese represent the people on both sides of the Ganges as living without laws or government, order or decency, in woods and caves, and, like inferior animals, feeding on grass and roots, without any trace of agriculture or civilization.

On a certain morning, in a length of ages past",* when the natives of Tanasserim, or Tannery, were contemplating the rising sun, they beheld a figure of majestic form and beautiful appearance suddenly issue from the body of that splendid luminary. All who saw this attractive form ran towards it in an ecstasy of admiration. In a posture of homage and a tone of reverence they enquired who he was, whence he came, and what was the intention of his coming? The phantom replied, in the Ianguage of the country, that he was the progeny of the glorious sun, and that God had sent him to rule over the nations. The people of Tanas-series, prostrating themselves upon the earth in humble adoration, said that they were ready to receive him as their chief, and to obey his laws.

The first thing which this celestial visitant did, after he was received, as the sovereign at Tannery, was to induce the people to leave their savage and desultory life in the woods, and to build houses and villages, in order to live together in a state of civil subordination and social harmony. This king, having closed a long reign, left many sons, amongst whom he divided his dominions. His descendants, who are said to have continued in a long line of descent for 2000 years, were called Suriavas, or descendants of the race of the sun; amongst whom was Vigea Raja, who is celebrated as the first of the Singalese emperors!

This Vigea Raja, one of the progenies of the sun",- f is said to have made the first discovery of the Island. of Ceylon, in the year of the world 1996. Accounts differ as to the part of the coast where he affected his first landing, but it is said that he disembarked with 700 men; and, having proceeded to form a settlement at some distance from the shore, became the first sovereign of the island.

The most learned amongst the Sinhalese report that Vigea Raja was the son of a king of Tillingo, which borders upon Tanassery, and is a dependence upon the dominion of Siam. The priests, or astrologers, who read his history in the mirror of the stars, declared to his father, that, if he were suffered to remain in the kingdom he would, one day, prove the source of great public disturbance, or general distress ; and his father accordingly, after mature deliberation with his wise men, ordered him to quit the kingdom, and, with a certain number of followers, to go in quest of some other place of abode.

As soon as Vigea Raja* arrived in Ceylon, he gave out that he was of royal extraction, but of the race of the sun, and the son of a lion. The oldest inhabitants of the island, at that time, along with the Mala-bars, worshipped the sun as their supreme god, under the denomination of Eswara; and they had so much respect for the professions of this foreign prince, that they immediately chose him for their king. Where the records of real history are wanting, national vanity, or busy credulity, is ever substituting some dazzling fiction, which passes current, till age of scrutinizing inquiry succeeds to one of submissive ignorance.

The emperors, or kings, of Ceylon, to the latest period, called themselves, in their conquests, Suria Wangsa, or the race of the sun ; and, in the list of their kings, we meet with sonic who took the name of Co-mars Singa, which is said to signify a lion's tail. The name Singalese itself evidently alludes to some tradition respecting the lion",* as the word Singa-le denotes the blood or race of a lion, not only in their language but in the Sanscrit, which appears to be the mother of all the eastern dialects.

Valentyn has exhibited a copious list of Sinhalese kings, which he procured from the ancient writings and traditions of the people themselves; and which, before his work appeared, had never been seen in any European publication. As the Dutch language, in winch the work of Valentyn is composed, is very little known or studied in this country, and as his messy volumes, from their great cost and rarity, can be in the possession only of a few, I shall make no further apology for making free use of his materials. If part of what I shall collect from his stores be thought dull and tedious, let me not be hastily accused of any undue attention to topics of little interest or importance. For in some of the following portions of Singalese history, it should be considered, that I am exhibiting much that has never appeared in any English work; and, if it is thought dull, it cannot be called stale. Nor ought it to be forgotten, that Ceylon is, at present, an integral part of the British dominions; and that under the humane, just, and wise government of this country, it may become in the south-east what Britain is in the north-west, the queen of isles. The fabled splendor of descent from the sun, or of a kindred relation to the lion, may ultimately vanish in the true glory, the real prosperity, and the solid advantages, both commercial, moral, and intellectual, which she will derive from her union with the British crown.

From its soil, its climate, and its products, Ceylon is every way calculated to be the seat of plenty, and of happiness, to enrich its own inhabitants, and to gratify others by its precious superfluities. Of such an island, particularly considered under its present political relations, even the earliest history cannot well be destitute of interest; and if this interest be not so strongly experienced by those who reside at a distance from its deep forests and its lofty mountains, from its groves of cocoa-nuts and its gardens of cinnamon, still it must be vividly felt by numbers of our countrymen, who are settled in that region of beauty and delight, where Nature revels in all the gay luxuriance of vegetable life.

In the 105th year of the Christian era, the southern coast was under the government of a king, named Vigea Raja, who married a daughter of Callinga Raja, by whom he had a daughter of the most exquisite personal charms. But the astrologers foretold that this paragon of beauty was condemned, by her evil destiny, to endure the caresses of a lion, and to be made the wife of that king of the forest.

Many of the courtiers ridiculed the prediction of this marvelous catastrophe, and could not be brought to believe that the daughter of a king would ever experience such a misfortune, as to have a lion for her spouse. The king, however, who yielded to the alarms of paternal solicitude, was not so incredulous about the truth of the prediction ; and, in order to prevent the accomplishment, he ordered a royal mansion to be erected, which was to rest only upon one pillar, and to which no access should be allowed.

The king had provided this place of protection for the fascinating beauty of his daughter, with everything requisite for her comfortable accommodation for a period of sixteen years. She was attended by some of her favorite women and domestics, who were to minister to her wants, and to relieve the languor of her solitude. The doors of the mansion were made fast; and, as additional security, a guard of soldiers was stationed near the spot, on whose fidelity the utmost reliance could be placed.

When the abovementioned sixteen years of confinement had passed away, the king ordered the doors again to be opened; but, before he had ascertained whether his daughter was still alive, the fair captive, with some of her domestics, passed unobserved through the watch, and recovered her liberty. In the company of some other people, she made her way into the midst of the adjacent town, through which she proceeded till she overtook a caravan of merchants, who, after executing their business, were returning home. The track they followed led through a spacious forest, when the fair fugitive, oppressed by fatigue, sat down to rest herself for a short time by the way-side. In this situation, her lovely look and captivating form powerfully arrested the attention of one of the merchants, who determined to omit no persuasions, and to spare no efforts, to obtain her for his bride. Whilst he was meditating on the execution of this project, a lion, of tremendous magnitude, sprung forth from a neighboring thicket. The whole company instantly fled with precipitation, with the exception of the princess, who, remaining motionless with fright, was immediately carried off by the king of the forest, and conveyed to his cave.

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