Yes, the Sinhalese have their origins in Bengal, Odisha

The “Mahavamsa”, arguably the greatest chronicle of Sri Lanka, narrates that the founder of the Sinhalese community had his roots among ancestors from East India.

Written by Adrija Roychowdhury | New Delhi | Updated: December 16, 2016 11:55 am
Sri Lanka, Bengal, Odisha, Orissa, Sinhalese, Sri Lankan history. Sinhalese history, Sinhalese origins, Sinhalese ancestors, Indian Express Sinhalese, who make up about 75 per cent of the Sri Lankan population have descended from inhabitants of ancient East India. REUTERS (Picture used for representational purpose)

When three years back, a Sri Lankan envoy sought Indian support on the basis of the claim that the Sinhalese people are descendents of Bengalis and Odias, there was an upsurge of perplexity and outrage among large sections of the Indian population. However, subsequent research has shown that the Sinhalese, who make up about 75 per cent of the Sri Lankan population might very well have descended from inhabitants of ancient East India.

The “Mahavamsa”, arguably the greatest chronicle of Sri Lanka, narrates an interesting episode that marks the origin of the Sinhalese people. As per the mythological record, the foundation stone of the Sinhalese community was laid by King Vijaya who had travelled there from North-West India in 543 BC and founded the first Sinhalese town by the name of Tambapani. One of the murals at the Ajanta caves carry an elaborate depiction of King Vijaya’s travel to the Sinhalese town.

Sri Lanka, Bengal, Odisha, Orissa, Sinhalese, Sri Lankan history. Sinhalese history, Sinhalese origins, Sinhalese ancestors, Indian Express One of the murals at the Ajanta caves carry an elaborate depiction of King Vijaya’s travel to the Sinhalese town. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

King Vijaya was the son of Sihabahu the ruler of Sihapura in Gujarat. Sihabahu’s mother in turn was the daughter of the king of Kalinga in Eastern India. Legend goes that she conceived Sihabahu (etymologically meaning lion’s arm) with a lion who had kidnapped her.

The nature of origin myths is such that it can never prove or disprove a certain theory. However, by becoming part of local folklore, they do give some indication to the way in which the Sinhalese people remember their past. In the case of the hereditary lineage of King Vijaya, while the exact details of the story may or may not be true, what can be said with certainty is that the Sinhalese community does trace some connection to present day Bengal and Odisha. The legend gains particular currency when one realises the importance of the lion’s symbol in Sinhalese tradition.

In a recent book, “The ocean of churn: How the Indian ocean shaped human history”, writer Sanjiv Sanyal remarks that the symbol of the lion that is so important among the Sinhalese is equally revered among the Odiyas and Bengalis. While the Narasimha (God Vishnu as half man and half lion) is worshipped in Odisha, among Bengalis the image of Goddess Durga is incomplete without the lion upon which she rides. In the opinion of Sanyal, the image of the lion on the Sri Lankan flag and the religious symbolism of the lion in Odisha and Bengal have the same cultural origins.

But it is not just mythology that reflects upon this connection. In his study titled “Genetic affinities of Sri Lankan Populations”, Gautam Kumar Kshatriya found that 25.41 per cent of the genetic make up on the Sinhalese population was contributed by the Bengalis. Linguistically too, scholars have for long remarked upon the Indo-Aryan origins of the Sinhalese speech.

In his celebrated account on the development of the Bengali language, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee comments upon the Indo-Aryan content in the Sinhalese speech in the following words: “The first immigrants who carried the Indo-Aryan speech to Ceylon seem to have been from the Western Indian coast. Later from 3rd century BC onwards Ceylon seems to have come in touch with Magadha through Bengal and traditions of intimate connections between Bengal and Ceylon are preserved in Bengali literature.

Historically speaking, what further seems to corroborate the link between Odisha, Bengal and Sri Lanka is the thriving trade between the two regions. While Ceylon (old name of Sri Lanka) depended upon Kalinga for import of elephants, Kalinga imported pearl and silver from Ceylon. Records have shown that by the 5th century BC, a strong relationship had developed between the two regions as a result of the commercial ties that spread fast enough to have its impact upon the socio-cultural and political arena.

Over the years, Sri Lanka came to be inhabited by several different communities who went on to impact the genetic make up on the population. The colonial encounters with the Portuguese, the Dutch and then the British had its impact on the local population. Genetic studies have shown that Tamils from South India have contributed to the majority of the genetic composition of present day Sinhalese. However, the genetic, cultural and linguistic relation that the Sinhalese population shares with the Bengalis and Odiyas, though of scholarly interest, has remained largely ignored by the popular masses.

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  1. E
    elam in
    Jan 26, 2017 at 3:05 pm
    how do you prove naga and yaksha spoke tamil
    Reply
    1. S
      SPRRW
      Mar 3, 2017 at 7:59 pm
      Tissa means younger brother as per ancient elu. as devanam piyatissa;s elder brothers died he became king or maha raksha. his name was devanam priya or god lover, Tissa means young brother. elders died. yes we can see lots of mutta sivan in colombo markets. tamil workers who do loading and unloading foods items.this is not that sivans. he was maha raksha or king muta siva invincible person as per elu meaning. as per aktha katha base materials of great chronicle or mahawamsa.three version can be seen on vijaya. he was son of a king who rule oddisa. he visited rathnadipa or lanka several times with merchants who came here for gems business, at last he fallen in love with at that time maha raksha;s or king daughter and came back with some forces took the throne killing maharaksha or king.ultimately he got queen from his own land and discarded kuveni.his actual name was simhala or lion blood. he took control of all the vessel movement. kidnaped young sailors and founded own race.called sinhala. he was a sea pirate in that case.though usurper of the kingdom.ultimately his own nephew came here after his death united all the inhabitant and formed sive helaya or sinhala race. that is what I red from ancient book written in elu using prakrit scripts in fourth century BCE. as such royals were from orissa but general public were old inhabitant. as such tamil version is not acceptable it is with hate. tamils hate sinhale. sinhalese hate tamils. it is like jews arab conflicts. both parties are traditional foes. looking for killing each other.it is prescribed for both parties. whenever sinhalese kingdom in rich state, tamils from south India came us and destro us. .still that is taking place.
      Reply
      1. W
        Wasa
        Sep 13, 2016 at 3:20 pm
        Excellent article and I am glad to meet the author and visit Bengal and Odyssa one day, I am a Sinhalese by the way. I believe Ravana and Ramayana existed before but some of it is highly mythical.
        Reply
        1. J
          Javi Z
          Sep 14, 2016 at 8:38 am
          Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own and no other culture but its own.lt;br/gt;Pity the nation whose people are sheep, and whose shepherds mislead them. lt;br/gt;Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced, and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.lt;br/gt;The Sinhalese language takes off with Portuguese/Spanish beginnings.((although Portugal recognised Indian control only in 1975, after the Carnation Revolution and the fall of the Estado Novo regime)lt;br/gt;1 English; Shirt Spanish: Camisa; Sinhala: Amude/Camisalt;br/gt;2 English: Shoe; Spanish: Zapato; Sinhala: Amude/Sapatult;br/gt;3 English: Towel Spanish: Toalla; Sinhala : Amude/Toalla lt;br/gt;4 English: Table Spanish: Mesa; Sinhala : Amude/Mesalt;br/gt;5 English: Closet Spanish: Armario; Sinhala : Amude/ Armario lt;br/gt;6 English: Space; Spanish: ; Sinhala: Amude/lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;DNA undoubtedly proclaims the claim. the Portuguese brought in indentured labour from far off Banda island of es. Now we see the socialist dynasty and 2500 years of north indian stan heritage.
          Reply
          1. J
            Javi Z
            Sep 14, 2016 at 8:52 am
            Standard of Islam rule: you will see nothing much as the Muslim conquerors destro the faith buildings of all places they invaded. The Iron pillar Delhi still stands because they could not. There was quite a bit of theft during European multinational corporation rule. Just you DNA is proof of where you come from.
            Reply
            1. J
              Javi Z
              Sep 14, 2016 at 8:47 am
              rudy bugger, You are neither Indian or educated in archaeology to p that motion.
              Reply
              1. A
                AB
                Sep 13, 2016 at 2:31 pm
                In which case, we (Sinhalese) are your relatives. Sri Lankan ancient history dates back prior to King Vijaya's presence in Sri Lanka. Infact, Ravana (re: Ramayana) had lived and died in Sri Lanka well before King Vijaya's era. People need to explore and dig deep in to the ancient history of Sri Lanka before coming into conclusions.
                Reply
                1. D
                  Dulara Gunathilake
                  Sep 22, 2016 at 6:58 pm
                  Ayubowan All Indians!lt;br/gt;India was never India during time of Viyaya. There is no sinhalese in india - no language called sinhalese and vijaya was not sinhalese nor did he speak sinhalalt;br/gt;There were 4 tribes who were known as sivu-hela which became sinhale.lt;br/gt;If these sivu-hela were the one's who became sinhale how can we originate from vijaya.lt;br/gt;Sthuthiii (Thx),lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Dulara Gunathilake -
                  Reply
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