Know the Etymology: 145
Place Name of the Day: Friday, 07 May 2010


Naaka-naadu
Naaka-theevu
Naaga-deepa

நாகநாடு / நாகதீவு / நாகதீப
Nākanāṭu / Nākatīvu / Nāgadīpa

Naaka+naadu
Naaga+deepa


The country of the Naakar
The island / peninsula of the Naakar (The Jaffna Peninsula)


Naaka (adjective); Naakar (noun): 1. An aboriginal people of the Jaffna peninsula and of the island of Sri Lanka, whose identity is widely found in the personal names of the Changkam society of the ancient Tamils of Tamil Nadu as well as in the personal names of some rulers and others found mentioned in the Brahmi inscriptions and literature of Sri Lanka. 2. Seems to be a generic term for various groups of aborigines in South and Southeast Asia, ranging from Cambodian and Javanese aborigines and the mongoloid tribes of Northeast India to dark-skinned naked nomads and cannibals of Andaman-Nicobar islands. 3. Naakan /Naakanaar and Naakai / Naakaiyaar: Masculine and feminine personal names found in the Changkam literature. A personal name Naakan was found until recently in the lower echelons of the Tamil society. 4. A term associated with mythical people of the nether world, folk religious traditions, folk deities and the serpent cult, such as in the usages Naaka-thampiraan, Naaka-ammaa’l etc in Tamil, and Naaga-raajaa etc in Sanskrit / Prakrit. 5. Naakam: Cobra, graphite, zinc as well as some coastal mangrove trees such as Chura-punnai, (Tamil)
NaaduCountry, state, kingdom, district, province, locality etc (Tamil / Malayalam, Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 3638)
DeepaIsland (Prakrit /Pali / Sinhala); Dveepa: Island, peninsula, sand bank (Sanskrit); Theevu: Island (Tamil)


Relavant passages from the Tamil classical texts

Naaka-naadu (the country of the Naakas) or Naaga-deepa (the island / peninsula of the Naagas) is only a textual toponym today, found in the ancient Tamil and Pali literature as well as in epigraphy (as ‘Naka-diva) and in the Greek map of Ptolemy (as Naga-dibi).

According to all evidences the toponymical identity stood for the Jaffna Peninsula. Other than a geographical identity, Naaka-naadu or Naaga-deepa was also a political identity – name of a State, as suggested by the Tamil suffix, Naadu and by the other evidences.

It was one of the forgotten kingdoms or principalities that existed in the island of Sri Lanka in ancient times.

Even though we do not get much information on this geographical and political identity, early sources such as the Tamil-Buddhist epic Ma’nimeakalai, the Pali chronicle Mahavamsa, the Vallipuram gold plate inscription and Ptolemy’s Geographia provide us with at least some glimpses of its existence in the early centuries of the Common Era.

The evidences show that Naaka-naadu or Naaga-deepa was not a myth but a historical entity and state formation in the island of Sri Lanka was not a single phenomenon but it was in fact formation of states in the early times. 


* * *


Ma’nimeakalai refers to an island Ma’nipallavam and infers that it was part of Naaka-naadu.

Ma’nipallavam Island was a sacred venue for the events narrated in nearly five chapters of the epic. References to the island and to the country Naaka-naadu come sporadically in the other chapters too.

The Ma’nipallavam Island, according to the epic, was at a distance of six into five (30) Yojanas south of Kaavirippoom Paddinam, across the sea. (Ma’ni 6: 211-213)

A Yojana is a traditional measurement of distance usually of 2 ½ to 4 miles, but some put it as 9 miles. Kaavirippoom Paddinam or the Pukaar city was located at the coast near Chidamparam. As crow flies, the distance from Kaavirippoom Paddinam to islets off Jaffna Peninsula is roughly 120 miles.

Other descriptions in the epic infer that Ma’nipallavam was uninhabited (Ma'ni 14:86). According to the epic it had a mystical seat belonging to the Buddha that revealed one’s earlier births and there was a pond and a demigoddess, Theeva Thilakai, guarding the seat. (Ma’ni: Chapters, 8,9,10, 11 and 25)

The island was only a touching point to seafaring traders. Ma'nimeakalai refers to a ship-owning textile trader or a trader from the Kampa'lam(?) country, passing through the island en route to Kaavirippoom Paddinam (Ma'ni: 25: 184; 29: 6). The epic also says that a group of sea traders, coming from the Pandyan country and going towards Java, stopped at that island due to high winds and a turbulent sea (Ma'ni: 14: 74-84).

The ancient navigators from the Pandyan country to Southeast Asia first went north through the Paampan Channel and the Palk Bay, and then turned east to take the Ten degree Channel from Naaka-Paddinam to Malacca Strait.

Obviously, Ma’nipallavam referred to in Ma’nimeakalai was one of the islets off the Jaffna Peninsula.

The epic further differentiates the geographical identity of Ma’nipallavam from the identity of the island of Lanka, by saying that the mount Chamano’li (Adam’s Peak) is situated in the ‘adjacent island’ called Iraththinath Theevam (Ratnat-dveepa – the island of gems) or Ilangkaa Theevam (island of Langkaa). (Ma’ni 11: 21-22; 28: 107-108) 


* * *


On the rulers of Naaka-naadu, Ma’nimeakalai recollects a myth: while two of its kings fought for the ownership of the mystical seat in the Ma’nipallavam Island, Buddha enlightened them by letting them know that it actually belonged to him. Another version of the same myth is found in the Pali chronicle Mahavamsa too. But the Mahavamsa version associates the locality of the event with Kelaniya near Colombo. (Mani 8: 54-61)

An interesting legend Ma’nimeakalai, and later Nachchinaarkkiniyar a medieval commentator of Changkam literature, brings out is the relationship of Naaka-naadu with some historical personalities of the Chola (Choazha) and Tho’ndai countries of Tamil Nadu.

Peeli-va’lai, daughter of Va’lai-va’nan the ruler of Naaka-naadu, born a child to the Chola king Ki’l’li. She sent that child to be handed over to the Chola king through a sea trader whom she had met in the Ma’nipallavam Island. But the trader’s ship perished close to the shore. The trader escaped to tell about the missing child to the Chola king. In his frantic efforts searching for the child, the king failed to conduct an annual festival. Cursed by the deities, the Chola capital, went under sea in a catastrophe. (Ma’ni 24:54-71; 25:176-204; 29: 3-35)

Coccinia grandis
Tho'ndai or Kovvai, Coccinia grandis. A common creeper of natural vegetation found in Jaffna [Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commmons]
Nachchinaarkkiniyar in his commentary to the Changkam literature Perumpaa’naattuppadai of Paththuppaaddu continues the story in a mythical way by associating Naaka-naadu with the nether world of the mythical serpent-people. He says carried by the waves the child reached ashore. The Chola king identified the child as his by the Tho’ndai creeper (also called Kovvai, Coccinia grandis) placed around it, conforming to an earlier understanding between the Chola king and the Naaka princess for the identification of the child.

The Chola king made his son as the king of a part of his country, which became Tho’ndai-naadu with Kaanchi as its capital, and the new king was called Tho’ndaimaan I’lan-thiraiyan as he was carried by the waves (Thirai: waves of the sea).

Naakaik Kaaroa’nar Puraa’nam, a literature on the Siva temple at Naakap-paddinam just opposite to Jaffna in the Coromandal Coast, is another source for the story.

It seems the memories recorded in a verse in the Changkam literature and in Ma’nimeakalai were later conflated into a composite myth, linking the memories of Naaka-naadu, the Changkam Cholas, the rulers of Kaagnchi and the cultivating class of the Kaagnchi region.

I’lan-thiraiyan is referred to as “Thirai-tharu-marapin uravoan” in the Changkam literature, Perumpaa’naattuppadai. The phrase literally means, the sturdy person whose lineage was brought by the seas. Among the three traditional monarchies of the Chera, Chola, Pandya lineages of the ancient Tamil country, I'lan-thiraiyan is compared to a 'Valampuri chank excelling other chanks in the sea' (Perumpaa'n: 30-35).

Legends found in later literature such as Tho’ndai Ma’ndala Chatakam, talking of the origins of Tho’ndai Ma’ndala Vea’laa’lar or Muthaliyaars, the cultivating class of Northeast Tamil Nadu, say that they were brought by I’lan-thiraiyan from Naaka-naadu.

The existence of a State and a political authority in the Jaffna Peninsula in the earlier period is also vaguely remembered in the historiographical literature of Jaffna that arose in the times of the medieval Kingdom of Jaffna and later, even though they do not refer to the name Naaka-naadu.

The Changkam literature Perumpaa’naattuppadai is dated to the dawn of the Common Era. The literature is a contemporary account of its hero, I’lan-thiraiyan. Therefore it could be counted with fair objectivity for the overseas origins it attributes to the lineage of Thiraiyar, who were known in the other Changkam verses as people inhabiting the Veangkadam (Thiruppathi) region. Thiraiyar became Tho’ndaimaans, the lords of the Tho’ndai country at the time of Perumpaa’naattuppadai.

In comparison, Ma’nimeakalai, which could probably be dated between c.3rd century CE and c. 5th century CE, is an epic full of mythologies in the style of classical Greek literature. Obviously, the events it speaks about are not contemporary narratives. Myths and past accounts are woven around in epic style in Ma’nimeakalai ultimately to uphold Mahayana Buddhist faith.

The importance of Ma’nimeakalai in our context is that it is the first-ever Tamil literature that is directly concerned about Greater Thamizhakam or Maritime Thamizhakam, bringing in northern Sri Lanka and maritime Southeast Asia such as Java, Nicobar Islands etc under its purview. In its Buddhist outlook the epic is pan South and Southeast Asian.

What is interesting is that it records, either from contemporary observations or from past memories, the existence of a state in Jaffna.

The names Va’lai-va’nan and Peeli-va’lai the epic brings out for the king and the princess infer that the state and the ruling family were identified with conch-shell industry for which the Jaffna Peninsula and the waters around it were well known in the past (Va’lai is bangle as well as conch from which bangles were made). Best quality conches are found in the Palk Bay and in the Jaffna Lagoon. (See column on Nanthik-kadal)

Mayilai flower
Mayilai (Bauhinia racemosa), a shrub or small tree of natural vegetation in the island of Sri Lanka [Photo courtesy: Neoherbal, www.ibiblio.org/neoherbal/]
The name of the queen of Naaka-naadu mentioned in the epic is Vaasa-mayilai, meaning the fragrant Mayilai flower (Bauhinia racemosa, a flowering tree the name of which is found in the place names of Jaffna. See column on Mayilagasthidar).

Whether a myth or a reality, the point is that the prevalence of a geopolitical identity associated with the Naakas in the Jaffna region by the dawn of the Common Era, if not earlier, is remembered and recorded by Tamil memory as early as in the 3rd-5th century CE.

The epic also comes out with another memory that 400 Yojanas of the territory of Naaka-naadu went under sea and its people moved to the north of the Indian subcontinent at the time of the Buddha. This is cited in the epic as an event happened after a prophecy of the Buddha (Mani 9: 20-22).

Internal evidences in Ma’nimeakalai indicate that the Tamil epic belongs to very early stages of Mahayana Buddhism: The worship of the Buddha in human sculptural form is totally missing in Ma’nimeakalai. Adoration of the Seat of the Buddha, Footprint and Stupa are the forms of worship found mentioned in the epic along with mention of the Bo Tree, the Triple Gem and the rolling of the Dharmachakra. Even when the heroin of the epic built a temple at Kaagnchi, images were made to deities but not to the Buddha. But the epic speaks of Aadhi-Buddha, then the Buddha who preached in human form and also the future Buddha. The epic specifically upholds the idea of soul as separate from the body and rebirth of the soul. It also speaks of Paaramithai, an obvious reference to the philosophical school of the Mahayana Buddhist text, Prajgnaa Paaramitaa. (Ma’ni 3:66; 5:97-105; 8:52-63; 10:13-16; 10:67-69; 11:21-27; 12:72-100; 15:29-30; 23:72-78; 26:45; 28:130-132, 172-175, 209-216; 29:26-28; 30:3-4; 30:7-15)

It seems that the Buddhism associated with Tamil traditions in Naaka-naadu or Jaffna as well as in the rest of the island of Sri Lanka at the time of the epic was largely of the Mahayana line. The Buddhism evidenced by Ma’nimeakalai is in sharp contrast to the Theravada Buddhism upheld by the Anuradhapura-centric Pali chronicles.

Even in the other parts of the island, a striking association of Mahayana Buddhism with Tamil land and with trends coming from Tamil dynasties is especially noticed in the archaeological finds of the East in places such as Kuchchave’li and Thiriyaay in the Trincomalee District and Sithulpavu and Kurukkal Madam in the Batticaloa district. (Indrapala.K., 2006, pp 203-205) 
 


* * *


The Pali chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, more or less belonging to the same period to that of the Tamil Ma’nimeakalai, do not speak much on the Jaffna Peninsula, which they refer to as Naaga-deepa.

Deepa in Pali / Prakrit and Theevu in Tamil are cognates of Dveepa in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, Dveepa means an island as well as a peninsula. But 'island' is the only meaning found in the Prakrit and Tamil cognates.

Perhaps the Jaffna Peninsula was not a peninsula in the past, but was an island without the narrow sand bar on its east that now links it with the main island.

The most significant reference on Naaga-deepa found in the Pali chronicles of c. 5th century CE is their memory about the arrival of the Buddhist emissaries of emperor Asoka (in 3rd century BCE) to a port in the peninsula - Jambu-ko’la Pattana or simply Ko’la-pattana as noted in Mahavamsa.

K. Indrapala points out how the very name of the port itself evidences the presence of a strong Tamil or Dravidian element in the peninsula at that very early time. (The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, 2006, pp181-182)

Ko’la-pattana simply means the port-town at the point where the landscape curves.

Ko’la is a cognate of Tamil Kozhu, which means a point as in a ploughshare (Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 2147) that also stands for such a point in a landscape. (See column on Kozhumpu / Colombo.) Paddinam in Tamil is a port, port-town, port-city or a coastal village. (Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 3868)

Interestingly another Pali literature, Sammohavinodani, attributed to Buddhaghosa of c. 5th century CE also comes out with a story about Naga-deepa and attests that it was a geographical and political entity, the ruler of which having the title Deeparaaja (the ruler of the island and in this context the ruler of the Naaga Island). S. Paranavitana interprets Deeparajha, found mentioned in a Brahmi inscription at Mihintala, as a ruler of Naaga-deepa. (K Indrapala, p 179, 186 and 381)

One more early Prakrit / Sanskrit literature that speaks about Naaga-deepa is Valaahassa Jataka. The Jataka tales compiled in the early centuries of the Common Era are memories of distant past in the form of myths.

According to Valaahassa Jataka, the island of Lanka in the times of the Bodhisatva was inhabited by she-goblins who in human form used to welcome shipwrecked men, marry them and then devour them. These she-goblins in search of the shipwrecked were scouring the coast from the river Kalyani (river Kelaniya that flows into the sea near Colombo) to the island of Naaga-deepa.

The tale perhaps comes from early memories on the matriarchal traditions of the Naagas and their distribution from Naaga-deepa to Kelaniya.

* * *


The Vallipuram Gold Plate
The Vallipuram Gold Plate: In the second line, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11ths characters from the left reads, naka diva and the first four characters from the left in the third line reads, Bada-kara.
The most objective written evidence found in the Jaffna Peninsula itself, mentioning its name as Naka-diva, is the Vallipuram Gold Plate palaeographically dateable between 2nd and 3rd century CE.

The Gold Plate was found in 1936 while clearing the land around the present Aazhvaar (Vishnu) temple at Vallipuram near Point Pedro in Jaffna Peninsula. (Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV p 237, also Paranavitana. S., Inscriptions of Ceylon, 2)

The one-sentence inscription in four lines speaks about the construction of a Vihara at the northern coast of Naka-diva.

Vallipuram is close to the northern-most coast of the peninsula, located just three miles interior to the northeast corner. An early statue of standing Buddha made of Jaffna limestone in Amaravati style dateable to 4th century CE was found at this place. It is now in Thailand. (Ceylon Antiquary II, 2 Plate X; Epigraphia Zelanica IV, p 229, also an article by Peter Schalk)

The Gold Plate is yet to be successfully read beyond controversy. Many have challenged the claims of its first decipherer S. Paranavitana that the language found in the plate is ‘old Sinhala,’ on grounds that there was no inscriptional or literary Sinhala at that time but Prakrit, and on grounds of certain words found in the inscription.

“The inscription is certainly in Prakrit but what is not so clear is whether it can be said to be in Sinhalese,” writes Prof. A. Veluppillai, according to whom “the best interpretation of the language of the Gold Plate is that it was Prakrit betraying Dravidian influence.” (Veluppillai.com 2009)

The two place names mentioned in the Gold Plate are Naka-diva and Badakara. Naka-diva shows Dravidian phonological influence on Prakrit Naaga-deepa. Badakara is a Dravidian variant of Tamil Vada-karai, meaning the northern coast. (Veluppillai, ibid.) Obviously the Gold Plate in Prakrit deals with a Tamil land, just like Mahavamsa referring to Ko’la-pattana.

Anaikkoaddai
Graffiti in the first line and Brahmi in the second line. A seal from the Megalithic burial at Aanaikkoaddai, Jaffna. Read from right to left as it is a seal, the Brahmi legend is deciphered as 'Koveta' (Kō-vēt-a), which in Tamil / Dravidian means: the King's. The three components of the word, which are independently meaningful, may correspond to the three graffiti above. This steatite seal was probably a part of a signet ring. [Image courtesy: Early Settlements in Jaffna, 1987]
Perhaps the earliest epigraphical evidence coming from a ruler of Naaka-naadu is the Anaikkoaddai Seal in Tamil / Dravidian.

The steatite seal, which was found placed in a dish in a megalithic burial and is probably part of a signet ring of the deceased, is in two scripts – the first line in megalithic graffiti akin to Indus writing and the second line in Brahmi. The Brahmi legend is read as ‘Koveta’ (Ko-vet-a), meaning ‘belonging to the king,’ in Tamil / Dravidian. (Indrapala. K., The Hindu, 26-04-1981, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, 2006 p 179, 337, 379; Ragupathy. P., Letters to the Editor, The Hindu, 09-07-1981, Early Settlements in Jaffna: An Archaeological Survey, 1987, p 202-203)

Writing on the Aanaikkoaddai burial, K. Indrapala says, “This is the only known burial of an Early Iron Age chief anywhere in the South India-Sri Lanka region. The name and the non- Brahmi symbols used by the chief are engraved on the signet ring buried with the skeleton,” (2006, p 403). 


* * *


Archaeologically, the Jaffna Peninsula came under the purview of the Megalithic culture of South India-Sri Lanka (SISL) during the first millennium BCE. Megalithic or Early Iron Age (EIA) burials have been found in two places, Aanaikkoaddai and Kaarainakar, and Megalithic /EIA assemblages such as urns and associated pottery have been found in Kantharoadai, Chaaddi, Veala’nai, Ma’n’niththalai and Vallipuram in the peninsula. (Ragupathy P., Ph.D Thesis, 1983, Early Settlements in Jaffna, 1987)

C 14 dates available for this cultural phase at Kantharoadai in Jaffna begin from 1290 BCE, but most of the dates range around 500 BCE. (Bennet Bronson 1977, cited by Ragupathy 1983, 1987 p. 205)

The megalithic culture that introduced iron technology and provided impetus to tank-irrigated agriculture and maritime activities, culminated with urbanization and rise of chieftaincies and kingdoms in SISL. The culture is recognized for its Dravidian expressions in South India.

Located in the hub of maritime routes from the Mediterranean to the east coast of India that went through the Palk Bay, and located right at the Ten Degree Channel route that linked South Asia with Southeast Asia and Far East, it is not surprising that the Jaffna Peninsula witnessed urbanisation from its megalithic basis and became an early city-state or geopolitical identity, on a par with other such early centres in SISL.

Before the dawn of the Common Era, Kantharoadai in the Jaffna Peninsula became a vibrant urban centre of wide outside contact, as suggested by the extent and intensity of artefacts found in the site. Probably, Kantharoadai was the seat of political authority of the early state in the peninsula.

Commenting on the Aanaikkoaddai seal inscription, Pali / Brahmi references to Deeparaaja and Megalithic BRW sites in Jaffna, Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne wrote: “Kantarodai has yielded several C-14 dates ranging from B.C. 500-450 from the Megalithic-BRW level, which is at an approximate depth of 12 feet below the surface. Thus, this time span and craft/commercial activity may have given sufficient time for a separate geo-political unit to evolve in the Jaffna Peninsula during the pre-Christian period.” (Ph.D Thesis, unpublished, 1985, cited by Indrapala K., 2006 p 379-380).

Compared to the Sinhala-Buddhist memory of Anuradhapura found in the Pali chronicles, the memory of the early state of Naaka-naadu is lost even to the Eezham Tamil mind. It may be because of the loss of Buddhism affecting the emotional continuity of memory or because there was a gap in the politico-economic pre-eminence of the region until the advent of the imperial Cholas in the 10th century culminating into the Kingdom of Jaffna in the 13th century.

The later historiographical literature had only a vague memory about a kingdom at Kathiraimalai before the arrival of the Cholas. They rather chose to begin their memory track from myths such as that of the Yaazhppaadi, Maaruthappuravalli etc., and from a myth conflating the Pali chronicles with Saivism that King Vijaya built the five Eeshvarams (Siva temples) in the island and one of them was in Jaffna. A similar tendency could be noticed in Trincomalee and Batticaloa too where there are local historiographical literature in Tamil.

However, coming to early Tamil memory, there is a striking contrast in the way the Mahayana Ma’nimeakalai and the Pali memory in Theravada Mahavamsa, more or less compiled at the same time, treat state and people in the island of Lanka.

For the Pali Mahavamsa, the ‘Aryans’ have come from outside to cause a state and a cult centre at Anuradhapura, and the Tamils were ‘invaders.’ But for Tamil Ma’nimeakalai, the aborigines having a state in the north were integral to Tamil culture and the cult centre of the epic’s favour was in one of the islets off Jaffna. Given the geographical proximity and a long heritage, integration of aborigines was a natural process to the Tamil memory, as typified by the story of the princess of Naaka-naadu and the Chola ruler, in which the son could start a new dynasty in Tamil Nadu.

* * *


A pertinent question that comes now is who were the Naakas and what was their place in the Eezham Tamil formation.

Naakas and Yakshas were the two peoples or semi-human beings mentioned by Mahavamsa as inhabitants of the island before the arrival of ‘Aryans’ it speaks about. In this context the events it narrates took place nearly 1000 years before its compilation.

The island of Sri Lanka had a rich prehistory beginning at least from late Pleistocene. The prehistoric Mesolithic culture widely found in the island shared affinities with extreme peninsular India that was at that time linked by land with the island.

The major cultural influence that changed the picture was the advent of Early Iron Age or Megalithic culture that was essentially a South Indian phenomenon reached the island by 1000 BCE. This was followed by the arrival of cultural influences associated with Buddhism in c. 3rd century BCE.

Who are the Veddahs taken as the aborigines of the island today – Naakas or Yakshas? Who were the bearers of Megalithic culture associated with South India, found their way into the island long before the date assigned by Mahavamsa for the arrival of the ‘Aryans’? Then who were the Aryans? How did Prakrit find popularity in the inscriptions when phonetic writing appeared in the island, even though most of the clans found mentioned in them were Tamil-using in the South Indian context? In the South India-Sri Lanka region, how did the same Megalithic culture, towards its end, produce the Dravidian using and the Prakrit using elite of the inscriptions?

The ethnolinguistic formations of the Sinhalese and the Eezham Tamils in the island today are composite ones, shaped by millennia of demographic synthesis. The peoples involved in both the compositions were the same.

The polarisations of the compositions were due to politico-territorial developments, text-based religions and language developments as well as language replacements on both sides. Looking at the identities of the past through today’s equations is a futile exercise.

Coming to the Naakas, there must be a valid reason why the Jaffna Peninsula was invariably called as the country of the Naakas. Perhaps there was a predominance of them in the Peninsula, even though the Naakas were also found in the rest of the island as well as in the Changkam Tamil society of Tamil Nadu.

There were many Naagas among the personal names found in the Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka outside of the Peninsula. Some of them were rulers (Paranavitana. S, Inscriptions of Ceylon, No 1, 1970). At least ten ruleres of Anurathapura listed by the Pali chronicles as from the pre-third century BCE era were Naagas (Indrapala. K., 2006, p177).

Meanwhile, many Tamil poets as well as music composers, chieftains, landlords and soldiers of the Changkam society of the ancient Tamil country were also found to be the Naakaas (Subramanian.N, Pre-Pallavan Tamil Index, 1990). There were also poetesses having the names, Naakaiyaar, and Nan-Naakaiyaar (Akanaanoo’ru, Ku’runthokai).

The Jaffna Peninsula so far has not revealed any evidence for the prevalence of Mesolithic or any other Stone Age cultures. If the first culture seen there was the Megalithic culture of Early Iron Age, then was it that the Naakas were the bearers of that culture to the peninsula?

Asking the same question, Indrapala cites Siran Deraniyagala’s view in 1992 that Naagas were the Protohistoric Early Iron Age Settlers from India and that they displaced the earlier Mesolithic hunter/gatherers from the Northern and Western parts of the island from about 1,000 BCE (2006, p 87).

Indrapala also postulates that the Naakas were in the process of integration into the Tamil formation in South India when they took the megalithic culture to Jaffna. “ The dominance of Tamil language under Pandya patronage and the assimilation of the Naagas of Tamil Nadu into the Tamil-speaking population would have been strong influences that led to the demise of the Naaga language and the emergence of Tamil in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka,” (Indrapala.K, 2006, pp 117-118).

"In course of time, the Nagas, like many other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, came to be assimilated into one or the other of the two main ethnic identities that evolved in ancient times, namely the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Nagas in south India, too, were assimilated into the major groups there," (Indrapala. K., 2006 p 176).

"By the end of the ninth century [CE], there is no evidence relating to the Nagas. Clearly by that time, or very probably long before that time, the Nagas were assimilated into the two major ethnic groups in the island," (Indrapala. K., 2006 p 188).

Veluppillai finds a connection between Naakas and Paa’nars, the people who rendered the name Yaazhp-paa’nam to Jaffna city (Veluppillai.com 2009).

The location of the ancient port-city Naakap-paddinam at the opposite coast of Jaffna suggests Naaka enclaves on either side of the Palk Strait. But it is difficult to say whether the Naakas moved from Tamil Nadu to Jaffna or vice versa. In the memory of Ma’nimeakalai, Naakas moved to the north after a natural catastrophe.

Another area potential for ethnological investigation is the tract south of Naakap-paddinam, i.e., the forests of Koadikkarai (Point Calimere), which is the nearest landmass of Tamil Nadu to Jaffna Peninsula. The Point Calimere region was a forest and a tribal area of Veadar (hunters) even in the times of the Saiva saints who visited it in the 7th century CE. A tribal population is still found today in the mangrove forests of Point Calimere.

It also seems that Naaka was a generic term for various aborigine peoples. The tribes identified as Naagas in North-Eastern India are Mongoloid people speaking Tibeto-Burmese.

According to a description in Ma’nimeakalai the Naakas of the Nicobar Islands were either Austroloid or Negroid. They were naked nomads and were cannibals. In describing a scene in which a shipwrecked trader was taken to the chief of the Naakas, the epic says that the chief seated with his wife resembled a bear with its female. (Ma’ni 16:15-16; 16: 66-69)

Ma’nimeakalai also refer to a place in Java as Naaka-puram, indicating that people in Java were also considered by it as Naakas. (Ma’ni 24: 169-170)

When a literature that names the Jaffna Peninsula as the country of the Naakas simultaneously calls other distant people also as Naakas, it is difficult to ascertain under which category the Naakas of Jaffna were falling in.

Probably the Naagaas were one of the Australoid peoples interacting in the region, from South Asia to Australia through Southeast Asia, who had gone through Caucasoid admixture in South Asia and Mongoloid admixture in Southeast Asia. A highbred of them was probably the aborigines of the identity of the Naakas in the island of Sri Lanka at the dawn of the Iron Age.

Whatever the case may be, the Naaka identity seems to be an important component in the early social formation of Eezham Tamils in the north of the island. But as seen from the early Brahmi inscriptions, there were also many other clans in the other parts of the island who were forging the Eezham Tamil identity in the early times. At the same time it should be noted that the identity of all these clans, including the Naagas, were also components in the early Sinhala social formation in the island. 


Relavant passages from the Tamil classical texts

First published: Friday, 07 May 2010, 22:55

Previous columns:

 

Latest 15 Reports
11.07.20 03:40   Photo
CBK, Kadirgamar condemned at Navaali genocidal massacre remembrance event
10.07.20 00:05   Photo
SL Police harasses Shivajilingam at 25th Remembrance of Navaali massacre in Jaffna
09.07.20 09:33  
SL Navy brutally assaults Tamil fishers in Mullaith-theevu
08.07.20 16:33   Photo
Sinhala colonists encroach into Kangku-veali, Mean-kamam reservoirs in Trincomalee
07.07.20 19:36   Photo
Colombo schemes to expand ilmenite scooping into North from Pulmoaddai in East
06.07.20 19:06  
Colombo transfers Tamil Political Prisoners to notorious Anuradhapura prison
05.07.20 23:06   Photo
University students, Shivajilingam brave SL harassment to commemorate fallen Black Tigers
04.07.20 22:28   Photo
Monk commanding Sinhala-Buddhicisation of North-East threatens Tamil villagers in Batticaloa
03.07.20 19:28   Photo
After Naavat-kuzhi, Colombo targets Poonakari for Sinhala colonisation across Jaffna lagoon
02.07.20 22:26  
Colombo imposes restrictions on Tamil valour related symbolism in schools of North
01.07.20 13:22  
New secret unit among four SL military and police squads competing to arrest Tamil youth in North
30.06.20 22:10  
Tamils blocked from accessing properties near SL Navy training base in Champoor, Trincomalee
29.06.20 23:29   Photo
Moragoda advising Gotabaya prompts Sinhala parties to scrap Provincial Councils
28.06.20 22:06  
India privileging BRIC/RIC over Quad ‘discordant’, says former US top diplomat
27.06.20 22:11  
Indo-Pacific expert wants US to seek opportunities in ‘Sri Lanka’
 
Find this article at:
http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=98&artid=31711