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Pre-history (before 250 BCE)

Anthropologists and scientists claim that the species Homo Sapiens first emerged in the Great Rift Valley area of East Africa approximately 3.6 to 3 million years ago. Researchers into the human genome have posited that early humans expanded from thence to the Middle-East, spreading across Asia Minor, into Europe, the Far East and on into East Asia, across America, South Asia, South East Asia, Melanesia and into the Pacific. Their studies are based on characteristics of the mitochondrial DNA, which are passed from mother to child and thus remain unbroken in the female line. From these studies, we all descend from women who lived in the region of Africa and the Middle East. Thus the inhabitants of South Asia are all migrants, who entered the continent from the North West and moved southwards. Some of them eventually reached Sri Lanka.

In mythology and religious teaching, a strikingly similar path of origin for the inhabitants of South Asia emerges. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a text of Sumerian origin written somewhere between 2,750 and 2,500 BCE, speaks of a great flood in Mesopotamia, with Gilgamesh, the hero of the story, rescuing himself and his family through agency of a boat. The great flood of Gilgamesh's Epic is matched by the biblical story of Noah, who rescued his family from the waters by building a boat. Noah, his wife, three sons and their wives escaped the destroying flood and established a civilisation in Mesopotamia. Ancient India has its own flood myth, with Manu as its central figure. Manu was warned of the impending deluge by a fish, who bargained for his life by warning Manu that he and his family should build a boat to ride out the coming storm. Whatever the truth in these tales, discussed at length elsewhere, the legends of the Tamil people claim that the first Chola kings descended from Manu. Similar legends among the people of Kerala claim that the first Pandyan kings came from the sea.

Linguistic scholars add some credence to these stories, noting that a 'trail' of Dravidian languages can be discerned from south eastern Iran, through Baluchistan in Afghanistan and Pakistan and across India into the region south of the Ghats, now associated with the Dravidians. Indeed, modern studies into the pre-historic I ndus/Saraswati valley culture of north western India and Pakistan, centred on Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, suggest that the imperfectly understood script of these cities is of a proto-Dravidian nature. This leads us to conclude that the Dravidians are not indigenous to South India, but moved there at some point in time after the collapse of the Indus/Saraswati civilisation in about 1,500 BCE. As the Indus/Saraswati script has yet to be translated, it is difficult to establish who these people were and from whence they originated.

Fig 1: The enigmatic statuette of the 'Priest-King' from the Indus/Saraswati culture. It is possible that this man's descendants are alive today.

Clues about the Indus/Saraswati people can be found in the contemporary cultures of the world; the Sumerians, the Akkadians and early Elamites. Ancient Sumerian texts refer to commerce and interaction with the 'Meluhans' (sometimes transliterated as 'Melahhans' or the 'Mlecchans'). The word 'Meluha' is a Sumerian rendering of a foreign word into Sumerian syllables, and then by modern scholars into English. These people were found somewhere to the south east of Sumer, the Sumerian capital.

Fig 2: A cylinder seal in Akkadian cuneiform, dated to circa 2,500 BCE, depicts a bearded Meluhan accompanied by his wife and an interpreter. The Meluhan carries an antelope in his arms. This is thought by Dr S Kalyanaraman in his paper "Mleccha, Milakkha or Me-lah-ha people and their language" to be a phonetic determinant, as the Sumerian word for antelope represents several of the sounds in the word 'Meluha'.

At this time, the proto-Elamite culture, centred on Susa, south east of Sumer, used a pictographic script that has never been adequately translated, but bears a striking similarity to the Indus/Saraswati script.

Fig 3: A proto-Elamite tablet.

It is possible that the Meluhans of Sumerian records are the same, or a closely related, people to the proto-Elamites and the founders of the Indus/Saraswati civilisation. Under this formulation, the original inhabitants of Susa were driven eastwards by the people now associated with the later, cuneiform-using Elamite culture, moving to establish a new centre in the fertile Indus/Saraswati region. There are linguistic coincidences worth noting in this context. 'Susa' the capital of Elam, means 'purity' in Tamil. 'Ur' is Tamil for 'town' or village. 'Melahha', is strikingly similar to 'Malayalu', the name by which the people of Kerala, descendants of the Pandyans who 'came from the sea', describe themselves to this day - a word which has been transliterated in English to 'Malabar', indicating how easily words change when moved from one language to another. Most startling, and possibly conclusive, is the fact that according to Professor Romilar Tharpar, in her seminal work "Early India, From the Origins to AD 1300", the word 'Mlechcha' is still used in India today by the Hindi-speaking, Aryan descendent northerners to refer to those who are beyond the caste system, or ritually impure. This clearly indicates that the Meluhans were not Aryan and inhabited India before the caste structure brought by the Aryans was in place. The Meluhans were described in Sumerian literature as being from 'a black land', or being a black people. This has led western scholars, unaware of the close association between caste and colour, to look in Africa for Meluha. Ritually as well as visually, the Meluhans were beyond caste, and therefore 'black' to the Aryans - in other words, they were Dravidians before the assimilation of those people into the Vedic beliefs of the Aryans.

Fig.4: Three seals from the Indus/Saraswati culture. Note similarity between characters from these seals and the characters in Figure 3. If the Indus/Saraswati culture and the proto-Elamite culture shared elements of a common script, what else did they share?

If this construction is true, then a path from modern-day Iran through to South India can be drawn indicating the migration of the Dravidian people to their current area of greatest concentration originated in Elam, in modern Iran.

The Bible describes Elam and Sumer as sons of Shem, the son of Noah. The Elamite and Sumerian cultures are, from a Biblical point of view, the descendants of these two post-diluvial figures. Those genealogists who accept Biblical antecedents could thus construct a family tree for the Dravidians that originates in Adam and moves through Noah, Shem and Elam to the priest-kings of the Indus/Saraswati culture. From this, and the identification of Noah with Manu, the Chola and Pandyan kings who claim descent from Manu can be traced to Adam. Genealogists who do not accept Biblical data might still consider the possibility that the Chola and Pandyan kings, as descendants of Manu, one of the most ancient mythological figures in Indian culture, trace their ancestry to the Indus/Saraswati valley and the Meluhans referred to in ancient Sumerian literature.

In searching for Indian sources on the origins of the Tamil people, one must explore the Mahabharata, which is one of the most ancient stories in Indian culture. It is believed to have been composed in the first millennium BCE, as a series of separate stories and poems. These were compiled into a single written Sanskrit document in about 350 CE and handed down in both written and oral tradition to modern times. The Mahabharata outlines the conquest of India (Bharat) by five brothers (the Pandavas), who defeated the one hundred Dhartarashtras, who were their first cousins. The story is often seen as an allegorical remnant of the pre-historic conflicts accompanying the movement of the Aryan people into Dravidian pre-historic India. Much as Homer wrote the Iliad centuries after the war between Greece and Troy and Moses wrote the Pentateuch long after the events described in Genesis, the Mahabharata recounts events long past. If one accepts even a kernel of history in the story, then the Dhartarashtras might be seen as the Dravidians, cousins of the Pandavas or Aryans. This kinship implies that the Aryans, who originated in the area Central Asia to the north of Iran, were kin to the Dravidians, who might be also found to originate from Iran. It should be noted that the date of the original Mahabharata stories correlates with the fall of the Indus/Saraswati civilisation. While the Mahabharata has become associated with the Ganges River valley, and the city of Harastinapura, the capital of Bharat, has been thought to be in north central India, it is equally possible that the river was actually the Indus/Saraswati and the city might equally have been Harappa, Mohenjo Daro or another urban centre in the civilisation.

Thus the Mahabharata might hold the key to the reason for the movement of the Indus/Saraswati people from their homes in the north west of India down through the sub-continent. Interestingly, India's second great epic story, the Ramayana, is also intimately connected to the Dravidians, and parallels some aspects of the Mahabharata. This time, it is not Bharat that is being fought over, but Lanka. The hero, Rama, is goaded into invading Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita, who has been abducted by Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka.

The "Akaththiya Lanka" by Akaththiya Maha Munivar, (Akaththiya the great Ascetic) translated and published by V Nathar, Notary Public, Puttur and Jaffna in about 1910, gives a genealogy of the Kings of Lanka before the Ramayana. The genealogy shows that Ravana, far from being a demon-king, was simply a human ruler.

Sayamban is listed as the first king of Lanka. Sayamban claims his descent from Manu. He had his capital at Tirukonamalai (Trincomalee). He ruled the country for 33 years.

Yalimugan Š the son-in-law of Sayamban, succeeded him to the throne. He ruled from Tirukonamalai, for ten years.

Aethi Š YalimuganÕs descendant, ruled Lanka from Murugapuram (Kathirgamam). He ruled the country for 28 years.

Vinthukesan Š son of Aethi, succeeded his father, had his capital city at Sivanolipadamalai (AdamÕs Peak). He ruled for 29 years and 3 months.

Sukesan Š succeeded his father Vinthukesan, was the king of Lanka and ruled from Kathiravan Malai. He ruled for 41 years and 7 days.

Maliyavan Š succeeded his father Sukesan, built Ilankapuri, a beautiful city and proclaimed it as his capital. He ruled for 21 years, 7 months and 9 days.

Sumali Š succeeded the throne of Lanka after the death of his brother Maliyavan. He had dual capital cities Š Ilankapuri and Manthai. He ruled for 5 years and 6 months before being deposed by a popular revolt. Sumali's daughter Kaikesi was too young to succeed her father.

Kuperan Š became the king of Lanka. KuperanÕs father Vaichchiravakhu found that there was no successor to Maliyavan; he made his son Kuperan as the king of Lanka. In the meantime, Sumali gave Kaikesi, in marriage to Vaichchiravakhu.

Vaichchiravakhu and Kaikesi had three sons, Ravanan, Vipeeshnan, and Kumbkaranam, and a daughter named Soorpanakai. To wrest the kingdom that rightly belonged his mother Kaikesi, Ravanan challenged his half-brother Kuperan. Their father Vachchiravaku intervened and settled the dispute in favour of Ravanan, who became the king of Lanka.

Ravanan - ruled Lanka from his capital city at Ilankapuri. He was defeated by Rama and killed, as recounted in the Ramayana. There are just over 168 years in the genealogy above,

Vipeeshnan Š was crowned king of South Lanka by Ilakumanan on the orders of Rama and ruled the country from Kalyani (Kelaniya). According to the Yalpana Vaipava Malai, "Tradition adds that Vibhisana (Vipeeshnan), who received the kingdom from Dasarata Rama, the conqueror of Ravanan, continued to reign up to the early part of this Yuga." C S Navaratnam, in his book "A Short History of Hinduism in Ceylon", adds, "Vibhisna, the brother of Ravanan, is still worshipped in Kelaniya."

The origin of the Cholas, Pandyans and Cheras kingdoms of South India predate the historical record. The Srimad Bhagavatam (Trans: 'The Story of the Fortunate One'), which tells to story of the Hindu deity Krishna, presents a genealogy for Rama, which includes the name Sibi, the son of Usinara. Sibi's sons are listed in the Srimad Bhagavatam as being Vrsadarbha, Sudhira, Madra and Kekaya. The Chola kings claim their descent from Sibi, whose name in early Tamil can be also transliterated into English as Simbi or Chembi or Chembian. Sibi is believed to have established the Tiruvellarai Temple near Tiruchchirappalli in Tamil Nadu and is described in the Brahmanda Purana as having campaigned against Ravana. If Sibi did indeed campaign against Ravana, then he must have been a contemporary of Rama. The dating of the battle between Rama and Ravana in the Ramayana is problematic; estimates by historians suggest the invasion of Lanka could have occurred any time between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE. Assuming the most recent date, Sibi must have been born no later than 475 BCE.

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