Page images
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

by the addition of this descriptive title to their names. In the reliefs at Anuradhapura and Amaravati, Nāga princes and princesses are only distinguishable from human beings by means of the cobras' heads with outspread hoods which appear behind or at the side of their heads. The Pūjāvaliya mentions dancers among North Indian Nāgas, and refers to the arms of the Naga raja, Aravala. The old notion regarding them appears to have been that they had two forms which they could assume at will-either a human shape or that of a cobra.

Just as the Rakshasas disappear from history after the events described in the Rāmāyana, so the Nagas of Ceylon are never mentioned again as inhabiting the island after their supposed partial conversion by the last Buddha. Yet the fact that the only name for the northern portion of Ceylon was 'the Island of Nāgas,' must be held to prove that some beings designated Nāgas once inhabited it.

The word Naga may be applied either to human beingsthere are still people of this name in north-eastern India-or cobras, or elephants, or to the class of supernatural beings referred to above, whose home was in the water, or below Mount Meru, the centre of the universe. The latter were especially beings of the water, as the Yakshas were beings of the land. We may venture in these days to leave such creatures out of consideration, and to assume that the early occupiers of Northern Ceylon were human beings, as the account of them in the histories indicates.

The original home of such a race must evidently be looked for in the most southern part of India. In such a case, I think we must naturally turn first to the people of an identical name in Southern India, the Nayars, who still occupy practically the extreme south-west part of the country. Their situation itself renders it in every way likely that Northern and Western Ceylon might be colonised by a branch of this race. There is no direct proof of the occurrence of such an immigration, but some evidence of it may be found in the fact that it would provide an explanation of the existence among the Kandian Sinhalese, who are a more or less mixed race, of some social features resembling those of the Indian Nayars. Among these

may be especially noted (1) the practice of polyandry; (2) the elasticity, or rather the slenderness, of the marriage tie, which permits the discarding, without any disgrace being attached to it, of undesirable husbands or wives; (3) the re-marriage of such wives, and of widows, with others, as a universal national custom; and (4) the absence of 'Sati,' or widow immolation. These are all customs that with perhaps the exception of the last, apparently cannot have been brought to Ceylon by the settlers who came from the valley of the Ganges; but they are still maintained by the Nayars and the Kandian Sinhalese. Neither Sati nor the first three practices are found among the Vaeddas, the wild inhabitants of the inland forest tracts, and the three social customs must therefore have been introduced by others. It would be difficult to account for their presence in Ceylon by any other probable hypothesis than a Nayar connexion of early date, since in historical times there has been no special intercourse between the island and Malayālam, beyond the enlistment of a few mercenary soldiers who were natives of the latter country. I suggest, therefore, that the Nagas who occupied Northern Ceylon long before the arrival of the Gangetic settlers were actual Indian immigrants, and were an offshoot of the Nayars of Southern India.

During the reign of the first king of Ceylon we find a town to the north of Anuradhapura, on the Kadamba river, which may have been then, as it is now, the boundary of the Drãvidian territory, that is, of Nagadipa, specially referred to by the annalists as the seat of the Brahmanical Upatissa.' Thus it may possibly have been a town or settlement of early Dravidian colonists.

Returning to the Yakshas, the Yakkhas of the Pali works, who evidently occupied the portion of Ceylon which was not included in Nagadipa, we find that in addition to Mahiyangana, which is stated to have been the scene of one of their battles (Mah. i, p. 4), they are more than once mentioned as being present in north-central Ceylon. They are expressly said to have been numerous in the south,' where the Indian prince Wijaya, the future ruler of the island, and his party from the

Ganges valley are reported to have landed; one of their capitals, Sirivattha, or the headquarters of one of their chiefs, was near this landing-place.


FIG. 9. A Yaksha (Wihāra Painting).

Notwithstanding their supposed previous removal from the island about forty-five years before his arrival (according to the statement that he came in the year of Buddha's death) we are told that Wijaya found the country still occupied by the Yakkhas. This is explained by the Rājāvaliya, which states that some Yakkhas had concealed themselves in the midst of the forest, and thus escaped banishment. According to the Mahāvansa, Wijaya married a Yakkha princess, called Kuwēni, and with her advice and assistance succeeded in overcoming her countrymen and making himself master of at any rate a considerable part of Ceylon. A great part of the story of Wijaya's exile from his father's realm, and his journey to the island appears to be fictitious; but the whole account is valuable as indicating the early beliefs current in pre-Christian times regarding the aborigines.

In the Jātaka tales, or instructive incidents in the former


« PreviousContinue »