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THE circumstances under which The EPITOME OF THE HISTORY OF CEYLON," which was published in the Ceylon Almanac of 1833, was compiled, are explained in the following letter::
To the Editor of the Ceylon Almanac.
SIR,-In compliance with your request, I have the pleasure to send you a chronological table * of the kings of Ceylon, compiled from the native annals extant in this island.
In the comparatively short period that this colony has been a British possession, several histories, besides minor historical notices, of Ceylon have already been published in English.
The individuals to whom we are indebted for those works, unacquainted themselves with the native languages, and misguided by the persons from whom they derived their information, have concurred in representing that there were no authentic historical records to be found in Ceylon.
CORDINER affords no information regarding them; and falls at once into an anachronism of 471 years, by applying the following remark to the Buddha worshipped in Ceylon: "Sir W. Jones, on taking the medium of four several dates, fixes the time of Buddha, or the ninth great incarnation of Vishnu, in the year 1014 before the birth of Christ."
PERCIVAL asserts, that "the wild stories current among the natives throw no light whatever on the ancient history of the island: the earliest period at which we can look for any authentic information is the arrival of the Portuguese under Almeida, in 1505."
BERTOLACCI, in his valuable statistical work, states, "we learn, from tradition, that Ceylon possessed in former times a larger population and a much higher state of cultivation than it now enjoys: although we have no data to fix, with any degree of certainty, the exact period of this prosperity, yet the fact is incontestable. The signs which have been left, and which we observe upon the island, lead us gradually back to the remotest antiquity."
PHILALETHES, professedly writing "The History of Ceylon from the earliest period," which is prefixed to the last edition of KNOX's historical relation of the island, dates the commencement of the Wijayan dynasty in a. D. 106, instead of B. C. 543; and is then reduced to the necessity of adding, "Without attempting to clear a way, where so little light is afforded, through this labyrinth of chronological difficulties, I shall content myself with exhibiting the succession of the Cinghalese sovereigns, with the length of their reigns, as it appears in Valentyn."
DAVY appears to have been more accurately informed; but, dependent on the interpretations of the natives, who are always prone to dwell on the exaggerations and fictions which abound in all oriental literature, has been induced to form the opini on, that "the Singhalese possess no accurate record of events; are ignorant of genuine history; and are not sufficiently advanced to relish it. Instead of the one they have legendary tales, and instead of the other historical romances."
To publish now, in the face of these hitherto undisputed authorities, a statement containing an uninterrupted historical record of nearly twenty four centuries, without the fullest evidence of its authenticity, or at least acknowledging the sources from which the data are obtained, would be to require the public to place a degree of faith in the accuracy of an unsupported document, which it would be most unreasonable in me to expect. I must therefore beg, if you use at all the paper I now send you, that it be inserted in the detailed form it has been prepared by me, together with this letter in explanation.
The principal native historical record in Ceylon is the Mahawansé. It is composed in Páli verse. The prosody of Páli grammar prescribes not only the observance of certain rules which regulate syllabic quantity, but admits of an extensive
* This table, divested of the narrative portion of the Epitome, will be found in the Appendix: the names being spelt as they are pronounced in Singhalese.
license of permutation and elision of letters, for the sake of euphony. As the inflexions of the nouns and verbs are almost exclusively in the ultimate syllable, and as all the words in each verse or sentence are connected, as if they composed one interminable word, it will readily be imagined what a variety of constructions each sentence may admit of, even in cases where the manuscript is free from clerical errors: but, from the circumstance of the process of transcription having been almost exclusively left to mere copyists, who had themselves no knowledge of the language, all Páli manuscripts in Ceylon are peculiarly liable to clerical and other more important iuaccuracies; many of which have been inadvertently adopted by subsequent authors of Singhalese works, materially altering the sense of the original. It is, I presume, to enable the reader to overcome these various difficulties, that the authors of Páli works of any note, usually compiled a commentary also, containing a literal rendering of the sense, as well as explanations of abstruse passag es.
The study of the Páli language being confined, among the natives of Ceylon, almost entirely to the priesthood, and prosecuted solely for the purpose of qualifying them for ordination, their attention has been principally devoted to their voluminous religious works on Buddhism. I have never yet met with a native who had critically read through, and compared their several historical works, or who had, till lately, seen a commentary on the Mahawansé; although it was the general belief that such a commentary did still exist, or at least had been in existence at no remote period. By the kindness of Gállé, the provincial chief priest of Saffragam, I was enabled in 1827 to obtain a transcript of that commentary, from a copy kept in Mulgirigalla wihare, a temple built in the reign of Saidaitissa, about 130 years before the birth of Christ; and when brought with me to Kandy, I found that the work had not before been seen by the chief or any one of the priests, of either of the two establishments which regulate the national religion of this island. It had heretofore been the received opinion of the best informed priests, and other natives, that the Mahάwansé was a national state record of recently-past events, compiled at short intervals by royal authority, up to the reign in which each addition may have been made; and that it had been preserved in the archives of the kingdom.
The above-mentioned commentary has not only afforded valuable assistance in elucidating the early portion of the Mahúwané, but it has likewise refuted that tradition, by proving that Mahanáma, the writer of that commentary, was also the author of the Mahawansé, from the commencement of the work to the end of the reign of Mahá Sen, at least, comprising the history of Ceylon from B. c. 543 to A. D. 301. It was compiled from the annals in the vernacular language then extant, and was composed at Anuradhapura, under the auspices of his nephew Dásen Kellíya, between a. D. 459 and 477. It is still doubtful whether Mahanáma was not also the author of the subsequent portion, to his own times. As the commentary, however, extends only to A. D. 301, and the subsequent portion of the work is usually called the Sulu Wanse, I am disposed to infer that he only wrote the history to a. D. 301.
From the period at which Mahanama's work terminated, to the reign of Prákrama Báhu in A. D. 1266, the Sulu Wansé was composed, under the patronage of the last named sovereign, by Dharma Kirti, at Dambedeniya. I have not been able to ascertain by whom the portion of the history from A. D. 1267 to the reign of Prákrama Báhu of Kurunaigalla was written, but from that reign to A. D. 1758, the Mahá or rather Sulu Wansé was compiled by Tibbottuwewe, by the command of Kirti-Sree, partly, from the works brought to this island during his reign by the Siamese priests, (which had been procured by their predecessors during their former religious missions to Ceylon), and partly from the native histories, which had escaped the general destruction of literary records, in the reign of Rája Singha I.
The other works from which the accompanying statement has been framed, and which have supplied many details not contained in the Mahawansé, are the following; which are written in Singhalese, and contain the history of the island, also from B. c. 543, to the period each work was written.
The Pujáwalliya, composed by Mairupàda, in the reign of Prákrama Bahu, between A. D. 1266 and 1301.
The Nikayasangraha or Saisanáwatára, by Daiwarakhita Jaya-Báhu, in the reign of Bhuwaneka Báhu in a. D. 1347.
The Rajawallaya, which was compiled by different persons, at various periods, and has both furnished the materials to, and borrowed from, the Mahawansé.
Lastly, Willágedera Mudiyanse's account of his embassy to Siam in the last century.
From these native annals I have prepared hastily, and I am aware very imperfectly, an Epitome of the History of Ceylon, containing its chronology, the prominent events recorded therein, and the lineage of the reigning families; and given, in somewhat greater detail, an account of the foundation of the towns, and of the construction of the many stupendous works, the remains of which still exist, to attest the authenticity of those annals.