‘Arugam Bay’ is ancient ‘Sagam Dora’:
Story of Haritala Tissa of the 2nd Century BC
Two young maidens bathing in the river saw a log floating down towards them. The first young lady claimed that the wood was hers because she saw it first. The second one said that if there was anything on that floating log, it belonged to her, as she was the first to make that claim. But when she realized that it was a naked young man hanging on to the log, she gave him a piece of cloth, torn from her own robe, to cover his nakedness. The two maidens then went back, each to her own home, accompanied by the prize that each had claimed for herself.
by D. G. A. Perera
@ The Island / 11 Nov 2008
It may surprise most readers to hear that beautiful seaboard of present Arugam Bay has a history of more than 2,200 years. The present name Arugam* bay is a curious combination of Tamil, Sinhala and English words. Aru is Tamil for six, ‘sa’ from saya = six in Sinhala. The second part ‘gam’ is pure Sinhala for ‘villages’. The third part ‘Bay’ is English for an inlet in the sea. It is probably an Anglicization of Tamil ‘vaayil’ (which may also be pronounced as "baayil") meaning "port" in English and "dora" in Sinhala. In both languages the words signify a haven or landfall, ‘an entrance from the sea’.
This was the entrance from the sea to the ancient (six* village) administrative unit of Sagama near Digamadulla, hence the ancient name ‘Sagamdora’. We come to know of this ancient name from a collection of stories of the second century BC appearing in Pali and Sinhala versions in the Sihalavatthuppakarana ( SiVP of early 2nd Century BC), Sahassavatthuppakarana (SaVP of 2nd Century BC), Rasavahini (12th Century) and the Sinhala Saddharmalankaraya (Sdlk of the 14th Century).
Sagamdora, (Chagaamadvaara in Pali,) was the village of a very interesting (and pious) young man called Ariyagaala Tissa in his previous birth. The main story is based on his subsequent birth in Mangala Veediya (Main Street) of Mahagama "in the same area of Ruhuna". This was not the Mahagama near Tissamaharama, but a village of the same name found in Moneragala District even to this day. (The 1991 Road Map places this Mahagama on the road from Moneragala to Potuvil between the 290km and 300km markers.) This story is historically valuable, for it provides the clues to the meaning of not only modem ‘Arugam Bay’ near Potuvila in Mada Kalapuva District, but also of ‘Arialai’, in modern Jaffna Peninsula as of the cryptic ‘Mahakandara Nadi’ of the Mahavamsa.
To tell this story briefly, this man was named Tissa at birth. But, soon he acquired his first nickname Kelitissa (Tissa the Playful). At the age of sixteen he was ordained as a samanera in the principal Buddhist temple near Mahagama. But, after five years of striving, he realized that it was difficult to achieve much progress in the strict the monastic discipline he had to observe. Therefore, he decided to become a layman. Early at dawn one day, he folded his robes neatly, because they belonged to the Sangha, and stored them safely in his cell.
As it was sacrilegious to take even a scrap of cloth belonging to the Sangha, taking advantage of the pre* dawn darkness, he entered the stream that flowed nearby quite naked, and waded down, until he caught hold of a log of driftwood that helped him keep afloat. Two young maidens bathing in the river saw a log floating down towards them. The first young lady claimed that the wood was hers because she saw it first. The second one said that if there was anything on that floating log, it belonged to her, as she was the first to make that claim. But when she realized that it was a naked young man hanging on to the log, she gave him a piece of cloth, torn from her own robe, to cover his nakedness. The two maidens then went back, each to her own home, accompanied by the prize that each had claimed for herself.
Villagers nicknamed this well* behaved young man "Ganga Tissa", because he had come floating down the river. His conduct was so pleasant and demure, that the maiden Sumana, who rescued him, obtained her parents’ consent and got married to him. Not having had any training for a layman’s vocation, the young man remained idle, enjoying the comforts in the household of his wife. Thus he soon acquired the nickname Ni* kamma Tissa, i.e. "Tissa the Idler".
The wife’s parents then decided to take corrective measures to cure his idleness. Coming home after his usual wanderings one day, he found his wife crying outside the house. She had been sent out of home after being given a cooking pot, provisions sufficient to last one day, and directed to go to an unoccupied house in the same area and live there. It is said that even with meagre resources at hand he instructed his wife to give alms (pindapatha) to a monk, and went out looking for a job to earn a living.
He came to the home of a rich Provincial leader (Ratthika) who had cultivated 500 kiriyas of paddy land, but found himself stranded without labourers to reap and bring home the harvest. Ni* kamma Tissa undertook to do the job single* handed, and succeeded in saving the paddy harvest. Thereupon the rich landlord richly rewarded him for his toil.
With the newly acquired wealth he and his wife began to provide regular alms to Buddhist* monks. He went digging for wild yams to improve the daily fare he could provide to the monks. While digging thus, he came upon some pots of treasure buried in the ground. Now he decided to expand his good work and came to know that there were monks in large numbers in Anuradhapura, Ambastala Vihara, and Nagadipa (modern Jaffna Peninsula). After providing alms to monks in the first two locations, he and his wife were provided royal patronage and given letters of introduction to proceed to Nagadipa.
Arialai, Upatissa Nagara and Mahakandara Nadi
At Nagadipa, Haritaala Tissa set himself up at a place called Haritaalagaama (Ariyagaala of the SaVP,) close to the ferry between the Peninsula and the mainland. The ferry of which he chose to be the boatman can be identified as that narrow waterway between modem Arialai and Pooneryn. Hence his final nickname was Haritaala (or Ariyagaala) Tissa. The latest version of the story (in SdIk) identifies this place as Riyahaltota on the Mahaveliganga. However, the reference to its location at Nagadipa where this Tissa was able to provide alms to monks from the island of Puvangu* divayina (modern Pungudutivu) while being the boatman on the ferry between Haritaalagaama and the mainland makes it clear that it is modern Arialai that is being referred to.
The river being referred to is not the Mahaveli, but the Jaffna Lagoon, which was called a "river" by the Portuguese also, (The River of Constantine de Braganza, who first explored it). Some British writers called it the Jaffna Lake". Both these names go to confirm that it was the ancient Maha* kandaraa Nadi of the Mahavamsa. Maha* kandaraa Nadi means ‘The River of the Great Breach’. When Jaffna Lagoon is seen as a wide lake, its narrow opening to the sea at Pooneryn would be perceived as the ‘Great Breach’ on the (hypothetical) bund of this vast ‘Lake’.
Wilhelm Geiger, Senarat Paranavitana and even C. W. Nicholas later, failed to identify Mahakandaraa Nadi. (This because the manuscripts of the SiVP and SaVP were not available to them as they were discovered and printed quite later. I am obliged to Prof. Anuradha Seneviratna for providing me access to his copy of the SiVP. ) Its mouth was the place where the nephew of King Vijaya landed on arrival here. His destination was not the City of Tambapanni but Upatissa Nagara to which the capital had now shifted to after King Vijaya’s death. It was near the modern place called Paramparaa Nagarai Kulam, close to Pooneryn. Incidentally, Parampara Nagara, means "The City of the Old Dynasty". That was before the Pandukabhaya, the founder of ‘New Dynasty’ shifted the capital to Anuradhapura.
Upatissa Nagara near the mouth of Mahakandara Nadi, was the closest landfall to one sailing down the Indus River and the Arabian Sea from the ancient city of Sinhapura, as Panduvas Dev did. Prof. Senarat Paranavitana has recognized Sinhapura as modern Sihore in the Sind.
Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam says that even in recent times the seacoast around Pooneryn yielded Roman coins after a heavy downpour. That is also an indication that the ancient capital Upatissa Nagara could have been close to it.
Bhadda Kachchana, (the bride to be of Panduvas Dev,) came down from the opposite side of Aryavartha, down the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Therefore she landed at Gokanna* tittha, at the modern Port of Trincomalee, from where she was given directions to reach Upatissa Nagara. This location of Upatissa Nagara (founded by the Chief Minister of King Vijaya, to the North of Anuradhapura according to the Mahavamsa,) would also lend support to the local tradition in Jaffna that Vijaya landed on the northern coast of Jaffna Peninsula and founded the city of Tambapanni near modern Keerimale. Keerimale is the location of that peculiar pond leading to an underground grotto where a large number of people who had entered it to bathe, could wade inside and hide from view. That was what Prince Vijaya’s advance party is said to have done when he approached them after following their footprints on the beach.
Coming back to the meaning of the place name Arialai, (Haritalai) of our story, we have a lead to recognize it from its ancient name as Haritaala* gaama in the earliest version of the story found in the Sihalavatthuppakarana. Haritaala is hiriyal, (Tamil aritaalam) meaning red orpiment, a mineral that may or may not be characteristic of the Arialai area. However, Sinhala Haritaali (English Hariali) is also the name of a kind of grass commonly found in the Dry Zone. Its other names are Ruha or Heen Etora (Sinhala) and Bermuda Grass (English). Its botanical name is Cynodon dactylon. All these names are found in The Grasses of Ceylon, by S.D.J.E. Senaratna.
Whichever be the meaning of the modem name Arialai, it comes down from a period before the 2nd Century BC when the Nagadipa, or modem Jaffna Peninsula, was thickly populated by the Sinhala people and their Buddhist monks.