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 Post subject: Brahmins and Jains in ancient and medieval Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:55 pm 
Brahmins and Jains in ancient and medieval Sri Lanka

Brahmins came from India in great numbers in the medieval period and lived in settlements. A seal dated to 13th century, found in Padaviya, shows that there was Brahmin settlement at Padaviya. Kantale had a Brahmin settlement dating from at least 10th century.

by Kamalika Peiris
@ The Island - March 2008


The Brahmana caste is the leading group in the four tiered Hindu caste system. Brahmanas from India who followed the Vedic and Brahmana religions were present in ancient Sri Lanka. Pujavali refers to Brahmin villages in time of Jettatissa. Sena II had given food, jewels and clothes to a thousand brahmanas. Mahinda II and Sena I had also recognised the Brahmanas and treated them well. Kassapa III had provided for the rich brahmanas.

P.V.B. Karunatilaka says that brahmanas were a ‘strong and influential community throughout the early Anuradhapura period.’ He says they commanded a high place in society, though they were numerically in a minority. In the late Anuradhapura period, the Sinhala kings maintained brahmanas at court as purohitas. They acted as guide and councillors to the Sinhala kings. Manabharana had a purohita in his court. The commander in chief and chaplain in the court of Rajasinghe I was a Brahmin. Parakrama bahu II (1236-1270) had a Brahmin purohita to chant mantras in the royal palace. Parakrama bahu VI had two Telegu Brahmins as purohita. Oruvala sannasa shows that the Brahmins in the court at Kotte were influential. However there is no evidence of a Brahmin playing a political role in the island.

I think that the brahmanas have tried to secure political power. Sammohavinodani (5th Century) speaks of a brahmana who usurped the throne of Anuradhapura. The opposition to Vattagamani abhaya in 103 BC started in Rohana at the instigation of a brahmana named Tissa. Since the chronicles speak ill of Tissa it could be assumed that he opposed Buddhism as well. Hettiarachchy says that monks did not criticize non-Buddhists unless they brought harm to the Sasana.

Early Brahmi inscriptions show that Brahmanas made donations to Buddhism. Some brahmanas got converted to Buddhism. But a good number remained brahmana and showed opposition to Buddhism. Mahavamsa speaks of brahmana villages in the time of Mahasena. It says Mahasena destroyed the brahmana shrines and built Buddhist viharas on those sites.

Brahmins came from India in great numbers in the medieval period and lived in settlements. A seal dated to 13th century, found in Padaviya, shows that there was Brahmin settlement at Padaviya. Kantale had a Brahmin settlement dating from at least 10th century. It was a self governing community with a Hindu temple. Vijayabahu I and Nissanka malla helped this settlement. Nissanka malla’s inscriptions show that he established a charitable institution called Brahmana satra. Parakrama bahu I also provided facilities for brahmanas. Devinuwara Slab Inscription indicated that there were Brahmin settlements in time of Parakrama bahu II (1236-1270). Nikaya Sangrahaya records that Virabahu adipada gave slaves, cattle, houses, elephants and villages to Brahmins. Virabahu adipada was the brother in law of King Buvaneka bahu V (1374-1478). Parakrama bahu VI made a grant of land to 24 Brahmins most of whom were Tamils, rest being Telegus. Illangasinha said that some Buddhists considered the Brahmins a menace to their own religion.

The Jain philosophy was expounded by Mahavira in the 6 century BC. He was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Mahavira like Gautama was also from North India. Mahavira, born around 540 BC, came from a Vaisali clan, Gautama from Sakhya clan. Jainism was confined to India. It was at one time very strong in Mysore and the South of India. The Rashtrakuta and Chalukya dynasties of south India supported Jainism. Jainism continued to be strong in Mysore and Hyderabad, as well as Kathiawar, Gujerat and parts of Rajasthan. Jains, Brahmans and Buddhists believed in Karma. However, A.L. Basham says that there was much antagonism between the Jains and Buddhists in India. They did not merely wrangle over doctrine, but carried on vigorous propaganda among laymen for their support.

There were Jains in Sri Lanka in the Anuradhapura period. Paranavitana says there was a Jain establishment dating from the time of Pandukhabaya and extending into the Buddhist period. There was a Jain establishment known as Giri Nigantha Arama in the early Anuradhapura period. The three brothers who conspired to murder King Khallatanaga (109-103 BC) and usurp the throne, appear to have come from there. Soon after the Jains showed opposition to Vattagamani abhaya. They were pleased when Vattagamani abhaya was defeated in 103 BC. Giri Nigantha had made a vicious remark when Vattagamani abhaya was fleeing after his defeat with the Tamil invaders. When he regained power, Vattagamani abhaya razed the Nigantha arama to the ground and replaced it with a Buddhist monastery which he gave to Mahatissa thera who had helped him when he was hiding. This later became Abhayagiri monastery.


(The writings of A.L.Basham, H. Ellawela, R.A.L.H. Gunawardana, T. Hettiarachchy, H.B.M. Illangasinha, P.V.B. Karunatilaka, S. Kiribamune, R.C. Majumdar, C.W. Nicholas, S. Paranavitana, S. Pathmanathan, Nilakanta Sastri and Walpola Rahula were used for this essay.)


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