The historical corruption of an indigenous name; and consequently our indigenous identity
|The Country||The People|
|Descriptions in Indian literature||'Lanka'||'Raaksha'|
|During Vijaya and his ‘Singha’ (Lion) royal dynasty||'Sinheladeepaya' also 'Lankawa'|| 'Sinhela'
|During the British occupation||'Ceylon'||'Sinhalese'|
|After republicanism in 1972||'Sri Lanka'||'Sri Lankans'|
Photo: www.infolanka.com & Air Lanka
Throughout history, many a people from across the seas visited our Island paradise. They called our Island by names of their choosing and recorded such names in their official documents and in their literature. Hence our Island acquired numerous descriptions such as ‘Lanka’, ‘Taprobana’, ‘Serendib’, ‘Ceilao’, ‘Zelon’ and ‘Ceylon’ that were of Indian, Greek, Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and English origin.
These foreign names have only served to mask the original name we gave to our Island - Heladiva. Heladiva literally means 'Island of the Hela'.
History is indeed buried in the Island’s ancient sands for that name is all but forgotten. Today we describe the Island by a romanticised and politicised name of Indian origin: ‘Sri Lanka’ - which translates to ‘resplendent’. In a misguided attempt to re-name the Island as 'resplendent', we have ignored the legitimate right of ownership we have to our land (This is no different to the legitimate right of ownership the French have to France or the English have to England).
Therefore, we the Hela refer to our Island as Heladiva, as was originally and rightfully intended.
Photo: The Island of Heladiva from Space (NASA)
Who we are....
We the Hela are the indigenous people of Heladiva. We speak Helabasa - a unique and elegant language.
Our Hela Culture is similarly unique and found no where else on Earth. Our Hela community is family oriented and centred around children. We hold the Hela values of humanity, self-sufficiency and wisdom in the highest regard.
Our history as was written, placed our origins with a maverick prince (called Vijaya) who landed on our Island in 543 BC. Prince Vijaya's arrival and the Sinhela (Sinha+Hela) royal dynasty he founded is well recorded in the chronicle, Mahavansa ('The Great Dynasty'). There are some who offer this written record as proof as to our real origins. There is no doubt this 'origin myth' provided much needed legitimacy for Prince Vijaya's Sinhela royal dynasty, but on the weight of other evidence, the myth falls apart.
The archaeological record of Heladiva dates human habitation to around 125,000 years. mtDNA evidence provides dates from 85,000 and 65,000 years. Even the Mahavansa acknowledges there were people on the Island when prince Vijaya arrived. In fact, the Mahavansa in detail describes Prince Vijaya's encounter with the Hela princess Kuveni who he later married.
Our oral tradition (passed on to us by our Hela elders) speaks of an ancient Hela King named ‘Manu’ who ruled the Island from his capitol in Mannarama (‘Mannar’). It is said that the ‘Hela New Year’ (that dawns on April 14th each year) is in fact the annual celebration of the coronation of this famed King Manu. [The coronation coinciding with the Sun’s northerly movement, at a time when it was directly over the capitol Mannarama - at midday]. This legend has now been superseded by the 'official' version that relies solely on astrological reasonings for the New Year - the transition of the Sun, from Pisces to Aries.
After King Manu’s royal dynasty there are other royal dynasties mentioned in the oral tradition, such as Tharaka (~10,000 years ago), Mahabali (~7500 years ago), and Raavana (~5000 years ago).
A romanticised version of the great saga between Rama and Raavana can be found in Valmiki's epic Ramayanaya.
Interestingly, of these kings, King Raavana’s technological and military prowess was so renowned that he is depicted in Indian literature as having ten heads and numerous hands holding a multitude of weapons. When eventually King Raavana succumbed to the wrath of Rama (his Indian nemesis), the people of India rejoiced in victory and celebrated in a festival atmosphere. The Hela believe that 'Deepavali', celebrated by Indians each year commemorates this historical event.
The Aryan influence
The Aryans (described by some as a 'war like, expansionist' people from Europe) arrived in India around 1500 BC overwhelming the Indus valley civilisation and established their dominance. Soon the Aryans would also exert their influence on Heladiva. Aryans values included material wealth, loyalty to the group, rituals, sacrifice, paternalism, racial purity, power, competition and a caste system of priests and warriors. These values contrasted with the Hela values of humanity, self-sufficiency and wisdom.
As mentioned previously, the strongest influence of Aryan culture was to arrive on Heladiva in the form of a maverick prince called Vijaya (543 BC). He established his authority on the Island by way of a bloody massacre of the indigenous Hela at Sirisavastupura (an ancient Hela city). Some of those who escaped the massacre refused to be governed by this invader and fled to the forests of the central mountains. These escapees who had lived an agrarian lifestyle now had to adopt a 'hunter- gatherer' lifestyle for survival. Because they lived in the forests, the rest of the Hela referred to them as 'beddha' - meaning 'forest dweller'. This word was corrupted as the years went by to 'Veddha'. The Veddhas have been described by modern day intellectuals as 'the primitive indigenous people of the Island, quite distinct from the Sinhela'. The DNA evidence however points to the truth that the Hela and Veddha are one and the same people.
the Aryans progressively gained control of the entire
Island, political ideologies turned towards nationalism. Thus Heladiva was
renamed 'Sinheladeepaya' (meaning 'Island of the
Sinhela'), adopting Vijaya's clan name of 'Singha' (‘Lion’). The people were
identified as ‘Sinhela’ (Singha + Hela). As a result, the indigenous Hela who identified themselves with ‘Humanity’ were
lowered to the animal realms to identify themselves with a Lion.
The progressive Aryan influence and their chosen official language of Sanskrit resulted in the emergence of two distinct forms of expression among the Hela: a written language and a spoken language (Circa 2nd century BC). The written form uses many Sanskrit words, even today. The spoken form is in fact the original Helabasa. Today these two forms of expression are collectively known as 'Sinhela'. The earliest forms of Helabasa that survives today is spoken by the ‘Veddha’ Hela people.
It is said in the oral tradition that the Buddha spoke Helabasa on his three separate visits to the Island. A written record of Buddha’s first discourse to the Hela in the original Helabasa text was found recently and has subsequently been published. Although some may argue otherwise, it is inconceivable to think that the Buddha would speak any other language when he specifically instructed the Dhammadutha ('missionary') sages to impart the Dhamma (i.e. the teachings of the Buddha) in the mother tongue of the people - so they may absorb the Dhamma in its entirety.
Around the 5th century AD, a group of Buddhist monks whose intentions were to re-introduce Buddhism to the birth place of the Buddha in India (which by this time had declined) decided to translate all the old Helabasa Dhamma text into Pali (the language of the Buddha’s birth place). It is said in the oral tradition that after everything was translated into Pali, the original Helabasa texts were heaped into a pile ‘seven elephants high’ and burnt. From this point onwards, Buddhism had to be taught in the Pali language. The Hela who knew nothing of Pali were now unable to make use of all the wisdom of Buddhism. This misguided act of burning texts was a great injustice to the Hela and a gross insult to the Buddha and his teachings.
More on the History of Heladiva - (External link)
We the Hela are the indigenous people of the Island presently known as Sri Lanka. The word Hela means 'pristine' or 'the pristine people'. The meaning does not convey a sense of racial superiority. On the contrary, it refers to the positive human qualities of 'incorrupt', 'unpolluted' etc.
We the Hela have lived on our Island Heladiva ('Island of the Hela') for many millennia. Our uninterrupted history on the Island is to be found both in the oral tradition and in the literature. Our history includes the many royal dynasties on the Island; the first that began with King Manu (Manu royal dynasty) and the last that began with King Vijaya (Sinhela royal dynasty).
We the Hela have an uninterrupted historical
relationship with our Island, Heladiva.