Sovereignty: How our sovereignty eroded over time...

Invasions of the traders

In the distant past, militant dynasties from southern India (Tamil Nadu) threatened our sovereignty on many occasions. Sovereignty is paramount to the Hela and this lost sovereignty was restored by the great kings of Heladiva. In recent history with the arrival of foreign traders to our shores, our sovereignty was once again threatened; and systematically eroded.


A map compiled by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, depicts the importance of Heladiva as a major ancient trading post; of gems, spices, rice and metals as well as being at the cross roads of east-west trade. In Ptolemy's map, Heladiva ('Taprobana') is given an area approximately twenty times more than the actual size of the Island. In the same map, the Indian subcontinent looks insignificant by comparison.

Ptolemy's Map, Vatican Library

Heladiva was once renowned as the ‘granary of the east’. Historical records show that the Hela exported rice to China from the port in Puhul Motay (‘Pulmudday’). With trade on such a large scale, many a people arrived on our shores. Some, later recorded their travels. e.g. Fa Hsien (Record of Buddhist Countries, AD 414) and Marco Polo (Il Milione, AD 1292).


In the 12th and 13th century AD, Arab traders had discovered the riches of Heladiva and traded goods at 'Kalani Thota' ('Thota' meaning 'port') on the Kalani river and called this trading post 'Kalambu'. Ibn Battuta, in the year 1340 AD describes 'Kalambu' as the ‘finest and largest city in 'Serendib’.

As the Hela Kings progressively moved the Island's capital to the southern parts, infrastructure built by the Hela kings of the past was neglected and soon fell into disrepair. As hardship increased due to a lack of water, the Hela abandoned their ancestral villages in the north and north-east. The vacuum thus created was soon filled by Tamil traders (from Tamil Nadu, southern India) who began settling on the Island. Having difficulty with the pronunciation of Hela names for places, these non-indigenous people would soon add their distinctively Tamil pronunciation so that, for example, ‘Wavu Nimava’ became ‘Vavuniya’, ‘Mulla Doova’ became ‘Mulativu’, ‘Bodi Wila’ became ‘Pottu vill’ and ‘Kakulawa’ became ‘Kokilai’ to name but just a few. The descendants of these people are known today as Jaffna Tamils. (Click on MAP or Link A or Link B for more information).

In 1505, a Portuguese fleet commanded by Lourenco de Almeida landed on the Island. After their arrival in Kalani Thota ('Kalambu') the Portuguese recorded the name of the port city as ‘Colombo’ and referred to Heladiva as 'Ceilao'. The Portuguese later introduced their religion, Roman Catholicism to Heladiva. Interestingly, the Portuguese sacked an illegal Tamil administration on the north of the Island (set up by descendants of the Tamil traders) and helped restore sovereignty to the Island.

In 1658, the Dutch East India Company (VOC - Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) finally expelled the Portuguese with the help of the so called 'Treaty of Friendship' of 1638 with the Sinhela King Rajasingha I. The Dutch referred to their new business asset Heladiva, as ‘Zelon’. They introduced the Dutch judicial system (that interestingly had a different legal code for each ethnic group on the Island) and their religion Protestant Christianity. 

The British in 1796 ousted the Dutch and started operations of the British East India Company. The British went one better than her European counterparts and referred to the Island as 'Ceylon' despite recording the name of the country as ‘Sinhelé’ in the 1815 treaty at the Great City of Kandy. (The British referred to the Hela as ‘Singhalese’). With the signing of the 1815 treaty, the entire Island fell into the hands of a foreign country for the first time in its history; with it the 2500 old Sinhela royal dynasty came to an abrupt end.

The last King, Rajasingha II and his royal palace in the Great City (Maha nuwara, also known as Kandy). (Photo: & Wikipedia)

The British relocated the last Sinhela King, Siri Wickrema Rajasinha to the Island of Mauritius where he lived out his days.

Having established their dominance, the British East India Company began to plant the alien cash crops of Coffee and Tea. For profitability, these commodities required a cheap labour force. The Hela refused to work on these plantations; it was against their values of humanity, self-sufficiency and wisdom. The Hela detested the mass growing of crops that offered no benefit to them, their land or to their nutrition. So the British brought in indentured labour from Tamil Nadu (Southern, India) to work on these plantations. The descendants of this Tamil community are known today as Indian Tamils.

Photo: Selvarajah, I,

During the British occupation vast hectares of virgin land in the hill country were bought from the Hela on 99-year leases. When the land was refused to be sold, the British declared these lands as crown land. When the leases expired they were never renewed nor was the land given back to its rightful owners. The cash crop of Tea not only changed the demography of the Island, it also changed the geography of the central mountains that were hitherto preserved as  rain-catchment areas (or the 'rain-sponge' of the Island) by royal patronage . The economy of the Island too, dramatically changed from 'Self-sufficient-agrarian' to 'Dependent-commercial'. 

The British 'divide and conquer' policy favoured the ethnic Tamil community with many privileges above that of the indigenous Hela resulting in much discontent among the Hela. The British also introduced a racially discriminatory law (‘Thesawalama Law’) that is a gross violation of the sovereignty of the Hela. This ‘apartheid' type law (that is still enforced today for the benefit of ethnic Tamil community) deprives the indigenous Hela from purchasing land in the northern province of their own Island. 

During British rule, the sovereignty of 2500 year old Buddhist tradition declined. Thanks to noblemen like Anagarika Dharmapala and Olcott, Buddhism regained much of its following but sovereignty of the Buddhist tradition to this day is not completely restored. The head of state remains to be affirmed as the 'defender of the faith' (as it in England and many other countries).

In 1948 a so-called ‘independence’ was given with the Soulbury constitution authored by the British. This constitution grossly violated the sovereignty of the indigenous Hela by stipulating that no one culture or religion in ‘Ceylon’ can have precedence over another. So the Hela Culture with legitimate sovereignty became just another culture in an Island call ‘Ceylon’. 

Why our sovereignty was never re-established...

With over 400 years of European occupation, many of the Hela adopted European ways and manners. When the British left, they handed the administration of our Island to a social elite who's values and attitudes reflected the British and not the majority indigenous Hela. To this middle-class elite, Hela values and traditions were somewhat alien concepts. They were only interested in preserving the status quo. So, the eroded Hela sovereignty was never re-established.

Following independence, ethnic Tamils and the Moors were allowed to establish racially based political parties in Heladiva. Their leaders when elected to parliament have on occasions refused to take the oath for sovereignty and territorial integrity. Their constant demands that often violate the sovereignty of the indigenous Hela Culture have been entertained for personal political gain.

In 1972, the SLFP coalition government changed the name of the country from ‘Ceylon’ to ‘Sri Lanka’, adopting an old Indian description of the Island. This suited the SLFP well because the country and their party now had the same name.

The current British parliamentary system of democracy has served only to divide the Hela Nation between major political parties. Without the vote of ethnic minority communities (especially that of the largest ethnic community - the Tamils) these parties have been unable to form government. Repeatedly making promises to gain power, all political parties have failed both the Hela majority and the ethnic minorities, deceiving them both.

The failure of successive governments to restore Hela sovereignty as well as their failure to govern equitably in a socially just manner has given ammunition for extremist groups to leverage popular discontent for their own personal political gain. The greatest violation to our sovereignty is the demand for an independent state ('Elaam') by militant extremist who claim to represent the wider ethnic Tamil community.


"I thought of the way in which all native ways of courtesy and beauty are daily more and more despised, and free and easy European manners assumed by the well-to-do English speaking native; and I know to be a part of what is happening all the world over, the continued continual destruction of national character and individuality and art by the ceaseless pressure of what in bitter unconscious irony is called the civilising factor; the deadening of a new and dull ideal of prosperity…. The losing of old virtues in the half eager, half sullen assumption of other ways and manners."

- "Borrowed Plumes" by Ananda. K.Coomaraswamy quoting an essay by Fiona Mcleod Ceylon Daily News, 3 April 1963.

Natural law on sovereignty

Indigenous cultures enjoy a timeless relationship with their land of evolution that uniquely characterises their culture. It is self-evident, an indigenous culture cannot thrive anywhere else in the world, except in its own land of evolution. Therefore, an indigenous culture has an unalienable right of sovereignty to its land of evolution.

Our Hela Culture evolved in Heladiva (Island of the Hela) and in no other place on Earth: Our Hela Culture is indigenous to our Island Heladiva. Therefore, our Hela Culture has the unalienable right sovereignty over all other vibrant cultures in Heladiva. Everyone who lives or visits Heladiva has a duty of care to respect the unalienable right of sovereignty of the Hela Culture: its language, its values and its traditions.