HeLA Origins


What is in a name?

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'.

We the Hela of Heladiva

Our deep history is indeed buried in the Island’s ancient sands for the name Heladiva is hidden and unseen by many. Today the Island is officially known by a romanticised and politicised name of Indian origin: ‘Sri Lanka’ - which translates as ‘resplendent’. In a misguided attempt to re-name the Island as recorded in ancient Indian texts, the politicians of the day ignored the legitimate right of ownership we the Hela have to our land of evolution. This is right of ownership is no different to the legitimate right the French have to France or the Swedish have to Sweden. Therefore, we the Hela uphold our inalienable right to refer to our Island as Heladiva. We respectfully ask that you do the same.

Our Origins

Our written history as recorded in the chronicle, Mahavansa ('The Great Dynasty') places our origins with a maverick prince called Vijaya who landed on our Island in 543 BC. Subsequently, Vijaya proclaimed himself king and founded the Sinhela (Sinha+Hela) royal dynasty, which lasted over 2000 years. There are some, however, who offer this written record as proof as to our real origins. There is no doubt this 'origin myth' provided much needed legitimacy for King Vijaya's Sinhela royal dynasty, but on the weight of other evidence, this origin myth falls apart.

"Mihintale is covered with cells hidden in every nook an corner and perched upon the edge of precipices. They tell of an age even older than the coming of Buddhism when ascetics sought this hill as a refuge from the world."

- W.T. Keble - Ceylon, The Beaten Track.

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 reasoning 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). Interestingly, of these Hela 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. It is believe by some in Heladiva that the Indian's annual celebration of 'Deepavali' is related to this festive event.

A romanticised version of the great saga between Rama and Raavana can be found in Valmiki's epic poem, Ramayanaya.

The archeological record of human habitation of Heladiva dates back to at least 125,000 years. The Hela civilization has deep roots in deep time. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate our rich oral history as much as we do with our written history.

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 civilization and established their dominance. Soon the Aryans would also exert their influence on Heladiva. Aryan 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, wisdom and self-sufficiency.

The strongest Aryan influence arrived on Heladiva (as mentioned before) in the form of a maverick prince called Vijaya (543 BC). He was greeted warmly by the Hela Princess, Kuveni who kindly offered him water from a nearby reservoir. (These extensive and unique reservoir systems, built by the ancient Hela and their decedents, are indeed technological marvels. They are evident of a great civilization that valued sustainability).

It wasn't long before Vijaya 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, like princess Kuveni 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 their survival. Because they lived in the forests, the rest of the Hela referred to them as 'beddha' - meaning 'forest dweller'. This word changed 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.

"It is a well-known fact that for hardly any part of the continent of India is there such an uninterrupted historical tradition as for the Island of Ceylon."

- Wilhelm Geiger 1932 (German Indologist)

As the Aryans progressively gained control over the Island, political ideologies turned towards nationalism. Thus Heladiva was renamed 'Sinheladeepaya' (meaning 'Island of the Sinhela'), adopting Vijaya's clan name of 'Sinha' (‘Lion’). The people were identified as ‘Sinhela’ (Sinha + Hela). As a result, the Hela who identified themselves with Humanity were now made to identify themselves with a Lion.

The progressive Aryan influence and their preferred 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. The spoken form is closer to the original Helabasa. Today these two forms of expression are collectively known as 'Sinhala'. The earliest forms of Helabasa that survives today are spoken by the Hela Veddhas.

Forgotten history

It is said in the oral tradition that the Buddha spoke Helabasa on his three separate visits to the Island over 2500 years ago. 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') bhikkhus 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, under royal decree, a group of bhikkhus were tasked with reintroducing Buddhism to the birth place of the Buddha in India (which by this time had declined). These bhikkhus translated 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 onward, Buddhism had to be taught in the Pali language in Heladiva. The Hela who knew nothing of Pali were now unable to make use of the wisdom of the Dhamma. This misguided act of burning texts was unfortunately, a great injustice to the Hela and a gross insult to the Buddha and his teachings. There is now a welcome revival to correct this historical error and translate the texts back to Helabasa.

We the Hela of Heladiva

We the Hela are the indigenous people of the Island presently known as Sri Lanka. The ancient 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 'unpolluted', 'incorruptible', 'authentic' and 'genuine'.

We the Hela have lived on our Island Heladiva for many millennia. Our uninterrupted history on the Island is to be found in our oral tradition, written texts, ancient monuments and archeological evidence. Our history includes 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 and inalienable relationship with our Island of evolution, Heladiva.