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Kamboja colonists of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon or Lanka) is a tropical island nation off the southeast coast of the Indian subcontinent, about 31 kilometres (18.5 mi) south of India.

'Lanka' in Sanskrit means island (Tapu). Many ancient Indian Sanskrit and Pali texts refer to this island as Sinhala or Simhaladvipa. The Arab and the Purtugese traders corrupted the name to Seilan, Ceylon, Ceilão, etc. In English, the name is written as Sinhalese or Singhalese.

The Sinhala also refers to about 74% of the population speaking the Sinhala language which belongs to the Indo-Aryan family and is closely allied to Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit.

The earliest colonists of Sri Lanka migrated from northern India but controversy exists as to the provenance of these early colonists; the traditions contain evidence for both the northwestern and the northeastern parts of the Indo-Gangetic plain. The first colonists probably hailed from the Saurashtra in Gujarat. Their ancestors are believed to have migrated earlier from Sinhapura of upper Indus near Kamboja/Gandhara region to the Saurashtra peninsula in Gujarat via lower Indus. Before arriving in Sri Lanka, these earliest known colonists called at Soparaka on the west coast of India and landed in Sri Lanka at Tambapanni, near Puttalam on the day of Parinibhana ("decease") of the Buddha (542 BCE or 486 BCE). Scholars write: "Several early Brahmi Inscriptions of Ceylon refer to a community of people called Kambojas who lived in various parts of Ceylon and Sihalavatthu, a Pali text of the fourth century refer to a Kambojagama in Rohana, south-east of the island" . Nandadeva Wijesekera observes: "It is believed that the people who arrived in Lanka from time to time came from the region of Ancient Kamboja. These people could have belonged to Indus center..... The relics of that culture may be bathing ponds and drainage system at Anuradhapura city. The symbols and signs (like Swastika) found in Caves, pottery and coins may have been introduced by these yet unknown arrivals (from Kamboja)" .

Ancient Kamboja: The hub of international trade

Ancient Kambojas were originally located in the trans-Hindukush region in Pamirs and Badakshan. Later, sections of them crossed Hindukush and occupied Kabul, Kunar and Swat valleys north of river Kabol in Cis-Hindukush area (Paropamisade). With time, the trans-Hindukush section of the Kambojas became known as Parama-Kambojas while cis-Hindukush settlements became known as Kamboja. Important caravan routes such as the well known Uttarapatha Caravan route (from Bahlika-Kamboja to Pataliputra-Tamralipitika) and the Kamboja Dvaravati Caravan route (from Kamboja to Dwaraka in Surashtra) originated from Kamboja/Gandhara/Bahlika region which connected these communities to eastern and western parts of ancient India. The third important route originating from Kamboja is referred to by Sanskrit poet Kalidasa in his Raghuvamsa and it ran from Pamir/Badakshan to Trigarta, Rampur-Bushahar, Kinnara, Nepal and to Kamarupa/Assam. After reaching the west or east coast of India, the merchants from Gandhara, Bahlika, Kamboja, and Kashmira were connected by sea routes to important places like Persian Gulf, southern India, Sri Lanka, Burma and the Far East (Suvarnabhumi). The ancient Buddhist text Petavathu, (Commentary) also attests that ancient Kamboja was located on one of the great caravan routes, and there was a road direct from Dvaraka to Kamboja.. A land trade route of Rome passed through Parthia (Khorasan), and then the territory of Kamboja, Kapisa and Gandhara . Besides, a northern route lay through Central Asian Oasis of Khokhand, Bokhara and Meru to Hamdan in Iran where it birfucate into two one leading to soutt-west Iran and the other to the Black Sea in the north-west. Other routes leading to Siberia in the north and to China (China Silk Route) in the northeast also joined at Kamboja/Bahlika region. Thus, the Kamboja/Kapisa indeed formed the hub of international trade. This is the reason why some ancient references, besides styling the Kambojas as warlike people (nation-in arms), also attest the Kambojas as a community of traders .

Kambojas: The documented traders

Ancient Sanskrit texts like Kautiliya's Arthashastra, Brhat Samhita, Mahabharata and Ramayana attest that, besides being formidable warriors (Shastr-opajivins; "nation-in-arms"), the ancient Kambojas were also noted as "excellent traders", agriculturists and cattle-culturists (varta-opajivins; "traders and agriculturists").

  • Kautilya's Arthashastra lists the Kambojas with Saurashtras and says that same form of politico-economic constitutions (varta-shastr.opajivin) obtained in these two ancient martial republics. It attests both of them to be living by warfare, trade, agriculture and cattle-culture.
  • The Brhat Samhita of Varaha Mihira also attests that the Kambojas were a shastra-vartta nation i.e. living by warfare, trade, agriculture and cattle-culture.
  • Mahabharata also verifies that the Kambojas lived by warfare and varta when it styles the Kambojas to be "as terrible as Yama" (the god of death) in warfare and "as rich as Kubera" (the god of treasure)...(which obviously impies their mercantile aspect).

Shipping communities from the northwest

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea makes mention of several sea ports, beginning with Barbaricum at the mouth of river Indus, followed by Barygaza (Bharukachcha, modern (Bhroach), Soparaka (Sopara), Calliena (Kalyan), and Muziris (Kerala), all located along the west coast of India southwards. Besides these more important seaports, there were also lesser ports like Sindan, Dvaravati, Cambay (Khambat), Kamboika (Kambojika – a landlocked port) and the Gandhar (near Bharukachcha). The important international ports of Barbaricum, Bharukachcha, Dvaravati, and Soparaka were easily accessible to traders from the northwest for international trade and the merchants from Kamboja, Gandhara, Kashmira, Sindhu, Sauvira, and Saurashtra used to sail from these ports on the country's western coast. Huge trade ships carrying merchandise from Kamboja, Gandhara, Kashmira, Sindhu, Sovira, and Saurashtra are said to have been launching from these ports directly to southern India, Sri Lanka, south Myanmar and Suvarnabhumi. The ports of Gandhara and Kamboika in southeast Saurashtra probably also served as residential headquarters for the traders from Gandhara and Kamboja.

Early Buddhist literary sources from north India refer to the northerners, including the Kambojas, Kashmiras, and Gandharas, as being involved in trade in horses.

There is a Buddhistic reference to a trader and Arhant named Bahya who was a native of Bharukachcha (modern Bhroach) in southeast Sauarashta/Gujarat. He engaged in trade, voyaging in a sea ship. Seven times he sailed down the river Indus and across the sea and returned safely home. On the eighth occasion, while on his way to Suvarnabhumi, his ship was wrecked, and he floated ashore on a plank, reaching land near Soparaka. This ancient Buddhist evidence verifies that the trade ships plied regularly between the upper Indus countries of Kamboja, Gandhara, Kashmira group and the seaports of Bharukachcha and Soparaka and also from Bharukachcha/Soparaka to Sri Lanka, Suvarnabhumi, and probably further to the Far East.

Buddhist Jatakas also attest that there was a regular trade between Bharukaccha, Soparaka and Suvarnabhumi. Buddhist Jatakas also amply attest that there was a regular trade between Bharukaccha, Soparaka and Suvarnabhumi.

Evidence exists that horse merchants from Kamboj were in active trade with eastern, southern, and western India, and as far as Ceylon. This trade had been going as late as the medieval ages. King Devapala (810-850 CE) of Bengal, King Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty (1106 - 1152 CE) of Mysore, and King Vallabhadeva of Pandya kingdom (12th century CE) located in extreme southern tip of India, had powerful fleets of Kamboja horses in their cavalry.

According to History of Ceylon, plenty of evidence exists there that the Kambojas who inhabited a region bordering the upper Indus, had at one time, established themselves in a country near Sind (and Kathiawar) from where, accompanied by Yavanas, they finally reached Ceylon in pre-Christian times .

Dr. Don Martino observes: The traders from north-west Kamboja had been conducting trade in horses with Sri Lanka following west coast of India since remote antiquity.

Dr. E. Muller also writes: "...(with time) the Kambojas had adopted the Mussalman creed and used to trade all along the west coast of India from Persian Gulf down to Ceylon and probably further-east...".

'The diffusion of Indian Civilization and its "great tradition" to the extreme south of the peninsula occurred in the earliest stages not by land but by sea... In the half millennium before Christ there was sea traffic between the coasts of Gujarat and Sind, and Ceylon, which laid the basis for the development of civilization in that island... The earliest attractions of the far southern coasts were pearls and gems, which brought merchants, and ultimately the script, religions and the dynastic traditions... Hiun Tsang refers to the international trading activities of the Simhalas and several early Brahmi inscriptions in Ceylon mention the Kamboja merchants in Sinhala'.

There is also mention of a merchant from Bharukaccha arriving in Ceylon in the court of a king named Candragupta.

Kambojas in Sri Lanka

Inscriptional, archaeological and literary evidence exists which sufficiently proves that the merchant class from Kambojas, Yonas and some other communities of the northwest had reached Sri Lanka and settled there centuries before the Christian era.

Inscriptional evidence

Sinhalese inscriptions from Koravakgala at Situlpahuwa in the Hambantota district contain the word "Kaboja"' (Sanskrit: Kamboja). Another epigraphic inscription found from Kaduruvava in Kurunagala District attest the existence of one 'Kamboja Sangha' (Gote-Kabojhyana). There is yet another important cave inscription located in Bovattagala in Anuradhapura which attests one 'Grand Trade Guild of the Kambojas' (Kabojhya Mahapugyana). A Mediaeval era Inscription found from Polonnaruva in 1887 near Vishnu Temple relates to Maharaja Kalinglankeshwara Bahu Veer-raja Nissanka-Malla Aprati Malla Chakravarati who caused one Charity House to be constructed and named after him as Nissankamalla-Daan-Griha. The southern gate of this Charity House is named as Kamboja Vasala. And lastly, an inscription relating to king Kirti-Nissanka Malla (1187-96) was found in 1884 AD at Ruvanveli Dagva in Anuradhapura which refers to a group of people called Kambodjin whom the scholars have linked to the Kamboja group which had embraced Muslim faith during mediaeval age.

These ancient Brahmi inscriptions attest that a 'Great Trade Corporation of the Kambojiyas' (Kabojhiya-mahapugiyana) and a 'Sangha of the Kambojyas' (Gota-Kabojhi(ya]na) were located in Sri Lanka. These inscriptions additionally make reference to republican titles or appellations like Praumaka ("chief of the Sanghas") and Gamika (Gamini or Gramini, the village councilor, the chieftain) of the Kambojiyas. Specialists have determined that Kabojhiya, Kabojha or Kambodjin are corrupted forms of Sanskrit Kamboja or Persian Kambaujiya/Kambujiya. Similarly, Gamika/Gamini is a corruption of the Sanskrit Gramini or Gramaneya and Parumaka is a corruption of the Sanskrit Pramukha.

For ancient inscriptions of Sri Lanka and the Kambojas, see:

Scholars believe that these inscriptions date back to the third or second century BCE or earlier. Scholars also say that the Kamboja of ancient Sinhalese inscriptions can not be indicative of the Kambuja of Indo-China since the later came into existence about 1000 years after the date of these inscriptions.

Literary sources

  • There is a Buddhist reference to one Kamboja-gama i.e. a village named Kamboja in the Rohana province of Anuradhapura. The Pali text Sihalavatthu of about the fourth century CE attests that a group of people called the Kambojas were living in Rohana on the island of Tambapanni i.e. Sri Lanka . 'In the past, the story goes, in the island of Tambapanni, (also) called the isle of Lanka, where the (three) Jewels were established, a certain elder by the name of Maleyyadeva, famous for the excellence of his supernatural power and knowledge, lived in Rohana province supported by (alms given in) the village of Kamboja'
  • Buddhist text Sasanvamsa attests one Bhikshu Tamalinda thera, son of Kamboja, living in ancient Sinhala. It also attests that Kamboja king Srihamsya came from Kamboja, took possession of the city of Ratanapura in south-west Sinhala and slaughtered about three thousand Bhikshus.
  • According to Chinese Buddhist records, Guna Varman, grandson of the king of Kabol, arrived in China by way of Ceylon and Java in AD 424 and made his way to Capital of the Sung Dynasty of China. This ancient evidence abundantly shows that there were Hindu kings in Kabol more than two centuries before Hiuen Tsang arrived in about 631 AD when he also found a Kshatriya king upon Kabol throne. See link: This ancient evidence powerfully proves that Kabol, the land of the Kambojas was in direct intercourse with not only the Ceylon but also with Malaya/Java, and further beyond with Indochina. Moreover, -Varman, the part of the name of Guna, a Kshatriya prince of Kabol conclusively establishes that the Kambuja Varman kings of Kambodia were indeed from north-west Kamboja.
  • Ravana, pre-historic king of Sri Lanka and the adversary of Rama is stated to have been a fan of raga Kambhoji. Per Tamil tradition, Ravana had once played this raga to praise god Siva. This south Indian tradition, though apparently rooted in mythology still seems to hold a clue that the Kambojas colonists had influenced the cultural and social lives of the ancient Sinhalese.
  • Ravana is also said to have in his stable the horses from north-western countries including Indus Valley, Aratta, Kamboja and Valhika etc. See link: The above literary evidence again seems to verify ancient links of northwest Kambojas with Sri Lanka.
  • Several Iranian records speak of an embassy from Sri Lankan king to Iranian emperor Anusharwan (ruled 531 AD-578 AD). Sri Lankan king is reported to have sent the Persian emperor ten elephants, two hundred thousand pierces of teakwood and seven pearl divers. This again verifies the political and commercial intercourse of the northwest with Sri Lanka.

Archeological evidence

  • Sir James Fergussan observes that "the region of Kabol (Kamboj), Taxila (Gandhar) and Kashmir had been, since ancient times, the center of snake worship which is evident from the wood and stone carvings found in this region". Dr Fergussan further writes that "snake-worship has also been practiced in ancient Sri Lanka. There are also ancient inscriptions in Sri Lanka which attest the presence of Kambojas in the island. One of the city-gate of Polonnaruva was named as Kamboja-vassala. Evidence exists that there was a Naga-temple in Polonnaruva. Besides, the archaeological remains of ancient Naga-temples have been found in other places in Sri Lanka also. Therefore, it is probable that the Kambojas who had founded Kambuja colony in Mekong had reached Indo-china via Sri Lanka".
  • The most famous and only known locale for lapis lazuli since ancient times was in Badakshan in north Afghanistan which has been mined for over 6000 years. The Badakshan province undoubtedly formed a part of ancient Kamboja (See: Kamboja Location). Archeological finds of lapis lazuli (of Badakshan type) from Sri Lanka conclusively connect it to Badakshan in Afghanistan, the home of lapis lazuli. Numerous coins, beads and the intaglios belonging to Bactria/Afghanistan have also been discovered in Sri Lanka. Apart from lapis lazuli, coins and intaglios, the contacts between Sri Lanka and the Kamboja/Gandhara/Bactria region are further revealed by other articles of archaeological evidence from recent excavations at various sites. A fragment of a Gandhara Buddha statue in schist, (yet unpublished), was unearthed from the excavations at Jetavanarama in Anuradhapura. All these archaeological finds conclusively establish a very close relationship between Sri Lanka and the north-west communities, especially, the Kambojans/Gandharans of Afghanistan/Central Asia.

Yavanas in Sri Lanka

That the Kamboja colonists did make it to Sri Lanka is also proved from the fact that the Yavanas or Yonas, their close neighbors in the north-west, are also attested to have founded a colony in Sri Lanka centuries before Christian era. If the Yavanas could make it to Sri Lanka, then their immediate neighbors the Kambojas could do it too. The Yavana presence in Sri Lanka is proved by the following evidences:

Mahavamsa tradition asserts that King Pandukabhaya (ruled 337 BCE-305 BCE) built his capital city Anuradhapura in the 4th century BCE. This city had gates, suburbs, streets, places of worship and a separate place for the "Yonas" and the house for Great Sacrifice; all these he laid out near the west gate. Mahavamsa also attests that Yona Mahadhammarakkhita came to Sri Lanka with thirty thousand Yona monks to particiapate in the foundation ceremony of Great Stupa at Anuradhapura. There are still more Buddhist references testifying to the Yona presence in Sri Lanka.

The above evidence amply proves that the Yavanas had reached Sri Lanka centuries before Christian era---probably first as traders and later as Buddhist missionaries. It also indicates that other nations like Persia, Kashmira/Kamboja etc were also similarly interacting with the Sinhalese. The above several evidences -- inscriptional and literary, incontrovertibly prove that both the Kambojas and Yonas were actively intercoursing with Sri Lanka. As seen from above, this intercourse was both missionary as well as commercial.

Ancestral home of the Sinhalese

Mahavamsa tradition

Mahavamsa attests that the ancestors of the Sinhalese came from Sihapura (Sinhapura) located in Lala Rattha (=Lata Rashtra). Prince Sihabahu had left his maternal grand father's kingdom in Vanga and founded a Sihapura in Lata Rashtra. He married Sihasivali and there were born Vijaya and Sumitta and thirty more sons to her. With time, Sihabahu consecrated Vijaya as prince-regent, but due to some misdemeanor of prince Vijaya, the king had to banish him and his 700 followers from Sinhapura. Story says that the king had caused their heads to be shaved (aradh-mundak) before putting them on a ship and driving them away into the sea. The exiles sailed past Bharukachcha and Soparaka and finally landed at Tambapanni (Ceylon) near Puttalam. on the day of Parinibhana (decease) of the Buddha (542 BCE or 486 BCE). The exiles permanently settled on the island, married local wives and established their kingdom which, in succeeding generations, assumed the name as Sinhala, said to have been named after Sinhapura, the ancestral city of the exiles. Read full story at:

Critical review of Vijaya legend

The Vijaya story is obviously mythical and therefore, untenable at its face value. However, some valuable information can be garnered. According to Mahavamsa, Vanga princess, the mother of Sihabahu was kidnapped when she was on way from Vanga to Magadha. Divested of fantastic elements, the story indicates that the wild kidnapper must have been living somewhere around Vanga, Kalinga and Magadha. Hence the Lala and Sihapura of prince Sihabahu must also be located some where near Magadha, Kalinga and Vanga. Chulavamsa does attest one Sinhapura located between Vanga and Kalinga. It has been suggested to identify modern Singur of Bengal with Sinhapura and Lala with modern Radha (=western Bengal). 12th century Kalingavamsi king of Sri Lanka had announced that he came from same Sinhapura where earlier prince Vijaya had come from. All this evidence seems to connect the Sinhalese to the east coast of India. But if we accept that Vijaya and his party started their sea journey from some seaport of Bengal, then it would be difficult to explain as to how the exiles had passed, on their way to Sri Lanka, through Soparaka located on west cost of India. The suggestion that Sihabahu, the son of a lion (beast), had traveled all the way from east coast to west coast to found a kingdom of Sihnhapura in Gujarat is simply naive and also not validated from Mahavamsa details. Moreover, no ancient evidence exists of a direct caravan route or else a direct communication between Gujarat and Bengal in those early times. Since the Vanga princess was kidnapped on her way from Vanga to Magadha, the kidnapper's place of residence and therefore, the birth-place of king Sihabahu i.e. the Sihapura referred to in the Mahavamas lies somewhere close to Vanga or Magadha and not in the far off Gujarat about 1500 miles away. This simply does not sound probable. The gist of the argument is this: There are glaring contradictions in Mahavamsa traditions. The geographical names which find place in the text do not help us in reaching a definitive decision as to the origin of the Sinhalese even though the evidence is far more weighted in favor of the western coast of India. The authorities such as Wilhelm Geiger, H. W. Codrington, Chatterji, Mendis, A. L. Bhasham, S. Parnavitana, K. M. De Silva, J. L. Kamboj etc assert that the early settlers of Sri Lanka came from the north-west part of India, while others like Muller, Majumdar, Siddhartha, Sabidullah etc hold that north-eastern India was the home of the earliest colonists.

Perhaps, the best and balanced view is presented by Encyclopedia Britannica when it asserts on Vijaya's arrival in Sri Lanka as follows: "Their landing in Sri Lanka at Tambapanni, near Puttalam, would indicate their arrival from western India. Some early tribal names occurring in Sri Lanka also suggest connections with north-western India and the Indus region. While considerable evidence points to western India as the home of the first immigrants, it seems probable that a subsequent wave arrived from the east around Bengal and Orissa" .

Location of Sinhapura

  • There is an epic reference (MBH II.27.20) to one Simhapura kingdom located on upper Indus which shared borders with Kashmira, Trigartas, Daravas, Abisari, Urasa, Balhikas Daradas and Kambojas. See trans:
  • Seventh century Chinese pilgrim Hiun Tsang also attests one Simhapura (Sang-ho-pu-lo) on the east bank of river Indus about 115 miles east of Taxila, thus localizing it in the upper doab of Jhelum/Chenab. See the link:
  • Buddhist Chetiya Jataka also locates one Sihapura in the west.

Scholars locate this Sinhapura in south of Udiyana kingdom in what today is called the Salt Range in north-west Panjab. However Aurel Stein identifies Sinhapura with Lyfurti in the Ciandhala valley southeast of Kashmir. .

There is one place called Sihor near Gulf of Cambay in Kathiawad. It had been a capital of the Gohil Rajputs in the 17th century. The Charter of Maitraka king Dhruvasena I (525 AD-545 AD) addresses.this place as Sinhapura. There is also an ancient place name 'Hingur' located 40 miles east from the apex of delta of the Indus which may also carry a relic of ancient Sinhapura of the Sinhalese traditions (Hingur < Singur < Singhpur < Sinhapur or alternatively Hingur < Singur < Sinhanagar < Sinhapura).

The delta region of the Indus is still called Lar. According to Sir H. Elliot, Lar in former times was identical with Gujarat and it originally extended continuously over the coast from the western part of the Indus Delta to beyond Bombay. During Ptolemy's times, the course of river Indus lied quite bit to the east and it emptied into the Rann of Kachch which was an open sea then. Those sailing from upper Indus via water-route reached direct to the Lara, Lala or Lata-desa. The Sinhapura of Sinhalese traditions was also located somewhere in this region. Scholars say that 'Hingur' could also well be a corrupted version of Sinhapura.

Searching for Vanga in northwest

  • Scholars have observed a very significant fact that the verse which describes the capture of Sinhapura by Arjuna is followed by another giving a list of the peoples among whom, according to the manuscripts of the epic Mahabharata, written in Telugu, Malayalam and Grantha characters, were the Vankas or Vangas. According to these manuscripts, Arjuna encountered Kashmiras, Lohitas, Trigartas, Daravas, Kokonadas Abisaris, Urgas (Urasa = Hazara), Sinhapuras, Vankas (Vanga), Suhmas, Sumalas, Balhikas, Daradas and Kambojas, before launching into the Transoxiana territories of the Lohas, Parama Kambojas and the Rishikas. Since Arjuna's Digvijaya campaign relates only to the kingdoms of the Uttarapatha division, therefore, all these people must belong to the north-west. Thus, we get a very significant epic evidence of a Vanka or Vanga principality, during epic period, in close vicinity of Sinhapura and Kamboja.
  • In addition, Buddhist text, Vaisantra Jataka, also refers to one Vanga Parvata. where a prince of the Sivi country in the Punjab was banished. Since Sivis, (Rig Vedic Sivas)---the Sibois of the classical writings, belonged to the Jhang region, below the junction of Jhelum and Chenab, therefore, the Vanga Parvata of the Vaisantra Jataka as well as ancient Vanga kingdom of the epic must have been located somewhere in the north-west, and in all probability in the north of Punjab. This very invaluable evidence seems to resolve the issue of Vanga located near Sinhapura and Kamboja in the northwest since these names occur one after the other in Arjuna's war campaign against the tribes of northwest.

In a nutshell

It is very likely that the Vanga of the Sinhalese tradition initially was this Vanga of northwest India. As the centuries rolled by, Sri Lanka saw newer waves of immigration from east coast of India. The paradigm got shifted and the facts got mixed up with myths. As a result, in the oral traditions of the Sinhalese, the Vanga of north-west Punjab was unconsciously replaced with the Vanga of eastern India. With passage of time, more names like Kalinga and Magadha also were added in the oral tradition relating to earliest colonists. . By the time these traditions were reduced to writing in 6th century AD, after about 1000 years of the event by Buddhist monk Mahanama thero, (the brother of the Sri-Lankan King Dhatusena), the actual picture got very much mutated. It is undeniable that the oral accounts are always prone to alterations and additions. Therefore, oral tradition about Vijaya and his followers is also likely to have been altered and tuned to reflect the new historical, political and social realities which prevailed in India and Sri Lanka around that time (i.e. 6th century AD). Or else, the later revisions of Mahavamsa may have been subject to alterations and interpolations by the later monks under political influence from the ruling dynasties of later generations. This is the reason we see glaring contradictions in the geographical setting of the Sihabahu/Vijay story as incorporated in the Mahavamsa (Chapter VI). Moreover, the actual story is too fantastic to be trusted at its face value. The absence of references to the northeastern states or its people in the most ancient epigraphic inscriptions of Sri Lanka (the earliest known records of the island) is a powerful indication that the immigrants from northeast India were the later players in the game.

Royal vs merchant lineage

Though Mahavamsa states that the ancestors of Sinhalese i.e. Vijay and his followers belonged to royal lineage, but ancient Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka imply that the earlier Sinhalese settlers most likely belonged to the merchant lineage. In the Amarakosha, a Sarthavaha is described as the leader of merchants who have invested an equal amount of capital and carried on trade with outside markets and is traveling in a caravan. It is likely that Vijay, the ancestor of the Sinhalese was the earliest one such Sarthavaha from Sinhapura of Gujarat or the Sinhapura of the Kamboja/Gandhara in Northwest India. Mahavamsa story about Vijay may actually refer to his commercial voyage to Sri Lanka for trade with the Daemedas/Tamils in Sri Lanka and then permanently settling there with his 700 merchant associates. The Daemeda/Tamil groups were already settled there with whom the trade was routinely carried on from the north-west following a well known Kamboja Dvaravati Caravan route and thence-after, via west-coast sea-route starting from Bharukachcha (Bhroach) in Gujarat. The north-west coast of Sinhala was famous for its fine variety of pearls (motis) and it is still known as Motimannar. The south-east coast was also known for its precious stones. The merchants from northwest Kamboja/Gandhara had an allurement for these specific products. The reference to Gamika/Gamini (Sanskrit Gramini) obviously connects the earliest colonists to a mercantile class. Gramini was not a royal title but was frequently used by the chiefs of trade corporations or some other Sanghas in northwest India. This indicates that earlier colonists were from traders groups. The occurrence of title like Parumaka (pramukha) in ancient Sinhalese inscriptions with reference to the Kambojas also points in the same direction. Pramukha was a title assumed by the aristocracy in ancient India.

Gramaneyas vs Sinhalese

It has been pointed out that the republican Gramaneyas referred to in the Sabhaparva of Mahabharata may have been the ancestors of Sinhalese. The original home of the Gramaneyas seems to have been the Sinhapura of Gandhara/Kamboja, but the people shifted to lower Indus and then, after defeat by Pandava Nakula, moved to Saurashtra Peninsula, centuries before common era. There they seem to have founded a principality and a city which they named Sinhapura probably to commemorate their past connections with Sinhapura of upper Indus valley. In all probability, Vijaya and his 700 followers, the earliest known Aryan speakers of the island either belonged to the 'Sihore' (Sinhapura) of Kathiawad or else to Hingur (Sinhapura) east off the Indus delta from where they had sailed to Sri Lanka and settled there as colonists. Thus, it is argued by scholars that the name Simhapura, the eponymous of the Sinhalese, may have been carried into Sri Lanka (via Gujarat) by these Gramaneyas, which is believed by some scholars to be a section of north-west Gandharas/Kambojas. Epic name Gramaneya is attested as Gramini in Panini's Ashtadhyayi. Gramini as a royal title is not referred to in ancient Buddhist or Brahmanical literature. Panini attests Gramini as a republican constitution prevalent among some Pugas (= Sanghas) of northwest. Panini specifically connects term Gramini with the Puga. The Pugas derived their name after their leader or Gramini. The Gramini type Pugas or Sanghas were mostly common in upper Indus in the area now known as Afghanistan and northwest frontiers of Pakistan i.e. the land of Kambojas and Gandharas. Relics of Gramini type Pugas are still seen in some clans of the modern Afghans. It is of great importance to note that ancient inscriptions of Sri Lanka powerfully attest both the Puga (Kabojhya Maha-pugyana) as well as Gote (or Goshate = Sangha) of the Kambojas (Gota-Kabojhi(ya]na). The title Gamini used by ancient rulers of Sri Lanka is also attested for Kambojas (Gamika Kabojhaha) in the ancient Sinhalese inscriptions. The Sinhalese therefore, may have been Gramaneyas, and in general, the Kamboja colonists themselves.

Sinhala vs Kamboja relationship

Mahavamas attests that the earliest colonists of the island (Vijaya and his 700 followers) had gotten their heads shaved (aradh-mundak= wearing short hair style) before boarding the ship. Scholars see in this reference a social custom of supporting short-cut hair among the ancestors of the Sinhalas. Based on this social custom of the Sinhalese, Dr S. Paranavitana sees close relations of the Sinhalese with the northwest Kambojas and says that the Sinhalese had copied their short-hair style from their close allies, the Kambojas.

Sinhala is not attested as a tribal name. The appellation was applied to the Aryan speaking colonists of Sri Lanka in commemoration of their past connections with Sinhapura. Curiously enough, there are over 1200 ancient inscriptions in Sri Lanka belonging to 3rd century and downwards but not a single one has any reference to the name Sinhala. Prof Parnavitana's argument that if the Sinhalas were the dominant group in the island, it was not necessary to mention their Sinhala identity in the inscriptions, does not sound very logical and convincing. It is pure pleading. The first ever reference to Sinhala occurs in 4th c AD text Dipavamsa. This shows that the Sinhala appellation for the Aryan speaking population of the island is of much later origin. But who were these original colonists and what tribes did they belong to? Unfortunately, neither Mahavamsa nor Dipavamsa, nor any ancient inscriptions of Sri Lanka furnishes any definitive clue on the ethnic identity of the Sinhalese. According to scholars, the custom of supporting short-hair style among the earliest colonists seems to connect them to the Kamboja, Yavana or the Saka group since only this ancient group is known to have supported short hair styles as is evidenced by numerous Puranas". Short hair style among the Kambojas and Yavanas is also attested by Mahabharata. as well as by Ganapatha on Panini's rule II.1.72.


(1) Could the ancient Sinhalese be Sakas who, once, were a very powerful people in the northwest? But neither ancient inscriptions nor any literary texts attest the Saka colonists in Sri Lanka.

(2) Could they be Yavanas who, like the Kambojas, also supported short-hair style? The Yavana settlement in Pandukabhyaya in Anuradhapura is attested by several Buddhist texts. But it has to be remembered that both Sakas and the Yavanas spoke a language which was quite different from the Aryan language of the Sinhalese. Moreover, there is no reference to both these people in the earliest written records i.e. the inscriptions of the island. Hence neither Sakas nor the Yavanas could claim to be the ancestors of the Sinhalese.

(3) This naturally leaves only the Kambojas in the field. (a) The Kambojas were such a tribe, a section of whom are known to have been Sanskrit speakers. (b) The Kamboja also had a social custom of supporting short hair styles; they also observed a republican constitution like the Pugas, Gotes, Sanghas, Shrenis etc. (c) They also find several references in ancient Brahmi inscriptions, whereas, no reference, whatsoever, is found for the Sinhalas. (d) There are also references to their Gamika (Gamini or Gramini) and Parumaka (Pramukha) appellation or epithets. (e) It appears that these people called themselves Kambojas but the original inhabitants of the island addressed them as Sinhalas by virtue of their former connections with Sinhapura (Dr J. L. Kamboj). As the centuries rolled by, the name Sinhala started to be applied to the island as well as to the language these people spoke. An inscription found from Tonigala in Anuradhapura has a place name called Tavarakkha(=Dvaraka) and a city named Dvaraka is mentioned in connection with the Kambojas. It has been pointed out that the earliest colonists had carried this name into the island in memoriam of their past connections with that city.

Therefore, considering all the pros and cons, it seems very likely that the earliest colonists of Sri Lanka may have been the Kambojas. The prevalence of title Gramini (Prakrit Gamini, Gamika) among the Kambojas seems to connect them with the Gramaneyas of the lower Indus valley and the Graminis of the upper Indus valley. The Pugas of Panini were a kind of Samghas which Gramini constitution applied to. The Puga of the Kambojas is powerfully attested in ancient Sinhalese inscriptions. Parumaka (Pramukha) another title similar to Gamini is also attested for the Kambojas in Sri Lanka (Gota-Kabojhi(ya]na parumaka-Gopalaha). The Gramaneya clan appears to have originally migrated from Sinhapura which adjoined the Kamboja/Gandhara. Probably, they were an earlier offsoot from the Kambojas. This is because only the Kambojas as Aryan community is attested in Sri Lanka. The Kambojas are known to have followed republican form of governing constitution in northern India, hence their republican constitutions such as Puga and Gote (Sangha) and their republican titles such as Gamika/Gamini (Gramini) and the Parumaka (Pramukha) are exclusively attested in ancient Sinhalese inscriptions. The foregoing discussion therefore, seems to connect the Sinhalese with the Gramaneyas and the latter with the Kambojas.


Books, journals and magazines

  • Jatakas
  • Mahavamsa
  • Mahabharata
  • Puranas
  • History of Ceylon, Vol I, Part 1, Dr S Paranavitana,
  • Sinhalayo - 1970, S. (Senarat) Paranavitana,
  • A Concise History of Ceylon: From Earliest time to the Arrival of the Portuguese in 1505, 1961, Cyril Wace Nicholas, Senarat Parnavitana,
  • History of Ceylon, 1959, pp. 88-91, Hem Chandra Ray, K. M. De Silva, Simon Gregory Perera,
  • Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, Dr J. L. Kamboj,
  • The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, S Kirpal Singh
  • Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology on the Indian Ocean, edited by David Parkin, Ruth Barnes, 2002, pp. 108-109:
  • The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology), Himanshu Prabha Ray, Norman Yoffee, Susan Alcock, Tom Dillehay, Stephen Shennan, and Carla Sinopoli (14 August 2003) - Cambridge University Press
  • Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities, Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions, Steven Collins....See APPENDIX 4, Selections from the Story of the Elder Máleyya i.e. Máleyyadevattheravatthu).
  • A Concise History of Ceylon: From the Earliest Times to the Arrival of the Portuguese in 1505 (Edition 1961), byCyril Wace Nicholas, Senarat Paranavitana - 1961
  • "The Beginnings of Civilization in South India", Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3 (May, 1970), pp. 603-616, Clarence Maloney.
  • History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, Sir James Fergusson
  • A Grammar of the Sinhalese Language, pp. vii-xii, Wilhelm Geiger
  • Khroshthi Inscriptions, Dr Sten Konow
  • Buddhist records of Western World, Samuel Beal.
  • Ancient Geography of India, A Cunningham
  • Historical Geography of Ancient India, Dr B. C. Law
  • Epigraphia Zeylanica, Vo II, No 13
  • Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, VII
  • Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, XV
  • Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon,
  • Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, (N.S.), VI, p .604
  • Indian Historical Quarterly, IX, pp. 742-50

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