The Dīpavamsa is the base material of the Vaṃsa literatures of Ceylon written in Pāli. I started my work under the title ‘A Study on Dīpavaṃsa’. It is true that much work has been done on this field. Yet there is need of studying the starting point from real scientific point of view so that new informations might come out from the mystry of the past which can be utilized to generate future civilization in a better way.
The introduction reviews in brief about the author of the Dīpavaṃsa, the time of composition, its literal valuation; the history comes out from it and draws material from almost all available sources.
The first three chapters deal with when, why and how Buddhism was introduced in Sri-Lanka. Scholars like E.W.Adikaram, S.Paranavitana, H.Parker, Walpola Rahula, B.C.Law etc, had taken scholarly attempt in this field. But my approach to the subject is somewhat different.
The first chapter of present work largely concerned religious modernisation of the aborigines, who were unaware of any religious practices. A careful study of the first three adhyayas or chapters of the Dīpavaṃsa reveals that the inhabitats of the Island at that time used to involve in occasional war among them. The Island was seriously in need of an external help for getting civilized. The Buddha here is represented as that external agent, who with the help of his super-natural activities tamed them and made the ground for civilization.
The second chapter of my thesis depicts the background to the story.Where from, into where and why Buddhism was introduced which involves chapter IV-VIII, of the Dīpavaṃsa. This chapter describes the three Buddhist councils, India—at the time of Aśoka, contemporary Indian thera paramparā and rāja paramparā, and the epoch making decision taken by Aśoka to spread Buddhism outside India.
The third chapter relates how Buddhism was established in Sri-Lanka. Contribution of the great Thera Mahinda and his sister Saṅghamittā Therī, establishment of the Buddhist Saṅgha to bring the indigenous people under the disciplined life of the Buddha Sāsana, and establishment of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha and the development of Pāli literature through verbal method.
The fourth and fifth chapters of my study include the rest of the chapters’ i.e, IX-XXII chapters of the Dīpavaṃsa. The fourth describes the development as well as the ups and downs of Buddhism in Sri-Lanka. In the fifth chapter an attempt has been made to describe the period when Buddhism was in its paramount position and the rāja paramparā as well as the thera-paramparā in Sri-Lanka during the period under review.
India and Sri-Lanka are closely connected from the time immemorial. The whole of the Island of Ceylon was once a portion of the Deccan peninsula and was included in the Gandwana Land. The mountains of Sri-Lankā are made up of the same crystalline rocks as Deccan and are regarded as the southerly extensions of the Mahendra, the Malaya, and the Sahaya mountains of South India, now interrupted by the sea. The fact is proved by the discovery of certain common plants and fossils.
Though Dīpavaṃsa says nothing about the trade relation there are evidences which show that these two countries were connected by trade since very early date.
‘The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea written in the 1st century A.D. was a guide to marchants interested in the coastal trade with India, Sri-Lanka and Persia. The Indika of Megasthenes, the geography of Ptolemy, the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya and the Buddhist Jātakas and Avadānas are all reliable sources of information about India’s trade relation with Sri-Lanka. The Pāli cannonical work Mahāniddesa gives a clear idea of the land, river and sea routes then followed. Indika of Megasthenes refers Taprobane as a sea girt island, situated to the south of India and noted for its large tortoise-shells. Large sized elephants were imported from Kaliṅga. The Island was also famous for producing gold and pearls. Arthaśāstra mentioned Pārasamudra as a place of precious gems and finest kind of aguru. The merchants seeking for gems frequently came to this Island’.
Suniti Kumar Chatterji in his celebrated account on ‘The Development of the Bengali language’ comments that “The first immigrants who carried the Indo Aryan speech to Ceylon seem to have been from the western Indian coast. Later from the 3rd century B.C. onwards Ceylon seems to have come in touch with Magadha through Bengal and traditions of intimate connections between Bengal and Ceylon are preserved in Bengali Literature.”
Yet, after an extensive study on the Dīpavaṃsa, it reveals to me that, there was a strong connection of Vaṇga (present Bengal) with Sri-Lanka apart from entire India, in the days of Prince Vijaya. It is not just mythology that reflects upon this connection. References weigh more in favor of Vijaya’s origin to Bengal. I think,following references deserves mention:
Prof. Manmatha Daspoints out that, Lāḷa, therefore Sinhapura of Mahāvaṃsa is located on the way from Vaṅga (present Bengal) to Magadha (present Bihar). If Mahāvaṃsa is correct Simhapura could not have located in Odhissa or Andhra Pradesh, because these places lie to the south of Bengal away from Bihar.
S.Krrishnaswami Aiyangar also believed that, Lāḷa and Simhapura were located on the road connecting Vaṅga to Magadha.
According to Hemchandra Roychoudhury, Sinhapura was in Rarh region of Vaṅga and he identifies it with present Singur of West Bengal.
Gautam Kumar Khatriya, in his study titled “Genetic Affinities of Sri-Lankan populations” found that 25.% of the genetic make up on the Sinhalese population was contributed by the Bengalis.
Nuda Lal De, in his The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India, said that,
He also said in the same book that
‘Radha-that part of Bengal which lies to the west of Bengal including Tamluk, Midnapur and the districts of Hoogli and Burdwan. A portion of the district of Murshidabad was included in the northern boundary. It was the native country of Vijaya who conquered Ceylon with seven hundred followers.....It is the Lāḷa of the Buddhist and Lāḍe of the Jains......Rāḍha is a corruption of Rāṣtra and an abbreviation of Gangārāṣtra or Gangārāḍa–the Gangāride of Megasthenes’.
W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, a Sinhala linguist, supported the hypothesis that the Sinhalese people originated in Eastern India because over 50% Sinhala words resemble words in the Bengali language. Some scholars identify the Lāḷa country, where Sinhabahu founded Sinhapur, with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal of India. The place is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lāṭa-desa.
Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh in the extreme hilly west of Bengal where the Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. However, some scholars identify the region as modern Gujarat.
The voyage of Vijaya reveals that, it started from the Vaṅga country and then Nagga dīpa, Mahilarājya or Mahiladīpa, Supparaka, Bharukaccha, corresponding to present Bengal, Jaffna, Maldīp, Sopara, Broach respectively and ultimately to Tambapaṇṇi or Lankādīpa. This order of places shows that Vijaya started from eastern coast and not from western coast. So it is confirmed that Vijaya’s homeland was Bengal.
Before drawing the conclusion, I want to say that, people of Vaṅga region were daring seafarer at the time of Vijaya. Vikings were described as the most daring seafaring people in history.But they only conquered new regions, devastated and left. In comparison, the seafaring people of Vaṅga not only conqured a new country but carried civilization along with them, colonized and settled there.
Thus it is ardently proved that the ancient ancestors of the current Sinhalese people came originally from Vaṅga or Bengal of India as shown by genetic, linguistic and religious connections. Hence we might say that, apart from entire India, it was Bengal whch had a strong connection with Sri-Lanka from very ancient time.
Lastly, the Dīpavaṃsa, in spite of the unpolished nature of its language and style, its grammatical peculiarities, repetitions in its narrative, is successful in conquerring the heart of the Sinhala Buddhist people.