Friday, December 10, 2010

Arippu:The Abandoned,Ancient TAMIL Seaport,Ruined & Forgotten.!?SINHALA Vijaya’s landing with his followers in Thamiraparani TAMIL VILLAGE.!!??

The Abandoned,
Ancient Seaport, Ruined and Forgotten
December 10, 2010, 12:00 pm

by M.U.A.Tennakoon, P hD, DSc

Arippu was the ancient seaport of Sri Lanka during the time of the Anuradhapura kingdom. The stone bridge (gal palama) constructed across the Malwatu Oya which leaves the ancient Anuradhapura city boundary north-westwards bears testimony to a road linkage of Anuradhapura with the Arippu seaport in the northwestern coast of the island, very close to a point where the Malwatu Oya enters the Gulf of Mannar. This was the ancient gateway of the island to the Indian sub-continent as well as to the Arabian Sea.

Being so near to India, people from the Peninsular India may have crossed the narrow sea strip between the Indian sub-continent and Sri Lanka in frail boats from India even during the proto-historic Iron Age (1,500 -500 B.C.). Since they have come from relatively low rainfall areas of the Sind valley in the northwestern part of the Indian sub-continent the dry peninsular Indian parts of the Deccan plateau and finally from the dry southernmost India , they brought crops such as finger-millets (kurakkan or Eleucine coracana)), mustard, and cotton to be cultivated in the equally drier parts of the northwestern Sri Lanka under rain-fed conditions long before irrigate agriculture evolved in Sri Lanka by about third century B.C. (Panabokke, 2010 and Tennakoon,2010). Thus the northwestern part of Sri Lanka, that is, that part of the land to the northwest and west of Anuradhapura was long under sedentary human habitation first with rain-fed highland farming and very much later that was the during the Early Historic ‘circa’ 500 B.C and the subsequent Middle Historic period commenced by about 300 A.D,. with irrigated farming where it was possible.

This land, that is the northwestern part of the Anuradhapura kingdom was clearly the land of dry grain cultivation from immemorial times of our history. This we got to bear in mind in any future expansion of dry grain cultivation to supplement or support rice farming to feed the millions, that, this particular land area in the northeastern Sri Lanka is of vital importance. It is fatal to ignore the significance of dry grains in feeding an increasing population anywhere in the Tropical World.. It is also noteworthy to keep in mind that 60 % of food of over a billion of people in India comes from dry grains!.

Vijaya’s landing with his followers in Thamrapanni in this populous northwestern region may not have been a pure accidental event. They may have had a prior knowledge of the populous Northwestern Sri Lanka which would have been the cradle of that past civilization, though the later day monk authors of our history have down played this area’s significance.

The prominent seaport, Arippu, in this area appeared to have played a significant role in the external relations of the Anuradhapura kingdom not only with South India, but with the countries in the eastern rim-land of the Middle East. The archaeological evidence unearthed in Anuradhapura shows that there were also exchange of emissaries and ambassadors with far flung western kingdoms such as the Roman Empire. Such vital links would have bee through Arippu.

With the decline of the Anuradhapura kingdom, after about 700 A.D. and the final abandonment of it as the state capital in favour of Polonnaruwa in 900 A,D. due to a variety of political and economic reasons and Gokanna (Trincomalee) becoming the new gateway of Rajarata to the world, the importance of Arippu as the national seaport had gradually faded in to oblivion.

Historical evidence of clear references to Arippu are hard to come by there after until the 17th century when Robert Knox refers to it in describing his ‘escape route’ from the Kandyan Kingdom very roughly following the course of the Malwatu Oya to Arippu to join a Dutch vessel, ending an 18-year imprisonment in Sri Lanka.

From the early 16th century to the 19th century, the western sea fairing nations such as the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British with a lust for trade and conquest were interested in the maritime areas of the island. The British had a keen desire to hold sway in the northwestern coast of the island mainly because pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar and particularly from Kondachchi to Vankalai with the bay of Arippu as the epicenter of pearl fishery.

A t the beginning of the 19th century, pearl fishery was the number one revenue source of the British invaders. Therefore, they established a permanent post in Arippu. Fredric North, the First British Governor in Sri Lanka had a permanent residence established by 1804 in Arppu.

Very near the Governor’s Bungalow there is a part of the foundation of a building which was most probably where the governor used to address the native pearl fishermen and other person in sundry businesses. Further inland from the Bungalow at a ‘stone’s throw distance’ from it, there remains a partially destroyed small chapel, which means the governor had spend considerably continuous periods of time if not during the entire pearl fishing season of about seven months of the year until the onset of the rough southwest monsoon in the month of May.

As the above mentioned notice reads, the governor’s two-storied mansion had four .bedrooms, a large meeting/dining hall, a staircase leading to the upstairs of the mansion from the central hall and many other utility areas, built on a low cliff at a stone’s throw distance from the then prevailing beach. The centuries of sea erosion had not only eroded that land space between the then beach an d the mansion but it has caved in to the very basement of the building, making a half of it to collapse in to the sea. The process is still continued unabated.

The special interests of the British in having Arippu under their sway appeared to have lasted through the second half of the 19th century when they were actively engaged in plantation agriculture in the Hill Country. R.W. Ievers thrice the Assistant Government Agent of the North Central Province (NCP) before becoming its Government Agent during the early 1890s has given a very authentic description of the status of Arippu in his book, Manuals of the North Central Province, published by the Government Printer in 1899 He has vividly described how the commissioned agents in South India brought the indentured South Indian Tamil labourers for disembarkation tr- the Arippu seaport and the trials and tribulations that they were subjected to in their long march from Arippu to the central highlands through Wilachchiya, Medawachchiya, Rambewa , Kekirawa, Dambulla, Naula and Matale.

Consequent to this long march, the British planters in the Hill Country got the windfall of having almost free labour to work their plantations following shipment after shipment of this human cargo while the poor Sinhalese living in the NCP villages en route of the South Indian Tamil labourers from Arippu to the Hill Country, were abundantly cursed with widespread bouts of cholera soon after the infected Indian labourers disembarked at Arippu. The menace was so frightful that some of those wayside villages in the Wilachchiya Korale in the NCP, abandoned their ancestral villages and moved far in to the jungles to escape the cholera epidemic and establish safe, new settlements.

Ievers has vividly described how he saw, during his field inspections at the times of cholera epidemic, that the fallen dead bodies blanketed with swamps of flies rotting on the way side, as there were no people to bury the dead. In one of his inspection visits to Puwarasankulama of Kende Korale (edging the northern rim of the Wilachchiya Korale) plagued with the cholera epidemic, Ievers has noted that there were only three surviving people in the whole village and that the marauding crocodiles surfaced from the village tank were ripping human carcasses to feast on. Such were the prices that the NCP villagers had to pay for the development of plantation agriculture in the Hill Country. Alas, the historians have totally failed even to make a passing reference to this sacrifice!

During the 20th century, the Survey Department established under the British administration conducted some of the finest topographical surveys and various maps of the island including the one-inch-to-one mile scaled topographical sheets which have been published. In many of then Arippu is located and named. .If not for this, by now, no body would know where the ancient seaport of Arippu was.

During the recent near 30 years of civil war agitated by the Tamil separatist movement, it is plainly clear that the Archaeological Department could not have been able to get anywhere near Arippu, let alone preservation of its remains... This desolation may have further accelerated the destruction and decay of the old buildings’ remains due to, the active natural events of expansion, contraction and rain and sea water erosion of the materials used in the construction of those building The Governor’s mansion referred to earlier has already partially destroyed and the remaining portion of it is being steadily eroded by the wave action of the sea its preservation efforts need to be pursued immediately because of its architectural and historical significance to us.