This is a brief history of how the Sri Lankan government and its destructive agents plundered and robbed 50% of the ancestral lands of the Tamils of the Island of
 Sri Lanka





By K. Sachithanandan




Research officer -  Colombo Fisheries Corporation.

Lecturer at the University of Jaffna.

Adviser to the United Nations on Food and Agriculture in twenty-three countries.





Sri Lanka - Ceylon is a beautiful island. It lies on the southern side of the Sub-Continent of India. The island is in the shape of a mango.


This island is separated from India by Palk Strait in the North and Mannar Kudah in the South.


The island of Rameshwaram, Eramer Dam and Mannar Island separate Palk Strait and the Mannar Kudah.


To the south of the island is the Indian Ocean. The southern point is surrounded by sea and nothing else. The Bay of Bengal is on the eastern side and stretches as far as Sumatra.


Forty kilometers from the island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is Thamilaham (Tamil Nadu).


The Central region enjoys high rainfall and has mountains. The land here is fertile. The island’s Eastern, Northern and North-Western regions are open flat land with rocks scattered all over.


Long before man wrote history, this island (Ilankai, as it was known then) was inhabited by hunters and cowherds. These were stone-age and iron-age people according to research. There is proof of this on the island.


The ancient instruments of this period and those used by people in Thamil Nadu are similar according to research on Ancient History.


Later, the discovery of ancient scripts and stone carvings have indicated that the inhabitants of Ilankai and Thamilaham were originally Tamil people.


Sivan and Elder Sivan were the kings who ruled the island, which is recorded in the island’s history. That the Princes of Bengal and Kalingam and their people came to this island and married Pandian girls is recorded in the island’s history.


In Tamil Nadu and in the island of Ceylon there were originally Tamil people. When Prince Vijayan came to the island, a dialect emerged. Many people speaking a new language were flooding into the island. This is the period when history was reversed, (1000 BC).


During the reign of King Asoka, 400 BC, Thamilaham and Ceylon had become lands where the Buddhist religion was being spread. King Asoka’s son Mahinthan came to Ilankai and converted the King of the island to Buddhism . This is shown in the island’s history. Later, King Asoka’s daughter Sangamitta brought a white Bo branch from Goa and planted it in Anuradhapuram, when she came to Ilankai. These were historical events. This Bo tree is in Anuradhapura up to this day.


During the time of King Asoka, a new language was being developed in Ceylon by combining, Sanskrit, Pali, Kalingam and Tamil, and thus a new language was born. This language was then introduced to Prince Vijayan and later became the Sinhalese language.


During the time of Karikala Cholan (300 BC), he declared war on Ceylon. Karikalan wanted to build a dam by blocking the Kaveri River. To achieve this project Karikalan brought experts and labourers from Ceylon to Thamilaham.  History states that Karikalan built a dam across the Kaveri River. After the invasion by Karikalan, Chola kings ruled Ceylon. One of the kings that ruled Ceylon was Ellalan. He ruled the entire island from 161 BC ­ 117 BC.


“To the South is the sea, to the North are Tamils. How can I stretch and sleep?” asked the Sinhalese Prince Dutugemunu. From the description of this notorious prince, it is evident that his name Dutu refering to a thug in Sinhalese and Tamil.


This notorious Sinhalese prince called Ellalan to battle. The elder Ellalan was unable to defeat the young and strong Dutugemunu. The Sinhalese thug murdered Ellalan - the Tamil king and captured the Tamil Kingdom. This was the beginning of the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict. The Sinhalese captured the Tamil capital Anuradhapuram and made it their capital. This was the first occurrence where the Sinhalese took possession of Tamil lands by battle, making it their own. This is worth noting.


The Tamils kept the rest of their land and the Sinhalese kept their land. The areas closer to Tamil Nadu, sea shores and open land, belonged to Tamils. The mountainous, central parts, far away from Tamil Nadu and the southern parts belonged to the Sinhalese people.


The Aalvaar and Nayanmaars (Saiva saints) started spreading the Saivite and Vaisnavite (in English - “Hindu”) religions in Thamilaham, amongst the Tamil people. This happened during AD 550-800. In the island of Ilankai the Saivite religion was being promoted.


During the time of Raja Raja Cholan and Rajendra Cholan 993-1070 AD, the entire island was brought under Tamil rule.


With the re-introduction of Saivaism the Tamils who lived in the island of Ilankai again became Saivaites. Those who became Buddhists disregarded Tamil and created the Sinhalese language in order to promote Buddhism.


In Polanuruvai the Chola capital was established and Sinhala people moved southwards. The island’s mountainous region and the south became the homeland of the Sinhalese. The Eastern, Northern and North-Western regions were inhabited by Tamils. The Buddhist Sinhalese people occupied the mountainous and southern areas, while the Saivaite Tamils occupied the East, North and North West regions.


Although the Sinhalese administration was somewhat strong they were unable to control the areas occupied by the Tamil people. In 1215 AD the Pandians declared war on the island. The Sinhalese rulers retreated to the south. Kandy and Kotte became Sinhala capitals. Polonnaruwa was the Chola capital. After the Pandian invasion Yaalpanam (Jaffna) became the Chola capital.


Three Kingdoms

Now there were three kingdoms in the island of Ilankai. The South Western seashore and Southern seashore were administered by the Kotte Sinhalese Kingdom. The central mountain area was taken care of by the Kandy Udarata Sinhalese Kingdom. The East, North and North-West were administered by the Tamil Kingdom.


This situation remained during the arrival of the Europeans in 1505 and even after that. Kotte  was the capital of the Sinhala Kingdom, which later fell to the Portuguese in 1505. Nallur was the capital of the Tamil Kingdom. This also fell to the Portuguese in 1619. The Kandy Udaratta Kingdom made Kandy its capital. In AD 1815  this was taken by the English.


When the Portuguese and the Dutch took over the island’s seashores, they ruled the Tamils and Sinhalese separately.


The Greek explorer Ptolemy and the British who came later demarcated separately the Tamil and the Sinhala regions. They recorded this.


The Sinhalese termed their administration “Rata”. The Tamils named their administration “Vannimai”.


Rajarata, Mayarata, Udarata and Ruhunurata were the areas controlled by the Sinhalese, in their respective administrations.


The Tamils controlled and administered the following areas, Yaalpanam, Vanni,  Kottiyaaru, Palukamam,  Paanamai and Muthusilapam. These are large administrative areas. Within these large areas there are smaller areas called “Koralai” by the Sinhalese, and “Pattu” by the Tamils.


The maps and drawings from the time of Ptomey the Greek explorer and later from the period when the English came to the island, show how they recorded the areas of the Tamils and the Sinhalese separately.


In 1796 the English took power, after the fall of the Kandian Kingdom. In 1815 the entire island came under English rule. On October 1st 1833 the Colebrook-Cameron reformation was introduced in the island’s Administration. After the reforms in the administration, there came into being five Provinces under one administration, in the island.


Five Provinces


1.      The Northern Province - Nuvarekalvi. Anuradhpuram, Yaazhpanum, Vavuniya and Mannar remained in the Northern Province. The capital was Yaazhpanum (Jaffna).


2.      Eastern Province - Thampankadawai, Vindhanai, Kottiyaru, Palukamam Paanamai. All these included as Tamil zones. Trincomalee, Muttur, Mattakaluppu, Bintenne, Wekande, Kumana and Yala were remaind in this province. The capital was Mattakalupu (Batticaloa).


3.      The Upper Province. Katpiddi, Puttlam, Chilaw, Neerkozhimpu (Negomobo), Kotte, Panandurai, Kalutara, spreading as far as Kurunegala. The capital was Colombo.


4.      The Southern Province. Galle, Thangalai, Matarai and Ambanthotai, stretching as far as Ratnapura. The capital was Galle.


5.      The Central Province. Kandy,  Udunuwara and Uva, which were mountain regions, came under Central Province. Kandy was the capital.


Each of these five provinces had government officials who were answerable to English governors in Colombo.


During Dutch rule, one Tamil Kingdom and two Sinhalese Kingdoms were functioning as Tamil administration, seashore Sinhalese administration and Kandian Sinhalese administration. Later under British rule, these three administrative areas were converted into five provinces.


The Nine Provinces

In 1845 the North Western Province came into being. This consisted of Puttalam, Chilaw and Hotkorala. The capital was Kurunagala.


In the year 1873 the North Central Province was created. Nuwarakalawewa  district in the Northern Province; Thampankadawai district from the Eastern Province were included in the North Central Province. The Tamil pattu area from the Northern Province was annexed to the North Western Province. The capital was Anuradhapura.


In 1896 the Uva Province was created. The Central Province’s Baddulla Bintenne were incorporated with Uva. The capital was Baddulla.


The nine provinces were ruled from Colombo which was the capital, bringing all the provinces under one rule. This went on from 1833 to 1896.


In this process of re-adjustment, the English did not take into account the ancestral heritage and the original homelands of the people of the island. As a result of this blunder, the ethnic conflict came into being in  the island.


Even though Anuradhapura was a Sinhalese area, this was annexed to Tamil capital Yaalpanam. Thampankadawai was Tamil area but later it was taken away from the Eastern Province and added to the North Central Province. The Tamils area was incorporated into the Northern Western Province. The Eastern Province Bintenne Vannimai were added to Uva Province.


In these nine Provinces there were twenty districts.


Since 1827 - Tamil and Sinhala populations in the Eastern province

(Table is shown on a language basis)


                                                            Tamil                           Sinhala

Year                                        Speaking                    Speaking

            1827                                        99.24%                        0.53%

            1881                                        93.82%                        4.66%

            1891                                        93.89%                        5.06%

            1901                                        91.8%                          5.05%

            1911                                        93.4%                          3.76%

            1921                                        93.95%                        4.53%

            1946                                        87.8%                          9.87%

            1953                                        85.5%                          13.11%

            1963                                        79.25%                        19.9%

            1971                                        78.61%                        20.7%

            1981                                        74.4%                          24.92%



25 Districts


New changes were made to the borders in 1955. When a country gets its independence it must make its borders more viable for the sake of progress.


The Eastern Province, which was 10,440 square kms, was reduced to 9,931 square kms. It was reduced by 509


Northern Central which measured 10,352 was increased by adding 356 now totalling 10,709


The Uva Province which was 8,160 was increased to 8,478 by adding another 318 to this province.


In this process of chop and change, the district of Chilaw disappeared. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Districts were newly created.


In 1959 Moneragala District was introduced. In 1963 the District of Amparai came into being. In 1978 the districts of Gampaha and Mullaitivu and in 1984 Kilinochchi, totalling five districts were newly created.


Not only the district borders but also the administrative borders were redemarcated. This happened many times.


The total extent of the island is 65,525 of this, 71% of the land is Sinhalese homeland. The Tamils have 29% of the land as their homeland (1901).


The island’s coastal area measures a total of 1,770  35% of this area is Sinhalese and 65% belongs to the Tamils (1901).


The total population of the island is approximately 180 lakhs, according to the 1995 survey. 74% is Sinhalese, 25% Tamils and 1% who speak other languages (1981).


In 1981, there were 68.5% Buddhists, 16% Hindus, 7.9% Christians and 7.6% Muslims. The island’s total population is 18,000,000.


The fertile areas where the rainfall is plentiful and where there are many mountains, rivers and lakes is land that the Sinhalese claim to be their ancestral homeland. Tea, rubber, coffee and coconut palms grow very well in these regions.


The people in the Tamil homeland have to rely on rain brought by the rare winds to cultivate their dry land. There are very few rivers and dams there. 65% of the sea-coast is the ancestral possession of the Tamil people.




Muthusilapam Vannimai stretches south of Mannar. It starts at Chilavaththurai as far as Munnesvaram Temple, and extends to the seashore. The border is a river. In this area there are small villages which are inhabited by Tamil pearl divers. They traded and bartered with the Tamils of Thamilaham. The Tamil kings of Yaalpanam also did pearl diving in these beaches.


In the early days Tamil kings camped on these shores and dived for pearls. This is recorded in the travel memories of the Arab traveller Ibn Batuta in 1345.


This region (Vannimai) of the seven Korale was annexed to North Western Province. Thus it was added to the ancestral motherland of the Sinhala people.


In the year 1833 the Tamil area that was in the Northern Province was taken away in 1873, it was added to the Sinhala land.




In 1833 the Colebrook-Cameron Committee published a sketch of the Bintenne, Panama. The plains of Pattipalai River were indicated as part of the Eastern Province. The Tamil area was Mahaweli, the eastern section of the Mahawali River was shown as its western border.


Later in the resettlement and demarcation plan, the Eastern Province lands were annexed to Uva Province and North Central Province.


The Pattipolai River plains were almost touching the borders of the province of Matale.  The annexing of Bintenne to Uva was a mistake, as was pointed out by the 1976 Provincial Electoral Committee.


Sinhala settlements


After Independence from the British in 1948, the Colombo government started implementing new legislation to requisition land and settle the Sinhala population. The government put into place a scheme plan so as to reduce the land of the Tamils and increase the land of the Sinhala population.


In its plan was the demarcation of borders intended to reclaim Tamil land in order to benefit the Sinhala people.


Since 1827 - Tamil and Sinhala populations in Batticaloa district

Table is shown on language basis

(Until 1963 it includes Amparai district)


                                                            Tamil                           Sinhala

            Year                                        Speaking                    Speaking


            1827                                        99.62%                        0.00%

            1881                                        93.27%                        4.75%

            1891                                        93.2%                          5.21%

            1901                                        92.34%                        5.21%

            1911                                        92.95%                        3.74%

            1921                                        93.12%                        4.56%

            1946                                        92.55%                        5.83%

            1953                                        87.64%                        11.52%

            1963*                                       95.6%                          3.35%*

            1971                                        94.49%                        4.49%

            1981                                        95.95%                        3.21%


* Creation of Amparai district


The Gal Oya Project


In the year 1952 the Pattipolai River was renamed “Gal Oya” which is a Sinhalese name. A dam was built across the river. The water pumped from this dam was used by the Sinhalese who settled there. This was another master plan to stifle the progress of the Tamil people.


1963 saw the creation of a new district known as Amparai (beautiful rock). Later an area was created for voters to assist the Sinhala people. This new area was called “Digamadulla” in the Sinhala language.



Tamil and Sinhala population in Amparai district

Table is shown language basis

 (Amparai district was created in 1963)



                                                            Tamil                           Sinhala

            Year                                        Speaking                    Speaking


            1963                                        70.22%                        29.34%

            1971                                        69.47%                        30.18%

            1981                                        62.03%                        37.64%


Those who were resettled under the government plan were looked after by the Sri Lankan government. These Sinhala settlers were the troublemakers and the government did nothing to control them.


During ethnic conflicts the Sinhalese brought armed thugs to chase the Tamils away from their villages and the Sinhalese came and settled in these Tamil areas.


Recently in the District of Amparai more than 300 Saivaite (in English - "Hindu")  temples were damaged. The priest of the well-known Murugan Temple was driven out and replaced by a Buddhist priest. Buddhists also control the nearby Buddhist Temple.    


In the Eastern Province in 1948 the Sinhala population was only 5% but by 1995 it had increased to 24%. This is the result of the Sinhala government’s planned resettlement of Tamil areas by Sinhalese colonists.


According to the government Resettlement and Border Demarcation plan, Digamadulla electorate will be annexed to Uva Province.


Allai ­ Kantalai Project


Gal Oya was planned. The same plan was used to resettle Sinhalese in Kantalai and Allai in 1952. Here also the Sinhalese are in the majority. This zone is in the District of Trincomalee.


Medirigiriya and Lankapura are areas that were inhabited by Tamils in the past. When Thumpankadawa was annexed to the North Central Province, it had been taken from the East. During the ethnic conflict Tamils were driven out of these areas and were replaced by Sinhalese. Now the Sinhalese are in the majority.


In the Eastern areas of Kandhanai and Allai, the government settled the Sinhala people, creating a new Kandhanai administration block. Through this resettlement plan the northern parts; Marvel, Kumaran and Kadavai were given to the Sinhalese.


This resettlement plan stretched as far as Seruvillai. A story was fabricated saying that in Seruvillai there was an ancient Buddhist temple. The government encouraged the Sinhala people to promote their cultural heritage in this so-called sacred place.


Since 1827 - Tamil and Sinhala populations in

Trincomalee district Table is shown on language basis



                                                            Tamil                           Sinhala

            Year                                        Speaking                    Speaking


            1827                                        98.45%                        1.53%

            1881                                        90.72%                        4.21%

            1891                                        91.44%                        4.3%

            1901                                        89.04%                        4.22%

            1911                                        90.54%                        3.82%

            1921                                        92.13%                        4.38%

            1946                                        75.09%                        20.68%

            1953                                        78.8%                          18.22%

            1963                                        79.25%                        19.9%

            1971                                        70.2%                          28.8%

            1981                                        65.38%                        33.62%



Padawiya Settlement


Padawiya is in the north of Thumpankadawa in the North Central Province. The government in its plan settled Sinhalese here also. Trincomalee’s northern area is Kokilai. In the south of Kokilai lagoon lies Pulmoddai, a sea-shore town where Tamils lived. There was an abundance of corals in this coastal region. The government wanted to export this coral and it settled Sinhalese in this area, so as to enable them profit from the sale of the coral. The Sinhala government by means of its colonisation policy, settled many Sinhalese here. Padawiya Sripura administration came into being here.


On the borders of the District of Trincomalee, to the south there is Seruwila, to the west lies Kantalai, Morawewa, Kumpankadavai. To the north is Padawiya-Sripura became Sinhala settlements. 


Horse-Shoe settlement


Around Trincomalee the Sinhalese government created a Sinhala settlement in the shape of a horse-shoe.


In 1976 this horse-shoe shaped settlement became Seruwila a separate constituency with a Sinhalese majority.






In the seventies the Sinhalese government planned to settle Sinhala colonists in the Northern Province.


In the southern Mannar District is Musali. The administration cleared the forests and resettled Sinhalese people there.


On the coasts of Mullaitivu in the Vavuniya District lies Manalaru. This name is now changed to Weli Oya, a Sinhalese name. The government cleared the forests and settled Sinhalese prisoners and their families.


Fishermen settlements


The Sri Lankan Government encouraged Sinhalese fishing families from the south to come to the eastern coast and trouble the Tamil families who lived there. In the areas where the Sinhala people live the sea is deep. There are about 200 such places. In the Tamil areas the sea deepens step by step. The sea deepens after a few kilometres.


The Tamils carry out their cultivation in all of the months except during the month of October-December. Initially, the Sinhala fishermen worked closely with the Tamil fishermen. However, the Sinhalese fishermen slowly drove the Tamils away and took control of Musali, Chilapaththurai, and Thalaimannar in the west and Nayaru and Kalmunai which is a long stretch of sea coast land in the east.


As time went on the Sinhalese fishermen drove the Tamils away and occupied the following places; Nayaru, Kokilai, Kuchaveli, the town of Trincomalee, Elakanthai, Verutal Panichan Kerni, Manokerni Punnaikuda Eravur, Batticaloa Chinna Mugathuvaaram Kumari, Thirukovil. These places were all taken by the Sinhalese with the help of the government, which wanted to drive away the Tamil people from the places they had always inhabited.


The Five Point Plan


The Sinhala government’s five-point plan to settle the Sinhala population was implemented as follows:


(1)     Point One. Along the Pattipalai River, to Amparai and Kumanai.

(2)     Point Two. Allai, Kantalai, Seruwila.

(3)     Point Three. Padawiya, Manalaru.

(4)     Point Four. Wilpattu, Musali.

(5)     The fifth Point was to destroy the Tamil fishermen’s families.


This was a step by step plan of encroachment to reduce the Tamil’s land.


In 1833 the Colebrook-Cameron Commission allocated approximately 26,500 as the Tamil People’s Ancestral Motherland.


In 1901 when the nine provinces came into being, the Tamil administration of the Northern and Eastern Provinces measured approximately 19,100 Due to some of the area being incorporated into the Sinhalese provinces the Tamil area had been reduced by approximately 7,500


After 1948 the government’s settlement plan deprived the Tamils of 7,000 in the Eastern Province and 500 in the Northern Province. Although the Tamils protested, the Colombo administration ignored the Tamils and settled Sinhalese in these regions.


Approximately 7,500 of Tamil land was plundered by the Sinhala Government’s Demarcation and Resettlement Plan when it came into operation. This has been taking place over the last forty years.


Before 1833, 25% of Tamil speaking people occupied 35% of land, which was in their administration as Tamil ancestral homeland. In 1901 this area shrunk from 35% to 29%.


Within 162 years the Sinhalese government under its crafty Demarcation and Resettlement Plan has plundered 50% of the Tamil ancestral homeland and is still attempting to colonise more and more!


(The original text was produced in Tamil by the Author in 1980s)