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Sri Lankan Tamil people ( ), or Ceylon Tamils, are an ethnic group native to the South Asian island state of Sri Lankamarker who predominantly speak Tamil. According to anthropological evidence, Sri Lankan Tamils have lived on the island since the 2nd century BCE. Most modern Sri Lankan Tamils descend from the Jaffna Kingdom, a former kingdom in the north of the island and Vannimai chieftaincies from the east. They constitute a majority in the Northern Provincemarker, live in significant numbers in the Eastern Provincemarker, and are in the minority throughout the rest of the country.

Sri Lankan Tamils are culturally and linguistically distinct from the other two Tamil-speaking minorities in Sri Lanka, the Indian Tamils and the Moors. Genetic studies indicate that they are most closely related to the Sinhalese than any other Asian group. With the Tamil and Sinhalese population sharing a common gene pool of 55%. The Sri Lankan Tamils are mostly Hindus with a significant Christian population. Sri Lankan Tamil literature on topics including religion and the sciences flourished during the medieval period in the court of the Jaffna Kingdom. Since the 1980s, it is distinguished by an emphasis on themes relating to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Sri Lankan Tamil dialects are noted for their archaism and retention of words not in everyday use in the Tamil Nadumarker state in India.

Since Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948, relations between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities have been strained. Rising ethnic and political tensions, along with ethnic riots and pogroms in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983, led to the formation and strengthening of militant groups advocating independence for Tamils. The ensuing Sri Lankan Civil War has resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 people and the forced disappearance of thousands of others.

Sri Lankan Tamils have historically migrated to find work, notably during the British colonial period. Since the beginning of the civil war in 1983, more than 800,000 Tamils have been displaced within Sri Lanka, and many have left the country for destinations such as India, Canada, and Europe. Since the end of the civil war in 2009, number of Sri Lankan Tamils have sought refuge in countries like Canada and Australia.


There is little scholarly consensus over the presence of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, also known as Eelam in early Tamil literature, prior to the medieval Chola period (circa 10th century AD). One theory states that there was not an organized Tamil presence in Sri Lanka until the invasions from what is now South India in the 10th century AD; another theory contends that Tamil people were the original inhabitants of the island.

Pre-historic period

The indigenous Veddhas are physically related to Dravidian-speaking tribal people in South India and early populations of Southeast Asia. They no longer speak their native languages. It is believed that cultural diffusion, rather than migration of people, spread the Prakrit and Tamil languages from peninsular India into an existing Mesolithic population, centuries before the common era.

Settlements of people culturally similar to those of present-day Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadumarker in modern India were excavated at megalithic burial sites at Pomparippumarker on the west coast and in Kathiravelimarker on the east coast of the island. These villages were established between the 5th century BCE and 2nd century CE. Cultural similarities in burial practices in South India and Sri Lanka were dated by archeologists to 10th century BCE. However, Indian history and archaeology have pushed the date back to 15th century BCE. In Sri Lanka, there is radiometric evidence from Anuradhapuramarker that the non-Brahmi symbol-bearing black and red ware occur in the 10th century BCE.

The skeletal remains of an Early Iron Age chief was excavated in Anaikoddai, Jaffnamarker. The name 'Ko Veta' is engraved in Brahmi script on a seal buried with the skeleton and is assigned by the excavators to the 3rd century BCE. Ko, meaning "King" in Tamil, is comparable to such names as Ko Atan and Ko Putivira occurring in contemporary Tamil Brahmi inscriptions in south India.

Historic period

Potsherds with early Tamil writing from the 2nd century BCE have been found in excavations in Poonagarimarker, Jaffnamarker. They bore several inscriptions, including a clan name—vela, a name related to velir from ancient Tamil country. Epigraphic evidence shows people identifying themselves as Damelas or Damedas (the Prakrit word for Tamil people) in Anuradhapura, the capital city of Rajarata the middle kingdom, and other areas of Sri Lanka as early as the 2nd century BCE. Excavations in the area of Tissamaharamamarker in southern Sri Lanka have unearthed locally issued coins, produced between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, some of which carry local Tamil personal names written in early Tamil characters, which suggest that local Tamil merchants were present and actively involved in trade along the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Historical records establish that Tamil kingdoms in modern India were closely involved in the island's affairs from about the 2nd century BCE. In Mahavamsa, a historical poem, ethnic Tamil adventurers such as Elara invaded the island around 145 BCE. Tamil soldiers from what is now South India were brought to Anuradhapura between the 7th and 11th centuries CE in such large numbers that local chiefs and kings trying to establish legitimacy came to rely on them. By the 8th century CE there were Tamil villages collectively known as Demel-kaballa (Tamil allotment), Demelat-valademin (Tamil villages), and Demel-gam-bim (Tamil villages and lands).

Medieval period

In the 9th and 10th centuries CE, Pandya and Chola incursions into Sri Lanka culminated in the Chola annexation of the island, which lasted until the latter half of the 11th century CE. The decline of Chola power in Sri Lanka was followed by the restoration of the Polonnaruwa monarchymarker in the late 11th century CE. In 1215, following Pandya invasions, the Tamil-dominant Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty established an independent Jaffna kingdom on the Jaffnamarker peninsula and other parts of the north. The Arya Chakaravarthi expansion into the south was halted by Alagakkonara, a man descended from a family of merchants from Kanchipurammarker in Tamil Nadu. He was the chief minister of the Sinhalese king Parakramabahu V (1344–59 CE). Vira Alakeshwara, a descendant of Alagakkonara, later became king of the Sinhalese, but he was overthrown by the Mingmarker admiral Cheng Ho in 1409 CE. The Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty ruled large parts of northeast Sri Lanka until the Portuguesemarker conquest of the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619 CE. The coastal areas of the island were conquered by the Dutchmarker and then became part of the British Empire in 1796 CE.

The Sinhalese Nampota dated in its present form to the 14th or 15th century CE suggests that the whole of the Tamil Kingdom, including parts of the modern Trincomalee district, was recognised as a Tamil region by the name Demala-pattanama (Tamil city). In this work, a number of villages which are now situated in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee districts are mentioned as places in Demala-pattanama.

The English sailor Robert Knox described walking into the island’s Tamil country in the publication An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, referencing some aspects of their royal, rural and economic life and annotating some kingdoms within it on a map in 1681 CE. Upon arrival of European powers from the 17th century CE, the Tamils' separate nation was described in their areas of habitation in the northeast of the island.

The caste structure of the majority Sinhalese has also accommodated Hindu immigrants from South India since the 13th century CE. This led to the emergence of three new Sinhalese caste groups: the Salagama, the Durava and the Karava. The Hindu migration and assimilation continued until the 18th century CE.


Tamil-speaking communities

Percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils per district based on 2001 or 1981 (italic) census

The two groups of Tamils located in Sri Lanka are the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils (also called Ceylon Tamils) are descendants of the Tamils of the old Jaffna Kingdom and east coast chieftaincies called Vannimais. The Indian Tamils (or Hill Country Tamils) are descendants of bonded laborers sent from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in the 19th century to work on tea plantations. A significant Tamil-speaking Muslim population exists in Sri Lanka; however, unlike Tamil Muslims from India, they do not identify as ethnic Tamils and are therefore listed as a separate ethnic group in official statistics.

Most Sri Lankan Tamils live in the Northern and Eastern provinces and in the capital Colombomarker, and most Indian Tamils live in the central highlands. Historically, both groups have seen themselves as separate communities, although there has been a greater sense of unity since the 1980s. In 1949, the United National Party government, which included G. G. Ponnambalam, leader of the Tamil Congress, stripped the Indian Tamils of their citizenship. This was opposed by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of Tamil nationalist Federal Party.

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the Sri Lankan and Indian governments in the 1960s, about forty percent of the Indian Tamils were granted Sri Lankan citizenship, and most of the remainder were repatriated to India. By the 1990s, most Indian Tamils had received Sri Lankan citizenship.

Regional groups

Sri Lankan Tamils are categorized into three subgroups based on regional distribution, dialects, and culture: Negombo Tamils from the western part of the island, Eastern Tamils from the eastern part, and Jaffna or Northern Tamils from the north.

Negombo Tamils

Negombo Tamils, or Puttalam Tamils, are native Sri Lankan Tamils who live in the western Gampahamarker and Puttalammarker districts. The term does not apply to Tamil immigrants in these areas. They are distinguished from other Tamils by their dialects, one of which is known as the Negombo Tamil dialect, and by aspects of their culture such as customary laws. Most Negombo Tamils have assimilated into the Sinhalese ethnic group through a process known as Sinhalisation. Sinhalisation has been facilitated by caste myths and legends (see Passing ).

In the Gampahamarker district, Tamils have historically inhabited the coastal region. In the Puttalammarker district, there was a substantial ethnic Tamil population until the first two decades of the 20th century. Most of those who identify as ethnic Tamils live in the coastal village Udappumarker. There are also Tamil Christians, chiefly Roman Catholics, who have preserved their heritage in the major cities such as Negombo, Chilawmarker, Puttalam, and also in villages such as Mampurimarker. Some residents of these two districts, especially the traditional fishermen, are bilingual, ensuring that the Tamil language survives as a lingua franca among migrating fishing communities across the island. Negombo Tamil dialect is spoken by about 50,000 people. This number does not include others, outside of Negombo city, who speak local varieties of the Tamil language.

Some Tamil place names have been retained in these districts. Outside the Tamil-dominated northeast, the Puttalam District has the highest percentage of place names of Tamil origin in Sri Lanka. Composite or hybrid place names are also present in these districts.

Eastern Tamils

Eastern Tamils inhabit a region that spans the Trincomaleemarker, Batticaloamarker, and Amparamarker districts. Their history and traditions are inspired by local legends, native literature, and colonial documents.
In the 1500s the area came under the nominal control of the Kandyan kingdom, but there was considerable local autonomy under native Vannimai chiefs. From that time on, Eastern Tamil social development diverged from that of the Northern Tamils.

Eastern Tamils are an agrarian-based society. They follow a caste system similar to the South Indian or Dravidian kinship system. The Eastern Tamil caste hierarchy is dominated by the Mukkuvar. The main feature of their society is the kuti system. Although the Tamil word kuti means a house or settlement, in eastern Sri Lanka it is related to matrimonial alliances. It refers to the exogamous matrilineal clans and is found amongst most caste groups; men do not remain members of the kuti of their birth, instead joining the wife's kuti upon marriage. Kuti also collectively own places of worship such as Hindu temples. Each caste contains a number of kutis, with varying names. Aside from castes with an internal kuti system, there are seventeen caste groups, called Ciraikutis, or imprisoned kutis, whose members were considered to be in captivity, confined to specific services such as washing, weaving, and toddy tapping. However, such restrictions no longer apply.

The Tamils of the Trincomalee district have different social customs from their southern neighbors due to the influence of the Jaffna kingdom to the north. The indigenous Veddha people of the east coast also speak Tamil and have become assimilated into the Eastern Tamil caste structure. Most Eastern Tamils follow customary laws called Mukkuva laws codified during the Dutch colonial periodmarker.

Northern Tamils

Jaffna's history of being an independent kingdom lends legitimacy to the political claims of the Sri Lankan Tamils, and has provided a focus for their constitutional demands. Northern Tamil society is generally categorized into two groups: those who are from the Jaffna peninsulamarker in the north, and those who are residents of the Vanni District to the immediate south. The Jaffna society is separated by caste divisions, with social dominance attained by Vellalar by means of myths and legends. Historically, the Vellalar, who form approximately fifty percent of the population, were involved in agriculture, using the services of castes collectively known as Panchamar (Tamil for group of five). The Panchamar consisted of the Nalavar, Pallar, Parayar, Vannar, and Ambattar. Others such as the Karaiyar (fishermen) existed outside the agriculture-based caste system. The caste of temple priests known as Iyers were also held in high esteem.

People in the Vanni districts considered themselves separate from Tamils of the Jaffna peninsula but the two groups did intermarry. Most of these married couples moved into the Vanni districts where land was available. Vanni consists of a number of highland settlements within forested lands using irrigation tank-based cultivation. An 1890 census listed 711 such tanks in this area. Hunting and raising livestock such as water buffalo and cattle is a necessary adjunct to the agriculture. The Tamil-inhabited Vanni consists of the Vavuniyamarker, Mullaitivumarker, and Eastern Mannar districtmarker. Historically, the Vanni area has been in contact with what is now South India, including during the medieval period (see Vanniar). Northern Tamils follow customary laws called Thesavalamai, codified during the Dutch colonial period.

Genetic affinities

Sri Lanka's important position on trade routes has brought people from many places, such as Africa, the Middle East, Europe, South East Asia, and neighboring India. The heterogeneous origins of the current Sri Lankan people can also be read in the mythical, legendary, and historical records of Sri Lanka. A study by G.K. Kshatriya et al. compared the degree of gene diversity and genetic admixture among the Sri Lankan population groups with the populations of southern, northeastern, and northwestern India, the Middle East, and Europe. The results showed that Sri Lankan Tamils have a greater contribution from the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (55.20% +/- 9.47) than Indian Tamils (16.63% +/- 8.73). With both the Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese sharing a common gene pool of 55%. Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese are farther removed from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India and farthest from the indigenous Veddahs. The study did not find any genetic correlation with population groups in India's northwest. A further study by Papiha et al. confirmed the Sri Lankan Tamil population's close genetic affinity to the Sinhalese.


In 1981, about eighty percent of Sri Lankan Tamils were Hindus who followed the Shaiva sect. The rest were mostly Roman Catholics who converted after the Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna Kingdom and coastal Sri Lankamarker. There is also a small minority of Protestants due to missionary efforts in the 18th century by organizations such as the American Ceylon Mission. Most Tamils who inhabit the Western Provincemarker are Roman Catholics, while those of the Northernmarker and Eastern Provincesmarker are mainly Hindu. Pentecostal and other churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, are active among the internally displaced and refugee populations.

The Hindu elite follow the religious ideology of Shaiva Siddhanta (Shaiva school) while masses practice folk Hinduism, upholding their faith in local village deities not found in formal Hindu scriptures. The place of worship depends on the object of worship and how it is housed. It could be a proper Hindu temple known as a Koyil, constructed according to the Agamic scripts (a set of scriptures regulating the temple cult). More often, however, the temple is not completed in accordance with Agamic scriptures but consists of the barest essential structure housing a local deity. These temples observe daily Puja (prayers) hours and are attended by locals. Both types of temples have a resident ritualist or priest known as a Kurukkal. A Kurukkal may belong to the Iyer community or be someone from a prominent local lineage. Other places of worship do not have icons for their deities. The sanctum could house a trident (culam), a stone, or a large tree. Temples of this type are common in the Northern and Eastern Provinces; a typical village has up to 150 such structures. The offering would be done by an elder of the family who owns the site. A coconut oil lamp would be lit on Fridays, and a special rice dish known as pongal would be cooked either on a day considered auspicious by the family or on the Thai Pongal day, and possibly on Tamil New Year Day.

There are seven worshipped deities: Ayyanar, Annamar, Vairavar, Kali, Pillaiyar, Murukan, or Pattini. Villages have more Pillaiyar temples, which are patronized by local farmers. Tamil Roman Catholics, along with members of other faiths, worship at the Madhu church. Hindus have several temples with historic importance such as those at Ketheeswarammarker, Koneswaram, Naguleswaram, Munneswaram, and Nallur Kandaswamymarker. Kataragamamarker temple and Adams Peakmarker are attended by all religious communities.


Tamil dialects are differentiated by the phonological changes and sound shifts in their evolution from classical or old Tamil (3rd century BCE–7th century CE). The Sri Lankan Tamil dialects form a group that is distinct from the dialects of the modern Tamil Nadumarker and Keralamarker states of Indiamarker. They are classified into three subgroups: the Jaffna Tamil, the Batticaloa Tamil, and the Negombo Tamil dialects. These dialects are also used by ethnic groups other than Tamils such as the Sinhalese, Moors and Veddhas . Tamil loan words in Sinhala also follow the characteristics of Sri Lankan Tamil dialects.

The Negombo Tamil dialect is used by bilingual fishermen in the Negombo area, who otherwise identify themselves as Sinhalese. This dialect has undergone considerable convergence with spoken Sinhala. The Batticaloa Tamil dialect is shared between Tamils, Muslims, Veddhas and Portuguese Burghers in the Eastern Province. Batticaloa Tamil dialect is the most literary of all the spoken dialects of Tamil. It has preserved several ancient features, remaining more consistent with the literary norm, while at the same time developing a few innovations. It also has its own distinctive vocabulary and retains words that are unique to present-day Malayalam, a Dravidian language from Keralamarker that originated as a dialect of old Tamil around 9th century CE. The Tamil dialect used by residents of the Trincomalee District has many similarities with the Jaffna Tamil dialect.

The dialect used in Jaffna is the oldest and closest to old Tamil. The long physical isolation of the Tamils of Jaffna has enabled their dialect to preserve ancient features of old Tamil that predate Tolkappiyam, the grammatical treatise on Tamil dated from 3rd century BCE to 10th century CE. Their ordinary speech is closely related to classical Tamil. The Jaffna Tamil dialect and the Indian Tamil dialects are not mutually intelligible, and the former is frequently mistaken for Malayalam by native Indian Tamil speakers. There are also Prakrit loan words that are unique to Jaffna Tamil.


Sri Lankan Tamil society values education highly, for its own sake as well as for the opportunities it provides. The kings of the Aryacakravarti dynasty were historically patrons of literature and education. Temple schools and traditional gurukulam classes on verandahs (known as Thinnai Pallikoodam in Tamil) spread basic education in religion and in languages such as Tamil and Sanskrit to the upper classes. The Portuguese introduced western-style education after their conquest of the Jaffna kingdom in 1619. The Jesuits opened churches and seminaries, but the Dutch destroyed them and opened their own schools attached to Dutch Reformed churches when they took over Tamil-speaking regions of Sri Lanka.

The primary impetus for educational opportunity came with the establishment of the American Ceylon Mission in Jaffnamarker, which started with the arrival in 1813 of missionaries sponsored by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The critical period of the missionaries' impact was from the 1820s to the early 1900s. During this time, they created Tamil translations of English texts, engaged in printing and publishing, established primary, secondary, and college-level schools, and provided health care for residents of the Jaffna Peninsula. American activities in Jaffna also had unintended consequences. The concentration of efficient Protestant mission schools in Jaffna produced a revival movement among local Hindus led by Arumuga Navalar, who responded by building many more schools within the Jaffna peninsula. Local Catholics also started their own schools in reaction, and the state had its share of primary and secondary schools. Tamil literacy greatly increased as a result of these changes. This prompted the British colonial government to hire Tamils as government servants in British-held Ceylon, India, Malaysiamarker, and Singaporemarker.

By the time Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, about sixty percent of government jobs were held by Tamils, who formed barely fifteen percent of the population. The elected leaders of the country saw this as the result of a British stratagem to control the majority Sinhalese, and deemed it a situation that needed correction by implementation of the policy of standardization.


According to legends, the origin of Sri Lankan Tamil literature dates back to the Sangam period (3rd century BCE–6th century CE). These legends indicate that the Tamil poet Eelattu Poothanthevanar (Poothanthevanar from Sri Lanka) lived during this period.

Medieval period Tamil literature on the subjects of medicine, mathematics and history was produced in the courts of the Jaffna Kingdom.During Singai Pararasasekaran's rule, an academy for the propagation of the Tamil language, modeled on those of ancient Tamil Sangam, was established in Nallur. This academy collected manuscripts of ancient works and preserved them in the Saraswathy Mahal library.Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, pp. 64–65Nadarajan, V History of Ceylon Tamils, pp. 80–84

During the Portuguese and Dutch colonial periods (1619–1796), Muttukumara Kavirajar is the earliest known author who used literature to respond to Christian missionary activities. He was followed by Arumuga Navalar, who wrote and published a number of books. The period of joint missionary activities by the Anglican, American Ceylon, and Methodist Missions also saw the expansion of translation activities.

The modern period of Tamil literature began in the 1960s with the establishment of modern universities and a free education system in post-independence Sri Lanka. The 1960s also saw a social revolt against the caste system in Jaffna, which impacted Tamil literature: Dominic Jeeva was a product of this period.

After the start of the civil war in 1983, a number of poets and fiction writers became active, focusing on subjects such as death, destruction, and rape. Such writings have no parallels in any previous Tamil literature. The war produced displaced Tamil writers around the globe who recorded their longing for their lost homes and the need for integration with mainstream communities in Europe and North America.


cuisine of Sri Lankan Tamils draws influence from that of India, as well as from colonialists and foreign traders. Rice is usually consumed daily and can be found at any special occasion, while spicy curries are favorite dishes for lunch and dinner. Rice and curry is the name for a range of Sri Lankan Tamil dishes distinct from Indian Tamil cuisine, with regional variations between the island's northern and eastern areas. While rice with curries is the most popular lunch menu, combinations such as curd, tangy mango, and tomato rice are also commonly served.

String hoppers, which are made of rice flour and look like knitted vermicelli neatly laid out in circular pieces about in diameter, are frequently combined with tomato sothi (a soup) and curries for breakfast and dinner. Another common item is puttu, a granular, dry, but soft steamed rice powder cooked in a bamboo cylinder with the base wrapped in cloth so that the bamboo flute can be set upright over a clay pot of boiling water. This can be transformed into varieties such as ragi, spinach, and tapioca puttu. There are also sweet and savory puttus. Another popular breakfast or dinner dish is Appam, a thin crusty pancake made with rice flour, with a round soft crust in the middle. It has variations such as egg or milk Appam.

Jaffna, as a peninsula, has an abundance of seafood such as crab, shark, fish, prawn, and squid. Meat dishes such as mutton, chicken, pork, and beef also have their own niche. Vegetable curries use ingredients primarily from the home garden such as pumpkin, yam, jackfruit seed, hibiscus flower, and various green leaves. Coconut milk and hot chilly powder are also frequently used. Appetizers can consist of a range of achars (pickles) and vadahams. Snacks and sweets are generally of the homemade "rustic" variety, relying on jaggery, sesame seed, coconut, and gingelly oil, to give them their distinct regional flavor. A popular alcoholic drink in rural areas is palm wine, made from palm tree sap. Snacks, savories, sweets and porridge produced from the palmyra form a separate but unique category of foods; from the fan-shaped leaves to the root, the palmyra palm forms an intrinsic part of the life and cuisine of northern region.


Sri Lanka became an independent nation in 1948. Since independence, the political relationship between Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil community has been strained. Sri Lanka has been unable to contain its ethnic violence as it escalated from sporadic terrorism to mob violence, and finally to civil war. The Sri Lankan Civil War has several underlying causes: the ways in which modern ethnic identities have been made and remade since the colonial period, rhetorical wars over archaeological sites and place name etymologies, and the political use of the national past. The civil war has resulted in the death of over 70,000 people and, according to human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, the forced disappearance of thousands of others (see White van abductions in Sri Lanka). Since 1983, Sri Lanka has also witnessed massive civilian displacements of more than a million people, with eighty percent of them being Sri Lankan Tamils.

Before independence

The arrival of Protestant missionaries on a large scale beginning in 1814 was a primary contributor to the development of political awareness among Sri Lankan Tamils. Activities by missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and Methodist and Anglican churches led to a revival among Hindu Tamils who created their own social groups, built their own schools and temples, and published their own literature to counter the missionary activities. The success of this effort led to a new confidence for the Tamils, encouraging them to think of themselves as a community, and it paved the way for their emergence as a cultural, religious, and linguistic society in the mid-19th century.
A 1910 postcard image of a Sri Lankan Tamil girl

Britainmarker, which conquered the whole island by 1815, established a legislative council in 1833 by unifying the Tamil and Sinhalese nations on the island and assigning three European seats and one seat each for Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Burghers. This council's primary function was to act as advisor to the Governor, and the seats eventually became elected positions. There was initially little tension between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, when in 1913 Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a Tamil, was appointed representative of the Sinhalese as well as of the Tamils in the national legislative council. British Governor William Manning, who was appointed in 1918 however, actively encouraged the concept of "communal representation". Subsequently, the Donoughmore Commission in 1931 rejected communal representation and brought in universal franchise. This decision was opposed by the Tamil political leadership, who realized that they would be reduced to a minority in parliament according to their proportion of the overall population. In 1944, G. G. Ponnambalam, a leader of the Tamil community, suggested to the Soulbury Commission that a roughly equal number of seats be assigned to Tamils and Sinhalese in an independent Ceylon—a proposal that was rejected. But under section 29(2) of the constitution formulated by the commissioner, additional protection was provided to minority groups, such requiring a two-thirds majority for any amendments and a scheme of representation that provided more weight to the ethnic minorities.

After independence

independence in 1948, G. G. Ponnambalam and his Tamil Congress joined D. S. Senanayake's moderate, western-oriented United National Party. The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948, which denied citizenship to Sri Lankans of Indian origin, split the Tamil Congress. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the splinter Federal Party (FP), contested the citizenship act before the Supreme Court, and then in the Privy council in England, but failed to overturn it. The FP eventually became the dominant Tamil political party. In response to the Sinhala Only Act in 1956, which made Sinhala the sole official language, Federal Members of Parliament staged a nonviolent sit-in (satyagraha) protest, but it was violently broken up by a mob. The FP was blamed and briefly banned after the mini pogrom of May–June 1958 targeting Tamils, in which many were killed and thousands forced to flee their homes. Another point of conflict between the communities was state sponsored colonization schemes that effectively changed the demographic balance in the Eastern Province, an area Tamil nationalists considered to be their traditional homeland, in favor of the majority Sinhalese.

In 1972, a newly formulated constitution removed section 29(2) of the 1947 Soulbury constitution that was formulated to protect the interests of minorities. Also, in 1973, the policy of standardization was implemented by the Sri Lankan government, supposedly to rectify disparities in university enrollment created under British colonial rule. The resultant benefits enjoyed by Sinhalese students also meant a significant decrease in the number of Tamil students within the Sri Lankan university student population.

Shortly thereafter, in 1973, the Federal Party decided to demand a separate Tamil state. In 1975 they merged with the other Tamil political parties to become the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). By 1977 most Tamils seemed to support the move for independence by electing the Tamil United Liberation Front overwhelmingly. The elections were followed by the 1977 riots, in which around 300 Tamils were killed. There was further violence in 1981 when an organized mob went on a rampage during the nights of May 31 to June 2, burning down the Jaffna public library—at the time one of the largest libraries in Asia—containing more than 97,000 books and manuscripts.

Rise of militancy

Since 1948, successive governments have adopted policies that had the net effect of assisting the Sinhalese community in such areas as education and public employment. These policies made it difficult for middle class Tamil youth to enter university or secure employment.
individuals belonging to this younger generation, often referred to by other Tamils as "the boys" (Potiyal in Tamil), formed many militant organizations. The most important contributor to the strength of the militant groups was the Black July pogrom, in which between 1,000- 3,000 Sri Lankan Tamils were killed, prompting many youths to choose the path of armed resistance.

By the end of 1987, the militant youth groups had fought not only the Sri Lankan security forces and the Indian Peace Keeping Force, but they also fought among each other, with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) eventually eliminating most of the others. Except for the LTTE, many of the remaining organizations transformed into either minor political parties within the Tamil National Alliance or standalone political parties. Some also function as paramilitary groups within the Sri Lankan military.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United States Department of Statemarker and the European Union, have expressed concern about the state of human rights in Sri Lanka, and both the government of Sri Lanka and the rebel LTTE have been accused of human rights violations. Although Amnesty International in 2003 found considerable improvement in the human rights situation, attributed to a ceasefire and peace talks between the government and the LTTE, by 2007 they reported an escalation in political killings, child recruitment, abductions, and armed clashes which created a climate of fear in the north and east of the country.



earliest Tamil speakers from Sri Lanka known to have traveled to foreign lands were members of a merchant guild called Tenilankai Valanciyar (Valanciyar from Lanka of the South). They left behind inscriptions in South India dated to the 13th century. In the late 19th century, educated Tamils from the Jaffna peninsula migrated to the British colonies of Malaya (Malaysiamarker and Singaporemarker) and India to assist the colonial bureaucracy. They worked in almost every branch of public administration, as well as on plantations and in industrial sectors. Prominent Malaysian Ananda Krishnan, included in the Forbes list of billionaires and Singaporemarker's former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, S. Rajaratnam, are of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. C. W. Thamotharampillai, an Indian-based Tamil language revivalist, was born in the Jaffna peninsula.

Post civil war

Expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil children in traditional clothes in Canada
After the start of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, there was a mass migration of Tamils trying to escape the hardships and perils of war. Initially, it was middle class professionals, such as doctors and engineers, who emigrated; they were followed by the poorer segments of the community. The fighting has driven more than 800,000 Tamils from their homes to other places within Sri Lanka as internally displaced persons and also overseas, prompting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify them in 2004 as the largest asylum-seeking group.

The country with the largest share of displaced Tamils is Canada, with more than 200,000 legal residents, found mostly within the Greater Toronto Area. The Tamil Canadians are a well-integrated group, and there are a number of prominent Canadians of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, such as author Shyam Selvadurai, and Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Albertamarker. Sri Lankan Tamils in India are mostly refugees of about over 100,000 in special camps and another 50,000 outside of the camps. In western European countries, the refugees and immigrants have integrated themselves into society where permitted. Tamil British singer M.I.A(born Mathangi Arulpragasam) and BBC journalist George Alagiah are, among others, notable people of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus have built a number of prominent Hindu temples across North America and Europe, notably in Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, and the UK.

See also


  1. Harichandra, The sacred city of Anuradhapura, p. 19
  2. Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 368
  3. Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, pp. 53–54
  4. de Silva, A. History of Sri Lanka, p. 129
  5. Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 91
  6. Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, pp. 324
  7. Mahadevan, I. Early Tamil Epigraphy: From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D., p. 48
  8. Indrapala, K., The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 157
  9. Mahadevan, I. "Ancient Tamil coins from Sri Lanka", pp. 152-154
  10. Bopearachchi, O. "Ancient Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu", pp. 546-549
  11. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, pp. 30–32
  12. Mendis, G.C.Ceylon Today and Yesterday, pp. 24–25
  13. Nadarajan, V., History of Ceylon Tamils, p. 40
  14. Indrapala, K The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, pp. 214–215
  15. The 1681 CE map by Robert Knox demarcates the then existing boundaries of the Tamil country. In 1692 CE, Dutch artist Wilhelm Broedelet crafted an engraving of the map: Coylat Wannees Land, where the Malabars liveAn Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon, Atlas of Mutual Heritage, Netherlands.
  16. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, pp. 46, 48, 75
  17. Mendis, G.C. Ceylon Today and Yesterday, pp. 30–31
  18. Smith, V.A. The Oxford History of India, p. 224
  19. de Silva, C.R.Sri Lanka — A History, p. 76
  20. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, pp. 100–102
  21. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, pp. 102–104
  22. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, p. 104
  23. Indrapala, K., The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 210
  24. Nampota, M.D. Gunasena & Co., Colombo 1955, pp. 5-6
  25. Upon arrival in June 1799, Sir Hugh Cleghorn, the island's first British colonial secretary wrote to the British government of the traits and antiquity of the Tamil nation on the island in the Cleghorn Minute: “Two different nations from a very ancient period have divided between them the possession of the island. First the Sinhalese, inhabiting the interior in its Southern and Western parts, and secondly the Malabars [another name for Tamils] who possess the Northern and Eastern districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language, and manners.” McConnell, D., 2008; Ponnambalam, S. 1983
  26. Spencer, Sri Lankan history and roots of conflict, p. 23
  27. Indrapala, K., The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 275
  28. de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, p. 121
  29. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, pp. 177, 181
  30. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, pp. 3–5, 9
  31. de Silva, C.R. Sri Lanka — A History, p. 262
  32. Gair, James.,Studies in South Asian Linguistics, p. 171
  33. Kartithigesu, Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics, pp. 2–4
  34. Subramaniam, Folk traditions and songs of Batticaloa district, pp. 1–13
  35. Indrapala, K. Evolution of an ethnic identity.., p. 230
  36. McGilvray, D. Mukkuvar Vannimai: Tamil Caste and Matriclan Ideology in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, pp. 34–97
  37. Karthigesu, Sri Lankan Tamil Society and Politics, pp. 7–9
  38. Yalman, N. Under the bo tree: studies in caste, kinship, and marriage in the interior of Ceylon, pp. 282–335
  39. Kartithigesu, S. Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics, pp. 5–6
  40. Tambiah, H.W., The laws and customs of the Tamils of Jaffna, p. 2
  41. Kartithigesu, S. Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics, pp. 4–12
  42. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, p. 62
  43. Tambiah, H.W. The laws and customs of the Tamils of Jaffna, p. 12
  44. Hudson, D. Religious Controversy in British India: Dialogues in South Asian Languages, p. 29
  45. Karthigesu, Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics, pp. 34–89
  46. Manogaran, Chelvadurai, The untold story of the ancient Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 46
  47. Subramaniam, Folk traditions and songs of Batticaloa district, p. 10
  48. Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 45
  49. Indrapala, K The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 389
  50. Ragupathy, P. Tamil Social Formation in Sri Lanka: A Historical Outline, p. 1
  51. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 68
  52. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, pp. 73–109
  53. Pfaffenberger, B. The Sri Lankan Tamils, p. 110
  54. Ambihaipahar, R. Scientific Tamil Pioneer, p. 29
  55. Pujangga, P. A requiem for Jaffna, p. 75
  56. Pujangga, P. A requiem for Jaffna, p. 72
  57. Pujangga, P. A requiem for Jaffna, p. 73
  58. Spencer, J. Sri Lankan history and roots of conflict, p. 23.
  59. Gunasingam, Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 108
  60. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 201
  61. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 76
  62. de Silva, K.M. History of Sri Lanka, Penguin 1995
  63. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 5
  64. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 6
  65. Gunasingam, Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 6
  66. Wilson, A.J. Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, pp. 101–110
  67. Gunasingam, M. Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 7
  68. Wilson, A.J. Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, p. 125
  69. Indrapala, K.The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, pp. 253–54


  • Mendis, G.C. (1957, 3rd ed. 1995). Ceylon Today and Yesterday, Colombo, Lake House. ISBN 955-552-069-8

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