James De Alwis.

A descriptive catalogue of Sanskrit, Pali, & Sinhalese literary works of Ceylon online

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4. Of towns, and all the w^ealth, beauty, and
splendour thereof.

5. Of mountains, rocks, stones, &c.

G. Of the veo:etable kino-dom, — o-ivino- the names
of trees and flowers and some of the best medicinal
herbs known to the Sinhalese,

7. Of beasts, birds, &c.

8. Of men, and their different relations to each
other in a domestic and social point of view; the
different distinctions of their growth; the variety of
names by which the organs of the body are distin-
guished; the various objects which are used for the
adornment or comfort of the person, &c.

9. Of terms relating to ascetism, which Mr. Alwis
has literally translated "Brahaman," the originator of
monachism, according to eastern legends.



92 DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE.

10. Of kings, and their attendants, pageantry,
armies, martial weapons, kingdoms, wars, powers,
royal virtues, &c.

11. Of merchants, and the different articles of trade,
as anciently carried on.

12. The distinctions of caste and classes, slaves
savages, outcasts, &c.

13. Miscellaneous terms not included in the above.
Part second contains a number of homonymous words,

placed without any arrangement or order.

Having thus glanced at the contents of Namavaliya,
we come to the Index No. 1, which is well got up,
containing all the names given in the Namavaliya,
arranged alphabetically, and referring by roman figures
to the pages in the text, where their English significa-
tions are given in foot-notes. The reader will find by
casting his eyes over pages 76 to 114 that the Nama-
valiya contains about 3,500 words.

There is also a second Index given by Mr. Alwis
of the English terms in his translation, and referring
by figures to their nearest Sinhalese significations in
the text. It will be thus seen that J\Ir. Alwis has not
only given a literal translation of an oriental metrical
Vocabulary, but has reduced all the terms contained
in it into both an English and a Sinhalese Dictionary,
alphabetically arranged. He says: —

" Of the two Indices or alphabetical lists, at the end
of the work, the first will serve the purpose of a
Sinhalese and English Dictionarj^, and the second, as



THE MA.HAWANSA. 93

an English and Sinhalese, as far as the words of the
Namavaliya are concerned.*



The Mahaayansa.



Of all the Pali works extant in this island, no class
possesses a more absorbing interest than the Historical
Records of the Sinhalese. Besides the general
archaeological interest attached to the writings of the
past, there is in these Sinhalese Historical records
much to excite admiration and suggest inquiry, —
admiration for a people, from whom has originated in
the East a desire for histoiical pursuits ; — and inquiry
into matters of the greatest value to the Antiquarian
and Philologer, as well as to the Statesman and tlie
Christian Missionary, It is a remarkable fact that no
country in the East possesses so correct a history of
its own affairs, and those of India generally, as Ceylon.

The Phoenicians, who had influenced the civilization
of a very large portion of the human race by their
great inventions and discoveries, by their colonies

* Though modern works by Europeans do not come strictly
■within the plan of this work, I may nevertheless here notice two
Sinhalese Dictionari e One is a school Dictionary : Part First,
Sinhalese aud English ; and Part Second English and Sinhalese,
with an Introduction containing (valuable) observations on these
languages, designed to assist the student in their acquirement, and
an Appendix containing Latin aud French phrases in common vise,
by John Calloway, Wesleyan Missionary, Colombo Wesleyan



94 DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE.

establislicd iu almost every quarter of the globe, and
above all by the extensive commerce which they carried
on, — have left nothing behind, except the alphabet
which they invented. The Persians, a very interesting
and a very ancient race, to whom we naturally look for
historic information, have little beyond their Zenda-
vasta, two chapters of which contain some traditions
of their own.

The Hindus, a people who had a literature of their
own from a period long before the Sinhalese became a
nation, have no historical records; and their scanty
" fragmentary historical recollections," which have been
embodied in their religions works, such as the Puranas,
present themselves in the language of prophecy; and
upon their basis no trust -worthy chronological calcula-
tions can be made.* In the Vedas again, which are
perhaps older than any Ceylonese Buddhist writings,
and which are supposed to "furnish the only sure
foundation on which a knowledge of ancient and
modern India can be built up,"t there is a " lamentable

Press, 1821, pp. 156 aud xxii. And the other by the Rev. B.
Clough, is an English and Sinhalese Dictionary, and also a Sinhalese
and English Dictionary, 2 vols. 8vo. in 1821, pp. 628 and 852.
This work is chiefly vahiable for the explanations it gives of
Buddhistical phraseology. Tt is out of print ; and a cojiy, occa-
sionally offered to public competiton, fetches from seven to eight
pounds. The Rev. W. Nicholson has also published a small octavo.

* See Pr. Lassen's Indische Alterthumskunde, p. 503.

f Essay on the results of the Vedic Researches by W. D.
"Whitney, American Oriental Journal, ii-i. p, 291.



THE MAUAWAXSA. 95

lack of alilstorlc sense^ whicli has ever been one of the
most remarkable characteristics of the Indian mind."*
Although our Dravidiau neighbours, especially the
Tamils, had attained to a very high degree of civiliza-
tion at the time our first monarch sought for, and
obtained, a Paudian princess as his queen ; yet liey
have no works which can be called historical, and their
literature, however ancient, is much inferior to that of
the Brahmans. |

The Chinese, who boast of a descent from times
remoter than the days of Adam, have no historical
writings which can throw the slightest light upon the
affairs of the East,

In the country of Maghada, so greatly renowned as
the birth-place of Buddhism, and of the still more
interesting language (the Pali) in which it was promul-
gated, — a kingdom, moreover, which dates its origin
from the time of the Maha Bharat.J — we have no
records of a historical character, beyond religious
inscriptions sculptured on stone, and grants of lands
engraved on plates of copper. These "unconnected
fragments," beyond serving to fix tlie dates of particular
Kings, furnish us at present Avitli neither history, nor
matter sufficient to help us to a general chronology.
The Bactrian coins, again, afford us little or nothing
beyond the kind of information which tlic monumental



* lb. p. 310.

f Caldwell's Dravidian Grammar, p. 81.

X Elphinstone's History of India, vol. i. p. 260.



96 DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE.

inscriptions furnish us. '' The only Sanskrit composi-
tion yet discovered in all Asia, to which the title of
History can with any propriety be applied, is the
Rajataraugiui;" * a comparatively modern work which
Avas compiled a.d. 1148: but, this again does not bear
any comparison either in point of the matter it contains,
or in the interest which attaches to the subjects it
treats upon, with the Sinhalese Historical Records,
The genuine historic zeal exhibited by the Sinhalese
from the very time they colonized Ceylon, far
surpasses that of all other Indian nations.f

The love which the Sinhalese had for such pursuits,
was participated in by their rulers themselves ; and,
whilst tradition asserts that some of our early
Sinhalese Annals, from which the Mahavansa was
compiled, were the works of some of our JMonarchs, —
history records the facts, that "the national annals
were from time to time compiled by royal command;"
and that the labours of "the historians were rewarded
by the State with grants of lands." The interest
which our Sovereigns took in this part of the national
literature was indeed so great, that many a traveller and
geographer of the middle ages was particularly struck,
as "a trait of the native rulers of , Ceylon," w4th the
fact of the employment by them of persons to compile
the national annals.:}: And, though comparatively

* Pr. H. H. Wilson's Introd. to Rajatarangini.
t Lassen's Indis. Alt. vol. ii. pp. 13 — 15.
J Edrisi, dim. 1, § 8, p. 3.



TilE M ATI AW ANSA.



S7



few are the records which the ravages of thiie, and the
devastating hand of sectarian oppression, have left
behind; — they, nevertheless, excel in matter and
interest, all the Annals of Asia. As "the first actual
writing, and the first well-authenticated Inscription in
India, are of Buddhist origin,"* so, likewise, the first
actual chronicle, as well as the most authentic history,
in the whole of the eastern hemisphere, may be traced
to a Ceylon-Buddhistic source. "The Mahavansa
stands," says Sir James Emerson Tennent,t "at the
head of the historical literature of the East, unrivalled
by any thing extant in Hindustan, the wildness of
whose chronology it controls."

When, for instance, the watchful mind of Sir
William Jones seized with avidity the identity of
Chandragupta and Sandracottus, and thence discovered
the only key for unlocking the history and chronology
of Asia, the annals of Ceylcn were not v/ithout their
use in removing the doubts which had been conjured
up by antiquarians. When the indefatigable labours
of a Prinsep enabled him to decipher the rock inscrip-
tions of Piyadasi or Devanampiya, the discovery could
not with certainty have been applied either to fix
the proper date of the Buddhistic era, or to reduce
the extravagant chronology of Asia to its pi'oper
limits, without the aid of the Sinhalese records — the



* Pr. Max Miiller's Sanskrit Literature, p. 520.
t History ofCejlon, j). 51G.



98 DESCRirriYE catalogue.

Dipavansa* In particular, Avhich identified the Devanam-
piya with Asoka. When the obscure dialect of the
pillar inscriptions presented philological difficulties, the
Ceylon Pali Mahavansa alone served as an "infallible
dictionary "f for their elucidation. When again the
Cashmirean history put forth an extravagant chrono-
logy, Ceylonese chronicles alone enabled Mr. Turnour
to effect an important and valuable correction, to
the extent of 794 years, and thereby to adjust the
chronology of the Rujatarangini.t When lastly, the
penetrating mind of a Burnouf, from an examination
into the Nepal version of the Buddhist scriptures,
conceived the idea of "a fourth digest" of the Bud-
dhists, apart from the compilations of the three
Convocations in India, the Sinhalese annals, and above
all the Dipavansa,§ alone furnished the proof required
for establishing the conjecture.

Althou"-!! the several early historical records in the
vSinhalese lann-uao-e which had existed before the third

* "Mr. Tumour's Pali authorities will be of essential use in
expounding om* new discovery, and my only excuse for not having
taken the epitome already published as my guide before, is that
the identity of Piadassi was not then established.'" — Mr. James
Prinsep, in the Bengal A. S. J. vi., p. 792, &c.

f " On turning to the infollible Tfka upon our Inscriptions,
afforded by INIr. Tumour's admirable Mahawansa, we find a
circumstance recorded which may help us materially to understand
the obscure passage."— Prinsep ; see Bengal A. S. J. vii., p. 264.

+ See Bengal A. S. J. for September, 1836.

§ See extracts and observations on the subject, in the Intro-
duction to Kachchayana's Pali Grammar.



THE MAHAWANSA. 99^

century, and from which the subsequent histories
were compiled, are irretrievably lost, we nevertheless
have the Dipavansa, the Daladavansa, the Bodhivansa,
the Tupavansa, the Rasavahini, the Rajavaliya, the
Eajaratnakara, Sulu-Rajaratnakara, Pujavaliya, Bud-
dhagosa's Atthakatlui, the Nikayasangraha, and the
ISIahavansa, all which contain historical matter exhi-
biting the succession of 165 kings, during a period of
2341 years, from the time wdien Wijaya settled in
Ceylon to the British conquest in 1798; and whose
general accuracy is proved by a variety of facts and
circumstances. Colonel Sykes, an indefatigable scholar,
wdio maintains to this day the superiority of the Pali
language, and its history, over the Sanskrit and the
Brahman prophetical annals, says in speaking of the
last named work:

"The Mahavansa, In its details, manifests the same
love of the marvellous, the same credulity and super-
stition, the same exaggeration in description, and the
same adulation of kings and princes, which is met
with in the annals and religious history of heathen and
Christian nations called civilized, of ancient and
modern Europe. AVith these drawbacks, common,
however, to the annals and religious history of all
nations, the Chronology of the Mahavansa, from the
birth of Buddha before Christ 623, does not admit of
a question with respect to its general accuracy ; and
neither Brahmanism nor the Sanskrit language can
shew any work of an unquestionable date, approaching
to within many centuries of it [B.C. 623], nor a work



100 BESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE,

with the shadow of a claim to its honesty of intention,
and its accuracy of chronological records ; and Mr,

Tumour seems justified in stating that ' from

the date of the introduction of Buddhism into Ceylon,
B.C. 307., that history [Mahavansa] is authenticated
by the concurrence of every evidence which can
contribute to verify the annals of any country.' —
Introduction, p. li "*

Such are the merits of the best and most authentic
historical work in the whole of Asia. It is written in
Pali verse, and contains 100 chapters, of which the
early portion, comprising the history of Ceylon from
B.C. 543. to A.D, 301, was composed by a learned priest
named JMahanama. It was compiled from. Pali and
Sinhalese annals then extant, and was composed at
Anuradhapura, under the auspices of his nephew
Dasan Kcliya, between A D. 459 and 477. It is still
doubtful whether Mahanama was not also the author
of the subsequent portion, to his own times. f Yet,
when it is considered that he himself was the author
of the Commentary which extends to a.d. 301, and that
the subsequent portion of the work goes by the name
of Sulu Wansa, it may be concluded, without much
doubt, that he wrote the whole history to the date
last given.

"From the period (says Turnour) at which Maha-
nama's work terminated, to the reign of Parakrama



* Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. vi., pp. 339, &c.
f Introduction to Mahavansa, p. ii.



THE MAHAAVxS.NSA. 101

Bahu, in A.D. 1266, the Sulu Wansa was composed,
under the patronage of the last named sovereign, by
Dharma Kirti, at Dambedeniya. I have not been
able to ascertain by whom the portion of the history
from A.D. 1207 to the reign of Parakrama Bahu of
Kurunegala was written, but from that reign to A.D.
1758, the Maha or rather Sulu, Wansa was compiled
by Tibbottuvawa, by the command of Kirtissri, partly,
from the works brought to this island during his reign
by the Siamese priests, (which had been procured by
their predecessors during their former religious missions
to Ceylon), and partly fi'om the native histories, which
had escaped the general destruction of literary records,
in the reign of Eaja Sinha I."*

The entire Mahavansa, together with some other
historical works, was translated and published by Mr,
Upham, in 1833 ;f but this work is not to be trusted
as a translation- Noticing its character at length
the Hon. George Turnour, who subsequently (1837)
published the first thirty-seven Chapters with an
English translation, says; —

"This translation, which abounds in errors of the descrip-
tion above noticed, is stated to have been made 'under the
superintendence of the late native chief of the Cinnamon
department, (Eajapaxa, Maha Modhar), who was himself
the best Pali and Singhalese scholar in the country.' I was



* Tumour's INIahavansa, p. ii.

t The Sacred and Historical Book;^ of Cejloii, in three vols.
\)j pjdward Upham, m.r.a.s,, and f.^-.a., Loudon, 183:3.



102 DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE.

personally acquainted with this individual, who was univer-
sally and deservedly respected, both in his official and private
character. He possessed extensive information, and equally
extensive influence, among his own caste at least, if not
among his countrymen generally ; and as of late years, the
intercourse with the Buddhistical church in the Burmese
empire had been chiefly kept up by missions from the priest-
hood of his (the Chalia) caste in Ceylon, the late Chief
Justice could not, perhaps, have applied to any individual
more competent to collect the native, as Avell as Burmese,
Pali annals ; or more capable of procuring the best qualified
translators of that language into Singhalese, from among the
Pali scholars resident in the maritime districts of the island,
than Rajapaxa was. This was, however, the full extent
to which this Chief coidd have efficiently assisted Sir A.
Johnston, in his praiseworthy undertaking ; for the Maha
Modliar was not himself either a Pali, or an English
scholar. That is to say, he had no better acquaintance with
the Pali, than a modern European would, without studying
it, have of any ancient dead language, from which his own
might be derived. As to his acquaintance with the English
language, though he imperfectly comprehended any ordinary
question which might be put to him, he certainly could not
speak, much less write, in reply, the shortest connected
sentence in English.* He must, therefore (unless he has
practised a most unpardonable deception on Sir A. Johnston)

* "In 1822, five years after Sir A. Johnston left Ce} Ion, and
before I had acquired a knowledge of the colloquial Singhalese, as
Magistrate of Colombo, I had to examine Rajapaxa, Maha
Modliar, as a witness in my Court. On tliat occasion, I was
obliged to employ an intei-preter (the present permanent Assessor,



THE MAIIAWANSA. ' 103

be at once released from all responsibility, as to tlie correct-
ness both of the Pali version translated into fcjinghalese and
of the Singhalese version into English."

In marked contrast with the above is Mr. Tumour's
translation. He w^as the Colonial Secretary of Ceylon,
and, during the time he prosecuted his study of the
Sinhalese language, he was the Agent of Government
at Kandy. Encouraged by the publication of the
Bahivatara by the Kev. B. Clough, Turnour was
induced to learn the Pali, and from time to time to
direct the minds of the learned in Europe to its study.
The o-reat and invaluable services which he thus ren-
dered to the cause of Asiatic History, to Chronology,
and to the study of Buddhism, is acknowledged and
appreciated by every one who is now engaged in the
study of the Buddhist religion, and the dialect in which
its scriptures are recorded. I am indeed at a loss
which to admire most — whether the disinterested zeal
that animated Mr. Turnour, or the perseverance with
which amidst his arduous and responsible duties, he
pursued the object of his researches. " When I come to
analyze the Pali books of Ceylon," says M. Burnouf,*
*'it will be seen what discoveries and labours we owe
to the zeal of Mr. Turnour; and we shall have to admit



Mr. Bias, Modliar) not only to convey his Singhalese answers in
English to me, but to interpret my English questions in Singhalese
to him, as he was totally incapable of following me in English.
With Europeans he generally conversed in the local Portuguese."
* History of Buddhism, p. iv.



104 DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE.

tliut if he has given to Europe fewer original manii*
script:?, he has furnished us with a hirger number of
accurate translations.'' Of these valuable observations
and translations, in his lengthy Introduction descrip-
tive of the Mahawansa, I shall now proceed to make
copious extracts :

"The Avriter opens his work with the usual invocation to
Buddho, to the explanation of which he devotes no less than
twenty-five pages of the Tika. Without stopping to examine
these comments, I j)roceed to his notes on the word
' Mahawanso.'

"Mahawanso is the abbreviation of Mahantananwanso,
the genealogy of the great. It signifies both pedigree, and
inheritance from generation to generation ; being itself of
high import, either on that account, or because it also bears
the two above significations ; hence 'Mahawanso.'

"What that Mahawanso contains (I proceed to explain) : —
Be it known, that of these {i. e,, of the aforesaid great) it
illustrates the genealogy, as well as of the Buddhos, and of
their eminently pious disciples, as of the great monarchs,
commencing with RIaliasammato. It is also of gi'eat import,
inasmuch as it narrates the visits of Buddho (to Ceylon).
Hence the work is ('Maha') great. It contains, liiiewise,
all that was known to, or has been recorded by, the pious
men of old, connected with the supreme and well defined
history of those unrivalled dynasties ('wanso'). Let (my
hearers) listen (to this Mahawanso).

"Be it understood, that even in the (old) Atthakatha, the
words 'Dipatthutiya sadhusakkatan' are held as of deep
import. They have there (in that work) exclusive reference
to the visits of Buddho, and matters connected therewith.



THE MAHAWANSA. 105

On this subject the aiitient historians have thus expressed
themselves: — 'I will perspicuously set forth the visits of
Buddha to Ceylon ; the arrival of the relic and of the bo-tree ;
the histories of the convocations, and of the schisms of the
thoros ; the introduction of the religion of (Buddha) into the
Island ; and the settlement and pedigree of the sovereign
(Wijayo).' It will be evident, from the substance of the
quotations here made, that the numerical extent of the
dynasties (in my work) is exclusively derived from that
source: (it is no invention of mine.)

" Thus the title 'Mahawanso' is adopted in imitation of
the history comjiosed by the fraternity of the Mahawiharo
(at Anuradhapura.) In this work the object aimed at is,
setting aside the Singhalese language in which (the former
history) is composed, that I should sing in the IMagadhi.
Whatever the matters may be, which were contained in the
Atthakatha, without suppressing any part thereof, rejecting
the dialect only, I compose my work in the supreme
Magadhi language, which is thoroughly purified from all
imperfections. I will brilliantly illustrate, then, the Maha-
wanso, replete with information on every subject, and compre-
hending the amplest detail of all important events ; like unto
a splendid and dazzling garland, strung with every variety
of flowers, rich in color, taste, and scent.

"The former historians, also, used an analogous simile.
They said, 'I will celebrate the dynasties ('wanso') perpe-
tuated from generation to generation ; illustrious from the
commencement, and lauded by many bards : like unto a garland
strung with every variety of flowers : do ye all listen with
intense interest.'

" After some further commentaries on other words of the
first verse, Mahanamo thus explains his motives for uuder-

P



106 DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE.

taking the compilation of his history, before he touches on
the second.

" ' Thus I, the author of the Mahawanso, by having rendered
to religion the reverence due thereto, in my first verse, have
procured for myself immunity from misfortune. In case
it should be asked in this particular place, 'why, while
there are Mahawansos composed by ancient authors in the
Singhalese language, this author has written this Palapadoru-
"wauso ?' in refutation of such an unmeaning objection, I thus
explain the advantage of composing the Palapadoru-wunsa,
viz., that in the Mahawanso composed by the ancients, there
is the defect, as well of prolixity as of brevity. There are
also other inaccuracies deserving of notice. Avoiding these
defects, and for the purpose of explaining the principle on
which the Pulapadoru-wanso I am desirous of compiling, is
composed, I proceed to the second verse."

The followino; extracts are also made to elucidate
certain particulars connected with the history of Maha-
nama. Mr. Turnour says: —

*' In opening the second chapter, Mahanamo supplies detailed
data touching several of Gotamo's incarnations, prior to his
manifestation in the person of Mahasamraato, the first monarch
of this creation. I shall confine myself to a translation
of the portion of the commentary Avhich treats of that parti-
cular incarnation. It will serve to assimilate his production
or manifestation, by 'opapatika' or apparitional birth, with
the Hindu scheme of the origination of the solar race.


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Online LibraryJames De AlwisA descriptive catalogue of Sanskrit, Pali, & Sinhalese literary works of Ceylon → online text (page 8 of 17)