Monday, September 13, 2010

From Thambapanni to Sri lanka

Although officially named as Sri Lanka it has lot of identities and nicknames.  Over the centuries Sri lanka has been known by different names. The change of the country’s name from time to time is a fascinating story.
The earliest known name is 'Tambapanni' and it goes back to the arrival of Prince Vijaya who was a founding father of Sinhala Race. When   the ship in which Vijaya and his men arrived having had a hostile reception at an earlier place they landed, they grasped the earth earth with their hands which become red by contact with the soil. They then named  the place Thambapanni meaning Copper-coloured hand. The name was extended to cover the district and later to the whole island.
There is reference in Greek literature around the fourth century B.C.  , to 'Taprobane' which obviously had derived from Tambapanni. The earliest mention, according to historian and archaeologist Professor Senerath Paranavithana, is found in the work of Onesicritus , the chief navigator on Alexander the Great’s voyage down the Indus ( in India) He had got the information from the sea-faring men of the Indus delta who had a long acquaintance with the Island since their ancestor had found the first Aryan settlements there. At least three Greek writers had referred to the Island giving accurate information about the duration of the sea journey from India, the shallow north-western seas, the stormy monsoon weather, and the wealth of the Island in pearls, gems and elephants.
Indian emperor Asoka mentions Tambapanni in his inscriptions dating back to 3rd century B.C. ,as outside the limits of his dominion.
'Taprobana'  was How the Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy identified the Island When he drafted his map of Sri Lanka. One of the earliest maps of Sri Lanka, it carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering tip.
There is mention of the island in different names by different European powers which had trading ties with Sri Lanka. The Portuguese called it 'Ceilao' , the Spanish referred to it as 'Ceilan' and French version was 'Selon' .  To the Arabs it was ‘Serendib’.The Dutch , who occupied the country after the Portuguese , had used at least three versions – Zeilna , Ceilan and Seylon.
The first Dutch map drawn in the 17th century , carries a note referring to “ Once known to the inhabitants as Taprobane,Tenarisin and Lankawn , most accurately mapped by Nikolaus  Visscher”. This is considered as one of the most accurate maps with topographical Details.
The British introduced the English Version “Ceylon” to identify the country and showed keen interest in mapping and measuring their newly acquired territory. In fact, the Survey Department was the first government department to be established – in 1800. Its task was to survey Crown land for diverse military , administrative and civilian purposes ranging from road and railway development  to sales pioneering British coffee and tea planters.
As for names in Sinhala, the country has been called ‘Lankadeepa’ and  ‘Lakdiva’ both meaning the island of Lanka and Lakbima
Considering the shape of the island , it if often referred to as ‘Indias Tear Drop’ and ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.
Even after indipendance in 1948 , the country continued to be called Ceylon for over six decades. In fact, tea continues to be branded as ‘Ceylon Tea’ since the name is still popular.

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