Make your own free website on

A Short History of the Words Ilam and Ilavar

by: Peter Schalk

Introductory Statements:

1. We have to distinguish between meaning and reference of a word. Ilam means "the land of toddy", but it refers to the island known as Ilam, Tambapanni, Ilankai, or Cinkalam. The lending of the two, usually results in endless and confused discussions. We should also distinguish between a translation and an explanation. When I write: "Ilam, 'land of toddy'", I translate. A translation focuses a lexical meaning (out of several possible). When I say "Ilam got its name 'land of toddy' because of its reputed toddy-production", I explain.

2. Both Ilavar and their critics use different translitterations. We find Ealam, Eelam, Eal(z)avar,
Eel(z)avar. I use throughout Ilam and Ilavar following the Tamil Lexicon (but without diacritica).

3. This paper is a shortened form of a forthcoming paper called "Ilam<Simhala/Sihala?". In that much longer paper, all references and diacritica can be found. It was not possible to introduce them here.

4. The Tamil stem ila- means either "toddy" or "gold". It is spelled with long initial I and is followed by an alveolar l. This spelling is important to notice. Alveolar l is a Tamil indicator. Dental and retroflex l are not specific Tamil indicators.

5. When referring to the island Lanka, ila-eans "toddy". Ila-m is a noun of the first declension. It
means in this case "the land of toddy". Ilam in pre-colonial sources in Tamil from South India
referred to the whole island.

6. From ila- is derived both Ila-m and Ila-v-ar. The latter means and refers to "toddy drawers". Both derivations are of South Indian origin only. Ilam can be documented in Tamil pre-Pallava literary works and in one inscription in Tamil not later than 100 AD.
The word Ilavar, however, appears in South Indian inscriptions only from the 9th century AD. This time difference is important to notice for forming historical arguments.

7. Although the two derivations Ilam and Ilavar are related to each other by having a common stem, we cannot conclude that the word Ilavar always has been associated to islanders. The word Ilavar in South Indian mediaeval inscriptions may just refer to the caste or function of toddy-drawers in South India having no reference to islanders.

8. Only from the 19th century onwards appeared sources in South India that in a legendary form referred the working caste of toddy drawers in Madras state and Keralam. They stated that they had their home of origin in Ilam. The consciousness about the South Indian Ilavar caste being of insular origin is therefore not older than about 150-200 years.

9. In the middle of the 19th century the statement was formulated by Robert Caldwell that ila- is not Dravidian, but is the Indo-Aryan word Sihala. It has allegedly been corrupted in Tamil speech. It dropped the initial s- and was contracted to ila-.Ilam is therefore nothing but a corrupted form of Sihala. Caldwells interpretation has been taken up today by the Tamil Lexicon and by Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists who transform phonology into politics. They state that Ilam is nothing but Sihala. Caldwell's interpretation is, however, not plausible.
The word ila- is a Tamil word and means "toddy". I do not argue in all details for this statement in the present paper. I refer to the forthcoming paper by me called "Ilam<Simhala/Sihala?"

10. The words Ilam and Ilavar have been taken up by the Tamil resistance movement in the 1980s. The meaning of the stem as "toddy" has, however, not been retrieved. The references of the words have been modified. Ilam means now Tamililam, an area covering what has been reconstructed by historians as the former Kingdom of Yalppanam. Ilavar refers to the future citizens of Tamililam. This citizenship is anticipated by the Tamil resistance in modern martial discourse.

The Words Ilam and Ilavar in Pre-Colonial Tamilakam As indicated above, the word Ilam has several lexical meanings. One possible meaning is "toddy" or "arrack".
Another is "gold". The island Ilam sent famous poets to South India. One of them went under the name of Ila-ttu-putam-tevanar, "Putam tevanar from Ilam", mentioned in the Akananuru and the Kuruntokai. We have to connect this information with a Tamil Brahmi inscription not later than 1st century AD. This inscription from Tirupparankunram in Tamilakam, which is written on a stone-bed, runs: erukatur ilakutumpikan polalaiyan "Polalaiyan, (resident of) Erukatur, the husbandman (householder) from Ilam." This may be the oldest now available reference to the
word Ilam.

The word Ilam can, however, be understood just as name of the island without any thought of toddy. When we speak about Iceland we do not think of ice, but of hot springs. Ilam in this case would refer to the island named Ilam. We can also think of the etymology of the word Ilam and understand it as "the island of toddy". It depends which perspective we chose. The need to chose becomes acute when we come to the word Ilavar.

Who were the Ilavar in pre-colonial Tamilakam?

They appear in inscriptions from the 9th century AD, up tothe imperial Colas. During the time of the imperial Colas they could live in a special part of a village known as Ila-c-ceri, "the street of the toddy(-drawers)". These Ilavar are mentioned for example in the Velurpalaiyam plates in Sanskrit and Tamil from the time of the Pallava King Nandivarman III (846-869). This reference is among the first, if not the first, where the word Ilavar appears. They are referred to as Ilavar in the sense of toddy-drawers whose work of climbing coconut trees in a devadana, "donation to a deva", was regulated.

Here the meaning of the word Ilavar "toddy drawer", and the professional function of the Ilavar as toddy drawers, coincide. The Velurpalaiyam plates show clearly that the stem ila in Ilavar is
Tamil-meaning "toddy". The same stem we expect to find in Ilam which means "the land of toddy" and which we classify as a Dravidian word. An Ilavar could "theoretically" be a person from "the land of toddy", but Ilavar can also mean simply "toddy-drawer", who not necessarily comes from Ilam. There is a risky temptation to connect the two and transform the Ilavar into toddy drawers from Ilam. Caldwell could not resist this temptation (see below).

Whenever the term Ilavar appears in medieval sources it refers to toddy-drawers explicitly. In no case, we can make out whether an origin in Ilam is envisaged. As mentioned above, not before the late Pallava period appears the word Ilavar. The word Ilam, however, has been used before the appearance of the word Ilavar, for several hundred years. We also observe that when a person came from Ilam like Ila-ttu-putam-tevanar, he was not referred to as "putam-tevanar, the Ilavar", but as Ila-ttu-putam-tevanar, which means "the putam-tevanar from Ilam". The word Ilavar was not used, when we had expected it to be used. Why? One has also to explain why the imperial Colas, who had conquered allegedly the whole of Ilam and made this known in many inscriptions, never called the island's population for Ilavar. It would have been a fitting name for a people from Ilam. I conclude that the word Ilavar was a specific caste name for toddy drawers.

Ilattuputamtevanar was not a toddy-drawer, nor was the whole population under the Colas toddy drawers. Having the specific meaning of "toddy-drawer", the word could not be generalised to cover all the peoplefrom Ilam.

An alternative view to mine regarding the meaning of the word ila as "toddy" has been advanced by the historian and philologist Alvapillai Veluppillai. He is also convinced that Ilam is a Tamil word, but he refers to the possible meaning "gold" of the word Ilam. This word Ilam used as a name of a country referred allegedly, according to Veluppillai, to "the land of gold", to something like suvarnabhumi and suvarnadvipa in North Indian sources, referring to South-East Asia with which Indians had commercial and colonial dealings. He revived a suggestion made in 1926 by Ce Iracanayakam. Ce Iracanayakam suggested that the name of the island Ilam means "gold", but in his case not because it was suvarnabhumi; it is the golden island or island of gold because there is a place name ponparipo in the island. This place name indicates allegedly the supposed exploitation of gold on the banks of certain rivers. Ce Iracanayakam probably meant the village Pomparippu lying between Mannar and Puttalam. The name pomparippu can be written also as pomparippu meaning "gold outspread". The problem is that the archaeologist Vimala Begley, who published her results of excavations in and around Pomparippu's megalithic sites in 1981, did not find any gold, but she found artefacts of copper. A friendly and sympathetic, but also a lexically possible interpretation of the word pom is "gold-like". I wish to add to the interpretation by Alvapillai Veluppillai that the "gold"-interpretation is supported by popular tradition. An explanation of the derivation of this name is found in the Taksina kailacapuranam, a talapuranam on Konecuvaram written by king Cekaracacekaram in the 14th century. We read there:

"as a golden bank (of imayam) was established here, this (island) acquired the name Ilam...".
The Tamil scholar Cirinivaca Aiyankar also promoted the gold-interpretation. He said like Alvapillai Veluppillai that Ilam means "land of gold".

These gold-interpretations seem to be conjectures over a possible lexical meaning of the word Ilam. The meaning "gold" has been associated with "the golden country", with a place called "gold spread out" and with "a golden bank". These conjectures are beautiful, indeed.

A special problem with the interpretation resulting in suvarnabhumi is that in an insular tradition as given in the Mahavamsa, and as interpreted in the Sasanavamsa the name suvarnabhumi is reserved for a country in South-East Asia. In the Mahavamsa, the word suvarnabhumi is explicitely mentioned, and the island also, but with the name Tambapanni. Suvarnabhumi and
Tambapanni are presented as different countries. In the Kathasaritsagara also, a distinction is made
between these countries. It speaks about merchants from the islands of Karpura, Suvarna and Sinhala.

We would also expect the Taksina kailacapuranam to have preserved a memory of suvarnabhumi. Instead, the work presents a complete different alternative to explain the word Ilam. There is no insular and South Indian explicit tradition that the island Lanka is suvarnabhumi. The Tamil scholar Cirinivaca Aiyankar, who initially suggested the gold-interpretation, had evidently a bad conscience when he came to the last page of his book (page 417!). He promoted there the toddy- interpretation also, (to be on the safe side)! He tried to make plausible that toddy was evaluated on the level of gold! So, he shifted over to the toddy-interpretation, but dragged with him
his initial gold-interpretation. I have no ambition of becoming eclectic like he. His intellectual
dfficulties confirms me in my position taken: Ilam means "the land of toddy", but like in the case of
Iceland, we do not always think of the original meaning of words. Therefore, let Ilam just be Ilam.
Modern legends about the Ilavar There is a caste called Ilavar still active today in Keralam and

It may a continuation of the mediaeval caste called Ilavar. Castes usually have a legend or even myth about their origin. There is something special about the legend of origin these modern Indian Ilavar.
According to their legends, that appear only in the 19th century, their caste originated in the island and its members migrated to South India. It was Robert Caldwell who spread his "certain" conviction about Ilavar being originally islanders. Their name and their legend refer allegedly both to an insular origin. In Tamilnatu they promoted themselves as a Tamil caste from Ilam with the Tamil name Ilavar, "toddy-drawers". This self-consciousnes has unfortunately been accepted as history by some scholars. Ca Veluppillai stated in his Travancore State Manual from 1940 that the Ilavar were next to the Nambudiris to settle as immigrants from Ceylon in beginning of the Christian era, but there are no arguments given for this dating. It is a mere conjecture from his side. We have a detailed description of the Ilavar from Keralam from the beginning of the 20th century. Still at that time they told the story about their insular origin and they upheld their hereditary occupation, the rearing and cultivation of the coconut and palmyra palms, toddy drawing, and arrack distilling. They also manufactured coarse sugar ("jaggery") from toddy. They combined three elements: the function as toddy drawing, the name Ilavar meaning "toddy drawer", and
a consciousness of coming from the island. Having been treated with contempt by the members of the higher castes, their situation had not improved in the beginning of the 20th century. Still in the 1990s, groups of the Ilavar cultivate the idea that they have migrated from the island. I hesitate to jump from a consciousness of being an islander to a historical fact of being an islander. It is not
convincing to argue deductively that the island Ilam has given the meaning islander to the Ilavar. More facts and arguments are in my paper "Ilam<Simhala/Sihala?".

The Contemporary Use of the Words Ilam and Ilavar in the Tamil Resistance Movement The word Ila-v-ar indicates the plural, but it can be used as an honorary form in the singular. It can also be used attributively. The word means lexically "man (men) of Ilam" which can be modernised into "citizen(s) of Ilam".

The word Ilam was retrieved before 1924 by the Tamil leader Pommampalam Arunacalam (1853-1924) who used it in the compositum Tamililam. He referred to a cultural area specific for the Tamilar in contrast to the area specific for the Sinhalas. Gradually there was a gliding of meaning from a cultural area to a political territory, to an independent Tamil nation-state. This gliding reached its accomplishment in 1956 as a reaction of Tamil leaders to the Sinhala-only program of the Ceylon Government. The word Tamililam was taken up by the Tamil United
liberation Front (TULF) in its official program from 1976/77 and by Tamil fighters in the resistance
against the armed forces of the Lankans. The regularly appearing motto on the Tamil publications of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (lTTE) has been and still is: Pulikalin Takam Tamililattayakam. "the task of the Tigers is (to win) the homeland TamilIlam " Also formal speeches by leaders of the LTTE usually end with this motto. The word tayakam means "motherland", but in the international discourse of the Tamil resistance it has taken the meaning of "homeland". When the Thimpu resolutions' English "homeland" from 1985 had to be translated into Tamil, tayakam was chosen.

The present use of the word Ilavar was popularised, but not monopolised, by the armed Tamil group called Ealam Revolutionary Organisers of Students (EROS) in the 1980s and was used regularly before and during the Indian intervention in 1987. Its slogan in Tamil was nam Ilavar, namatu moli tamil, nam natu Ilam, "we are Ilavar, our language is Tamil, our land is Ilam". EROS' political wing was called Ilavar jananayaka munnani, "Ilavar Democratic Front".

The leading group among Ilavar today is the LTTE. Since 1990 it has also comprised leading cadres of the former EROS. Even the mavirar, "Great Heroes", of the EROS are included in the martyrology of the LTTE.

Today, the word Ilavar is used as a self-designation by groups supportive of the aim of achieving
Tamililam, as for example the group around the journal Ilavar kural, "The Voice of the Ilavar", issued by Ilavar in Canada.

The modern Ilavar have to face the military actions and reaction of the Lankans. To be a Lankan is arecently forged and complex political identity comprising different political subidentities.

So much for the words Ilam and Ilavar in contemporary usage. It is evident that these terms take a special and sensitive position in the Tamil resistance. The word Ilam expresses the ultimate political aim. It is characterised as punita ilatciyam, "holy aim". To see this word be connected and even made dependent of the word Sinhala - see below - is of course an insult to the mind of the Ilavar.
It is evident also that the modern use of Ilavar excludes the Ilavar caste in South India. The users
have also "forgotten" the original meaning of Ilavar as toddy-drawers. Another important change is
that the meaning "toddy-drawer" has been replaced by "citizen from (Tamil)ilam". In the modern use of Ilam in the Tamil resistance the word is mainly a political term that emphasizes the separateness from Lanka. Its use indicates an implementation of the consciousness that the island is de facto broken up in two parts, in Tamililam and Lanka. Having this in mind it is not astonishing at all, that today a leading Catholic Tamil priest, who supports the struggle for the rights of the Ilavar, at the end of a speech, wishes the best to both (TamiŅ)ilam and Lanka

We can now also see that the modern insular use of the word Ilavar in the contemporary Tamil resistance has completely transformed its old meaning. Today, an Ilavar is a person from Tamililam, and not a toddy-drawer.

Sinhala-Buddhist Ethnonationalist Interpretations

For the following two reasons I take up here Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists' interpretations
although they lack scientific value. They are very important in forming political opinion in the media.
Their emotional way of "arguing" should be identified. They pushed forward their ideas at a time when Tamil armed resistance yearned and still yearns for a separate Tamil nation state called Tamililam from the 1970s onwards.

Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists appeal to the Tamil Lexicon, and especially to the Tamil scholar
Karttikecu Intirapala as authorities. They use this connection to ridicule "the terrorists" who
allegedly were unaware of the true origin of the word Ilam. Intirapala has facilitated the adopting of his analyis of Ilam <Sinhala/Sihala with provocative and slogan-like formulations in his work which form a frame or spirit that attracts Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists. They were not meant as, but
can be interpreted as anti-Tamil slogans in a situation of extreme ethnic polarisation(see below).
He stated in his doctoral dissertation that " Ilam could be derived from Sinhala and would, therefore, mean the land of the Sinhalese rather than indicate that Ceylon was originally settled by Tamilar". In his doctoral dissertation, we also find this slogan-like formulation: "Until about the thirteenth century A.D., the history of Ceylon was the history of the Sinhalese people". His statements confirm the image built up during decades by Sinhala historians like Senerat Paranavitana that Tamilar are foreigners in the island. Intirapala is of course not anti-Tamil, but his ambition to confirm some scientific results by Paranavitana placed him into a pro-Sinhala camp. Intirapala reacted adequately against the statement made by some Tamil ethnonationalist historians that the early history of the island was dominated by Tamilar.

Instead of maintaining a critical and balanced attitude, he chose provocative formulations in the
spirit of Paranavitana. These fell in line with the interests of Sinhala-Buddhist ethonationalists. They
exploit Intirapala's writings today. He got his integrity confirmed by a respected Sinhala historian
Chandra de Silva. He certified that Karttikecu Intirapala is "free from ethnic prejudice". A leading
Sinhala-Buddhist ethonationalist, Nalin de Silva, suggested to the Government in 1998 to finance a
publication of Karttikecu Intirapala's unpublished dissertation from 1965. It exists now only as
photomechanical copies distributed by the British library Document Supply Centre.

The main semantic transformation by Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists is their category- transformation by transferring phonology to politics. We are used to find religion and art been transformed into political categories, but phonology's transformation into politics seems to be a rare and a rather bizarre case in this world. It has therefore some interest to be studied. The statement that the word Ilam is allegedly nothing but a "derivation" from Sinhala is paralleled
to the statement that the state Ilam is nothing but a "derivation from the Sinhala state. The
ethnonationalists make it a point in using the word "derivation". They wish to make clear who is primary and who is secondary among ethnic groups in the island. They want to communicate that there is only one root or stem from which everything else derives its existence. The Sinhalas are this
root or stem from which all the others have their existence. The derivation metaphor is extremely

Let us look at the historical implication of this derivation from the view point of the Sinhala- Buddhist ethnonationalists, some historical linguists and some historians, who in this interpretative case all shake hands. The connecting implies that whenever and wherever we find the word Ilam, we can conclude that it was preceded by the word Sinhala. So, even if we do not find the word Sinhala, we can presuppose its existence by just noting the word Ilam and by reconstructing in our mind the word Sinhala. According to allegedly valid laws of phonology, Ilam is "derived" from Sinhala. So, we can go to pre-Pallava Tamil literature from abou 2nd century AD. and to
the Dravidi inscriptions from 1st century BC-2nd century AD, where we find the word Ilam. Having done so, we can push the date for the appearance of the word Sinhala some centuries backwards. Then we come to about the time when we can document for the first time the word for "TamiŅ" (Prakrit demade) in the last centuries BC i the Brahmi Prakrit inscriptions of the island. This is important for the ethnonationalists: the word Tamil is not allowed to exist before the word Sinhala in the island!

The study of the connection Sinhala/Ilam brings us right into the ideological firebrand between
Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalism and Ilamism. Robert Caldwell could of course not foresee in 1856 and 1875 that his interpretation would pour oil on an ideological firebrand in the latter part of the 20th century.

We can presume that Tamil nationalists are not happy to be classified as a "derivation". Who likes to be a "derivation"? "Derivation" does here not imply integration, but secondary status as islander. Tamil nationalists have of course reacted on this attack on their national identity, but by simply reversing the "derivation". There has been no rational reaction from Tamil nationalists focusing phonology. This is regrettable because Caldwell's statement can be tested as an interesting linguistic exercise beyond political vested interests by students of the Tamil language, especially of phonology, and of Tamil history.

Caldwell's statement is not a political slogan; behind it was a linguistic argument that can be tested
beyond all political exploitation of the result of such a test. I have tested it in my paper " Ilam <Simhala/Sihala?" arriving at a negative result. The result of the test has importance for historians
also. If Caldwell was right, the occurrence of word Ilam can be used to trace the occurrence of
the word Sinhala in time and space. Another problem is how to evaluate such an occurrence. What conclusions can we draw from knowing that the word Sinhala was in use in the 1st century BC? We neglect here the answer of the ethnonationalist because it is already well known. The cautious historian may want to examine first in which sense the word Sinhala is used before
he comes to a conclusion. Does it refer to a person, island, a dynasty, an ethnic group, or to a language?

The most interesting question arises when it can be made plausible that Caldwell and the Tamil lexicon were wrong in connecting Ilam with Sinhala. To which conclusions will the historian come then? This is evident: he will come to no conclusion regarding the relative age and first appearance of the word Sinhala based on findings of the word Ilam. Nalin de Silva, a former professor of mathematics, promoted in 1997 a distinctive view of the word Ilam, that reflects the ethnonationalist view in its most extreme form. He stated that the ending -m in ila-m has to be
iterpreted as a Tamil emphatic -m expressing completeness. ila-m means "complete Sinhalese"
according to Nalin da Silva, (who has inherited the Sinhala>ila interpretation from the Caldwell-Tamil Lexicon tradition, which he does not reveal to his readers). The professor wanted to point out that Ilavar do not understand what ila-m means. (If they understood it, as Nalin da Silva does, they would not use it). What he wanted to tell his readers was that the island is named after the Sinhalas who were the original community. He did not consider the alternative, that the island gave its name to its inhabitants, whether they were Sinhalas or Tamilar. He was not aware that the word Sinhala appeared not before the word Ilam and the word demade (Dravidian,
Tamil) in the recorded history of Tambapanni or Ilam.

Concerning the ending -m, it is not an emphatic -m expressing completeness; it is an ending that is added to the inflexional base ilattu in the first declension. ilattu is comparable to marattu, "tree",
which is mara-m in the first declension. maram does not mean "the complete tree"; it just means
"tree". This inflexional base appears sometimes in a shortened form as ila- and mara- to which the first declension ending -m is added. -m in the given form is never an emphatic -m expressing completeness. Nalin da Silva, who is a native Sinhala speaker with evidently no inclination to learn even elementary Tamil declination and phonology, probably means the suffix -um. "Complete Ilam" would be ila-m-um. His way of simulating linguistic argumentation to support a political stand is typical of the method and contents of Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalism. All kinds of linguistic speculations are mobilised to demonstrate the plausibility of the concept of an island that historically is "complete Sinhalese".

G Iriyagolle is another ethnationalists who regularly launches his views in the media. He stated in 1998 that the Tamil name for the country, Tamil Ealam, "as a whole" is "directly" derived from the
word Sinhala. He referred to the Tamil lexicon as authority. His special argument, however,
is not given in the Tamil Lexicon. According to him, in Sinhala the letters s and h are often
interchangeable, and the old language, untouched by Sanskrit and Tamil, is named Hela or Elu, names also derived from Sinhala. He concluded that "Tamil Eelam" thus means "Tamil Sinhala land", which is evaluated by him a self contradictory piece of nonsense.

We can make one important observations about Iriyagolle's presentation. He refers to a phonological process within "pure Sinhala", but for an explanation of the formation of the word Ilam, he should refer to a phonological process that takes place within Tamil when Tamil adopts and Indo-Aryan loanword. He completely missed the decisive point, but he gained another; he tried to persuade his readers that the word Ilam is generated completely within pure Sinhala
without even touching Tamil and Sanskrit. As far as I can see, Iriyagolle, who belongs to the Cumaratunga school of Sinhala language purism, goes the whole hog which Caldwell did not. Caldwell regarded Ilam to be a "corrupt" Indo-Aryan word. Iriyagolle seems to think that the word Ilam is inherent in the word Sinhala.It is forthcoming like a child from the womb of a mother
who belongs to the pure Sinhala race and who has never come near to representatives of Tamil or Sanskrit. We now understand why Ilavar are upset. Iriyagolle denies the Ilavar a separate identity. What Ilavar have of value is allegedly borrowed from the Sinhalas, even their key concept for their identity, Ilam. Susantha Goonatilaka made another attempt in 1999 to convince his readers that "Eelam as many should know is the Tamil pronunciation of Sinhala". This is a typical argumentum ad hominem. He takes up Intirapala-without mentioning him-by saying that one of the oldest
reference to "Sinhala" is in fact, in an inscription of the 3rd century BC in Tamil South India, where the corrupted form of Eela is used." Yes, there is "an old" inscription in Tamil giving not ila with dental and not ila with a retroflex l, but ila with an alveolar l, which is quite different from the former
two. Alveolar l is a Tamil indicator. Furthermore, ila-m is a Dravidian word.

There is a common denominator for all these ethnonationalists' interpretations. They do not know
Tamil and Prakrit, their statements are vague with regard to place, time and identity of reference, and they are dependent of a few secondary sources. Especially Intirapala has become the prophet for Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalsists. None of these ethnonationalists is capable of analyzing ndependently a primary source in Tamil or Prakrit. They forge words as if they forged a bank note, a horse-shoe or a link of a chain. Their main doctrine that Ilam is derived from Sinhala, was promoted by the Tamil Lexicon and by Intitirapala, but it goes back to the Christian Bishop Robert Caldwell, who has inspired the the Tamil authors of the Tamil Lexicon. The Tamil
Lexicon has inspired Intirapala. Caldwell is, however, never mentioned by the Tamil Lexicon, by Intiripala and by the Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists. For the latter it is more forceful to exploit Tamil scholars than a Christian Bishop to give support to Sinhala-Buddhist ethonationalism. Now we know that these ethnonationalists just repeated a doctrine that was formulated by a Christian English priest in 1856. A test of his analysis has given a negative result.

There is therefore no linguistic base for one of main Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalist doctrines.
Conclusions I discern the following sequence of semantic transformations of the words Ilam and Ilavar in chronological order.

1. We find the word Ilam from the pre-Pallava and Pallava period meaning "land of toddy" referring to the land of toddy, which is Lanka. We do not find the word Ilavar yet.

2. Coming to the mediaeval period, the word Ilam was frequently used and given the reference of the island Lanka. Furthermore, the word Ilavar appeared. It meant "toddy drawer". It referred also to toddy drawers in mediaeval South India.

3. In the 19th century, the word Ilavar was connected with Ilam by men like Robert Caldwell, and the Ilavar were made into toddy drawers from Ilam, by him and by others.

4. In Ilankai, before the 1980s, the word Ilavar was used in public schools, Tamil stream, to refer to citizens of Ilam. Ilam was then used still in the South Indian way to refer to the whole island. Ilavar were the citizens of Ilankai.

5. In 1923 the word Tamililam was popularised by Sir Arunacalam. It was made to refer to a region that culturally was dominated by Ilattuttamilar.

6. In 1956, the word Ilam was made to refer to a separate state having the extension of what could be reconstructed as the old Kingdom of Yalppanam. The word Ilam, having been given this reference by Tamil leaders, was taken up in the election manifesto by the TULF in 1976/77.

7. The words (Tamil)-Ilam and (Tamil)-Ilavar were in the 1980s taken up by the Tamil resistance movement. The meaning "toddy" had been suspended already for the time being and references to the territory of Tamililam and to citizens of Tamililam were ascribed to these words respectively.

8. The word was taken up also by Sinhala-Buddhist ethnonationalists in the 1990s, though in a pejorative sense and with the intention to prove that Tamilar are secondary citizens.

9. An anglisised term "Ilamism" and "Ilamist" was created in the in the 1980s by the critics of the
Tamil resistance. "Ilamism" refers to the "terrorists'" ideas for a separate state called Tamilam, and Ilamists are those "terrorists" who yearn for this state. The complex list above forces us to reflect and be precise when we speak about Ilam and Ilavar. What do we mean?

Professor Dr Peter Schalk

Home Page Arumuga Navalar's home page Yogaswami's home page Help Page