on Jaffna - A Disputed point of Local History
John H. Martyn, 1923.
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No 8. JAFFNA HISTORY; A. Mootootambypillai. (1912)
This is a work written in Tamil prose by Mr. A. Mootootamby Pillai of Navalar-kotam, popularly known as “Ward and Davy.” The first edition of the work appeared in 1912, and the second in 1915. In both editions, the version of the story given is the same.
Mr. M’s version differs materially from all previous versions in many points. It is by far the longest. I may state that the story as told by Mr. M. occupies five pages of his "Jaffna history". In reading it, one cannot but feel that it is on a par with the most extravagant of old women’s fables.
Mr. M. seems to follow the Vaipava-malai, though he does not acknowledge it, in stating that the Dutch appointed Puthathampy and Andrado as chief officers, respectively of the Revenue and the Writing branches of the Government. But he insinuates that the title of Modliar was conferred on the latter, when the appointment was conferred on him. This is not so. All previous writers, whom I have quoted, tell a different tale. Will Mr. M be able to cite one writer who is not a partisan, to show that Puthathatnpy was ever a Modliar? Recognized, impartial history states that Andrado came to Jaffna as a Modliar.
In describing the dinner and other parts of this story, Mr. M. relinquishes the duty, incumbent on him as an historian, of recording stern facts, and arrogates to himself the privilege, which ‘Artists of fiction” use, of invisible ubiquity to enter their hero’s habitation and observe inner arrangements. In the several accounts already quoted, we have seen that the dinner given to Andrado was a private’ one, to which he alone was invited. But Mr. M. makes his readers understand that it was a large social function to which a large number of persons were invited, including Andrado. Writes Mr. M:- One day Puthathampy invited Andrado also to a dinner party he had in his mansion. When Andrado came, Puthathampy received him, took him to a private room, had the meal served, made him dine, left two servants to wait on him and returned to attend to the other guests.
The intelligent reader knows that, if ever there was a dinner at all, the record of facts given is as it should have been, not as it was. The statement made is in contravention of all known local customs, practices and usages of the people. Invitations to convivial gatherings are sent with caution and circumspection. Even among people of the same caste, those only are invited, who are connected with the host in some way or other. Under such circumstances, is it credible, that Puthathampy would have invited a man of a different nationality, nay of a different caste, to the family dinner he gave. It is equally incredible that Andrado, a man occupying an enviable, official and social position in the locality, would have so far lost all sense of self-respect as to attend a public banquet of which the host and guests were aliens to him not only in race but in caste. Mr. M. has undoubtedly made a statement as reckless as it is highly improbable.
What follows is a still more improbable statement and hardly complimentary to his hero. Says Mr. M:- Puthathampy’s wife, while doing the round of personally attending to the guests, entered the room, where Andrado was dining and urged the attendants to serve him with the desired viands without stint.
The entrance of Puthathampy’s wife into the guest room, during the repast, is opposed to all our known notions of Hindu modes of female social etiquette and behaviour. In Hindu banquets, it is not the custom locally of the hostess to attend to male guests. Of the large company, who as Mr. M. says, came to partake of the good cheer provided by Puthathampy, a good many could not but have been strangers to his wife. Would she, whom Mr. M. and preceding writers extol as a paragon of chastity and modesty, throw away all sense of female propriety, appear before strangers, while they are eating, and attend to them?
What is Mr. M’s object in introducing Puthathampy’s wife into the room, where and while Andrado was dining. Mr. M. has already told the reader that Puthathampy had done the needful towards Andrado as his guest. There was absolutely nothing left undone that a host should do to a guest. Why then should the woman be made to obtrude her presence on the man, under pretence of giving an uncalled for and unnecessary order to the attendants? Did Mr. M. think or feel that the chance sight, which, as represented by the author of the Vaipava malai, Andrado had of the woman, was not enough to produce irresistible passion, and that the woman should be made to appear before the full gaze of the man to display her attractions. Mr. M. appears to have had such a notion or feeling, for he says:- Andrado saw her face, which was beautiful, heard her voice, which was sweet and observed her gait, which was elegant. The tout ensemble, Mr. M. avers, constituted a charm as to have made him "as dead as wood."
On what authority does Mr. M. make these statements? The reader feels that one who had ensconced himself in the room on the occasion in question could not have given a better or more minute description of the happenings there. To describe as accurately and as authoritatively, as Mr. M has done, the tones of the voice and the mode of gait of a particular person, the writer should have heard that person speak and seen that person walk. It does not follow that a mellow voice and a dainty gait are the necessary or consequent concomitants of beauty.
Writes Mr. M:- Andrado having dined, stepped into the outer hail, talked with Puthathampy, and while his thoughts were otherwise bent, took a chew of betel and went away home.
Mr. M. writes as things would have been, as he thinks, not as things actually were. This is not history, but pure fiction; and Mr. M. would do well to remember that history is a faithful record of facts and incidents that have taken place in real life. Now, how does Mr. M. know that Andrado was in the habit of chewing betel? Who the deuce told him this? What proof or authority has he to substantiate the statement? The descendants of Andrado say that to his credit, it is still remembered, and sometimes talked about, that, though a military man and in close and frequent touch with European officials of high standing, he had never used any strong drink, and that he was besides a perfect stranger to the habit of smoking tobacco and chewing betel.
As soon as Andrado reached home, continues Mr. M., he put gold coins, sweet-perfumes, and a silk cloth into a sandal-wood box, and sent the box to Puthathampy’s wife through a messenger, with a wicked proposal. The messenger went, and watching an opportunity for the absence of Puthathampy, delivered the box into the hands of his wife and made known to her the proposal. When she heard it, she felt as if molten lead was poured into her ears. She got enraged, took a leathern sandal, tied it to the box and chastising the man, told him to return the same to the villain, his master.
Mr. Katiresu, who gave out his version of the story in 1905 introduced for the first time into the story an old pair of slippers and Mr. M. in 1912 came out with a paraphernalia of complimentary presents and a leathern sandal - What other new and curious things will be introduced next, time alone will show.
Mr. M. says, Andrado sent the presents immediately on his return home from Puthathampy’s dinner. Had Andrado the articles ready? Was he prepared for the same before-hand? Two of the articles mentioned were rare at the time of which we are speaking. It was not everybody that would have them, much less Andrado under the circumstances. He came to Jaffna, according to reliable contemporary history, as a Captain of the army, and he would not have cared to incommode himself with sandal-wood boxes, silk cloths and gold coins, when going out on a military expedition.
What were the gold coins of which Mr. M. speaks. He would have done well, had he specified them. Andrado was a servant of the Dutch and he would have been paid in the Dutch currency. The ducat, the gold coin of the Netherlands, was not then put in circulation. The Dutch currency of Ceylon was the rix-dollar, and this was a silver coin. How came Andrado by the gold coins in question?
Such are the statements which in the name of history, Mr’ Mootootamby Pillai, the Lexicographer and Historiographer of Navajar kotam, lays before an enlightened public. In this connection the remarks made by- the "Ceylon Morning Leader" of 3rd April 1916, comes in extremely apropos:-
"History is not studied but misreprecented in deference to tradition. Incidents known to be false are repeated although they contradict the real historical character. The manners of the period are not understood."
With regard to the blank paper, the signature, and the execution of Puthathampy, Mr. M. follows the Vaipava-malai, but adds - Kayilaya Vannian, the brother-in-law of Puthathampy, went to Colombo and made a representation of this matter to the Dutch Viceroy of the city, who at once despatched officers to arrest the Governor of Jaffnapatam and Andrado and bring them to Colombo. These officers took the Governor by sea, and Andrado by land. On the way the Governor threw himself over-board, Andrado was killed by an elephant in the forest called Pandaraththarthopu near Musali.
The above statement is as thoughtless and indiscriminate as those already noticed. If any representation was made at all, and if it was found worthy of being entertained, the Viceroy would, in the course of his official procedure, have called upon the Governor of Jaffnapatam for an explanation or he may have directed an enquiry. But to be told deliberately that he sent the myrmidons of the law for the arrest and escort of a high European official merely on the representation of an interested and insignificant individual takes away one’s breath. If, as Mr. M. says, the officers had the Governor and Andrado in their custody, how came they to lose their charges? Was no enquiry held on what happened to them? Were not the custodians taken to task for remissness of duty? Why is Mr. M. silent on these points?
Mr. M. expresses his regret in very effective language that neither the Portuguese nor Dutch historians have given a satisfactory account of this incident. It would have been very, interesting if Mr. M. had defined the essential marks of a satisfactory account of a particular point or period of history. What does Mr. M. mean by a satisfactory account? Are details of betel-chewing, of females attending to males, while the latter are dining on a convivial occasion, and of the hostess appearing before strange and unknown guests, form necessary parts of such an account? If so, Mr. M. would do well to frame a new canon for writing history, and publish the same for the benefit and guidance of future historians.
As an historian, Mr. M. should have known that the incident in question did not occur during the Portuguese period. With the surrender of Jaffnapatam to the Dutch, the Portuguese dominion in Ceylon had terminated. The Portuguese officers and others from Jaffna to the number of one hundred and forty had been sent away to Batavia. There was no competent Portuguese writer in the place to undertake the history. Even if there were any, he could have had no interest in writing it after the evacuation of the place by his countrymen.
The incident, in due chronological order, took place during the early Dutch rule in Jaffna. The Rev. Dr. Baldaeus, the Dutch historian, has given a pretty good account of the same. A fuller and more detailed account of an event, comparatively unimportant and insignificant, is rarely met with. But the account in Baldaeus does not satisfy Mr. M., who says that Baldaeus wrote his ac count on the strength of the verbal testimony of Andrado. This is not so. Mr. M. does not seem to have read the account in Baldaeus fully or understood it clearly. The account from Baldaeus is extracted elsewhere, and the reader may read it and judge for himself. Baldaeus was present at the trial and execution of the conspirators and he writes:- "After they (conspirators) had been fully examined, and the truth had been heard from their own mouths, they were condemned to be hanged, beheaded and put on crosses." The authority of Baldaeus has never before been questioned. Let Mr. M. bear in mind that the Dutch historian did not write his history from the indefinite statements of a Thampupillai, or the anonymous ola book of a Maniaratnam.
Lastly in winding up the story Mr. M. says:- There is no difficulty in concluding that as Davidu, the son of Juvan Costan of Mantotte and the author of Puthathampy Nadakam, lived at a time near to the occurrence of these incidents, he must have ascertained the truth of the events he has dramatised and as the author was a Christian, his religious promptings would not have led him to cast slur or reproach on a fellow Christian like Andrado.
How inconsistent the above statements are with the fine asseverations which Mr. M. makes in the preface to his "Jaffna History"? There he assures the reader that he has written his work with all possible care, after diligent and painstaking research, and that no statement is there made that is not supported by history, tradition or by his own personal knowledge.
Now what history, what tradition or what portion of Mr. Mootootamby Pillai’s personal knowledge and erudition, support the statements in the above passage, the reader fails to see. On the contrary, the statements are made in defiance of known facts. It is clear that Mr. M. has only -made an unsuccessful attempt, by a process of subtle but fallacious reasoning, to establish a substantial faith in this absurd and extravagant story.
In the first place, Davidu, the author of Poothathampy Nadakam was not a Christian. Mr. Brito, a no mean Tamil scholar, has studied and summarised the events of the Nadakam, and what Mr. Brito says of the religious persuasion of the author must carry more weight with the intelligent reader, than the indiscreet and unsupported statements of Mr. M. Writes Mr. Brito:- "Poothaththampi and his dramatist appear from this work to have been Saivites not withstanding the Christian names they bore. For the dramatist invokes on his work the favour of his usual Hindu Gods, and represents his hero as appealing to the same Gods for succour in times of distress while he carefully makes the Dutch characters swear like Christians"
Mr. M. is therefore wrong in stating that the author of Poothathampy Nadakam was a Christian; and his inference that as a Christian he would have spared Andrado who was a co-religionist, is equally erroneous. On the contrary, there are reasons to believe that the author of the Nadakam would have heaped on Andrado all the obloquy and odium, he was capable of mustering. Baldaeus, in his account of the conspiracy, makes mention of a native of Mannar, who was the leader of it. This native of Mannar was of the same clan as the author of the Nadakam- perhaps one of his ancestors. Poothathampy was indicted, brought to trial and condemned to an ignominious death on the information furnished by Andrado. This affords the true explanation for the vindictive spleen, which the author of the Nadakam has vented on Andrado, who was instrumental in implicating the author’s compatriot.
In the second place it is not known when the author of Poothathampy Nadakam lived. No writer makes mention of that date. The author himself has not stated it. Mr. Brito who has made an elaborate study of a series of books and manuscripts for the purpose of compiling the appendix to his translation of the Vaipava.malai, with a view to illustrating the latter work, says of the author of the Nadakam that “he gives us neither the date of the work nor that of the events which he dramatises’ We must therefore look up to internal evidence, to allusions to events contained in the Nadakam to help us to decide the date. Mr. Brito has given a satisfactory summary of the events of this Nadakam. This summary I have quoted. In it the reader will find that the author makes a reference to Kirthisinghan, King of Kandy. This King of Kandy came to the throne in 1747. It is thus clear that the author who makes reference to this king must have been a contemporary of, or have lived after, that king. A writer can only refer to persons or things that have preceded him or are contemporaneous with him. No writer can refer to persons or things of a period subsequent to the times in which he lived. The reader of Poothathampy Nadakam will find sufficient evidence in the work itself to show that it was composed several years after the death of Kirthi-Singhan. Now the Poothathampy-Andrado incident took place in 1658. Kirthisinghan, King of Kandy, died in 1780. Thus an interval of 122 years intervened between the occurence of the incident and the stringing together of the details of that incident into a dramatic work. How could Mr. M. be so bold, positive and deliberate in making the statement that the author of the Nadakam lived at a time near the occurrence of the incident relating to Poothathampy. Mr. M’s statement is therefore clearly wrong.
It is curious that the only authority Mr. M. quotes in support of his version of this story is the author of the Nadakam, whom Mr. Brito characterises as a very ignorant man and Mr. M’s reason for quoting him is that as he lived not very long subsequent to the occurrence of the incidents, he must have ascertained their truth. It is needless to point out that Mr. M’s inference is sophistical. Nevertheless one is tempted to ask why has Mr. M. not followed the same authority throughout the entire details of the story. Why has he omitted certain parts, changed others and inserted new matter? Regarding Sinne Ulanthes, the author of the Nadakam says that he committed suicide through fear. But Mr. M. says that if Sinne Ulanthes had known that his intimate friend Poothathampy was condemned to death, he would have saved him and Andrado knowing this had him executed that night without allowing him any respite. Certainly, according to the showing of Mr- M., Andrado must have been an extraordinarily mighty being, able to carry out the penalty of the law even at dead of night, when no law allows it. It is also worthy of remark that Mr. M. makes no mention of the capture, by the Dutch, of Fort Hammenheil at Kayts. He only says that the Dutch took Kayts on the 16th April. This date is wrong as many of the dates and names, and facts and figures in his "Jaffna History," are.
Mr. M’s version of the story is the most reckless of all the versions quoted above. It is full of gross misrepresentations and erroneous statements. Such indiscriminate writing is calculated to take away public confidence from a writer.
In a paper contributed to the ‘Ceylon Antiquary’ on the “Sinhalese Place Names in the Jaffna Peninsula,” Mr. B. Horsburgh, G. A., N. P., whose attainments in Tamil are well-known, points out certain important statements in Mr. MootootambyPillay’s ‘Jaffna History”, for which no authority has been given.
Mr. M. is the author of several books in Tamil. Some of these are intended as contributions to the school literature of the island, that is forming under the influence of the Revised Code, and as such are used as text books in some vernacular schools. He is also a member of the local "Committee on Oriental Studies," formed at the instance of the Department of Public Instruction. New books in Tamil published for the use of schools are sent to him by the Department for inspection and perusal and his opinion is asked on those books. These considerations led us to expect from his pen an account of Jaffna and its people, fair and impartial, and acceptable to all communities. But the work under review is greatly disappointing and does not seem to redound to the prestige and credit of the author as a popular writer.
The book on its first appearance was unfavourably received by the press and condemned as a partial and one-sided account. One of the editors of a local newspaper, to whom the book was sent for review, remarked that the book even in the first pages was not free from faults and blemishes.
It is needless for the intelligent reader to be told of the fortune the book has had. A critical examination of the preface to the first edition, will show what value to attach to the work as an historical account.
Mr. M. says that he had long cherished the desire of writing a good history of Jaffna and he set to work about it. He hunted after works on local history and he found five old accounts extant. These are:-
Of the above, Mr. M. says, he was not successful in getting copies of the last three. The only works therefore available for consultation and information were the Vaipava-Malai and Kailaya Malai. But these Mr. M. candidly admits, had become corrupted in the course of time. Of the latter Mr. Brito writes:
"This is a poetical composition of no mean ability and was evidently designed to celebrate the praises of Seka-rasa-Sekaran under the very thin disguise of celebrating the sanctity of the temple of Kayilaya Nathar of Nallur. The author was Muththurasan, son of Senthiyappan of Chola, who was no doubt a contemporary of the king".
And of the former Mr. M. further admits on page 46 of his Jaffna History, that having been kept in ola-books, it had undergone alterations and modifications in the course of transcriptions. Consequently it was not reliable.
Mr. M. therefore had to collect information for his work, in various ways, from a long time. It is amusing to hear of the manner in which this information was got together, in 1887 while residing at Madras Mr. M. learnt that at Canjeevaram, there was a Thesigar, by name Massillamany, who had in his possession an Erdu or ola book, containing notes about Jaffna. Anxious to have a look at these notes, Mr. M. traveled thither, saw the Thesigar and made known to him the object of his visit. The Thesigar demanded Rs. 50 for the privilege of seeing the document. Thinking this was too much for the privilege, Mr. M. retraced his steps back to Madras. Two years after, he started again on the same mission and this time he was fortunate in being allowed to see the Erdu gratis. On examination it was found to contain notes made by a Prohithan. With it there were twenty seven other erdus. All these contained notes, of an ancient date, made by a Prohitha Brahznin. Examining these, Mr. M. took notes of these notes and was able to get through them all in three days. These notes, Mr. M. assures the reader, were of great help to him in compiling his Jaffna History.
Now who was this Prohitha Brahmin and how came he to write notes about Jaffna. Could he be the same Prohitha Brahmm, who, along with a Manippay carpenter was admitted by the infamous queen Anoola to her bed and throne, as related in the Mahawanse (Pages 208,209) and who perhaps migrated to the mainland after the death of the queen. If so, the information about Jaffna must have been imparted to him by the carpenter, when associated with him in his love intrigues.
Mr. M. does not enlighten us as to the nature and extent of these notes which he had come by under such peculiar and trying circumstances. As he acknowledges that they have been chiefly availed of in the compilation of his history, the reader expects to know what era they relate to, or what questions of local history they elucidate. Mr. M., however, has elected to keep dark on these points.
Erdus or ala books are made up mostly of Palmirah leaves written on with a style. The writing in many cases is indistinct. Reading them is not so easy or expeditious as reading printed books. To read and examine twenty-eight Erdus, taking notes carefully for the purpose of using them for a future important work, and get through them all, neck and crop, in three days, is a feat worthy of the admirable Crichton.
Mr. M. proceeds to tell the reader that he has been the happy recipient of a gift, from Mr. Maniaratnam of Achchankulam, in the shape of an Erdu in which he exults to have lighted upon much information on the distinctions of the caste system. But of the name of its author, the date of its composition, the merit of its contents, or the literary status of the donor, nothing is made known. What value can be attached to information gathered from such trash?
Mr. M. makes mention of three persons who have furnished him with special information for his work. The last, though not least, is Mr. Thampupillai who hailing from Paria Mathagal, was brought up at St. Joseph’s Orphanage at Colombogam – an institution founded by the late Archbishop Christopher Bonjean of illustrious and happy memory, for housing, feeding, clothing, teaching and training orphan children of heathen parentage. He is better known in the town as V. Francis Thambo and he is now for several years the Tamil Editor of the J. C. Guardian. But we are not aware of his having made any permanent or valuable contribution to the historical literature of Jaffna or of his possessing any special claims to entitle him to be recognised as an authority on historical questions. Merely being the editor of a vernacular newspaper, all whose contributions are ephemeral, does not constitute a sufficient guarantee for literary competency, historical research or for accuracy and authoritativeness of information. Nevertheless it would have greatly interested the reader to be told of the nature of the information furnished by Mr. Thampupillai. But Mr. M. is provokingly silent on this point, disclosing nothing more than making the dry acknowledgment which, in strict literal rendering, runs thus:- Some (information) was asked from Mr. Thampupillai.
Had Mr. M. obtained his information from Mr. Velupillai of "The Jaffna Native Opinion," or the Rev. Father Gnanapragasar, both of whom are publicly credited with tolerable acquaintance with local history, he would have been spared the scathing criticism to which his book was exposed, and made it more acceptable to the general public. But beyond getting from the latter a well-known work on Ceylon - the receipt of which is acknowledged in a prominent foot-note on page 3 of the preface to the "Jaffna History" and asking the former for the favour of a review of the book after its publication, he does not appear to have sought the aid or advice of either.
Mr. M. gives a list of the books, which he has consulted in the compilation of his work, and among which there appears the name of one, which savours of a hoax. This is "Brito’s Jaffna History." It is well known that Mr. Brito never wrote a history of Jaffna. He only translated the Vaipava-Malai and added an appendix to it. Even if he had written one, he would certainly not have given it the title of "Jaffna History."
Such are the chief materials out of which Mr. M. has composed his history; and it is for the reader to judge of the value and confidence that should be placed on such a work. I close this notice, imperfect as it is, with the following observations of Rollin, which are as just as they are eloquent - as apposite as they are complete:-
‘‘It is History which fixes the seal of immortality upon actions truly great, and sets a mark of infamy on vices, which no after age can ever obliterate. It is by History that mistaken merit and oppressed virtue, appeal to the incorruptible tribunal of posterity which renders them the justice their own age has sometimes refused them, and without respect of persons, and the fear of a power which subsists no more, condemns the unjust abuse of authority with inexorable rigour... Thus History, when it is well taught, becomes a school of morality for all mankind. It condemns vice, throws off the mask from false virtues, lays open popular errors an prejudices, dispels the delusive charms of riches, and all the vein pomp which dazzles the imagination, and shews by a thousand examples, that are more availing then all reasoning whatsoever, that nothing is great and commendable but honour and probity."
25th July 1916
Details from the book Notes on Jaffna, American Ceylon Mission Press, Tellippalai, Ceylon 1923. The entire appendix has been used to discuss the Andrado - Poothathamby story.