THE VANNIYAR CHIEFTAIN STATUE IN BATTICALOA
According to Prof. S. Pathmanathan (The Kingdom of Jaffna), The thirteenth century witnessed the development of the autonomous or independent principalities called the Vanni. They were confined mainly to the dry zone and were administered mostly by Tamil chiefs called Vanniyar, some of whom claimed descent from South Indian Warriors, among the medieval Vanni chieftaincies those of Panankamam, Melpattu, Mulliyavalai, Karunavalpattu, Karikkattumulai and Tennamaravati in the north were incorporated into the Kingdom of Jaffna.
The Vanni principalities of Batticaloa and Puttalam were dominated mostly by Mukkuvar who were of Kerala origin and were matrilineal in their social organization. The chieftains of Trincomalee, who enjoyed considerable prestige and influence, were Saivite Tamils like the Vanniyar of ‘Jaffnapatnam’ and claimed descent from conquerors who had come from the Tamil country in South India. The Vanni chiefs in the north central parts of the island were Sinhalese and Vaddahs but little is known of their history after the thirteenth century.
During the early thirteen century the Vanni principalities had emerged as centers of feudal power and after the late thirteenth century the Culavamsa and some Sinhalese and Tamil texts make mention of them. The Vanni Chieftains were to be found in the territories that were subject to the control of Magha (1215-1255) and his two contemporaries at Dambadeniya.
The word “Vanni” and its variants as used in Sinhalese, Tamil and Pali Texts had four different connotations a caste group among both Tamils and Sinhalese, a feudatory province, a feudal chief and lastly a unit of territory confined primarily to the dry zone.
According to Prof. S. Pathmanathan (The Kingdom of Jaffna), In the Trincomalee district, as in Batticaloa, small principalities dominated by Tamil chieftains called Vanniyar had emerged in the thirteenth century. Some of the events connected with their development have been chronicled in the Konesar Kalvettu (A Tamil stone inscription) which records the traditions and legends relating to the famous Saivite temple at Trincomlee - Koneswaram. The origins and development of the chieftaincies in the North-eastern littoral may be viewed as the culmination of the process of the growth of Tamil settlements spread over a long period of time.
The Tamil settlement at the port of Trincomalee was one of the oldest settlements in the island and the Konesvaram temple had been maintained to satisfy the religious needs of this settlement. But, there is not much evidence on Tamil settlements in the other localities within this region until the tenth century. The process of the transformation of the North eastern littoral stretching from Kokkilay in the North to Verukal in the South and extending from the coast up to such places as kantalay and Padaviya in the interior into a predominantly Tamil speaking area began in the tenth century and was almost completed by the mid-thirteenth century. Tamil settlements had sprung up at many places in this region during the period of Cola rule. The impact of Cola rule on this region was great and substantial amount of archaeological evidence relating to Tamil settlements has come to light in Trincomalee, Niliveli, Periyakulam, Kantalay, Padaviya and a few other sites. The numbers of Cola inscriptions hitherto brought to light in these localities is substantial and is greater then the number of those found in any other area of comparable size in the island.
The appointment of chieftains called Vanniyar is credited to Maharaja Kulakkottan of Chola Dynasty and his noble mission to the island in 436 AD in the local traditions embodied in the Konesar Kalvettu.
All the Vanniyar chief who held authority over Trincomalee in the subsequent centuries claimed descent from Taniyunnappupalan, the chief who was raised to the rank of Vannipam by Kulakkottan.
The traditions recorded in the Konecar Kalvettu presuppose that there were chieftains called Vanniyar in Trincomalee before Magha’s invasion. A certain Gajabahu is said to have had dealings with the local Vanniyar.
During the reign of Arya Cakravartti, Kings of Jaffna, the Vanniyar and other traditional ranks were summoned twice a year to visit the royal court at Nallur for the ceremony of “Parasse”. The Vanniyar of Trincomalee were subject to the suzerainty of the rulers of Jaffna until the sixteenth century. Later in the subsequent period they came under the influence of Kandy. The Vanniyar of Batticaloa were mostly independent until the establishment of Dutch rule in the eastern coast.