Naga people (Lanka)
The Naga people (Tamil: நாகர், Nakar) appear until the third century BCE as a distinct group in the early Sri Lankan chronices as well as the early Tamil literary works. In the third century BCE they started to assimilate to Tamil language and culture, and lost their separate identity.[note 1] The Naga people were snake-worshipers. The word Naga was sometimes written in early inscriptions as Nāya, as in Nāganika which can be identified in the Nanaghat inscription of 150 BCE.
Until the third century BCE they appear as a distinct group in the early Sri Lankan chronices as well as the early Tamil literary works. In the third century BCE they started to assimilate to Tamil language and culture, and lost their separate identity.
Ancient Naga tribes
The Ezhavar are a community in South Kerala and are related to the people of the Jaffna peninsula. Ezhavar and Nairs share the same heritage and practice the serpent culture. The palaeolithic excavations in Jaffna and Kerala region show similarities.
Early Tamil literary works such as Kaliththokai mention that many Naga tribes such as Maravar, Eyinar, Oliar, Oviar, Aruvalur and Parathavar migrated to the Pandyan kingdom and started living there in the Third Tamil Sangam period 2000 years ago. 
The Nagas lived among the Yakkha, Raksha and Deva in Lanka according to the Manimekhalai, Mahavamsa and Ramayana. Meghanatha the son of Ravana was married to Sulochana a Naga princess in Lanka. The allied Nagas fought on the side of the Meghanatha and were defeated by Garuda.
By the time Buddhism had reached Tamilakam, the twin epics of ancient Tamil Nadu Silappatikaram (5-6th century CE) and Manimekalai (6th century CE) were written, speaking of Naga Nadu across the sea from Kaveripoompuharpattinam, and their civilization which was even more sumptuous than those of the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas.
Manimekalai speaks of the great Naga king Valai Vanan and his queen Vdcamayilai who ruled the prosperous Naga Nadu with great splendour and a rich Tamil Buddhist tradition. Their daughter, the princess Pilli Valai had a liaison at Nainativu islet with the early Chola king Killivalavan; out of this union was born Prince Tondai Eelam Thiraiyar, who historians note was the early progenitor of the Pallava Dynasty. He went on to rule Tondai Nadu from Kanchipuram. Nainativu was referred to as Manipallavam in ancient Tamil literature following this union. Royals of the Chola-Naga lineage would go onto rule other territory of the island, Nagapattinam and Tondai Nadu of Tamilakam. The Talagunda inscriptions of Kadamba Kakusthavarma also refer to the coastal Thiraiyar tribe as forming from this Chola-Naga alliance.
Cīttalai Cāttanār, the author of the Manimekalai reflected the perception at the time that Naga Nadu was an autonomous administrative entity, kingdom or nadu stretching across coastal districts, distinguished from the rest of the island also ruled intermittently by Tamil kings.
Ptolemy in his 1st century map of Taprobane mentions Nagadiboi. By the time Buddhism had reached Tamilakam, the twin epics of ancient Tamil Nadu Silappatikaram (1st century CE) and Manimekalai (3rd century CE) were written, speaking of Naga Nadu across the sea from Kaveripoompuharpattinam, and their civilization which was even more sumptuous than those of the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas.
Ptolemy mentions in 150 CE that King Sornagos, a descendant of this lineage, ruled from the early Chola capital of Uraiyur during this time. Kaveripoompuharpattinam received many adulatory comparisons to the Naga capital Kanderodai (Kadiramalai) in the classical period.
Naka Nadu included Mantai in the northwest, Thirukonamalai in the northeast and Mahavillachi in the middle of the island. The socioeconomic structure of this nation was built around its oceanic trade and agriculture, the inner trade and trade with the kingdoms of Tamilakam, Rome, Greece, Egypt, Kalinga and the far east being the mainstay of its economy. The Karaiyar tribe of these Tamils were coast-residing seafaring people and the oldest settlers of the Coromandel Coast and the coasts of Sri Lanka. The Ketheeswaram temple of Maanthai was built by this clan in the classical period.
The Naga used to have kingdoms and temples in Sri Lanka. The Nagas built a temple in Medawattha, Mathara called Nagavila today. It used to hold a statue of Lord Buddha sitting on the Muchalinda, the Cobra. Naga maidens used to perform dances there.
It is also believed they were great irrigation engineers who built water storages. The Yoda Wewa dam and reservoir system in Mannar, Sri Lanka is considered by some (Such as Author, Mudaliyar C. Rajanayagam) to have been built by the Nagas based on the extensive ruins and the presence of villages with surrounding the port with Naga name (e.g. Nagarkulam, Nagathazhvu and Sirunagarkulam).
Naga people were snake-worshipers. According to Rasanayagam,
The origin of their name cannot certainly be traced to serpents or serpent-worship, for they were so named long before the advent of the Aryans in whose language alone the word signified 'serpents'.
The word Naga was sometimes written in early inscriptions as Nāya, as in Nāganika - this occurs in the Nanaghat inscription of 150 BCE.
Similarly, Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus since ancient times have regard the Cobra as a divine being by the passing down of Naga traditions and believes. Further cobra can be found entwining itself round the neck of the supreme Hindu god Shiva as serpent king Vasuki. Cobras can also be found in images of Lord Vishnu.
Decline of Naga identity and assimilation
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The Nagas are likely to have lost their identity over time, due to the formation of alliances with the other tribes like Raksha, Yaksha, Deva, and the assimilation to Buddhism.
The first two administrative centers of the kingdom of rajarata, namely Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara, were totally based on kings from Sinha clan in India.
In Pandukabhaya's era all native groups appear to be centralized into one administration center which later converted into the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Disputes between the Sinha clan and the local community were the onset to this centralisation. Pandukabhaya(437 BC), a prince who had both Sinha and Yaksha origins, was able to unify the tribes and battle with the Sinha rulers. Later Pandukabhaya was able to defeat the Sinha clan, and to establish a kingdom which could unify the natives and the Sinha clan.
In 250BC Arahath Mahinda came to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism.[note 2] Sri Lanka was officially converted to Buddhism. Yaksha, Raksha, Naga, Deva groups who were divided according to what they worshiped lost their identification after all converting to Buddhism.
- According to several authors they may have been a race of the Dravidians.
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