Names of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island country that has been known by many names. The existence of the island has been known to the Indic, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, and Western civilisations for many millennia and the various names ascribed to the island over time reflect this.
The island was renamed Sri Lanka, meaning "resplendent island" in Sanskrit, in 1972, before which it was known by a variety of names and the island was often simply called Lanka. Other names using a form of Sri include Shri Lanka, preferred by the former Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa but never gaining wider appeal.
In the Ramayana, it was also known as Lankadweepa, with dweepa meaning "island". From the Ramayana comes the Javanese name Alengko for Ravana's kingdom. Another traditional Sinhala name for Sri Lanka was Lakdiva, with diva also meaning "island". A further traditional name is Lakbima. Lak in both cases is derived again from Lanka.
Of the same etymology, Sri Lanka is known locally in Tamil as İlankai. The appellation Lanka, however, was unknown to the Greeks, from whom most Western names would be derived, and is not seen in any Western names until 1972.
Sinhala and Sihalis
The English name Ceylon and a host of other related names all most likely trace their roots back to the Sanskrit Sinha ("lion"). With the Sanskrit Sinha as its root, Sinhala can be interpreted to mean "the blood of a lion". As lions are not native to Sri Lanka, Sinhala is most often taken to mean a lion-like man – i. e. a hero – presumably Vijaya's grandfather. The Pāli form of the Sanskrit Sinhala is Sihalam (pronounced Silam)'.
Also deriving from the Sanskrit Sinhala via the Pāli Sihalam, the 4th-century Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus called the inhabitants of the island Serandives and the 6th-century Greek sailor Cosmas Indicopleustes ("Cosmas India-Voyager") called the island Sielen Diva ("island of Sielen"), with both -dives and Diva merely forms of dwîpa, meaning "island". From Sielen derived many of the other European forms: the Latin Selan, Portuguese Ceilão, Spanish Ceilán, French Selon, Dutch Zeilan, Ceilan and Seylon, and of course the English Ceylon. Further variants include Seylan, Zeylan and Ceylan. Today, Ceylon and its equivalents in other languages are still occasionally used.
This origin is shared with many other names, such as Serendiva, Serendivus, Sirlediba, Sihala, Sinhale, Seylan, Sinhaladveepa, Sinhaladweepa, Sinhaladvipa, Sinhaladwipa,Simhaladveepa, Simhaladweepa, Simhaladvipa, Simhaladwipa, Sinhaladipa, Simhaladeepa, etc. Many of these names appear to reflect nothing more than the numerous orthographic variations in the way these names have been transliterated into Western languages, including changing the n to m, changing the an at the end of Sinhala to an e, writing the vowel in the penultimate syllable as an i or an ee, changing the v to a w, omitting vowels completely, and so on.
The 10th-century historian Abu Rihan Muhammad bin Ahmad, or Alberuni, called the island Singal-Dip, also derived from sinhala and a form of the word meaning "island". However, in Arabic, Sri Lanka ultimately came to be known as Serendib or Sarandib, which led to the Persian Serendip (as used in the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes were always making discoveries of things they were not seeking, from which Horace Walpole in 1754 would ultimately coin the English word serendipity). An Arabic form of more recent vintage than Sarandib, Sailan, later came to be via predecessor words in Arabic Tilaan and Cylone, also sharing the same root as Ceylon.
The 2nd-century Greek geographer Ptolemy called the inhabitants Salai and the island Salike ("country of the Salai"), most widely believed to derive from the Pāli Sihalam. Some argue[who?] that another Indian name for the island - Salabha ("rich island") - is its source. Others argue that it came via the Egyptian Siela Keh ("land of Siela"), even more similar to Cosmas' Sielen and still of the same ultimate origin. Some scholars also hold that it was merely a corruption, probably by the Greek sailors who traveled to Sri Lanka, of Simhalakahi.
Ptolemy also called the island Simoundou or Simundu (probably meant to read Silundu), also believed to derive ultimately from the Sanskrit sinhala. From Ptolemy we learn that, relative to Taprobanê, Simoundou was an ancient name for Sri Lanka (from Ptolemy's perspective, and thus even more so now).
He also called it Palai-Simundu, which is believed to either mean simply "Old Simundu", using the Greek word for "old", or alternatively to derive from the Sanskrit pali-simanta (meaning "head of the sacred law"), as Sri Lanka had by that time become an important center of Buddhism.
The names Heladiva and Heladveepa have two possible origins, a point of hot debate between certain Sri Lankans. Some argue[who?] that these are nothing more than an additional type of name sharing the same origin as those related to Ceylon mentioned above, simply having been shortened by dropping the Sin or Sim. Others argue[who?] that the Hela were a separate people living in Sri Lanka before the arrival of the Indians, the Dravidians or specifically the Tamils of South India. Those who make this distinction are more likely to use these names to describe Sri Lanka.
Sivuhelaya may also be a name of similar origin, although it is very obscure.
Other names have also been used in the West to describe the island. The Indian conqueror Vijaya named the island Tâmraparnî ("copper-colored leaf"), a name which was adopted into Pāli as Tambaparni. The accounts of Alexander the Great's officers and others like 4th-century BCE Greek geographer Megasthenes, based on information they obtained from Greek and Sri Lankan travellers, called Sri Lanka Taprobanê, generally regarded as a transliteration of Tâmraparnî. In the 16th century CE, Traprobana (Sri Lanka) is mentioned in the first strophe of the Portuguese national epic poem Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões ("going beyond Traprobana"). Taprobana might also be a hidden reference to Tribhuvana, the great Hindu Triad. This could mean that Luís de Camões was also saying that the Portuguese were going beyond the Earth, the Atmosphere and the Sky, in their epic quest. Later, the 17th-century English poet John Milton borrowed this for his epic English-language poem Paradise Lost and Miguel de Cervantes mentions a fantastic Trapobana in Don Quixote.
An alternative etymology for the Greek Taprobanê is from the Sanskrit Tambrapani ("great pond" or "pond covered with red lotus"), most likely in association with the great tanks for which Sri Lanka is famed. A third is that it derived its name from a river; the name of the river is Tāmaraparnī or Tamiravarani or Taamravarni, which is North of Sri Lanka and is a combination of the Sanskrit taamra ("coppery") and varna ("color"). A river that through the Tirunelveli district south Tamil Nadu flows is called Thamirabarani River. The ancient capital of the Pandyan Kingdom was near the river Thamirabarani.
Other names include the Tamil İlanare, the Arabic Tenerism ("isle of delight"), and the Chinese Pa-Outchow ("isle of gems"). The island has also earned at least two nicknames. First, it came to be known as the "Island of Teaching" due to the large number of Greeks and Chinese who travelled to the island to learn of Buddhism. Second, due to its shape and location in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of India, some also refer to the island as "India's teardrop" It is also known as the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean.'
- Malte-Brun, Conrad, "Island of Ceylon", System of Geography, retrieved 2007-06-30
- Don Quixote, Volume I, Chapter 18: the mighty emperor Alifanfaron, lord of the great isle of Trapobana.
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