NAGA TRIBES OF SRI LANKA
Presented By Vedant and Rishikesh
INTRODUCTION OF SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and
known from the beginning of British colonial rule until 1972
as Ceylon, is an island country in South Asia near south-
east India. A diverse and multicultural country, Sri Lanka is home to
many religions, ethnic groups, and languages. The country's recent
history has been marred by a thirty-year civil war which decisively
ended when Sri Lankan military defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam in 2009.
INTRODUCTION OF NAGA TRIBE
The Naga people appear until the third century BCE as a distinct group in the
early Sri Lankan chronicles as well as early Tamil literary works. In the third
century BCE they started to assimilate to Tamil language and culture, and lost
their separate identity. 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. Mahabharata,
the second oldest Indian epic, has a reference to the Naga tribe that ruled the
northern part of Sri Lanka. In its account of Arjuna’s pilgrimage to the southern
shrines and holy waters he crossed over to Sri Lanka to take a bath at
Keerimalai and worshiped at one of the ancient Saiva temple Naguleswaram.
He married a Naga princess. Mahabharata mentions Nagas as a highly civilized
people living in India and Sri Lanka.
Until the third century BCE they appear as a distinct group in the early Sri
Lankan chronicles 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
H. Parker, a British historian and author of "Ancient Ceylon" (1909)
considered the Naga to be an offshoot of the Nairs of Kerala.
The Oliyar, Parathavar, Maravar and Eyinar who are widespread across South
Indian and North-East Sri Lanka are all Naga tribes.
The Ezhavas 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.
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
There is a reference to the town Naka Nakar in Tamil Brahmi inscriptions
belonging to 200 BCE, which is believed to be denoting Kudiramalai.
An early copper coin discovered at Uduththurai port carries the name Naka
bumi in Tamil, referring to the Naka Dynasty of the North.
The ancient Sri Lankan history book Mahavamsa mentions a dispute
between two Naga kings in northern Sri Lanka.
KUDIRAMALAI POINT EARLY COPPER COINS
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
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
The Manimekhalai and archaeological inscriptions refer to the Chola-Naka alliance and
intermarriage as being the progenitor of the Pallava Dynasty.
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).
THE YODA WEWA DAM NAGAVILA TEMPLE
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.
The Mahavamsa describe the Nagas as super natural beings whose natural
form was a serpent, but they could assume any a form at will.
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. They worship serpents by offering milk
and eggs. They do not keep garuda’s (falcon) pictures in the house
because it is an enemy of serpents.
DECLINE OF NAGA IDENTITY AND ASSIMILATION
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. 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.
Naga cuisine, of the Naga people, features meats and fish, which are often smoked,
dried or fermented. The various Naga tribes have their own cooking varieties, but
they often interchange recipes. A typical Naga table consists of a meat dish, a
boiled vegetable dish or two, rice and a chutney (Tathu). Nagas tend to prefer
boiled edible organic leaves. Some common dishes are "fermented bamboo shoot"
(made from the tender shoot of the Bamboo tree) with fish and
pork. Axone(soyabean boiled, fermented and either smoked or sun dried) with
smoked pork and beef. Smoked meat is produced by keeping the meat above the
fire or hanging on the wall of the kitchen for anywhere between 1 day to 2 weeks
or longer, which could last for the whole year ahead. Anishiis fermented taro leaves
made into patties and smoked over the fire or sun dried . Naga food tends to be
spicy (chillies). There are different varieties of chillies in Nagaland. The ginger
used in the Naga cuisine is spicy, aromatic and is different from the common
ginger. The garlic and ginger leaves are also used in cooking with meat. Sichuan
pepper is a popular spice used by the nagas.
THE DRESS CODE
The most prominent item of Naga dress is the shawl. It is different for every
tribe and besides, there are varieties and sub-varieties in every group. A
warrior's shawl or shawl of a man who has performed the Feast of Merit, is
different from that of an ordinary villsager.
The common pattern among the Angamis is red and yellow (now being
replaced by green) bands, on black cloth called Lohe. The western Angami
villages have their own distinctive pattern. Lothas have a streamlined gradation
of shawls indicating the number of gennas performed by the wearer. Thus a
man who has performed the first genna wears the phangrhup, its strips being
widened, after the second genna. The third genna entitles the man to wear
the Ethasu, while after the series of feasts is completed and the stone-
dragging done the man can wear the Lungpensu, which is a dark blue cloth
with five stripes of light blue and with narrow marginal stripes on each side.
The Ao warrior shawl called the Tsungkotepsu with figures of mithun, tiger, elephant,
human head, cock, Dao and spear is strikingly picturesque. Each of these figures is
symbolic; mithun represents wealth of the wearer, the elephant and tiger denote his
prowess in hunting and the human head signifies success in taking heads. These
patterns are painted in black on a white band, while the cloth itself is of dark blue
Among the Changs, the unmarried boys and girls wear the Kaksi nei, while the newly
married couple sport the Silang nei. Another variety of Chang shawl, the Tobu nei has
zig-zag patterns in alternate red and black on a blue band.
The popular Yimchunger shawls are the Aneak khim which is black, and Mokhok khim
which is white. Rongkhim, a particularly attractive variety of Yimchunger shawl, may be
worn only by one who has taken heads in war, it has prominent rectangular red
design, red colour signifying the blood of the enemy.
In the past it was possible to identify, by simply looking at the shawl of the wearer, the
tribe he belonged to and occasionally even the group of villages he came from, his
social status and the number of gennas he had performed. But nowadays this
identification is not possible.
Apart from the shawl, the normal working dress is a kilt which is generally of black
colour. It may be embroidered with cowries in which case it is looked upon as a
distinctly male dress. The cowries are rubbed on stone before being embroidered so that
they may stick well, and they are always sewn by the man using the cloth and never
by his wife or anybody else. The cowrie decoration is quite popular among the Nagas
and it imparts to the kilt the character of toga virility, signifying his success in love or
The Angami are monogamous. There are two forms of
marriage—one ceremonial, the other nonCeremonial. The
ceremonial form is desired as a symbol of status and
consists of an elaborate ritual involving the services of a
Marriage broker, the taking of omens, and the negotiation of
a marriage-price (usually nominal). The nonceremonial form
involves the taking of a woman to the house of a man
where they remain kenna (forbidden) for one day. Divorce
is allowed and is common. The wife gets one-third of the
couple's joint property, exclusive of land. The divorced and
widowed are permitted to remarry (though a widowed woman
may not remarry into her deceased husband's house).
Polygamy is not allowed and women are allowed freedom of
choice in the selection of mates. By contrast, the Lhota are
polygynous, a husband having as many as three wives.
Young girls are preferred and bride-prices are high; they are
paid in installments over ten years. Divorce among the Lhota
is also common
Arranged marriages are the norm with women having no Freedom of choice in the
selection of a spouse. A husband may also allow his brother or nearest relative
on his father's side to have conjugal access to his wife when he is absent for
any length of time. The Semas are also polygynous.
A Sema husband may have as many as five to seven wives. Sema women have
freedom of choice in mate selection. As is the case among the Lhota,
marriage-prices are high. Marital residence practices seem to differ among the
various Naga tribes. Part of the Angami marriage ceremony involves the giving
of land to the new couple by the bridegroom's parents. The new couple work
and eat on this land. This may be an indication of a patrilocal postmarital
residence pattern. Part of the Ao betrothal process involves the husband's
construction of a marital home (location not indicated) with materials gathered
from the fields of his parents and the parents of his wife.
FESTIVALS OF THE NAGAS
The Nagas are proud of their rich cultural heritage which is also reflected in
their festivals. The Naga festivals are multifaceted cultural phenomenon.
Their festivals are related to their religion which is again associated with
their economic vocations, social and cultural ethos. Their festivals are
celebrated in relation with different stages of agricultural activity. Festivals
are characterized by community feast and rice-beer. Offering is made to
the supreme god Tingkao-Ragwang, the ancestors, the spirits and the
deities in all festivals.
TYPES OF THE NAGA FESTIVALS
The Nagas perform more than seventeen festivals throughout the year. Gan Ngai, Rih Ngai,
Nanu, Gantham Luithan Bapmei, Napko, Ginkimei, Ten Ngai, Nap Kaodai, Nagungkapmei,
Chakak and Ponghi are the major festivals of this tribe.
Some festivals are described below:
Gan Ngai is the greatest festival. Earlier it used to be celebrated for seven days but
now it is celebrated for five days. It is a post harvesting festival which is celebrated in
the month of December-January every year.
Previously Rih-Ngai lasted for three days but now it is celebrated in only on one day. It
is a war festival in which a ritual is held for purifying the village and men folk who are
the village warriors. This festival is not accompanied by any song and dance. Nanu or
This is a spring festival where all the deities are worshipped by offering animals. It is
celebrated for the welfare of the people.
Napko or Napao
This festival is celebrated by the villagers as a whole or by an individual
family. It is designated as soul of paddy. In this festival a pig is sacrificed and
its flesh is distributed to every household in the village. Distribution of small
piece of liver of that sacrificed pig is made to each family to offer to the
family hearth. Agricultural activities begin after the celebration of this festival.
This religious festival is celebrated to satisfy the goddess of wealth. There is a
belief that by offering the concerned goddess the bad spirits are driven from
the house and the village. A pig is sacrificed and its meat is cooked which is
distributed to every house hold. It is distributed at the front door.