This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
Ceylon was known to the ancients perhaps as early as South India itself, and Tamil literature contains a few references earlier than that in Buddhist tradition, which associate the island with the story of the Ramayana. In one poem,1 a poet of the city of Madura who is known by the name Kaduvan Ma]]anar, who was by profession "an actor in the Tamil mode," refers to the ancient Kodi (Kori of the classical geographers, end of "the bridge" as the commentator renders it) of the Kauriyar (Pandyas) where in the foreshore of the boisterous sea the warlike Rama held, with his companions, a council under a big banian tree, when by a mere look he put an end to the noise that the birds were making on the tree. This "Council of Rama" is apparently the Council held for constructing the dam across the sea to reach the Lanka of Ravana. There is another reference in an early poet Unpodi Pas'um-Kodaiyar in a poem,2
1 Aham 70, 11. 13-16. 2 Puram, 378.
celebrating the famous Chola Ilam-Set-Senni who destroyed Serup-Pali. The reference there is to the abduction of Sita by Havana, and the incident is brought in there for a comparison to the wondering monkeys which took up the jewels she dropped while she was being carried across in the aerial car. The next poem of the same collection refers to Lanka as the territory of one Villi Adan. There are references in the Silappadhikaram to three incidents of the Ramayana. The first is Rama's going to the forest at the command of the father (XIII. 11. 63-66). The next is to divine Rama having gone to the forest at the command of the father and being put to great sorrow owing to his separation from his wife. (XIV 11. 46-49). The third relates to the going of Rama and his brother to the forest and the destruction of well-fortified Lanka (XVII, p. 401). There is a similar reference to the building of the bridge of Rama, alluding to materials thrown in going to the bottom, in the Manimckhalai (XV II, 11. 9-15).
It is clear from these stray references taken along with that in Aham 70 already referred to, that to the audience of these poets the story of the Ramayana was familiar in minute detail. But turning from the Tamil classics to the Mahavamsa, the history of Buddhism in Ceylon, the first occasion when Ceylon is brought into communication with this part of India is in connection with the occupation of the island by Vijaya and his followers, passing over for the occasion the mythical references to the visits of the Buddha and his predecessors to the island. According to the story as incorporated in this chronicle and divesting the story for the time being of the mythical colouring, Vijaya was a prince of Bengal (Vanga). He was the great-grandson of the king of Bengal by a Kalinga Princess whom he had married. His mother the Bengal Princess was an amorous young woman and was abandoned by the parents. She joined a caravan travelling to the Magadha country, apparently from Bengal. The caravan was attacked in the Lata country by a lion which killed several of the party and drove the rest. Among those that escaped was the Bengal Princess who ran away along the path the lion came by. When the lion returned to its cave it discovered the beautiful princess on the way and is said to have been charmed, according to the story, by her good looks. The result of the amorous dalliance of the lion with her was the twin birth of a boy and a girl. After various adventures both the children and the mother escaped from the guardianship of the lion which was ultimately killed by the son. In return for this good service the king of Bengal gave his "lion-handed" grandson the kingdom, having had no son. The grandson, however, made it over to an uncle of his who had married his mother and retired from there with his own sister to the land of his birth. He there built a city which he called Sihapura, (Sans. Simhapura), and cleared the forest round for a great distance founding villages. This according to the story was the kingdom (of Lata) where he ruled. The sister-queen bore him 16 twins of whom he designed the eldest for the succession. Finding that he was an intolerably wicked young man the king had to subject the prince and his friends to the disgrace of being half-shaved and banished from the kingdom. Vijaya, his companions, and their wives and children were all put on board a ship and sent upon the sea. In the course of the voyage they got separated, probably in consequence of a shipwreck; the children landed on an island which the Mahavamsa calls Naggadipa (Sans. Nagna-dvipa) the island of the naked, the women landed in an island called Mahiladipaka (islet of women), while Vijaya himself is said to have landed at a haven called Supparaka. This last place had been identified with Sopara on the west coast of India as Vijaya is ordinarily taken to have sailed from Lata or Gujarat. We shall see presently that neither the one nor the other is tenable on the material furnished by the story. The Mahavamsa then introduces the prophecy of the Buddha that the island of Lanka would be occupied by Vijaya coming from the country of Lata and to his direction to Sakka, Indra, to do the needful, as through Vijaya Buddha's religion was going to be established in Ceylon. In the course of this narration Ceylon receives both the names Lanka and Tamba-panni.
Vijaya came with 700 of his followers; and was told by an ascetic whom he saw that the island was called Lanka which was uninhabited. Vijaya thereafter had to overcome the Yakshas in the island and take possession of it completely. The island where he first landed from the ship which carried him and his followers was called, according to this story, Tambapanni (Sans. Tamravarni), because on landing their hands and feet which touched the ground became red with the dust of the red-earth, and the city founded on that spot was named therefore Tambapanni. The whole island was named Sihala (San. Simhala) from his name, Siha-bahu (Sans. Simhabahu). His followers went about founding villages here and there in various parts of the island in the northern portion of it, and got into some kind of settlement. It was then that it was felt by Vijaya that a mere body of men cannot make a country. In order to obtain the necessary complement of womenfolk he sent a special embassy to Madhura in