Cinnamon , tree that gave the name to the country and changed the course of history.
by Jayasiri Lankage
Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean located in southern Asia, southeast of India, in a
strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes. The island is separated from peninsular
India by the Palk Strait. It is located between latitudes 5°55′ and 9°51′ N and longitudes 79°41′
and 81°53′ E ,650 km north of the equator and has a maximum length of 268 miles (432 km)
north to south and a maximum width of 139 miles (224 km) east to west. Total area is 65,610 sq.km.
Sir Emerson Tennent in his well known book on Ceylon (Sri Lanka), says,
“There are no island in the world that has attracted the attention of authors in so many distant
ages and so many different countries as Ceylon. There are no nation in ancient or modern times
possessed of a language and a literature … It’s nature, beauty, culture, religion, antiquities and
productions have been described as well as Greeks, Romans, The writers of China, Burma,
India and the geographers of Arabia and Persia; By the medieval voyagers of Italy, France and
Germany; By the analysts of Portugal and Spain; By the merchant adventurers of Holland and Topographers of Great Britain.”
Cosmos Indicopelustus (545 A.D)
Cosmos Indicopelustus (Indian voyager) the Greek merchant from Alexandria in Christian
Topography, based on his personal experiences as a merchant on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the early 6th century gives the following account of the island Sielen Diva (“island of Sielen“).
“The island being as it is, in a position, is much frequented by ships from all parts of India
and from Persia and Ethiopia and it like wise sends out many of its own and those from remote
countries like China and other trading places…”
Over the centuries Sri Lanka has been known by different names by different nations. Many of
variations have occurred when the original names are transliterated into foreign languages. Some
of the common names by which the country had been known in the past are listed below
Taprobane (derived from Tambapanni),
Lanka , Lankadvipa (in Hindu epic Ramayana)
Parasamudra ( in Kautilya’s Arthasastra meaning beyond the ocean ) Palaisimoundu /Simonddou ( in Greek derived from Parasamudra)
Sinhala, Sihala,(Land of the Sinhala)
Heladiva (island of Hela ), island of Sinhalese also derived from Sihala)
Lakdiva, Lak bima (also derived from Lanka)
Arabic – Serendip, Serendiv, Singaldip (derived from Sinhaladvipa), Sheelan (derived fromSihala)
Chinese – shizi guo, shizi zhou (sihaladvipa) bao zhu , bao zhou, Pa-Outchow (isle of gems derived from( Ratnadvipa) and xilan, Si-lan (derived from Sihala)
Dutch – Zeilna, Ceilan and Seylon.
Greek- Taprobane, Seilen diva (Sinhala dvipa) ,Salike (country of Salai= Sinhala)
Latin – Zeylan
Persian – Serendip
Portuguese – Ceilao
Spanish – Ceilan
Tamil – Ilam, Ilanare , Ilan-nadu , (country of Ceylon, Ilan (derived from Silam, Simhala) and Ilankai (Sri Lanka)
Of all these names, mostly referred names and the variants are Tambapanni, Sinhaladvipa,
Sinhala, Lanka and Sri Lanka.
Cinnamon tree is native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon).It is known that cinnamon originating in Sri Lanka had been a commodity of much value and prestige amongst the nations. Cinnamon is commonly known in trade as ‘Ceylon cinnamon. In Sarasvati Nigandu cinnamon is referred to as “Sainhalam” meaning belonging to the country of Sinhala (Ceylon).
Common names of cinnamon
In botany common names are the names given by local people to refer to plants. The common names used for cinnamon vary from country to country, region to region and language to language. When the cinnamon spice was taken from country to country people have used different names. Some have used the common name used in the country of origin.But there exist variations due to transliteration. There are other common names coined by the Recipients based on the special characteristics of the commodity. Cinnamon is known today by many different common names. It is interesting to study the common names used for cinnamon by different nations of the world. These names also can reveal historical facts and the notions of the different users of the world during the past and present.
Following is a list of common names used for cinnamon in different languages
Arabic Qarfah, Qirfah, Qurfa
Aramaic Darsini , Qenamon
Armenian Ginamon, Darichenik, Kinamom, Darisenik
Azeri( Azerbaijan) Darçın
Basque Kanela, Kanelondo
Belarusian Cynamon, Karytsa, Zejlonskaja karyca
Bengali Darchini, Daruchini
Bulgarian Tsejlonska kanela
Burmese Thit-ja-bo-gauk, Hminthin
Chinese Rou gui, Xi lan rou gui
Croatian Cimet, Ceylonski cimet
Czech Skořice, Skořice cejlonská
English Ceylon cinnamon
Estonian Tseiloni kaneelipuu, Kaneel
Farsi Darchin, Dar chini
Finnish Kaneli, Ceyloninkaneli
French Cannelle type Ceylan, Cannelle
German Zimt, Ceylon-Zimt,
Greek Kanela (Keÿlanes)
Greek (Old) Kinnamomom
Hebrew Kinamon, Qinamon
Hungarian Fahéj, Ceyloni fahéj
Indonesian Kayu manis,
Japanese Nikkei, Seiron-nikkei, Shinamon
Kannada Dalchinni, Lavangapatta, Chakke
Korean Kye, Gye, Kyepi, Sillon-gyepi, Sinamon, Yukkye
Malay Kayu manis
Malayalam Ilavangam, Karuva, Karuvappatta, Lavangappatta, Patta
Nepali Dalchini, Kukhi taj
Polish Cynamon cejloński
Punjabi Dal chini
Russian Koritsa, Tsejlonskaya koritsa
Sanskrit Darusita, Twak,Bahugandha, Bringa,Chocha,Darusita, Kamavallabha,
Serbian Cimet, Darčin
Sinhala Kurundu, Kuruvindaka, Kruradru, Lavanga, Lamanga, Varanga, Sinhalam
Slovak Škorica, Škorica cejlonská
Tamil Ilavangam, Lavanga pattai, Karuva
Telugu Lavangamu, Lavangapatta , chekka
Thai Ob choey, Ob choey tet, Ob choey Srilanka
Tibetan Shing-tsha, Shing-tsa
Turkish Seylan tarçını, Darçın, Tarçın
Urdu Dar chini, Dal chini
Vietnamese Que Srilanca, Que hoi, Que ranh
The English word Cinnamon comes from, old French Cinnamone from the Latin Cinnamomum which is a transliteration of Greek Kinnamomon and supposed to be from Semitic cf. Hebrew
Qinamon. Esperanto Cinamo, German Zimt, Lithuanian Cinamonas, Polish Cynamon and Welsh Synamon have derived from Latin Cinnamomum.
The terms Dutch Kaneel, Estonian Kaneel, Finnish Kaneli, Finnish Kaneli,
French Cannelle , Gaelic Caineal.Galician Canela, Greek Kanela, Icelandic Kanell,
Irish Cainéal,Italian Cannella, Latvian Kanēlis, Maltese Kannella, Norwegian Kanel, Portuguese Canela, Spanish Canela, Swedish Kanel, Tagalog Kanela may have been used as rolled up cinnamon bark resembled “ little cannon tubes”
Marathi Dalachini, Nepali Dalchini, Oriya Dalachini , Punjabi Dal chini , Serbian Darčin,
Swahili Mdalasini, Telugu Dalchina, Turkish Darçın, Tarçın, Urdu Dar chini, Dal chini,
Uzbek Dolchin term suggests that cinnamon probably would have been originally introduced to these places from China and the name dalchini originally meant Chinese cinnamon cassia.
The common names lavangam and illavangam, lavangapatta used for cinnamon in the following
Dravidian languages such as Kannada,Malayalam,Tamil and Telingu shows that the word
lavanga or illavanga has been borrowed from the Sinhala term which in turn is derived from ancient pali language.
Kannada Lavangapatta, Chakke,Malayalam Ilavangam, Karuva, Karuvappatta, Lavangappatta, Patta,Tamil Ilavangam, Lavanga pattai, Karuva,Telugu ,Lavangamu, Lavangapatta , chekka
In ancient times cinnamon originating from Sri Lanka was taken to other parts of the world via
cinnamon route that passed through south Indian ports. It is possible that they used the same
common name used in Sri Lanka for cinnamon.
Other terms Karuva and Karuva patta used in Kannada and Tamil languages also would have been borrowed from Sinhala word kurundu. Tamil lexicons have not given the etymology for karuva. It is also opinioned that it may have been derived from the Arabic word Qarfah, Qirfah,
Qurfa used for cinnamon. This view cannot be held as true, since the Arabic word and its variants have been derived from early Sinhala word Kruradru/Kurundu. Arabs were the first spice traders who carried Ceylon cinnamon to Malabar Coast in South India and to Egypt.
In Sri Lanka cinnamon is known by several names. In Sarartha Sangrahaya a treatise on medicine compiled by king Buddhadasa who reigned the country during (340-368 AD) has referred to cinnamon as “kruradru’, ‘twak”, “twachak”, “gudathvag”, “lamanga”,”lavanga” and “varanga.”
In the Saraswati Niganthu cinnamon is spoken as “Sainhala”meaning belonging to the country of Sinhala. In several other Sanskrit works on medicine copied and translated into Pali and thennto Sinhala have used the words lavanga and lamanga in referring to cinnamon as well as cloves.
Sri Sumangala Sinhala–Sinhala Dictionary gives the meaning of lavanga as 1.kurundu gasa
(cinnamon tree) 2. karabu gasa (clove tree)-lavanga pushpa as karabu- neti (clove buds). But for ‘lamanga’ meaning is given as 1.lavanga; karabu-neti, ( clove buds) , 2.kurundu gasa
(cinnamon tree), 3. one of the five ingredients (paspalavata) used with betel chew. It is evident that the word lavanga has been used in ancient Sinhala books for kurundu (cinnamon) as well as cloves derived from old Pali vocabulary. Yogaratnakaraya written in 13 th century refers to kurundu pothu (cinnamon bark) as ‘lavanga pothu’ and ‘lavanga sumbulu’. In Kavyasekaraya the word lavanga refers to kurundu (cinnamon).
Kurundu is the long standing common name used in Sinhala and this term is derived fromNthe Sanskrit word “Kruradru” given in Sarartha Sangrahaya. The Sinhala term ‘kurundu’ is transliterated into English as” Coorundo” in 17th century records.In following languages, Ceylon or Sri Lanka (denoting the country of origin) is affixed as qualifying word to the common names they use for cinnamon. It is to differentiate true cinnamon from other varieties especially cassia.
Belarusian Cynamon, Karytsa, Zejlonskaja karyca
Chinese Rou gui, Xi lan rou gui
English Ceylon cinnamon
Estonian Tseiloni kaneelippu
French Cannelle type Ceylan,
Hungarian Ceyloni fahej
Japanese Seiron nikkei
Korean Sillon-gyepi, Sinamon, Yukkye
Polish Cynamon cejloński
Russian Tsejlonskaya koritsa
Slovak Škorica cejlonská
Thai Ob choey Srilanka
Turkish Seylan tarçını
Vietnamese Que Srilanca
Toponymy of Sri Lanka
Toponymy is defined as the study place names of a country, region or language. The toponomical study of place names can provide very useful linguistic, historical, and geographical information.
The tradition recorded in the Pali chronicles that the ancestors of the Sinhalese migrated into this island from North India is confirmed by the evidence of the language. After the Sinhala settlement, island was named Sinhala-dvipa, (Pali Sihala-dipa). This name in course of timeBpassed into Arabs as Serendib, Serendip,Serendiv,Singaldip (derived from Sinhala-dvipa) and Sheelan (derived from Sihala).
The earliest known name of the island is ‘Tambapanni‘ and it goes back to the arrival of Vijaya,the traditional first king of the country. According to the account given in the chronicles Dipavamsa (believed to have compiled around the 3-4th century AD) and Mahavamsa (written by Mahanama Thera in the 6th century AD) record that Vijaya and his followers landed at Tambapanni on the day of Buddha’s Parinirvana. (Mhv.vi.47; Dpv.ix.30)
When they grasped the earth with their hands became red by contact with the soil and they thereupon named the place Tambapanni (copper coloured hand or (copper-coloured beach).Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and following that the whole island came to bear the same name (Dpv.vii.38-42)
Asoka,the Indian Emperor in the third century B.C.in his Rock Edicts II. and XIII mentions Tambapanni as one of the Pratyanta desas ( outside his dominions) together with Coda, Pāndya, Satiyaputta, Keralaputta, and the realm of Antiyaka Yonarāja, as an unconquered territory with whose people Asoka was on friendly terms.
In the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century AD) older name of the island is given as Taprobane and its modern as Palaisimundu (Parasamudra).
Meaning of Tambapanni
Derivation of the word Tambapanni has given rise to much controversy. Many fanciful conjectures have been written on this word. Some it is supposed to have derived from copper coloured soil, others think it means copper coloured leaves or flowers. According to Dhampiya
Atuwa Getapadaya to have red hands the name should have been written as Tamba paani and not Tamba panni, it is paani that can mean ‘hands’. Cinnamon trees have copper coloured leaves, when young leaves first shoot out from the tops of the branches they are bright red and turn pale yellow and thereafter dark green. The red colourNof the leaves of these could have been one of the first things that attracted visitor’s attention.
Trees having copper colour leaves can be identified with Kurundu trees and the term Kurundu has been used in place names of the country from the time of Aryan settlements. The place where Vijaya and his followers landed was on the south of the Kadamba nadi now known as Malwatu Oya. The lower course of the Malwatu Oya was then known as Kurundu Oya.(Knox,Relation of Ceylon Pt. iv,ch. x) To name the that part of the river as Kurundu oya there must have been kurundu trees around the banks.
King Khallatanaga (109-103B.C.) built Kurundapasaka vihara. In Tamil it is known as Kurundaka velu temple. Kurundi atthakatha, a Sinhala commentary on Tripitaka was writtenBat the Kurundapasaka Vihara. The Kurundi vihara was one of the temples renovated by King Vijayabahu I (1033-1110 AD)
Kurundu kanda (Tamil kuru Malai ) is located in Mullativu district. This ancient Buddhist site has been identified as Kurundapasaka vihara built by King Khallatanaga. Kurundu pura or Kurunda pura (Tamil- Kurunda nur) is in Mullativu district.
Kurundan kulama in Vavunia District, Kurundan kulama in Mullativu District and Kurundan kulama in Mannar District were tanks. These tanks (vapi in Pali,vewa in Sinhala, kulam in Tamil) may be the small irrigation tanks built during the early Anuradhapura period. According to Nicholas and Paranavithana (1961) “The inscriptions of the first to third centuries name nearly 150 tanks and canals which are not mentioned in the Chronicles”. Some of these tanks derived
the name Kurundu vewa as cinnamon trees grew wild in these areas. For example Kumbukkan Oya flows where kumbuk trees grew.Kurundan is Tamil adaptation of Sinhala kurundu or kurunda.Sinhala word kurunda means a cinnamon grove where cinnamon trees grew. Even at present the name kurunda is used to a tract of cinnamon bushes in a plantation which looks an extensive forest.King Aggabodhi (575-608 AD) build Kurundu vewa (Pali Kurundaka vapi).H.W. Codrington in his Short History of Ceylon says that “ Kurundu vewa possibly may have been Giant’s Tank or Akattimurippu as the lower course of the Malwatu Oya was then known as Kurundu Oya. The Cinnamon country (Kurundu Rata) seems to have been in this neighbourhood. ( C.A. x. p. 94 )”
There are other Buddhist place names connected with Kurundu mentioned in the Chronicles. But some of them are not identified. Kurunduchullaka pirivena belonging to Jetavana fraternity is one such place. Kurundapillaka vihara is another ancient Buddhist site. Kurundi is a place where Kālinga Māgha (1215-1236 AD) maintained a garrison. There is a place named Korundu kanda or Kurunda kanda (Tamil Kurundan malai) in Mullativu district.
This place has been identified as the locality where King Khallatanaga (109-103B.C.) built Kurundapasaka Vihara. Kurundupura or,Kurundapura,(Tamil Kurundanur) in Mullativu district
Kurundugolla (Tamil-Karuwachcholai) in Madakalapuwa- Batticaloa district
Kurundu kaenna (Tamil – Karuwakkeani) in Valashena (Valaichennai)
Most of these place names were originally Sinhala names and were Tamilized during the Chola occupation of the country. This transformation occurred especially when Tamil speaking people occupied those places.
Kurundu Ganga located in Nuwara Eliya District
Kurundu Ganga Ela in Nuwara Eliya District
Kurundu Oya Falls in Nuwara Eliya Distrct
Kurundu Lena in Hambantota District
Ihala Kurundu Wewa in North Central Province
Pahala Kurundu Wewa in North Central Province
Kurundu ulpotha Eastern Province
Kurundu kumbura Wayamba or North Western Province
Kurundu kotuwa Delgoda,Gampaha
Kurundu gaha , kurundu gaha hatekma Village in Karandeniya
Kurundu vinna Village bordering Galoya National Park
Kurundu kanda in Galle
Kurundu doowa (cinnamon isle) in Madoowa, Balapitiya
Kurundugoda in Monaragala
Kurundupotha in North Western Province
These are some of the place names having kurundu as the first part or the identifier of the place.There must have been Kurundu trees wherever the place names having kurundu as the first part.
There are many names of villages, cities, rivers or oyas, tanks (vewas),ponds, caves (len), water-falls, hills, in the country named after cinnamon. It is necessary to do a comprehensive study to compile a complete list.The Dutch began systematic cultivation of cinnamon plantations in the Maritime Provinces Stretching from Negombo to Matara administered by them. Subsequently cultivation spread to inland areas of Kalutara, Ratnapura,Balapitiya,Ambalangoda and Matara. With the spread of cinnamon plantations there were many places that came to be known as Cinnamon gardens.(Kurundu watu) The first Kurundu watta so named was the Maradana cinnamon plantation, then followed Kadirana in Negombo, Moratuwa, Ekala, and Welisara. Although the name Kurundu watta remain in most of these places cinnamon trees have been uprooted for village expansion and urbanization.
From the above mentioned facts, it is clear that cinnamon trees grew from the time the Aryan settlers occupied the country about sixth century BC. Majority of people lived in villagespursuing agriculture. They built village tanks, and canals for irrigation of land. They named some of the villages, rivers, tanks, religious institutions taking into consideration the vegetation in the area. Lower course of Malwatu oya was known as Kurundu oya. Chronicles only mention three tanks in the first century, but inscriptions name many more.The toponymical evidences as well as the archeological and historical findings prove that cinnamon grew in most of the Provinces in the country. Technical bulletin 5 issued by the Department of Export Agriculture records that” Cinnamon seems to have originated in the central hills where several species of cinnamon occur sporadically in places such as Kandy,
Matale, Belihul Oya, Haputale, and Sinharaja forest range.”(Cinnamon: Technical Bulletin-5,DEA (1996, p.1)
Tennent, (1859) says “Mr.Thwaites, of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kandy, is of opinion from his own observation, that cinnamon is indigenous to Ceylon, as it is found but inferior quality, in the central mountain range, as high as 300 feet above the level of the sea – and again in the sandy soil near Batticoloa on the east coast, he saw it in such quantity as to suggest the idea that it must be the remains of former cultivation. This statement of Mr. Thwaites is quite in consistency with the narrative of Valentyne (ch.vii) that the Dutch ,in their first arrival in Ceylon , AD 1601-1602, took on board cinnamon in Batticoloa – and that the surrounding district continued to produce it in great abundance in AD 1726.(ib. ch.xv p.223,224).Still it must be observed that its appearance in these situations is not altogether inconsistent with the popular belief that the seeds may have been carried by the birds”.
Ibn Batuta , Moroccan Muslim traveler who came to Sri Lanka in 1344 AD says that “ the whole of the shore in the north west coast abounds with cinnamon – brought by the rivers.They are collected in mounds on the sea shore — The merchants of Coromandel and Malabar take them away without paying for them, but they give cloth and such things in exchange”.(quoted in Dangerous Tastes The Story of Spices by Andrew Dalby, Berkely : University of California Press,2000),From early historical times Sri Lanka has attracted foreign traders to it’s shores for spices,especially cinnamon. Following are remarks by travelers who visited the country “The shores of the island are full of it”, a Dutch captain reported, “and it is the best in all the Orient: when one is downwind of the island, one can still smel cinnamon eight leagues out to sea.” (Braudel 1984, p. 215)
Lord Valentia says “he perceived a fragrant odour at sea which was wafted a distance of nine leagues on the eastern coast” Mandelsloe, speaks of “whole forests of orange, lemon, and cinnamon trees, which diffused their fragrance at a great distance out to sea. “
Sri Lanka is the largest producer of cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume) in the world. In early times the cinnamon trade was in the hands of the Arabs, who traded in it with the Greeks and Romans but they kept the source, a closely guarded secret to maintain their monopoly. They brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. It was the quest for spices that led to exploration of the world in the 15th century. Cinnamon was the most important spice that attracted the Westerners to the country. According to Baldaeus(1732) “Cinnamon was the ” Helen or Bride” for whom, the Netherlanders and Portuguese had for so many years contended.”
Portuguese traders arrived in Ceylon in 1505 AD. They established forts on the island and protected their monopoly of cinnamon for over a hundred years. The Dutch displaced the Portuguese and gained control of the Cinnamon monopoly by allying with the King of Kandy.The British took control of the island from the Dutch in 1796. In 1802 Ceylon became a Crown Colony.In 1815 the British took advantage of opposition to Sri Vikrama Rajasinha to depose him and capture the kingdom of Kandy. The whole island came under the British rule for another 133 years. On Colebrooke’s recommendation the cinnamon monopoly was abolished in 1833.However, the importance of the monopoly of Ceylon was already declining, as cultivation of the cinnamon spread to other countries, the cassia became more acceptable to consumers.
Sri Lanka is the largest producer of cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume) in the world. In early times the cinnamon trade was in the hands of the Arabs, who traded in it with the Greeks and Romans but they kept the source, a closely guarded secret to maintain their monopoly.
They brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. It was the quest for spices that led to exploration of the world in the 15th century.
Ceylon regained independence from the British in 1948.When the country became a full- fledged Republic in1972 and was named “Sri Lanka”. According to Madan and Kannan ( 2003) “Untill the end of 1970s Sri Lanka was the leader in production and export of this commodity [Cinnamon] controlling the markets to North and South America. The other major importers like France, Germany and the U.K. re-export value added cinnamon products. The share of Sri Lanka’s export has been reduced from one third to one tenth over the past two decades…Sri Lanka’s share of total exports has declined substantially since 1970,despite the higher unit value ratios when compared to other exporting countries .the decline is only in terms of percentage share, not in terms of actual quantity. ….Taking Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Seychelles as the cinnamon exporting countries during 1975 the ratio of cinnamon to cassia in the total world export was 53:47.The ratio came down to an average of 19:81 in the 1980’s the ratio further came down to13:87 of the average world export of75,763 t. of cinnamon and cassia” It is saddening to note that share of total exports of Ceylon cinnamon has declined drastically under the Independent Sri Lanka.
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[Cinnamon , tree that gave the name to the country and changed the course of history
by Jayasiri Lankage, was published In OPA Journal : the Official Journal of the Organization of the Professional Associations of Sri Lanka Vol. 28 pp.40-48]