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Unearthing Connections

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Research could unveil ‘more connections’ between Sri Lanka and Bahrain, say experts

Experts endorsed the potential of extensive archaeological research in Bahrain to unearth historical connections between Sri Lanka and the larger Middle East.

Visiting Sri Lankan archaeological scholar Professor Raj Somdewa suggested academic exchange programmes and research, which was welcomed by Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) Antiquities and Museums director Dr Salman Al Mahari. The scholars emphasised that such mutual engagements could open the doors to deeper exploration of the connections between Sri Lanka and the larger region.

They were speaking to Bahrain This Week on the sidelines of an engaging seminar titled ‘Historical Relations between Sri Lanka and the Middle East’ held at the Bahrain National Museum auditorium. The event, held in collaboration with the Sri Lankan Embassy, was part of the efforts to enhance relations between Bahrain and Sri Lanka within the memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in 2014 for cooperation in the fields of culture and arts.

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Prof Somadewa, who is the senior faculty member in archaeology at Sri Lanka’s Kelaniya University, presented his paper on the topic to an audience including Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities president Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Sri Lankan Ambassador Wijaratne Mendis, and invited guests and officials.

Prof Somdewa underlined that the connections with the Middle East have impacted the socio-cultural and economic fabric of Sri Lanka.

“I would like to emphasise the influence made by the Sinhalese language; we have some particular words connected to the Persian linguistic roots; there are many examples that show a linguistic drift, parallels from the Middle Eastern region down to south Asia and even Sri Lanka,” he said.
“Also, in terms of food, we have some very clear parallels between Sri Lanka and the Middle Eastern region – for example, for halwa, we call it muscat, probably derived from the Muscat city in Oman. In terms of folklores, there are inspirations cited from the Mediterranean region. In the early part of the main historical source in Sri Lanka, the Mahavamsa, written in 5th century AD there are some legendary tales – the anthropology shows that such stories are derived from the Persian folk takes. If you want to analyse the Middle Eastern influence in the Sri Lankan culture, you will be able to see many such things. No one has done that kind of effort to unveil the clear picture of such influences and inspirations.”

“Given the difficult economic situation in Sri Lanka, if any country (like Bahrain) would like to encourage one of our students to research from a Sri Lankan perspective, it will be a welcome move,” said Prof Somdewa.
“Student exchange programmes could be explored, and even Bahrain University can invite a scholar from Sri Lanka to stay here for a while to do research on Middle Eastern and Sri Lankan trade, navigation, and maritime lanes; it will be a fruitful endeavour.”

Prof Somadewa commended Bahrain’s rich history and tradition and the nation’s evolution under the leadership of His Majesty the King, and His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister.

“Bahrain is a very old nation that appears in the Holy Bible (Dilmun) and is renowned in the epic of Gilgamesh. It is a beautiful nation with many historical references and is known for the warmth of its people, who are very friendly. We admire the attitude of this nation and the royal family.”

Prof Somadewa, in his paper, highlighted some coins from the Middle East and ceramics, which, according Dr Al Mahari, could be subjects of research.

“Doing more research in archaeology has different aspects beyond discovering,” he said.
“Sometimes we may not know about historic or archaeological relations with nations. We have found such with countries like India, Pakistan, and China, all from that region of the civilisation, whereas we haven’t found anything yet related to Sri Lanka. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have any connections; it’s because maybe we haven’t yet raised the question of whether we have any connections with Sri Lanka. But now we can raise the question, and yes, we can do research. We can host some researchers or archaeologists from Sri Lanka to do research or archaeological excavation to see if they can find some connections. As we saw in Prof Somadewa’s presentation, he highlighted some coins and ceramics, which perhaps could have been used in our region as well.”

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