The languages used in Hela Diva in Buddha’s period

All the rulers in Hela Diva (Deva Hela) mainly used two languages.

  1. Magadhi Prakruth language
  2. Hela Basa (Hela Language)

As a whole, the language of the ordinary citizens in the entire Hela Diva was Hela Basa. Hela Basa had been used as a spoken language and also as a written language. Hela Basa was used everywhere by ordinary citizens, in the day today life and also in their trading activities.

Prakruth Magadhi language was a language of the great scholars. Magadhi language was used for technology, science & craftsmanship and administration of the country. Magadhi language was used commonly in the county of Magadha of which the city of Rajagaha was the capital city. The scholars, rulers of the country, clergy, Brahmans and some Counts learnt and used the Magadhi language. Everyone who used Maghadi language knew Hela Basa as well. The gap between Magadhi language and Hela language was not that much great. Maghadi language was used to learn any particular skill & knowledge or any science.  It can be seen that the mass in the general public did not use the profound Maghadi language.

Buddha used Maghadi language to teach Dhamma in all the sixteen states in Janbudveepa Hela Diva. The Dhamma preached in Maghadi language was easily understood by the common people who used Hela Basa as well. In the ancient times there lived scholars in Hela Diva who knew Hela Basa as well and they present Artha, Dharma, Nirukthi and Patibhana for the intellectual Buddha Dhamma which was taught in Maghadi language. Because of this, Buddha Dhamma preached in Magadhi language by Gautama Buddha was analyzed during that period itself and Hela Commentaries were written for them. Hela Basa was a written language, but not the Maghadi language. Because of this, within the same period of time, Commentary writing (Attha katha)[2] in Hela Basa was done for the Buddha Dhamma preached by Gautama Buddha. In order to analyze and present explanations for the teachings of Buddha, in the ancient times in Hela Bima, five Artha kathas written in Hela Basa had been used and they are Hela Atuwa, Kurundi Atuwa, Budukali Atuwa, Seehala Attha Katha and Mahaatta Katha. All these Attha Kathas were written on Buddha Dhamma preached by Gautama Buddha in Maghadi language. These original Hela Atuwa could be seen even in the Anuradhapura period. The alphabet used for Magadhi language and Hela Language was the same. There were no two different alphabets. Both these languages used a methodology of Prakrit letters. But by this time, what used in India were the Brahmi letters and the Sanskrit language. The ordinary citizens in India never used Maghadi language or Hela Basa. Because of this, one can notice that there are certain differences between the letters used in Lanka in the very old age in Helabima, which is the Buddha’s period even before Anuradhapura period, and the letters used in Anurahapura after Ashoka’s period. The consequence of this were that the inscriptions reader of the Anuradhapura period experienced difficulties in reading inscriptions written in Buddha’s period in Hela Diva. But the pattern of the letters in Anuradapura period and Ashoka period was very similar. This is because of the influence from India. In the ancient Hela Diva, rulers and some scholars from Yakkha Hela where Yakkha & Naaga tribes lived knew both languages, Maghadi and Hela Basa. Rulers of Yakkha tribe such as Saathaagira and Hemawatha could understand the Dhamma preached by Gautama Buddha in Maghadi language. Even King Samana could understand Dhamma. And also the great King Wessawana introduced the enactment of Aataanaataa to Gautama Buddha in Magadhi language. Gautama Buddha preached the same to his disciples again in Magadhi language.

In the ancient times Arahant Mahinda Thero came to Hela Diva (Lanka), went to the capital city of Rajagaha (Ampara) in the kingdom of Magada, learnt both Magadhi language & Hela Basa for few years, took the Budu Kali Commentaries written in Hela Basa to Anuradhapura and preached Buddha Dhamma to King Dewana Paathis in both Magadhi language & Hela Basa. This means that most of the people lived in the kingdom of Anuradhapura too knew Hela Basa and Magadhi language very well. Gradually, Helabasa became the language of the common man and Magadhi language became the language of the intellectuals.

This Magadhi language used by the intellectuals in all the sixteen states in Hela Diva and also in Yakkha Hela & Naaga Hela had never ever been a language to be used by any region or any kingdom in India. All the languages prevailed in India that day were based on Sanskrit, but not Prakrit.

 After preaching Dhamma by Gautama Buddha in Hela Diva, Dhamma spread out gradually to South India and the regions like east Kerala. When Buddha Dhamma was spread out in this manner, Maghadi language was used in the kingdoms in South and East India. As a result of this, books written in Hela Diva in Magadhi and Hela languages were translated in to Indian languages. Indian universities too started teaching Maghadi language and that is only after the spreading of Buddha Dhamma. Pela[3] is not a language. Pela Dhamma is nothing but the texts or passages of Buddha Dhamma in Magadhi language which are in the form of lines or arranged into lines. Buddha Dhamma was presented in this manner, in the form of lines, as it helps in easy reading by heart and registers in mind thoroughly. After 7 centuries, in the latter part of Anuradhapura period, Pela Dhamma was transformed in to a language called Pali and later modified it as a language with grammar. Pali language which is used and learnt at present is a created, modified language and not the same Magadhi language used by Buddha to preach Dhamma. There are many differences between these two. Artha, Dharma and Nirukthi can be presented for the Magadhi terms which were used by the Buddha. Pali language has only customary meanings.



[2] Atta Katha or Attha Katha or Artha Katha – the commentaries were written with the aim of explaining something in a simple manner, to make easy the reader to understand certain difficult words.

[3] The line.

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