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SCIENCES AND SOCIAL ARTS
THE ANCIENT SINGHALESE.
POPULATION.—CASTE.—SLAVERY AND RAJA-KARIYA.
POPULATION.—In no single instance do the chronicles of Ceylon mention the precise amount of the population of the island, at any particular period; but there is a sufficiency of evidence, both historical and physical, to show that it must have been prodigious and dense, especially in the reigns of the more prosperous kings. Whatever limits to the increase of man artificial wants may interpose in a civilised state and in ordinary climates are unknown in a tropical region, where clothing is an encumbrance, the smallest shelter a home, and sustenance supplied by the bounty of the soil in almost spontaneous abundance. Under such propitious circumstances, in the midst of a profusion of fruit-bearing-trees, and in a country replenished by a teeming harvest twice, at least, in each year, with the least possible application of labour; it may readily be conceived that the number of the people will be adjusted mainly, if not entirely, by the extent of arable land.
The emotion of the traveller of the present time, as day after day he traverses the northern portions of the island, and penetrates the deep forests of the interior, is one of unceasing astonishment at the inconceivable multitude of deserted tanks, the hollows of which are still to be traced; and the innumerable embankments, overgrown with timber, which indicate the sites of vast reservoirs that formerly fertilised districts now solitary and barren. Every such tank is the landmark of one village at least, and such are the dimensions of some of them that in proportion to their area, it is probable that hundreds of villages may have been supported by a single one of these great inland lakes.
The labour necessary to construct one of these gigantic works for irrigation is in itself an evidence of local density of population; but their multiplication by successive kings, and the constantly recurring record of district after district brought under cultivation in each successive reign, demonstrate the steady increase of inhabitants, and the multitude of husbandmen whose combined and sustained toil was indispensable to keep these prodigious structures in productive activity.
[Footnote 1: The practice of recording the formation of tanks for irrigation by the sovereign is not confined to the chronicles of Ceylon. The construction of similar works on the continent of India has been commemorated in the same manner by the native historians. The memoirs of the Rajas of Orissa show the number of tanks made and wells dug in every reign.]