Sinhala Buddhist roots of South Indian Tamil chauvinism
Posted on August 23rd, 2009

Susantha Goonatilake

As for SouthIndian Tamils and Buddhism in late 19th century and early 20th century you may want to read my article       “White sahibs, Brown sahibs: tracking Dharmapala” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka New Series Vol. LIV 2008 pp 53-136.

 Below is the abstract of a paper read at the Sri Lanka sociological Association conference a few weeks ago which deals also on the same theme.

A major separatist movement in India was the Tamil chauvinist Dravidistan movement, incipient in the 1920s but influential from the 1940s to the 1960s. Its indirect offspring was the LTTE and the major Sri Lankan separatist movements beginning with the FP and the TULF. The latter’s racial targets were Sinhalese and Buddhists. But the South Indian Tamil movement itself owes it to late 19th century Sinhalese Buddhists working closely with the Indian Tamil Dalits (Untouchables). The history of the Tamil Buddhist Dalit movement which predates by nearly half a century the better-known Ambedkar movement is now being laid bare through recent Dalit publications. The Tamil Dalit movement had a close ideological cooperation with the Sinhalese 19th century Buddhist Renaissance. Dalits worked closely with Anagarika Dharmapala. They came for guidance to Sri Lanka and were received by large crowds, visited new temples like Vidyodaya and old ones like Kalaniya as well as the Chief Monks of Malwatta and Asgiriya and of the Ramanna Nikaya. They were told  by these monks that Buddhist theory had no place for caste. On return to India they set up a “self respect” movement for Dalits and Tamils claiming (falsely) that they were formerly Indian Buddhists who had been put down by other castes. A Buddhist Young Men’s Association was formed with Anagarika Dharmapala. The rise of the Dravidian Tamil Buddhist movement with Sinhalese inputs resulted for example in the influential book The Essence of Buddhism with an introduction by Dharmapala. Future DMK (Dravidian) leaders like E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar) lectured at Buddhist events and identified themselves with the new Tamil Buddhist movement. But as the movement matured, it was gradually captured by a more racist Dravidian ideology and the original universal Buddhist message was soon bypassed to be turned into the precursor of South Indian Tamil ideology today.

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