Looking East at Independence
Posted on February 13th, 2013

Susantha GOONATILAKE

The setting, Trincomalee was symbolic. Around 10 years ago, a fisherman had pointed out to me a leveled strip of Sampur where he said the TNA had declared as the future Parliament of Tamil Eelam. It was here in the LTTE’s Pongu Tamil celebration that Catholic priests were pictured provocatively marking out the future boundaries of Tamil Eelam.


President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the nation at the 65th Independence anniversary celebrations held in Trincomalee. Picture by Sudath Silva

It was of this same Trincomalee that I had heard in a New Delhi seminar, the Indian General Kalkat, play-acting 19thCentury European colonialists who carved up the world. Kalkat recalled he had chosen Trincomalee to be the capital of the Northern and Eastern provinces of their puppet entity instead of Jaffna.

The present government and the Sri Lankan political system are far from perfect. I can point out, as I have done privately, many failings and many possible improvements. But, the speech by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in many ways flawless. At a time when the opposition, both the UNP and the JVP seem to be continuously on the verge of suicide, it was in many ways brilliant. And I do not use such words carelessly.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa punched all the correct buttons. He recalled the correct history of Trincomalee, not the fiction created by the LTTE and TNA. He mentioned the ancient port of Gokanna and also the Mankani inscription around the 12th C (shortly after the Chola invasion) evoking the Buddha written in Tamil but with some words of Sinhalese origin. He mentioned how the Asgiriya temple had given land for the Kandy mosque indicative of Sinhalese Buddhist largess.

He could have mentioned that when the barbarous Portuguese attacked the Muslims, the Sinhalese Kings gave them shelter and later settled them in the Eastern Province. He could have also mentioned how when our Catholics converted by the Portuguese were being persecuted by the Protestant Dutch, it was the Sinhalese King who gave them refuge.

President Rajapaksa could also have mentioned that under the British, our Buddhist monks helped translate the Bible and allowed Christian priests to use temples as churches. Only of course to be later let down.

United Nations Charter

There was of course other relevant information that President Rajapaksa did not mention. For example, that the Portuguese who destroyed the temples around Trincomalee were according to Portuguese records administered by “the Ganzes (Ganinnase) of the sect of Budun (Buddha)”.


Air Force personnel

Various dances as part of the cultural show. Pictures by Sudath Malaweera

Or that the Portuguese had mentioned that the Buddhist monks who controlled the Trincomalee “pagodas” were subordinate to the Matera (Mahathera) of Aracao (Arakan in Burma). Or that Francis Xavier claimed to have met the Terunanse (“Terunnanse”) the head of the Buddhist monks of Trincomalee.

These Trincomalee sites were first destroyed by de Azavedo who “killed the Ganzes (Buddhist monks)”. De Sa then destroyed the three pagodas making use of their building material to erect a fort close to the harbour of the “Chingala” (Sinhalese) “on the site of the celebrated pagoda”. The king of Kandy who had been a Buddhist monk, the Portuguese noted, greatly resented this destruction.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was now looking towards the East whose nations after centuries of humiliation by the West are today rising. He quoted sections of the United Nations Charter which stood for the sovereign integrity of nations.

Leading Western nations have large amounts of blood in their hand from Afghanistan and Iraq at the present, to the carpet bombing of Vietnam and innocent Laos, to the barbarous genocidal actions in World War II as in the overnight destruction of Dresden city and the atom bombing of Japan after the war was almost won.

Our war, one of the longest ever in the world, started in 1973 when 20,000 detonators were smuggled from India into Jaffna. And in 1976, the Vadukoddai resolution called for separatism.

The major trigger was India, arming several terrorist groups in different parts of India and sending them to Sri Lanka in multiple acts of cross-border terrorism. This sub imperial exercise backfired when the LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi. War is no picnic. It is an extremely bloody, cruel exercise with innocents from every side getting killed. And all these countries in defence of their sovereignty have fought furiously.

The US, the world overlord is not subject to war crimes and refuses to sign the associated international laws. And none of the Western countries engaging in recent imperial overreach have been subjected to the required criminal charges. Just browsing through the Internet would give numerous Western leaders culpable of major war crimes. India for her part has mercilessly crushed her internal revolts like those of the Punjab, Kashmir and the North-East.

The current picking exclusively on Sri Lanka is regional and global geopolitics. It is like dogs fighting over a tasty morsel. Fortunately, the West has arrived at imperial over reach. The US is indebted to China, and Europe bending its knee to rising Asia. We as the country with the longest written history in the region have only to grit and wait.

During the ceremony at Trincomalee, dancers and performances from all nationalities participated as was the audience. With no LTTE threat against Tamils joining, the Armed Forces are increasingly recruiting them into the police and the army.

Cultural differences

The national anthem was sung in Sinhala at Trincomalee, just as the Indian national anthem is sung in sanskritised Bengali. Almost all other nations including those with significant minorities have anthems in one language. Not in two languages, Sinhala and Tamil as our self-styled “firebrand” Minister of National Disharmony had suggested. In despair, a close relative of his came to me for advice and said that two NGO women who have worked against Sri Lanka in Geneva and who are pilloried on government TV are among the Minister’s key advisers.

And while the Armed Forces marched in Trincomalee, we could not but recall that once NGOs had been lecturing on downsizing the Armed Forces and in fact, had even lectured at defence institutes.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a significant statement “it is not practical for this country to have different administrations based on ethnicity”. He could have added that Sri Lanka being an island at the crossroads of global traffic has a huge genetic mix. This would be in addition to the cultural differences that do exist. But in present Colombo, all co-exist beautifully.

Repeated statements by government TV on a unitary Sri Lanka gave no room for doubt “”…” no separatism, no fictional traditional homelands.

There is very much that can be and should be improved in the present government. But President Rajapaksa was only echoing what the Portuguese historian Queyroz had observed that the Sinhalese are “generally proud and vain” on account of the “antiquity of their kingdom and nation” and of the riches in the country.

Another Portuguese Pires observed that in Sri Lanka, “the grandees do little honour to strangers (meaning foreigners)”that is, they do not kow tow to foreigners or foreign pressure.

The Portuguese historian Queyroz went on to say that the Sinhalese thought that they alone in the world “observed and maintained, cleanliness and propriety and that all the other nations are barbarous, low and wanting in cleanliness and propriety – especially Europeans.” In the waning decades of Western hegemony and rising Asia, it is very useful to recall this.

6 Responses to “Looking East at Independence”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    “The national anthem was sung in Sinhala at Trincomalee, just as the Indian national anthem is sung in sanskritised Bengali. Almost all other nations including those with significant minorities have anthems in one language.”

    Well done and well said!!

    “The Portuguese historian Queyroz went on to say that the Sinhalese thought that they alone in the world “observed and maintained, cleanliness and propriety and that all the other nations are barbarous, low and wanting in cleanliness and propriety”

    Other nations INCLUDE Tamil Madu people and Arabic people because it was the SInhalese (not SLs) who correctly assumed so.

  2. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    This is regaining SriLanka to march forward as a single nation, as was in the past. All nations have minorities, but unlike in all other ancient nations and most of the new nations, SriLanka has again been magnanimous to recognise Tamil spoken by around 15% of the population, deserve to be one of the official languages along with Sinhalese and English.
    Quite in contrast, the USA has a large hispanic population, but their language rights are denied and English is the only US official language. So is Norway which discriminates openly against its natives the Lapps.

  3. Senevirath Says:

    Hispanics in U S A are 17% and Black africans 14%

    SUSANTHA
    I KNOW THAT U WITH SOME OTHERS DID A REASERCH ON THE DESTRUCTION DONE BY THE PORTUGESE IN SRILANKA I AM VERY INTERESTED IN READING THAT.I COLLECT SUCH FACTS AND DATAS FOR MY BOOKS AND ARTICLES

    DID U PUBLISH IT? SOME SAYS THAT U DIDNT HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO PROVE IT
    SO PLEASE PUBLISH IT ATLEAST IN LANKA WEB

    I WAS IN THE P.B WHEN U WERE THERE

  4. Naram Says:

    Thank you Susantha for the well researched article. Would a scholar reading this please explease whether Arakhan sect later developed as Ramagna Nikaya. World of Welivita Sri Sarankara Sangaraja Thera and his times are well known through the scolarly work of Kotagama Vachissara Thera and others. Brahmins distorted Buddhism though the ages bringing many embellishments to the story of Buddha as Rev V reminded us time and time again in his day.

    Today Sri Lanka is duty bound to re assert as the fulcrum of the non aligned world, with or without the support of India. Sri Lankans should visit the temples of THailand, Burma and China too. Lantau island in Hong Kong has a pristine staue of Buddha on a hilll top accessible by cable car surrounded by forests constructed with the technology of PRC and its paintings reminded me of Kelaniya period.

    One must remember Brits took over the tea growing in Sri Lanka only after the political upteavals in China, Opium wars, Taiping Rebellion, Boxer rebellion etc, than brought down China un of which we know only the victor’s story. One can glean some parts even by Wikipeadia search.

    Another place Budhist must visit more often is the place closer at home, abode of Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula near Hikkadawa – who lived before portugese invasion but the Pirivena had been totally destroyed in the Portugese period.

  5. Senevirath Says:

    To learn about distortions by brahmins read

    BUDDHAGOSUPPATI OR THE HISTORICAL ROMANCE OF THE RISE AND CARRER OF BUDDHAGOSHA- By James Gray-1892-Proffessor -pali- Rangun university Burma

    read visuddhi magga vicharaya by Sarath senanayaka

    these books are available in Sadeepa book shop MARADANA

    Sarath Senanayake —Phone 0812223038 or call Ms Gonapinuwala –0812224478

  6. Senevirath Says:

    SUSANTHA

    REALY I WANT ALL THE FACTS ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION DONE BY PORTUGESE

    PL.. PUBLISH IT IN LANKA WEB

    LANKA WEB
    PL.. ASK SUSANTHA TO WRITE

    THANKS

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