Buddhists must not take part in petitions to remove the historical place of Temple Elephants
Posted on January 26th, 2016

Shenali D Waduge

 Of late foreign-funded petitions are seen highlighting cruelty against elephants in temples. These same petitions omit to lobby against ritual animal sacrifice or slaughter of animals nor do they wish to have any role in passing legislation on the Animal Welfare Bill. The hue and cry over injury to elephants omitting similar passionate appeals against killing of animals as a sacrifice is rather strange. When attempts are now afoot to gag Buddhist priests while heads of other religions have openly had ties with terror entities, it should make Buddhists to wonder whether highlighting of elephants is an insidious plan to take away temple elephants thereby removing a key feature that is part of the pomp and pageanty of Buddhist festivals/perahera. Buddhists must refuse to take part in any such petitions. The Kandy Perahera that used over 100 elephants since ancient times is now facing dangers of having the elephant omitted from a festival that is over 220 years.

Sri Lanka was known as the Abaya Dana’. Killing meat was forbidden by the Kings. All that changed with the arrival of colonial invaders. Unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition, Buddhism affirms the right to life of all living beings. According to Buddhism, the world is not a creation specifically for the benefit and pleasure of human beings. Animals too have rights. Even animals can be born as humans according to their karma. In Buddhism the most fundamental guideline for conduct is ahimsa-the prohibition against the bringing of harm and/or death to any living being.

Sri Lanka – Buddhism and Elephants

Buddhism and elephants is synonymous with Sri Lanka. No animal has been associated with the Sinhala Buddhist traditions and religious festivals than the elephant. The association goes thousands of years back. Elephants were part of the Kings palace. Elephants were part of Buddhist culture, ceremonies, religious pageants/processions, transport, construction, sports and even warfare. Elephants were even used to build gigantic tank bunds. Ancient Sinhala manuscripts even classified elephants by their physical appearance. So much so that the penalty for killing elephants was death. Today, temples are a sanctuary for unwanted cats and dogs. No temple gates close for these animals who are fed and kept. In Polonnaruwa’s famous temple Somawathiya a visitor comes daily to worship the Buddha statue. That visitor is none other than a wild elephant whose daily ritual is to walk into the temple, bend on his knees and worship Buddha and silently return to the wild.

Elephants were also exported to Kalinga in 200BC from the Port of Mantota (present Mannar). The Great Chronicle, the Mahawamsa records Kandula the elephant on which King Dutugamunu (200BC) defeated Dravida King Elara who was also on an elephant. King Kassapa of Sigiriya was also riding an elephant to defeat his brother Muggallana. King Rajasingha 1 in 1586 led a 2200 army of elephants against the Portuguese.

The elephant trainers were the Kuruwe people from Kegalle who also trained the mahoots while the special unit to deal with elephants under the King of Kandy was headed by a Gajanayake Nilame.  Elephants were given protection by royal decree making it an offence to capture, kill or maim any elephants without the King’s authority. Offenders were punished with death.

Elephants – Colonial invaders

When the Portuguese arrived they too continued the trade of exporting elephants. The writings of Hulugalle states that Rome has a memorial to elephant Annone the first elephant sent to the Vatican. Admiral Onescritus of Alexander the Great’s army (3rdcentury BC) described the trained elephants of Ceylon as being ‘bigger and more fierce and furious for war service than those of India’.

After the Dutch arrived, the Portuguese historian Ribeiro claims that all the elephants except one (kept to carry timber) in the Colombo Fort were killed and eaten as they were short of food.

Enter the British first taking the Maritime Provinces in 1796 and thereafter the whole of Sri Lanka in 1815. The British found elephants a sport – to run after and shoot them dead.

Major Thomas Rogers is said to have killed over 1500 elephants within 4 years. Captain Galleway and Major Skinner each having shot over 750 elephants. The British closed down the Elephant Department.  Samuel Hunter even wrote a book “The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon” in 1855 boasting the massacre of elephants. The book reveals the ‘civility’ of the British hunter in killing a lactating she-elephant while the two baby elephants kept on sucking the milk spilling from the mother’s udder.

It is strange that those who petition (most of whom are non-Buddhists) for cruelty against elephant, a very noble gesture puts brakes on drawing similar attention to stopping animal slaughter / ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice etc. Millions of animals are killed to celebrate these festivals. Millions of animals are sacrificed to ask favors from Gods. The crime of cruelty is far more negligible than the crime of taking away the life of an animal. Moreover, if the problem is with mahoots treating elephants badly, rather than stopping temples from keeping elephants it is better to fire the mahout and the temple committees to regularly look into the welfare of its elephants. Even if elephants are taken away who will guarantee their protection. Can they be put into the wild where elephants are fighting to survive when humans are invading their space? Was the tsunami not a message to tell us that nature protects only those that protect nature? The solution to protecting Buddhism’s place in history is for the State to uphold its obligation under Article 9.

Silence is strange…

  • 56 Billion farm animals are killed each year
  • 100 million of animals are slaughtered over a period of 48 hours during Eid Al Adha
  • 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses around the world
  • More than 45 million turkeys are killed each year at Thanksgiving alone (US)
  • Around 17 million turkeys are slaughtered in the UK each year
  • Some 500,000 animals were sacrificed in Nepal for the Gadhimai festival

Nevertheless with the current attempts to gag the Buddhist priests (while ignoring the manner Church fathers were openly involved with LTTE and some kovils even collecting money for the LTTE – some kovils are under investigation by UK police) timed together with the insidious attempt to remove temple elephants, it is no coincidence that the bigger plan is to remove the pomp and pageantry associated with Buddhist religious festivals of which the perahera is a major tourist attraction.

The perahera procession starts with Chief officers, the elephants, drummers and dancers. The famous perahera’s include Kandy, Gampola, Ratnapura, Dondra, Kotte (Raja Mahavihara perahera established by King Parakramabahu VI), Aluthnuwara and Kataragama.

The Portuguese historian Queyroz in his book The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon” writes.

“This the ancient King of Kotte signified by certain celebrated processions called peraheras, which lasted 16 days some being held by day and others at night, which amounted to thirty two, and these by night were more famous. In them women took part with the same licence as in the Feast of Bacchus. The King used to go in them with a bangle on one foot, made up of fifteen beads, which represents those over whom he dominated.”

It was the Buddhist ethos that built this nation. The Buddhists constitute the majority. The ethnic groups and religions that came later day should respect the Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka. No other majority race/religion has compromised to the minorities as the Sinhala Buddhists have with no reciprocity. It is unfortunate that due to the weak leadership of the present day Sinhala leaders the remaining Buddhist identities are now being targeted for slow removal and replacement. Our culture/history and traditions cannot and should not be allowed to be wiped out as was done to the Incas, Mayas and thousands of other cultures/tribes/traditions which are now only memories in some museum where the conquerors can boast of their achievements.

All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. Whosoever tries to find happiness through hurting other beings, will not find happiness.


 Shenali D Waduge

5 Responses to “Buddhists must not take part in petitions to remove the historical place of Temple Elephants”

  1. Christie Says:

    Here we go Shenali, Sinhalese ate meat and there were never prohibitions in the countries tens of thousands years history.

    In Ceylon people and elephants lived side by side and trained elephants were working beasts. We have this Indian Hindu brainwashing brought in to change the Buddhists practices and thinking. Buddhists have forgotten what is meant by middle path.

  2. dingiri bandara Says:

    I We do not need International petitions. If as alleged elephants ate ill treated, it is up to the Buddhists and unbiased animal rights organizations in Sri Lanka to take necessary action. The international petitions, as mentioned in the article should be aimed at animal sacrifice all over the in the name of religion. It said that every person after haj slaughters an animal.
    No one protests nor are there any internally organised petitions because it is not politically correct and are afraid of annoying the Islam religion.

  3. Nanda Says:

    I fully support this petition. Long overdue.
    This has nothing to do with Sri Lanka politics. This started few moths ago.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Unfortunately, the fact that Tamils (of Dalit origin) do Animal Sacrifice in Sri Lanka, goes unaddressed. Animal Sacrifice is banned in Tamil Nadu, but happens in Lanka !!

    What a shame !

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    After Tamils left Sri Lanka as Refugees (after 1983 trumped up Riots for that purpose of Refugees to the west), the Tamil Diaspora have INTERNATIONALISED everything possible !
    They do not address the REAL Tamil issue which is that the DALIT status is on the birth certificates of some 15 Million Tamils in Tamil Nadu. High levels of Atrocities against the Dalit Tamils of Tamil Nadu go unaddressed. Tamil leaders do not present these problems to the UNHRC either. Are they afraid ?

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