BUDDHISM IN PRESENT DAY EASTERN PROVINCE Part 3
Posted on August 10th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda has drawn attention to the damage done by ‘non-Buddhists’ (Hindus and Muslims), to the Buddhist monasteries, hermitages and ancient ruins in the north and east. Medhananda says that more than five hundred sites with ancient Buddhist ruins are either destroyed or are being destroyed in the north and east.

Destroying Buddhist ruins in the East started long ago, said Medhananda. Initially, it was done secretly and cleverly. The activity  has got speeded up and is now done openly on a large scale. Only Buddhist places face this destruction, not the other religions, observed Medhananda.

 In 1916, Ven. Kohukumbure Revata went into thick jungle amidst many difficulties in search of the Dighavapi chaitya. He had cleared the area around the Chaitya and lived there under great difficulty in a small hut.  He was shot dead by a Muslim, in 1950. This got great publicity at the time.

From 2015 onwards, the tactic used was organized encroachment by ethnic groups supported by extremist elements. The reason given was landlessness of the local people, the real reason was the need to erase evidence and symbols of Buddhist habitations and cultural influence in the East, said Lakshman Wickremasinghe.

Hindus and Muslims have occupied many lands and paddy fields that were owned by the Sinhalese, a few years ago. Through this, Hindus and Muslims had taken physical possession of lands which were sites of Buddhist worship in earlier times. Once they are on the land, they erase the Buddhist remains and prevent Buddhist coming there, observed Medhananda.

Sinhala names of these places were then replaced by Tamil names. Veheragala became Verugal. Kotthasara is now Kottiyar pattu. Tonigala and Kandakadu wewa were Sinhala villages, they now have Tamil names. There was a Sinhala village at Sakkam wewa near Pannal oya called Bodhianga now is no longer Sinhala.

Medhananda in his explorations in the Eastern Province found many instances where lands carrying Buddhist ruins were taken over by non-Buddhists. At Paschimaramaya, Buddhist ruins including a stupa was destroyed by ‘Suruttu mudalali,’ to grab the land. At Paravankandam the ruins including stupa were destroyed in April 2002, to convert the area into a paddy field. Its bricks can be seen at the site, reported Medhananda.

There are   Buddhist ruins at Maha oya, Veheragala, and Dambaliyadde gala. In 1972 it was planned to settle non Sinhalese there. Inscription at   Piyakalutota vihara by Rugam wewa show that Yatalatissa built it. In 1972 there was a plan to convert 18  acres to a wewa and settle non Sinhalese  there, too said Medhananda.

Linemalai is now Muslim and Tamil. LTTE chased away the few Sinhalese there, said Medhananda. Kombanacci, originally Somawathi vihara, in Kiliveddi, Trincomalee, is now a Muslim area and one part of the ruins is now a ‘goat farm of a Mussalman’. At Mottayakanda the Muslims have bulldozed all the Buddhist ruins.

Kokkadicholai had ruins which showed that there has been an aramaya there, earlier. Guard stones, parts of stupa could be seen.  Villagers had told Medhananda when he visited in 1968 that there had been an inscription too.  Kokkadicholai is now completely Tamil, said Medhananda. They have encroached over most of the 22 acres. Ruins have been destroyed.  The evidence is still there.  A kovil, named Kanakone Ishwara Kovil, has been built over the aramaya.  The   Kovil started small and is now enlarged. There is a Pullaiyar kovil too, said Medhananda

Kuchchaveli Maha vihara was ‘known earlier as Samudradevi vihara. There were   Mahayana ruins there, in 1966, in pleasing form but when Medhananda visited in 1978 the upper parts of the most of them were destroyed. A Sanskrit inscription was defaced in 1981 and a Hindu kovil was coming up in the vicinity.

There had been a planned programmed to hinder Buddhists in Sembumalai, observed Medhananda. Sembumalai ruins also included a standing Buddha statue in limestone and a lotus pedestal. When I visited in 1978, the statue was not there. Many more ruins were purposely damaged. And in one place a Hindu kovil has been established.  The Poosari’s statements that it was built in 1938 cannot be accepted as the materials were ‘so new’.

Ilankaturai was earlier Lankapatuna. Many non Buddhist have encroached and Hindu kovils have come up. Nelugala was once Piyangalu vihara. At Nelugala Buddhist evidence has been destroyed. Buildings were set on fire by non-Sinhalese, and the Sinhala settlers driven away. A Hindu kovil was constructed there. Veheragama has 145 families of which 20 are Tamil. Veheragama ruins are being deliberately destroyed. Veheragama Stupa can be dated to 6-7 AD.

Vilankulam ruins contained a huge stupa 150 ft in circumference and 35 in height.  Stupa was broken and bricks scattered all over. This has been deliberately destroyed. When I saw it in 1978, at the top of the stupa, Sellappa Nalliah and Inamuttusamy had built a house with toilet and well. Viharagalkanda had a thanitalawa with huge number of Buddhist   ruins. When we visited, a Tamil man was living there, farming bananas.  We explored the site, examined the ruins and copied the inscription.

Medhananda found that ruins he had examined earlier had vanished when he went a second time. I found that ruins I had seen in 1966 had disappeared by 1976. What I saw in 1976 had disappeared by 1986” said Medhananda. What we saw in 1964 at Veddikinarimalai had disappeared by 1973.

 Buddhist sites in good condition in Trincomalee   in 1960 had vanished when Medhananda visited them in 1980. Hindu kovils had been built over many of them. This continued in 2002. The stupa near Kinniya wells vanished after the Ceasefire Agreement. Kovils were set up on Buddhist structures. In our exploration at Digamadulla we found many inscription and ruins never seen before. The ruins seen earlier have now vanished, said Medhananda.    

Medhananda visited Mundikulammale ruins for the first time in 1964. Then there was fear of wild animals.In  1999 the fear was of the LTTE. To visit we needed the support of the army and police. It is now dangerous for Sinhalese to go there” he said in 2003.  No Sinhalese can go to Rugam now either.

When we visited Gokanna vihara, Trincomalee (Koneswaran) in 1960, we faced much opposition from the Hindus, said Medhananda. We had visited Girikumbara vihara, Ampara earlier, but when we went in 1986 to see what had happened, no one wanted to drive us there.  

The plan to eliminate all signs of an ancient Buddhist civilization was greatly helped by the fact that most of these ruins are not registered in the Department of Archaeology as archaeological monuments. Thottama, Manthottama, Pannala oya and Ambalan oya has archaeological remains that which are not registered, said Medhananda. Panama pattu forest range is full of archaeological ruins. There is no protection for any of it, he said. 

When records were available in the Archaeological Department another tactic was used. The files vanished.  They went missing.  There were 11 cave inscriptions near Kundikudichchi aru. The Ampara Kachcheri held the file on this. This file is now missing, said Medhananda. 

Files also vanish when new kovils are constructed. There was a hill with a stupa, and eleven cave shrines to the east of the Pannala oya.  Now there is a kovil there, said Medhananda. There had been a file at the Ampara Kachcheri describing the Buddhist remains of the area, but with the construction of the kovil those documents   disappeared, he said.

 LTTE   destroyed temples, killed monks and persons in the Eastern Province. LTTE had built a kovil at Nilaveli by 1981. At Kalladi the LTTE had used a stupa to set up it communication tower. At Paravankandam ruins,   LTTE had bulldozed the standing Buddha statue and destroyed it head complete, rest was rescued and piece sent to Ampara museum. Kombanachchiya, at its villu can see  ruins of  panchavasa .Moat and lots of ruins scattered  around. There was a a   huge stupa on the rock.  LTTE destroyed the stupa.

At Pulunkunawa, LTTE had done much destruction to the stupa there. Brick have been taken to build huts and there was manioc cultivation among the ruins. When I last went in 1982 they had established an Eelam kingdom there. On all hilltops there was the Eelam symbol drawn in color, house built on top of stupa and the owner glared at me, said Medhananda.

The LTTE cadres were just onlookers when the Sihala Urumaya led by Tilak Karunaratne accompanied Ven. Ellawela Medhananda to inspect the archaeological sites at Ampara despite the Tiger threat that the monk would not be allowed to set foot on that site, reported the media.

 Medhananda has been driven away from that site a few weeks ago when he went there and was warned not to return. The SU decided to accept the LTTE challenge and taka the monk back to the site. The special Task Force and the Police were on duty to provide security and prevent any incidents.

Medhananda took the delegation to a spot close to the site where a kovil was being constructed with the backing of the LTTE. When Medhananda had visited the site in august 19 nearly 25 armed LTTE cadres had threatened him with death if he ever came back to inspect the site, an inscriptions found by the monk had been destroyed after the monk left.  (I am unable to give the date as I have mislaid the reference.)

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda provides information on the Bhikkhus who bravely went into the Eastern Province and tried to revive the Buddhist temples there.  Bhikkhus have tried to save these Buddhist ruins by setting up avasa on the premises. 

Dambagalle Ratanapala, took up residence Malayadi kanda vihara In 1912   . he died in 1931. The stupa at Bellagama Raja Maha viharaya, was renovated in 1916 by Aralupitiye Sobhita.  It was redone by one of his pupils, Ven. Kekirihene Silavansa.

When I visited Veheragama in 1986  there was one priest Baddegama Chandavimala residing there, with much difficulty, he was   reestablishing the shrine. He started a daham pasala. Pallegalauda Mettananda set up an awasa in 1991 at Kuda Sigiriya .  At Namalu vihara (near Heda oya, on boundary of Ampara and Moneragala) a monk had settled by the stupa in a small hut.

 I found Bollagama RMV in 2011. This vihara has no support villagers too poor. Despite all this,   Kekirihene Seelavansa is keeping the temple going.    A monk has settled at Maha kachcha kodiya vihara, Vavuniya and is struggling to survive. A monk had once tried to live at Budu patum Kande.

When monks try to settle, they are harassed and they run away, observed Medhananda. Niyaguna kanda vihara Ampara a monk had taken up abode in a lena and the villagers round were looking after him, now he is not there. Monks had set up an avasa at Girikurumbika vihara, but now there is nothing.

On Kopavela vihara Medhananda said, this area is going under the LTTE. There was a monk there, he was a teacher at Serankada Vidyalaya. He has left. The LTTE murdered a set of monks at the ruined panchavasa monastery at Kombanachchi villu.  

Dimbulagala priest tried to revive Piyangalla vihara in 1971.     Tamils burnt down the awasa and destroyed the ruins.  chased away the Sinhalese and set up a kovil.   Dimbulagala priest was later killed.( continued)

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