Posted on June 29th, 2023


Kurundavashoka Monastery area was declared a protected archaeological site by Gazette number 7981 published on May 12th 1933. On 16th August 2013, this are area was again declared a protected archaeological site.

The Department of Archaeology   started conservation work at Kurundi in September 2018. On 4 September 2018 when we first commenced work, TNA MPs arrived at the site, held a demonstration and demanded that the work be stopped, said Ven. Galgamuwe Santhabodhi, the incumbent bhikkhu of Kurundi.  They threatened the Archaeology Department officers and the two Buddhist priests who had visited the site to see the ruins

TNA obtained a temporary restraining order from the courts by saying that the conservation efforts may cause  unrest in the area.  In October 2018, the Mullativu courts gave permission for the Archeology Department to proceed with the conservation work.

Conservation work of the Kurundi site re-started on 11 May, 2021.  TNA MPs promptly arrived at the temple and demanded that the work be stopped. They filed a case in Supreme Court on August 2021.   This seems to have been settled in favor of the Department of Archaeology.

 Then in 2022, The Department of Archaeology signed a MoU with Bauddhaloka Foundation to excavate and conserve the ancient Kurundimale temple and adjoining sites of archeological importance.Bauddhaloka Foundation was going to fund the project.

Work started and the conservation of the stupa was completed in 2022. A ceremony to enshrine relics in the Chaitiya was planned for June 12, 2022.   About 100 bhikkhus   arrived for the festival, representing the three Buddhist sects and including many venerable chief monks.

But the ceremony did not take place. Tamil National Alliance MPs and their supporters arrived in Kurundi,   staged a demonstration, and did not allow the    ceremony to take place. They claimed that Kurundi was an ancient Kovil and Kurundi was in their homeland.Ven. Santhabodhi   said that this group had insulted the bhikkhus present, they had abused them using bad language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1JVMDA3_1o

Sarath Weerasekera  complained in Parliament A week ago during the ceremony to deposit Sacred Relics at the Kurundashoka Chaitya in Mullaitivu, two TNA-MPs had come there with a group of thugs and sabotaged the whole event. Two TNA MPs Selvarasa Gajendran and Vinoradha Linghum had disrupted the event and had not allowed them even to offer a flower.

Tamil Separatist Movement filed a case against  Kurundi   and  on July 18.2022 Mullaitivu magistrate  R.Sarwanarajah ordered the removal of new constructions at Kurundi and no further construction work.  Department of Archaeology protested against the order to the Attorney General’s Department.

In September 2022 there was a demonstration in Colombo, regarding the behavior of the TNA MPs at Kurundi. Buddhist MPs participated. Buddhist leaders of Association are seen in the procession. There were speeches. Then a person came up to the demonstrators and told them that if they had handled this properly and got the mattered gazetted then this demonstration was not necessary.  He was shooed away.

 In 2023, TNA found    that despite their efforts, work was going on at Kurundi. Archaeology Department had surveyed the land and had taken over 229 acres as part of the Kurundi archaeological reserve.  Soon the boundaries will be set and Kurundi declared a huge archaeological reserve. 

TNA MPs asked the President to intervene in the matter and put a stop to Kurundi expansion. In March 2023 President instructed officials from the Archaeology Department to release the 229 acres.

 Then on June 8. 2023, President convened a meeting with the officials from the Department of Archaeology and the Ministry of Buddhasasana as well as Tamil National Alliance  MPs. He gave orders to the Archaeology department, with the TNA MPs  listening and intervening. 

 There was no objection to the 79 acres   already demarcated as   Kurundi historical site. But there was objection to the additional 229 acres’ said the TNA. We have asked for this land and they promised to release it  to us, but they have not done so,  they complained.

President Wickremesinghe was supportive.  Kurundi was a temple built by Tamil Buddhists, therefore it was important he said,  but Kurundi vihara could not possibly have stretched to three hundred acres. That was more than Maha vihara, Jetavana and Abhayagiri combined. Kurundi could not be larger than Maha vihara.

 The boundary stones put by the Archaeology Department must be removed. If the Department was not prepared to do that, the President was ready to do so.  Further, before the Archaeology Department took  decisions like this, regarding archaeological reserves they must inform the Cabinet and obtain its permission, said President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This meeting received wide publicity, in the press and on YouTube. President Wickremesinghe challenged Dr. Manatunga’s decision to acquire land and treated him to a brief lecture on history and archaeological sites,” said the media.  President attracted fierce criticism from sections of the Buddhist clergy and some opposition politicians over remarks he made during a meeting held on June 8, said another report. A video clip of RW teaching history to AM was circulated on social media, said a third. The cartoon in Island on  18.6.23 made fun of the President’s comments on  history. 

Anura Manatunge Director –General of Archaeology, did not remove the boundary stones, instead he resigned. That was intended as a retort and it was recognized as such. We congratulate Anura Manatunge, said an NGO.Manatunga has shown that he has a backbone, and has refused to carry out an illegal order given by the President and has resigned instead, said Udaya Gammanpila.The action of President leading to the resignation of  Manatunge is viewed with revulsion and is strongly criticized said Jatika Nidahas Peramuna.

President  Wickremesinghe’s views on the subject of  temple  lands,  were soundly   squashed. Kurundi needed not be measured by Maha vihara, critics observed. The  Anuradhapura viharas were in the heart of the capital city.

 President Ranil Wickremesinghe orders were also  heavily criticized .Why should DG, Archeology, consult the Cabinet of Ministers when performing his legitimate duties,” MP Gevindu  Kumaratunga asked.

The Archaeology Department cannot take order from the Cabinet, there is no provision for that. The Archaeology Department has to follow the Antiquities Ordinance of 1940. Manatunga  refused to carry out President’s order, because  it was  not consistent with the Antiquities Ordinance..  The  amount of land that can come into  the Kurundi reserve has to be decided on  archaeological evidence, not personal opinion, said critics.

 In any case, the Cabinet had no authority to decide  on land matters. Analysts recalled that the  Cabinet of Ministers had  decided to grant President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga a plot of land near Parliament, as part of her retirement package, but the Supreme Court ruled that  such a decision was contrary to the law .  I would also add that  if  the  Cabinet  overrules  the Antiquities Ordinance that would  affect the Rule of law.

 Gevindu Kumaratunga  said that  President Wickremesinghe  was  giving into demands of Tamil members of Parliament representing the Northern and Eastern Provinces. MPs representing one community shouldn’t have been called for a meeting to discuss land-related issues.  A national issue couldn’t be discussed with a select group of MPs, he said.President’s action  will lead to the destroying of the  Sinhala Buddhist archaeological heritage of the north, said Jayantha  Samaraweera.

Due to this barrage of criticism and negative publicity,   it was announced on  16th June,  that President Ranil Wickremesinghe  has  decided to appoint an Expert Committee to investigate and submit a report on lands claimed  by Kurundi Temple in the Mullativu District  and Thiriyaya Temple in the Trincomalee District.

The Presidential Task Force on Archaeology established during the tenure of former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had allocated  lands belonging to the Department of Forest, Lands Department and Wildlife Department  for archaeology conservation.The committee must  examine  the  reasons for  granting such a large extent of land .

The committee must find out with scientific data and evidence why  a large extent of land  is claimed for the Kurundi Vihara and Thiriyaya Vihara when such a vast area of land has not been allocated for the Anuradhapura Maha Vihara and Sigiriya. This Committee must find out whether there is archaeological evidence that the first two  temples actually had such a large area of land in ancient times.

In addition the Committee must also investigate and show the land that belonged to the Maha Vihara,  as some  are making statements thinking that the area in which Vithulyawadin were living belonged to the Maha Viharaya. ( Continued)

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