BUDDHIST VIHARAS AND EELAM PT 10B.
Posted on November 17th, 2023

KAMALIKA PIERIS

REV 21.11.23

Ven. Santhabodhi met with continuous opposition from the Tamil Separatist Movement in his attempt to conserve Kurundi. The Tamil Separatist Movement had been observing what was going on in Kurundi from the very start and moved in on important occasions.

EVENT NO 1

 On 4. September 2018. Santhabodhi accompanied by Department of Archaeology officers from Vavuniya and Colombo set off for Kurundi,   to make arrangements to set up a guard house at Kurundi, They were not allowed to proceed to Kurundi. 

The police stopped them halfway and told them that they did not have permission to erect any new structures. There was a police post at the Norochcholai tank and a Tamil police officer had come and questioned them. He was also was in conversation with someone by phone, in Tamil recalled Santhabodhi.

They   turned back to go to Sapumalgaskada. On the way, a group of   Tamil demonstrators on scooters blocked the vehicle, scolded in strong language   and    tried to pull Santhabodhi out. They assaulted the driver and ordered him to turn the van round and follow the demonstrators. They were taken to the tank bund where a waiting media team filmed them. Also waiting were about 100 Tamils on scooters. Santhabodhi and his group were taken before their leaders, who Santhabodhi thought were Tamil MPs and Tamil separatists.

The Archaeology Department staff   informed the police and army. After several hours trapped with this group, Oddusuddan police came and took us to the police station for a statement.  Archaeology   officers showed documents and said they came on legitimate business. This had been reported later in Tamil media that it was a plan to built Buddhist temples in their homeland and settle Sinhalese. We returned to Sapumalgaskada about 7 pm.  We got many phone calls from concerned persons because the media reported this.

This was the first of the many obstructions carried out by the Tamil Separatist Movement against the revival of Kurundi. This event received much publicity locally and abroad, resulting in increased support for Kurundi from Sangha and laity. Photographs of this incident appear on p 328 in the book Kurundi vihara vamsaya”.

On 2018.09.05 Oddusuddan police filed a case at Mullaitivu Magistrate court against Santhabodhi on the charge of disturbing the peace  by attempting to install a Buddha statue.  The event was presented as a clash between two parties.

It appears that there was also a second complaint made by a group of Tamil persons asking that that the excavation be stopped.  The complainants were N Ruchikka,   T Radhika, A Nirojini,   Subha Viduran, and K. Ganeshwaran.

They complained that a Buddhist monk has come and tried to install a Buddha statue in Kurundi. Kurundi was in a majority Tamil area .There are no Buddhists in the area. The ruins at Kurundi are Hindu ruins. There is a small kovil there where they worshipped. Buddhists are trying to erect a Buddhist temple here. This was an attempt to erase the Hindu tradition and impose Buddhism here. This is a violation of the rights of the Hindus.

Santhabodhi was advised to make a statement to the Police in Colombo, giving his side of the story. He appears to have gone there without a lawyer and the result was that the complaint,   made on 2018.9.14,   was recorded as   a complaint by Santhabodhi against Oddusuddan police. Santhabodhi then made a fresh complaint at  Oddusuddan  on  30th September, 2018 saying that he  had been was obstructed  while on  a    legitimate journey, threatened and harassed.

In the meantime, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) took an interest in the matter. Santhabodhi was invited to present his case before the Buddhist Rights Commission of the ACBC.  Ten senior monks also attended the session.  Santhabodhi was able to convince the ACBC of his stand on the Kurundi matter and ACBC lawyers offered to appear for Santhabodhi in court.    

The case was called on September 17 2018. at Mullaitivu Magistrate court. Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka   accompanied Santhabodhi. ACBC had sent lawyer Samith Kalhara.  A husband and wife team of lawyers   Nuwan Ballantudawe and his wife Piyumi also appeared for him. Case was called again on October 1.2018. Magistrate ordered Department of Archaeology, Vavuniya to make a report within 3 weeks, as to what exactly they were doing at Kurundi. 

By October 16th     a three month archaeology plan for Kurundi was ready. The Vavuniya office worked round the clock with much dedication to complete this. They treated it not as a religious smatter but as a national matter, said Santhabodhi.

 EVENT NO 2.

Date for starting work at Kurundi was set for January 18, 2021.  On 2021.1.17 MP Gajendran Ponnambalam and his group arrived at Kurundi and raised objections.  They were taken to the site and shown what was going to be done.  

The ceremony for starting excavation took place as scheduled. Department of Archaeology team came and got the place ready for the    ceremony, with the assistance of the army team, recalled Santhabodhi. Minster for Buddha Sasana and the Government Agent, Mullaitivu were invited.   Vavuniya Civil Defense Force Hevisi troupe was in   attendance.

However, Secretary Buddha Sasana Ministry phoned Santhabodhi and asked him to stay away from the ceremony since his presence would be misunderstood by the Tamils. Pansil and pirit would be relayed by tape.     Santhabodhi complied and stayed in the army camp.

EVENT NO 3

We had planned to have a pinkama on February 4th 2022 with about 20 monks. But in the morning MPs Sumanthiran and Rasamanickam came to Kurundi and behaved aggressively.  They held a media conference and said that the conservation of Kurundi vihara should be stopped.   There is a Hindu kovil here and the Department of Archaeology had prevented them from coming to worship.   They will be going to courts and MP Sumanthiran will appear. However we held the pinkama that evening as planned, concluded Santhabodhi.  

EVENT NO 4

The major event of the newly revived Kurundi vihara was the enshrining of relics. This was planned for June 12th 2022.  However, the event was disrupted by a group of Tamil demonstrators led by Tamil politicians. They came, blocked the entrance to stupa, shouted, and created a disturbance.  This was shown on television news. The plan to install relics was abandoned.

Santhabodhi recalled: we planned a simple yet majestic relic enshrinement. The relics were obtained by Ven.   Mirigama Upavana   and Iresh Devinda. Over 100 monks were invited including leading monks of Amarapura, and Siyam Nikaya. The Mahayanake of Asgiri vihara was invited. The Tri Nikaya would be represented by Ven. Dodampola Chandrasiri.

We invited all government officials in the north together as well as other dignitaries.   Invitations were sent out by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana. Lay devotees were coming from Maharagama in two busloads.

In the evening Jagath Sumathipala and I inspected the area. Where to place the temporary lavatories, flags, decorations, mandapaya for relics, display platform, seats for the monks, for the laity, water, also publicity for the event. Bus loads from Maharagama was expected.  Bauddhaloka Foundation was doing the Dane and a group from Kuliyapitiya led by Ranil Sampath had undertaken the rest of the food and drink. Everything was going well.

The day before we heard that Tamil Separatist Movement   was going to obstruct the ceremony.  But I did not worry since the army and police were attending to   security.  What we were doing was lawful. Police, Special Forces, and army   had worked out a special security plan which they did not want publicized.  

The vehicle carrying the relics left Sapumalgaskada the day before, going through Bogaswewa, Padaviya, Sri Pura and Weli Oya for settlers to worship on the way, it would be left for the night at 24 Sinha regiment camp.  Since the decorations were not ready we were not able to take the relics to the stupa   the next day, as we  had planned , which actually was a good thing, taking into account what happened.

At 9.30 on 22.6.12 just before the ceremony was to start and the invitees were coming in, a group of demonstrators led by Tamil Parliament MPs, and Tamil Provincial Councilors accompanied by a media outfit, came in carrying placards objecting to the ceremony. There were about 40 of them. They were from Oddusuddan, Mannar and Puthudurikuppu. Since security said that they would go away, we continued with our preparations.   We did not inform the Secretary, Defense or the IGP.

But the Tamil protestors did not go away. They stayed. They said that we had violated an order. Not one asked what the order was, said Santhabodhi. With the police and security watching, the Tamil protestors removed the bhikkhus seated in the stupa area and stopped the rest from coming in. Monks were taken away to the dana salawa.  The Tamil protesters insulted the Gosinha monks arriving at the venue.  They halted the buses that were bringing worshippers. They tore down the decorations. They sat down on the stupa premises and prevented the ceremony from taking place. 

Security asked us not to confront the demonstrators, said Santhabodhi. Santhabodhi was then asked to postpone the event, he was told that security had requested. D/Archaeology was also of the same mind. Police wanted the pinkama stopped but we did not agree, recalled Santhabodhi.    This was a legitimate activity done with state patronage. 

Santhabodhi thought it was a  very wrong request. This was a legitimate event and there should have been a charge against the Tamils for disturbing it. Tamils should have been told that this was a  pinkama under state patronage, and that they were disturbing an official ceremony.

  I could not understand how they could ask for this postponement, when worshipers had come from far spending money,   as well as the Maha Sangha who came very willingly.  The dane and other food had been prepared with much difficulty.  It is not right to ask that the pinkama be postponed because of the actions of an unlawful extremist group.

The cancellation of the event did not satisfy the Tamil protestors. They said that till all the Sinhalese left they were not leaving.  So the Sinhalese were led away. But Tamil protestors did not leave. They ate all the food laid out.

 Director, Archaeology came at 2 pm with other officials and spoke to the Tamil demonstrators. the Tamil Separatist Movement issued a statement to the media afterwards.  Then I left the place and on the way saw groups of Tamils standing around, recalled Santhabodhi. 

Santhabodhi returned to Kurundi at 4 pm and found the Tamil protestors still there. A busload had come from Jaffna and had    surrounded the stupa and were demonstrating. They   tried to challenge Ven. Kassapa who had come from UK.

The Tamil protestors were happy.  Director of Archaeology    had    told them that the work on Kurundi will be stopped. So they became even more confident and refused to leave till the last Buddhist flag was removed.   The police removed all the decorations including flags and the Tamils left at 6.30. They showed on media the removal of the Buddhist flag.  The Tamil Separatist Movement broadcast this on all their channels as a victory.  Despite my opposition the relics were taken back to Sapumalgaskada, lamented Santhabodhi. 

Tamil media was full of this event, but very few Buddhists knew of this. Only two local newspapers recorded this. However, the protest was shown at length on television news and the public were alerted, though Santhabodhi may not have known this.

I did not see the Buddhist media and the Maha Sangha object to this event, said Santhabodhi. The majority of Buddhist and Sangha did not seem to be concerned about it. I spoke to a selected few by phone.  In 2019 they were very vocal and said that we must protect the Buddhist heritage of north but now they were silent, he lamented.

Santhabodhi also expressed his disappointment with the police and security forces. We had discussed security arrangements with army, police, civil defense, air, navy Special Forces earlier.   The army and police said they had a secret security plan which they were not divulging. Therefore when we heard on the 11th that the Tamil Separatist Movement was getting ready to disturb the function we were not worried.   We thought security would step in. 

Instead, the Police simply watched in silence and did nothing to stop the protest. Vehicles bringing in Tamil demonstrators were not stopped and sent back. Police answer was that Archaeology Department had not informed them of this ceremony and they were not instructed to remove the demonstrators.

A different explanation was offered later by security.  That   on that day there was  to be a huge Hindu puja at Mullaitivu and  Hindus were coming in huge numbers, about 50,000 for it, and if they broke into to Kurundi, there will be a serious clash. They said that they had mentioned this at the start to Santhabodhi. If so why did they let us proceed with this? They said they had a secret security plan, said Santhabodhi.

The relic chamber could not be kept open indefinitely, it had to be closed.  Therefore the relics were installed in a quiet ceremony on   August 7th 2022. The stupa was ready for worship. (continued)

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