Posted on December 9th, 2023


The contested site” argument was indirectly supported, by the numerous You Tube talk shows that discussed Kurundi. Kurundi was a topic on many You Tube talk shows.  The contested sites” issue was discussed at these talk shows.

 In all the talk shows I watched, the interviewer wanted to know whether there really was a Hindu kovil inside Kurundi. They all ask, tongue in cheek,” ‘is there a kovil at Kurundi’ and Ven. Santhabodhi gives a negative answer. Santhabodhi was present in nearly all the talk shows that I listened to.

But one talk show stated openly that Kurundi was a contested site”. That was the Hashtag Generation    You Tube interview with Nirmal Dewasiri on July 13, 2023.

Dewasiri specifically stated that Kurundi is a ‘contested site’. He then went to hint that Buddhist sites located in the North and East of Sri Lanka, belonged to Eelam. This was done obliquely, by referring to the Indus Civilization of ancient India. The Indus Civilization is now in the state of Pakistan. India cannot claim it, he observed.

Dewasiri was asked   loaded questions by the Hashtag interviewer.  Who owns an archaeology site, he was asked. Who owns Kurundi? People are saying that a particular   archaeology site belongs only to one group, rest must stay away. Is this acceptable? Can we use archaeology to raise just one ethnic group? A problem will arise if we try to say Kurundi is exclusively Sinhala.

Such questions are not usually asked of an archaeology site and it was not necessary to ask such questions about Kurundi either.  The   purpose of conserving a religious   site, such as Kurundi, is to make it available to worshippers and also to visitors who wish to see evidence of a particular historical period.  It is nonsense to say that Kurundi will be a closed site owned by one ‘race’ or that it will elevate that ‘race’.

This Hashtag interview with Dewasiri carried statements that supported the Tamil separatist view. As the discussion progressed, we were told that    Kurundi was a part of the Anuradhapura kingdom, but after 13th century, things changed in Mullaitivu. Mullaitivu and the rest of the north became depopulated.

 Then in the 19th century   the north was re-populated by Tamils from south India. New settlements developed and the culture of Mullaitivu changed. Mullaitivu became a Tamil- Hindu area. Buddhism has now lost its position in Mullaitivu and modern Buddhists cannot claim to be the owners of Kurundi, Hashtag noted.  (This is my recasting of what was said.)

Hashtag also inquired about the Kurundi vihara boundary. The  boundary demarcated by the Archaeology  Department  included lands which were used by the villagers , said   Hashtag ignoring that fact that  there are no   villages near Kurundi vihara and that any use of the land would be illegal since it was forest  and archaeological reserve.

Hashtag wanted to know, were there any rules about taking over occupied land? There is an international method of deciding boundaries, Hashtag was told. This is an oblique reference to the modern Heritage policy of not disturbing the present day occupants of archaeological lands (my recasting of the dialogue)

The Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, (IAHS) provided a series of YouTube presentations starting on July 23.2022 and ending in a marathon   panel discussion   lasting three hours.

IAHS asked what are we going to do about the problem of Kurundi. New questions have come up. These ‘new questions’ were purely political.  The political aspect was the only aspect of any importance in the Kurundi issue, but IAHS completely ignored  this aspect and talked of Heritage. The IAHS series, in my view, only helped to create a dithering public, unable to decide either way on Kurundi.

IAHS   advocated a Heritage based policy for Kurundi. IAHS wanted the UNESCO created Heritage policy be used at Kurundi. Kurundi cannot be considered only as a Buddhist place of worship . Mullaitivu was no longer Sinhala-Buddhist .It was now Tamil .This had to be accepted.The Tamil presence must be recognized, also their right to protect their heritage.

Heritage policy also demanded that when an archaeology project was taken up for conservation, all stakeholders must be consulted. This would include those living near the site. The Heritage project must help in their development.

Critics pointed out that at Kurundi the Buddhist ruins are located in   an archaeology reserve which is, in turn, inside a forest reserve. There are no villages in this reserve, so where are the local stakeholders?

Critics also observed that the Tamils were not sympathetic to the Buddhist ruins at Kurundi. The first Tamils sent to Mullaitivu by the British in the late 19th century, promptly started to destroy Kurundi monastery. The British GA reported this.

  The present day Tamil settlers are no better. They have also damaged the Buddhist ruins. The area round the Thannimuruppu tank has received the most         willful damage, said the team from the Department of Archaeology who were working in Kurundi. Some of the items in the ruins have been taken away for other use. Material from Kurundi   has been taken for their kovils. An inscription   has been deliberately broken into two. 

The Tamil stakeholders” are not concerned about the environment either.       Deforesting is going on at a rate, reported the Archaeology Department team. The deforesting in Kurundi is less than at Wilpattu, certainly, 1300 hectares at Wilpattu compared to 500 at Mullaitivu, but Mullaitivu land is more valuable, they observed.

Several speakers brushed aside the Heritage policy.   The important issue, for them, was the fact that Kurundi was a Buddhist vihara and Buddhism was a living tradition in Sri Lanka. Buddhist heritage cannot be compared with other heritages, they said. We have looked after our heritage for thousands of years before UNESCO brought in its notion of Heritage. Those traditional methods of Buddhist heritage management are also a part of our heritage.

Participants were not impressed with Heritage policy. We need to change these Heritage laws, they said.  We need to start another dialogue  on Buddhist heritage and heritage management. We need to rethink heritage management, we are having a problem with it, they said.

Chapa Bandara took a strong position on the Kurundi issue, in his talk show of   September 2022. Chapa got Ven. Santhabodhi and lawyer Nuwan Ballantudawe on video .He told them bluntly, we know the history, Give us the problem. Santhabodhi told his story for the umpteenth time. We have faced opposition at Kurundi from the beginning in 2018. Now it is getting worse, he said.

After listening to what they had to say, Chapa said that there should be more discussion on this issue. At present, it is only the media that is examining this matter. We need to find another route. Let us go to each Buddhist village, and then we will get support. We must work very carefully. We need to create a national campaign, initiate a cultural awakening, awaken the public, rouse them up, he said.  (Continued)

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