BUDDHIST VIHARAS AND EELAM Part 15.
Posted on February 28th, 2024

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Tamil Separatist Movement angrily noted that a process of BUDDHISIZATION and SINHALISATION started in the north and east from the year 2009. Buddhist temples were being constructed in places where no Buddhists reside and outside Sinhala Buddhist people” were being settled in Tamil villages, the Tamil Separatist Movement complained.  

The Tamil Separatist Movement vehemently objected to what it calls the Buddhistization” of the north and east.  It does not object to Christianization, Islamisation or Hinduisation”, only to Buddhistization”. There is a deep fear of Buddhistization.

The word Buddhistization” has not been used before, as far as I know, either internationally or locally.  Buddhistization” should mean conversion to Buddhism, but in this case, it means the construction of Buddha statues and   Buddhist temples, with resident bhikkhus and hordes of worshippers arriving thereafter.

The Buddhist temples that have started to sprout in the northeast are of two kinds, brand new temples and restored ancient temples, now got ready for modern worship.  

Jude Fernando elaborates on this. He says   Buddhistization” includes several strategies.  They are: i) the construction of Buddha statues ii) new Buddhist temples in the north and east, iii) the settlement of monks at these temples, iv) organization of Buddhist rituals and festivals v)     geo-strategic locations selected for new  Buddhist sites vi) renovation of ancient  Buddhist sites. Vii) Declaration of ancient Buddhist sites as part of the ancient Sinhala Buddhist civilization. 

Sinhala colonies, Buddhist temples, and Buddha statues are being aggressively constructed with military sponsorship with the sole purpose of Sinhala Buddhistization of the North-eastern Tamil homeland, said Tamil Peoples Council in 2016. Buddhist temples are being constructed in places where no Buddhists reside People in the north are worried and suspicious that Sinhalas from outside would invade Tamil villages. 

The military’s construction of Buddhist viharas in traditionally Tamil areas with no Buddhist population is a preliminary step to the Sinhala-Buddhist colonization of these areas and a re-assertion of Sinhala Buddhist dominance, said Adaalayam Centre for Policy Research, Jaffna in 2017.

Tamil Separatist Movement fears that it may not be able to stop this Buddhistization, single-handed. They have written to the UK, Canada, and India asking for help. The National Council of Canadian Tamils submitted to the government of Canada in July 2021. They stated inter alia, that the Tamils in the northeast of Sri Lanka are facing state-sponsored colonization, Sinhalization, and Buddhistization:

Buddhist monks with the assistance of police and security forces are trying to replace the Tamil people’s places of worship with Buddhist temples.  Religious institutions like Kovils, mosques, and churches are under threat of destruction or forced relocation to make room for Buddhist shrines for the new Sinhala settlers, the National Council of Canadian Tamils said.

There were many objections to the construction of new Buddhist temples, Buddha statues, and shrines in Northern Province.  There have been many demands for the removal of these  Buddhist statues.

A 67-foot Buddha statue is coming up in front of the Nainai Nagabhooshani Amman Hindu temple, complained the Tamil Separatist Movement. A Buddha statue has come up in Sambaltheevu (Trincomalee) with police protection.

In some areas, such as Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, and Point Pedro, the military has built Buddha statues within or near Hindu temples. Buddha statues have come up in front of the 2500-year-old Thirukoneswara Hindu temple in Trincomalee and the Thiruketheeswaram temple in Mannar.

The Tamil Separatist Movement complained loudly that Buddhist temples were being built where there were no Buddhists. Buddha viharas are coming up in Omanthai, Semmadu, Kanakarayankulam, Kilinochchi, Mankulam, Paranthan, and Pooneryn.

Tamil Separatist Movement made special mention of Mullaitivu.  Nine Buddha Viharas are being built in the Mullaitivu district alone, according to the Tamil Separatist Movement. These Buddhist viharas were constructed after the armed conflict ended. 

Mullaitivu District has witnessed the military’s construction of Buddhist structures on both state and private Tamil lands. In Kokkali, (Mullaitivu district), a Buddha Vihara is coming up with army support despite a claim to the land by a local Tamil.  Security forces arrested this Tamil landowner in 2015 for protesting against the military land grab, said Adaalayam Centre.  

Mullaitivu was important because Mullaitivu was both north and east. It was where the Northern Province met the Eastern Province. Mullaitivu has forcefully opposed the construction of Buddhist structures in the area, Adaalayam said.

Tamil Separatist Movement took aggressive action against temples in Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, and  Trincomalee. These have been described earlier in this series. Here is another event.

A protest was carried out at the Wesak celebration of Tissa Vihara at Kankesanturai on May 6. 2023. A video clip showed  Tamil leaders, including MPs such as Sumanthiran arriving at the spot by car, looking very concerned.  A small group of Tamil residents were seated on the roadway a little away from the temple entrance, holding placards and calling our slogans. They were there till nighttime. One slogan was ape ahasa apita one. Ape idama apita one”.  This means that the  Tamil Separatist Movement is now claiming, ownership not only of the land but also the sky above.

Tamil Separatist Movement has used many strategies to halt the advance of Buddhistization. One is to argue that there is no historical basis for saying that the northeast is Sinhala and  Buddhist. International Crisis Group issued a report in 2008 that documented how arbitrary the process of claiming ancient Siṃhala Buddhist heritage is. This report, which I have not seen,  would have tried to show that there is no historical basis for an ancient Sinhala-Buddhist heritage in the north and east.

Tamil Separatist Movement has also put forward the outrageous claim that the ancient Buddhist ruins in the north and east are not genuine ruins. They are false. The ancient Buddhist artifacts were planted there by modern Buddhists.

Tamil Separatist Movement speaks of a detailed well-researched report compiled by the Minority Rights Group International in 2011, which has revealed using eye-witness accounts of those living in Trincomalee that such artifacts were planted by unknown persons. They say people came at night, on motorcycles, with sacks full of items which they planted in the area. It was done by state officials., they said. [1]

Rajiva Wijesinha in his book Triumph and Disaster: the Rajapaksa Years says that he had been told that Ellawela Medhananda had brought artifacts from elsewhere and dumped them in sites he wanted taken over.

These statements are absurd. They can be made only by persons who know nothing about the matter. The evidence for a Sinhala-Buddhist civilization in the north and east is fixed, immovable items as well as heavy items that cannot be easily transported. The first category includes cave inscriptions, visible stupa mounds,  flights of steps cut into rock, and rock-cut ponds. The second category includes  Buddha statues, pillars, guard stones, and moonstones.

Tamil Separatist Movement has also gone to the opposite extreme and has stated that these Buddhist ruins are  Tamil Buddhist ruins not Sinhala Buddhist ruins. Tamil Buddhists were living in the north in ancient times, they said.

A critic responded to this utterance.  There is nothing to link ‘Tamil’ to ‘Buddhist’ in the evidence except the fact that these artifacts have been unearthed from areas where Tamils now form the majority. It is like saying that the discovery of a Nestorian cross is evidence of Christians in Anuradhapura. Or saying that there were white people who held Mayan beliefs because some Mayan artifacts have been unearthed in some spot in the Andes where whites now reside.

 What is interesting about the statement, continued the critic, is the fact that the TNA has finally understood that it has to back rhetoric with fact. The long years of Eelam posturing were bereft of any reference to ‘Tamil Buddhists’ except Peter Schalk, whose efforts were largely ignored by the Christians in the Tamil Separatist Movement.

This Tamil Buddhist argument has been crushed by other critics too.  If indeed there had been   Tamil Buddhists in  Eelam then the Tamil Separatist Movement would not have destroyed the Buddhist ruins. They would have looked after them and displayed them as evidence, critics said.

The desperate Tamil Separatist Movement also fell on another strategy. Tamil Separatist Movement challenged the orientation of the Department of Archaeology. They argued that Sri Lanka had a Tamil Hindu tradition as well as a  Sinhala-Buddhist one and the Department of Archaeology should look at both.

 In April 2023, M.A. Sumanthiran speaking in Parliament pointed to the Archaeology Department’s logo and told the House: What does this logo have? It has a dagoba and a dharma chakra.  It is like the Ministry of Buddha Sasana. Why does the Department of Archaeology have a logo of one religion? That shows what this Department is protecting, and what it is determined to destroy.”

This got publicity. In June 2023 Lanka Lead News said, ,පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සඳහා හඳුන්වා දුන් දාගැබ සහිත ලාංඡනය ඉවත් කිරීමට, වීඩියෝවක් මේ දිනවල සමාජ මාධ්‍ය වල වේගයෙන් සැරිසරනවා.

Tamil Separatist Movement protested at  Luppukulam Junction, Trincomalee in September 2023 objecting to the Buddhist temple that was going to be built there. One protestor held a placard that asked whether the  Archaeology Department was only for Buddhist archaeology.

The answer is, that there is no evidence that Hinduism ever took root in Sri Lanka. There are no ancient Hindu temples in the north and east, only Buddhist ones, and there were no  Hindu Kovils in the Udarata kingdom either. The Esala Perahera in Kandy consisted initially of Devala Peraheras. The  Dalada Perahera was added on later. The Pillaiyar Kovil near the Police station was built in the 20th century during British rule. (Continued)


[1] Buddhism among Tamils in Tamilakam and Īlam Part 3 Extension and Conclusions Editor-in-Chief: Peter Schalk https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:604163/FULLTEXT06.pdf  p   221

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