Posted on May 13th, 2024


The arrival of Buddhist monks in the north and east is not something new. Buddhist monks were reclaiming the North and East for Buddhism during the period of British rule too. Ven. Kohukumbure Revata went into thick jungle amidst many difficulties in search of the Dighavapi chaitya, said Ellawela Medhananda. 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.

The site of a ruined dāgäba at Sēruvila in the East was re-occupied by Dambagasāre Sumedhaṅkara some years after the British first inspected the ruins. He was supported by Buddhists in the south. The rebuilding of the dāgäba stretched from 1922 to 1977, and continued despite challenges from Tamil and Muslim settlers.

Ven.Kithalagama Sri Seelalankara   known as Dimbulagala priest tried to revive Piyangalla vihara, Ampara, in 1971.     Tamils burnt down the awasa, destroyed the ruins,  chased away the Sinhalese and set up a kovil, said Ellawela Medhananda. Dimbulagala was later shot and killed by the LTTE.

The Sangha looked after the viharas in the north and east during the Eelam war (1983-2009) too. When villagers were fleeing due to LTTE attacks, monks stayed behind to look after the deserted temples, said critics.  They have done a valuable service. They must not be pushed aside.   The Sangha are the ones who get the most praise and most criticism, observed Santhabodhi.

The Sangha continued to take an interest in the Buddhist temples of the north and east, after the Eelam war ended. In this they met opposition from both government and the Tamil Separatist Movement.

At one time the Sangha were pushed aside when it came to conservation of ancient temples in the north. We could not get a finger in, and the government did not support us, said Santhabodhi in August 2022.[1]

Chief Sangha Nayake of north and the east Ven. Siyambalagaswewa Wimalasara said during a discussion on Kurundi in 2023, that archaeological sites should not be given to the care of Buddhist monks. All outstanding issues will be resolved if the Archaeology Department takes over such sites, he said. Chief incumbent of Nagadipa Vihara, Ven. Nawandagala Padumakittitissa said newly-arriving monks are creating trouble in the north, part of the blame should go to the Army as well.[2]

When the Department of Archaeology sent in a team to survey the Buddhist ruins in north and east, in 2010, they did not take bhikkhus with them to inspect sites.    If we took them that could have created problems”   said the Department in answer to a question from the audience at a talk. 

This question was asked, because bhikkhus, such as Ven. Ellawela Medhananda  have alerted the country regarding  Buddhist ruins. Therefore,  in the public mind ,bhikkhus are connected  to Buddhist archaeology. Bhikkhus are experts in Buddhism not  archaeology.

The arrival of the Sangha in the north and east after the Eelam War ended, was greatly feared by the Tamil Separatist Movement.  TNA MP Sumanthiran   went to Supreme Court in August 2022 saying that the Hindu heritage would disappear because of Kurundi. This shows that the Hindu faith was not strongly entrenched in the north and could be easily replaced.

Santhabodhi said that Tamil Separatist Movement  started a movement against Sangha in the north. In the north  Buddhist monks are asked, Where are you going? No, you can’t go there, go away , he said at a  talk show  on  You Tube.( Madhura TV in 2022) .On one occasion 30 or 40 persons   led by two MPs blocked the road  and did not allow some forest monks get to their destination. The government should condemn such action and protect  these sites, Santhabodhi said.

In September 2023 Eastern Province Governor Senthil Thondaman directed authorities to stop any illegal construction of Buddhist shrines in Trincomalee   area. Such constructions are provocative and could cause communal disharmony. We cannot allow that to happen, he said. The bhikkhus in these temples were furious. They stormed a meeting Thondaman was chairing in Trincomalee and demanded that the order be withdrawn.  The order was withdrawn.

The Tamil animosity to Buddhist theras from Sri Lanka extended beyond Sri Lanka to Tamilnadu.  In January , 2011 Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Chennai told Ada Derana that a mob  had attacked the Sri Lankan Maha Bodhi Vihara in Chennai . Three monks  inside the vihara, two Sri Lankan and one Nepalese had sustained minor injuries.

In March 2013, there were two attacks on Buddhist monks in Tamilnadu. On  March 16 2013 You Tube  showed  a Sinhala bhikkhu attacked at Tanjore  .https://youtu.be/RSFopX4BWrY.  Then   on 18.3.2023 YouTube showed a monk   chased and assaulted over and over again at Chennai  railway station, https://youtu.be/dG89jtTJwSg,  Https://youtu.be/f8WHv6x8K-A

DBS Jeyaraj gave  a detailed account of both events. On March 16 2013 Ven. Pathberiye Gnanaloka was assaulted  at Tanjore. A group of students  from  the Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi   were on a study visit to Brahadeewarar temple Tanjore. The group including Ven. Pathberiye Gnanaloka , a 46 year old Buddhist priest from Sri Lanka, who  had been at the Institute since 2011, doing comparative   research on monuments in Anuradhapura  period , Sri Lanka and the   Chozha period   in Tamil kingdom.

A group of Tamil political activists from Tamil Desiya Pothuvudamai Katchi (Tamil National Socialist Party) Naam Thamizhar Katchi (We Tamil Party) and Viduthalai Thamizh Puli Amaippu (Liberation Tamil Tiger Organization) invaded the temple, surrounded Gnanaloka  and  hurled abuse at him. They accused him of being responsible for killing their Tamil brothers in Sri Lanka and told him to get out of the temple. The  study team promptly left the temple.

Outside, they found some more opponents. There was also a TV crew.  More abuse was shouted at the monk. The group  were led by  Karikalan of the Tamil Desiya Pothuvudamai Katchi. The TDPK, a small party advocates the setting up of a Tamil state in North and East Sri Lanka, added DBS Jeyaraj. Karikalan told the monk that he would be killed unless he vacated the temple precincts.  

The visitors left the Temple precincts and started walking to the Archaeology Survey office. The Tamil activists also accompanied them shouting anti- Sri Lanka and anti-Rajapaksa slogans. Some started hitting the priest from behind. The  visiting team quickened their pace finally breaking into a run as the blows increased.

Archaeology and temple officials took Gnanaloka  into the office and locked him up for his own safety .  The crowd kept on chanting slogans that the Singalan”(Sinhalese) must be sent out. The hostile crowd began increasing as more and more passers-by joined it.

The bhikkhu got out of his robes on the advice of the Police and changed into ordinary garb. officials took Gnanaloka  and other ASI students out through a rear door and put them aboard two vans .The activist group came to know of what was happening and ran to the vehicles, screaming loudly. The Police prevented them from going close to the vehicles. With two Police vehicles at the front and back escorted the two ASI Vans  left  the Temple.

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham(MDMK)  then joined forces with the Naam Thamizhar Katchi” (NTK) to launch combined operations against the visitors. The MDMK is led by V. Gopalaswamy now known as Vaiko. The NTK is led by Sebastian Seemon now known as Senthamilan Seeman.  He later went to Geneva, to engage in anti-Sri Lanka lobbying.

Seeman had a history. He was detained in Tamil Nadu for many months for publicly threatening to kill Sinhalese in India as retaliation for Tamil Nadu fishermen being killed. He was deported from Canada some time ago for making racist remarks threatening the lives of Sinhala persons. Recently Seeman was denied entry to the USA and turned back at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. His younger followers wear black tee –shirts with Prabhakaran’s portrait and describe themselves as Karumpuligal” or Black tigers. His party has thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil members from the global Tamil Diaspora. The membership fee is 100 US Dollars per year. In addition Seeman also gets hefty donations from tiger supporters abroad, said DBS Jeyaraj.

The MDMK-NTK activists concealed themselves in strategic positions close to the roundabout near the Ariyamangalam dairy farm. As the vehicles slowed down at the roundabout  the Tamil activists emerged suddenly with sticks and stones and blocked the vehicles. They started shouting anti-Rajapaksa slogans and started attacking the vehicles. Windows were cracked. Rotten eggs were thrown, thugs poked sticks and tried to hit them. Gnanaloka  could not be identified by the mob as he was now in civilian clothes

There was another  mob trying to block them at the other side of the Dairy farm roundabout. There, some activists got on their motor cycles and gave chase. When the vans neared the Ponmalai railway bridge  the  Seeman group took swipes at the vehicles with poles and pelted the vehicles with stones.

 When the vehicles reached the G corner” at Ponmalai a large number of volunteers from the MDMK tried to obstruct the road shouting slogans against Sri Lanka. They also tried to attack the vehicles. . As the vans neared the TVS tollgate another group comprising the NTK and MDMK tried to attack them.

As the ASI vehicles reached the Airport they found that  activists from several Tamil outfits had assembled at the entrance, chanting slogans. The Police however did not allow them to enter Airport premises. The visitors were safely flown out to Chennai where Police  met them and provided security out of India.

DBS Jeyaraj then described the second incident. 36-year-old Ven.Udathalawinne Wageesa was attacked on  March 18 2013 at Chennai railway station. A group of nineteen Buddhists from Geli-Oya  had left Sri Lanka on March 3 to India on a pilgrimage, led by Ven. Wageesa . There was one other monk also in the group but he had opted to travel like a civilian in ordinary clothes as a precaution, due to the volatile nature of anti- Sri Lankan politics in Tamil Nadu Wageesa had refused to do so.

The group  was at Chennai railway station having finished their pilgrimage. Wageesa   was in the train compartment collecting his belongings when three men clambered aboard the compartment, surrounded the startled Bhikkhu and began shouting at him. They accused him of killing Tamils in Sri Lanka. At this point two others who seemed to be media persons got in. One had a TV camera.  The trio started posing for the camera and shouted slogans. They also heaped abuse calling the priest a dog and a murderer. Get out of Tamil Nadu” they threatened.

Wageesa did not try to talk to them. He got up and attempted to walk away  and was I immediately  assaulted. He was hit on the face, chest and arms. Wageesa left the compartment but the trio followed. The priest was chased along the platform. He stumbled and fell. The trio then surrounded him and attacked him. He was kicked. He was also hit on the left leg with an iron pipe. The attackers interspersed their violence with slogans made to the camera. ”You can’t come here after killing there,” they said.  

The matter ended there. Wageesa returned to Sri Lanka and was welcomed by many Buddhist monks at Katunayake. Meanwhile Chennai Police questioned the TV crew about how they had arrived at the scene.

The government of Sri Lanka  lodged a  protest with New Delhi over the incidents of assaults on Buddhist monks.. Buddhists including  monks  marched in protest to the Indian High Commission in Colombo. ( Continued)    

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiqG8CFJ6c4&t=321

[2] https://english.theleader.lk/news/5723-new-structures-at-kurundi-temple-are-in-violation-of-previous-order-court sept. 1. 2023

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