Posted on May 20th, 2024


This essay is a continuation of the previous essay which ended with the statement that Kurundi vihara had its own web site.  This website contains a booklet on Kurundi.  This booklet can be downloaded from the website. https://www.kurundi.lk/kurundi-booklet/.

The text   is wide ranging, it explains what happened at Kurundi, and also comments on Tamil separatism and the Burra Charter. Here are some of the statements made in the booklet. [1]

  • Kurundi Booklet said Sri Lanka has a high density of archaeological heritage. Sri Lanka’s vast number of ruined temples scattered all over the island and especially in the North and Eastern provinces, indicate the spread of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilization many of them are being destroyed and vandalized, the lands of some ancient sites are being encroached upon. Vandalizing archaeological ruins is illegal.
  • During the Eelam war, the Buddhist ruins were destroyed. Many of the ruined granite pillars and carved stones were used in other buildings as stepping stones or walls. When one travels in these areas, the damage is clearly evident.
  • As the dispute at the Kurundi temple came into the spotlight, discussions about hundreds of ancient sites in the North and East came into the limelight. The many issues faced by these sites were brought into the discussion.
  • Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage is the biggest threat to proving the existence of a Tamil homeland in the North and East. This is why for decades, the many sites and monuments in the North and East are being destroyed and vandalized. During the war, for almost three decades, in the areas that were under the control of the LTTE, many sites and monuments were either destroyed or kovils were built on them.
  • In keeping with this, during the people’s protests and pride walks held in Colombo recently some ventured their anger against the archaeology and Buddhist work happening in the North and East. They were holding slogans saying that the ‘Buddhisization of the North-East- Traditional Tamil Homeland’ must be stopped and.
  • Based on archaeological and historical evidence, there is nothing new to ‘Buddhistize’ in the North and East of the country. The vast number of temples scattered in these areas bears the place’s historical identities. It is not that monks or the Sri Lankan Government, or the Sinhalese are going to the North and East to set up temples. They have always been in those areas and what is being done now is reviving them and reconstructing them.
  • There never had been a historical Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka and in the North East. The Tamil villagers today are all established during British rule. During the time of the British rule of Sri Lanka, Tamil people were settled in the Mullaitivu district, and it was those who forcefully encroached on the lands of many historical Buddhist temples of the North and East. They have also succeeded in obtaining land deeds for these encroached lands of Buddhist temples and ancient Sinhala Buddhist villages.
  • Similarly, they have attempted to build a kovil near the Kurundi monastery and venerate it. There is evidence that it was started to rebuild this kovil in 1981. We need to understand what is going on.
  • The objective of this booklet is to present to you a brief history of this ancient Buddhist monastery, its archaeology, recent conservation work, how it is not going against any national or international archaeological conservation laws and policies, and how the extremists are attacking the place, attempting to damage the place’s identity. Revealing the damages or threats to a heritage site, is not to provoke racism, but to protect the country’s national heritage.
  • The evidence points out the fact that the Kurundi ancient monastery was a flourishing Buddhist monastery since the early historical times and it was located in a Sinhala Buddhist settlement. Evidence also proves that hundreds of Buddhist monks lived in the monastery. Today it is identified that the entire monastery land is spread across more than 400 acres.
  • We also must understand that the ancient Kurundi Buddhist Monastery is not only a heritage of the Sri Lankan Buddhists but also of all the Buddhists of the world. Therefore, the ancient Kurundi Buddhist Monastery should be listed and protected as a World Heritage Site.
  • The archaeology work was started in 2021 and the plan was to complete the stupa conservation based on the proposed plan (by archaeologists). On the day of enshrining the sacred relics of the Buddha inside the stupa, Parliamentarians of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and their supporters disturbed this event and force-stopped it. They claimed that the place belongs to their ‘homeland’ and the temple, in fact, is an ancient kovil (which does not tally with archaeological and historical sources).
  • The chain of events that followed was witnessed by the whole country and in the end, the DoA was allowed to continue with their archaeology work at the place without any disturbance. However, the disputes and distractions created by these groups did not end then and there. Instead, it continued. Therefore, we will brief the incidents starting from 2018.
  • On 4 September 2018 when we first commenced work this group came and created obstacles for our work and filed a court case. Then they continuously did false accusations and delayed the court proceedings.
  • In January 2021 once again they created disturbances for the work at the temple. Despite the obstacles, we managed to start the work at the temple. Without stopping there, they continued to disturb our work and even provoked the people in the nearby villagers. Members of Parliament representing the TNA arrived at the temple and created big issues here, demanding to halt the work at the temple.
  • Once again in August 2021, a court was filed at the Supreme Court. The 2018 case at the Mullaitivu Magistrate court was filed again and again based on false accusations, and the development of the temple was stopped from time to time due to this.
  • Then on 12 June 2022, the religious festival was organized to enshrine the sacred relics inside the stupa, these politicians arrived here with people who provoked and stopped the religious festival. Hundreds of Buddhist monks arrived for the festival, representing the three Buddhist sects of the country, including many most venerable chief monks. The violent group insulted and harassed these Buddhist monks and verbally abused them with filth. A similar incident once again occurred on 21 September 2022 threatening the well-being of the ancient temple.
  • This ancient temple should be developed and maintained and by doing so no harm to caused to anyone. In fact, when the temple is developed, a large number of pilgrims and tourists will visit the place on a daily basis and it will be a good income source for the villagers.
  • The legal authority over the Kurundi site is with the Department of Archaeology. Ensuring its protection and other archaeological and research work is the professional responsibility of the DoA. Any other institution or political party cannot distract that legal authority. Nothing prevents the Department of Archaeology from undertaking the reconstruction of a stupa in an archaeological site as has been done since the 60s.
  • Current archaeological works at the site are not violating the rights of an individual or a group; instead, that is an official intervention in safeguarding a people’s heritage that has a Buddhist cultural identity. If one says the work (conservation, restoration, excavations, publication, etc), is illegal, what the DoA has done for the past 132 years is illegal, unscientific, and anti-social.
  • Kurundi is a heritage site under the existing law of the country which is identified as an archaeological reserve. What you do with such a site is given in the Antiquities Ordinance under which, reconstruction of a stupa is not prohibited.
  • the archaeological work that has been done at Kurundi temple by any means cannot be interpreted as illegal according to local and international laws or policies. Also, based on these laws and policies, and charters, none of this construction falls under new construction work; they all are archaeological conservation work.
  • The care of this heritage is primarily the responsibility of the religious community for whom this heritage has importance, at local and/or global levels. The conservation of living religious heritage is ideally initiated by the religious community and carried out in collaboration with conservation professionals and all those concerned.
  • Considering the religious significance of a stupa Buddhist community decided to reconstruct stupas that are in ruined conditions, which is a long-established tradition in this country. In Sri Lanka, we have reconstructed many stupas with the addition of large amounts of bricks to regain the form suitable for worship. Principles for such interventions are still being discussed with no coherent agreements at the international level.
  • It must be taken into consideration how the relevant culture has traditionally preserved its heritage in the past when the archaeological heritage of a living culture is subjected to conservation. These traditional knowledge systems are also part of heritage. Local heritage should not be completely subjected to foreign conservation methods. Heritage should be conserved by preserving its liveliness. To continue in a ruined state for a longer time results in the death of the culture.
  • When it comes to Stupa Conservation, the international charters have some interesting mentionings. According to the Venice Charter, the level of restoration should be decided on the nature of the factors. Authentic texts, laws, and policies should be used in this process and It also states that the changes made over time should be respected while preserving the building. When these are applied to the issue at Kurundi, the problem can be solved; the needed restoration work can be done based on the archaeological facts.
  • The conservation of the stupa and image house at Kurundi oscillates between traditional conservation and modern materialistic conservation views. There is no universal law that defines what you do with (interventions) a heritage site or an archaeological site. .According to the Burra Charter, conservation should be minimal physical intervention and should be done with attention to the cultural significance of a building.   ( CONTINUED)

[1] https://www.kurundi.lk/kurundi-booklet/ 2023

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