Posted on May 25th, 2024


The Hindu religion has been given a visible boost in Sri Lanka in the past two decades. It received state patronage. Hindu festivals were   celebrated at President’s House and Temple Trees.

In 2003 Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had for the first time directed that a National Deepavali celebration be held. It was held at New Kathiresan Hall.   Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and Mahinda Rajapaksa as Leader of Opposition   attended.

In 2021 Maha sivarathri was celebrated at Tirukeethesvaram temple in Mannar with the support of the government of Sri Lanka, High commission of India and All Ceylon Hindu Congress

In 2023 a special Deepavali celebration was held at the Presidential Secretariat and   the     Chariot festival of the Sammanakodu Kataragama Temple started from Temple Trees. Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made   offerings.  Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Minister Douglas Devananda, MPs Mano Ganesan, Suresh Vadivel, Aravinda Kumar, also took part at the event. In 2024 Sri Lanka’s Embassy in Rome celebrated Thai Pongal at the Embassy premises.

Other institutions also followed this policy. In 2003, People Bank celebrated Deepavali by organizing a series of island wide ceremonies with it main function at Wellawatte bank.  In 2022 People’s Bank conducted Thai Pongal celebrations at its Wellawatte and Kotahena branches.

The Hindu community has been elevated in other ways too. All Ceylon Hindu Congress celebrated its Diamond Jubilee with an International Hindu Research conference at Nallur, Jaffna in July, 2015.

In 2019 Jaffna MP E. Saravanapavan stated in Parliament that Sri Lanka should have a Hindu University for Hindus to research and learn about the religion. Like the Buddhist University, there should be a Hindu University.

In 2021 the newly edited 12 volume Hindu Encyclopedia was launched on Maha Sivaratri Day at Temple Trees with Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Prime Minister as well as Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister, as the Chief Guest. The Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs Department had edited the Encyclopedia. The Encyclopedia had begun in 1988. At this event 50 Kovils were given Rs 50,000 each to celebrate the Maha Sivaratri Day.

 As usual, there were complaints.  Liquor shops functioned during the Hindu festivals, while it was closed during Buddhist religious festivals and activities. When liquor shops are instructed to close during Poya Days, then it should follow same pattern during other religious festivals, especially in areas which have a majority Hindu population, complained an MP in 2019. Hindus who live in the Wellawatte area, who want to conduct their funerals according to Hindu rites should be allocated a place with the required facilities, he added.

There was exaggeration as well. Chelvathamby Maniccavasagar writing to the Hindu section of the Daily News refers to myths about Hinduism in Sri Lanka.  These say Vijaya promoted Hinduism in Sri Lanka and ordered five Shiva temples to be built in the four corners of Sri Lanka.  They are Tirukeethesvaram and Koneswaram in the east, Munneswaram in west, Naguleswaram in the north and Chandraprakasam in south. Also Vijaya had   established Maviddapuram temple in Jaffna.

There was a visible spate of Kovil  building  starting in the 1990s  Kovils were built in order to establish Sri Lanka as  place of substantial Hindu worship. Between 1999 and 2002 the following were built.  Kovil was constructed over night in Trincomalee on Orrs Hill, constructed in one day. Another kovil was built at Akkaraipattu. Hanuman temple was constructed in Nuwara Eliya, facing Sri Pada and overlooking Kotmale.

The small inconsequential Sita Eliya (actually Sitala Eliya”) temple of yore has been developed into a conspicuous edifice patronized by persons going along the N’Eliya- Badulla road. This is now presented as a tourist attraction. The idea is to create a Hindu base for N’Eliya and the up country, with emphasis on Ravana in Bandarawela. The construction of this temple was assisted by the army, in order to promote good relations between Tamils and Sinhala. It was done by workmen from Tamilnadu on visas reported the media.

In 1997 Rs 22 million had been released to rehabilitate three Hindu religious sites on order of President Chandrika. All the small Hindu temples that are being reconstructed in North today have large gopurams, said a commentator in 2014.

The government and the media are helping to reinforce the notion of a Tamil-Hindu north and east. The Vattrappali Kannakai Amman is an ancient and historical temple in Mullaitivu. It is a miraculous one where lamps are lit by using the salt from the sea, the media said.

 Hindu festivals in lesser known places in the east were also given a mention.  In 2016, the media carried a photograph of the  Maha kumbakeshekam of Sri Weeramakaliamman temple in Vavunativu, Batticaloa   and a photo of the water cutting ceremony of Pillaiyar temple, Kaluthavalai, Batticaloa.

The major kovils such as Tirukeethesvaram, Nallur and Trikoneswaram   are given much publicity in the media. In 2011 it was said that Tirukeethesvaram kovil was being considered for recognition as a world heritage site  (Daily News 19.4.11 p 1).

 From 1954 onwards the Hindu authorities were asking that Thirukoneshwaran Eeshwaran Kovil area in Trincomalee   be declared a sacred city. In 2017 this request was repeated. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had said he would consider granting land extension of 378 acres around the Thirukoneshwaran Kovil and Hindus asked that the area could be declared a sacred site as well. MP Devananda said the Kovil had been situated at the same place since 1300 BC even before King Vijaya arrived in the country.

Nallur kovil got much publicity in the media.  For instance Nallur temple is featured in Explore Sri Lanka August 2021 in flattering terms.  Its second court is described as a breathtaking sight.  In 2023, Sunday Times had a photo of the huge crowds at the Nallur Kovil annual festival (Sunday times 17.9.23 p 2).  Mahaviddarpuram temple is also considered to be a significant temple .

Nainativu (Nagadipa) which  Buddhists consider to be Buddhist, is Hindu as well. The Nagapooshani Amman Kovil in Nainativu has been visited by people from all Northern islands as well as faithful devotees from across Sri Lanka, said journalist Dishan Joseph, writing in Daily News in 2021.

 The origins of the ancient kovil can be traced up to the 16th century it is believed the present structure was built during the 1720–1790 period after the ancient structure was destroyed by the invading Portuguese around 1620. The grand kovil attracts around 1,000 visitors a day. The annual 16-day Mahostavam (Thiruvizha) festival celebrated during the Tamil month of Aani (June/July) attracts over 100,000 pilgrims. There is an estimated 10,000 sculptures in this newly-renovated temple ,concluded Dishan. There was no kovil when I visited Nainativu in the 1950s as a school girl with my parents.

Jaffna is shown as a Hindu city. In 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa when electioneering was taken bare bodied to Nallur. Biz Pact group were also taken there on a visit. The German Ambassador participated in the Thai Pongal festival at Nallur, bare bodied.

Trincomalee is vital for Eelam, even more than Jaffna. Tamil Separatist Movement  is  therefore anxious to  make Trincomalee  fully       Hindu,  to  further  strengthen the  Eelam claim.    The streets in Trincomalee town when I was last there, sometime before Covid, was simply bursting with   gaudy kovils.  Some were just a few feet apart along the same road  in Trincomalee town.

Hinduism in Sri Lanka has now got tangled up with extremist Indian politics. In 2016 the media reported that Shiva Sena in Mumbai has extended its support to a new Sri Lankan Tamil outfit called Siva Senai consisting of a group of Hindus in Vavuniya led by Maravanapulavi Sachithananthan. This is Sri Lanka’s first right wing Hindu organization said the media.  It accuses the Sri Lanka government of supporting Sinhala Buddhist colonization to undermine the importance of Hindus. It also charges Christians and Muslims of getting huge foreign funds to spread their religion. [1]  

In April 2024, the administrators of Adi Lingeswarar Hindu temple, (a contested site”, located at Vedukkunari/ Vadunagala in Nedunkerni in the Vavuniya district) and devotees in the area had met at Olumadu Community Hall to appoint an administrative board for the Kovil, for 2024-2025.

Five members of Shiva Senai, led by its leader, Maravanpulavu Kanapathipillai Sachithanandan entered the hall uninvited and demanded that  one post in the kovil’s administrative board be given to their organization. The administrators refused to do so and asked the group vacate the premises.  The administrators   would leave the premises if Shiva Senai did not do so. Shiv Senai  stayed put so the kovil’s administrative board and the devotees left. The five Siva Senai members  left the premises an hour  later.[2]( Continued)

[1] Island 15.10. 16 p 3.

[2] https://english.theleader.lk/news/8393-vanni-hindus-reject-extremist-hindutva-organization

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