Posted on May 26th, 2024


Tamil Separatist Movement is continuing to oppose what it calls Buddhistization”   of the north and east of Sri Lanka. They object to theBuddhistizing of sites that had not previously been exclusively linked with Buddhism.” They disrupted the work and the ceremonies at Kurundi. The direction to Kurundi name board at Nedunkerni-Tanduvan junction was destroyed twice in August 2022.

Even though not reported in much detail outside the north, people living in the north are disturbed at the increase in the number of new Buddhist structures and shrines coming up in the Northern Province, where Hindus form the largest religious group, followed by Christians and Muslims, Tamil Separatist Movement said. 

In 2019 Jaffna MP E. Saravanapavan stated in Parliament, a Buddhist statue has been erected near the Keerimalai, Nageswaran temple and the people in the area are not very happy about this. Many Buddhist statues and temples have been constructed in Tamil areas, in recent times, often replacing or damaging Tamil Hindu temples, said Tamilnet in July 2020. At least 23 new Buddhist shrines are coming up in Kuchchaveli, in villages where Sinhalese constitute y 1% of the population, Tamil Separatist Movement complained in 2023.

It is suggested that Sinhala-Buddhists were also vandalizing Hindu statues. In February 2020, it was claimed that a Pillaiyar statue located on the street of Chenkalady border in Batticaloa was vandalized and tossed on the side. The statue had recently been placed there by the Uthayasuryan Supporting Committee.

In 2023 Groundviews said, media personnel and activists are reporting several cases of Hindu religious sites being damaged, relics removed and Buddhist statues erected in their place with the collaboration of the Department of Archaeology. Hindu kovils are being re-named as Buddhist temples. There are reports of land grabs from Tamil villagers by the military and monks in the North and East in order to settle Sinhala villagers. Tamils and Muslims complain that they are not allowed to practice their religion freely in contravention of their fundamental rights guaranteed by Sri Lanka’s constitution and the international treaties it has ratified.

The government is using the guise of ‘archaeology’ to take over vast areas of lands in the North-East, and mark them as ‘Buddhist sites’ said Tamil Guardian in July 2020. Sinhala-Buddhist are engaging in Buddhistization under the cloak of identifying Archaeological sites (read Buddhist sites) said the Tamil Separatist Movement in 2021.

The problem arises when some overzealous Buddhist Theras want to construct Buddhist temples in state land under the ruse the land is a Buddhist archaeological site, said a commentator in 2019.

Tamil National Cultural Federation  said that for the last 10 years ,  the  Department of Archaeology has speeded up the destruction  of Tamil ancientness and evidences of Tamil ancientness and helped the Buddhistization of the [north and] Eastern Province.

The Department of Archaeology has become increasingly active and assertive in the Tamil-majority north and east and has restricted public access to some Hindu temples, such as Vedukkunarimalai archaeological site in the north, citing ongoing archaeological research” in the historic sites, said Eelamists in 2024.

 In the east too, Hindu worship at Mavadivembu has been curtailed saying it was an archaeological site. This has gone before the courts. There is concern that   these are attempts to plant Sinhalese settlers in their midst who will, at a later date, make claims to the land.

In the case of  Vedukkunarimalai the land is under the central government and so is the police, lamented the Tamil Separatist Movement . This central government control  was a serious impediment to their anti Buddhist activities.

Tamil Separatist Movement has used  several strategies to  obstruct Buddhistization”.  One is to argue that  the Tamils are the indigenous people in the north and east and the Sinhalese are intruders. The Buddhist temple is something new to the area. Buddhist are intruding 

.Another is to say that Buddhists are  setting up temples in areas without a single Sinhala-Buddhist civilian. A third argument is to ask ,when there are Buddhist ruins that need attention elsewhere in the island, why are they focusing on the   Buddhist ruins in north and east. Lastly, Tamil Separatist Movement says, with finality,   Buddhist talk is over. This is now ours.

There is foreign opposition to Buddhistization.US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom in 2016 stated that the construction of Buddhist statues in non-Buddhist areas of the North-East leave the perception of Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism.”

The ideological justification for the expansion of Siṃhala Buddhism into the Tamil region is based on a collective imagination of nationhood, informed by a belief in the perennial existence of a Siṃhala Buddhist state . The Eelam victory is a re-conquest” . The rightful Siṃhala Buddhist heritage  was secured through a military victory, said Jude Lal Fernando in Peter Schalk’s book. [1]

Buddhistization is opposed by several  groups   in the north and east. The  greatest opposition is from the Tamil politicians. It is the Tamil politicians who are making trouble, Said Santhabodhi. There has been trouble elsewhere  also. It is all done by one group, said Santhabodhi .  He said this repeatedly in You Tube chat shows. It is the same lot who are causing problems everywhere  in the north and east, not  the Tamil  public. They are good with us. Opposition is mostly from the politicians, agreed an archaeologist  who had worked in Kurundi.

Eelam talk is not over. It is still going on, said Santhabodhi .  Santhabodhi  made  two  other observations which are not usually emphasized in the ethnic issues debate. He said that   the Tamil MPs  were not the only persons working towards Eelam. The Tamil officers working in the government and provincial offices were also working toward Eelam and they were more tenacious. Secondly, the  Tamil  population in the north and east are  very scared of these officials.  

The  Kurundi issue showed that  the Tamil police were biased towards Tamil interests. The  Tamil magistrates  decided cases in favor of Tamils and Hindu temples. This was seen in Gurukanda  and Kurundi matters.

The University Teachers  Association  of University of Jaffna   is  also against Buddhist activity. They do not wish to see Sinahalizing and Buddhisizing  in this region where the Tamil and Muslim communities form the majority population.”

They have influenced their students. Undergraduates of  University of Jaffna  are  also anti-Buddhistization. Santhabodhi  stated on Iraj Show that  the University of Jaffna students were  aggressive and militant. They have come to  Buddhist temples and demonstrated. [2] Undergrads  had come to in masses to protest  at  Vadunagala. 

The Tamil magistrate in Mullaitivu had ordered that archaeology  work at Kurundi must be done  jointly with University of Jaffna.  Fortunately, long before that, the authorities had decided to give the work to   Rajarata University . This was a wise move.

 Maatram Mahendran Thiruvarangan, Senior Lecturer at the University of Jaffna  explained his view in an interview ( 2023) The Department of Archaeology claims that there were several places in the North which were of importance to Buddhism many centuries ago and that they had been destroyed over time. The department is now in the process of finding these places and rebuilding them.

The Department of Archaeology sees the country as a Sinhala-Buddhist one and is giving importance to archaeological aspects pertaining to Sinhala Buddhism.  Wildlife Department and the Mahaweli Authority are also being used by the government for this purpose.

There could have been Buddhist sites in some places 2,000 years ago but what is the need to look for them today? There are people who belong to other religions who now live in places which they claim to be Buddhist sites, and they are worshipping in these places. They have their own traditions, which also have a long history. When you are digging for information about a history which is over 2,000 years old, does it mean that another history that spans around 500 years is of less importance?

The [officials of the  Department come there out of the blue and claim that this site has some importance and therefore they are going to conduct research. They then declare it as a security zone, deprive people of their right to worship within the premises, bring in the military to start work, get military security and bring in monks and allow them to conduct religious activities.

There have been instances where they take over land and prevent people from doing agriculture activities. One such incident was reported from Kurunthurmalai. This is not only a cultural issue also affects people economically.

Implementing this agenda through a centralized body based in Colombo that too with the protection of the military, is an act of dominance.

When we think of archaeology, we think of something that is ancient. The important question is what does it have to do with the people living now?Are the views of the people taken into consideration when decisions are made?

We do not know the level of importance the Archaeological Department gives to the historical narratives of minority communities and the extent of contribution by experts who work on histories pertaining to minorities.I would say that the Archaeology Department is indulging in cultural violence in the North and East.

One response is to claim that the North and East is the homeland of the Tamils and that the region is being targeted with Sinhalisation and Buddhistization to reduce Tamil influence. There may have been some links to Buddhism, some may have followed Buddhism and there may have been Buddhist constructions in this region at some point of time. That may have changed and a different religion may have come into being. Today, this land belongs to the people who are living here.. We do not have to focus on who lived there before and who they were.

Lastly, Thiruvarangan  said, these panels looking into archaeology rarely have minorities. We must ask whose histories are fore grounded, whose cultural and religious identities are prioritized in these efforts. What we see in the north and east is that the recent archaeological initiatives not only lack credibility, but are polarizing our communities.( 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 Jude Lal Fernando jude  p 177

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kINVsvK7WRU&t=436s   

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