Posted on May 26th, 2024


The Tamil Separatist Movement focuses mainly on Buddhistization, but there are fleeting references to Christianization at well. The end of the Eelam war, led to the    arrival of Christian sects into the newly liberated north and east. This has not received publicity, because Tamil Separatist Movement is hospitable to Christian conversion. Many Tamil politicians are Christian.

Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo was told when he visited Jaffna after the war that churches also came up in the north and east after the war. Like Buddhist temples, they were brand new, both took land. Everyone shouts about Buddhist sites, as if they were the only ones, but churches also did the same thing, he was told.

Elizabeth Harris looked at the Christian angle of Buddhistization in the north and east. At Kallar, in the East, when a large camp closed, the Buddhist shrine that had stood outside it, opposite a modest Methodist church, was eventually removed. However, in 2012, a Buddha rūpa stood close to a Sinhala police checkpoint by the bridge leading north from the town, on an open stretch of beautifully tended land beside the water. It was the first or last thing a traveller saw on entering or leaving Kallar, a predominantly Hindu and Christian town, she observed.

Harris noted that churcheshave moved into the Vanni after the war. Churches have never had a presence there. Either they began as a relief organization and then setup a church or they used contacts they had in the IDP camps. So the very same criticism that is made of Buddhists can be made of Christians. Christianization is done by small groups that mainline churches have no control over. In principle it means that there are diverse groups exploiting the situation for religious expansion. Buddhism is very visible in most areas because it has military backing. Christians are more low profile but they are still exploiting, reported Harris.

 I was surprised at the unanimity between Hindus and Christians in Tamil majority areas in both 2012 and 2015. In 2012, anger and resentment was uppermost. In 2015, this had largely been replaced by helplessness and resignation, combined with the wish to reclaim space, concluded Harris.

Buddhist shrines were erected inside and sometimes outside army and navy camps, in the north and east. After May 2009, small camps were amalgamated with large ones. When a camp was closed, the Buddhist shrine sometimes remained,   said Harris.

In 2012, when I passed the larger amalgamated camps, Buddhist symbolism was only sometimes visible. North of Vakarai, for instance, on the east coast, the most visible element of an army camp was the Buddhist centre inside it. It was pristine, designed as a village vihāra with stūpa, Bodhi tree and Buddha rūpa. It was far larger than the one in a camp close to Habarana, in a more Sinhala area, where a fairly modest shrine was the first thing to meet the eye, although enhanced by the empty space surrounding it. In other army camps, no Buddhist

Symbols could be seen from the road.

Elizabeth Harris reports on a conflict between the Hindus and Buddhist in Trincomalee town in 2005.it shows the sort of nose –to-nose clashes that occurred. In May 2005 at Trincomalee, the Sinhala United Trishaw Association, backed by Ven. Dehiowita Piyatissa replaced a small Buddha rūpa close to their trishaw stand in the centre of the town with a much larger one. In many Sinhala areas, trishaw associations erected Buddha rūpas close to where they parked their vehicles. This, however, was not a totally Sinhala area, and tensions were already high due to PTOMs issue.

Trincomalee District Tamil People’s Forum, called a hartal demanding that the image be removed, since it was on Urban Council land. A grenade was thrown at the image injuring two. Attorney General, Kamalasabeysan, filed a plaint at the Trincomalee District Court seeking the court to declare the construction of the controversial statue unlawful’. National Bhikkhu Front marched in protest outside Kamalasabeysan’s office and threatened fasts-unto-death if the image was removed.

 Tamil group called for a hartal   and said that suicide attacks would be launched on the military. Sangha responded by threatening fasts-unto-death. The Trishaw Association filed a petition to curb the Council from carrying out a magistrate’s court order to remove unauthorized structures. The matter went to the Court of Appeal, but the statue stayed. It was not removed.

The intention is sinister, said Tamil Separatist Movement. They erected it in secret. They will now plant a Bo tree, build a temple and call it a Buddhist country’.Sure enough, by 2017, a Bodhi tree with a small glass-encased shrine in front, containing several small Buddha images   appeared near the fish market. There was a mural, sponsored by civil society organizations behind the tree. This had a dagoba prominently displayed in front. Behind it were a church, a mosque and a Hindu kovil, but a subtle foregrounding of Buddhism was still present, lamented Harris.

Elizabeth Harris was told that there had only been one Buddha rūpa on the A9 road between Vavuniya and Jaffna before the war, at Kilinochchi. The number had increased thereafter. Anjali ( pseud)  had told her that  on one journey to Jaffna before the ending of the war, she had followed a massive Buddha rūpa in the back of a lorry up the A9. For her, placing Buddha rūpas in non-Buddhist areas could be compared to the actions of a tomcat ‘pissing to mark its territory’.

Anjali  was fully aware that her simile was objectionable but insisted I should include it, declaring that asserting Sinhala Buddhist dominance in non-Buddhist areas was ‘a contradiction of Buddhism itself ’. ‘For this to be happening’, she added, ‘in a period of supposed reconciliation is a contradiction in terms’,  recorded Harris.

I am ending this essay with an account of some of the  Buddhist temples that  have  been destroyed, turned into kovils or had a narrow escape from that fate.

DGB de Silva recalled that the ruined Buddhist stupa in the Dighavapi jungle was on the verge of being converted to a Hindu shrine when his wife’s maternal grandfather, the late G. M. Simon de Silva, a prosperous entrepreneur from Kalmunai/Akkaraipattu, saved it by clearing up the place, erecting a flower altar , installing a stone Buddha statue, and getting a monk to reside there. The bhikkhu lived on a tree-top avasa until he was gunned down by a marksman.

 Okanda Devalaya in Ampara  has been converted to Ukanthamalai Murugan Kovil.  There was no Murugan or Valli Amman kovils in this area until very recently. That change took place when these lands were purchased by Tamils, said Dilrook Kannangara. Until April 27, 2002 the place was officially known as Okanda Devalaya. Since then it has been replaced by Murugan Kovil”. European Union  financed the construction of the Hindu temple.

The nearby Kottadamuhela Buddhist shrine remnants are evidence of Buddhist heritage. There are 20 cave inscriptions in Kottadamuhela caves The Buddhist shrine was in operation in a small way until 1978. Thereafter Tamil terrorists attacked Sinhalese in this area, hacking some to death while others fled. Tamils invaded this area subsequently and captured it, noted Dilrook.

Asst Commissioner of Archaeology , MH Sirisoma reported in 1971 that there was no wall around the Sri Maha Bodhi and  a kovil was being put up on the adjacent land.

When in the 1960s the archaeological Department went to Jaffna peninsula there were still remains of the Buddhist sites cited in the 16th Nam pota. These have been gradually built over with Hindu Kovils.

Kokkadicholai is now completely Tamil, said Medhananda. They have encroached over most of the 22 acres.  Ruins have been destroyed.  The evidence is still there.  A kovil, named Kanakone Ishwara Kovil, has been built over the aramaya.  The   Kovil started small and is now enlarged. There is a Pullaiyar kovil too, said Medhananda. There had been a planned programmed to hinder Buddhists in Sembumalai, observed Medhananda. Ilankaturai was earlier Lankapatuna. Many non Buddhist have encroached and Hindu kovils have come up there. Samudragiri vihara, Illankathurai was destroyed. 

The dagoba at Sudaikuda in Sampur was razed and   its artifacts destroyed, before the dagoba could be labeled an archaeological site. But Archaeology Department said it intended to take over the site.

The Bodhi tree at Gokanna in Trincomalee  like the Bodhi tree at Killiveddi in Trincomalee district (Sansoni Commission Report) and in the Jaffna peninsula (Guruge), was destroyed between 1956 and 1964.

Materials from Buddhist ruins were used for the Oddusuddan kovil. Buddhist pillars  were seen beside the Sivapuram Sri Malai Kovil also stone edict dated to 8 to 10 AD which has been published. Buddhist items were taken for use at Mullavaikkal kovil.  ( Continued)

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