(Inset) Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena:
Show very much on
government attempts to convert the fabled Water Gardens
of Sigiriya with its unique landscape into a gaudy night
carnival, the Paris-based World Heritage Centre is now
watching keenly how Sri Lanka manages its World Heritage
Sites while Sri Lankan authorities appear to be turning
a blind eye to the possibility of the country's
environmental and archaeological laws being breached.
Sigiriya, despite regular tourist traffic and being the
most visited UNESCO declared heritage site in
still remains a stunning manifestation of nature's
beauty. For centuries it was left in its original
condition until the British rediscovered the magnificent
site built by King Kashyapa.
Sigiriya was declared a World Heritage Site in 1998 for
its outstanding universal value.
are some 878 such sites the world over, out of which 679
are cultural sites and 174 are natural sites while 25
others are declared mixed category sites.
Sigiriya's splendour remained untouched, the Ministry of
Tourism is quite keen to introduce a sound and light
show to the site and appear quite impressed with the
sound and light shows in India - at the Red Fort in Old
Delhi and Golkonda Fort in
The point the authorities appear to be missing here is
these sites are located in urban areas and not in deep
is further overlooked in the eagerness to have Sri
Lanka's first ever Son et Lumiere is that all those
laser beams and music might attempt to recreate the
Kashyapa era, but the world declared heritage site would
suffer the adverse impact.
boot, the country's Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance
will be violated as the Sigiriya fortress is situated in
the midst of a Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC)
architectural wonder has so far been opened only to
visitors but the ambitious plan to have Sigiriya flooded
with visitors by eventide is going to cast Sri Lanka in
a negative light before the World Heritage Centre in
Paris which is already concerned about Sri Lanka's
mismanagement of sites and the state party's failure to
take corrective measures even after recommended action
some modern day vulgarities to amuse some tourists in a
city steeped in culture and a declared sanctuary may
appear to some as an inevitable aspect of development,
particularly driven by a wish to earn some quick
dollars. If anything, given the country's precarious
situation, there would be very few who would wish to get
to the Sigiriya site altogether, let alone spend their
revival of a proposal that was originally made during
the Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNP administration died a
natural death amidst strident protests. The proposals to
'modernise' Sigiriya were made in 2003 which resulted in
a public outcry with environmentalists, archaeologists,
historians and nature lovers collectively opposing what
they viewed as an intrusion. The programme was named:
'Sunset Walk In Sigiriya.'
concept had been envisaged by two foreign experts,
Stein-Roger Bull and Svein Sturla Hunges who proposed an
illuminated walk in Sigiriya to create a 'magically new
attraction' within a sanctuary.
then envisaged for the Sigiriya Gardens to have daily
visitors numbering 400, floodlights flashing down from
the rock into the gardens below, electric trains to take
tourists around the moat surrounding the rock,
illuminated trees, soldiers dressed up in ancient
regalia, music suitable for a sunset walk complete with
choreographed nymphs dancing with water flowers
reminiscent of the Sigiri Apsaras, no less.
the cash strapped government having only a war to rely
on, many are the proposals that are made for increasing
revenue, particularly in the tourism sector. One is to
put the rock fortress under a permanent spotlight with
blaring music and laser beams for additional aesthetics
in the midst of a bird sanctuary.
Admittedly, sound and light shows are very popular the
world over and many countries including neighbouring
India also made considerable pecuniary benefit of the
places where they hold such shows. Except that India
never selected declared sanctuaries to have their night
shows to beckon scarce tourists. There is too much of
respect for culture and history in India to attempt
such. The one time India forgot the lesson with regard
to Taj Mahal, the level of protest was so high that it
caused the Mayawathi administration in Uttar Pradesh to
Sigiriya, a bird sanctuary of immense value, the Shalin
Falcons, an endangered species, breed in the crevices of
the rock. There were deer, elephants and other mammals
living in the sanctuary.
heritage site comes directly under the Ministry of
Cultural Affairs but there is no impact assessment so
far obtained on the possible effect of a sound and light
show in Sigiriya.
the deafening silence of the DWLC is also mind-boggling
given that the site is situated within a bird sanctuary
which is the habitat of many species and a breeding
ground for unique species.
comes the role of the Department of Archaeology. This
department dating back to the days of the legendary
H.C.P. Bell should also be playing a role in this
context to stem the possible negative impact.
year 2003, definite alterations to the structures at
Sigiriya were attempted but after the public outcry,
they were halted thus saving the day- and of course
Sigiriya. The million-dollar question now is with the
Tourism Ministry still keen on the Son Et Lumiere
whether this extends to other 'improvements' as well?
is no need to over-emphasize that Sri Lanka would suffer
for the mismanagement of its sites specially when the
country has now proposed the declaration of a new peak
wilderness site, comprising Sri Pada, Horton Plains and
the Knuckles Range while the Seruwila-Somawathiya sacred
route is already in the pipeline to be declared a
heritage site, he added.
would be disastrous to send Sri Lanka on a reverse
is to be further borne in mind is that Sigiriya is by no
means the sole proprietorship or the heritage of the
Ministries of Tourism and Culture alone but the common
heritage of all Sri Lankans. And the country would be
happy not to have a misplaced show in violation of the
country's many laws but to have the natural environment
of Sigiriya untouched and to have the wild animals roam
freely in their own wild habitat.
World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
Ancient city of
Ancient city of
Sacred city of
Old town of
Galle and its fortifications (1988)
Sacred city of
of Dambulla (1991)
Devaluation of site - UNESCO
National Commission of UNESCO, Prithiviraj Perera
noted that all state parties to the World Heritage
Convention should respect world heritage guidelines
which are created to help better preserve and manage
"It is incumbent upon state parties to inform the
World Heritage Centre in Paris before embarking on
development work with regard to declared sites. As
far as Sigiriya is concerned, Paris has not been
informed," he said.
Importantly, Perera emphasized that during President
Chandrika Kumaratunga's regime in 2001, a proposal
to expand the SLAF airstrip in Kimbissa was made,
but the regime decided against it placing the
integrity and authenticity of a universally
important site on par with a national security
Will continue to agitate - DWLC
top official from the Department of Wildlife
Conservation (DWLC) said that they have continuously
raised their concerns over such issues in the past
and so far have not been informed whether the
proposed show will become a reality.
said that nothing has been finalised with regard to
the sound and light show and added that the DWLC
had proposed earlier that whatever the programmes
may be, they should be conducted without disturbing
the habitats near the fabled rock.
The official added that the department would agitate
for the same in the future.
In the planning stage - Minister
Cultural Affairs Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena
told The Sunday Leader that the proposed sound and
light show in Sigiriya was still in its planning
stages. "It is still an idea. A lot of things have
to be done before it is implemented, but the concept
is very much on," he said.
Record at a glance
2001, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) proposed the
expansion of its airstrip in Kimbisssa in close
proximity to the fabled rock fortress. It was halted
following massive protests by environmentalists.
UNESCO raised serious objections to the proposal for
negatively impacting on the boulders and an
alternative site was found in Hingurakgoda.
Dambulla, the construction of a Buddha statue at the
very entrance of the famous rock temple, a declared
heritage site has violated the authenticity and the
integrity of the original site.
The newly built pavilion at the Galle Cricket
Stadium is an intrusion an illegal construction that
extends beyond the parameters and covers part of the
ramparts in violation of the heritage guidelines.
The recommendations by a UNESCO expert committee to
restore its original view have not been followed.
The proposed sound and light show at Sigiriya will
not only disturb the wildlife in the declared
sanctuary which is now a UNESCO declared world
heritage site but also bring additional pressures on
No AIA obtained - Archaeology Dept.
senior official from the Department of Archaeology
said that Section 43(A) of the Antiquities Ordinance
required any project concerning the development of a
declared archaeological site to have an
archaeological impact assessment (AIA) survey
conducted prior to commencement.
So far no such thing has been done," he said.
Disturbing habitat prohibited - Lawyer
Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardene opines that
under Section 7 of the Flora and Fauna Protection
Ordinance, causing disturbance to animals, their
habitat and their breeding places is prohibited.
Besides, he warns that sound, especially in the
night, would definitely disturb the animals while
light or even reflected light could affect them.
also warns about the hornets that may be aroused by
scores of visitors reaching Sigiriya for the night
shows. The impact, Gunawardene warns will not only
be experienced by the tourists but also the nearby
adds that many bird species including the rare
Shahin Falcon which only breeds in a handful of
places breeds in Sigiriya. A migrant bird Blue Rock
Thrush too had been spotted there while Sigiriya
remains a habitat for many other species. "Not
forgetting the deer and even the leopard," he adds.
M.I.A. and the bogey of genocide in
Mathangi - hip hop artist - stage name M.I.A
By Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan
listened to the interview of Tavis Smiley of the Public
Service Broadcasting (PBS) with Mathangi (aka Maya)
Arulpragasam a hip-hop artist (stage name M.I.A.-
Missing in Action) who has been nominated for Grammy and
Oscar Awards for 2009.
was born in Sri Lanka, so she claims (though I cannot
confirm this fact but give her the benefit of the doubt)
but lived most part of her life first in India and then
in the UK and currently a British citizen, to the best
of my knowledge. I don't think she has visited Sri Lanka
ever since her family migrated to India in the early
1980s (and later to the UK), to the best of my
of what M.I.A. said about the civil war in Sri Lanka
during the course of the aforementioned interview was
misinformation at best, blatant lies at worse, either
due to ignorance or deceit. "It is ironic that I am the
only Tamil, turned out to be the only voice for the
Tamil people in the Western media" thundered M.I.A., a
claim that smacks of self indulgence and echoes the
claim of the LTTE that it is the sole representative of
the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. A claim accepted by very
few Tamils in Sri Lanka or in the diasporas.
is a genocide going on, systematic genocide since 1983,
Tamils being 20 percent of the population getting wiped
out. 350,000 stuck in the battle zone getting wiped out.
There are 4,000 Tamil Tiger soldiers but the Sri Lankan
government, a million soldiers big, wants to wipe out
the whole Tamil population," claims the self-appointed
spokesperson and saviour of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
forgive M.I.A. for her lack of understanding of the
meaning of 'genocide' because she is not educated enough
to understand such terms. I can refer her to an
elaborate recent interview with Dr. Franklin Lamb by
International Lawyers Without Borders. According to a
statement issued by the United Nations on February 16,
2009, the LTTE is abusing Tamil civilians in the
conflict zone as a human shield and shooting and killing
civilians attempting to flee the conflict zone.
also highlighted the fact that children under the age of
14 are forcibly recruited by the LTTE to fight this
futile war. Is not the sacrifice of the Tamil children
for a lost cause, a genocide of the next generation of
the Tamil community?
and how did M.I.A. count 350,000 Tamils in the battle
zone? How did she know that there are one million
soldiers in the Sri Lankan armed forces?
Tamils wiped out?
person who has undertaken post-conflict needs assessment
in the conflict zones in early 2003 and post-tsunami
needs assessment in early 2005 for the UN (mostly in
LTTE-controlled territories), I can authoritatively say
that there are only about 100,000-150,000 people in the
battle zone (i.e. LTTE-held area in the Wanni) as of
mid-February 2009, which amounts to a mere 0.50 - 0.75 %
of the total population of Sri Lanka (circa 20 million).
So, how on earth can she claim that Tamils accounting
for 20% of the population are being wiped out?
course, unacceptable numbers of innocent Tamil civilians
are being killed in the past few weeks by both sides,
which is certainly a cause for grave concern. To the
best of my knowledge, there are only about 300,000
personnel in the police and three armed forces (army,
air force and the navy) of Sri Lanka, and not a million
as M.I.A. claims.
also claimed that there are "two ethnicities - majority
Sinhalese and minority Tamils" in Sri Lanka, which is
factually incorrect. There are, in fact, several ethnic
communities living in Sri Lanka - Sinhalese, Tamils of
North and East, Muslims (though bulk of them speak Tamil
they prefer to be identified as a separate ethnicity),
Hill-country Tamils (migrants from Tamil Nadu state in
India during the British colonial rule), Malays,
Burghers, Chinese, Veddahs (indigenous people), Sindhis,
Bohras, Memons, etc.
self-professed "only voice for the Tamils in the Western
media" left out some other 'truths' of the civil war in
Sri Lanka. Perhaps, because she has been traveling
around the world as a "refugee" she has not been in
touch with what was happening in her imagined homeland.
she remember the truth that LTTE massacred hundreds of
Muslim worshipers in two mosques in Eravur and
Kattankudy in the Batticaloa District (Eastern Province)
in 1990? Cannot she remember the truth that innocent
Sinhalese villagers were hacked to death by machetes and
swords by the LTTE throughout this nasty civil war in
the Eastern and Northern Provinces? Could not she
remember the truth that nearly 100,000 Muslims were
evicted from their homes at gunpoint in the Northern
Province by the LTTE in 1990?
Muslims were given only 72 hours (in many cases only 24
hours) notice to vacate their historical habitats and
were not allowed to take their furniture or consumer
durables along with them. Was not the massacre at the
mosques genocide? Was not the forcible eviction of
Muslims from the north ethnic cleansing?
civilians do not have the right to speak or right to
think, right to live," so goes celebrity untruths of
M.I.A. who has not even visited Sri Lanka in the past 25
years or more to make this sweeping claim. I myself (a
Tamil from Northern Sri Lanka) have been criticising the
Sri Lankan government on matters of economic policies,
human rights violations by the security forces,
corruption, transparency and accountability of public
finances, etc. in public forums such as the media. Of
course, I am fortunate to be still alive, but not many
other critics of the government are, particularly media
personnel, in the past three years. These excesses by
the security forces are nowhere near a genocidal
Whether M.I.A. wins the Grammy and/or the Oscar or not,
M.I.A., an epitome of the art of deception by some
impervious and insular Tamils among the diasporas,
deserves a naattu patrallar (person affectionate to the
country or patriot) award from the demon god of the
event, poor civilians caught up in this vicious civil
war would have never heard of M.I.A. or hi-hop music,
nor are they interested. This kind of celebrity untruths
will boomerang on the worldwide Tamil community as liars
of the first order. Even the actual truths will be
construed as untruths or at least suspected by the
ethnic Tamil myself, on the one hand I am proud of M.I.A.
being nominated for the Grammy and Oscar Awards, on the
other hand I am disgraced by her blatant lies on
television on behalf of "all Tamils" in Sri Lanka (and
beyond), whereas nobody has given her permission to
represent all Tamils.
learned person I have bit of advice for M.I.A. and the
like, members of Tamil diasporas around the world; "It
is preferable to tell the truth, small in its
dimensions, than a large lie artfully embellished."
(Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, 1985, Guerrilla Warfare,
Manchester: University Press, pp146).