The Sunday Leader

Misguided Buddhist Zealots

By Imaad Majeed

Keeramalai, a few kilometres to Dambakola Patuna, Kanagarayan kulam Buddhist stupa, Buddhist Statue built on a site, supposedly, visited by the Buddha, Buddha Statue IN Killinochchi and Buddhist Temple in Kanakarayan Kulam area on the site of a destroyed Hindu temple.

Since the end of the conflict in 2009, a new phenomena has emerged. That of Buddha statues being erected along the A9 route that leads to Jaffna.
Over 28 Buddha statues have been  counted along this route since the war concluded in May 2009. The comedy of this charade (what else can one call it?) is that these statues are placed in areas where little or no Buddhists reside.
This has caused a stir amongst the local Tamil communities who whisper (yes they can still only whisper or speak of it in hushed tones too afraid to make public their protests) that this is just one more example of Sinhala chauvinism stamping on the cultural and religious sensitivities of the Tamil community. Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalists will argue that as a country that aims to preserve Buddhist culture, it is only appropriate that statues of the Buddha are spread across the island. However, this is an issue of cultural sensitivity, and not that of preserving Buddhism.
Alongside  statues there has also been a Dagoba built in the Mankulam town. What is striking is that the majority of these statues have been erected towards the North end of the roads beyond Vavuniya, an area that is strictly Tamil, having a 30 year history of conflict with Sinhala parties (i.e. the Sri Lankan Army). A Buddhist statue was erected in Kanakarayankulam, near a tank, causing the Tamil community of the area to voice resentment.
According to TNA member M. A. Sumanthiran, the presence of Buddha statues in these areas is a “message that the character of the area has been changed. It is a cultural intrusion”. He also mentioned an ancient Hindu temple that was demolished in Kanniya, Trincomalee, and a Buddha statue built in its place. The foundation of the kovil now holds a Buddhist flag, adding insult to injury. Sumanthiran added that, “the issue at hand is a question of trust. Will this type of behaviour help build trust among the communities?”
Yet, the other question that arises is that of who is responsible for this blatant disregard for Tamil culture?  Champika Ranawaka, a member of the JHU and a government  minister is spearheading moves to construct Buddhist temples in Tamil and Muslim areas. By using his former post as Minister of Environment to secure land for some of these statues to be erected, his actions are only one example of government officials abusing their power.
“There are no ethno-religious constraints in Sri Lanka,” said member of the JHU, Udaya Gammanpila, defending the statues. “We have never objected to the building of Hindu shrines in any part of the island, so why should Buddhist statues be treated any differently?” he asked. When the accusations of cultural  intrusion were brought up, he claimed “harmony among communities is disturbed by making an issue of this”.
According  to Gammanpila there are three reasons for Buddhist statues existing in these areas. “Firstly, there are tens of thousands of Buddhist soldiers stationed in the area, for whom these statues are a place of worship. Also, during the war many sites of archaeological value were destroyed. Buddhist stupas and statues have been built in these areas due to this. There are also many Buddhists who make pilgrimage to the North, and on their way stop by at the many Buddha statues. So there is a clear purpose, it should not become an issue,” he said.
An official speaking on condition of anonymity employed at the Department of Buddhist Affairs had this to say:
“There is no specific law governing the construction of monuments with regard to Buddhism. But there is a practice, if one is to put up a monument, it can be done without harming anyone else’s right to have his own faith, or religious beliefs. In doing so, they must not disgrace Buddhism or any other religion. This is the consensus. In the case of roadside construction, it is only necessary to acquire permission from the relevant local authorities,” the official said.

15 Comments for “Misguided Buddhist Zealots”

  1. Shaik Ahamath

    This apparent free for all ability to erect monuments for any religion has to cease. The fundamental criteria has to be that the local community desired it and show cause. The erections must be subjected to a rigorous planning permission and authorised by the local authority, which presumably had been elected to represent the local community.

  2. Lakshini

    I see statues of Christian saints on the road side in most parts of this country, also seen many Buddha statues in various places and on the roads leading to Nuware Eliya, Maskeliya seen many Hindu statues by the road side too!
    No body has made a big issue about having statues of Gods on the road side or anywhere for that matter in this country. No need to speak in hushed tones as this is the extent of relegious tolerance we have in Sri Lanka!!
    It is also necessary to point out that there was and still is proof of a well established budhist presence in the north and east of Sri Lanka as in the rest of the Island. Many attempts have been made to destroy and erase that fact from the North and East but we have seen the many places mentioned in the Mahawamsa and drawn the conclusion that they and many more do exist.
    It is imperative therefore that all concerned accept the fact that this is Sri Lanka, first and foremost a Budhist country where buddhism prevailed throughout the Island, north to south,east to west.
    The tamil speaking population should stop complaining about each and everything and get on with there lives as citizens of Sri Lanka. The day they stop considering themselves as Tamils or muslims, will be the day that we can actually hope to have peace in this Island.

    • nkulanthaivelu

      Don,t blame the tamils.Let the majority group stop
      thinking that as there in the majority they can dictate to the Tamils.

    • Burning_Issue

      Sorry Lakshini; the appropriate thing for you to say to the Tamil speaking people is for them to put up or shut up!

      Please you wrote:

      “The tamil speaking population should stop complaining about each and everything and get on with there lives as citizens of Sri Lanka. The day they stop considering themselves as Tamils or muslims, will be the day that we can actually hope to have peace in this Island.”

      How do you expect the Tamil Speaking people to stop thinking along the ethnic lines when the state apparatuses using public fund to build such statues, which is the embodiment of the Sinhala Buddhists in areas devastated by the war. How would you feel if you were a Tamil? I agree all should be Sri Lankans, but it is conspicuous that there is a hierarchy of Sri Lankans and the Sinhala Buddhist are at the top the ranks! You seem ignorant of this fact!

    • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

      I do not see erecting of Hindu temples for one or the other pantheon of Gods, for various denomination of churches, or Mosques where a person or group owns the land as a problem. I do agree with Shaik Ahmath that places of worship on state land obtained for that purpose should be regulated. I would add that using loud speakers by Hindu temples or Mosque to wake people up very early in the morning and intrude on those who follow a different religion, or atheist, should also be regulated.

      As for Buddha’s statues, I see no evidence that Buddha said anything about a God or that he claimed the he is the son, brother or uncle of any God. I always wondered what religion did those living in the Island practiced before Mahinda converted Deva Nambiya Tissa. Also why are there Hindu Gods in every Buddhist Temple. I have seen Sinhala Buddhist pilgrims come in busloads to pray at Kathirgamam, Mankulam Pillayar Kovil, Nallur, Nainathivu and many other Hindu Temples. I hope the military would give permission for the Sinhala Buddhist Pilgrims to go off the A9 to Hindu Temples in Oddisuddan, Thaniutru, Vaththapala, Puthukudierruppu. The GoSL would of course do not want the Sinhala pilgrims to see what the Military had done is continuing to do.

      Buddha’s teaching is a philosophy. It is good for people, especially the young to visit and be exposed to the teachings of the Hindu saints, The Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed and other such great men and women. Also to learn about the art and architecture of all places fo worship from ancient times to the present. If however the Buddhist Viharas are built to establish domination of the Tamil areas, like the planting of the Flag by the colonialists when they set foot on another people’s land, and to convert Hindus and Christians to Buddhism as a Religion. such Buddhist priests and the government that promotes it will only prolong the conflict between the Sinhala-Buddhist, Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

      I was fortunate to have a father and Mother who took us to all places of worship and to Buddhist places of homage around the country, especially during festival time, from time I was about 4 till my mother passed away when I was 11.

    • MY DEAR LAKSHINI FOF ME YOU SOUND YAKSHINI.FIRST AND FOREMOSRT I AGREE WITH YOU THAT THIS IS THE ONLY BUDHIST COUNTRY ONLY IN NAME BUT PRATICALLY NO SINGLESE HAVE TOLARANCE PRECHED BY POOR LOARD BUDDA.ALL HINDU TEMPLES IN SRILANKA WAS BUILT BY ORDINARY PEOPLE.BUT IN NORTH EAST BUDDA STATUES ARE BUILT IN LAND TAKEN FORCEFULLY FROM TAMILS BY SRILANKA ARMY.SINGALA BUDDIST DONT BREAK EGGS ON POYA DAYS BUT EVER WILLING TO BREAK THE HEDS OF TAMILS.LONG LIFE TO BUDDAS PREACHINGS-JAYAWEWA TO YAKSHINI

    • karunadasa

      good thoughts lakshini, why dont you start it by thinking as a Srilankan and not as a Singala Budist. You are so generous could you give me one square feet land in you garden please i would like to put a statue of my religion. Hold on i should know whether state would fund it for me.

  3. SD

    What about the misguided christian/catholic zealots who are responsible for the mushrooming of pseudo christiand/catholic places of worship along the A9.

    Then there are are misguided islamic zealots who have destroyed ancient buddhist places of worship in the East.

    Surely they deserve a mention as well.

    • solo

      You are dreaming Mr SD what is the evidence you have to say such thing You are in fact misguided by the false facts

  4. KING KONG

    It is more important to follow Lord Buddha’s noble preaching rather than wasting sand,cement, money and valuable time in constructing statues for competition.This is real stupidity. The real respect for Lord Buddha could be shown by following his teachings.

    • SD

      Well said KING KONG. Yet you managed to conveniently exclude the same practice regarding other religions i.e. erecting statues, crosses, mosques etc. either by mistake or by purpose.

      At a loss to understand why you didn’t pass your money saving tip to hindus, christians and muslims.

    • Nimal

      Well said.

  5. There is no problem in erecting Lord Buddha’s statue any where. But don’t make Lord Buddha cheap. This is like building temples,Churches and mosque in every corner. We preach one thing and do something different. What our government is doing is to hurt the Tamils. The government is now begging all over the world to help them to defeat the UN Human Rights Council’s proposal against war crimes. This government need lot of teaching. None of the top have any brain whatsover. They are running like an animal without tail. Which country will help us if we behave like idiots.

  6. Chamara Wanasinghe

    I come from a area called Galwana (near kaduwela) which predominantely sinhalese buddhist area. 02 Mosques have been built over last couple of years and i barely see a muslim in the area.Could you please throw some light on this
    phenomenon, Dear Mr.Imaad Majeed Sir.

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