The Mad Men of Dambulla

“Ordered disorder, planned caprice, And dehumanised humanity…”
Brecht (The Exception and the Rule)

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

That the ancient-city of Dambulla is not sundered by religious violence is thanks to the sense and sensibility of its ordinary inhabitants (of all faiths) and the security personnel on duty.
Had the people of Dambulla been as virulent as the anti-Mosque/anti-Kovil demonstrators, had the STF and police personnel been as supine as the government, a religious conflagration would have engulfed the area and beyond.
Mobs have no sense; religious-frenzy is unconcerned about consequences. But governments need to count the cost of fanaticism, especially in a pluralist country which is yet to recover from the wounds of a 30 year war. The manner in which the Rajapaksa administration responded to the Mad Men of Dambulla indicates that the self-destructively myopic mindset, which created a linguistic issue and facilitated its evolution into an ethnic war, flourishes still, in the highest echelons of the Lankan state.
The Dambulla fracas and the manner in which it was ‘solved’ reveal the deadly faultlines in Lankan polity and society. No Islamic or Hindu representative took part in the conclave which consisted of officials and Buddhist monks (including the ringleaders of the would-be-mob). Such a blatantly unrepresentative and obviously prejudiced gathering could not be expected to come up with a just and fair solution and it did not. The decision to remove the mosque, the kovil and other ‘unauthorised’ structures placed the official seal of approval on the extremist demands of the demonstrators, thereby aligning the Lankan state with Sinhala-Buddhist fanaticism.
The mob-like demonstrators and the monks who were leading and inciting them represented the ugliest face of Sinhala supremacism – intolerant of other races and contemptuous of other religions. Sinhala-Buddhism is worlds apart from the tolerant and non-violent Buddhism of the Gautama Buddha. The demonstrating monks and laypersons are the ideological kin of fanatics of all creeds, everywhere, from Christian fundamentalists in the US to Salafis in Saudi Arabia, from Hindu fanatics who admire the killer of Mahatma Gandhi to Jewish fundamentalists who spit on little Jewish girls because they ‘dress indecently’. These fanatics, in their efforts to recreate their various – and mutually exclusive – heavens on this single earth, tear really-existing states apart and bring untold suffering upon people of all faiths and none. A pluralist country can survive only if it keeps such purveyors of destruction on a very tight leash.
A sensible government would have approached the Dambulla issue as a law-and-order problem and placed its resolution in the hands of the courts. After all, the dispute is not about such recondite matters as which religion is right or whose god is better. The dispute is, at least outwardly, about such factually verifiable issues as how long the mosque and the kovil had been around, whether they are ‘unauthorised’ and if they are located in temple-land. Instead the regime succumbed to the demands of the would-be-rioters, and by doing so, created space for religious tension in Dambulla to simmer and gather force. More dangerously, this execrable supineness might embolden other fanatics elsewhere; safe in the belief that the Rajapaksa state is behind them, they may demand the removal of this mosque, that church or the kovil over there…, turning reconciliation into a Sisyphean task.

‘Hosts and Guests’

The rhetoric of the Dambulla protestors indicate that the real issue is not the location of one little mosque and one tiny kovil but the nature and trajectory of post-war Sri Lanka. Is Sri Lanka a Sinhala supremacist country in which religious/racial minorities are not citizens with inalienable rights but aliens existing on sufferance? Or is Sri Lanka a pluralist land in which all are citizens with equal rights? Is the government building a Sinhala Peace or a Sri Lankan Peace? Is our destination a Sinhala-supremacist Future or a Sri Lankan future?
As the Dambulla demonstrators moved from mosque to kovil, a thin middle-aged woman in a skirt and a blouse walked up to the Buddhist monk leading the would-be-mobsters and respectfully informed him that she had been worshipping at the kovil since childhood. The monk answered the woman with dismissive arrogance, threatening to destroy ‘unauthorised’ dwellings (including hers) and telling her to take her god and go elsewhere. Then he made a comment which can be roughly translated as “Hell, crows are not just flying over our heads; they are trying to build nests” (“Yakko, me kakko oluwa udin yanawa witharak nevei kuudu wennath hadanawane”- Sirasa News First (http://www.youtube.com/watch). The inference is obvious; it encapsulates the mindset of the demonstrators and their ilk: these non Sinhala-Buddhist aliens are becoming uppity; they think our country is there country; they must be stopped.
According to the Sinhala supremacist vision of Sri Lanka, any minority – including Sinhala Christians – are not co-owners of this country but its guests. We, Sinhala-Buddhists, see ourselves as gracious hosts who allowed these alien elements to come and settle down in ‘our’ country. But we also expect the ‘guests’ to remember that they are just that – guests. Thus the right of any minority to live in Sri Lanka is a conditional one, determined by their conduct and their willingness to obey the various guidelines set by us (from Sinhala Only to no mosques/kovils/churches in sacred areas). This ‘hosts and guests’ mindset was responsible for every wrong turn we made in our dealings with Tamils. Abiding by it again will lead us not to peace and reconciliation but to a new, faith-based conflict.
The Rajapaksas do not hesitate to ignore, or even attack Buddhist monks, when they so desire. The Kandy night-races went ahead despite the public protests of a chief prelate, who, faced with a Rajapaksa whim, found himself as powerless as any Hindu or Muslim. Wikileaks cables revealed that when leading prelates tried to hold a Sanga Council to oppose the incarceration of Gen. Fonseka, they faced bomb-threats and threats of orchestrated schisms (‘Government apologists retaliated by promising that 500 temples would be split off from the main Buddhist sects and re-aligned with a lesser-known sect from Rajapaksas’ home region in the south’). The regime acceded to the demands of the Dambullla demonstrators not because it feared to cross Buddhist monks, but because on this issue it did not care to rein in the fanatics; and, perhaps, regarded the mosque/kovil demolition as a suitable quid-pro-quo between Sinhala supremacism and Rajapaksa supremacism.
Secularism is the ideal option for a multi-religious country; but if that is impossible – as it seems to be here – the next best option is treating all religions with some degree of even-handedness. This principle of basic fairness and natural justice was grossly violated in the manner the state responded to Dambulla fracas.
Is it that the Rajapaksas do not see the danger or underestimate it? Or it is that true to the ‘hosts and guests’ conception of Sri Lanka they believe that minorities do not have inalienable rights and must adapt to the wishes of the majority? Is that why an issue which could have been settled legally is being allowed to explode all over the polity and inject germs of religious disharmony into a far from robust society?

41 Comments for “The Mad Men of Dambulla”

  1. Roy

    No wonder Prabaharan fought for Eelam

  2. w.m.k.Samarasekara

    NICE TRYING TO TECCH ON BUDDHISM.

    You including most of others are trying to advocate on SINHALA BUDDHISTS ,in manner which how to pratice the buddhism. In nutshell it could be summarise as follows,

    YOU BUDDHIST ARE FOLLOWING 5 PRINCIPALS, WHICH PROMISSING TO NOT TO HARM ANY LIVING CREATURES.THE BUDDHIST MONKS WHO ARE FOLLOWING MORE SILs. THEREFORE BREACKING Of THESE PROMICES ARE DEFINETLY SIN. WHATEVER THE CIRCUMSTANCE IS YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR ENLIGHMENT PATH.

    NEVERTHELESS NON BUDDHISTS COULD NOT BE PREVENTING FROM HARMING YOU. THEY CAN GRAB ANY THING WHAT YOU HAVE. BUT YOU HAVE NO RIGHT FOR MAKING RESSITS BECAUSE YOU ARE FOLLOWING MAITHRE PARAMITHA. YOUR REACTION SHOULD ONLY LIMIT WITH INNOCENT APPEALS. EVEN THIS APPEALS NOT MATERIALISED YOU AUGHT TO DO NOTHING BEYON THIS POINT. IF NOT YOUR ENLIGMENT PARTH WILL BE BLOCK.

    Go ahead.

    samarasekara

    • cuttige

      Is this a new version of Dammha ??

    • jehan

      If the courts find the mosque to be encroaching or in temple land, it should be moved. This should be done by the courts. Mob rule by the monks and vandalism charges should be brought against the monks, and this must be done ASAP. No body should be above the law. Its a disgrace to have a monk show his small balls to the public in you tube. He should have had viegra.

    • Cry-Lanka

      Its not only this mad monk mudalali inamaluwe, this was master minded by brainless jarapakse. What a cheap cowardice regime.

    • Katmai

      Good luck trying to explain multicultural and multi-ethnic society to a dead beat like this. And this one seems to read English too.

      THE COUNTRY IS DOOMED!!!

    • For truth and against thuggery

      W.M.K. Samarasekera:
      Your “Koheda yanne, malle pol” response to a typically incisive column by the estimable Tisaranee Gunasekera does NOT deal with what she has pointed out: this is NOT an issue of religion, this is an issue of manipulation of the public to maintain a corrupt group of people in power without any concern for the consequences.

    • Lankan Thinker

      Samarasekera,

      You have missed the point completely and seem to have no idea about how protecting Buddhism and buddhist heritage can be done without resorting to violence.

      If the law is enforced fairly irrespective of religion, then nobody will be able to harm another with impunity, irrespective of religion. The problem here is that rather than using legal means to pursue their position that the mosque in Dambulla was illegal (which is only their position and not conclusively proven), the monks and their followers decided to take the law into their own hands and try and destroy property. If you watch the video you will hear the head monk say “We can break down this illegal structure by shramadana, and the government should support us”. Far from staging a peaceful protest, they damaged property and fought with law enforcement officials. When the government tacitly supports such behaviour by not taking strong action against those who disturb the peace and commit public order offences, just because they are Sinhalese Buddhists, it demonstrates that ours is not a society where all peoples are valued equally.

      Please take some time to understand what it means to protect Buddhism and how impossible this is to achieve by pursuing actions to protect land and buildings whilst filling our hearts with greed, aversion and ignorance.

      • samarasekara

        Dear friend,

        As a theory you are definetly correct. All must bust be below the law and abet the law. Nevetherless MUSLIMS ARE THINKING THAT THEY ARE THE EXCEPTION OF THE LAW.

        Befor starting to reply me YOU MUST SEE THE KOORAGALA incedence.

        There was the court order to removing unauthoriced mosk wihin the ancient buddhist permices. Did they complied with the court order?

        Under this circumstance are buddhist too fool to asking again leagl provision to evacuate the unauthorised constructions.

        samarasekara

    • Royalist

      If this is the way you write then obviously you can not read either… good luck to you…

    • love2beTRAITOR

      sunday leader is always pro muslim. its not balanced

  3. Dot

    First they allowe un authorised buidings to win the vote , or because their palms are greased . Next they follow the mob and want an authorized building demolished what about some amicable settlement . Some countries in the so called civilized world do not give the right to buid public places of worship without consulting the greater public . Unbecoming language for a monk who would be chanting pirith the next moment and accepting the pujas of people as a saintly mendicant who has given up lay life of thanha !Religions which claims to inspire people to higher domains of sprituality has made them go crazy .

  4. Roshan London

    Our people are becoming more and more stupid day in and day out by keeping silent on all iisues.I wonder which religion they follow. why the top mahasangha and others are silent on this. If this is the Budhhism, they follow and advocate we will change our religion from buddhism to something else. It is a shame to call us buddhists when I saw the above in the you tube. This thero is most suited to sell meat rather than sitting in the temple.

  5. Abayasekara

    Unless the Government acts smart and ensures religious freedom, all it’s talk about one nation will turn into dust.
    The Rajapakses can control the Buddhist fanatics but doesn’t do so with a belief that by using this issue they can win the next set of elections.
    Will the Sinhala Buddhist majority allow themselves to be taken for another ride or not?
    Let us see how it plays out
    Abayasekara / Sinhala Catholic

  6. Tabriz

    The monk who removed his robe to expose himself is a sad case did he see girls or boys?

  7. vintage voter

    ARE THERE BUDDHISTS IN SRI LANKA ?
    WHO PRACTICES THE FIVE PRECEPTS?
    1. Do not kill
    2. Do not steal
    3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
    4. Do not make false speech
    5. Do not take intoxicants
    DO THE PEOPLE IN YELLOW AND CRIMSON ROBES PRACTICE IT?
    YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. rohan roamer

    the arrogance of the Sangha stems from the primacy of place accorded to Buddhism in the constitution which subordinates all other religions. The concept of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism was cunningly crafted by SWRD Bandaranaike to gain power by appealing to the majority. Since then, it has served as a convenient tool for diverting the attention of the masses from the nation’s economic decline as a consequence of bad governance.
    Our nation has been beaten by many comparable Asian nations in terms of economic development and we are now in a sad state of self inflicted decline, particularly since the end of the war, on account of a short sighted foreign policy re the demand, by the international community, for accountability for alleged war atrocities.
    It appears that civil society leaders continue to remain passive and helpless in guiding the destiny of our country.

  9. Military victory over the LTTE has crushed the struggle of the Tamils. By this the Sinhahala -Theravada Buddhism nationalism based on the false and imaginary doctrine: “Aryan” – Sinhala – Sinhalese – Theravada Buddhism – Lanka with one-to-one correspondence has reached its galloping stage. Unless the Sinhala nation rejects its Sinhala -Theravada Buddhist nationalism in words and deeds, the country will continue to face problems! The politicians, the ‘learned’ the Religious Leaders and the media of the Sinhala nation refuse to accept the truth. Thus, establishment of peace and reconciliation will not be possible in our country!!

  10. Mahen

    The whole act had nothing to do with buddhism. It was simply a demonstration of singhala Buddhist supremacy and denial of any religious freedom to non buddhists. It only goes to show the direction the country is taking.

  11. LIMA

    it is shame to call monks , they are racist , womanisers , alcoholic , drunkared , robbers , murdereres . then how could u call them buddhist monks . they even father children secretly.
    what a shame to these idiots , how can one lift their two hands and salute for these types of robed criminals

  12. Malin

    A simple question to Tissaranne (being call herself a Buddhist but always anti Sinhal a Buddhist). Will you allow a tresspasser into your property and let him squat there? It’s like that. Next time, you will say it’s ok to build mosques or a church in the sacred area of Dalda Maligawa in the name of pluralistic society.

  13. Piyasena Herath

    In Islamic countries not a single Buddhist temple allowed.
    In Sri Lanka 4,000 mosques are built. Now Muslims want to build mosques in Buddhist sacred grounds.

    • Ariyapala

      We need to protect the places Lord Buddha visited for future generations. Jews, Muslims, Christians protect their places of worship with their lives.

      We discredit people who try to save our only heritage.
      ane kale wane wase…

  14. Raj

    C’mon Samarasekara,
    I am with you, ignore those bull shits that we have learned, Triple gem, Panchaseela, Paramitha etc. It’s time for us, Buddhists to show our true colours. We need more people like you to establish a Taliban type Sinhala Buddhist regime in our beloved motherland so that we all can live happily. Jayawewa & Budusaranai!

  15. ParakramaJ

    If as this writer indicate ,these so called places of Hindus and Muslims in the sacred city lands were’unauthorised’then there is no need to write about Sinhala Buddhist supremacy being inflicted on other religeous fanatics in Sri Lanka.It can be seen that thousands and thousands of Mosques,Kovils and Churches are found all over Sri Lanka.If a ratio of such places of socalled religeous worship in relation to the number of devotees it will be found that Buddhists have the least number of temples in proportion to their numbers.This writer who is so infuriated by the complete annahiliation of the Tamil terrorists want to inflame that situattion with this kind of articles.He or She surely must be an evangilical or any other fanatic who want the Buddhists to bow down to everything that the minority in Sri Lanka wants to do….something even the colonialists tried their best during their long reign over Sri Lanka and failed!

  16. Shaik Anwar Ahamath

    There are several Islamic countries that are intolerant of other religions but that does not give us the right to behave this way – two wrongs do not make a right. We live in a secular, multi ethnic, multi religious society and the authority for the site of the mosque should be settled legally. Religion, no matter which religion, should all be kept out of politics. Buddhist monks especially command the highest respect from people of all religions for their tolerance, generosity and abhorrence of violence. The monk leader in Dambulla is a rogue and should be treated as such, legally.

  17. The main problem in Sri Lanka has been and is, Leadership. A social structure that has lost its wisdom, has given rise to leaders who are solely focused on domination and control with their own private bigotry and intolerance being projected outwards as a reflection of their need to stamp their identity upon a nation. The nation of Sri Lanka was host to one of the great human achievements, Siri Pada, the ONLY place on the planet where followers of 5 major spiritual paths (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism) came to venerate the same object, in peace and harmony. for many (thousands) of years. A society that spawned such a possibility practiced a level of wisdom that the modern people can scarce comprehend. The Rajapakse regime is no more or no less a pathetic travesty of leadership than any other that took this magnificent, wise country to a diabolical state at the bottom of human stupidity. The Rajapakse’s are only doing what any stupid leaders do, rule through division. Every opportunity to keep the common man in fear and in conflict with themselves is taken for their rule is that of fear not of love. The Buddhist monks participating in the conflict are mere stooges lead by their own fear and cupidity to be the vassals that do the bidding of their dominant masters. The genuine, wise monk is not heard in a society that has stooped to the lowest levels of degradation that humans can possibly get to. large scale social change that transforms the structures of leadership is what is required to see any changes..

    • For truth and against thuggery

      Sonny Navaratnam:
      You certainly hit that nail on the head! A little more of your analysis and a little less of the rubbish that the Samarasekeras of this world spout would do Sri Lanka a world of good. However, the pity is that there are thousands of Samarasekeras and only a few Navaratnams in this country.

  18. Allan Chee

    there is an absent reporting of mad mobs demonstrating in colombo last friday in column; why?

  19. Aru

    It is not Sinhala supremacist but Sinhala Buddhist supremacist. When is Sri Lanka going to be a sacred island I wonder? Then what would happen to all the churches, mosques and Hindu kovils?

    • vintage voter

      THIS BEHAVIOUR FROM SINHALA BUDDHISTS COMES FROM A FEELING OF INSECURITY. RATHER THAN A SUPERIOR COMPLEX. BUDDHISM IS NO LONGER THERE IN THE LAND OF THE BUDDHA,

  20. Ibn Thahir

    Be it a illegal or legal structure. But let the law deals with it. Isnt there a law in this country or is this a failed state?
    If a mob in religious attire could damage a mosque while the security personals were present, then i must say, we havent learned our lessons of a 30 yr war.

    Either the governmet is behind this incident or it has turned blind eye toward it. Because the regime needs our people not to think about the escalating cost of living.

    • seruvila senarath

      EVERY BODY SAYS ,
      IT IS THUGGERY AND TAKING LAW INTO SOMEBODY’S HAND.
      OKAY . CORRECT.

      THAT IS BAD FOR MONKS TO PROTEST
      BUT IF PEOPLE PROTEST ALONE, WHAT WILL THE POLITIKKAS DO.
      THEY WILL PUT BARBED WIRE AROUND TEMPLE.
      AND TELL BUDDHIST TO GO TO MOSQUES AND CHURCHES.

      DID ANY MUSLIMS OR CHRISTIANS SAID, ONE WARD AGAINST FOR OCCUPYING OF KURAGALA ROCK TEMPLE BY MUSLIMS
      OR DESTROYING OF TEMPLES IN AMPARA DISTRICT,INSIDE RESERVE FORESTS.REMOVING BRICKS AND STONE PILLARS.
      AND DESTROYING OF POTHUVIL AREA ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND GARBING OF LANDS BELONGS TO MUHUDUMAHA VIHARAYA.
      REMOVING THE NAME BOARD AT PANAMA ROAD.

      THIS LIKE GIVING A CHANCE TO THE CAMEL TO KEEP IT’S HEAD IN SIDE THE TENT, AND LATER BEDOUIN HAD GOT KICKED OUT FROM THE TENT .

      WE LIVE AND LET THEM TO LIVE,
      BUT DO NOT TRY TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT COMPASSION AND SYMPATHY.
      WE KNOW THE RESULT PUTHA,
      WE KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES PUTHA.
      THAT IS WHY WE PROTEST PUTHA.
      THIS ALL GOING UNDER, WITH MUSLIM VOTES PUTHA.
      VOTES ARE GOD.
      WE KNOW, WHO ARE BEHIND ALL GILMARTS PUTHA.

  21. Expat

    Tisaranee Gunasekara herself should be a christian.

    So, she is talking for her special group.

  22. Foreign Priest

    Low caste Sangha
    As a foreign monk I can only confirm that the Sangha in this country is in a wretched state. The monks have turned the Dhamma into a very traditionalist and dogmatic teaching, even an instrument of political power, very often attached to ethnic values that have no foundation in the original teaching. Monkhood has too often become a mere way of earning one’s living. I think the whole situation will change a lot during the next decade. With the gradual opening of Sri Lanka to the global market, foreign companies investing and settling in the country, increasing incomes, growing democratic structures, the monks will automatically lose their fool’s license. People who have the ability to take a look behind the scenes will not respect them only because they are bald heads wearing some historical dresses. They will ask for personal values and if they don’t find them they will turn to other teachers and doctrines that are more genuine.
    I think one of the main problems is the low education standard of the monks. In Western countries priests have to follow long university studies to become a member of the clergy. In Theravada countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka you only have to answer a few insignificant questions to get a high ordination. This ordination fills many monks with enormous pride. It makes them think that they have become superior beings by shaving their head and wearing the new clothes. It has to be mentioned that especially among the younger monks there are also well-educated subtle and fine characters who are also interested in meditation. Unfortunately they are in a minority. The majority of the monks come from poor social conditions and in that way they think and behave. But Sri Lanka can be proud that there are also strong movements, for instance around Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda, who show that the Sangha has the self-cleaning potential to restore the Dhamma to its original radiance.

  23. firdhous

    Lord Buddha’s teachings says “do not cause pain to others by your tong, do not cause pain to others by your action” how much pain have these monks have caused to others? It shows the monks do not study Buddism well but study others religion and wants to practice it in the name of Buddhism. Is it the way of practicing Buddhism and protecting it? Tisaranee could be a real Buddhist matured much better than monks. She speaks the truth and concern in pain of others. Should anyone say there is no peaceful means to solve any problem, it is a direct challenge to Buddhism and Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha never achieved his enlighten while enjoying all the luxury but he struggled hard for that. Our monks seem to be taking an opposite path that is why they are so emotional and giving priority to emotion rather than intelligence.

  24. Iresha Weligidapola

    Buddhism and Religious Co-existence
    Ven. Dambara Amila Thero
    Senior Lecturer,
    Sri Jayawardenapura University
               
                      Ven. Dambara Amila Thero.

    Check out this video…

    Shortcut to: https://vimeo.com/41836532

  25. Karaputugala

    Tell me where lord Buddha has said I am GOD or build temples to worship me.?Buddhisiam is similiar to Atheism, believes in scientific basis of evolution.

    I don’t understand why we need so many concrete statue at every three wheel stand. Lord Buddha is against idol worshipping.

    Listen to Ven. Dambara Amila Thero Senior Lecturer, Sri Jayawardenapura University on Buddhism and Religious Co-existence. For truth….

    Lord Buddha never taught us to be a blind follower or a Sinhala Buddhist.

    Lets be the True followers of Dhamma the truth taught by Lord Buddha, not by Lankan Politicians….

    UK

  26. sagara

    This author is non-Buddhist. He or she is abusing media and language. Only what she has is hatred! Only thing Buddhist monks do is to continue what they do. These bugers are doing paid jobs for other religions! Buddhist have to work. These paid-people are only reporting. Why to worry with these rubish!

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