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Heritage pays a heavy price during and after armed conflicts. In Sri Lanka, the tangible as well as intangible cultural heritage paid and is still paying a heavy price for the 30-year terror spread by the LTTE and racism. In another decade, racism and separationism of Sri Lanka sowed by racist Tamil politicians will complete a century. Still, we cannot extinguish the flames of separationism; in today’s time, it is being fuelled as it has never happened before. Our tangible and intangible heritage is to suffer the most due to this. On the one hand, our intangible heritage is fading away day by day and on the other hand, the tangible heritage is being vandalised and destroyed.

As we have explained in our Heritage in Peril series, and Unveiling Eastern Treasures series, threats of separationists are one of the biggest threats faced by Sri Lanka’s tangible cultural heritage. As their aim is to have a separate state, The Tamil Elam as they call it, the vast number of archaeological sites or tangible heritage scattered all over the North and Eastern provinces act as the biggest challenge to prove that a historical Tamil Elam ever existed in Sri Lanka. This tangible cultural heritage proves that there never has been a Tamil Homeland ever in any part of Sri Lanka.

Agendas to destroy Buddhist heritage sites in North and East

Therefore, racists and separationists have well-organised plans to destroy the heritage places in the North and Eastern provinces and other provinces as well.

One of their tasks is to change the ancient and original names and identities of these places. Except for a very few, most of these ancient places have new Tamil names. It is very evident that these new Tamil place names are distorted words derived from ancient Sinhala, Pali, or Sanskrit names.

Secondly, they create a false history for these places. For this, they either destroy the ancient monuments or reuse them for newly built shrines of theirs on them. (The writer must insist that we respect and revere Hindu shrines, gods, and religious symbols of any religion and has nothing against them. But, we are firmly against the vandalising of ancient Buddhist sites and rebuilding modern kovils or shrines on them, destroying ancient monuments and purposefully distorting their Buddhist identity)

In most cases in the North and Eastern provinces, ancient brick stupas are being dug and Thirshulas are fixed on them. Ancient stone pillars are used as Siva Lingas. Bo trees are cut down and destroyed. Buddha statues and Bodhisattva statues are broken into pieces. Acid is poured over ancient inscriptions. The list goes on.

Gradually, they built permanent kovil buildings on them and settle priests there. Hindu devotees start visiting them. Meanwhile, when Buddhist monks and devotees, and archaeologists question them, they are shunned.

When Buddhist monks and Buddhist devotees visit ancient Buddhist sites in the North and East Tamil politicians with narrow and racist political agendas file cases against them saying the monks and devotees are vandalising Hindu shrines. These Tamil politicians continuously attempt to forbid Buddhist activities at ancient Buddhist sites in the North and East. This has been happening now for decades and no government or any non-governmental-organisation has done anything to solve this matter. And as the Sinhala language is not used in legal work in the North and East, Sinhala lawyers, lose many cases. Although these verdicts are challenged by appealing which keeps happening again and again, the development of these ancient heritage places in the North and East is forever hindered.

The other thing they do is create publications of this false history. They write and publish books, research papers, and websites and make documentaries about this false history. As they are in the English language they are read by a large number of readers, worldwide. Also as the international Tamil diaspora is extremely widespread across the globe, this false and distorted history is spread widely.

As Sinhala scholars keep writing and publishing mainly in Sinhala which is a minority when it comes to the global situation, and is a shrinking population, the Sinhalese’s side of the story is not heard by the world. In this case, the Sinhala scholars are also to be blamed.

Also what they do is keep filling complaints to local Police as well as to international human rights forums and organisations, creating a false picture saying that these ancient Buddhist heritage sites are originally lands of a mythical Tamil homeland that has been later encroached on by Buddhists, which is completely a distorted story.

We must, again and again, emphasise that this is not the voice of the general Tamil public who live in the North and East. As we have been working closely with the Tamil communities in the North and East we can be sure of this fact. This is solely the voice of the racist Tamil politicians who stands for separationism. They spread fear and threaten the general Tamil public in the North and East and make them act according to their racist agendas.

We also must say that Tamil and many Sinhala politicians hardly address these issues for selfish political reasons. Also, these politicians fear that if the rift between the Sinhala and Tamil people in Sri Lanka is solved, if racism ends, their political games will come to an end. Thus, they add fuel to racism. 

Sembumale ruins in Trincomalee District

Sembumale Kanda is a little hill that is located close to the sea. This is located on the road between Kucchaweli and Thiriyaya.

As per old records of Puravidya Chakrawarthi, Puravidya Paryeshanashuri Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera, there had been a large number of ruins of a Buddhist monastery at this place. However, during our visit in 2019, some of them were destroyed. However, walking around the area we witnessed a spread of pottery, bricks, and stone ruins in a vast area of the semi-arid forest and chenas. The stone ruins of the Anuradhapura Period are evidence of an ancient Buddhist monastery.

The stupa is in ruins and its bricks are spread all over the area. It needed to be restored. A large hole was dug on top of the stupa and we assume that the relic chamber has been robbed.

Stone pillars, stone structures and the notable numbers of stone Asanas (the empty seat that symbolises the Buddha, which was venerated prior to the manifestation of the Buddha statue) found here suggest that this place’s earliest history dates back to the early Anuradhapura Period. The Foot Print stone slab is also a piece of evidence that this place was functioning before the time the Buddha statue was made.

Ven. Medhanandha Thera writes about the Buddha statue he has seen at this place. The six feet tall heavily damaged Buddha statue was evidence of an image house. However, he writes that in 1978 this statue was thrown down from the hill. The remnants of the broken statue which got stuck in a tree were once again taken and totally destroyed.

The Siva kovil built here is now notably large and established, and today it is known as the Sembishwara Devala. As Ven. Medhanadha Thera writes a priest he encountered had told him that this was built in 1938 but he says that he doubts the date and it should be more recent than that.

During the building of the kovil, many ruins had been vandalised and distorted.

It is still not too late to take measures to protect the Sembumale ruins. It is reported that when the Buddha statue was destroyed when the Siva kovil was built and when the stupa was vandalised, it was reported to the Department of Archaeology (DoA), and the news was reported through print media. However, to date, nothing has been done. We contacted the DoA to inquire about this, but the answer was disappointing; nothing has been done. Sembumale ruins are continued to be damaged and the illegal Siva kovil built on an ancient archaeological site is flourishing.

Do we really practice one country, one law?

Thiriyaya Watadage in Trincomalee District

The ancient name of the Trincomalee Harbour is known to be Gokanna Thitta. The name of the ancient village adjoining the harbour is known to be Gonagama. Gonagama was an ancient Arya settlement that was first established by the Shakya prince Rama Gona who was a brother of princess Bhaddakachchana. Gonagama or the village of Gona was hence established.

We have in our first segment of this series explained the story of their arrival.

Now we have arrived at one of the most well-known historical and religious places of Sri Lanka. This is the Thiriyaya Watadage. Thiriyaya is known for many reasons. It is popularly known as the place where the two merchants Thapassu and Bhalluka arrived during their travels and rested. During resting they enshrined Buddha’s sacred hair relics and built a stupa. Therefore, the Thiriyaya Stupa is believed by some to be the first stupa built in Sri Lanka, during the lifetime of the Buddha.

Secondly, it is famous for the beautiful Watadage at the place. Thirdly, it is known for the Sanskrit inscription found at the monastery. We shall explore all these one by one.

Thiriyaya has an interesting history. According to the Mahavamsa and other ancient chronicles, this place had known as the Galkadarata or Girikanda during the 5th century BCE. One of prince Pandukabhaya’s uncles, known as Siva, was living in this area during that time. He was known as Girikanda Siva. According to the Mahavamsa he had harvested a large area of paddy and Girikanda Rata was a prosperous land.

(Pix courtesy Ashan Geeganage/Amazing Lanka)

To be continued…

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

The post UNVEILING EASTERN TREASURES appeared first on Ceylon Today.


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