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Selected Writings by Sara Ananthan
Urgent action needed
for the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka
Selected Writings - Sara Ananthan
needed for the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka
12 November 2006
It appears, despite fervent appeal to the so called International Community (IC) – the international power brokers of powerful nations are turning a blind eye to the daily atrocities being committed by the Sri Lankan government with impunity on a section of it’s own citizens – the Tamil people who also have an equal if not more of a sovereign right by their ancestry in Sri Lanka.
There is a looming humanitarian crisis which has been on the making and growing daily ever since the IC brokered the peace process which started in 2002. The Tsunami disaster and the shocking disregard shown to the plight of Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government should have been an eye opener to all concerned. In fact, this pathetic situation was exacerbated by the callous and inhuman attitude of the powerful Sinhala Buddhist clergy.
The Sinhala Buddhist clergy went on a farcical relay fast unto death to prevent even the basic humanitarian aids reaching the affected Tamil people. The majority of the Tsunami affected people were in the Tamil areas as the statistics will prove. But it was portrayed with an obliging media as though only the Sinhala areas were the hardest hit.
This is enough to show that the Tamil people have no future with a Sinhala dominated government and their historical struggle for liberation is a just struggle. But it appears that with tacit approval from elsewhere, there is a pacification campaign in progress with the embargo of food & medicine as weapons of war in addition to unleashing of state terror with impunity that includes daily wanton killings and disappearances of innocent civilians, children, women, even elected parliamentarians, journalists, NGOs in order to subdue a section of humanity whose only crime is steadfastness in their thirst for freedom from state oppression.
The recent news items and the desperate appeal for help are pointers to the looming humanitarian crisis of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. But where is every one else? Why are our multitudes of Hindu leaders and organizations in Sri Lanka and abroad keeping mum?
The vested interest of IC in the Sri Lankan crisis
One can not believe that IC alone will solve this problem impartially. Otherwise by now (as sang by our Tamil poets of yore) milk and honey will be flowing literally in those streets of world hot spots – the wretched places on earth where people are enduring similar or even worse problems. The vested interests of IC are – mainly, the likely domino effect of a favorable just solution for the minority Tamils on their domestic turf and other self determination struggles, the strategic importance of the deep sea port of Trincomalee and even the whole island in the international power play for domination in the Indian ocean, jostle for the expansion of respective spheres of influences and the exploitation of native natural resources such as Ilmenite (Titanium Oxide) at Pulmodai, oil deposits in the gulf of Mannar, fisheries and other resources.
In addition, the contemporary geo political scenario has been rocked by unprecedented rapid growth of wealth in the South East and Far East Asia and the resulting scramble for arms build-up by nations in these regions.
A humble hut may not have even a door but a wealthy mansion needs doors, gates and even security guards. This analogy applies to nations too. As nations become wealthier their security needs or defense expenditure goes through the roof as they are forced to protect and enhance their gains in order to remain wealthy. It’s the nature of things or the paradox of life as we find in our earthly existence.
The ethnic strife started in earnest after the British colonists who had muddled the whole situation handed over the destiny of the minority Tamil people (who had their separate kingdom from ancient times) on a platter to the Sinhala Buddhist majority. This ethnic strife could have been easily solved as an internal sibling rivalry between the two dominant communities by the Sinhala leaders who held the power if only they had a vision. But as time passes this internal conflict appears to get entangled in the geo politics and become testing ground for international geo political manoeuvres. This is definitely not in the national interests of both communities.
As co-inhabitants, both communities have shared this naturally endowed island nation for millennia in peace and harmony. And it will always be a shared destiny. An amicable solution has to be found within the island communities as a lasting peace can not be enforced by external forces that have no genuine concern for these tormented people but are only concerned with advancing their strategic self interests. All should wake up to this reality soon as the agony of these people has already reached unbearable levels.
The role of religions in this pathetic situation in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka may be one of the few countries in the world where religion is taught as a subject from primary school to even university degrees. But it’s taboo in many so called god fearing countries to include in their curriculum for fear of upsetting their professed secular hustings. All four major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are taught in Sri Lankan schools. The core belief system in any religion is universal love of humanity. But all this pious education appears wasted as Sri Lanka has ended up in this dire situation.
A section of the powerful Sinhala Buddhist clergy who profuse to follow the teaching of Lord Buddha (the compassionate one) is hell bent on thwarting any just solution for the Tamil people. This amoral attitude by Buddhist clergy springs from their Mahawamsa mindset which is a total fabrication of history. Mahawamsa portrays Tamils as
subhuman and as alien invaders from South India who are bent on dismantling Sinhala Buddhist civilization of yore due to Tamils allegiance to the so called Hindu religion.
Eelam Tamils are indigenous to Sri Lanka and had lived there for millennia before the invasion of prince Vijaya and his horde in 5th century BC.
Long before prince Vijaya arrived (invaded) from North India at the shores of Sri Lanka there were three different communities called Yaksas, Nagas and Veddahs living from time immemorial. Eelam Tamil ancestry can be traced to these early people if impartial historical analysis can be conducted. But there is a hitch. All our historical records have been destroyed by fire or cremated in the literal sense. Therefore early Tamil history can only be inferred by corroborating data but not by the yard stick of modern analytical methods such as archaeological excavation, carbon dating, DNA analysis etc. Our ancient Tamil history has been systematically and with religious fervor obliterated by cremation by vested interests. Nature too appears to have conspired and the many Tsunamis that ravaged ancient Tamil land appear to have left no trace of our history.
The following links provide some information on Tsunami and ancient Tamil History.
The language used in ancient Eelam was Elu which had rounded scripts – (Watta Eluthu) (like Sinhala and Telugu scripts) unlike Tamil which has square scripts – (Chathura Eluthu). Eelam Tamils evolved from Nagas and also with intermixing with other tribes found in the island and people of South India. During the ancient Tamil Sangam periods and before those Tsunamis separated Sri Lanka from South India it was part of a single land mass called Kumari Kandam. It was said, that Elathu Pootha Thevanar a poet from Eelam - presented his submissions in the language of Elu at the Thamil Sangam Koodal (meeting). The history of Pancha Eswarams in ancient Eelam and the valor & piety of our Adi Dravidian Tamil king Ravanan are also evidence of our proud ancestry and are enduring treasures of our magnificent past.
When prince Vijaya arrived at the shores of Sri Lanka, the Yakka princess Kuveni - a queen in ancient Eelam was mesmerized by his pale color and fell in love with him as well as abdicated her sovereign right to him. But the ungrateful Vijaya decided that he needs to find a suitable partner befitting his royal rank. Soon he abandoned Kuveni with her children and sent an emissary to the Tamil Pandyan king in Madurai, South India. The much obliging Pandya not only sent his own daughter as bride to prince Vijaya but also sent another 700 noble Tamil princesses for his friends as well with royal gifts including maid servants, male servants, craftsmen and the whole lot fit for a royalty.
So thanks to a thoughtful Pandya, Tamil royal blood is in the ancestry of Sinhala people. In fact, prince Vijaya could not have even spoken the Sinhala language as the Sinhala language itself evolved much later by intermixing with Elu the ancient language of Eelam, Pali, Tamil and Sanskrit languages. The last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha (1785 – 1815) who is a Tamil by the name of Kannu Samy is the latest example of intermixing between Tamil and Sinhala aristocracy.
Religions of Southern Asia
During the 1st millennium BCE, the Aryan tribes established kingdoms in the Northern India where their Vedic religion became more comparable to the current form of Hinduism. As non-Aryan people were conquered and absorbed, a caste based social order dominated by a Brahman priesthood who oversaw increasingly elaborate rituals and by a warrior caste (Kshatriyas) emerged. The conquered people formed the lower strata of society. Hinduization was a gradual process and there was no sharp dividing line between popular Hindu and pre existing practices.
Buddhism and Jainism developed in the Gangetic Plain of North India by the 6th century BCE in reaction to the ritual excesses and social inequalities practiced in Brahminical Hinduism. Lord Buddha rebelled against these Aryan religious practices and established a new way of life for the salvation of those oppressed native humanity who endured inhuman atrocities in the name of a religion.
Until the advent of Arahat Mahinda who converted the Hindu king Devanampiya Tissa to Buddhism, the kings of Sri Lanka and the subjects were all Hindus as was Lord Buddha.
Hindu revivalism - Bhakthi Period (600 A.D – 1200 A.D)
As India was the cultural birth place of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism these major religions were widely practiced by the populace. Hinduism underwent a process of renewal in the first half of the millennium and continued to gain ground through activities of Shankaracharaya and Ramanuja who were the spearheads of this revivalism. This renewal was also a period of turmoil.
There were Tamil Buddhists in South India and Eelam up to the latter part of Bhakthi period in the 12th century. The Buddhist relics found in Kantharodai and Nagatheepam in Jaffna are of Tamil Buddhist origin and said to display the grandeur of Dravidian architecture.
As in other parts of India, there were Tamil followers in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and all three religions were patronized equally by the Tamil rulers and thrived well. This was the golden period of Tamil literature and many well known works sprang during this period.
But after this Bhakthi period all but Hinduism appears to have survived amongst the Tamil people. The other two religions suddenly vanished without a trace. The plausible answer is during this Hindu revivalism other two religions were haunted out in the society by questionable means. As religious beliefs are deep rooted in the human psyche, a whole group of people will not change faith overnight like changing clothes unless there were other compelling reasons. As can be found in the contemporary Hindu stories of Nayanars, ridiculous stories abound about mysterious way in which Putha (Buddhist) and Samana (Jainism) priests were defeated by Hindu Nayanars. There were debates (Vaathu) and competitions to prove the validity of these faiths against Hinduism that arrayed Hindu Nayanars against Buddhist and Jain priests. In these tests or competitions, always only the Hindu Nayanars triumphed and there are many stories and hymns in praise of their miraculous feats. The punishment for the defeated Buddhist and Jain priests was Kalu-Etuthal (A torturous execution by impaling one’s body on fixed sharp iron rods). Records indicate that in one day alone 800 defeated priests were meted out such inhuman punishment.
During this period of religious turmoil in the mainland, many Buddhist Tamils were said to have escaped to Sri Lanka and by the 12th century AD Sri Lanka has become the new cultural centre of Buddhism. It appears that up to this period both Tamils and Sinhalese did not have much animosity. But increasingly this relationship became acrimonious as the Sinhalese developed as strident Buddhist and the Tamils as avowed Hindus. This may be the contributory factor that led to this strident Mahawamsa mind set found in the Sinhala Buddhist clergy of today. But the Tamil laity themselves was victim of this unfortunate episode and the blame should be laid squarely at the feet of the Hindu priesthood and rulers of that time.
This type of religious execution was common in other parts of the world too. There were many cases of burning of people at stakes in the medieval Europe to uphold the authority of the Catholic Church. This cruel punishment was meted out to any one who questioned the authority of the Church or perceived as a threat to the absolute power of the Church.
On another point, the emphasis on elaborate idol worship found in contemporary Hinduism has it’s origin from this Bhakthi period. The pomp and grandeur of ancient Tamil festivals in celebration of life by ancient Tamils such as Indira Vila as described in Cilapathikaram and Veethi Ula (An ancient tradition of evening parade by Tamil royalty in order to mingle with their subjects) ceremonies of Tamil rulers were conveniently assimilated into the ritualistic idol worship of Hindu pantheon of deities. As can be seen nowadays, these deities are taken out in procession with elaborate rituals and ceremonies that have its echoes in the pomp and glory of ancient Tamil royalty. For over a millennium, the Hindu pantheon has been steadily evolving and expanding and many local deities are of very recent origin.
During this Bhakthi or religious revolution period, our highly indoctrinated (pious) Tamil rulers appear to have abdicated their Kudai, Kodi, Aala-Wattam and Samarai including their whole wealth in the service of these Hindu deities. Even the Kattiyam Kuruthal (Honorary recital of great deeds and glory in praise of a ruler) as the royals arrive for public audience in their palaces or when about to go on Veethi Ula have been assimilated into the Veethi Ula ceremonies of our contemporary Hindu deities. The elaborate recital of Kattiyam in praise of Lord Murugan at our Nallur Temple in Eelam has much historical significance.
But the down side of all this piety was that our ancient Tamil rulers spent all their wealth and energy in building grandiose temples with elaborate daily rituals which benefited the priesthood class immensely but was a disaster for the laity and the rulers.
By these diversions, the rulers forgot their ancient virtue of valor (Veeram) and their formidable defenses were weakening. But they were preoccupied in the services of their multitude of deities and all wealth was accumulated in these temples. In addition, they also neglected the needs of their subjects whose fertile lands were confiscated for erection of temples and for accommodating the burgeoning priesthood class which led to general discontent and further weakened their rules. The place names that end in Mangalam in Tamil Nadu are said to be places that were thus confiscated and donated to the priesthood class. The historical records show that this wealth in our Hindu temples was the magnet for many invasions by alien cultures who do not give a hoot for this kind of nonsense. The invaders plundered the wealth and also destroyed many temples. This period marked the on set of Dark Age in Tamil history and resulted in the demise of sovereign Tamil kingdoms that had thrived for millennia.
What happened to the Tamil historical records? It has joined with Jothi.
The story of Nanthanar
Nanthanar a so called low caste (untouchable) was a fervent devote of Lord Shiva. He had dedicated himself as a slave of the gods and did menial work in the temples as was tradition in those heydays of bhakthi period. His ultimate wish was to see Nataraja Dharsanam (To see Lord Siva in his cosmic dance pose) at the temple of Chidamparam in Tamil Nadu. But the Brahmin priests, the custodians of the temple could not allow him into the temple as it was taboo for an untouchable to enter a temple in those days.
So they devised a clever ploy. They erected a temporary thatched shed in front of the temple and told him to stay there for the night as purifying ceremonies have to be performed before entering the temple in the morning. But that night mysteriously (miraculously) the hut caught fire and that was the end of Nanthanar’s pious wish.
But it was explained as that Nanthanar has joined with Jothi. It was accepted without a murmur, as Lord Shiva himself is said to be Jothi (light or fire) in one of his many forms and all lived happily ever after. It was said that even his later day sainthood name of Nalai Povar Nayanar (tomorrow he will go) was in dry humor.
Same predicament has caught up with our Tamil historical records.
According to epic stories, ancient Eelam, the kingdom of Ravanan was torched by monkeys who accompanied the Aryan prince Rama on his invasion of Lanka. Later during the capture and sacking of Jaffna kingdom by Sepumal Kumaraya (Senpaga Perumal – a Malayala prince who was the adopted son of Kotte king) the Jaffna library known as Saraswathy Mahal was burnt down. Again, during the capture of Jaffna kingdom by the Portuguese colonists the same Saraswathy Mahal was burnt down. And for the third time, the Jaffna library was burnt down by our modern monkeys from the south as part of a carefully orchestrated cultural genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
Before the advent of Hinduism with its cremation as a final rite, burial was in vogue amongst the ancient Tamil people of Eelam as can be found in the Thali Adakam tradition (Internment in large clay pot).
Unlike in other cultures, the practice of cremation did not leave us Tamils with even a piece of bone for modern historical analysis. We also do not have surnames which makes it difficult to trace even our family tree. But the Sinhalese people have surnames. In other religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity there are full time clergy with religious edicts to maintain records and their places of worship also doubles up as record keepers and learning centers. But our Hindu priest is only a family man doubling up as a translator and a ritual performer of ceremonies who has no inclination or resources for this type of historical record keeping. For us, preservation of anything old or ancient is to be considered as taboo and has to be burned or destroyed and new one has to be built. The current state of Sanglian Thoppu (The surviving relic of the last king of Jaffna kingdom), the ongoing demolition of old buildings and temples in our homelands without any thought for heritage preservation shows our scant regard for history as we have been indoctrinated to despise our own history.
But all the ancient relics and temples are well preserved in the Sinhala areas and are appropriately included in the world heritage list. They are monuments of great tourist attraction and are testimony to the cultural richness and grandeur of ancient Sri Lanka and proud possession for the entire humanity.
Deepavali – A celebration of death
Ravanan is an Adi Dravidian Tamil king who was an ardent Shiva worshiper and devote of Thiru Koneswaram temple which is one of the five Eswarams found in ancient Eelam. His enduring devotion was appropriately praised in Tamil Thevarams (hymns) and sung by pious Saivaites daily in praise of our gods. Ravanan fell in treachery by his own brother who sided with the invading Aryan prince Rama. The kingdom of Ravanan was also looted and torched by monkeys – a derisive reference to the Dravidian hordes from the mainland that sided with the Aryan Rama and helped him in crossing the narrow strip of sea separating Sri Lanka with Indian mainland. The sea levels have been rising steadily for the past few millennia as the earth is gradually coming out of its recent Ice age. So at the time of crossing by Rama the sea would have been only a puddle of water. The portrayal of Ravanan as a ten headed monster who was an ordinary human mortal like us is evidence of exaggeration and spewing of venom in order to depict him as evil. History is often written by the conqueror and for the conqueror and was never written for the vanquished. There are many examples in history and also in our present age.
As we all know, Eelam Tamils do not attach much importance to Deepavali as a religious festival unlike the foremost importance given to Thai Pongal. The practice of consumption of non vegetarian food in many homes during Deepavali which is unthinkable in any Hindu religious festival denotes that it has no religious significance and must be of dubious origins. In addition, for Eelam Tamils the memory of Deepavali massacre in the Jaffna hospital by IPKF is yet another blotch to reflect on the darker side of humanity.
In any case, death is never an occasion for celebration but only a time to pay respect and share sorrow with others and show compassion on the departed soul. This has been in vogue of any civilized society from the dawn of history. The beginning of civilized society from barbarity is said to have dawned with the Neanderthal man and woman (200,000 BC – 40,000 BC) with their ancient burial sites and associated ceremonies for their departed. Before that for millions of years, human descendents simply left the body to decompose as in the animal kingdom. The forerunner to spirituality and an early attempt to understand and appreciate the mysteries of life is said to have its origins from those humble beginnings.
Most of these historical distortions which become a handy whip for the opposition are of our own making as we do not own up to our glorious past which was vilified by vested interests that use religion as a tool to hoodwink us from seeing reality.
This is an excerpt from the Indian Link paper under the heading Mega mela for Diwali, which describes how we Hindus celebrated Deepavali – 2006 in Australia.
Historical feuds and the Mahawamsa
From the very beginning of written Tamil history, Tamil Nadu was divided into three principal kingdoms, namely Chera Nadu, Chola Nadu and Pandya Nadu and ruled by Chera, Chola and Pandya kings. There were succession fights within the rulers of Chera, Chola and Pandiyas in Tamil Nadu as well as amongst Sri Lankan rulers. From time to time, they seem to have obtained help both ways.
During the reign of Rajathi Raja Cholan II over Chola Nadu (1163 - 1179), there was a royal feud between Parakkirama Pandyan and Kulasekhara Pandyan within the Pandyan royal family for the throne of Pandiya Nadu. Parakkirama Pandyan sought and obtained help from the Sinhala king Parakrama Bahu which led to a brief occupation of parts of Tamil Nadu by Sinhala army which looted, burnt villages and also partly destroyed the ancient Lord Shiva temple of Rameshwaram. Finally, the Sinhala army was routed and the occupation ended by General Pallavarayan (Pallavarayar) under the orders of king Rajarthi Raja Cholan.
During the reign of Rajendra Cholan and the occupation of Sri Lanka by Cholas, three successive Tamil rulers in the northern Sri Lanka were said to have been beheaded on his orders as they had disobeyed him. This story may not be far-fetched if one can understand about our Tamil virtue of “Adangath Thamilan”. No one can mess around with the orders of a mighty Cholian and escape from his wrath. This sad episode may have put an end to our lineage of indigenous Tamil rulers and may have started the tradition of imposition of rulers from the mainland.
The Tamil ruler - King Elalan, who ruled the whole island of Sri Lanka, though had a powerful army at his disposal, but opted for one to one combat in his ripe old age with his youthful adversity Dutugemunu – a Sinhala prince, in a royal feud for throne. As he wanted to avoid unnecessary blood shed between the two communities who were all his beloved subjects in their private royal crown feud. In addition, Dutugemenu is said to have had in his side a Malbar regiment consisting of only Tamils (mercenary army like our current Oddu Padai). It was said that this mercenary army was settled in Ruhunu after his victory over Ellalan due to their loyalty. Dutugemenu paid tribute to the fallen hero by erecting a memorial and ordered that all should get down from their carriages at that place as a show of respect for the magnanimity of a just national ruler of Sri Lanka.
But it appears that the Sinhala Buddhist monk Mahanama - author of Mahawamsa contrary to established facts, colored and twisted this story as a blood feud between Tamils and Sinhalese as he had his own religious axe to grind in his perceived threat to Buddhism from the non converted Hindu Tamils which led to this Mahawamsa mindset which depicts Sinhala people as the chosen custodian of Buddhist heritage and Tamils as marauding invaders from South India who are bent on destroying this heritage. It has been concluded by impartial analysis that large portion of the text are of dubious history as the facts are obtained from oral tradition handed down by Buddhists monks and the period it purports to cover from 6th BC to about 4th AD would mean that the contents has to be only a heap of hearsay as the text itself was written only around 5th or 6th century AD.
As South India and Sri Lanka is separated by only a narrow strip of sea there were continuous cultural exchanges, matrimonial alliances, cross invasions, trades and feuds all occurring from time immemorial between the two sides of the people and the island civilization has been shaped by that of the Indian subcontinent. But it can also be seen that in many respects that both the Tamil and the Sinhala cultures have developed an individuality and identity of their own that distinguish it from the mainland. Cultural traits brought from India have undergone independent growth and change as both the Tamil and Sinhalese people were spared major turmoil that rocked the mainland in time to time which facilitated them developing their own unique cultural identities in isolation.
The ancient treatise on statecraft – Artha Sastra describes in details how the rulers should exploit human weakness - human nature and its corruptibility in order to take advantage of their subject’s belief systems such as religion, astrology and superstition for the advancement of statecraft. In history, there are also many recorded instances of laying siege to starve people into submission. Humanity has long progressed from those dark days and these vile practices of statecraft have no place in our enlightened era.
With the emergence of global religions by 250 CE, though these faiths have inflamed the souls of their followers with ecstasy and provided spiritual comfort to the faithful but were also the cause for atrocious acts of bigotry in their relentless quest for shaping the world at personal, socio-cultural and political levels as they vied with each other for supremacy in world affairs as they sought to obtain state power in order to capture the hearts and minds of lay people. When a society’s strident religious belief gets to the head rather than to the heart it manifests into religious fanaticism and blind hatred towards other non believers which led to many atrocious wars and crimes in history. Even at lay individual levels, the pseudo allegiance as a strident religious person of a particular faith becomes a handy tool to elicit respect in that society and provides cover for one’s heinous activities and also becomes an easy cocoon to retreat from reality to avoid accountability to one’s family and society.
The core belief system in any religion, emphasis that god is nothing but universal love. Therefore in any modern religion there is no place for vengeance or oppression of any believer or non believer. All religions must strive for the righteousness in the entire humanity and must not become the cause of human tragedy by promoting divisions.
All religious leaders and dignitaries should join together and appeal for compassion and forgiveness in this pathetic situation in Sri Lanka and call for an end to this senseless killings of innocent civilians and must arrange immediate relief to those hapless people caught up in this human tragedy as in the true sense of “Service to Humankind is Service to God”. If they fail in this urgent historical duty, these types of hypocritical religions will forfeit their relevance to humanity in the near future.