From Death of the First Hero by T. Sabaratnam 25 February, 2004
"Rajani, who was on the verandah of the main house, saw the army jeep entering
their compound. She ran through the house to the back door and shouted, “Nirmala
Akka, army jeep is coming.”
She warned her elder sister because she knew an LTTE fighter, Shankar, was in
her house. Shankar had gone to Nirmala’s house to convey the message Seelan had
sent from Tamil Nadu that he had reached India safely. Seelan had also informed
Shankar to convey his thanks to Nirmala, her husband Nithiyananthan and Rajani
for treating and caring for him for nearly two weeks after he was injured.
Nirmala insisted that Shankar should have lunch. “Today I have cooked chicken.
You must taste it and say whether it is tastier than your leader’s
(Pirapaharan’s) preparation,” she said. Seelan had told her repeatedly that
Pirapaharan’s chicken curry was “tops.” Nirmala served two pieces of chicken and
Shankar was biting the first piece when Rajani shouted about the arrival of the
Shankar slipped through the back door and ran towards the rear wall and the
commando who ran to seal off the back entrance of Nirmala’s house fired at him.
Shankar was hit in the stomach. Holding the bleeding stomach tightly Shankar ran
nearly three kilometers to reach a safe-house where he handed his revolver to
his comrades and collapsed due to excessive loss of blood, thus avoiding capture
by the army and saving the weapon, both priority items in the LTTE's code of
Shankar’s condition deteriorated fast and his senior colleague, Anton, whose
real name was Sivakumar, undertook the perilous task of taking him to Tamil Nadu
by boat. Anton took Shankar to Kodaikarai, one of the landing points of Tamil
militants on the Tamil Nadu coast, kept him in a safe-house and arranged for a
doctor to attend on him. Anton rushed to Madurai to arrange for his treatment,
then he took Shankar to a private hospital in Madurai. Doctors there declared
that his condition was too serious.
Pirapaharan, who was in one of the LTTE training camps, was informed. He
returned immediately. Baby Subramaniam, who was at the hospital when Pirapaharan
walked in, called the occasion poignant. Pirapaharan was highly emotional, he
said. Pirapaharan, took Shankar’s hands into his, lifted them and pressed his
cheeks on them. He put them back softly, went and sat near Shankar's head and
took it to his lap. Then he gently stroked Shankar’s hair. Shankar looked up. He
seemed to have realized that his leader had arrived. He started muttering
“Thamby. Thamby. Thamby…” Pirapaharan was “Thamby” (younger brother) to all,
even to those younger to him. Shankar was six years younger.
Nedumaran was another who witnessed that moving scene. He has given a graphic
description of that event in many interviews. In one interview he said, “They
kept gazing at each other. It was impossible to guess what was going on in their
minds. Pirapaharan kept looking at him intently, as if he was silently pleading
with him not to go away.”
Pirapaharan was visibly shaken. He was seeing the death of one of his cadres for
the first time. A 22-year old youth, blossoming into manhood, was dying
sacrificing his life for the sake of the honour and dignity of his nation. Tears
rolled down Pirapaharan’s plump cheeks. The flame of life in Shankar gradually
Shankar, who was reading the Russian novel One True Man’s Story when he set out
to Nirmala’s house at Nallur on that 20 November morning died after seven days
of agony on 27 November, the day which has become a day of remembrance of valour
and self-sacrifice for the cause of freedom of the Tamil Nation and the man,
Shankar, became another “One True Man’s Story” of courage.
Shankar’s body was cremated in one of Madurai’s cemeteries. Pirapaharan wanted
to attend it. Others prevailed on him and prevented him from doing so.
Pirapaharan's security was paramount, they argued. Baby Subramaniam, Ponnaman,
Kittu and a few others attended. Nedumaran was one of them. That was a momentous
day. The Sri Lankan Tamil freedom struggle had paid its first price with the
life of an energetic youth.
Shankar's death was not announced publicly. Pirapaharan felt the announcement of
the death would encourage the army and the police to hunt the militants. The
LTTE then was a tiny organization. It had not more than 30 cadres. Announcement
of Shankar’s death would demoralize the Tamil public and discourage youths from
joining it. Shankar's father was informed, however. His father, Selvachandran
Master, told me that two “Tiger boys” had visited him one night and told him
about his son’s death.
The LTTE announced Shankar’s death on his first death anniversary. Jaffna’s
walls were plastered with his photograph. Leaflets giving details about his life
and exploits were distributed. Munasinghe told me that they knew about Shankar’s
death a few months after it had occurred. The Defence Ministry, in its records,
entered Shankar as the first Tamil militant to be killed by the army
Pirapaharan waited for seven years to proclaim the day Shankar died as Maveerar
Nal (Hero’s Day). Pushed into the Vanni woods and surrounded by the Indian army,
Pirapaharan needed more cadres and required a mode to motivate those who had
stuck to him braving immense hardships and personal danger. Pirapaharan, well
versed in classical Tamil literature and traditions, resurrected the
well-treasured custom of honouring heroes fallen in battle and paying homage to
them by erecting tombstones, the custom known as nadugal valipadu-nadugal means
tombstone and valipadu worship or paying homage. Pirapaharan revived this
tradition, well cherished in Tamil Sangam literature, as one of his motivation
The revival of nadugal valipadu has had the intended effect. It has transformed
the attitude of the wives, children, parents and relatives of the fallen cadres
from the feeling of deprivation and wailing to that of participation and pride.
It brought the families of the dead fighters closer to the LTTE rather than
estranging them from it. It gradually restored the martial culture of the
ancient Tamil society. The uppermost aspect of this culture surfaced in the
eastern province in the year 2000, when LTTE propaganda reminded the tradition
of mothers sending their sons to battle, anointing their foreheads with
sandalwood paste, veera thilagam, to replace their killed husbands. And many
mothers were roused to do it.
Sinhalese and non-Dravidian Indian policy planers and commentators fail to
understand and appreciate the roots of the martial culture of Tamil Dravidians.
The spread of Aryan Hinduism and culture blunted the militaristic character of
ancient Tamil society. Pirapaharan had gone to Dravidians' roots and brought out
their inborn militaristic talents.
In 1989, Pirapaharan declared 27 November, the day Shankar died, as Maveerar Nal
(Hero’s Day) and six hundred LTTE cadres, men and women, dressed in battle
dress, assembled at a secret location in the Nithikaikulam jungle in the
Mullaitivu district to pay homage to the 1307 martyrs who had till then laid
down their lives for the cause of liberating the Tamil people.
Photographs of those who had fallen were placed on a pedestal, flowers were
sprinkled at their foot and coconut oil lamps were lit following the lighting of
the main lamp by Pirapaharan.
The ceremony, called Eekai Sudar Ettal, was the simple beginning of what has
now grown into an elaborate ritual. Pirapaharan was moved by what he had
initiated and, in that emotion-charged atmosphere, he delivered his first
Maveerar Nal address extemporaneously.
In that brief address, meant to explain the reasons for originating the
ceremony, Pirapaharan said: “Today is an important day in our struggle. Today we
have started the Hero’s Day in order to pay homage to the 1307 fighters who had
sacrificed their lives to attain our sacred objective of Tamil Eelam. We have
started this for the first time. You know that many countries in the world
honour their freedom fighters by remembering them. We too have decided to
proclaim a day of remembrance. We have done so today, the death anniversary of
the first hero who attained martyrdom.
“Our people are used to remembering only those who held high posts and who lived
comfortable lives. We have decided that leaders should not be given a special
treatment. We consider all combatants who sacrificed their lives in this sacred
struggle equal. By remembering all those who sacrificed their lives for the
struggle on the same day, we will be able to give the credit for the
achievements of the struggle to every combatant. Otherwise, with the passage of
time, the credit would be given to only a few persons and the sacrifice of
others would be neglected and ignored. Any nation that fails to honour heroes,
wise men and wise women would be a nation of barbarians. Our nation, more than
the others, gives great respect to women. But it has not given similar respect
to heroes. Today we have initiated a change. We have begun to give respect to
“Till now, we failed to pay respect to the heroes. Today we have changed that.
Today, we have allocated a day to pay homage to them. If our nation is able to
keep its head high in the world, it is because 1307 heroes sacrificed their
lives. It is because they fought without thinking of their lives we have won the
respect of the world. Let us from today, observe the Maveerar Nal as an
important day every year in our lives.”
That extemporaneous speech gave rise to the tradition of Maveerar Nal Perurai
which means Hero’s Day Address. The annual address assumed importance and
significance over the years, especially in the past few years; it has acquired
immense political import. The celebrations, too, expanded from 1990 when, with
the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the start of the
Second Eelam War, Jaffna peninsula fell into the hands of the Tigers. From that
year to 1994, the observances were held for a week, while from 1995, when LTTE
lost the control of the peninsula, they was restricted to three days.
Activities connected with the Maveerar ceremonies commence at the beginning
of November. Literary, cultural and sports competitions are held at village and
district levels. Families of heroes, known as Maveerar kudumbamgal are given
important places in these activities. The graveyards known as Maveerar thuyilum
Illamgal (Houses where heroes are in eternal sleep) are cleaned and painted and
readied for the final day ceremony. In a main location, Pirapaharan would take
part and in others, area leaders conduct the rituals.
Members of the maveerar kudumbamgal would stand in a line with flower trays
and small earthen coconut oil lamps or candles depending on whether they are
Hindus or Christians. The torch to light the main Flame of Sacrifice, the
thiyaga sudar, is brought by LTTE cadres in a relay and handed over to
Pirapaharan at the main location or to area leaders at other places. The Flame
of Sacrifice is to be lit at 6.04 p.m., the time Shankar died. Then family
members light lamps or candles they carried and place them at the foot of the
graves of their dead relative."
1989 - First Maaveerar Naal Nihalvu -
From 'Tamil Eelam', November 1989 - A journal published by the Political
Section of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. English translation. [courtesy
"27 November 1989 was the first time the Tamil people commemorated Heroes'
So far, 1,307 LTTE fighters have sacrificed their lives for the advancement
of the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle and for drawing world attention to it.
The courageous death of each and every one of these fighters is a heroic chapter
in the story of the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle.
In this, the death of the first fighter Lt. Shankar is a unique chapter.
27 November 1982 is the day in which Lt. Shankar (Sathianathan) gave his life
for the liberation struggle. That was an unforgettable day. Today, LTTE fighters
are giving their lives almost daily. Daily events in their memory are also being
But Shankar's death was unique. There was a sacrifice even in his death itself.
Regrettably it was a situation when the LTTE was not able to publicly announce
his death, the first in the organisation's history, to the outside world. The
news of his death, had it been announced by the LTTE, would have put many LTTE
supporters in danger of being hunted by the oppressive Sinhala government.
So his death was not made public immediately and it was only on the first
anniversary of his death, was it announced to the outside world.
LTTE fighters have died in different circumstances; on the battlefield, by
taking cyanide to avoid capture, killed by the enemy after a traitor's acts,
killed by a traitor's hand, succumbing to battle injuries when treatment has
In all these ways, 1307 fighters have laid down their lives for the ideal of
Tamil Eelam and a dawn for the Tamil people.
To commemorate these fighters together, the LTTE has decided to declare November
27, the remembrance day of Lt. Shankar (the first LTTE fighter to die), as
Maveerar (Heroes) day and to celebrate that day annually as a rising day. "