Rohana R. Wasala

Rohana R. Wasala retired from government service and is a regular columnist for Sri Lanka Guardian.

Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?

/
312 views
9 mins read

First of all, let me express my sincere respects to Mr D.L. Sirimanne, the writer of the interesting article entitled ‘Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence’ (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023). He struck me as a venerable old man, who, at 103 years of age, still thinks about the welfare of his fellow Sri Lankans. It is rare for a person of that age to be so clear-headed and lucid in his writing. His generous spirit and his literary activity may be one reason for his healthy longevity, I think. His mention of retired aviator turned writer Elmo Jayawardana, whom  I highly admire for the same altruistism of character and the same literary gifts that Mr Sirimanne displays, made me check out whatever other information is available about him online. Actually, I had never come across the name D.L. Sirimanne before I read his Sat Mag feature in The Island ‘An epic Air Ceylon charter flight…….’ on October 24, 2020, which I re-visited today and which enabled me to relive the delightful experience of reading it. I also watched an old TV interview uploaded to the You Tube, featuring him. We have very few unsung heroes like Mr Sirimanne. It was time well spent, I thought, although I do not share his views about the history of Sri Lanka, the hallowed and historic homeland of the Sinhalese, their inalienable Motherland, or his opinion about the primary cause of the economic mess that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing. But the old ghosts he recalls in the otherwise excellent essay that he’s written had better be exorcized once and for all, for denigrating the majority Sinhalese community and belittling their history which is synonymous with that of their island home, based entirely on wrong assumptions, will definitely undermine all attempts to bring political stability, economic prosperity, and intercommunal harmony to Sri Lanka.

Please rest assured, Mr Sirimanne, my writing this will not detract in the least from my deepest admiration for you. You are not wrong in holding the views that you are sharing with the readers, given the time that you spent your youth, the most vibrant years of your life. It is only that times have changed, new discoveries have been made in science leading to the emergence of new technologies, and corresponding advances in the ever expanding universe of human knowledge, including such domains as astronomy, psychology, social sciences, art, culture, politics, history and archaeology and so on, in the light of which we are developing a better, more accurate idea of our past among other things. Something that has not changed, though, as far as our country is concerned, is the interfering ghost of departed Western colonialism, that is largely responsible for our problems. 

The fact that we are surrounded by the ocean has determined the nature of our evolution as an independent civilization, and the character of our commercial, cultural and political/diplomatic relations we have had with the outside world. As island dwellers, quite naturally, we have always been wary of foreigners though we have always treated them hospitably; we have been always independent spirited, and protective of our land, and our Buddhist culture. Before the depredations of European occupation, we, as an island nation had an extensive global reach on account of trade and our Buddhist spiritual culture. Groups of people and individuals travelled into as well as out of the island in connection with the last mentioned. The main body of the original inhabitants of the island were saved from being numerically overwhelmed by the influx of large numbers of immigrants from the relatively less hospitable or less inhabitable lands around, due to the sea barrier. Foreign commercial-cum-military powers that made incursions into the island from the legendary Vijaya to the British mercantile/imperial power at the end of the 18th century had first come as traders, attracted by the natural riches of the country. (According to new scientific findings in historiography and archaeology, the legendary Vijaya and the later invader Elara who ruled at Anuradhapura (205-161 BCE) were actually connected with trade.)

Mr Sirimanne seems to come from the minuscule Westernized,English speaking, Christian ‘elite’ society, the comprador class of the native population, that lived in relative comfort and  probably didn’t worry too much about independence from the British.They were akin to the ‘mimic men’ in Trinidad-born English novelist V.S. Naivpaul’s novel by that name, who tried to be what the imperial British did not allow them to be. But this was at the expense of the vast mass of the downtrodden  colonized ‘natives’, who were subjected to flagrant exploitation and relentless dehumanization, something that reminds me of what journalist and novelist Robert McCrum says about the lack of moral justification for the comfortable lifestyle of the rich upper crust of the Anglo-American society today: “No one dwelling in comfort on the higher ground of Anglo-American society should ever forget that a brutal trade in human lives was a motor of the British and American economies throughout the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth century….”. (Globish, Viking, 2010). McCrum, of course, is referring to the slave trade.

In the case of Sri Lanka and its large northern neighbour India, this period of European imperial exploitation became most virulent for the two centuries from around the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. (It looks as if, in the West dominated global media, this history is being fast sanitized.)  Former Indian diplomat and writer Dr Shashi Tharoor (who served at the UN for twenty-nine years, ending his stint there as Under Secretary General), in his ‘INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: What the British did to India’ (Scribe, Melbourne and London, 2018) tells the thoroughly researched true story of the British in India – from the arrival of the East India Company to the end of the Raj – and reveals how Britain’s rise was built upon its plunder of India. However, the careful reader understands that Tharoor’s purpose is not to narrate a sequence of events and tell a story as such, but to critically study the legacy the British left in India and to demolish arguments that try to support claims for alleged benefits of colonial rule. (However, Tharoor does not deny that the British did leave, incidentally though, a few treasures, such as a democratic form of government, and the English language.) Delhi-based historian William Dalrymple’s ‘THE ANARCHY: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company’ (Bloomsbury Publishing Company, London, 2019) is a riveting narrative that tells the story of how the (British) East India Company transformed itself from an international trading corporation into something quite different: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business run by English merchants collecting taxes from the impoverished natives using a ruthless private army. 

Sri Lanka is very small compared to India in terms of area. India is roughly 46 times the size of Sri Lanka and its population roughly 64 times. But internationally, we are accepted as an independent sovereign state similar to India that enjoys full fledged membership of the United Nations. There is nothing unusual about this. There are dozens of countries with even smaller populations than ours, such as Burkino Faso, Chile, Malavi, Mali, Romania, Zambia, etc., that stand as independent sovereign states. We are not, by any means, inferior to India as a sovereign nation.     

To liken Ceylon (or Sri Lanka) to ‘a brilliant emerald on the beautiful pendant of Mother India’ is to imply that our country is/was an appendage of India! It never was, but present day Indian politicians appear to wish it was, and even to behave as if it already is, and some of our own worthless unpatriotic politicians seem to agree! How can a Sri Lankan celebrate a ‘Mother India’, instead of Mother Lanka? To be colonized by foreign invaders is not an experience that can be or should be forgotten with glib talk. No self-respecting nation in the world will relish that humiliating experience. We are a people with an honourable history. Our country has been called Sihele or Sivhela or Sinhale or Sinhaladipa (the europeanized ‘Ceylon’ is a derivative of Sihele), or Lanka, as it is often referred to in the 5th century CE Mahavansa or the Great Chronicle and as it is usually called in colloquial Sinhala even today, and Tamilized as Ilankei. (Incidentally, all the quotations from the Mahavansa and its continuation the Cuavansa found in this essay are from Mudaliyar L. C. Wijesinghe’s translation of 1889.) 

Sri Lanka had survived 17 invasions from South India before the European phase of colonization actually started at the beginning of the 17th century (1602), though the fortuitous arrival of the Portuguese happened almost a century earlier in 1505. The Portuguese were in Sri Lanka till they were driven away in 1658 by the Dutch, who in their turn gave way to the British in 1796. The British helped themselves to the maritime provinces of the country previously occupied by the other two European powers. All these invasions and occupations met with the fiercest resistance from the native Sinhalese  population. They did not bring Tamils from South India to fight these wars. Jayantha Somasundaram claimed in an article published in The Island a couple of months ago that the Sinhalese did not go to war against invaders because as Buddhists they did not want to kill. This is a deliberate falsehood. Of course, it is true that when there was internecine strife, Sinhalese kings sometimes brought in mercenaries from South India as when Mugalan did in order to challenge his half-brother Kasyapa of Sigiriya in the 5th century CE. Invader Magha of Kalinga brought an army of Kerala mercenaries (according to Chapter 80 of the Mahavansa (in the form of Culavansa written in the 13th century CE by a Buddhist Bhikkhu named Dhammakitti) to fight against the ruler of Lanka at the time Parakrama Pandyan of Polonnaruwa in 1215 CE. By the time of the British advent at the end of the 18th century, the interior part of the island formed the Kandyan kingdom or the diminished kingdom of Sinhale hemmed in all sides by occupied territories; but it had itself repeatedly and heroically foiled European military occupation. It was only through subtle diplomatic intrigue that it was annexed to the British Empire in 1815.  

Even my father (who was of Mr D.L. Sirimanne’s generation), though he was no historian, scoffed at the implausibility of the Mahavansa story about prince Vijaya. “How could we be descendants of a lion, an animal, and still be humans?” he used to say. He also ridiculed the Aryan claim in the Hitlerian sense. He only believed in the word ‘Arya’ as it is used in Buddhism, that is, to refer to a spiritually advanced person. But Mr Sirimanne seems to have no issue with the ‘Aryan’ identity of the Sinhalese, who had allegedly come from Sinhapura in North India.  Mr Sirimanne believes that the tribes that inhabited the place when prince Vijaya landed at Tambapanni, known as Yakkas and Nagas, were ‘probably Hindus from South India’. He has left out the Devas and the Rakshas, the other two of the four indigenous tribes who are believed to have inhabited the island then. 

However, the Vijaya legend must have a nucleus of historical truth in it. It might be based on an actual invasion by a north Indian prince, who initiated a dynasty that imported princes from the mythical Sinhapura to rule at Tambapanni. The subject Yakkas’ Sinhalese identity must have derived from the natural admixture at that stage of the native Yakkas with the members of the invading north indian ‘Aryan’ clan. There definitely had developed a struggle between the invaders and the local elite over sovereignty by the time of the death of king Panduvasudeva (who reigned at Tambapanni from 504 to 474 BCE). In fact, Pandukabhaya (born in 474 BCE, the year his grandfather died) who ascended the throne at Anuradhapura after a protracted military struggle against his uncles is considered the first truly Lankan monarch (but the 6th king overall) since Vijaya. The Mahavansa story (found in Ch. 10) about the emergence of Pandukabhaya features a number of real Yakkhas and Yakkhinis, who are shown to be as much human as those who had come from Sinhapura (though they are presented with a supernatural touch.) 

But today we know for sure that the Yakkas were the real ancestors of the Sinhalese (Kuveni was a Yakka princess), and that they were also contemporaneous with the Veddas. The fake classification of the Veddas as ‘aadivasin’ (aborigines) by Western anthropologists was probably meant to deny the Sinhalese their autochthonous origin in this island.  Yakka language inscriptions have been found and deciphered, one of which, according to archaeology Professor Raj Somadeva, declares “api yakku” we are yakkas. The Mahavansa says that the missionary Mahinda Thera preached Buddhism ‘in the language of the islanders’, which was undoubtedly, the Yakka language, the ancient version of Sinhala, that was in circulation then. 

The most powerful factor, next to genetics, that distinguishes one race from another is its language. In the case of the Sinhalese it is the Sinhala language with its unique vocal sound system, its own grammar and vocabulary. (Words like vatura for water, vee for rice paddy, haal/sahal for(rice, bath for cooked rice, kamata for threshing floor, gala  for rock, and so on are original Sinhala words, not borrowed from any other language; another original Sinhala word is ‘wewa’ (turned into Pali form in the chronicles as waapi)), meaning an artificial water reservoir constructed by building a dam across a valley for storing water for agricultural irrigation during rainless months. However, down the ages, contact with the North Indian languages of Pali or Magadi and Sanskrit has heavily hybridized the Sinhala vocabulary. This is the reason why Sanskrit-derived Hindi and Bengali languages sound more familiar and are more easily intelligible to the Sinhalese than the Dravidian languages of South India such as Tamil or Malayalam (a few elements from the last two can also be detected, particularly in spoken (non-formal, non-literary) Sinhala…

Continued   

Source: The Island

What does Ranil Wickremasinghe have up his sleeve? 

532 views
9 mins read

Whatever it is, equipped with his education, native intelligence and acquired political wisdom, he will be able to hold the country whole until it passes lawfully into the hands of the uncorrupt patriotic young generation that is waiting in the wings in patient silence (not into those of the ignorant noisy buffoons in the ‘aragalaya‘). 

A number of sacrilegious attacks have been made in recent times on the Sri Dalada (the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy, astonishingly by some Buddhists. The two most recent instances are: Sepala Amerasinghe, an elderly YouTuber, committing repeated verbal sacrilege by calling the Tooth Relic a ‘labba’ (an impolite word implying a pendant male sexual organ) in his videos; the other instance may be described as a form of desecration of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy where the the Tooth Relic is housed: a kind of faith-healing veda mahattaya/native physician (a notorious charlatan and a crooked businessman according to social media accounts) by the name of Janaka C. Senadhipathi is building at Potuhera, Kurunegala, an unauthorized replica of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, claiming that the sacred relic will be miraculously transported to his new shrine from the Kandy Sri Dalada Maligawa, which according to him, is polluted by the materialistic corruption of its present custodians). It is ironic that these acts take place (by design or coincidence) only a few days after president Ranil Wickremesinghe showed his desire to have a special exposition of the Dalada ahead of the next independence day due to be held in February. The president is obviously hoping to achieve something of tremendous importance for the nation that he seems to think is significant enough to be celebrated with a Dalada exhibition. What this epoch making development probably is not a mystery to adult Sri Lankans who have some idea about the dynamics of post-independence politics in Sri Lanka. It must be something to do with the final settlement of the so-called Tamil national problem or the implementation of 13A+.

This confronts the nation with a dilemma concerning Ranil Wickremesinghe as everybody’s  (225 in parliament’s and the general public’s) refuge/saviour: it is the general public perception that, at this moment, there is no political leader who can at least try to bring about some sort of economic stability to the country except Ranil Wickremasinghe. But will he be able to garner enough parliamentary support to implement 13A+? To compound the confusion, there is the problem of holding the lawfully scheduled local government elections, the likely result of which will not strengthen the mutually dependent parliament+president combine, nor benefit the nation economically or politically. The people will question: Why are you so particular about sticking to the electoral laws at this critical juncture where the flagrant violation of other existing vital laws such as the antiquities ordinances has introduced a previously non-existent religious and racial dimension to the country’s political divisions? But be that as it may. Let’s return to our present topic.

Since the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka in the 4th century CE (this is well recorded in the Mahavamsa and other chronicles), a tradition evolved according to which the ruler of the island acquired the legitimacy of his sovereignty by virtue of the possession of the sacred relic. The Dalada was held in a shrine within the palace complex. The shrine itself later came to be called ‘Maligawa’ or palace, the residence of the king, because of this connection between sovereignty and the sacred relic. Due to this reason, the Dalada was subject to changing hands between external invaders or internal rivals and the reigning monarchs in troublous times, as happened several times before the European advent in the island and after. The desacralization of the sacred relic and the attempted dilution of the sanctity of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy could be premeditated. Though it is  well known that the Dalada has neither any connection with, nor bears any responsibility for, the current economic and political crises, it has become a target for attack concerning even natural disasters. Sepala Amerasinghe mentioned above, before calling the Dalada a ‘labba’ for which offence he has been arrested and remanded till January 17, blamed the recent floods in Kandy caused by heavy rain on the ‘kunu datha’ (rotten tooth) in one of his videos. This was an oblique reference to the traditionally held belief among Buddhists that the Dalada has rain making powers. Such beliefs (and relic worship itself for that matter) are not found in Theravada Buddhism, but are imports from the Mahayana tradition which are now part of the local Buddhist religious culture.

So there seems to be a deliberate attempt by certain inimical forces  to dilute or totally negate the symbolic power of the Sacred Tooth Relic for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist polity. It is the bounden duty of the government on behalf of all concerned citizens to investigate what sinister force is behind these incidents and take remedial action. But there are no blasphemy laws in Buddhism. When a TouTuber brought the ‘kunu data’ insult to their notice by phone, the Anu Nayake Theras of both Malwatte showed little concern about it. It was when several concerned lay Buddhists complained to them again about Sepala Amerasinghe repeatedly making sacrilegious statements that the Mahanayake Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame, the guardian of the Maligawa, wrote to the president about it.

Incidentally, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to be lurking protectively behind Senadhipathi. The former’s erstwhile sidekick Mervin Silva visited Potuhera, and ordered the demolition of the front part of the building in question, declaring that there should be only one Dalada Maligawa, the one in Kandy and that the rest of structures in the place must remain. Mervin Silva was reported to have threatened with death social activist Nilantha Ranasinghe who had raised the issue in public and exposed Senadhipathi’s questionable activities with audio, video and print evidence. Mervin Silva told another YouTuber (named Chaturanga Bandara) that Mahinda Rajapaksa phoned him to thank him for what he did.)  Mahinda exploited the nationalist groundswell to sweep the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections against the previous infamous yahapalanaya led by prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and president Maithripala Sirisena; but he totally betrayed that victory through the entrenched corruption he supported among his stooges and his own obsession with dynastic rule, which ultimately brought repeatedly rejected Ranil Wickremasinghe to the helm. Mahinda seems to have so morally weakened in parallel with his obvious physical degeneration as to make a futile attempt to salvage his lost popularity among the Buddhist voters by championing fake ‘Bosath’ Janaka Senadhipathi, with the help of thuggish Mervin. 

To return to the beginning, the media reported (December 24, 2022) that a request that president Ranil Wickremasinghe made for a special exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic before February 2023 when Sri Lanka completes seventy-five years of independence did not get a positive response from either of the two Ven. Mahanayake Theras of the Siam Nikaya, Malwatte and Asgiriya, in Kandy, who are joint custodians of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The president’s request was conveyed to the prelates in a letter from him personally delivered to them by prime minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who expressly called on them for the purpose. The Malwatte prelate, according to the news reports, suggested that the PM should approach the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera about this as it is the latter’s turn at the moment to be in charge of the service at the Dalada Maligawa. When the premier visited the  Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera with the president’s proposal or appeal, the latter wonderingly asked him  if a Tooth Relic exposition at this juncture wasn’t a difficult task to perform.

With hindsight one would hazard a guess that the two Buddhist prelates of the Siam Nikaya, namely the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, especially the former, might accommodate the presidential wish, if  Buddhist public opinion also favours it. There are two other nikayas, Ramanna and Amarapura, which signed an agreement to merge in August 2019; the expected merger was a step in the right direction, for the Maha Sangha unity is indispensable for the survival of the Buddhasasanaya as a religious cultural establishment. The living component of the Buddhasasanaya is the ‘sivvanak pirisa’ or the fourfold community of male and female bhikshus and male and female lay Buddhists. This is not a political entity, but a religious one, though it needs state protection (just as it enjoyed full royal patronage under Sinhala kings before the time of foreign invasions); in this, the Sinhala Buddhist community  is not different from other religious communities. (In Sri Lanka, 70% of the ethnically and religiously diverse total population comprise Buddhists.) No religion is more compatible with the best form of government evolved to date, democracy than Buddhism, though it is not your average religion. Bhikkhus and Bhikshunis may personally hold different political views, and even exercise their voting rights as they please, as citizens, but it is not proper for them to engage in partisan politics, because that would definitely cause divisions within the fourfold community of Buddhists. The clergy must leave active politics involving campaigning and electioneering entirely to the lay Buddhists. May the Mahanayakes have the wisdom to tell the president not to desecrate the Sri Dalada by dragging it into politics.

However, traditionally and historically, Buddhist monks have wielded great power over the Buddhist community including the rulers. Currently though, they are becoming increasingly powerless, mainly because of their meddling in politics, patronizing corrupt politicians, and also because of the Mahanayake Theras’ incomprehensible inaction and disunity. President Wickremesinghe’s seemingly cynical suggestion must be viewed in this context. Is he, through having a special Tooth Relic exposition held to coincide with the implementation of whatever solution he proposes to the Tamil ethnic problem, trying to make palatable to the Sinhala Buddhist majority something they would not normally look upon with favour. Is he bringing back an earlier unpopular deal that sent him and his party home at the hustings? But Ranil is too intelligent to repeat past errors.

I am tempted to say this because Ranil Wickremesinghe, unlike his predecessors Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, does not usually make a show of unfelt religious piety for hoodwinking the masses. If he wants, he uses religion in a more street-smart way. Unlike the latter duo again, he is no religious hypocrite; he doesn’t even care to show if he is really a Buddhist (which of course is right, and befits a genuine Buddhist). The important thing, I think, is that he seems to know that ordinary Buddhist voters, true to their faith, do not worry too much about whether he is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist. (Unfortunately, however, global scale media distortion against them demonizes Sinhalese Buddhists as racist chauvinists and religious fanatics simply because circumstances force them to raise their voice when their human rights are violated by others (such as unethical conversion of Buddhists, encroachment or vandalizing or desecration of Buddhist archaeological sites, deliberate distortion of historical and Buddhist doctrinal facts).

What is happening in Sri Lanka in this respect, hardly recognized or taken seriously by the global powers that be, is doubtlessly a crime against humanity carried out by an externally well funded medley of subversive organizations and individuals, that is getting more and more explicit and more and more overpowering in the Sri Lanka’s present economically and politically debilitated situation. It can be argued that the same forces that are behind this insidious barbarity are at least partly responsible for worsening the political and economic maelstrom that is currently engulfing Sri Lanka, despite the abundance of  rich natural resources and the  high quality of the human resources locally available, both of which its citizens can be justly proud of.

For president Wickremasinghe to want a special Dalada exposition he must be contemplating to consecrate, as it were, something momentous like a nationally important historic event concurrently with government celebrations that will mark the completion of seventy-five years of independence (whatever the last word is held to mean) from British colonial occupation. When it comes to true freedom from Britain, we believe that the 1948 independence was eclipsed by the promulgation of the republican constitution in 1972 under the United Front government of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. Yet, it looks like that Wickremasinghe wants to return to the Western fold by ignoring the 1972 change, which was not supported by the Illankei Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil Kingdom/State Party/or misleadingly called the Federal Party in English) founded in 1949 by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, an immigrant Tamil from Malaysia. (The clamour for a separate state for Tamils started soon after the grant of so-called independence, which was actually nothing more than dominion status. The 1972 declaration of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was until then known among foreigners and English speaking locals) as a republic severed that last link with the  British empire.

 Sri Lankans are a democratic people. Ranil Wickremesinghe or any other political leader could easily accommodate the legitimate interests of the global and regional superpowers that the country’s geographical location makes it obligatory for it to satisfy, if he did it with the people’s full democratic approval, while at the same time preserving their national dignity, sovereignty and independence.     

When in 2019 Wickremesinghe and the UNP that he still leads got kicked out of parliament, he had spent forty-two years in that august body as elected member serving repeatedly in responsible senior positions over that long period as cabinet minister, opposition leader, and prime minister, and now as president at least by default. Ranil Wickremasinghe the politician has nothing more to win or lose in his life; he has nothing to look forward to, except perhaps a dignified obituary. But he suddenly finds ‘greatness thrust upon him’ by a strange turn of events in a context where  Sri Lankans of all religious and political persuasions are up against the wall economically and politically. The Sinhalese Buddhists, in addition to this adverse global predicament experienced, not only in Sri Lanka, but across most of the world outside, are simply facing a form of cultural genocide as argued above. It is expediently connived at by our corrupt traitorous self-seeking politicians and blithely indulged by an apparently unconcerned, blissfully ignorant Maha Sangha.

Ranil Wickremasinghe can still use his intellectual superiority and political acumen to rescue our nation.

Rectifying history to vandalize it: Pujya K. Ariyamagga’s pain

/
461 views
11 mins read

A Youtube video (uploaded December 27, 2022) with the alarmist caption බුදුන් ඉපදුණු මේ ලංකාවට සිදු වු අපරාදෙ අපිත් දැන ගනිමුද  (Let’s be aware of the enormity of the injustice perpetrated on Sri Lanka where the Buddha was born) captured my attention this morning (January 1, 2023), both because of the sensationalism of the title and its association with the popular youtuber Harindra Jayalal who presents its content as an important news bulletin from a so-called ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization (presumably based in the UK). Five days after uploading, the video has got about 8,500 views, and only 301 subscribers. Though Harindra Jayalal presents it as a newsflash under ‘Breaking News’, the maker of the video is someone who chooses to obscure their identity by describing it as a DANAPALA VIDEO. While watching the video, though, I felt that Harindra himself made this video as a strong believer in the controversial new hypothesis that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. But again, I thought ‘could a person like Harindra subscribe to such an improbable concoction’? In terms of my experience, Harindra is far too rational, educated, cultured and knowledgeable to embrace such a harebrained ideology. I believe that he is too honest to prostitute his journalism for mercenary ends.

Lucidity, idiomaticity, and precision of expression characterize Harindra Jayalal’s Sinhala. Such linguistic elegance is not common among ordinary Sinhala language Youtubers. His professionalism and sophistication as a journalist are hard to match. However, the emphatic positive tone of voice that he adopts right through to the end of the presentation cannot be due to any real personal commitment to the authenticity of the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ claim. Instead, by lending his patronage to this video, he may be helping out a struggling new youtuber through his own established fame. Yet, Harindra seems to be here overdoing his generosity because, his apparent espousal of that extremely anti-national heresy, might only provide some justification for the insidious process of cultural genocide that is being carried out, unknown to most ordinary Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities, against the country’s innocent Sinhala Buddhist majority, something that has been going for decades now. 

Be that as it may, according to this ‘news flash’, “…. The Ariya Kammattahna Sanvidhanaya/Ariya Kammattahna Organization led by a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk named Ariyamagga, resident in Europe, is going to sue the British government. He has taken steps to institute legal action against government officials who served during British colonial times. He charges that Britain has distorted historical information relating to the subcontinent of  India and that his fundamental rights are being violated by officials serving today in their place by intentionally failing to rectify those distortions. ……. The case names the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs, the State Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, Secretary of State for Tourism Zones and National Heritage, and the Secretary of State for Education as respondents……the court action will go ahead as the violations are continuing……”. (This is from the opening of the spoken text of the video as roughly translated by me from Sinhala as other relevant parts of the same spoken script found in the rest of this essay;  details such as names of ministries may not exactly tally with the real ones. – RRW)

The ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization argues that Britain has violated provisions of various legal statutes that it cites such as Britain’s 1998 Human Rights Act, the 1988 Copyrights, Designs, and Patents Act, and the 1907 Hague Convention. It demands that at least certified photocopies of the ancient ola leaf books stashed away in British libraries and museums be made available (to it on behalf of Sri Lankans) free of charge without reserving copyrights and that steps be taken to provide funds for new archaeological excavations needed to correct those (deliberately introduced) errors in our country’s history. 

The plaintiff organization pleads that (the British government) acknowledge that the school education system established under the colonial administration disseminated for public consumption false information without any foundation in Sri Lankans’ (collective) national and religious identity, and also that (the British government) tender an apology to the general public of the world for the crimes committed.

In Sri Lanka’s ancient chronicles, Buddhist literature and even in colloquial parlance in Buddhist religious contexts today the name Jambudipa (Pali) or Dambadiva (Sinhala) refers to the subcontinent of India. But according to the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ theorists, Jambudeepa was in the eastern part of Sri Lanka (if we imagine the map of the country as vertically divided with a line into east and west). A central claim made in the aforementioned plea for justice is that the true location of the Jambudipa where the founder of Theravada Buddhism, Gotama Samana, was born and lived and the locations of its cities and Buddhist holy sites were conspiratorially concealed from the world and that these venues were substituted by those in India by deliberately  altering the maps of Sri Lanka and India. This is alleged to have misled the Theravada Buddhist adherents and deprived them of their right to know the truth about their spiritual master. (By ‘Theravada Buddhists’ the petitioner ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization means Sinhalese Buddhists.) What does it aim to achieve for them by asserting the following harmful falsehood?  

“Having been misled (by false information) as explained above, the Buddhists of today mistake Hindu and Jain holy places to be Buddhist ones and go to worship at them. This is a tragic state of affairs” according to the plaint. But we know it is not. What is there tragic about it, even  if the alleged fraudulent deed actually happened? On the contrary, it would be a happy state of affairs. Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists have much in common (tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, humility, mind culture, inner search for truth, etc.) and have no problem visiting each other’s shrines without being challenged as impure infidels or non-believers. Community of basics makes for intercommunal peace and peaceful coexistence, as has always been the case in Sri Lanka between Hindus and Buddhists. However, this ludicrous complaint lets the cat out of the bag.

The ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ idea is obviously a piece of fiction carefully thought up by some evil minded individual or group to confuse the credulous unsophisticated, grievously ill informed (embarrassingly large) section of the Sinhalese Buddhist community about their religion as well as their history for some political and/or religious advantage. Those who stand to gain by this may be having a field day at present. They must be laughing their heads off in private at the silliness of those Buddhists who have swallowed this and other similar  fabrications (such as the mythical Ravana being their progenitor) hook line and sinker. 

 Believers in the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ myth might be induced to sever even their sentimental links with places that they correctly believed to be historic Buddhist places of worship in Sri Lanka later built over by invaders. The misguided adherents of the fiction will forget the Sacred Buddha Gaya/Bodh Gaya in India, which our indefatigable Anagarika Dharmapala did much to reclaim for the world Buddhists as he knew it was his historic responsibility as a ‘Sinhale’ Buddhist to do so. (This is because after the missionary Mahinda Thera introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka, its scriptures that had been until then transmitted orally was committed to writing there in the 1st century BCE and was preserved for posterity, making the island the repository of Theravada Buddhism. By the end of the 19th century CE, Buddhism had almost entirely disappeared from India due to Muslim invasions and anti-Buddhism Hinduist influence.) Dharmapala met with limited success, no doubt, but it was a great achievement, even an epoch making one, considering his smallness when pitted against the powerful opponents he had to face in that Hindu dominated religious environment during the British Raj at the turn of the 20th century. Anagarika Dharmapala, in association with activists like journalist and poet Sir Edwin Arnold from the British intelligentsia, laid the foundation for the current Buddhist revival in India. Today India is rediscovering and restoring its lost Buddhist heritage, for example in the form of rebuilding the ancient Buddhist monastic University of Nalanda (427-1197 CE) burned down by Muslim invaders in the 12th century. This made it possible for Prime Minister Modi to shout out to the world not long ago: “India gave to the world the Buddha, not yuddha (war)”. India honoured Anagarika Dharmapala by issuing a postage stamp commemorating him in 2014.  

I came across a book written in Sinhala about this ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ argument. Its title translates as “Evidence to prove that the land of the Buddhas is none other than this ‘Heladiva’ or Sri Lanka: Debunking myths” (2018) by a writer named S. Ariyaratne. It is full of information drawn from authentic sources, but garbled by him through misinterpretation. The book  contains a lot of interesting but, scientifically unauthenticated details both about the dhamma and history, but without any serious supporting evidence or rational elucidation. In some instances Ariyaratne quotes from the Mahavansa, which he seems to modify in his interpretation to suit his thesis that the Buddha was born, lived, and died in Sri Lanka. One example: in Mudaliyar L.C. Wijesinghe’s translation (1889) of the Mahavansa the last verse of Chapter VI is as follows: “This prince named Vijaya, who had then attained the wisdom of experience, landed in the division Tambapanni of this land Lanka, on the day that the successor (of former Buddhas) reclined in the arbour of the two delightful sal trees, to attain nibbana”. Ariyaratne interprets the same Pali verse in Sinhala; his version can be rendered into English thus: “Prince Vijaya of steady wisdom arrived the day that the Tathagata lay down to attain nibbana (in the shade) between two sal trees in Lanka or Tamraparni whose branches were intertwined” (Page 210 of Ariyaratne’s book). 

Between pages 112-132, Ariyaratne looks at Anagarika Dharmapala’s work in India from his own uninformed jaundiced point of view. His unconvincing, idiosyncratic argument is that the Lankan Buddhist  missionary, misled by the suddas (Whites/Europeans), mistakenly identified  Bodh Gaya in India as the birthplace of the Buddha, but  that towards the end of his life, he showed signs that he realized his mistake. But it is only an unsubstantiated assumption on Ariyaratne’s part. He points out that the Bodhi tree found there is not the Bodhi tree under which ascetic Gotama attained enlightenment, which should true for the original probably disappeared during foreign invasions. He thinks Alexander Cunningham (the pioneer of what later became the Archaeological Survey of India)  planted the extant Bodhi tree  in 1870. Concerning this he mentions ‘Relighting the Lamp’ by Australian monk Bhante S. Dhammika (no stranger to English language newspaper readers in Sri Lanka). But Ariyaratne doesn’t seem to have carefully read what he makes reference to. Actually, ‘Relighting the Lamp’ is only the last (or 4th) section of that monk’s 241 page book ‘The Navel of the Earth: The History and Significance of Bodh Gaya’ (BPS, Kandy, 1996)’ between pp. 119-171. In that part of the book, Bhante Dhammika  has included a fairly detailed account of Dharmapala’s legitimate heroic struggle to acquire the sacred place for Buddhists. Dharmapala played a key role in ‘relighting the lamp’ in India. 

Bhante Shravasti Dhammika outlines the historical importance of Bodh Gaya in his preface to ‘The Navel of the Earth…..’:

“…..Bodh Gayā’s historical significance is due to it having a longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the subcontinent, a history supplemented by epigraphical and literary sources from China and Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Nor is this history merely an outline of events or a list of doubtful dates, as so often encountered in the study of India’s past. Rather, it includes detailed descriptions of Bodh Gayā’s now vanished temples and shrines, accounts of the elaborate ceremonies and doctrinal disputes that once took place there, and even details of how time was kept in its monasteries. This history is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia’s greatest personalities, from Asoka to Curzon, from Xuanzang to Anāgārika Dharmapāla…..” 

The book also supplies information about the conspicuous presence of Buddhist monks from Simhale (Sri Lanka) and the construction of religious buildings in Jambudipa including Bodh Gaya under Sinhalese royal patronage. In the 4th century, Sinhalese king Meghavanne (304-332 CE) built a special monastery at the place of Buddha’s Enlightenment – the Bodh Gaya Monastery. It survived there for a millennium, functioning as a major monastic university complex. It operated along with two other Buddhist universities,the famous  Nalanda and Vikramashila monastic universities, which came into existence later. 

The author of “The Navel of the Earth…” is an extremely more reliable authority on the history of the Buddha’s birthplace than Ariyaratne. In fact, the erudite Bhante S. Dhammika, who is additionally an alumnus of the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, has devoted many years of his life for researching the subject, even traveling on foot where Buddha walked across that part of north India to and fro, preaching his message. He has written and published over a dozen books. A book by Bhante Dhammika published last year (2022) is ‘Lumbini’, which gives a short history of Lumbini “the first of the four major holy places of Buddhism, being where the person who was born to become Buddha was born”.

The truth is that, in my opinion, Ariyaratne is not at all worthy of comparison with Bhante Dhammika in this context. He has had no worthwhile academic training in either Buddhism or the history of Buddhism, not to speak about anything else that is ancillary such as the secular history of Sri Lanka and India. What may be taken as an autobiographical note on pp. 12-14 of Ariyaratne’s book mentioned above says that he was born in a small impoverished village in Nivitigala in 1972. At age 14, he was admitted to the Sangha order as a novice. He studied at a pirivena in Ratnapura, where he became a kind of loner allegedly trying to learn the dhamma in an unorthodox way, which meant  that he read material outside the prescribed syllabuses. Disgusted with the Sangha order at age 19 (i.e., before higher ordination), he disrobed, and became a layman again, reverting to his birth name Ariyaratne. But he claims that he continued his search in which he followed in the footsteps of such ‘Arya utuman’ (Arhants) as the infamous and totally ignorant  Waharaka (Abhayarathanalankara) and Meewanapalane (Siri Dhammalankara)!! Meewanapalane has been officially excommunicated by the Malwatte Nikaya, but he continues to preach to a dwindled audience. Waharaka died in 2017 and his death was described as ‘Parinibbana’!, a term used only in the case of the passing away of an Arhant, most usually in referring to the death of the Buddha. It is an abomination to abuse that terminology to apply to the death of a sinful fake Arhant. (There is a great possibility, nay probability, that these are plants intended to destroy the Buddha Sasanaya, which is the breath and being of our over 2500 year old Lankan/Heladiva civilization. Those who bristle at this, please listen to the advice of the Buddha in the Kalama Sutta, and independently find out  their hollowness by studying samples of their preachings.) 

Ariyamagga Thera who is the main motivator of the ‘We Rectify Our History’ project as well as  the leader of the so-called Ariya Kammattahna Organization may belong to the same group of rogues in robes. (I googled the name Ariyamagga Thero, but failed to find any monk by that name or an organization he heads, except the name in Sinhala characters ‘Pujya K. Ariyamagga’.) The theme ‘We Rectify Our History’ probably comes from Ariyaratne’s book, p. 116, where the author writes “Let’s rectify mistakes in our history by ourselves”. Isn’t it possible that some eccentric uneducated zealots have also been recruited or are simply being used as ownerless donkeys by the prime movers of a global conspiracy against the Sinhalese and their Buddhist culture? 

It is true that the British stole many archaeological treasures including ola leaf manuscripts of inestimable value from Sri Lanka. At least some of them are being preserved in British libraries and museums. They are waiting to be reclaimed by us through proper channels. This is not the time to get them, as we can understand, given the debilitating economic and political difficulties Sri Lanka is experiencing. This task should actually be left to present and future young generations. Ariyamagga’s silly move could be a preemptive strike meant to foil such an attempt being made by young Sri Lankans even before it is initiated.

Harindra’s video ends with a glowing eulogy to Ariyamagga: “The intrepid step that this monk has taken, daring Britain’s ‘White Crown’ is a courageous and heroic move made against the British Empire by a citizen of Sihale ever since the defeat of the (armed) liberation struggle of Uva Wellassa of 1818”. I hear the chuckle of the conspirators behind this mock tribute to Pujya K. Ariyamagga. (END)