The article outlines some of the political jockeying which surrounds archaeological work in Sri Lanka. – Buddhist art news
Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
Thursday, 21 October 2010 00:00
Tamilnet, the Internet organ of the now defeated LTTE is still banned in Sri Lanka. To access it, one has to go through proxy servers, that is, one needs to put “Tamilnet .com” in a web page like “http://proxify .com/”. It would have been prudent to have blocked the site when we were at war but blocking the site now is self defeating. This site today is the best witness to the separatist project being lost. In contrast to the time when it was edited by Taraki as the core mouthpiece of the LTTE whereby its racist claims and glorification of Prabakaran was pushed, it is now only a platform for whining and complaining. All Sri Lankans should now read it.
A few days old headline in Tamilnet is “Colombo takes control of historic Kanniyaa hot wells in Trincomalee”. And behind this lies many an interesting tale. The Tamilnet refers to the Government Agent taking control of the site as an archaeological protected one and declaring that a huge billboard saying that it was built by Ravana be removed. The hot wells referred to are part of the regular local tourist trail. During the CFA to bathe here, the LTTE were issuing tickets with its snarling Tiger emblem. There was no Ravana bill board then. There was also no Ramayana fiction being pushed by the tourist authority.
I was at the Kanniyaa site a few weeks ago and saw the offending billboard which had been put up only a few weeks previously. The reason was that the archaeology authorities had been digging into the area and were excavating the base of a dagaba when a local Tamil resident had suddenly claimed that it was her private property and overnight had also come the Ravana/Ramayana billboard.
The direct and indirect aim of these two actions was to clearly prevent further excavation which would have revealed one more example of the truth that the Eastern Province was full of ancient Sinhalese sites. In fact, the other site on the Trincomalee tourist trail is the kovil on the so-called Swami Rock which is actually a recent structure of the 1950s whose concrete floor has prevented the structures below being excavated. These structures as the Portuguese documented in the 17th century were Sinhalese Buddhist ones – remains of the Gokanna Vihara. Mute remains of the latter in the form of fragments of Buddha statues are still found behind the Police Station in the Trincomalee Fort which hardly any tourists visit. A couple of decades ago a padanaghara was found nearby.
During the period of LTTE control, the traditional homeland fiction falsified the true history of the North and East. As the war has ended, many Sinhalese sites are now being discovered in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as for examples complexes in the Mullativu jungle and surprisingly dagabas in Delft Island. The most atrocious LTTE distortion was actually done by Jaffna university-based archaeologists in closely collaborating with Peter Schalk, the Swedish LTTE propagandist with whose Uppsala University Jaffna University had a close cooperation. Peter Schalk is now banned from Sri Lanka but his efforts have gone on. The result was an invention of a total untenable “Tamil Buddhism” restricted to Jaffna and unconnected with the Buddhist remains in the rest of the country.
The most blatant results of such inventions are some publications of Jaffna University as well as the relabelling of artefacts in the Jaffna Museum as belonging to an exclusive Jaffna based “Tamil Buddhism”. These Museum artefacts were discovered primarily through a joint expedition of the Royal Asiatic Society RAS in 1917 led by Prof Paul Peiris and C Rasanayagam, the author of “Jaffna Kingdom”. There were Sinhalese inscriptions among the finds and there was no doubt in the article published by the RAS of the finds being similar to those in the rest of the country. The Archaeology Department following up on this preliminary foray started excavations in the 1960s, especially in Kandarodai (Kadurugoda Vihara of the Nam Potha) and unearthed several other artefacts which were also housed in the Jaffna Museum. In 2005, the labels at the Museum were all changed to LTTE ideology to depict an exclusive “Tamil Buddhism” in Jaffna. This is in spite of a large amount of literature on the Buddhist history in Jaffna being connected to the rest of the island.
Recently on a visit to Jaffna, its Museum employees confided that they were persuaded to falsify the labels by two staff members of the Jaffna University. The museum comes under the Archaeology Department and this unauthorised change was both an act of cultural vandalism as well as an attempt to push LTTE propaganda. Such University staff members should not be considered academics in that they falsify facts and should not be allowed to do any excavations.
Tamilnet is today concentrating not on the past glories of the LTTE but strangely on archaeology attempting to present false history. They have recently published inscriptions claimed to be from the south of Sri Lanka which nobody in the Archaeology Department had seen. There is internal evidence that much of these false publications in the Tamilnet comes from Jaffna University personnel writing anonymously.
The names of these Jaffna University fiction writers are known and the Archaeology Department should not allow them any excavation rights. We can neither afford fiction at taxpayers’ expense nor fictional archaeology that could rekindle the LTTE.