Will sites of worship preserve signifiers of a distinct Tamil identity?
Language, culture, history and territorial integrity are some of the essential defining characteristics of the Eelam Tamils’ distinct identity. However, the Tamils were forced to struggle for their distinct identity against the destruction or denial of such factors.
Practices of worship have formed an essential part of Tamils’ historico-cultural ties where overtime, temples were established in every part of Eelam. Settlements were further established around such temples which often provided distinct identities to their respective locations thus facilitating relations with adjoining towns and hence increasing cohesion across the Tamil homeland. Overtime, the temples located along provincial borders amalgamated with the defining features of the Tamil nation’s territorial integrity.
Furthermore, during the escalation of
Tamil genocide, sites of worship such as temples became sites of sanctuary for
the Tamils. As a part of its genocidal agenda, the Sri Lankan administration
was capable of massacring the Tamils through targeting such temples through
bombings. As a result, at least 5,000 temples were completely or partially
destructed throughout the Tamil homeland.
The genocidal government’s agenda takes the following forms:
- State terrorism: used during the armed conflict to destruct temples through bombings.
- Structural genocide: Buddhicisation across the Tamil homeland in a post-Mullivaikkal Tamil genocide context, to target traditional Tamil sites of worship – in particular, Saivite temples.
It is as a result of such structural genocide that signifiers of Buddhism have been multiplied across the Tamil homeland through the installation of Buddhist stupors and statues. Such large-scale extremist Sinhala-Buddhist appropriation of lands has continued to occur across the Tamil homeland in the masses. The extent of such appropriation across the Tamil homeland is evident through:
- The incident at the Kinniya springs – Trincomalee (capital of Tamil Eelam)
- Sinhala-Buddhicisation efforts in Navatkuli – North
- The imposition of a Buddhist statue within the premises of the Kanakambikai Amman temple – Vanni
- The Neeraviyadi Pillaiyaar Temple incident which saw the disregard for democratic processes within the island – adjoining point of the North and East
Such appropriation continues on a daily basis in the aftermath of the 2009 Mullivaikkal Tamil genocide. This agenda is facilitated under the guise of:
- Research conducted by SL’s Department of Archaeology
Despite changes of leadership in the Sri Lankan state, historical imposition and recreation remain instrumental in the state’s political programme. The Sri Lankan state attempts to establish Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy through defacing or completely replacing temples with Buddhist viharas. As a result of the state’s agenda; the Sri Lankan army’s militarisation of the Tamil homeland, appropriation of Tamil lands through Sinhalisation and Buddhicisation have intertwined with the assistance of the Sri Lankan government.
Despite a lengthy legacy, the intensification of such objectives following Sri Lanka’s independence was interrupted by the Tamils’ armed struggle. This exposes how the Tamils’ liberation struggle functioned not only as one which emerged to resist the denial of the Tamils’ fundamental rights, but one which protects and preserves the Eelam Tamils’, language, culture, history and land. As a result, Tamil sites of worship were also protected.
The sons and daughters of Eelam fought valiantly to protect our land and our people. Subsequently, a people who worship deities who wield weapons cannot turn a blind eye towards the Tamils genocide. Whilst Sinhala-Buddhist sites of worship function as the foundational sites for the Sri Lankan state’s genocidal measures, it is unjust for temples and other sites of worship to deny the presence of the Tamils’ identity within such sites.
It is essential to conduct initiatives to contain the escalation of the structural genocide conducted against the Tamils through countering the Sinhalisation of the Tamil homeland. However, on the other hand, it is essential to engage in activities to establish our identity to negate the genocidal state’s historical imposition. It is as a result that our brethren have engaged in establishing a distinct Tamil identity within mass socio-cultural sites of gatherings such as temples. Such establishment was achieved through the incorporation of the geographical map of Tamil Eelam into decorations used during temple festivities. Similarly, the Sinhalisation of Navatkuli through the establishment of a Buddhist stupor has been countered through erecting statues of valorous Tamil kings.
Whilst such initiatives are being conducted within the Tamil homeland amidst direct threats from the Sri Lankan state and military, the question arises as to what we of the diaspora have done. Bern’s Gnalingeswarar Thirukoyil in Switzerland is one such exemplar which effectively amalgamates socio-cultural politics. The temple incorporates the Tamil struggle into its forms of worship in both a physical and emotional manner. The signs and symbols of the struggle which decorate the temple, including the map of Tamil Eelam which is established at the entrance of the temple as well as the incorporation of nationalistic features into worship, cement such ideals.
Upon this basis, it is essential to establish a culture which simultaneously protects the Tamils’ history and negates Tamil genocide, across the diaspora as well. This can be achieved through the preservation and adherence of signifiers of the Tamils’ struggle for liberation. May the emergence of red and yellow decorations, the incorporation of gloriosa superba flowers, the inclusion of Eelam songs in instrumentals and the map of Tamil Eelam in temples form the foundational step for such initiatives. The arts and variations in worship are intertwined with humanity’s livelihood. As a result, these evolved to become a part of the Tamils’ struggle. Through establishing a new purpose for our livelihood, let us generate a new history which will preserve our legacy which continues to be degenerate due to intensified destruction.
Editor’s note: Phoenix TNG is aware that the struggle for Tamil liberation is secular and maintains the same ideal in its practices. The views of the author reflect the nature of Buddhicisation as one which targets Saiva sites of worship as they are predominantly viewed as sites of Tamils‘ territorial integrity. This is not to prioritise any religion but to identify the government’s agenda. Likewise, in spite of the secular nature of our struggle, we welcome Eelam Tamils to incorporate signifiers of the Tamil liberation struggle into various sites of worship. Such initiatives are also necessary to strengthen the Tamils‘ socio-political spaces through historical and cultural amalgamation.