by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
A news item published by some Tamil newspapers in Sri Lanka a few days ago stated that the Urban Development Authority (UDA) had issued a directive calling for the removal of the temple dedicated to Pillaiyar or Lord Ganesha at the Trincomalee general hospital premises.
Pillaiyar at the Gopuram of Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam, Flushing, NY
The news item said that the 60 year old temple had been renovated recently and had scheduled the “Kumbhabishekha” (a ritual of consecration after renovation or reconstruction work)ceremony for July 5th this year.
According to the news reports concerned the UDA had in a letter wanted the temple removed for road expansion purposes.
This news item about the Govt wanting a 60 year old Hindu temple removed for road expansion, touched a raw nerve among many including this writer. I posted a couple of tweets on my twitter account about the matter relying on Tamil media reports about the UDA letter.
Coming as it did on the heels of the Dambulla Mosque removal controversy it seemed to suggest that a sinister conspiracy was on to target places of worship belonging to religions of minority ethnicities in the Country.
Several Tamil websites run by members of the Global Tamil Diaspora went to town over the issue. Since the UDA comes under the purview of the Defence and Urban Development ministry of which Presidential Sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the Permanent secretary, some of these sites began holding him and by extension the Rajapaksa regime as being responsible for the perceived assault on the Pillaiyar temple.
With the issue gathering momentum even the All Ceylon Hindu Congress (ACHC)issued a statement expressing shock and grief over the proposed removal of temple.Stating that there was no legal basis or just cause to call for the removal of the temple , the ACHC requested the Tamil political leaders to intervene in the matter and prevent such removal.
Tiger and pro-tiger media organs condemned the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) in general and its leader and Trincomalee district Parliamentarian , Rajavarothayam Sampanthan for alleged “inaction” on the issue.
The Pillaiyar temple had its origins 60 years ago with a single statue inside Hospital premises and had developed gradually into a full-fledged temple. With many patients and their relatives seeking the blessings of Lord Ganesha to remedy their maladies the Hospital Pillaiyar temple had had many devotees over the years.
The escalation of the ethnic conflict had affected this temple to some extent. Minor damages had been caused. So with the advent of peace efforts were made by temple authorities to repair and renovate the temple. This had been done and the “Kumbhabishekham” was set for July 5th.
Against this backdrop the UDA wanting the temple removed for road expansion seemed unfair and unjust.
However when this writer followed up his two tweets and made further inquiries from Toronto about the temple in Trincomalee , the truth appeared to be quite different to that of the impression created by Tamil media reports. Details gleaned from administrators, lawyers, politicians and concerned residents reveal that the UDA does not seem to be at fault here as alleged by sections of the Tamil media
The Pillaiyar temple within Hospital premises is an unauthorized structure like many places of worship in many parts of the Country. It is estimated that there are 17 unauthorised structures used as places of worship in the Trincomalee town and suburbs. These belong to the Buddhist,Hindu, Christian and Islamic faiths.
There is a road by the side of the Pillaiyar temple called Hospital road. It has not been in use by motor vehicles for some years due to security reasons. Recently a decision was taken to remove the “No Entry” and allow vehicles to use it.
The Pillaiyar temple authorities had not only renovated the temple anew but also extended its area and explanded the structure. In that process some newly constructed temple pillars have transgressed boundaries and are “trespassing”on to the road.
Thus the Temple would indeed be an “obstruction” if and when the road is opened up for vehicular traffic. The situation would be further exacerbated if the UDA wants to repair and refurbish the road which seems very likely to happen in the future.
With the Kumbhabishekham being fixed for July 5th the UDA had to act fast and prevent such obstruction caused by the temple. The UDA letter according to informed sources only wanted the Temple authorities to remove the unauthorized structures of the temple causing an obstruction to envisaged road expansion.
It had not ordered the removal of the entire temple as alleged by sections of the Tamil media.
The temple authorities have not obtained legal approval or building permits for the temple extension as required.
As such the UDA seems to be well within its rights to seek removal of the unauthorized structural obstructions of the Pillaiyar tempe that are intruding into the road.
Moreover the Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is being accused of masterminding this “move to remove” the temple seems to be unaware of the whole exercise. The relevant action is being taken by UDA officials at a local level and not by the head office.
It appears that temple authorities who are at fault here have misinformed sections of the Tamil media in Sri Lanka about the matter. Vested interests within the Global Tamil media are exploiting the issue to engage in propaganda over the issue.
Since the Dambulla mosque incident has generated much negative publicity about Sri Lanka ,the Trincomalee Pillaiyar temple controversy is also getting into the limelight.
The truth about the Trincomalee Pillaiyar temple removal issue is entirely different to that of the “story” related by sections of the Tamil media.
The important lesson I have learnt from this episode is to very, very careful in relying on Tamil media reports while tweeting on Twitter