The Police commenced an investigation this week into the defacing of the newly installed signboard at the bottom of the steps leading to Sri Pada on the Hatton-Nallathanniya trail. The tri lingual signboard displaying the name of the revered mountain, and its Tamil translation in particular appeared to have irked certain Sinhalese nationalist elements.
A gathering attended by a handful of people, led by the notorious Dan Priyasad of the Mahason Balakaya and Namal Kumara of the VIP assassination plot fame thought it fit to protest against the new board and its perceived threat in Colombo last week. Some others handed in complaints to Police Headquarters as well.
After two weeks of threats to destroy or deface the board by the groups and individuals connected to the duo on social media, it appears that finally someone among them or an individual influenced by the sentiments had followed through. As a result on Tuesday the Tamil and English translations of the Peak’s name chiseled on the signage as Sivanoli pada malai and Sri Pada had been painted over by an unidentified person with what appeared to be black tar leaving the text illegible.
As the act of vandalism left residents in the area disgruntled and the Police had to be called in to difuse the situation. Visiting the site, Hatton Superintendent of Police, Ravindra Ambepitiya, had taken steps to discuss with the residents and restore calm by promising to apprehend the suspects. Calling a meeting with the villagers, SP Ambepitiya had prevented the matter from escalating and causing discord among the residents in the area based on this minor incident on the day someone had painted over the names in black. “We have made the people understand and resolved the issue but this is not a major incident” he said when contacted by the Sunday Observer. According to SP Ambepitiya steps have also been taken to clean and restore the sign board.
Meanwhile, the Police has commenced an inquiry into the incident, and are hoping to nab the suspects through CCTV footage of the site. The Governor of the Central Province, Maithri Gunaratne too has put his foot down. Claiming he will not tolerate acts that may incite racism, the Governor has directed the Police to nab the suspects whose intention was to cause racial discord among the people through this dastardly act.
Bone of contention
However, the name of the revered mountain has become a continuous bone of contention in recent times.Various elements have taken offence to other names attributed to the mountain and the religious place of worship, despite people of various ethnicity using those names to identify the place from time immemorial. As a social media campaign to change its identification from Adam’s peak to Sri Pada swept social media last year, yet more vandals spray painted another sign board leading to the peak eliminating the Tamil text going on to display the photographs on social media. Whether any action was taken against these persons remains unknown.
According to the Chairman of the Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha G. Sembalawalli the decision to install a new board in all three languages was made to dispel any confusion among Hindu pilgrims. “The name Siva noli pada malai is commonly used among Tamils in Sri Lanka to identify Sri Pada for many years,” she said.
However, faced with the recent backlash Sembalawalli said that the Pradeshiya Sabha has decided to erect nameboards in the Sinhala and Tamil so as not to hurt the sentiments of any religious group. According to her, any further decisions regarding the matter will be taken following discussions with the Chief Incumbent of the Sri Pada and the Pelmadulla Rajamaha Vihara Ven. Bengamuwe Dhammadinna Thera.
Though this particular matter appears to be at rest, nevertheless tussles over places of worship or of significance have become common in recent times with various groups claiming ownership over another leading to unnecessary tension among communities.
Ven. Dhammananda Thera, of the Walpola Rahula Institute who has been continuously working towards communal harmony, called the situation unfortunate. According to Ven. Dhammananda Thera Sri Pada like many other religious sites in the country are venerated by all communities living in Sri Lanka. “Hindu devotees do not taken on the pilgrimage hoping to venerate the Lord Buddha,but instead visit the site according to their religious beliefs,” the Thera said.
According to Ven. Dhammananda Thera, therefore, if any religious group uses a name to identify a place which is unique to them, then it must be accepted. The bhikkhu said that many religious places in the country are shared spaces of all communities. “Therefore, why does one have to refer to the place of worship as Sri Pada in Tamil as well” he questioned asking what difference does calling it by a different name make.
Ven. Dhammananda Thera says Buddhists believe in cause and effect which means there is no common cause or reason for one’s being. “Therefore, it is accepted that every person in the world is vastly different from each other as none were created through a common source” he said. According to the Thera, therefore, the idea that every person is different is one of the core principles of Buddhism. “Respecting and accepting these differences and each others identities while preserving this individuality is part of this core principle” he said.
Therefore, he says attempting to change a person, or another’s individuality is unnatural and goes against Buddhist principles. “As a country, when communities coexist for almost 2,000 years there can be a number of religious, cultural,provincial differences” he said. According to him, this is what is natural and living with these changes is what is accepted in Buddhism he clarified.
According to him, as a country with a troubled past, shared places of worship such as Kataragama and Sri Pada continue to be important spaces. “Every community partakes in religious observances at these sites according to their own beliefs and understandings” he said, adding that this does not harm others holding a different religious belief.
“Therefore thinking the observances or activities should follow those of the majority alone is incorrect” he said.
Commenting on those who have voiced their dissent Ven. Dhammananda Thera said it only shows that they are uneducated on these differences and display their narrow vision of the world. “Can we exactly say this religious site has no longer history that we know” he asked.
“This name has been around for a long time so why are they troubled by this?” he questioned adding that instead of opposing it, we must encourage each community to call the religious place by a name familiar to them and engage with these sites.
According to the Thera, the troublemakers should not been given any prominence thereby giving them the attention they crave. “I think answering, such persons is not important and their acts should not be given any importance,” he said