Army and Buddhist Monks Accused of Constructing Buddhist Structures on Kurundhu Malai Hill In Violation of Mullaitheevu Court Order; Cultural Appropriation of Ancient Saivaie Shrine by “Political Buddhism” with Connivance of Archaeology Dept?

By Dinitha Rathnayake

A tense situation has risen over the Kurundumale Archaeological Reserve, an ancient Sri Lankan monument deep in the dense forest of Mullaitivu.

According to the Department of Archaeology, the ancient Buddhist temple is said to be the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka built fully out of a particular type of wood. For decades it had been concealed, fully covered with sand and trees that had obscured its view.

The historic site also survived the three-decade war without any harm, although some treasure hunters had dug randomly in this area seeking valuables.

However, the residents in the area claimed that the temple is of historical significance for the Tamil people, but like many ancient monuments in the Tamil homeland, it has come under attack from Buddist colonisation.

Speaking to The Morning, Thurairasa Raviharan, a resident, said that in 2018, a group of Buddhist monks tried to build a Buddhist vihara (temple) on the hill after designating the hill as an archaeological site by claiming that it contained an ancient Buddhist shrine. After fierce opposition from locals, a court order stated that locals could go about their religious activities as usual but no new constructions could take place on the hill and no archaeological objects could be damaged.

However, since the change of government, a sceptre from the hill was found destroyed.

“According to the court order released by the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court on 27 September 2018, no new constructions could take place, but now, the site has been taken over by the Army and they are not following the court order. Some construction also took place after the court order. A petition was filed by the temple administration earlier in the year, opposing the construction of the checkpoint.

The court had ruled that it could not be erected, as new constructions were prohibited. On 2021 /7/1 we also observed that the Shiva Linga or Lingam, a symbol that represents Lord Shiva in Hinduism, is also missing from the site,” he said.

Raviharan also added that research conducted by Professor Sivasubramaniam Pathmanathan, a Tamil historian, academic, author, and current Chancellor of the University of Jaffna, had concluded that the Kurundumale Archaeological Reserve is definitely a Tamil historical site.

Meanwhile, Kurundumale Aadi Sivan Aiyanar Kovil Society Chief Weerasingham Kaleichelwan, speaking to The Morning said Tamil villagers conducted special worship at the Athi Ayan Temple (according to Tamil villagers) at the Kurunthur Hill, Kumulamunai, Mullaitivu earlier, but that they were not allowed to enter the site after the war.

Further, Tamil protestors blocked the installation of a Buddha statue at the temple site recently, as Buddhist monks and the Sri Lankan Army had planned a Buddhist dedication ceremony to consecrate a Buddha statue at the site.

Meanwhile, a court order has been issued recently saying that the order made in the previous instance only restrains the persons representing the Department of Archaeology from entering the said area, but does not restrain the villagers.

As such, the court affirms that the said order does not prevent the villagers from engaging in acts of worship in the said area.

Since the subject area is an archaeological site, although the residents of the area may engage in acts of worship, it is illegal to carry out construction work or development activities.

Since it is a prohibited act as well as a punishable offence under the Antiquities Ordinance, this court order declares that the Police have the power to arrest any person suspected of having violated the provisions of the said ordinance.

“This court observes that there is a possibility for breaking of/disturbance of the peace which could lead to a racial and/or religious conflict to arise in connection to the report on the letter issued by the Department of Archaeology. Thus, the court orders the Police to take suitable measures to ensure that peace is maintained until the court analyses whether a racial and/or religious conflict may arise due to the said series of incidents and until the court analyses the matters stated by the Police on the previous date.”

The lawyer for the aggrieved party had submitted that when research work is conducted at the said archaeological site, if there emerges any incident of breaking of/disturbance of the peace, suitable measures must be taken immediately, and prayed that a suitable order may be given to that effect.

When contacted, Department of Archeology Director General Anura Manathunga said he was not willing to comment on the issue due to the current situation.

However, Manathunga, while visiting the area earlier, told protestors that he was “carrying out reconstruction work to preserve the fossils found in the Kurundumale area and that he had not built any new buildings there” while also rejecting claims that his department was working with the monks and the military.

Courtesy:The Morning