Feature Article

Lankan ploy of Buddhism for subversion in Tamil Nadu: Viduthalai Rajendran

[TamilNet, Monday, 07 April 2008, 06:08 GMT]
Circumstantial evidence supports the hand of the Lankan government’s National Intelligence Bureau in the Buddhist temple-building campaign in Tamil Nadu, observed political analyst TSS Mani in Win TV’s News and Views, reported Tehelka Magazine, on Saturday. It further quoted Viduthalai Rajendran, General Secretary of Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK), saying “ the temple-building a ploy to woo Indian Dalits and pit them against Sri Lankan Tamils on religious lines” A Sinhalese delegation of prominent Buddhist monks laid foundation stones for Buddhist places of worship in Tamil Nadu. Most of them are archaeological sites.

The delegation of Buddhist monks, accompanied by Jayalath Jayawardene, United National Party MP, held dedication events for Buddhist temples at Perur (Pearoor) village near Trichy and Alangulam (Aalangku’lam) in Tirunelvely district.

PDK workers organized a protest, displaying black flags, when the site-consecration ceremony was held by the visiting delegation at Perur. The PDK said that while welcoming the Buddhist movement their opposition was only against the Sinhalese monks.

“No one can deny the fact that Sinhalese Buddhists have practised chauvinistic politics against the Lankan Tamils. It is because of this reason we are opposing them. We won’t let the Sinhalese set foot on Tamil soil and engage in their conspiracy to divide Tamil society”, said Viduthalai Rajendran, while Mani opinioned, “ The Lankan government is playing the Buddha card to divide the Tamils. It is their strategy to counter the Tamil support for Eezham Tamils”, according to Tehelka.

In the meanwhile, the Chennai branch of Mahabodhi Society, Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Mission, established simultaneously in Colombo and Culcutta in 1891, by Anagarika Dharmapala, denied any association with the activities of the visiting delegation.

Its chief incumbent, Kalawane Mahanama Thero, a Sinhala monk said that the visiting monks don’t seem to be doing any real religious work and that he was keeping away from them. Commenting on the involvement of Jayawardane, who is a Catholic by religion, he said: “he wants to show to the Sinhalese people that he is doing great service to Buddhism not only in Sri Lanka but also in India. He has been claiming that he is building Buddhist enclaves in India”.

Jayawardane cited the support he was receiving from a senior BJP leader, a land donation to build a Buddhist temple at Thiruththa’ni, to dispel suspicions about his motives.

Thangavayal Vanidasan, the founder of Dalit Makkal Munnani, the group in Tamil Nadu associated with the activities of the Sri Lankan delegation said that he has always been a supporter of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and his connections with the Sinhalese monks are limited to spiritual needs.

Further reports and comments came from TamilNet Staff reporter in Tamil Nadu:

Naakappaddinam Buddha bronze
Chola bronze of Buddha from Naakappaddinam.
Buddhist archaeological sites of antiquity are sporadically found in the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu. They are remains of Tamil Buddhist heritage. Kaagncheepuram and Naakappaddinam were the main centres of this heritage. Even though all sects of Buddhism were prevalent in Tamil Nadu, the sites we see today largely belong to Mahayana Buddhism, which is different from the Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka.

There are many places in Tamil Nadu where beautiful Buddha images of Pallava and Chola Art, left unattended in open land, withering under sun and shower. Several decades ago, a scholar, Mayilai Seeni Venkadasamy commented upon these sculptures in his book 'Buddhism and Tamil'.

Neither the Central Archaeological Survey nor the State Archaeology Department of Tamil Nadu undertook any initiative to protect them properly and to highlight the Tamil Buddhist heritage. It is the same situation with the Tamil Jaina heritage of Digambara Jainism, but nowadays some Jaina organizations of Swetambara Jains are taking care of them.

Tamil Nadu is yet to understand that Tamil language cum culture is the one and only phenomenon in South Asia, which can boast about having a heritage of all the classical religions of South Asia as well as religions of West Asian origin, i.e., Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Had it understood, it wouldn’t have waited for the Sinhala monks.

Hinduism is only a recent identity, a blanket term invented by outsiders for identifying all the native religious philosophies and practices of South Asia. The term and the identity implied by it was adopted for the purpose of the national movement of India, but soon it was interpreted by a combination of Brahminism and Orientalism to mean only Vedic religions, the good old formula of Adi Sankara, and an elite conspiracy of modern India.

Having no recognition for their traditional religious practices and no place in the mainstream Hindu identity interpreted in favour of Brahmanism, many of the Dalits listened to Ambedkar and declared themselves Buddhists, whether they practise it or not. Ambedkar suggested Mahayana Buddhism to the new followers, adopting it to suit modern times as 'Navayana'.

The Dalit movement of Tamil Nadu today engages itself in upholding the Dravidian substratum in the traditional religious practices of the Dalit masses. It also vigorously claims authorship of the very foundations of the religious superstructures, superimposed by Brahminism.

In the meantime, sections of them following the line of Ambedkar think of inheriting the Tamil Buddhist heritage of the past to invigorate their present identity.

There is also a recent resurgence in the appearance of books on Buddhism in Tamil. But, this has nothing to do with Sri Lanka. Ever since the volumes of the works of Iyothee Thasar of 19th century were published in Tamil Nadu sometimes back, there is an awakening of Buddhism. Iyothee Thasar was a forerunner to Periyar and Ambedkar in Dalit emancipation and advocating Dalits to embrace Buddhism.

Buddha statue, Trichy
A 10th Century Cholas sculpture of Buddha in the Government Museum, Tiruchirappalli. [Photo courtesy: chennaimuseum.org]
The Perur Buddha image, a piece of Chola Art, was lying in an open paddy field on the roadside for a long time. The local people were worshipping it as some deity. Some individuals, who repatriated to this village from Sri Lanka under Srimao-Shastri pact, took initiative about this image.

Another instance is the discovery of a Chola sculpture of Buddha in the mango grove of a remote village on the Coromandal Coast between Naakappaddinam and Vedaranyam (Veathaara'niyam). It happens to be a Dalit village. The finder has become a personal devotee of the image and seeks building a shrine there. He is also interested in learning Buddhism and getting Buddhist scriptures.

It looks as though the political monks and elements of vested interests with calculated moves have hijacked the good intentions of unassuming people.

It has been reported that the Sri Lanka government is highly concerned about the security of Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, amidst disturbances in the Tarai region of Nepal and is interested in creating a trouble free zone there. While such initiatives should be appreciated, one cannot help but reminded of the plight of the Madu church in the war zone of Vanni and many Hindu pilgrim centres in the High Security Zones of Sri Lanka. The saying in Tamil is: ‘the son performing the charity of feeding in Banaras while the mother famishes at home’.

What many in Tamil Nadu wonder is the timing of the activities of the Sinhala Buddhist delegation. Why have they chosen such tense times to show their piety?

But the more intriguing question is why and how have they been permitted to land in Tamil Nadu, at such a time, with such a socially disruptive agenda, when many Sri Lankan Tamil politicians and intellectuals are denied entry and when even ordinary Tamils longing for cultural and social contacts are harassed at the diplomatic missions and immigration counters to get entry into India. The same question is asked about the visit of a Sinhala Director who wanted to dub the Sinhala film Pirapakaran in Chennai and screen it in Tamil Nadu.

The hands point to the governments at Delhi and Chennai.

Even though entry into India is a prerogative of the Centre, the state government is the authority for allowing stay for foreigners in its territory. The state government can always ask the centre to send unwanted foreigners out.

But, is there any agenda of both of them to ‘educate’ the people of Tamil Nadu, hiring monks and directors from Sri Lanka?

External Links:
Tehelka: Buddhist Visitors Bring No Peace


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