Impact of Mahavamsa on Post-Independence Political History of Sri Lanka?

Impact of Mahavamsa on Post-Independence  Political History of Sri Lanka?

Veluppillai Thangavelu

The task before me is to present and analyse the Impact of Mahavamsa on the post-independent political history of Sri Lanka. I presume that most of you have at least heard about Mahavamsa though not necessarily studied it in depth.

Few books have influenced and shaped the culture and language of a Nation’s history.  Mahavamsa is one of such books. It is written by the author for the “serene joy and emotion of the pious” and its Hero Duttu Gemunu or r Abaya Gamini cries was “Not for the kingdom but for Buddhism.”   Another book that I can think of is Mein Campf authored by Adolf Hitler in which he tried to establish the racial theory that Aryans are a superior race destined to rule the world after the destruction of their racial arch-foe, the Jews.

Although my time is limited I want to give a short narration of   Mahavamsa (Greater Chronicle) a Pali Chronicle written in the 5th century AD by a Buddhist Thero named Mahanama and its influence in shaping the contemporary history of Ceylon. Without exaggeration, it could be claimed that the discovery of Mahavamsa and its translation into English has reshaped and redefined the country’s polity before and after Ceylon’s independence in 1948.  In fact, it goes back to the beginning of the 19th century. The present clash between Thamils and Sinhalese is due to the myth perpetrated by Mahavamsa that Thamils are invaders, vandals, marauders, heathens and infidels while the Sinhala – Buddhists are considered as protectors of Buddhism and saviours of Sinhala race.  In fact, the claim is made, like the Jews claiming they are the chosen people of god, the Sinhalese too are the chosen people of Lord Buddha though there were no Sinhalese at that time.

Today, political Buddhism promotes the interests of the Sinhala-Buddhist people, rather than the religion (Buddhism) as a path for personal salvation, and it is the main impediment to peace in the Island of Sri Lanka. Because it is based on the doctrine of primacy and superiority of the Sinhala race and the Buddhist religion.

Translation  of Mahavamsa

Due to ignorance, even the present-day Sinhala-Buddhists believe that they are blood relatives of Buddha because, according to the Mahavamsa, their forefather Pandu-Vasudeva belongs to the Sakya clan, and is a relative of the Buddha whereas the historians believe that the term ‘Pandu’ in Pali means Pandya who ruled Madurai as capital.

It is only after Mahavamsa was translated from Pali to English, the educated Sinhalese – Buddhists came to know the existence of the chronicle. that has remained in obscurity for almost 1,300 years.

A German translation of Mahavamsa in prose was completed by Wilhelm Geiger in 1912. It was published by T.W.Rhys Davids and published in the same year.  This was then translated into English by Mabel Haynes Bode and the English translation was revised by Geiger.  The lengthy introduction by Geiger to the book covers 63 pages. I have this volume also in my possession, but I loathe to make a claim that I have made an in-depth study of the chronicle.  I have also read a Thamil translation of Mahavamsa.

Buddhist monks of the Maha Vihara maintained chronicles of Sri Lankan history, starting from the 3rd century BCE. These annals were combined and compiled into a single document in the 5th century by the Buddhist monk Mahanama Thero. It was written based on prior ancient compilation known as Dipavamsa which is much simpler and contains less information than the Mahavamsa.  Mahanama Thero relied on this text, as he mentions in the preface to Mahavamsa.

Mahavamsa like the pre-historical epics Ramayana and Mahabharath is replete with myths, legends, supernatural believes and popular tradition,  yet gives a fairly reasonable account of kings who ruled Ceylon from about 6th  century BCE and their period of reign.

Mahavamsa is the most important epic poem in the Pali language. Mahavamsa, stripped of its poetic exaggerations and the beliefs that were probably commonplace at that time narrates the history of early kings beginning with Vijaya (544 BCE-505 BCE) and ending with Duquesne (452 BCE – 470 AD).  If not for the Mahavamsa and the earlier Dipavamsa the early history of Ceylon would have remained somewhat dark and blank.  It is one of the few documents containing material relating to the Nagas, Yakkas and Thamils the highly civilized indigenous people of Lanka prior to the legendary arrival of Vijaya.

Coming of Mahinda Thero

The coming of Buddhism to the island, whether it happened over a period of time or during a single visit of Mahinda Thero is debatable. So is the conversion of the Hindu King Devanampiya Tissa (BCE 247 – BCE 207)   (second son of Mutha Sivan – 307 BCE – 247 BCE) of the island to Buddhism.  The extraneous mythical, legendary details express a people’s collective unconscious desire to emerge out of their own insignificance. In Ramayana too the monkey Hanuman flies over the ocean to Lanka in search Seetha the wife of Raman.  In fact, Mahavamsa contains some episodes which are copied from the ‘Mahabaratha’ and ‘Ramayana.’

The grand purpose of compiling Mahavamsa by Mahanama Thero was to generate ’serene joy and emotion of the pious’. Each chapter of the Mahavamsa and its sequel the Culavamsa ends with the postscript “Here ends the … chapter, called ‘…….’.  The Mahavamsa was written unmistakably from the Sinhalese – Buddhist standpoint extolling the victories of the so-called victories of the Sinhalese over the Thamil kings.  I say the “so-called” because many Sinhalese kings were, in fact, Nagas or Thamils. Even the hero of Mahavamsa Dutugemunu (101-77 BCE) was a Naga prince from his paternal as well as maternal lineage.  The war between Dutugemunu and Ellalan was not a war between Sinhalese and Thamil kings, but a war between a Buddhist Naga Gemunu and a Hindu Ellalan!

The Nagas

The Naga people were the aboriginal inhabitants, who ruled the coastal districts of mostly the Western and Northern Ceylon, particularly the Jaffna peninsula from the 6th century BC to 3rd century BC. The interchangeable names Nagar and Naka or Naga, meaning Cobra or Serpent were applied to and self-described by this snake – worshipping people.

According to the Mahavamsa, the Nagas were a set of supernatural beings whose natural form was a serpent, but they could assume any a form at will. There were three Naga Kingdoms as Wadunnagala (Kalpitiya) ruled by a Naga King called Choolodaran, Samudra Naga Bhavanan (Nagadeepa) ruled by a Naga King Mahodaran and Kelani (Kelaniya) ruled by a Naga King called Maniakkhithan and they lived as three separate Naga communities.

There is not the slightest doubt that the author of Mahavamsa wanted to give Lanka a Buddhist identity by concocting this fictitious story. By all accounts and sources in India, Buddha never travelled beyond the borders of India. In fact, he never even visited the three Thamil kingdoms in the south. He came only as far as Bihar. I am skipping history to come to the post-independence history of Ceylon and the influence of the Mahavamsa mindset,

Mahavamsa Myth

According to Mahavamsa, after reaching heaven,  Gautama Buddha requested the lord of gods (identified as Indra) to protect Vijaya in Lanka, so that Buddhism could flourish there. Indra handed over the guardianship of Lanka to the lotus-coloured god Upulvan who came to Lanka in the guise of an ascetic to protect Vijaya. Mahavamsa was presented to the Sinhala Buddhists as the hegemonic epic of the Sinhala people.

Based on this myth Vijaya and his followers have acquired the status of a religious edict with a political message.  The Sinhalese majority often use Mahavamsa as proof of their claim that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation from historical times. The British historian Jane Russell has recounted how a process of “Mahavamsa bashing” began in the 1930s, especially from within the Thamil Nationalist movement.

This view was attacked by G. G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the Nationalist Tamils in the 1930s. He claimed that most of the Sinhala kings, including Vijaya, Kasyapa, and Parakramabahu were Tamils. Ponnambalam’s 1939 speech in Nawalpitiya, attacking the claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese – Buddhist only nation.  The Sinhalese majority responded with a mob riot, which engulfed Nawalapitiya, Passara, Maskeliya, and even Jaffna.

This “Mahavamsa mindset” deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Sinhalese is the epi-centre of racial conflict between the Sinhalese and the Thamils. since independence.  The Jathika Hela Urumaya parliamentarian Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero   claimed that Sinhalese are the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka and others (Thamils and Muslims) come as invaders or illegal immigrants. He asked the Muslims who came to Sri Lanka for trade to go back to Saudi Arabia from where they came.

Thus the myth an unbroken line of Sinhalese kings beginning from Vijaya ruled Ceylon is a revision of history. A critical look at history, including Mahavamsa, belies such a proposition. We know for certain that at least the last 4 kings of Kandy were Tamils! Up till the 9th century, the kings who ruled Ceylon were Nagas and Tamils not Sinhalese.

Many kings who ruled from Anuradhapura had the word Naga/Tissa as their suffix. There are too many such names and I have omitted the names of Tamil kings who ruled from Anuradhapura. Vijaya did not have the expected son from his Pandyan Queen and died without a heir.

Sinhalese are a mixed-race

The Sinhalese are a mixed-race having assimilated local tribes like Nagas and Yakshas. As the list above shows the earliest kings of Sri Lanka are Nagas. Devanampiya Tissa the first convert to Buddhism was a Naga King. The infamous Duttu Gemunu (161 – 137BC) was not a Sinhalese. He is a descendant from Mahanaga who is the brother of Devanampiya Tissa.

King Pandukabhaya’s son was Mutasiva, king of Anuradhapura. Devanampiya Tissa was the second son of Mutasiva, next king of Anuradhapura. Mahanaga was the brother of King Devanampiya Tissa. Mahanaga was second in line to the throne. One of the wives of King Devanampiya Tissa decided to kill Mahanaga in order to get the crown to her son. Mahanaga fled to Rohana and founded a new kingdom there. After Mahanaga, his son Yatthalayaka Tissa became the King of Rohana. After Yatthlayaka Tissa, his son Gotabhaya (Abhaya) became the ruler of Rohana. After Abhaya, his son Kaka Vanna Tissa became the ruler of Rohana. And who is the son of King Kaka Vanna Tissa? None other than our hero King Duttu Gemunu or Abaya Gamini!

Duttu Gemini’s mother was a Naga princess (Viharama Devi the daughter of Naga King Kelanithissa) who ruled Kalyani (Kelaniya) and Kavantheesan (Kaakavarna Theesan) who is the son of Abaya.

The war between Ellara and Duttu Gemenu was not a war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. It was a war between two dynasties for control of the Anuradhapura kingdom for the Buddhists. Duttu Gemenu’s battle cry was “Not for the kingdom, but for Buddhism.”

The history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, especially its extended period of glory, is for many Sinhalese a potent symbol that links the past with the present. Duttu Gemenu’s battle cry “Not for the kingdom, but for Buddhism” was purely a fiction invented by the fertile imagination of the author of Mahavamsa. These are words put into the mouth of Duttu Gemenu at least six centuries after the event. Obviously the author wanted to paint Duttu Gemenu as the hero of Mahavamsa. This could be seen from the fact that while Dipavamsa devoted only ten verses to narrate the rule of Duttu Gemunu, Mahavamsa’ s author devotes ten chapters to his rule. And Vijaya is the central legendary figure in the Mahavamsa.

War between Edllara and Duttu Gemunu

The story describing the war between Ellalan and Duttu Gemunu (Chapter 25) is well known. It was included in Tamil textbooks in schools many years back. Mahavamsa makes a virtue of killing in defence of Buddhism. In the war between the Tamil King Ellalan and Naga Prince Duttu Gemunu thousands of Tamils were killed. According to Mahavamsa Duttu Gemunu overwhelmed with grief over the lives lost in the war addressed the eight arahats (saints) who had come to comfort him thus:

“How shall there be any comfort for me, O venerable sirs, since by me was caused the slaughter of a great host numbering millions?”

The arahats replied “From this deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven. Only one and a half-human beings have been slain by here by thee, Oh lord of men. The one had come unto the three refuges; the other had taken on himself the five precepts. Unbelievers and evil men were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts. But as for thee, thou wilt brings to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways; therefore cast away care from thy heart, O ruler of men.”

The author of Mahavamsa to exalt Buddhism invents several myths. One of them is the myth the Tamils who died “not more to be esteemed than beasts.” Right at the beginning, Mahavamsa refers to indigenous people as invincible and superhuman. When Vijaya banished Kuveni with her two children fathered by him she went to Lankapura where she was taken for a spy and slain. But the two children managed to escape to the jungles and Mahavamsa claims from them sprung the Pulinda (Veddas). The strategy is to portray the indigenous Veddas having originated after Vijaya and not preceding him.

The above myths taught to children in Buddhist viharas are embedded in the minds of Sinhalese psyche and prevents an honest scientific inquiry into Sri Lankan antiquity. In order to demythologize these myths the well-renowned archaeologist Paranavitana, a Buddhist himself declared that Mahavamsa’s account of Buddha’s visits to the island were pure legends. The Buddhist Bhikkus raised a hue and cry against Paranavitana and he was silenced.

Mahavamsa stories are repeated and transmitted from generation to generation they occupy a revered place in the present-day Sinhalese – Buddhist rituals beliefs.

Contemporary Buddhism

Contemporary Buddhism in Sri Lanka has little to do with the doctrinal and philosophical goals of the ancient religion. Buddhism is not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being. There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgment Day or at the time of death. No saviour concept in Buddhism. A Buddha is not a saviour who saves others by his personal salvation. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as his incomparable guide who indicates the path of purity, he makes no servile surrender. A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in Him. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the “sins” of others. The relationship between Buddha and his disciples and followers is that of a teacher and student. The liberation of self is the responsibility of one’s own self. Buddhism does not call for an unquestionable blind faith by all Buddhist followers. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.

Nevertheless, doctrinal Buddhism is hard to found anywhere especially in Sri Lanka. Buddhism has been greatly influenced or corrupted by Hinduism like believe in re-birth and the concept of karma.

Anagarika Dharmapala was one of the leading contributors to the Buddhist revival of the 19th century that led to the creation of Buddhist institutions and Buddhist schools to match those of the Christian missionaries and to the independence movement of the 20th century. He illustrated the first three points in a public speech:

“This bright, beautiful island was made into a Paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals. Its people did not know irreligion… Christianity and polytheism are responsible for the vulgar practices of killing animals, stealing, prostitution, licentiousness, lying and drunkenness… The ancient, historic, refined people, under the diabolism of vicious paganism, introduced by the British administrators, are now declining slowly away.”

Buddhist revivalists promote Sinhala Buddhist identity

In 1908, Dharmapala declared that Buddhism was “completely identified with the racial individuality of the people.” As Peter Schalk states: “This is probably one of the most conflict creating public statements made in the 20th century. It is also a statement that is detrimental nationally and internationally to the reputation of Buddhism. He stated explicitly that Lanka belongs to the Buddhist Sinhalese and for the Tamils there is South India.”

Another notable revivalist is Walpole Rahula (1907-1997) a Buddhist monk who wrote the book The Heritage of the Bhikku advocating politics for Buddhist monks. A new political Buddhist tradition emerged in Sri Lanka encouraging and justifying political activism by Buddhist monks. Since the publication of The Heritage of the Bhikku, the degree of Bhikku involvement in Sri Lankan politics has gradually increased, marking clear phases of radical developments.

The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress played a pivotal role and led campaigns calling the government to declare Buddhism as the state religion and Sinhalese as the only official language.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike is the first politician to use the Sanga to capture power. In 1956 he rode to power by forming the Pancha Maha Balawegaya comprising the Sangha, Veda, Guru, Govi and Kamkaru that galvanised Sinhala social forces behind the SLFP founded by Bandaranaike. He espoused competitive Sinhala chauvinism and economic nationalism to outbid his electoral enemies, particularly the liberal-leaning ruling UNP. to win the elections Bandaranaike formed an electoral alliance with the pro- Sinhala nationalist parties like Viplavakari Lanka Samasamaja Party (VLSSP)  led by Philip Gunawardena supposed to be a fire-brand Trotskyite.

The newly formed, monks-only party, the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna (EBP) played a critical role in this election as a major political pressure group. The EBP, fiercely anti-UNP, anti-West and anti-Catholic, presented a ten-point agenda (the Dasa Panatha) to Bandaranayke, at a massive rally in Colombo. The ten-point agenda included making Sinhala the only official language and giving Buddhism its ‘rightful’ place. One of the EBP’s slogans was “A vote for the UNP is a vote for the Catholics; a vote for the MEP is a vote for the Buddhists.”

Sinhala Only Act and Bandaranaike

Bandaranayke, with the total support of Sinhala-Buddhists, strongly campaigned in the villages of the South and West of the island, while his anti-West and anti-Catholic groups largely concentrated on the urban areas of the South and West with pro-Buddhism.  The MEP won 51 out of 96 seats and formed the government. On June 5, 1956, Bandaranaike introduced in the House of Representatives a bill to make Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka.

The Sinhala Only Act not only promoted religio-ethnolinguistic nationalism of the Sinhalese but became a source of radical Thamil nationalism in the 1980s.

Today, the Sinhalese identity in Sri Lanka derives from two factors (1) the Sinhala language, and (2) the Buddhist religion. Three major political parties can be exclusively categorized as those that employ Sinhala-Buddhist concerns for electoral gains. They are the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the National Freedom Front an off-shoot of the JVP. All these parties supported the government’s war against the LTTE and recruited rural youths for the army.

The key aim of politics is to win power and retain power. In democratic societies, a symbolic strategy like language, race and religion enables politicians to outbid their opponents on anti-minority or pro-majority policies.   Sinhalese comprise 74 per cent of the population and Buddhists constitute 70.19% of the registered voters.

The next phase of the ascendancy of communal and religious politics was in 1970. The SLFP which lost the elections in June 1965   formed a grand alliance with Ceylon’s Marxist parties. Mrs Srimavo Bandaranaike formed a United Front with the Trotskyism LSSP and the Communists. The Ulf’s platform was called the Common Programme; it featured extensive nationalization, a more pro-Soviet foreign policy, expanded social programs, and the abolition of the Soulbury constitution along with article 29(2) which sought to protect minority rights.

The UF which fought on the symbolic pro-Sinhala agenda recorded a massive landslide winning 91 out of 108 seats. The LSSP and the CP won19 and 6 seats respectively. UNP won 17 seats out of 130 it contested. ITAK won 13 and ACTC won 3. In terms of their election pledge, the UF enacted a constitution that eliminated article 29(2).  The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) objected to Section 29(2) because it did not redress the injuries that had been done to Buddhism during the colonial period and because it failed to protect the current interests of Buddhist laymen and monks.

Foremost Place to Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution

Chapter II of the 1972 Constitution read as follows: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the right guaranteed by section 18 (1) (d).”  Between May 1971 and January 1972, Colvin R De Silva and the drafting committee adjusted the resolution to reflect two aspects of the debates. Firstly, the drafters replaced the term rightful place with the stronger phrase foremost place (S: pramukhasthānaya). Secondly, the re-drafted resolution removed the phrase qualifying Buddhism as “the religion of the majority of the people.”

The Sinhala Only Act was incorporated into the constitution thus giving it constitutional status when the ruling party presented the proposal for the Constitution; there was no formidable opposition from the UNP. However, the guaranteed state patronage to Buddhism inevitably provoked alienation among the non-Sinhala-Buddhists, particularly the Tamil youths.

In the 1977 parliamentary elections, the UNP was swept to power winning 140 out of 160 seats while the SLFP was decimated to just 8 seats, the LSSP and CP drawing a blank.  For the first time, the TULF won the second-highest number of seats (18) in Parliament and became the Official Opposition.

The UNP led by J.R. Jayewardene coming to power enacted a new constitution that went further in providing significant status to Buddha Sasana in addition to Buddhism. Section 9 of the constitution read as follows:  The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

In 1977 the majority of Thamils voted for the UNP on the basis of its Election Manifesto which inter-alia read as follows:

”There are numerous problems confronting the Tamil speaking people. ‘The lack of a solution to their problems has made the Tamil speaking people support even a movement for the creation of a separate State. In the interest of national integration and unity so necessary for the economic development of the whole country, the party feels such problems should be solved without loss of time. ‘The party, when it comes to power, will take all possible steps to remedy the grievances in such fields as (1) Education, (2) Colonization, (3) Use of ‘Tamil Language, and (4) Employment in Public and Semi-public Corporations. We will summon an All-Party Conference as stated earlier and implement its decision.”

J.R.Jayewardene ascends to power in 1977

Subsequent events proved that J.R. Jayewardene has not changed his political stance on the ethnic question.    In 1957 he openly incited Sinhala chauvinism “…The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, zealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright… I will lead the campaign…” (J.R. Jayewardene, Sinhala Opposition Leader reported in Sri Lanka Tribune: 30th August 1957). If at all he has changed for the worse and never intended to solve any of the grievances suffered by the Thamil people. The manifesto on Thamil grievances was a ploy to win the votes of the Thamil people and no more. Thamils suffered the worse riots in 1977, 1979, 1981 and finally in 1983. Thousands of Thamils lost their lives and property worth millions were destroyed.

During the riots in 1977  after remaining tight-lipped for 4 days he came on the air and said  “I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion… the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”(Daily Telegraph, 11th July 1983). Incidentally, he is a very same man who introduced the 6th amendment to the constitution, in August 1983, prohibiting secessionist politics.

Mahanayake Theros want the government to retain unitary constitution and foremost place to Buddhism

Unfortunately, even today, the same chauvinistic thinking, an exaggerated patriotism and a belligerent belief in racial superiority, persists among the majority of Sinhalese – Buddhists not to speak of Buddhist monks.  The initiative of the Yahapalanaya government to introduce a new constitution to solve the ethnic problem once and for all is facing an uphill task. After an optimistic start, the constitution-making process has stalled thanks to the Maha Nayaka Theros and Anu Nayaka Theros of the Siyam Nikaya, Amarapura Nikaya and Ramanna Nikaya. The Chief Incumbents of the three main Nikayas have told the government that there is no need for a new Constitution.

They have unanimously decided that it is most suitable to keep the existing constitution and that if need be only the election system should be amended. The unitary character of the constitution and foremost place given to Buddhism should not be changed. A rattled President Sirisena has to rush to Kandy to assure the three Nayake Theros that no constitution will be enacted without the consent of the Theros. Responding Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the foremost place given to Buddhism will not be changed. This prompted parliamentarian M.A.Sumanthiran who asked if the country is to be ruled according to the wishes of four people, why there is a parliament. and why hold elections.

The interference by the Maha Nayake Theros demonstrates the fact the Maha Nayake Theros continue to call the shots in the affairs of the State. But what is the relevance of Buddhism in politics? For the Bhikkus to dominate the state and for the Sinhalese Buddhists to advance materially and reap the benefits the Thamils have to be oppressed and subjugated by use of discriminatory legislation. Through planned colonization of lands traditionally belonging to the Tamils and alter the demography of the land. At the time of indolence the Thamils accounted for 22.7% but today the figure is just 15.27%. Thamil population in Eastern province has been reduced from 48.75% in 1946 to 39.79% in 2012.

The Mahavamsa myths taught to children in Buddhist viharas are embedded in the minds of Sinhalese psyche and prevent honest rational enquiry into Sri Lankan antiquity. In order to demythologize these myths the well-renowned archaeologist Paranavitana, a Buddhist himself declared that Mahavamsa’s account of Buddha’s visits to the island were pure legends. The Buddhist Bhikkus raised a hue and cry against Paranavitana and he was silenced.

State and Religion

Mahavamsa stories are repeated and transmitted from generation to generation and they occupy a revered place in the present-day Sinhalese – Buddhist ritual beliefs. In Sri Lanka, after independence in 1948, Buddhism, which teaches tolerance and nonviolence, became an instrument to gain political power. Whatever party that comes to power is forced to make disproportionate concessions to the Sinhala-Buddhists in spheres like education, jobs, land distribution, admission to a higher institution of learning like Law College etc. Since independence, all prime ministers and presidents were Sinhala – Buddhists.

In advanced democracies, religion has been kept separate from the State. This is to ensure that there is qualitative equality between citizens. Canada is a good example of a secular state that keeps religion and politics separate. In Canada diversity of culture, languages and religion are considered as strengths and not weaknesses.

To sum up, let me quote extracts from the book Sri Lanka – The Nation Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle written by Sachchi Ponnambalam.

“Sinhalese collective identity, in terms of self-ascription, is not an ethnic identity but an ethnoreligious identity—Sinhalese Buddhist. The dominant distinguishing mark is Buddhist religious culture, which is central in the self-perception of the Sinhalese Buddhists. The emergence of the Sinhalese Catholics and Protestants brought about a cleavage in Sinhalese identity. To the Sinhalese Buddhists—in particular, to the Kandyans the Sinhalese non-Buddhists are as much non-Sinhalese as Tamils or Muslims, for their point of reference is religion and not linguistic identity. (Concluded)

 Recommended further reading:

1) Sri Lanka The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle (available online)

2) Buddhism Betrayed by Stanley Tambiah

3) Mahavamsa A Review by Thambu Kanagasabai

4) Concise Mahavamsa History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

5) The Mahavamsa or the Great Chronicle William Geiger

6) The politicization of Buddhism and Electoral Politics in Sri Lanka –  A. R. M. Imtiyaz

7) Mahavamsa translated for the government of Ceylon (Part 1 & 11)  by Mudaliyar L.C.Wijesinghe

8) பௌத்த சிங்களவரும் சிறுபான்மையினரும் ச.கீத பொன்கலன்

9)  பவுத்தமும்  தமிழும் – மயிலை சீனி, வேங்கடசாமி

10) How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence on the contemporary history of Sri Lanka? By Veluppillai Thangavelu (

11) Mahavamsa Mindset (}

About editor 3048 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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